Re: Animation budgets

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Posted by McClenahan on May 31, 1999 at 10:32:26:

In Reply to: Re: Animation budgets posted by Dave on May 31, 1999 at 05:18:44:

I believe it was Charles who brought our studio into this discussion, and so the comments were directed more toward answering those points, than trying to confuse TV animation budgets with feature budgets.

Now, I'm not certain about what you mean when you say "people no longer want full animation because of the cost ..." Are you talking about doing feature-quality animation in TV series? No toy or cereal sponsors could EVER pay for that. Again, the discussion was made to answer points made about our studio. You continue your discourse with observations about Jimmy Wong, so the discussion about TV budgets seems to be appropriate again.

You guys wrote an article on this site entitled "Empowering the Union." In it you say all the things we agree on ... except that you seem to be advocating that it can be done with the present union. It's like saying, "I would really like that red motorcycle if only it were a silver porsche." You want the UNION empowered by taking away its union qualities. StarToons was receiving "Bugzburg" footage when Filmation closed its doors ... an attempt was made to strong-arm me into joining the MPSC. You say they shouldn't have done that, but that's what unions do! You say they shouldn't force young recruits to pay the exorbitant fees ... but again, how do you think any organization runs? Those medical benefits you enjoy, what do you think pays for that?

We're NOT a group of freelancers, either. We are a business. There's a BIG difference. In fact, we are the kind of business you advocated: animator-owned and run studio. Based on management concepts borrowed from overseas studios - which in turn had been borrowed from early Los Angeles-based studios (Hanna-Barbera). TV animation budgets have to be controlled. It's controlled with piecework rates. If you want to call them widgets, so be it. Our clients like our widgets - at least more than those of most of our Asian competitors (although when it comes to TV animation, it's hard to consistently beat TMS' quality). The viewers seem to prefer our widgets. They can't compare to feature animation, no.

But if you want a happy, healthy community of animators, you need the bread-and-butter of ongoing TV animation production. Work on features and commercials when they're available - keep a couple of hundred people busy at once. But in between features - or even concurrent with them (dream with me, here) - happy, productive animators with an endless backlog of work, some that they enjoy, some that they don't, but always providing jobs and security.

I really don't believe that you've lived your life in my world, because you equate free-lancing (an individual in business for himself) with running a studio. No, even if you COULD run the business, you wouldn't want to. I don't. I long for the day when I can stop promoting and wheeling and dealing and hacking and slashing and meeting and greeting and kissing up to proud, arrogant clients ... AND kissing up to proud, arrogant artists that work for me and believe they could do a better job but never actually set out on their own and do it. When we were a very small shop, it was manageable. I could set aside one day each week to do the payroll, send out invoices, pay bills, pay taxes, fill out endless forms, and make sales calls. But as we grew, it became a job onto itself ... and I wanted to ANIMATE! So we HIRED a GM and an office manager to do that stuff. I was so happy when we got them! I do LOVE my craft. I started this studio in Chicago because I didn't want to move to LA and there was no alternative here.

But when it comes to our employees, not a one of them isn't thankful for the opportunities we have created here in Chicago. A prominent LA director who worked for us a short time ago, had been making about $12,000 a year when we hired him. His first year with us, he made about $35,000. The next year, $45,000. When he left us two years later, he was up around $60,000. Sixty grand can go a long way in Chicago. Currently one of my directors is making more than $100 grand a year. And that's strictly turning out your widgets. Yes even our directors get production bonuses. Maybe it doesn't impress you; it worked for them. But that kind of boasting means nothing to cartoon fans or potential clients who might visit our website. I'm glad if you like anything on there, but frankly, it's neither here nor there. I need potential clients to like it, to have a reason to use us, rather than contract their properties out to one of the "pseudo-producers" you talk about. Without blowing our own horn and selling ourselves as distinctive and viable, we can be nothing but an expensive alternative to the cartoon brokers we both detest. Every frame of animation we do here in Chicago is work we've stolen from Asian studios, creating (and, I wish, starting to rebuild) an industry that American artists had previously given up on. We're fighting windmills for Dulcinea over here, unless we can create a meaningful movement.

I don't know what a union animator makes, but let's say it's on the order of $80,000 a year. Would that animator be interested in making $100,000 or more (frankly, I don't consider the aforementioned director of mine to be exceptional, especially by your standards)? But it would require constant 8-hour days and self-discipline. I'm not saying anybody would be lazy, but there is an attitude adjustment that needs to be made. I've hung around big LA studios, and frankly it was hard to find many people busy at their desks. Cynicism, anger, frustration ... prevent them from enjoying themselves. The union contract protects against productivity bonuses. So what reason could there be to keep your nose to the grindstone? I wouldn't either, given your situation.

Tell me this: if StarToons landed the kind of series work we're trying to land, would you guys be interested in working on it for fixed rates (widgets)? I'll rename the studio "The West Coast MPSC Local 809 Memorial Studio" if you like. We could transfer the headquarters to Sherman Oaks or Van Nuys or wherever you like.

Would you do the same for me? I don't care what you call your dream studio, once it's formed. Would you hire me to animate? I'll come work for you, in that case. I'll help advise you in any way you like, if you think my opinions would be helpful. Or tell me to shut up and draw - I'll gladly do it.

But the studio has to be viable! Somebody will have to wear a suit - know what I mean? If we have left-brain geniuses among our artists, fine. But somebody will have to do it.

It HAS to be viable ... otherwise it's just another historical example of artistic hysteria. I don't want to be a part of that. But I'd love to a be a part of the power you guys represent.

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