Notes — Craft Meetings

Steve Hulett / September 15, 2016

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The Guild has been holding craft meetings over the past five weeks. Below find the notes for all meetings that have taken place in the upstairs meeting hall at 1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, California:

Craft Meeting #1 — Board Artists and Revisionists

One year into the 2015-2018 contract, there are 3750 people at signator studios.

Staffing levels continue to be robust, and board supervisors at some studios continue to say it’s difficult to hire and hang onto seasoned talent.

Disney Television Animation is doing some restructuring, and outsourcing some shows to Rough Draft (recently signed to a contract), Wild Canary, and Robin Red Breast/Titmouse in Hollywood.

New Media (Streaming Video On Demand and other internet-delivered content) will be one of the major negotiating items during 2018 contract negotiations. A number of new artists are working below minimum wage rates because their jobs happen to be under the New Media sideletter, and none of the New Media productions reach budgetary tiers that trigger higher minimums.

The Business Representative noted that the sideletter in the 2015-2018 contract reflects live action budgets that are considerably higher than TV animation budgets. But the sideletter is almost identical to other New Media sideletters, and one size doesn’t really fit all, but that’s what we’ve got.

Studio tests have been a hot button topic at recent General Membership Meetings. A Guild Testing Abuse Committee has been created and is reviewing a sample studio test. It’s recommended that the test be no longer than thirty panels with ten of those panels being “clean-ups”. It recommended a 72-hour turnaround time for each test. The committee is now waiting to hear back from the studio on its proposal.

Uncompensated Overtime. The biz rep said that uncomped o.t. has been a long-term problem. Artists continue to work free extra hours because production deadlines are too tight and a number of artists are perfectionists regarding their work. Several veteran board artists said that individuals need to stop working free o.t. and sepak to production when schedules can’t be met. Too many employees do uncomped work because they’re frightened of blowing a deadline.

It was pointed out that that artists need to communicate how much work they can get done in forty hours, and work looser where necessary. Several artists said that production needs to be told “no” when something can’t be done. Quality artists who are somewhat slower than the norm continue to be employed because talent remains at a premium in the Los Angeles labor marketplace.

Several artists stated it was important for story crews to communicate among themselves and share information. Exchanging work-load info about different shows in on a TAG 839 private Facebook page operated by members was noted as a good way for artists to know how much work was expected (and done) on various TV series

Many Production Schedules are tight and unreasonable because production managers have a distorted idea abut how much work can be done on a forty-hour basis because of uncompensated overtime. Several artists said a culture and community needs to be built that can push back on free work being done.

Freelance Work. The business agent and two executive board members reviewed the Unit Rate Wages in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (pages 76-79). All three noted that the minimum wage rates are low and no studios use them. The bigger problem are the Pension and Health contribution hours are low, although they were raised 30-35% in the last contract negotiation.

Questions were asked about daily minimum wage rates vs. weekly minimum wage rates. The business agent said that daily rates are 117.719% above weekly rates, 10% of which is a premium, while 7.719% constitutes vacation and holiday pay.

Animatics were discussed. The business agent emphasized that animatics work is under the jurisdiction of the Editors Guild, not the Animation Guild. The biz rep said that the Editors have filed a grievance against Cartoon Network over animatics, and under which guild’s jurisdiction it should be placed. Several Warner Bros. Animation artists said that Warners has them doing animatics work. The business representative stated he’d reported this to the Editors Guild.

It was noted that many board artists do animatics where the Editors Guild has no contract. The biz rep said artists should charge for the time they do animatics because it’s important they be compensated for their time. One board artist said that since employees are asked to be layout artists, storyboard artists, writers and animatics editors, they should be paid for each of those jobs. The business agent said if the extra work puts them into overtime as storyboarders, they should charge overtime for it.

There was general agreement that members need to push on issues that could become bargaining proposals in 2018.

Craft Meeting #2 — Timing Directors and Animation Checkers

The Business Representative reviewed current employment (now north of 3500 staff and freelance employees) and the numbers of shows in work at different studios.

Footage rates, part of the contract for the first time, were discussed at length. The current rate of $3.35/foot was thought too low by many, especially if lip assignments are included as part of the job. ..

It was also pointed out that action shows with casts of thousands took more time to do than two-character comedy shows. The current rate will be in effect for 12 months, at which time the footage rate will rise to $3.45/foot.

Directors thought there should be proposals to revise the footage rate in the 2018 contract negotiations, and also revise weekly and daily wage rates. It was noted that the footage rate for timing had been $3 per foot for twenty years, and that reported Pension and Health Contribution hours were “all over the map”, with some freelance animation directors being paid 20 hours for a week’s work. Under the current contract, for every 100 feet of freelance animation timing, 8 hours of health and pension contributions are provided to the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

There was discussion about animatics, how the slugging of boards has been supplanted by animatics. The only show being done without animatics is “Samurai Jack”.

It was felt that freelancers should make more than staff animation directors, incentivizing studios to being animation directors in-house. The Business Representative noted that the Guild negotiates wage floors, not ceilings, and directors, board artists, designers are free to negotiate about the minimum rates. No freelance board artists work at the unit rate minimums because no studio used them.

Freelance directors could budget the time spent on assigned footage. Discussion of quantity vs. quality; some attendees thought that it was important to maintain quality to keep the work in Los Angeles. Almost all directors attending were working. The Business Representative said he knew of few directors who weren’t working either staff or freelance.

This was a major change from five years ago, when there was far less working many directors weren’t employed. Cartoon Network, which has many successful shows, uses timing directors on almost all its productions and most enjoy solid ratings. Many in the room attributed the success of CN’s timed shows to more timing work at other studios.

Animation checkers are under pressure to work uncompensated overtime, which continues to be an issue on various shows at different studios for many classifications.

Meeting adjourned at 9:35.

Craft Meeting #3 — Designers, Layout and Background Artists, Color Stylists

Members were urged to attend the September 27, 2016 General Membership Meeting, as there will be discussion and vote by the membership on TAG’s future dues structure. There will also be nominations for board members and officers of the local, and approximately half of the board will be departing, including the Business Representative, President, Recording Secretary and several board members.

There were questions about the duties of officers and board members, also election procedures. The Business Representative described the roles of various Guild officers, who was eligible, and how and when the vote would take place (detailed in TAG’s Constitution and by-laws, pp. 10-20).

Review of the 2015-2018 Agreement — One Year In — The Guild disavowed piecework for designers, layout and background artists in the 2012 negotiations; a few studios still assign piece work to freelancers, but the rule is: freelancers are paid for work at the daily rate, with a four-hour minimum call.

Work at most studios is robust, TAG has received continuing complaints from supervisors that they have difficulty staffing shows with experienced people. The Guild has record-high employment which will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

New Media — The Business Representative reported that the 839 New Media sideletter, (Sideletter N — pp 99-113) which allows production work for Subscription Video On Demand and other work delivered over the internet, to be paid below contract minimums. The largest employer using the New Media sidletter continues to be DreamWorks Animation TV, which pays employees new to the industry below contract rates. At this point, other studios aren’t employing many individuals under the sideletter, but it continues to be a concern. New Media will be on of the major contract issues when the sideletter is renegotiated in 2018.

Studio Tests — There were lengthy discussions regarding studio testing. Members reported that some studios are asking for 2-3 layout designs plus color backgrounds from the designs, and that these tests take 3 or more days to complete. (The test length is considered by the Guild to be abusive). Many employed veterans refusing to take tests. The Business Representative reported that he’s told some studios tests are becoming counter-productive because talented, experienced artists won’t take them and so studios self-limit the pool of job applicants.

Uncompensated Overtime — Many design and layout artists reported tight schedules that were impossible to meet in forty hours of work. The Business Representative and several artists said it’s important to communicate with other artists on a show’s team, compare work-loads and time needed to complete assignments. Studios sometimes use the fastest artists as the standard for the amount of work required.

Several veterans reported when they ask for overtime they get it (although there is some resistance). Production assistants and coordinators are as uptight about confrontation as artists. Members said it was important to share information with co-workers, to build team solidarity, and to communicate with production about how much work can be done in a given period. When a show is overlong and the number of designs/backgrounds required cannot be met within a forty-hour schedule, artists need to communicate that overtime or a longer work schedule will be needed. (Some half-hour episodes are more labor intensive than others).

Production Schedules — Members said that some production schedules are unrealistic. (See uncompensated overtime, above). Veteran artists pointed out that uncompensated work taken home or done in-studio by artists 1) undermines their co-workers and 2) gives studio management a false idea of how long it takes to complete tasks. Some veteran artists will continue to do uncompensated overtime, but it’s important to build team spirit and discourage free o.t. wherever possible.

Craft Meeting #4 — CG Animator/Modelers, Technical Directors, and Compositors

Review of First Year of 839 Contract: There was a discussion of collective bargaining agreement, how Tech Directors and CG animators are being impacted. At the feature studios (Disney and DreamWorks) overtime is being paid and there have been no major complaints. Production schedules are compressed, but opinions are divided on the negative impacts. Some people like the extra overtime pay; others would prefer more weekends and evenings spent with family. At tv animation studios – principally DreamWorks Animation TV — more work is being piled onto leads and supervisors, with more job stress.

For CG Classifications, there are no job descriptions and no clear parameters about what the jobs entail. This is a problem. Companies can reconfigure and redefine what a CG lead is, what a supervisor is, at a moment’s notice. There needs to be some controlling language in the CBA. Business Representative described the history of CG classifications getting into the contract in the mid-90s, when non-Guild tech directors working on “Dinosaur” at Disney agitated to be covered by the contract and to have pay rates track contract rates. At that time, numbered classifications were introduced.

New Media: Studios are hiring artists and tech directors at below contract minimums (this is happening at IA locals covering live-action as well), but studios ARE paying the 6% Individual Account Plan pension percentage at the contractual minimum rate, not the actual rate of pay. The New Media Sideletter (Sideletter N – pp. 99-113 of 839 CBA) enables studios to negotiate freely below minimum rates. The budgetary tiers that would mean 85% of minimums would have to be paid reflect live-action budgets, and animation budgets are way lower so “budget tiers” in the Sideletter are never reached. This was an issue at the last negotiation, will be an issue at next IA and TAG negotiation in 2018.

Simplifying Contract classifications: There was discussion of simplifying contract categories, keeping categories broad-based and simple and having fewer classifications and categories (Senior artist; jumior artist, apprentice artists, trainee). Some CG artists wanted definitions and more specific names in classifications. The Business Representative said that studios had resisted defining classifications in the past, that it might be more doable to get descriptive names in contract than definitions.

There is also an additional concern at some jobs about the combination of different job classifications into one; some people have reported doing multiple jobs in the same deadline, whereas before they only had one. The issue there is that people are taking those jobs and not fighting against the job compressions.

Wage Suppression Lawsuit: Individuals have gotten letters regarding the Wage Suppression class-action lawsuit involving Blue Sky Studios, Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation (etc). A number of attendees had received letters. Business Representative said that the Guild is not directly involved, although it held a meeting with one of the lawsuit attorneys and referred people to his law firm early in the process. Business Representative said he was subpoenaed for a depoition and that documents were also subpoenaed. It was noted that Blue Sky Studios and Sony Pictures Animation have reached settlements on the suit, but Disney, DreamWOrks and Pixar have not settled.

Live-Streaming: Some artists thought that live-srtreaming was a viable way to involve members who could never get to General Membrship Meetings; others though meeting conversations need to stay in the meeting room. There was a worry that the streaming of meetings would keep people from speaking up.

CG Classes at Guild: There was a discussion of reconfiguring the computer lab so that in-house classes could be held. Right now, CG classes are held off-site under the Contract Servicies Administration Trust Fund.

Meeting adjourned at 9:30 p.m.

Craft Meeting #5 — Animation Writers

The Animation Guild’s fifth craft meeting took place Tuesday night in the Guild meeting hall at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank California.

It was noted that TAG Vice President Earl Kress passed away five years ago yesterday at age 60. Earl was a prolific, talented writer who was instrumental in securing better conditions for freelance writers, negotiating health benefits for freelancers who wrote two half-hour outlines and scripts.

New Media: There were discussions regarding the Guild’s New Media sideletter (pp 99-113 of the CBA), how its production budget tiers are tied to live-action that don’t reflect the budgets for animation. New Media will likely be a central issue in 2018 negotiations, and there will be early indications where New Media language is going when the WGA and DGA negotiate their contracts next year.

Some writers at DreamWorks Animation TV are writing at below minimum rates, which is allowed under the sideletter. Animation work that’s distributed over the internet (Netflix, Amazon, etc.) comes under New Media. If a negotiated contract fails to be ratified, then contract talks resume until a new agreement is reached or the talks reach impasse. …

Script Fees: Only one studio has script fees (payments on top of salaries); that studio is Nickelodeon.

General Membership Meeting: Members were encouraged to attend the September 27th General Membership Meeting and run for the board or an officer position, since several officers and board members are departing.

Bank of Hours: Why hasn’t the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan’s Bank of Hours been raised? Because the bargaining parties (AMPTP and IATSE) haven’t negotiated a hike. The 450 hours has been in place for a number of years, though the threshold for health coverage was raised eight years ago from 300 hours to 400 hours per 6-month period. This had the effect of knocking some participants off the Plan and there was some anger from members about it. Five years ago, premium payments of $25/month for participants with one dependent and $50/month for participants with 2 or more dependents were introduced.

Writer Categories: Animation Writer is a job classification in the contract. Story Editor in not in the contract, though the AMPTP told the Guild in negotiations four years ago it was part of the writer classification.

Discussion of how story editors get paid: Some writer/story editors in attendance liked total fees divided over 26 episodes and being paid weekly, and didn’t want the fees tied to a weekly salary because payments would be lower. It was noted that TAG negotiates wage floors, that individuals are free to negotiate better pay and conditions.

Discussion about animation writers forming their own union. Mechanics of this are difficult, there would have to be de-certification then a new union created. There was also talk about making the Animation Guild into a national union that covers the whole country, the better to organize studios in Atlanta and elsewhere.

Screen Credits: It was noted that the contract requires screen credits for story on features and half-hour broadcast “non-segmented” half-hour television shows. It was suggested that screen credits should be required for all lengths of programs, since screen credits trigger foreign levies.

Storyboard artists should be allies with writers; where storyboard artists/writers and outline writers work together on non-scripted shows, they should share script fees.

Production Schedules: Writers/producers and show runners need to insist on reasonable production schedules. Story editors need to do the math and build reasonable time lines for scripts (and storyboards).

Many studios are using freelance writers, but some studios have staff writers. There’s beginning to be more integration. DWA tv has staff story editors and small staffs of writers. Writers are in demand so studios are starting to employ staff writers to have their services full time.

Writers who know what the board artists can do are more effective because they can write scripts that reflect what can be achieved on storyboards.

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