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Is this typical for a Television Studio?

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Is this typical for a Television Studio?

Hey guys,

So I've been in the industry for about 4 years now and have just recently switched to another local studio that does animation for companies such as Hulu or Netflix. 

Anyway when I was first offered the job it seemed pretty straight forward; employees are expected to work 50 hours a week and are given a flat rate for that time (so for example you would be paid 825 based on 50 hours). They went on to elaborate that you "wouldn't always" work those 50 hours, but that being said you would still be given that flat rate (so if you worked 40-45 hours, you would still recieve the full payment of 825 for that week). Any hours after 50 would be considered overtime.

After I accepted this job and started looking over my paychecks, things started getting kind of weird. The way they portrayed this position, it sounded like it was psuedo-salary, it turns out it was far from it.

It turns out that the "flat-rate" given (the 825 for example) is calculated based of 40 hours, plus 10 overtime (so that 825 calculates to 15/hr, 600 for 40 hours plus 225 overtime). HR also makes sure that we fill out our timesheets saying we work 10 hours a day, regardless of whether or not we actually work that amount. So in the long run almost everyone at the studio is labeled as "full-time freelance" and not "full-time salary".

Most people that work there are in their early 20's, generally right out of college, and the average rate for Tweening/Key Animators is anywhere from 700-900 a week. My question for you guys is if this kind of payment is common for most studios? This is a first for me and I am curious to know if anyone else has encountered places that work under these guidelines. It's worth noting that this studio is on the east coast, so there is no Guild branch here to ensure any sort of charter is being adhered to.


Yeah, it's common.

Yeah, it's common.

If you are not getting any deductions take at source, you are very likely freelance, and not an employee, but it depends on the jurisdiction where you work.

You can do one of two things regarding this:  you can research on your own what the labour laws are in your jurisdiction, which will mean plowing through a boatload of information to try and determine what's legit, and.......what might not be. can actually go to the labour board and consult them directly.  
The problem with that is you may be asked to supply specifics and that could get the board going on a investigation against the studio if anything isn't legit.  
Now, most studios have some kind of legal counsel, for just this sort of reason, and they might be riding the line on something like this........

BUT, as a freelancer, or as an employee, there's nothing to lose by finding out EXACTLY what your rights are, or are not, in a situation like this.
There's been legislation that's been passed in many jurisdictions that classifies animators ( and other kinds of creative talent) as being exempt from work hour laws ( because of the deadline nature of the work).
I believe that the basis of this kind of work rule stems from legislation passed in the early 90's favouring Electronic Arts in BC, and other jurisdictions copied this in short order.

But apparently not EVERY jurisdiction has.
So, you'll need to investigate, or get it investigated for you.....and find out what your employer can ask of you, what you are likely going to be asked ( in terms of work hours) and what your actual employment status is.  You MIGHT also find out that the employer is classifying you wrong as a freelance, but you working situation may actually be that of a salaried employee.
Bear in mind that this can, potentially, raise a stink, as censures can possibly be brought against the studio if they are misleading the talent working for them.

Conduct yourself accordingly. Don't tell ANYONE you are consulting the labour board, because it WILL likely directly impact your working for this studio from them on.
DO get very clear about what your rights are, and if they are impinged upon..........well, then you'll have a choice to make.
Politely stand up and be prepared to support any objections ( say you got the info on-line, or from asking a "lawyer-friend") or actually have the standards handy to show.
Be prepared for your employer to pause at this, and go ask THEIR lawyer--who will likely come back with something contrary ( an interpretation) to what you have stated.

Or........say nothing and acquiesce to whatever the studio asks of you.   The down-side of this is you do become a doormatt if the studio is not treating you fairly, and you and your fellow talents take it as it comes.

Let's mention the other thing.........a union or a guild.  Despite whatever value these have in such situations, they can also be a death-knell to working at a small studio. The level of personal resentment directed at you will supercede any legal protections a guild or union might extend to you.  Small studios have been known to close doors before allowing workign talent to dictate terms to the owners. A small studio can close, rename itself and restructure, and be open as a completely different entity the very next week. The studio owners will make the working environment incredibly toxic towards someone trying to impugn upon their business, and if they don't make you quit, they'll structure whatever work so when it ends......your working there ends as well.

If it looks like things could get sticky for you........spend the dollars to solicit advice from a lawyer. they don't have to represent you, but they can just advise you on how to deal with the matter, and what your rights are.  The thing about this sort of consulation, is that if you need to spend $$$ on it, the info should serve you for years.  You'll know, ABSOLUTELY, what your rights are in such matters.........something your colleagues ( and even some of the management) might not be savvy about.
It's another tool, in your tool chest, and in a business that depends on talent being ignorant of labour laws, and of studios that frequently abuse those laws and rights.........well, its a handy tool to have.

Good luck.

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)