Sunday, August 23, 2009

Drawing the Line

Flipping through Union newsletters from the 1940s and 50s, I revisited the union/blacklist chapter in Karl Cohen's "Forbidden Animation".

He recounts several moving stories of women and men who stood up to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and were knocked down for it. Some, like P.D. Eastman went on great success after a few years of hardship.

The stories of Hollywood "turncoats" are well reported, right down to the continued controversy of Elia Kazan's Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

Still, even a loudmouth like me wonders how such a situation would play out today. Would we have the courage to stand against petty tyrants, even with a simple gesture like Bertolt Brecht's who politely answered their questions, implicating no one, with an airline ticket visible in his front pocket.

This led me to finally pull down Tom Sito's "Drawing the Line" from the shelf.

Its an invaluable book, and recounts a criminally underrepresented story in the history of our field.

There are major shortcomings, it devolves into a corporate history of the Disney Corporation and Hollywood internecine struggles with little regard for the labor issues involved. Even so, its a well researched, strongly documented work by a man who really knows his stuff.

When I started at The Ink Tank, Ed Smith, Tissa David and Sarah Calogero were still in the union. Local 600 Cameraman's Union. For years they had been part of 841, Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists. The details I don't remember, but I get the feeling the whole operation slowly fizzled out of disinterest.

Like the Blacklist, I wonder what the repercussions of a unionized New York would be.

This is a shortcoming of Tom's book, he doesn't go into post-UPA era in New York City. I believe a study of this era would show how the union functioned (both positively and negatively) and illuminate how it could work today.

I doubt we would be able to function under a union contract. Our productions aren't arranged according the Henry Ford/Walt Disney factory system. An artist will be painting one day, inbetweening the next, then compositing, painting a background, then animating all in one week. Surely, the shop steward would have a lot of reporting to do.

But there are situations in New York (so I hear) that would greatly benefit from a little worker solidarity. Studios who train cameras on their employees, fire artists for missing unpaid production meetings, and paying employees as independent contractors (which is also a violation of Federal and State Labor Law).

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