Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Much ado about animation and reality

A response to




"As a non-prime time/non-guild covered cartoon writer, I hope the WGA gets Feature Animation. There's no reason for it not to.

TV Animation - at least for those of us stuck within IATSE - is a dead/done deal this round (in my opinion), because the WGA can't fight for what they deserve AND wrestle IATSE/Union 839 writers into their guild at the same time.

It would be a waste of energy and a division of focus to do that. Writers have momentum and unity on their side - I hope the WGA doesn't let the AMPTP divide them over something that's basically an issue of labor law.

The studios picked our union for us - in 1940, and (in the case of Nickelodeon) in 2001 - regardless of what they might say.

But getting out of a union, or changing unions, is a much bigger fight than fighting with your union for things your union can fight for.

That being said, aiming for the things that haven't been decided yet? Reality? Feature Animation? New Media? Go for it. That's a battle that can be won.

And that's a battle for the future of all writers - day time animation, prime time animation and feature animation alike.

You guys can check out the TAG board:

Or the blog written by the TAG's rep, Steve Hewett: see the union that non-prime time animation writers are working with.

It's a branch of Tommy Short's IATSE, and none of us are happy with the contentious relationship he's got with the WGA..."


Anonymous said...

The studios picked your union for you in 1940?

Hmmm, that's a new one. Are you referring to the Disney strategy to destroy the grass-roots unionizing effort by creating an in-house union? Because, if so, you should know that that effort failed completely. The studios fought the unionization of animation very bitterly, and were not happy to lose that fight.

That statement implies that the studios saw the WGA coming and chose the IATSE insead. Not even close. The WGA was then a shadow of what it is now, and more importantly, the WGA didn't have the slightest interest in animation until recently.

The studios were trying to stay nonunion. Period. Disney tried the illegal tactic of creating a pseudo-union, an in-house organization that would have been controlled by them. It didn't get close to working.

And jeez, it's "Hulett" not "Hewett," or is that an imbedded sign of contempt, like calling Tom Short Tommy?

Anyway, I'm not trying to be snarky here, just wanted to clarify something. I agree that the WGA is making a mistake in this. It's yet one more sign that this negotiation isn't going to be resolved soon or well.

Kevin Koch

Steve said...

My thoughts within:

The studios picked your union for you in 1940?

Hmmm, that's a new one. Are you referring to the Disney strategy to destroy the grass-roots unionizing effort by creating an in-house union? Because, if so, you should know that that effort failed completely. The studios fought the unionization of animation very bitterly, and were not happy to lose that fight.

Fair enough.

That statement implies that the studios saw the WGA coming and chose the IATSE insead. Not even close. The WGA was then a shadow of what it is now, and more importantly, the WGA didn't have the slightest interest in animation until recently.

I disagree. I feel like I, as an animation writer, I have wanted my stuff covered by the WGA for quite sometime.

That being said, I have also said on many occasions that whatever is broken within the residuals structure inside IATSE/Union 839 needs to be fixed within 839. None of us are going anywhere, and we know it.

The studios were trying to stay nonunion. Period. Disney tried the illegal tactic of creating a pseudo-union, an in-house organization that would have been controlled by them. It didn't get close to working.

And jeez, it's "Hulett" not "Hewett," or is that an imbedded sign of contempt, like calling Tom Short Tommy?

No, dude, it's my shit spelling. Anybody who knows me know that I can't spell worth a damn. I chat with Steve, I have no ill will toward Steve.

I just can't spell.

Don't look for issues that don't exist.

But Tommy? While I wasn't aiming at an insult, I think he's been waaaaay too cozy with AMPTP in this whole thing and I wish hes more a diplomat.

Sorry "Tommy" is an insult. Wasn't aiming for that either.

Anyway, I'm not trying to be snarky here, just wanted to clarify something. I agree that the WGA is making a mistake in this. It's yet one more sign that this negotiation isn't going to be resolved soon or well.

No snark intended. This is a dialogue. No ill will toward you and Steve. If you don't take shit in the worst possible way, I won't either.

You'll notice, my feeling is that the WGA should let animation writing (TV) go for now, because I think it's a divisive issue.

I also know that anything they get, IATSE gets 4.5X, so it's not like IATSE shouldn't be pulling for that.

We have different views but we SHOULD be on the same side.

I'm disappointed in THOMAS SHORT. Sorry. I think he's on the wrong side of this...

...Mr. Kevie Kochie.

- Stevie

steve hewett said...

Just to be clear: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, Ice Ages ... in short, all the product of Blue Sky Animation and Pixar, have no union contracts.

Not WGA. Not TAG.

No residuals of any kind when you got no contracts. And still people keep working at those places.

Steve said...


It blows monkey nuggets.

Sorry about mispelling your last name.

- Marmle

Steve Hulett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Hulett said...

Various significant dates, submitted for no particular reason.

1941: Warners Animation ... then every other animation studio ... organized by Screen Cartoonists Guild.

1943: Screen Cartoonists Guild proposes residuals, fails to get it.

1951-52: Industrywide vote between SCG and Local 839 (new IATSE animation local).839 ends up with a large part of SCG (an "orphan union") jurisdiction.

1960: Unions gain residuals. For details, see the one big paragraph of this:

(Animation Guild Blog - Aug 20, 06)

1985: WGA makes bad deal on VHS... which morphs into a bad deal on DVDs. Tries repeatedly to get better deal, fails each time.

1997: WGA gets its first significant contract in animation, with Fox.

2000: TAG 839 negotiates for WGA-style residuals. Fails to get them.

2007: WGA seeks to improve DVD resids. Seeks good internet deal...

Andy R said...

Steve H. Thanks for the history lesson/timeline.

So since writing for most feature animation is not covered by either guild (and I know since I've written a couple) then feature animation is fair game for the WGA. Correct? I'm not saying the studios will cede this point, but I just want to be clear that asking for it is not cutting into IA jurisdiction.

Kevin Koch said...

If you look at ALL animated features released in the US, then it's true to say that most haven't been covered by either Guild.

However, if you look at US-produced animated features, you'll see that most have been done under the TAG 839 contract (Disney theatricals and direct-to-videos, DreamWorks, Warners, Sony Pictures Animation, Universal, and probably one or two I'm missing).

Of those domestically-produced films that haven't been under an 839 contract, many were done by studios that aren't part of the AMPTP, and wouldn't have been affected by a WGA-AMPTP deal.

The two biggest domestic animated features players that aren't union are Blue Sky and Pixar. There really isn't anyone else of substance. And if it looked like they were going to be covered by a WGA contract, I think it would be simple for Disney (in the case of Pixar) and Fox (in the case of Blue Sky) to roll those story departments into the TAG-covered units (the same way the films produced up at PDI in Redwood City have the scripts and story work done under the DreamWorks/839 contract).

Anonymous said...

Why couldn't the writers within TAG vote to leave for WGA and let WGA renegotiate all of the contracts with those studios? Could board artists do the same?

Alex Weitzman said...

Sadly, I have little to add to the prodigious insight on show here, due to my status as a mere FAN of animation as opposed to any kind of producer of product. But this has all been fascinating reading (I've plowed through the backlog of entries since late Oct.; I can at least be satisfied that the strike has gotten this blog out of its previous doldrum state) by notable names from the industry.

But I can at the least ask questions, and I damn well should because this crap has already killed my constant need for new Stewart/Colbert comedy heroin. So what I ask to anyone who can answer, be it Steve, Kevin, Matt, et al, is why are the studios (at least by what I've read) coming across as such miserable Scrooges? Is this constant back'n'forth in the WGA strike/negotiation process a result of actual factual greediness on the part of the business side of the entertainment industry, or are they indeed standing on some form of principle no less than the artists?

My sympathies are, as always, with the creative folks far more than "the suits", but I am sometimes suspicious of my own leanings towards creativity as being blinding, and I'd rather be fair than righteous. So maybe one of you gents could explain in fairness if there's a complication or several I'm just not able to wrap my head around, or if they really are just trying to screw the writers.

Steve said...

Regarding the IATSE/ANIMATION WRITING discussion:

I think the biggest question IATSE has to ask itself is this: Are their residuals / payment structures in feature animation equal to the WGA for the work done?

Or are the studios using 839 as a way to pay less?

If studios are using IATSE to pay writers less, than the right, moral, fair thing to do would be to let writers who write animated movies join the guild.


I'm not naive. We're already part of a union and even if the answer to the above question is "Studios like IATSE because they pay writers less," that ship has mostly sailed.

Now the question becomes, is IATSE willing to use their 150,000 member force to help the handful of animation writers under their umbrella?

I can't help but think if TOM Short threw his weight behind the guild, instead of at it, this strike would have been over two days after it started. But such is not the case.

steev howelit said...

So, is the implication that animated feature writers don't get paid well? It sure seems they do...especially when you consider their work is often completely rewritten by the directors, producers and the story artists and the writers get plenty of mileage from having written a hit animated movie.

BTW it might be your 'poor' spelling but everytime you incorrectly spell Steve's name it does indeed come off as snarky...especially when it happens time after time.

Steve said...


Two things.

1) I'm sorry you can't take me at face value about my mispellings, but I can't really care about that either. The point was made, I'll try to do better from here on in.

2) If you've read more than just this thread, you'll realize:

A) I think that a story crew deserves a writing credit, just like 15 people who wrote "The Flinstones." I am not arguing to keep story artists out of the world of residuals. And
B) It's not a question of "paid well" it's a question of which guild makes sure their members get paid better for the task at hand.
When it comes to writing, is IATSE a positive or a negative? Simple question, really.

Anne D B said...

When it comes to writing, I think the answer is obvious: being WGA is a better deal than going IATSE. Residuals, for one thing. Why else would Nick so obviously go IATSE after a failed attempt on the part of many of their animation writers to go WGA? Also, as I often mention, animation writers on the East Coast have no IATSE local representing us, so we are caught in the middle of this union bickering.

Steve said...

Well, track down Micah Wrights (admittedly Micah-centric) posts on how the Nickelodeon/WGA/IATSE thing went down.

If you believe that account, Nick went to IATSE during, not after. And the WGA attempt failed because of IATSE, not the WGA.

You don't have IATSE? Why not? Or... why not organize under WGA in New York?

Anne D B said...

There is a group within the WGAE that works toward that goal. But for now all energy is going to showing up for frigid picket line! (Maybe someone knows that history of why we don't have IATSE in NY? I don't.)

Anonymous said...

A little off topic perhaps, but one of the things I've always heard about why Pixar doesn't go WGA (besides no needing to, of course) is that it would create an issue about who can and can't receive credit and in which order...anyone else hear this?

Anonymous said...

Right, the very same Micah Wrights who was exposed by the Washington Post for lying he was a former Army Ranger. That's who the WGA decided to get in bed with. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Credibility issues and collective bargaining organizations - NOTHING NEW HERE. That's what you get when the primary goal strays too far from creating good art.

Kevin Koch said...

Regarding an IA animation local on the East Coast: Steve Hulett can clarify, but Local 839 had a sister local in New York for decades (local 841 as I recall). As animation in New York went through some very lean times, 841 got so small it was (again, this if from memory) merged into Local 600 (the Cinematographers Guild, a "national" local). I believe this was in the late '80's.

Regarding east coast animation writers being "caught between union bickering," I don't understand this comment. If you're not working under either union's contract, you're free to organize your workplace any way you want (including going to the Teamsters or the Pipefitters union if you want).

Regarding Pixar not being WGA: I seriously doubt it has anything to do with credits specifically. The smart folks who run Pixar enjoy the total control they have in how they run their studio. That means pay, schedules, residuals, credits, everything involving an employee's relationship with the studio. I've heard some (former employees) refer to a few key figures there as "control freaks" who want to manage every scrap of news and publicity and image an on and on that comes out of the place. It's likley a much, much larger issue than simply how the writers are credited.

Regarding Micah Wright's claims that Nick was in contact with the Animation Guild during the WGA organizing drive, and that Nick signed an 839 contract 3 weeks after the WGA effort stalled: I won't say Micah is lying, because I think he's so passionate about how badly Nick treated him that he may actually believe this stuff. But it's completely false. Completely 100% false. Is that clear enough -- his claims that Nick and TAG 839 collaborated to defeat the WGA organizing effort are untrue.

Steve Hulett was biz rep and I was president of 839 at that time (as we both are now). We were actually meeting regularly with the WGA organizers then, talking about potential cooperative efforts. We (839) agreed to stay out of their (the WGA's) way regarding Nick. Not only that, both Steve and I (and several other TAG executive board members) walked the WGA's picket line at Nick. I still have my WGA baseball cap they gave everyone. We were happy to support their efforts.

After making a lot of noise, the WGA walked away from the Nick effort. They quit. They didn't issue a press release about it, but the ended their effort to organize Nick. Their organizer directly told Steve they were walking away.

The WGA never took their rep cards to the NLRB, never scheduled a formal vote under NLRB supervision, never did any of the steps to actually negotiate a contract and organize the place. They walked away.

About 8-9 months later, long after the WGA organizing Nick was a dead issue, TAG 839 organized Frederator. Frederator was a small studio that did shows for Nick. At the time, Frederator had their own studio. Soon after they were organized by 839, Frederator moved into the Nick building. This gave Steve Hulett access to start collecting rep cards from Nick employees while he was visiting Frederator employees. Steve collected lots of cards. A vote was held under the NLRB auspices, verifying that the majority of the Nick workforce wanted to be represented by 839. 839 and Nick then, as required by law, entered into negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement. A CBA was formulated and signed. This was about a year after the WGA had ended their efforts.

From private conversations, I can tell you the WGA organizers never really thought they would succeed, but felt they had to go through the motions. After generating a lot of publicity, and getting the hopes of the writers and board artists at Nick sky high, they decided they didn't want to take their chances with the NLRB and with negotiating with Nick, so they walked away. Later, TAG 839 came around and succeeded.

Micah can call TAG a company union, scabtastic, and whatever other vitriol he wants, but the dates and timeline I've given above is easy to verify with a few internet searches, and I can verify that Nick was bedding down with 839 while the WGA was knocking at the door.

I know it's much more comfortable for some people to glorify the WGA's supposed commitment to animation by making TAG 839 the bad guy, but reality isn't always so neat and convenient.

Anonymous said...

As control freaks who would indeed rather decide on who receives screen credit and in which order I suspect Pixar might have a problem with this rule from the WGA:

The Guild has the sole authority to determine writing credits on theatrical and television projects written under its jurisdiction.

Kevin, who receives screen credit and in which order is a REALLY BIG deal in Hollywood.

Kevin Koch said...

I fully understood the WGA screen-credit power, and never suggested in any way that screen credit isn't a huge deal to the story/writing participants (and Brad Bird in particular has a big history with that issue), nor that it isn't an issue to the studios in Hollywood.

What I said was, relative to all the other baggage and potential baggage that comes with a unionized workforce, I think the particular issue of screen credit would be down the list of reasons for Pixar to prefer to remain non-union.

Clear enough?

Anonymous said...

>>I won't say Micah is lying, because I think he's so passionate about how badly Nick treated him

Why not? He's been proven one. Passion from a liar?

Steve said...

Clinton lied about getting a blow job. Do you discount everything he did because of that lie?

Look - I'm not defending the lie or the instance. To be honest, I'm not aware of it, and I'm not going to dig around the internet to find out about it. I don't really care about it.

People make mistakes - big and small. And then, people deal with it and move on.

But Micah's experience at Nick is his experience at Nick and if you can remove the hyperbole and talk about the specifics, it's still worth a discussion.

Demonizing the messenger? That's a union/AMPTP negotiating tactic. :) We don't need to do that here.

- Steve

Anonymous said...

Yes, clear enough Kevin, but it does seem to be one of the main reasons why they will probably never use WGA.
And if you'd ever been screwed out of a screen credit because of the WGA, which I doubt you have and I suspect that many in charge at Pixar have, you'd know how big an issue it is to those of us with over-sized egos.
If you look at the way Pixar handles their screenplay credits it's obvious those would never fly with the WGA - if for no other reason many on those lists would never be deemed WGA worthy.
Don't eve discount the ego concerns when talking about artists...

Anonymous said...

I'm just surprised that this person's name has to come up at all. It's more than just an internet search regarding his credibility - it was a Washington Post article that outed someone enhancing their authority over their writing/art, the original sin for all artists and writers. Clinton can get as many BJ's as he wants - I'm not a social conservative. But for writers and artists in a field such as this, lying about one's experience to further their art? No way. They can go work at Starbucks for the rest of their life for all I care. I hope this person is not in ANY artistic collective bargaining association, and if he is, it would be a disgrace. Not someone worthy of membership in any art/writing organization.

Kevin Koch said...

To anonymous second above, I'd be curious to know how you're so certain that "many" at Pixar have been screwed by WGA credit rules? I've heard that Brad Bird kind of screwed himself on "The Iron Giant" by going for sole screenplay credit. Reportedly he was going to get a co-writing credit with Tim McCanlies, but he insisted to Warners that he get sole credit, so they sent in to the WGA for credit arbitration. Not only didn't the WGA give him sole credit, they didn't even give him the co-credit. So I could see why he'd feel strongly about it. But he's a relative newcomer to the power elite at Pixar.

Hey, you're not Brad, are you? ;)

Unless you are, or maybe Andrew Stanton, I think you're speculating pretty widely. Given everything that would come with being a WGA studio, I think it's presumptuous to assume that the credit issue, and the credit issue alone, is what's keeping Pixar from going WGA.

Kevin Koch said...

And to Steve M., regarding Micah Wright's assertions, I'm surprised you're so casual about buying into what he's written about the Nick-WGA organizing effort. He's reported a series of events that are easily shown to be false. He wrote a piece on Writer Action that was reprinted on the Hollywood United site (along with dozens of other blogs and sites) that contained a host of falsehoods. I responded on Hollywood United with a carefully documented refutation of those falsehoods. About two days later, all the comments to that post were deleted. How convenient.

The post was reprinted in the comments of The Artful Writer. I refuted it there, again, as did Steve Hulett. Micah came on and actually added some new falsehoods, which were again refuted.

I heard while I was away last week it was again reposted on The Artful Writer, without any mention that it's a demonstrably dishonest account of what happened at Nick. I don't even have the energy to track that one down.

That's one of the joys of the internet -- anyone can 'create' whatever persona and story about themselves they want, and other's are happy to believe the bullshit because it serves their emotional needs, and can't be bothered to do even the most trivial amount of research to examine the truth.

Let me just say it again, clearly: the WGA made a half-hearted attempt at organizing Nick and failed, then quietly walked away. Their organizers never really believed they would succeed, by their own admission. They never bothered to even have an NLRB-sanctioned card counting and official vote. The WGA also didn't bother to file suit over the firing of multiple writers during the organizing drive (much like what happened to the "writers" on America's Next Top Model). The Animation Guild had NOTHING to do with any of that, and was in fact cooperating with the WGA at the time. Many months later, after the WGA organizers had verified to Steve Hulett that they were done with the Nick effort, the Animation Guild was able to get rep cards, then win a sanctioned election. About a year after the WGA had abandoned their efforts to organize Nick, the Animation Guild successfully negotiated a contract with Nick. If there had been any impropriety, the WGA could have had an easy case with the NLRB. In fact, the WGA never raised a peep about the Animation Guild's organizing at Nick, because that organizing effort was completely legitimate. Micah's accounting of these events is dramatically dishonest and self serving.

God, how many more times am I going to have to repeat this stuff?

Anyway, Steve, I think your analogy between Micah's proven history of lying about himself to further his career, and Clinton lying to cover up some shady personal business, doesn't fit. If Clinton had lied about being a Rhodes Scholar and governor of Arkansas, and wouldn't have been elected if those lies were known, then it would fit. Micah lied about being an Army Ranger and a combat vet to further his career doing antiwar art and writing, and to make himself sound more important. Turns out he was in ROTC for a short time in school. I'm not here to say there's a pattern of his lying about his personal experiences to increase his credibility and further his agenda, but it sure seems of a piece.

Steve said...

I'll make you a deal. I will reprint it here, and leave it up for discussion.

I think it's a valid piece right now, because it's being slung around so much as an example of various things...

...HERE, I won't take down criticisms OR the post.

How's that?

Look for that today.