Saturday, July 30, 2011

Getting into the Union Is An Uphill Battle

Super talented illustrator Mike Vosburg posted a little commentary on his blog about the current way the IATSE Local 800 (the union for storyboard artists, matte painters, and art directors) takes on new storyboard artists.

Currently, there is a convoluted system in which you must accumulate so many days of work within a 365 day period doing union commercials to get on a commercials experience roster (and a second number of days once you have been put on the roster) before you will be allowed to be put on another roster that allows you to work on feature films or TV. Another way to get into the union is to be hired on a non-union movie that later signs up with the union while you're on it. But this is a rare convergence of events that can't be predicted nor planned for.

Since union commercial production houses tend want to hire union artists before hiring non-union artists, and because non-union artists' days only count toward the roster if the company agrees to put their hours on a union timecard, it can be very difficult for a non-union artist to rack up enough days in a year to get on the commercial experience roster. Effectively, this makes it almost a matter of chance whether or not you can get into the union. I've been in LA doing storyboards since 2002, and only know of one artist who has gotten in by accumulating commercial hours. Most have gotten in by working on non-union films that went union while they were on it...essentially they were hired at the right place at the right time.

Before moving to LA, I worked on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow for 7-8 months doing storyboards. That was when the movie was a small indie production. The film eventually did go union, but only after nearly a year had gone by since my last day of work on that project. I have tried to get into the union in so many ways for years without success. Mike has been storyboarding for decades, and is even an Emmy winning director, yet by the union's reckoning, doesn't have enough experience to be in the union.

Both Mike and I support the union movement and what it stands for, yet the current roster based system makes it damn near impossible for us and many other experienced artists to get into that union. There are other unions (The Animation Union, for example) that operate just fine (far as I can tell) without a roster system.

It just seems to me as though something is very wrong in Tinseltown.


RWG2 said...

You're pissing in the wind here. The fact is the UNION is a JOKE. I've seen more unqulified work on major films then I care to remember. Most of the work I see, I drew better than that straight out of high school.

I don't begrudge these people being lucky. But make no mistake, it's not fair. Of course they don't do anything to change it, because a lot of them would probably be out of a job, having to compete with people who can really draw.

In the end, there's no way to be diplomatic about this. The fact is, they way this thing is run is criminal. It's no different than being on a black list in the 50's.

I have no respect for ANYBODY in the union. It doesn't make you a bad guy or gal. But knowingly going along with this practice, IS condoning it! There is no other way to look at it.

You would let others starve while you feed your self off of work by most accouts people far more qualifed would be getting if they were allowed to compete for it fairly.

In a dog eat dog world I guess that's cool. But lets not pretend.

And what if I were to suddenly get in, wouldn't I be just like you? A fair question. My answer would be, from the moment I got in, I'd be screaming like hell to change the way we do business. Who knows, maybe THAT would REALLY get me BLACK LISTED, but at LEAST we'd KNOW why I wasn't working!!!

Josh Sheppard said...

Hey Anson- well put. FYI, I am going to post part of this response on Mike Voz's blog too.
BTW, I wrote a really long response, so this blog is making post it in pieces. Sorry!
To RWG2:

It saddens me how often over the years I have seen talented artists just give up in the face of this stupid unfair union situation, and adopt a fatalistic angry outlook. What's especially sad is when it divides artists, based on who's in the union, or who isn't. That is one reason why I have so much respect for guys like Mike Vosburg, and Anson Jew. They are talented, experienced (!), available, and yet are not allowed to work on live action films, because they have so far, not been able to get into the union. And yet they are always 100% professional and friendly in all their interactions, conversations, webposts, etc, regarding this very difficult situation.

Here is the link to Contract Services, the organization that you bring your TV spot days to, in order to get on (first) the TCR-- Television Commercial Roster), then the IER (Industry Experience Roster), which leads to entry into ADG 800. This is a difficult process, but it is possible. There are a few artists that got in this way ( I did, before they even knew what I was trying to do or had this decent webpage explaining the process).

The other way, much simpler, is to work (on payroll) for 30 work days on a film that later turns union. Far more storyboard artists have gotten in this way, but I think you only have one year to complete the process. I don't actually know exactly how it works, but most newer union board artists I meet seem to get in this way. You can look on IATSE 800's contact page to e-mail them specific questions. I'd take a more civil tone though!

I was kept out of working in film for years by this unfair system, but I didn't just win some lottery to get into the union. I followed through on every step as I learned about it. It was frankly an ugly and stressful process. I was yelled at by the producers, and or OWNERS at 3 of my 4 main clients. They basically said they wouldn't hire me anymore if I asked to be put on a union timecard. The union timecard means that they have to pay something like $50 extra bucks per day into your PH&W (Pension, Health & Welfare) account. THAT is the only process whereby your day counts toward the TCR, or IER.

At one point I lost something like 60 work days, in order to keep that client. That was a 2 year setback, but I kept trying.

Josh Sheppard said...

Here is the CSATF link:

Anson Jew said...

I know there are plenty of people within the union who are sympathetic to this situation, and that there are many that would be sympathetic once they were made more aware of the situation. In fact, I'm confident that many of these people would be active allies in making changes in the system. But any kind of change starts with a conversation. The best way to eventually get to a solution is to keep the lines of communication open. No one wants to have a conversation with someone who belittles them. And it is often very difficult to reach out with a civil discussion with someone once you've spend a good deal of time demeaning them. If you're really serious about seeing the system change, work on building bridges and not walls. Be civil. Offer solutions. Listen to other voices. But do have a conversation. Extend your whole hand, not just one finger.

Anson Jew said...

Thanks for your comments, Josh. You're always a great source of knowledge and insight and I appreciate you taking the time to post on this issue.

Josh Sheppard said...

I was angry too when I was kept out by unfair union rules, but I chose to just keep plugging away, and to keep a positive attitude. Blanket statements of condemnation against union artists don't do anyone any good. I suggest you follow the lead of highly professional, classy artists like mike Voz and Anson, who know that the enemy is not their fellow artists-- The enemy are the bureaucrats who don't care about us.

Over the years, I have tried very hard to help my fellow non-union artists, (both friends and strangers via e-mail) to explain what I know about this ridiculous process of getting into the storyboard union. In most cases, they have met a lot of difficulty, but it is possible.
On behalf of a few friends over years, I have spoken at length to the leaders of both 790, and now 800, hoping that there was some backroom, insider track to union membership. There is not. It is unfair.
But in my experience, there are also artists who just can't handle the business side of this business, and look at it more as some unfair drawing contest, that they are being kept out of. The information about Contract Services above is more important to you (or any other board artist who wants in the union) than 1000 pages of angry venting. Think about that! Re-read it. Call them, ask how it works. Call 800, ask them specifically how to get in. It's more positive and proactive than an angry comment.

If you're a talented storyboard artist, I suggest you not post angry anonymous screeds like this. Put your best samples on a decent website, try and meet more of us board artists, both union and non-union, keep the discussion going in a professional manner, building your contacts. Someone will invite you to the (private) Yahoo storyboarders group (pros only), and you can listen and respond to others in your same situation. But I suggest you save your venom for the real enemies. It's not your fellow artists.

By the way, I hope you do get into the union, take off like a rocket and work on 100 cool films!
Good luck.
-Josh Sheppard

Josh Sheppard said...

Also, I think for any days to count, you have to be paid at least $465 per day, or $2100 a week (guild minimums).

James said...

Wow. I knew it was tough to get in Hollywood, but man, even the groups designed to help you out have become a hindrance.

crazy_asian_man said...

I echo what James said. Wow.
Had no idea. :(

Mike P said...

Hey, Anson! Thanks for the excellent post (believe it or not, I just found it while searching for union rates for a LinkedIn post).

Great to have met you last year at SDCC; sorry I couldn't find you this year, but the show is ridiculously huge as you know.

I remember talking to Mark Simon during his storyboard panel and he noted it *is* possible to get onto decent-sized features non-union (he boarded an Adam Sandler major in Florida). Just not as easy.

I'm still working on Indies but hoping one of the directors gets a decent-sized budget. (I don't care about joining the union, I just want to pay bills.)

I remember applying to one of the Hollywood board studios when I was trying to get into features (after doing commercials for nearly ten years) and it was the usual Catch-22: can't get work without being Union and can't get into the Union without the work.

Now I know why! Thanks again.

And BTW, as a writer, I have to say you have the BEST title for a blog EVER! :-)

Best of success,
Mike Pascale