Thursday, January 03, 2008

How I Learned to Honk

Well, I'm back after a week with my family and several more weeks of trying to gather my strength for whatever it is I'm doing next. The nice thing is that there are options in my future, which is something I don't feel like I've had for a while. The not-so-nice thing is that I can't really show you what I'm working on just yet…

...so instead I'm going to comment on the WGA strike. This, I’m sure, is exactly what you’ve been waiting for all this time while I’ve been delinquent.

Every day on the way to work for the last few months I've passed scores of striking writers wandering back and forth in front of NBC. I agree that the people who help create entertainment should make residuals. On DVD, on the internet, or wherever. I hope they don't budge an inch, I’d think as I passed. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually honk. Because, while I support the WGA in theory, I have really hard time getting into the spirit of supporting them. Because I'm jealous as hell.

I'm not jealous that they're wandering around in the wind and cold holding signs all day and not making any money. Heck no. I'm still drawing. I'm still writing. I'm still working. I'm still getting a paycheck. Nope, I'm jealous because eventually, even if the WGA collapses like a wet paper sack and backs away from the negotiating table, the people who are out striking will still go back to making something for all of the entertainment they've had a hand in creating.

I've had a hard time getting into the spirit of supporting the WGA, because I knew they wouldn't be supporting me if the tables were turned. And then, just a few days ago, I read the following in "an open letter to the entertainment industry" written by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers:


Animation

The WGA seeks to obtain, once again by top-down organizing tactics, jurisdiction over animation writers who traditionally fall under IATSE's jurisdiction, and to deprive those writers of their free choice to elect union coverage under the voting system administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The AMPTP has asked the WGA to withdraw this demand.


Well, I'll be damned. My favorite part is that the AMPTP has written the WGA as the heavy, twisting animation writers' arms and forcing them to give up their rights to elect union coverage. Well, what about the fact that animation writers never make any residuals at all whatsoever? Ever? Does that seem right? Aside from a few lucky Groenings and MacFarlanes out there, people who create cartoon shows never see a penny beyond their weekly paychecks that doesn’t come from luck or merchandising. And if you run short on those babies then you’re looking at a lonely existence drawing Donald Duck in a dark room until you die. I’d imagine that most animation writers would gladly relinquish the right to help guide their impotent leadership’s direction in exchange for, oh, I don’t know… being able to retire someday.

I’ve said before that I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’m not an idiot either. I know that I’ve created something successful, even if it’s only been a moderate success. I know that Billy & Mandy will run for many years, and will eventually rake in a ton of money for someone. And I know that someone isn’t me.

So, yeah, I’m off onto new projects. New options. More new ideas that I will pour myself into out of love or obsession or... whatever it is that eats at my soul and makes me do these things. But these new projects, as much as they thrill me, also leave a bitter taste in the back of my mouth because I know that they’re going to make someone a lot of money. And I know that someone isn’t me.

Working in animation has led me to join a number of unions and guilds, including (obviously) the Animation Guild. Aside from asking an additional five hundred bucks above SAG for guild membership, I’m not sure what the Animation Guild has done for its members in the ten years I’ve been a member myself. Well, I did get a compass one year for Christmas. Here is Local 839’s position on the WGA strike:

OPEN LETTER TO ALL IATSE MEMBERS AND LOCALS ENGAGED IN
MOTION PICTURE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTION.

As you are aware, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is currently in negotiations for a successor contract to the current agreement that expires on October 31, 2007. While the IATSE remains hopeful that a new agreement can be reached between the WGA and the Employers, there is a potential for a work stoppage.

The IATSE has over 50,000 members in two countries engaged in motion picture and television production. Any work stoppage may have a profound and long-lasting impact on you and your families.

The IATSE contracts contain provisions that require us to continue to honor our contracts. These "no strike" provisions require the IATSE to notify our members of their obligation to honor these contracts and continue working. Any individual member who chooses to honor any picket line is subject to permanent replacement (our emphasis).

In the area of animated films and television, the WGA strike affects writers employed on four series: The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy and American Dad. WGA members writing on these shows, or WGA members writing for companies not signed to any union contract, may be subject to WGA discipline if they refuse the WGA's rules or orders not to work.

Apart from the three shows listed above, all union animation writing is under the jurisdiction of the Animation Guild. It is the position of the Animation Guild, and the IATSE, that writers cannot be legally disciplined by the WGA for working under the Animation Guild's jurisdiction.

“Cartoons are not important. That’s why they’re called cartoons. If people who wrote cartoons got residuals, studios would simply stop making cartoons.” Those are my quotes, and they’re what I used to think. I think that Local 839 thinks that too. “Don’t rock the boat”. Most of Local 839’s employees are artists.Even without "no strike provisions", how would artists feel about striking and being put out of work in sympathy with the WGA, only to return to work and find out that the writer in the next cubicle is now making twice their salary? Probably not so hot. So the best solution is to keep making sure that everyone is underpaid and nobody gets any royalties?

Well, guess what? It’s already happened. With both Nick and Cartoon Network venturing further and further into live action, I’ve heard plenty of stories of “the guy in the next cubicle” who’s suddenly doing pretty well thanks to the WGA. So if the plan is to try and keep that on the down-low, the plan ain’t working. Something has to change.

I’m sure there are mounds of political B.S. surrounding this strike, the WGA, Local 839, and the AMPTP so deep you’d need a snorkel just to navigate them. I’m not really interested in inter-union politics or running for office or spending my life trying to change a dysfunctional union from within. I’m more of a “facts” man. The facts are, as I see them, that the cream will rise to the top. The people who are good at what they do will do it well, and should be compensated accordingly.

If this business –the entertainment business—has taught me anything, it’s that I am a mercenary. Cartoon Network reminds me of it occasionally. I am work for hire. I am only as good as what I can produce today and tomorrow. I don’t mind that anymore. I understand it. I know my place. But the WGA reminds me that there are still things worth fighting for, and that the place I’m in won’t be my place forever.

This year I will not make any resolutions. This is Yoda’s year of do-or-not-do. This year I will create a new cartoon series. I will also create something for myself that I have ownership of. One or both of these paths will lead me to make a lot of money for a lot of people. One of those people will be me.

And in the mean time, I’ll be honking my horn as I pass the NBC building.



I've included the links to the letters below, for those who like clicking on things...

http://weblogs.variety.com/wga_strike_blog/2007/12/an-amptp-open-l.html

http://www.animationguild.org/WGAstrike.htm

P.S. - Sorry if I haven't responded to your message(s) yet. I've been away for a while and it's a mess in there...

21 Comments:

Blogger Nick Downing said...

POWER TO THE PEOPLE MY BROTHERR

4:26 PM  
Blogger Racattack Force said...

Well siad. I have been wondering your views on the WGA strike and all I can say is...good luck and don't let the network bite your head off.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Maxwell Atoms said...

I don't really have any beef with CN, so I'm not worried about it. They've done a lot for me. Early on, before B&M started doing well I wanted to be part of Cartoon Network desperately, but I felt like I hadn't proved myself. When I finally did get to the point where I felt like I proved myself, I didn't really feel like there was anything left to be part of. I think CN just lost it's center for a while. There are plans to get it back, and I hope I can be part of that.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maxwell! Let me guess about that new project in which you own... Is it a feature?

11:53 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

I hope everything you wish for this year comes into fruition. You, and others like you, have created wonderful things (B&M is one of my all-time faves) that will live on longer than any of you will be around. Y'all deserve much more than credit -- compensation.

I wish you a promising new year!

7:15 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

What advice do you have for someone who's going get into all this craziness? I want to work in developement, but also want to make my own IPs.

Right now I'm waiting for CN to open up it's recruiting for their Trainee program.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Maxwell Atoms said...

There has to be a better way to respond to you guys, right? I know I've been blogs set up way better than this. I keep kicking the computer, but the blog just never gets any better...

Anyway, no I am not working on a feature. Or even a direct to DVD feature. Series only, at the moment.

Thanks for the well-wishes, Jenny!

As for you Jeffery, go for it! There are people who work in development and produce their own properties. They are amongst the most powerful and hated people in animation. And it's probably an awesome gig if you can actually pull it off. Technically it presents a bit of a conflict of interest, what with you trying to produce the best show for the newtork by producing other people's shows and then trying to make it look like you're not favoring your own. But it's been done.

I'd say that you should do what you can to get into a studio either in development or on the artistic side, since you're interested in both. Then hang out with both the development folks and the artists until you figure out the climate and what's going on.

Good luck! Please pick up my show too, will ya?

9:31 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Thanks for the advice Max! If I make it big, anything you want to make is fine by me.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Chicklet Studios said...

I personally think all of this live action is junk. Especially the series on Cartoon Network. I have tried to give it a chance, but it just seems cheesy to me. I hope this is only a phase and Nick and Cartoon Network especially get back on track with amazing cartoons. : ) If Billy and Mandy were a success, even if moderate, then that means you're on the right track to creating something twice as successful. I did have an account here but I seem to have forgotten all the information...ergh. D:

2:20 PM  
Blogger Chicklet Studios said...

Ehehe. I figured it out. Sorry for thinking out loud.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Robert Peterson said...

Wow, I felt a lot of spirit in that post and boy was it a long post. Thanks for letting us know your view of the WGA strike.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Nelson C. Woodstock said...

The way cartoons are viewed as a lower form of entertainment unless they're on a big screen is emphasized further when you look overseas. LA cartoonists don't make much and don't get residuals, but when you look overseas at Japan and Korea and China, their wages are absolutely pathetic. Japanese artists will work long hours for the equivalent of $12,000 a year. In fact, the Japanese animators just announced the formation of a union. You can read more about that and their typical wages here - http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2007-10-15/japanese-animators-directors-establish-first-union

And because we're just considered service work and we do what someone else tells us to do, it means we can always be threatened with outsourcing. It's not easy to send script writing to Asia, but it certainly is for drawing, and they'll work at much lower wages and won't complain.

Meanwhile I troll around Los Angeles looking for storyboard work, and know exactly what I'm getting into financially. That's why I save. I know I can't count on retirement plans, so I make my own investments and put money into mutual funds and stocks every time I get a check. I know there's a lot of places to work around this city. It's finding the openings that's the most troublesome so far.

6:41 PM  
Blogger brian smith said...

thanks a lot for posting that. its tough for me (as an animation production artist) to know where i should stand on this. a lot of stuff in there i didn't know about.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Jabril said...

I'm a young (14 yrs old) asiping cartoonist and Band Mandy was a HUGE inspiration for me! I love it! I thought the Creators of shows made alot of money...if they dont who does?

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=TheCartoonTycoon

4:56 PM  
Blogger Christopher L. Jones said...

H.....hhhhiii.....Ma...Max...welll.....Atoms I....Ur My HERO!!!!!!! I want to be just like you!!!! Please atleast say 1 thing back....I...am not...worthy to speak your name.....sorry I couldent help it you are my hero Maxwell!!! I Will creat a really popular cartoon just like you someday! I have over 1000 drawings and I will creat a cartoon oneday called The Very Chaotic And Crazy Adventures of Christopher Jones!!! 1 more thing....your sooooo Awsome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7:20 AM  
Blogger Travis said...

Great post. Its great to get you insight on the strike and where you hope that your industry starts moving.

I've heard similar talk from comic book writers who are getting the same "next cube over" look at the WGA.

Good luck to you in your future endevors to get something that is all yours.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Racattack Force said...

I'm lame, so I'm going to snag a job in animtion here in NYC when I grow up.

11:43 PM  
Blogger the slackmistress said...

I agree. But animation's been on the table since day one. It's not because the WGA doesn't want animation writers. It's because the studios don't want to pay you. Shocking, I know.

However, you of all people should know and understand that not every WGA member is chomping down on a slice of that fat monkey cake...

10:01 PM  
Blogger Christopher L. Jones said...

Hi...ma...max...well...atoms...I...I...am christopher Jones.....I am sorry...that I am making the dots I am just exited because your...your my...my...HERO!!!! I love yoour work on billy and mandy I am 12 years old and your my hero...my favorite show is billy and mandy no other show is like it!!! please write back I really...Now I dont know what to say!! Ur the BEST u are the one who made me want to make cartoons! like the very chaotic and crazy adventures of Christopher Jones!

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So do i get residuals for the Billy and Mandy episodes I wrote? :D

Matt

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo....i have a question, i was googleing GAOBAM (GRIM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY) and you said there was only one season of GAOBAM out in stores, well on this one site, apparently there are 67 episodes on 7 discs, or something like that, for GAOBAM, i assumed it was a fake offer. but how do i know, so i was wondering if you could tell me if it was fake or not. well, anyways, THANKYOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING THE GRIM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY, ME AND MY FRIENDS CONSTANTLY WATCH THE SHOW AND WRITE FAN FICTION (i write either comedy, or cheesy romance stories, it's just my womanly nature....I CAN'T HELP ITTTTTTTTTTT) and we discuss the characters, and there mental state, my friends and i cracked mandy's code. we found out what made mandy so full of hate and anger, or atleast we think we did. i'll tell you what we think is going on in mandy's mind later.............hopefully i don't sound like a creapy stocker person, and if i do, be sure to lock your bathroom door when you shower..........(lololojpsikkklhj;hof)
peace out.... (yes i'm very white...)

2:55 PM  

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