Animation writers mobilize for equal pay

A few weeks ago, a large group of IATSE chapters made international news while fighting for better arrangements for their union. Now The Animation Guild (TAG) – IATSE Chapter 839 – stands up and says it’s time for the long-standing pay gap between animation and live-action writers to be resolved.

According to details that surfaced in the #PayAnimationWriters movement within the Chapter, animation writers sometimes earn less than a third of what live-action writers do despite doing the same job – $ 9,099 per animated script independent (for a half hour series) as opposed to the $ 12,290 – $ 27,100 live action writers do the same length script. On a “good” day, animation writers can expect this gap to be only 25% less. (For additional context: while the WGA and TAG guilds seemingly represent the same areas and associated issues, animation writers are not represented by the WGA for a series of complex reasons which mainly boil down to this disparity in pay and , as longtime animator Len Uhley explains in a more involved thread, “Because federal law prohibited them from” poaching “members of another union. “)

TAG’s claims are clear: There is a huge gap between the rates of animation and live action. Note that WGA works on some animated properties, but guild minimums vary widely. WGA animated series include The Simpsons, Solar Opposites, Bob’s Burgers, and more. While TAG series include Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, Star Wars: Resistance, HBO Max’s hugely popular Harley Quinn series, and many more. You can find the full list of studios TAG works with here.

The transition to the self-employed

One of the biggest challenges animation writers face today is the industry’s shift from staff to freelance. Mairghread Scott – a longtime writer and one of the Chairs of Chapter 839 – describes to IGN how much more difficult it makes scripting to write.

“It’s a lot harder to pick up an episode than it is to write an episode by staff, says Scott. “You have to do all the extra legwork in your spare time. And you are blind to the rest of the series. What does this asset look like? How much taller is this character than this other character? [It’s] more work as a writer, because you don’t come every day, you don’t see animatics. You may not be able to see the recordings. You don’t have the opportunity to talk to designers.

Gloria Shen, who has worked on animation and live-action projects, says freelancers aren’t the only ones feeling the brunt of staff change. “It creates a tremendous amount of work for the one writer, usually the editor, who has to edit and rework every independent episode that comes along to fit the series as best as possible.”

This means full-time, freelance animation writers have to overcome more hurdles to create a better product, while being paid less despite the more difficult work setup. But, for freelancers, the implications go further – if work opportunities are increasingly limited to freelance, it can be difficult for animation writers to meet their health insurance minimums or even find full time opportunities. “You have to do 400 hours every six months. When you are on the staff, it’s like going to a job. You earn 40 hours a week or whatever your timesheet ends up like you’re working overtime, ”says Scott. “If you are self-employed, each unit is allocated a certain number of equivalent hours. So an 11-minute broadcast plan right now is worth 47 hours. You get some of it at the same time, when you get paid for that unit. So if this track comes a little too late, you’re screwed.

All of these obstacles and the lack of career opportunities impact diversity in writing rooms.

“Producers and studios want to see that you have writing experience ‘with staff’ before they agree to move you up the ranks,” Shen says. “But as more and more shows become fully independent, getting writing experience with staff becomes more and more difficult.” All of these obstacles and the lack of career opportunities also impact the diversity in writers’ rooms. “So the same writers are only moved laterally, both at the showrunner and story editor level, and at the freelance editor / editor level,” Shen continues. “This is a huge issue for diversity and inclusion, because historically the higher levels have been mostly occupied by white writers.”

As more and more major properties turn to animation, it would be reasonable to assume that studios with major IPs would pay more. But Scott says that’s not the case at all. “If a studio has a cool enough IP, I’ve had executives say [things] like: “Well we don’t pay more, because everyone wants to write [for this IP]. ‘”

He presents freelance animators with an ultimatum: to continue struggling with these career circumstances, or risk exposure.

Animation writers don’t see any residue from their projects either. “The only thing you get is what’s called foreign levies, which is if your show is airing in Europe,” Scott said.

Exclusivity clauses further complicate matters

Pay disparities and obstacles to career development are not the only problems highlighted – exclusivity clauses also endanger the stability of animation writers. It’s not uncommon for writers hired as staff to be forced to work exclusively with the studio during this time – but it gets complicated when there are delays on projects. Shen recently had an experience where she was supposed to go back to work on the second season of a series, but the studio decided to “pause” the green light a week in advance. “I hadn’t been able to start exploring other opportunities when I was on staff, so I didn’t have any leads at this point. Instead of working full time for the next eight months, I wrote two freelance episodes, a difference of about $ 75,000 [in pay].

“Due to the nature of concert-based entertainment, we always have to think about what our next job will be,” Shen continues. “If the show we’re on gets canceled or the episode order is cut, which often happens, we’re left in the wind. And if we’re not allowed to pursue other projects while on staff, we’re missing out on potential opportunities to move to another job when our current job ends.

The push for the future of animation writers

The #PayAnimationWriters movement aims to close the pay gap between live action and animation rates, with the aim of ensuring that studios have less reason to choose freelance positions over staffed positions. This change then helps resolve the health and career progression issues expressed by the union.

We were expected to continue without missing a beat. And we did.

“I don’t pretend to tell the studios how they want to hire their writers,” says Scott, “but they don’t get half the price by making writers’ lives harder. It’s just overwhelming. It’s overwhelming. ‘hear people say that, “If you want to do an animation, you better have a spouse who has health insurance because that’s never going to be a viable career. It’s not possible. Not when we make them. make so much money. Not when it’s the golden age of animation. Not when COVID literally shut everything down except us. And we had to keep going without missing a beat. And We were doing.

“If it’s the same amount of money to rent a staff room and a fully independent room, you’ll get a better product in a staff room,” Scott continues. “Because they will have more support. And they’re gonna be better integrated, and they don’t have to take two or three extra jobs [to] keep the lights on. So we have to dissuade them from becoming independent because they know they would get a better product. “

TAG initially began negotiations on November 29. Since December 3, negotiations have been suspended until the new year. The official date has not yet been announced. You can follow the # NewDeal4Animation and #PayAnimationWriters tags.

Some quotes edited for clarity.

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