Picketing In Front of PBS!
Just Blame It On Canada?

by Rick DeMott

Protestors in front of PBS affiliate KCET. All photos by Rick DeMott.

The skies were blue. The temperature was warm, but not too hot. A perfect day for a protest. Nearly 250 members of the Screen Cartoonists' Union Local M.P.S.C. 893 showed up in front of PBS for a picket. One may say, what do Los Angeles artists have to complain about when Hollywood boasts seven animated features and ten primetime series slated to go in front of audiences in 2000? Well, the union says in the last 18 months the employment rate of its employees has dropped nearly 40 percent. But why picket in front of Sesame Street’s home? In January, PBS announced that they were sending their entire Saturday animation schedule to Toronto-based Nelvana Limited for a reported deal worth US$40 million. Considering PBS is publicly funded by tax dollars and contributions, the 3,000 member union felt it was time to take a stand -- right in front of the PBS affiliate KCET.

The many colorful signs of the KCET picket line.

"The turn-out was terrific. It's better than we ever imagined. It shows the depth of emotion in Hollywood toward this issue," enthuses Tom Sito, president of the Screen Cartoonists' Union Local 893. With bright, cartoon-faced signs in hand, the crowd received many honks of support from passing cars. The issue of production companies sending work to Canada is a touchy subject in L.A. The Cartoonists received attendees from the Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America, the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists and the Film and TV Action Committee. One person calling himself "Shawn" explains he had been out of work for a year and that, "[Local 893] is in support of [the other unions], so it’s nice to see them out here in support of us." The people with picket signs were working and non-working artists and even some non-union animators showed up to support the cause. Work leaving the U.S. was a hot topic on the sidewalks in front of the KCET building. Rudy Cataldi, a director on The Smurfs, says, "I’ve been in the business for 57-years. I’ve seen it go up and down, but it looks like it’s pretty rough now. A lot of people are losing their homes." With the current employment numbers of the union members now at 1,700, the Local 839 is experiencing an unemployment rate of nearly 57 percent.

Steve Hulett, business agent for Local 893, with Rudy Cataldi.

So Blame Canada!
However, some may wonder if this is another case of Hollywood blaming Canada for its problems. Lately, America seems to be using their neighbors to the north as a convenient whipping post. Heck, the Academy Awards’ most elaborate number for best song was "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

One may think by the sound of it that just across the U.S. border is a magical toonland like in Roger Rabbit. However, the Canadian market is also experiencing its own cutbacks. Disney, who moved most of its direct-to-video production to Canada, has moved out of its studios in Vancouver and Toronto. DreamWorks sent its work on the direct-to-video, Joseph, to Bardel Animation, however the Vancouver-based animation house has downsized since finishing up on the project. One of the biggest animation companies in the world, Nelvana Limited, is sending some of their work to China and the Pacific Rim.

Is this just another case of American ethnocentrism? One could say animation jobs are leaving Canada too. American artists get paid more, so what are they crying about?

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