The Tactics Of Suppression

There have been some recent instances of rebellion within the animation industry. One of the most memorable was when the entire creative staff of the television aspect of a major studio objected to the hiring of an executive that they had no faith in.

A formal appeal was made to the head of the studio. A petition was signed by the entire crew. What do you think the studio head did? Do you think he took the time to listen to the artists' concerns? Of course not. Then he wouldn't be a good executive, would he.

What happened as a result was that the artists were broken up into manageable groups. These groups were then met with by the studio head, one by one, then severely and angrily reprimanded like little children for questioning the abilities of the prospective animation executive to administer. It was a classic, yet predictable ploy. Divide and conquer.

What the studio head really meant was, how dare anyone question his judgment in finding someone suitable enough to keep the tradition of the pseudo-producers intact.

The greatest threat to the non-creative pseudo-producer is someone who actually knows what to do. Someone actually trained in animation production. In order for the pseudo-producers to keep their grip on the industry, they have to keep the legions of animation talent in line. They do it through intimidation, through layoffs and the threat of layoffs. There are no real avenues for artists to voice their grievances within the infrastructure of the modern day animation studio. The corporate mentality that dominates the halls of these studios is not able to grasp the notion of a legitimate complaint. Any complaint or comment that is made to draw attention to a problem is seen as an open challenge to the power grid. Since their authority over artists is so tenuous, the system is maintained by weeding out the messenger instead of heeding the message.

As such, artists are intimidated out of speaking or standing up for themselves or their coworkers. They fear they will lose their jobs, be given an early layoff, or become blackballed by the studio or labeled as a trouble making renegade in the industry. Since the power grid is defined by the unqualified executive, a comment or complaint has the potential of uncovering the charade. A pseudo-producer cannot afford even the slightest possibility that others may find out that they have no idea what they are talking about. Their top priority is to keep the illusion alive and their best, most effective weapon is fear.

If it gets to the point where fear is no longer effective, they have a genuine problem on their hands. The status quo must be maintained if they are to keep their cushy jobs, extravagant lifestyles and their grossly inflated salaries. That's why layoffs are such an effective tool. It keeps our community off balance and keeps the power grid in place.

A personal friend of mine started his own animation studio in 1996 and was successful in producing a large number of episodes of am animated television series at a quality not normally achieved by other studios managed by non-creative executives. The formula was familiar. The series was toy based and the production farmed out to Asian studios, but he did a commendable job at showing that animation artists are completely capable of handling an identical production situation. The artists working for him were, for the most part, happy. There was high morale and a positive buzz about what was going on.

He became successful and recently sold his studio to a television distribution company. One of the first things that they did was move him out of his spacious office and let an attorney have it. Then they brought in two non-creative executives to assist him in running the place. The latest word I've received from one of the employees of this studio, referring to the new environment, is that he compared it to the "mines of Moria".

Another ploy of suppression that appears to be quite common in the industry and which few artists realize, is that in many production situations, the budget is set up to pay artists more than what they wind up settling for. For example, a storyboard artist, desperate for work after weeks of unemployment, gets a take it or leave it offer from an executive or manager. The artist takes what is offered and is happy to be getting the job. In reality, the salary he or she has accepted is 25% lower than what the studio has budgeted for that position. Where do you think the extra money goes? It's not folded back into the production. It goes into an executive's pocket.

Why is this detrimental to our community? Because it keeps the animation artist from achieving financial stability and independence.

I have personally seen budgets that are astonishing in their deceptive distribution of funds that were intended for creative use, either as salaries or as equipment for the artists. Money that was slated for the purchase of art supplies was used for purchasing office furniture for executives and upper management instead. I have seen executive salaries that are obscene. Thousands and thousands of dollars per week going to people on staff who are remotely, if at all, attached to the production. Money that could have easily gone towards hiring a few more artists and making the show a little better, making our community a bit more secure.

The culture that has been fostered over decades by corporate executive mentality has artists fighting and competing with each other instead of competing against those who are incapable of proceeding with a production without our help and knowledge. Adversity within our community is fostered by a belief that we may be hired as an art director next time around, or as a supervisor of some sort. Maybe even a director if we go along with the illusion and pretend. We fight among ourselves for the crumbs that are tossed our way instead of taking the bread and cutting it up as we see proper.

I have personally been reassured by non-creative pseudo-producers that if the crew works hard enough, year round employment will be given to the artists when in fact, these people had no intention of keeping artists on staff after the production was wrapped up. A few days after receiving these reassurances, I came across a floor plan where the artists' offices were being reassigned to management personnel. Sure enough, after the production was over, everyone got the boot. Except management, of course.

Today, many major studios monitor their talent in ways reminiscent of George Orwell's novel, 1984. I am told that the telephone lines of artists are tapped. At one huge studio, I've been told by several employees that hidden cameras are placed throughout the place to maintain visual surveillance over their creative production staff. These executives must feel that artists will someday wind up being as dishonest they are.

When we, as a community, are able to identify the tactics of suppression, we are better able to prepare ourselves in ways that give us hope for the future. When we stop fighting each other and consider our fellow workers colleagues instead of enemies, we enable ourselves to take the first step towards liberating our industry and community from the control of unqualified managers who see us as expendable and place the burden of their mistakes, poor judgment and lack of leadership skills squarely upon our shoulders.

In order for our community to take the next step up, we must be unified.

Charles Zembillas © 1999
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