Monday, December 17, 2007

The Other Side of the Coin

Some of the comments on my last blog post have inspired me to address a related topic. Last week my blog post was about how animation artists navigate working in a non-union animation town such as NYC. Some of the emphasis was on how animation artists can work together without the union and improve working conditions as well as studio policies. Recently, last week in fact, “permalance” workers from Viacom’s MTV networks walked off the job after their benefits and health plan were severely cut back. Among those who walked out was the entire NYC animation department at Nickelodeon. After a few short days, Viacom made some concessions and the crews returned to work. In this example, management was equally effected by the cutbacks, so the general staff had their bosses right there on the picket line with them. Still, it takes courage to walk off a job under any circumstance, so the Nickelodeon animation staff deserves our kudos and respect.

But, this posting isn’t about the above labor action. It’s about individual responsibility, which is the other side of the coin on this issue. Some students graduate with a sense of entitlement. They believe they’re owed something because of the great time and expense they just put into their education. The first five years of a typical animation career is the time when experience should be the prime consideration, far above getting the highest salary. The pay I earned while working at my first job at Michael Sporn Animation was not the biggest dollar in town. There was far more money to be earned at that time at Jumbo Pictures or MTV. But, I was working at one of the only studios in town that did animation from start to finish. The bottom line was that I was in the best place I could be to learn. And I had a lot to learn (still do!). Besides, Sporn paid a fair and generous dollar based on his budgets. If you follow the almighty dollar as your only compass you may have a very sorry career to show for it. I never heard of anyone ever choosing this industry to strike it rich. If that’s your plan, you’re probably setting yourself up for a big fall.

Yes, I understand that students fresh out of school have student loans. These loans represent your investment in yourself. If you’re looking for a quick return on that investment and believe that others owe that to you, then, you’ve already sold yourself way short. This is a business about relationships and reputation. These are your two greatest assets that you should guard with your life. Get over your sense of entitlement and start building your career. Opportunities I now have are the result of 12 years of making personal films, creating and pitching projects, taking on freelance opportunities in addition to full time work, teaching at three universities, and networking/volunteering through ASIFA-East. I have no anger or disappointment. I never believed that anyone owed me a damned thing. I’m too busy being grateful that I get to work in the field of my choice. Turn the mirror on yourself before you look to vent your frustrations elsewhere.


Unknown said...

Wow! I love this post! Congratulations to the permalancers on getting their voices heard and getting their well deserved benefits and health plans. Hopefully these actions resonate throughout the whole animation community, and if need be, others follow in their footsteps when benefits and health plans are in jeopardy.

In regards to the rest of the post I don't know if i should be offended, shell shocked or need i say...angry, please cue The Incredible Hulk music. Though i am none of the above, your thoughtful insights have made me question my path yet again, but such introspection will be left to me. I have to agree with you and students should chickity-check themselves before they wreck themselves and their careers, but i still feel that the wolves will always feed on the sheep unless the sheep start acting like wolves. For instance, a past co-worker of mine in an art house that i use to work for was getting paid less than me, but this artist was extremely more qualified at the job than i was. Now does that sound fair? No it does not. Stuff like this i see go on and it frustrates me, why shouldn't a talented artist get paid what he is worth? I understand the value of earning your stripes, and i consider myself a very humble person who is still earning his, but what do you explain of my story? Are we just suppose to take that and chalk it up as earning our stripes? I personally don't think we should.

Well, those are my two cents. I look forward to hearing more from you and your blog Mr. Levy.

David B. Levy said...

Thanks for the feedback, Victor.
Certainly, there is a balance to find. I don't suggest that anyone be a doormat. Unfair situations come up and you've got to be your own advocate...

My advice is to value relationships/reputation AND be your own best advocate. It's a balance nobody gets right all of the time. But, it's a great thing to shoot for in your career, and in life.