Warning: strong opinions ahead.
Steve Hulette over at The Animation Guild Blog just put up a post on the power of knowledge, specifically the power of knowledge as it relates to wages and earnings. To quote…>
When young, most people are taught that it’s impolite to ask or tell other people what you make. Maybe that’s dandy etiquette, but think a minute. If everyone is ignorant about what the guy in the next cubicle or office is making, the only entity that’s helped by that ignorance is your employer, who knows what everyone is making.
Indeedy-do. One thing that I have come to learn in recent years is that every one of us in this global economy are independent businessmen. We are all in business for ourselves. We are all perpetual free agents, especially in animation, which has become increasingly nomadic. Whether you like it or not, that’s how it is. Staff, contract- doesn’t matter. When it comes to the vertical relationships (up and down the command chain) it’s all about the bottom line in business. When the money’s coming in it’s all “we’re family“. When the money’s tight the captain has first dibs on the lifeboat. The modernistic notion of employer/employee loyalty is a long vanished ideal of nostalgia. Companies (in just about every industry- not just animation) aren’t playing by those modernist rules anymore. If you can be replaced for less, then you’re gone. Problem is, most ‘employees’ (ie: individuals) are still trying to play by those old modernistic rules. We still want to ‘do the right thing’, be the good guy, not let anyone down, not be greedy, not cause any strife or rock the boat, take one for the good of the team, help build something special, etc. It’s all the usual management/HR humdrum that’s shoveled so that people willingly take part in their own undervaluing. Having been involuntarily let go several times has taught me that when the chips are down, I’m out the door faster than you can say “we’re like family here”. Um. No, actually we’re not. I like you guys and all, and I really do appreciate the gig and the good vibes- but dude, you don’t dump your kids when they get sick and cause you to lose some money. Yet when the time comes for artists to put out the extra free hours of uncompensated overtime, or to pull all nighters, or to “take one for the team”, well… the guilt card comes on thick and heavy from management. Why? Because we’re not playing by the same rules and they know it, so they back us into a corner with emotional weapons. No wonder so many of us are getting are butts kicked in this game.
We are all independent businessmen in the global economy. Sadly this animation business is just that - business. As artists we tend to want validation so much that we too often surrender ourselves and undervalue our skill to get it. Or we suffer from the ubiquitous blight of self doubt. Now while an occasional good dose of humble self doubt is absolutely vital in improving as an artist, it’s career suicide in business. If you’re shopping for a car and you have enough money to buy a Kia I am in no way a bad person for refusing to give you a Mercedes S-class for your money. I’m a good person if I find a way to help you get a slightly better car for your money or if I am able to throw in some extras here or there as a way of saying thanks for your business. I am only a bad person if I sell you a lemon of a Kia, but generally that’s not the problem for artists in this business (although it does happen).
As a businessman it’s in my best interest to make my customers/clients (ie: employer) happy. So I give them a great value. I’m willing to give 110% of value on their money. Maybe even 115% if I’m feeling generous. But there’s no way I owe them 150, 170 or 200% of value for their money. That’s business suicide.
Know your value, believe in the value of what you do and work your darnedest to get it. Because believe me, no company is going to willingly give it to you out of the goodess of their charity. There are dudes making MILLIONS of dollars off of us working in the trenches of feature animation. It ain’t no crime to get your slice and you’re no worse a human being for trying.
Am I being cynical? Maybe a little. I prefer to see it as having my eyes open and seeing the world for what it really is. Folks who know me know I’m passionate about animation and storytelling, passionate about doing a great job, passionate about getting better and growing. That keeps me from being cynical I believe. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to willingly live in the land of fairy tales and sweet dreams to the detriment of my family. My experience, skill, knowledge, time and services have great value in this multi-billion dollar game of feature film animation. It’s not cynical to believe that and act accordingly.
ps: And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow. Always, always, always treat your fellow artists with respect. Your bosses will always be changing, but spend any time in this business and you’ll be working with the same people around you over and over again. I’ve already worked with some of the same people at 3 different studios. To mistreat your fellow artists is also business suicide. More often than not they’re your lifeblood for referals for new work. So be good to each other and keep a wary eye when looking up toward the top of the org chart.