Times Article on Animators Salaries (!)

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Posted by Bruce Woodside on June 24, 1999 at 20:12:48:

Just a few comments on a front page article that ran in the LA Times this morning. I’m not going to reprint the whole thing here (if you want to read it you can check it out at http://www.latimes.com/HOME/BUSINESS/UPDATES/lat_animate990624.htm), but the following quotes caught my eye:

>> Animators' Days of Drawing Big Salaries Are Ending
By CLAUDIA ELLER and JAMES BATES, Times Staff Writer

>>Movie animators have been Hollywood's equivalent of baseball free agents. Courted by
major studios over the last five years, they reaped hiring bonuses of as much as $150,000, signed lucrative multiyear contracts and traded in their Ford Escorts for Mercedes-Benzes.>But now some of the companies that bet hundreds of millions of dollars trying to emulate Walt Disney Co. to make the next "Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast" are retrenching, chastened by pricey box-office disappointments, runaway costs and competing animated movies.>As a result, what had been a seller's market for animators has this year turned into a buyer's market for studios. . . "It is clear that the business has gone through another cycle," said Walt Disney Studios President Peter Schneider, who oversees family and animated films. "Five years ago we saw animation salaries rise, and today you're seeing them coming down. People are renegotiating contracts, not getting raises--the marketplace has changed.">Disney countered by feverishly renegotiating its own contracts. It paid eye-popping
sums--more than $1 million in some cases for the superstar animators--to shield them from
the poachers. Once viewed as second-class citizens in Hollywood, animators were suddenly writing their own tickets. "I was seeing 100% to 200% increases in salaries during that time. It was fabulous. I'm nostalgic," said Nancy Newhouse Porter, a lawyer with Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May in Los Angeles, who represents more than than 200 top animators . . .>"We decided we were not going to compete with Disney," Warner Bros. co-Chairman Robert Daly said. "We decided to stick with edgy comedies and more adventure-type movies as opposed to breaking-out-in-song musicals.">He [Daly] said Warner made the mistake of carrying a staff of about 400 animators while waiting to figure out its next project. Daly readily admits that the decision to go forward with "Quest for Camelot" when "the producer was wrong and the script wasn't ready" was made in haste. Warner has now scrapped its original plans for a full-fledged
animation studio and instead is hiring animators on a project basis.>Warner's retrenchment was a major step toward putting the leverage to negotiate lower salaries and alter compensation squarely back in the hands of the Hollywood studios. Animators who once were assured of working for years at a studio under a contract now might drift from project to project in much the same way crews on live-action films work.
"The place we're going to bring down wages is at the entry level," said Disney's Moore. "And that will also put pressure on the less-than-A-level animators to cut their fees or risk getting laid off."<<

So, looks like business as usual here in Hollywood, at least according to the local press. Executives will be balancing the budgets of their films on the backs of “entry level” personnel and “less-than-A-level animators.” And the rest of us will be busy trading in our Mercedes-Benzes for Ford Escorts. Earlier in the article, the authors noted that “ironically” Disney’s latest film "Tarzan" is “poised to become one of the biggest animated films ever.” I love irony. I think we need more of it.

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