Where was Norma Rae when animation writers needed her?
Until about three years ago, animation writers did not receive the same rights and benefits as their live-action counterparts: No residual payments or credit arbitrations.
Now, due to efforts by the Writers Guild of America’s Animation Writers Caucus (AWC) and Industry Alliances Department, the Guild represents virtually every network animated show in primetime, including “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.”
“Historically, animation writers were not covered,” says Cindy Bendat, director of the WGA’s Industry Alliances Department, the Guild’s organizing department. “IATSE 839 represents cartoonists and some writers, but they never received residuals or credit arbitrations.
“Writers might write animation or they might write live action,” Bendat continues. “So sometimes when a live-action writer switched to animation, they were surprised when their animation work was not covered by the WGA.”
While IATSE Local 839 — the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists union –represents many of Hollywood¹s theatrical animation projects, the union met with animation writers last April to encourage these writers to seek representation from the WGA for projects not covered by the Local 839. And the Guild plans to focus on daytime animated television shows, where writers face an uphill battle as employers such as Nickelodeon are non-union.
“The Guild and Caucus are working on that on a project-by-project basis, trying to motivate companies to really treat the writers the way those same companies treat their live action writers,” says Craig Miller, who chairs the AWC.
“They say they can’t do the bookkeeping to pay the residuals, but they do it for the voice actors on the same shows. A lot of these shows use SAG actors and pay them residuals, but they don’t want to do it for the writers.”
It was Miller who helped get the organizing ball rolling in 1997 as a series he co-created and produced, “Pocket Dragon Adventures” became a WGA show. “That was part of our deal,” Miller explains. “The company was receptive to that. It didn’t cost them more money than doing it non-Guild. It made us happy and the writers who worked for us happy.”
Previous efforts to organize animation writers such as the Animation Writers of America, says Miller, failed because they lacked “the wherewithal or the culture of an organization like the Guild behind it.” And the very presence of the Guild, according to Miller, means that writers don’t need to launch arbitration disputes, as the companies for the most part abide by the WGA rules on credits, among other issues. “They don’t change credits because they know the Guild supervises credits,” he says.
However, Miller notes that one of the biggest advantages gained by Guild coverage is intangible. “Overall one of the biggest benefits is respect,” he says, “[the acknowledgment] that animation writers are real writers.”