After doing a bunch of television work, I found myself at Sony Animation. Working on Adam Sandlers “8 Crazy Nights”.
A truly awful movie. And I may have a post on that at another time.
While it was indeed an awful flick, I was happy to be back in the studios working in feature again. But that happiness was short lived.
The industry was still in full disarray. With no signs of letting up.
And the studios knew it.
They had us by the short and curlies and they were all too happy to push their advantage.
And Sony was no different.
Demanding tons of work off the clock.
Overloading on work and giving far less time to do it. Extreme pressure.
Add to that that they were a studio that had literally no clue as to what they were doing, and you have a recipe for disaster.
It was not a good environment. To say the least.
And who…who comes walking through the doors?
Well….that good ole’ Union rep that we’ve all come to adore.
Making his rounds to check up on everything.
“How’s everything goin’?”
“Well”…I said…”come here. And I’ll tell ya”.
We went into a non used office and I did just that. Told him everything that was going on within the studio. And I wanted to know what the Union was going to do about it.
And there wasn’t even much hemming and hawing over it.
He flat out said, “Look Steve…there really isn’t a whole lot we CAN do about it. It’s a buyers market out there. The studios know that. So they’re going to take advantage of the situation.”
I asked him: “So…what is your purpose as the union? When you make your trips to the studios and you walk around here and ask us how everything is going? How are they treating you? Etc etc…What’s the point of all that? What is it that you actually DO for the members?”
He, being the polished union rep that he was, didn’t miss a beat.
“You can file a formal complaint. And it will be on record.”
I looked at him for a few seconds..”……and that does?…”
Union Rep: “At this point, due to the state of the industry, that’s pretty much all that can be done.” (paraphrasing)
So there you have it folks. The ugly truth of it all. That’s it.
Time to revisit mental bookmark #1: Remember…one of the so called ‘benefits’ of being in the union is for “protection” from abuse from the employers.
The union (as told to us) is supposed to be a ‘check’ on those companies.
Well, as it turns out, there isn’t much that the union can do regarding ‘protections’.
And as someone who has personally worked in both union and non union houses in both animation as well as game development…I can assure you that there is absolutely no more ‘protections’ or ‘security’ in working in a union house as opposed to a non-union house. None. Zilch. Nada.
In fact…I would argue that I’ve actually been treated BETTER in the non union houses than in the big studio union houses.
Again….the “Union” is only as strong as the market allows them to be.
If the “Market” is the Gigantic whale…the Union is surely the little fish that attaches itself to the belly of the whale and hangs on for the ride.
But the story doesn’t end there….
I finally left Sony. (Sidenote: Sony neglected to give me a credit on that movie. Something that I wasn’t at all angry about by the way. 😀 )…And went back into the TV realm again.
It was at that time that the Union prez had either stepped down or was in the process of stepping down from his union perch.
He had been working as a director for a big studio. Working on a feature that was to be coming out very soon.
Needless to say…even with all my battles with the union about any number of things, it did STILL come as a hysterical shock to me when I heard through the grapevine that the studio he was at….on the very film he was DIRECTING on…was….yes indeed folks…
SENDING WORK OVERSEES!!
And of course, the work being sent was to non-union shops.
Yes indeed folks. We are now revisiting mental bookmark #2!
Wasting no time, I quickly got on the phone and called the union. Spoke to their people and asked them about this.
And what they told me was:
“He (the union president) doesn’t own the studio. It’s not up to him how they function and what policies they have.”
“That he (the union president) is only doing his job duties at the studio. Which is directing. It IS a job. And like everyone else..he has a family to feed.”
But remember…it wasn’t that long ago when this very same union president was demagoguing others for doing the exact same thing. Working at a studio that was sending work overseas, OR working at a non union shop.
And THIS studio he was working at now was (ironically) a UNION studio.
I told them that based on everything that was said (by him) about studios sending work oversees and working with non union shops, that I thought just on principal, that if he wouldn’t resign, that he would at least reject those policies publicly by at least speaking out against them.
Hell, I’d settle for one of those oh so insightful and opinionated union newsletter columns calling out said studio for doing so.
But no. Not a peep from our stalwart union or it’s high and mighty president.
The only peeps that were happening were from me. And boy howdy did I PEEP!
I raised it on the union website forums.
I raised it on every animation web forums and sites.
Later, I raised in animation facebook groups that they themselves were in. And got in some pretty heated conversation with the both of them.
All of which got me banned and booted from those forums and walls. And I can’t say that I blame them.
After all…it IS rather embarrassing when you’re exposed as a racket and as a fraud. And that is exactly what the animation union is.
A racket…and a fraud.
The animation industry and the union today
The industry as it stands today still seems staggered to me.
Many veteran animation people being laid off after decades of working in the industries.
Others choosing to work in studios oversees in other countries. Going to where the jobs are.
Some have found their niches in the U.S. animation industry, and continue to bounce from project to project in different capacities.
The “Union” continues to go on. Like most bureaucracies, they somehow find a way to linger and never die.
Now being headed up by different people. With a different ‘president’ and a different ‘union rep’. But one look at the union newsletter makes one think of that old song…”Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss”.
Like most other unions for other industries, it’s a sure bet that ‘membership’ (forced) is probably down. As Unions across the board have suffered declining membership for years now.
For the animation industry, much of that is due to a few things:
1) The state of industry.
2) The digital age opening other doors for creative’s.
While the digital age has brought a bit of instability within the animation industry …it has busted a hole in the studio wall, opening a slew of possibilities for animators not interested in the stagnant, cookie cutter projects that come out of the studio/union houses.
Glen Keane, noted ex-Disney veteran has created some astonishing work such as his “Duet” small film. And has recently won an academy award for his work with Kobe Bryant on the small film “Dear Basketball”.
Many creating their own works big and small, for an audience that is hungry for individual creativity. Independent and away from the union shop/big studios (or even the non union shops).
The union, like the industry itself, finds itself amidst great change and instability. As the medium grows due to technology, so does the ways to create. And much of that lies in the hands of non-union houses which also includes small individual creators (veteran and amateur alike) that don’t need or want union or big studio interference.
So that leaves the union as well as big studios, grappling with the *one thing* that leaves them in a precarious and perilous position. Which ironically (and not surprisingly) is what leaves the individual creator in a more desirable position.
And what is that one thing you ask?