(Storyboard frames from Prince Caspian, by Mike Vosburg.)
Unions are essential for an educated, talented and utile labor pool. I was in college when I started my first real job in the summer of 1966 ; I worked at Yellow Truck and Coach in Pontiac, Michigan, making busses.I became a member of the union. When I started teaching school, I became a member of the teacher's union. When I started my comicbook career, there was no union, and despite the attempts of many of the older artists to establish a guild, nothing really came of that venture. I saw firsthand how difficult it was to negotiate with a company on a solo basis. When I moved to LA in l985, I started working in animation and I joined the union and I am still a member.
(Storyboard frames by Trevor Goring for National Treasure.)
But a few years later when I wanted to move into live action films, I tried to join their union and was told I couldn't join. You had to have a job to get in the union; to get a job you had to be in the union. (You figure out the logic.) If you are a qualified person looking for work you will always be welcomed by a true union, because they understand implicitly that there is strength in numbers and solidarity.
(Storyboard frames from Skycaptain by Anson Jew.)
If you are a qualified worker seeking employment, you are eligible to join the union. The problem that we have with the live action storyboard "union" is that its leadership has chosen not to represent a large section of its constituency. In the movie Norma Rae Ron Leibman plays a union organizer in the south who runs into resistance from a group of white workers who don't want blacks in the union; his answer was simple and elegant:"Anytime you have a union that excludes a section of the work force, you don't have a union, you have a club."
(Frames by Tom Nelson)
If admission to the "club" was based on a qualified entry process that might be more acceptable.But there is no portfolio review or even apprenticeship in the process. If artists were being excluded because of race, sex, or age there are fair hiring laws to protect us. Myself and others aren't being blacklisted, as many creative people were in Hollywood in the 50's, we are simply being "non-listed". The "club" process is supremely arbitrary. If you're in,you're in, if you're not, you're not.
(Storyboard frames by Aaron Sowd.)
The great irony of course, is that virtually the only way you can get in the union these days is by becoming a "scab" and taking a non-union job. The hope is that the project will go union, and you will be "grandfathered" in. The union and their membership always caution us not to take those jobs, since we are hurting their bargaining position whenever we do so. But if you don't take those jobs, you will certainly never be admitted to the union. It is a "catch 22."
(Storyboard frames by Josh Sheppard.)
I used to think I was the only board artist in Hollywood with this problem. Unfortunately, what I have discovered as I have talked to more and more people in my field, is that there are just as many, if not more, storyboard artists who have both the ability and the experience to do the job but are excluded, as there members of the storyboard "club." And now the Local 800 is currently expanding, seeking to unionize the Previz sector of the industry. But while new workers are being sought out for the "club" those of us who have long sought membership as qualified board artists are still being excluded and denied representation.
Imagine that you wanted to make a film and cast a John Hamm, Robert Deniro or Mila Kunis, but were told you couldn't use those people because they weren't in SAG, and couldn't join. What happens is that you are creating a product without having access to the all of the best people who are available. For management and the studios the negative side is that there are excellent people available for jobs that you can't use. The positive side for these groups is that in fact you have a large low income labor pool constantly available. And for the Local 800 that means you've lost a lot of clout as you negotiate from a weakened position.
(Storyboard frame and concept design by Jerry Bingham.)
The job that we do is very competitive. When I was teenager working on my comicbook fanzines with dreams of working as a cartoonist, my competition was perhaps 500 other kids across the country who had the same dream. Now there are at least 500,000 young artists across the world who all want to do this work...and the number of new jobs have not expanded in proportion to the labor pool. The only way you can stay competitive is to continually improve on your abilities and to market yourself efficiently. Now you have the added difficulty of being excluded from the prime jobs.
If you are one of the few in the "club", you can shrug your shoulders and smugly feel secure that you will have job security. But that certainly isn't what a union is about. The Animation Guild has never excluded members, and Local 800 members are always welcome to join if they want to work on an animated film. But when members of the Guild try to apply for union jobs, they are turned away. It is not a matter of us trying to steal your jobs. The only thing that will protect your job in the long run is your skill level, not a discriminatory practice against those with similar skills.
(More Prince Caspian boards by myself.)
I don't expect this entry to suddenly change the union issue in Hollywood. There are complexities that I am certainly not privy to and don't understand. However, I do implicitly understand from reading history just how ineffective a union stays when it restricts membership, and refuses to represent its constituency. This is particularly distressing when you become aware of how small the number of unionized live action board artists is compared to the actual labor pool.
I'm reminded of Ben Franklin's quip as he signed the Declaration of Independence:"Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or we will certainly all hang separately."
(In all of the artwork I've posted I've avoided specifying which artists are union, and which are non-union since I think the latter title belittles our abilities. Maybe you can figure out why the Local 800 refuses to represent some of these artists.)
(Frames that I did for an independent film called Beheading Buddha.)