Thank You Jeffrey Katzenberg

A while ago I posted a thank you to Michael Bay for his campaigning effort to recognize the VFX professionals that worked on his latest Transformers film.

This week Cartoonbrew posted a video of a CNN interview with DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. You should watch the whole thing but this quote was the most important and future leaders should take note:

The thing that I have learned, and I only wish that I knew it twenty-five or thirty years ago, which is to honor and celebrate, recognize and reward your employees and their work—is a fantastic business strategy. If they love their work, they love coming to work, they will strive to do great work and you’ll succeed.

The timing of this couldn’t have been better. It comes on the heels of my post on a business strategy by Digital Domain to have 30% of their work done for free by having students pay for the privilege to work on films.

Just like Mr. Bay, Mr. Katzenberg certainly has had his share of flaws and disagreements but if you ask most Dreamworks Animation employees they will certainly tell you that he is true to his cause of valuing his workers and loving what he does. Employees routinely mention that he is always at work and in reviews. He also creates an environment that supports artistic and technical creativity as well as general employee welfare. Oh, and did I forget to mention that 800 of them are union members of the Animation Guild?

I went around reading various comments in reaction to my DD post and one of the most common defenses of their strategy was “Well I worked an unpaid internship so I don’t see anything wrong with this.” I’m amused how we condone something wrong just because we went through it once also.

What appalls me the most though is how easily we allow ourselves and our craft to be denigrated. Could you imagine the uproar if a VFX professional said something like “honoring, celebrating, recognizing, and rewarding your employees and their work is a fantastic business strategy.”

Instead we get examples like this from David Stripinis who now calls himself “Ex VFX Labor Advocate”:

Anyone still fighting for VFX labor issues remind me of people who hang a Confederate flag. Still fighting a war lost long ago – 4:53 PM – 21 Mar 12

Sometimes I wonder if Mr Katzenberg values what we do more than some of us do. Thank You Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Soldier On.

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45 Responses to Thank You Jeffrey Katzenberg

  1. NateCow says:

    “I’m amused how we condone something wrong just because we went through it once also.”

    That is somewhat amusing but also disturbing to me. Usually when people go through something terrible, they make it a point in their life to make sure others don’t have to experience it as well. I’m curious what causes the rift between “no one should experience what I did” and “everyone should suffer the way I did.” Is it just compassion vs lack of compassion?

    • me says:

      It’s a rationalization for apathy. You see the same thing in politics. People don’t want change because they’re clinging by their fingernails to the status quo, even if it’s a pretty crappy status quo. “We didn’t have health care when my grandpa was growing up on the farm and it worked out fine for me! Sure he was the eldest of 7 and only 4 made it to their 21st birthday, but a little bit of polio is good for building character!”

    • Paul says:

      They/I suffered so will you. I don’t know…hazing?…life’s a bitch?…human nature? Yes again!

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Sort of goes back to what I said in my overtime post about vfx jocks.

        We have an expectation that people pay their dues because some of us had it bad.

        I went through my fair share of bullshit and I never expect anyone to go through the same.

      • edwardh says:

        @ VFX Soldier: Yes. But that’s what makes you one of the few decent people. That’s the unfortunate thing about any fight being fought by democratic rules – one has to convince a mass that has little to no regard for empathy or selflessness. That’s what makes such fights so dirty… one has to find angles that appeal to the greed of most people. Which you sometimes do in your posts… and while it is strategically important, I can’t help but wonder whether arguing that way makes you feel bad. After all, it should really be about the decent treatment of everyone, not simply personal gain…

        And that’s by the way also why I can empathize with Mr. Stripinis. I certainly don’t appreciate the analogy he chose but in general… looking at the industry and more importantly the attitude of most people… it certainly does appear to be a fight that cannot be won. Still, I appreciate people who fight nevertheless and will always support them. I simply mean that I can also understand cynics who have given up. Because most of the time, it’s not their fault but that of the many people who did not appreciate them striving for something better and who have maybe even fought against them. I’m sure you’ve had a fair share of insults or at least heavy-handed antagonism coming your way too. Some people have the support of people that keeps them going nevertheless. But others don’t. And if you keep hearing how you e.g. are just a worthless commie who should move to Cuba or something if you hate making money and freedom so much, i can’t see how one would NOT at some point say “screw you all!”.

      • me says:

        @VFX soldier –

        You know it always seems like a kind of PTSD that people go through. People just seem to get so emotionally attached to jobs they fought so hard for that it doesn’t occur to them that they’re being taken advantage of. I think it’s a big part of the reason why “fairness” and “do the right thing” arguments fall on deaf ears. It’s very hard to convince someone of something that they just can’t see.

        I remember reading a study, I can’t find it now, that found by and large people in poverty are MORE likely to look down on poor people. This notion of “we’re in a bad situation and we can work together to get out of it” doesn’t seem to occur to people, since at some level most people believe they’re exceptional and bad things are temporary or beyond their control.

        Like the comments you often see on your posts, even people who are critical are generally in support of standing in solidarity because it’s so blindingly obviously a good thing for all of us. I somewhat wish the tone of this whole discussion would shift away from the emotional outrage and focus around the pure dollars and cents of it. When a company ships work overseas for taxes or cheap labor, business is just business, nothing personal. Well – unionizing, for us – hey, it’s just business, nothing personal. You’re maximizing your profits and so are we.

  2. Dave Rand says:

    Dreamworks, Disney, Image Movers Digital, all have been noted as reaching the same conclusion. I wonder what facilitates that perception of their artists? Amazing what bubbles up when poor treatment of your talent is no longer an option. Attract Real talent = Brand = Profits

  3. vfxguy says:

    you know why artist do this …..

    its called the “BORG you will be assimilate or be thrown out or destroyed ”

    we are borg

  4. JTJR says:

    I can’t believe what a bunch of whiners you all are! Seriously, people. There is nothing wrong with an unpaid internship. Stop comparing it to torture and famine. People in other parts of the world would laugh at what you call hardship. That is, if it were not so sad at the same time. Nobody is forcing anybody to do this and most kids would gladly work for no pay to gain access and knowledge. Stop telling them what they don’t want.

    Ever stop to think that the studio is actually giving at lot to that kid? I’ve mentored a lot of people in my day. Some were young and some were veterans that were trying to learn a new skill. I’ve always been happy to share knowledge with coworkers, but it would be a lie if I said it didn’t affect my productivity sometimes. And when it affects my productivity, it sure as heck is costing the company money.

    Interns are not slaves. They gain valuable knowledge and experience by doing this. If they are not benefiting, they woyld not do it.

    Now, can a bunch of newbie interns/students that need lots of guidance, outperform a handful of seasoned artists or will it turn into a fiasco? That’s the big question. I have my doubts that a studio comprised of 30% students can be all that efficient. Personally, I think it could backfire and become a massive headache.

    The problem that I have is the government sending a big bag of cash along with these students. I’m fairly sure a crack team of experienced artists will ultimately be more cost efficient than an army of newbies. But if you throw in millions of dollars in along with the newbies, the veterans have no chance even if they are more effective in the end.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      The problem with the persistent acceptance of unpaid labor in our industry is that companies like digital domain have made it a part of the business model.

      • JTJR says:

        It was part of Leonardo DaVinci’s business model, too.

        It comes down to the individual’s choice. If they see it to their advantage (i.e. they will gain something) they might be happy working not for money, but experience and skills. These are not forced labor camps.

        If you don’t like this, your enemy is not the companies like DD, but your fellow artists who are willing to do this in order gain an advantage. I should note that it is not unethical for them to trade off more of their own life (work time) and labor in order to benefit themselves. So, who do you think wins the gold medal at the Olympics? The athletes that train their butts off or the athletes that won in previous years and now try to make everybody sign a contract not to practice more than two hours per day?

        So, why are people willing to work for free? I think you know the answer. I think we all know the answer. Animation and VFX is the kind of “dream job” that few people have the luxury of attaining in their lifetimes.

        The fact that VFX and Animation as a job is much more accessible to masses is just a fact of life. At one time you needed a $15,000 piece of software to run on a $15,000 computer to even learn this stuff. The industry is different now and it kinda sucks for veterans who have been around for a while and learned to think of it as a highly skilled niche job market.

        I’ve stated before that my main issue with DD Florida is that this is not just kids working in an internship. That would be fine.

        What is atrocious about this is that huge amounts of the public’s money are going into this venture. Nope, not spent on schools or roads. Millions of tax dollars are going into this in an attempt to “dramatically reduce costs in our industry”. That means the industry is desperately looking for ways to cut your salary in at least half in the next decade.

        The main factor at play here is not even the “free” work the kids do, but the absolute glut in people looking for VFX work in the future. They are trying to make the profession a dime-a-dozen type occupation by pumping out thousands of job seekers each year. Lots of those job-seekers will have giant loans to pay off.

        Do you think DD could afford to take on all of this if local Florida residents were not paying for it? Seriously, this is the problem. Why should Florida taxpayers pay for Digital Domain Media Group to get cheap labor? Ummm…good question. Nobody asks that because film work in Florida sounds sexy and it makes for an exciting news segment.

        Everybody is being played here except for the studio and the politicians. Whoah, the people who actually made the deal. Go figure!

      • VFX Soldier says:

        The union has solved this problem long ago. The animation guild contract has minimums that prevent such practice. They have a contract with producers with agreed upon minimums and time for using trainees. It pretty simple folks.

      • JTJR says:

        Hey, I’m not saying I’m against unions. If that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes. A union is not a guarantee, though. DD and other places are looking to pump the job market full of thousands of Animation/VFX artists each year.

    • edwardh says:

      And if you would live in China, you’d probably argue that those stupid human rights activists should just shut up because a family has to survive somehow and it’s perfectly fine to have children working in factories.
      Simply having a different frame of reference doesn’t make wrong right or a lesser evil good.

    • NateCow says:

      JTJR, there is an issue with what unpaid internships have become these days. There is a place for them, sure, but when you have them doing work that someone is normally paid for, then you have a serious problem. There was a story recently of someone suing a design agency for treating their unpaid internship as low-level employment.

      I’ve been to India and spent time in the slums and villages with Dalits (in fact I’m working on a documentary about them). They’re considered outside the caste system and brainwashed from an early age that they are worthless, cannot mingle with the upper castes and are “paying their dues” for a past life. They’ve suffered under this oppression for thousands of years. Do you know how difficult it is to free them from that?

      If you have artists who are good enough to work on feature films (and we’re not talking day 1 newbies; DD is saying Juniors and Seniors) but they have no sense of how much their work is worth—evidently they’ll assume it’s not worth anything—you’re sending them into an industry armed with naivety. It’ll send the entire industry backwards when you have this wave of artists apparently willing to work for free.

      What DD is doing with this school is going 1000% against our fight. So don’t call us whiners. There are places in the world where the same ideas are put to use in much more extreme ways.

      • JTJR says:

        Guess what? There is something called the internet and advocacy groups and this very blog.

        If somebody is worth a lot more than they “assume”, then they deserve to get paid peanuts. Give me a break. It is not hard to ask around, apply for jobs all over and read forums. Comparing graduating VFX artists to slums of India is one of the most insulting things I have every read. You should be ashamed.

      • JTJR says:

        If your fight is to keep the jobs in VFX high-paying, you are right. DD is absolutely going after the jugular with this.

        I’m not saying that I like it any more than you do. In fact, I truly disdain what DD is doing, but not for your reasons.

        I believe trying to make a productive studio out of 30% students would be a financial and logistical disaster, but well within their right if they could pull it off. However, since DD is subsidized by other people’s money in this game, they have an unfair advantage which puts veterans like me in an almost hopeless spot.

        Beware the Government-Corporate partnership.

      • Marcus says:

        As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with low paying *proper* internships in any industry. And I agree to a point with the whole “individual responsibility for your salary” argument. Unfortunately in the case of our industry, the many artists who are piss-poor business people who still have to stand on their own and wreck rates – combined with a lack of collective leverage – make salary negotiations into a mercenary sport. If you believe in a true free market, then that’s right up your alley… but I don’t.

        And with DD Institute – if it comes about the way Textor has laid out – they create this big VFX training and production facility in the middle of nowhere, Florida. No competition, lots of kickback from the government and lofty promises which each and every one of us can realistically guarantee won’t pan out. All of the odds are stacked against the students, plus they face crushing loan debts from an arts degree (only an undergraduate at that) and depend on DD, the only game in town, to sign off on their mandatory coursework at the company to actually receive the paper with their degree.

        As you said, huge conflict of interest and local politicians are in on the deal… and there’s no way the students can stand up against that kind of leverage. But DD also doesn’t stand to lose money in this trial balloon, so why no try to get a true sweatshop running stateside.

    • edwardh says:

      And the productivity of a poor company being affected? Please… for most, it’s barely a blip on their radar. Mostly because at many companies, interns don’t learn all day long but actually do a lot of tasks. So even if you take 2 hours per day to explain things to an intern but you have him actually do stuff for 6 that would otherwise have to be done by a regular employee – how is that a loss? As long as the company does not spend more time mentoring an intern than the intern does working, it’s beneficial for them. And even IF that balance was to shift, I’m sure companies can afford it. Interns who get paid don’t get paid much anyway and companies usually rake in much more cash than they’re willing to pay regular employees, nevermind interns.

      • JTJR says:

        Are you saying that an intern working for 6 hours can be as productive as a normal employee working for 6 hours?

        If you are saying that, then you are saying that the employee is not worth anything more than somebody with no no experience!

        Would you put yourself in that category then? How productive would you say you were yourself, if pitted against an intern? I mean, seriously. When you negotiate for a raise, you must think about these things. Please answer with a real ratio. I’m fascinated by your views.

      • faulknermano says:

        “Are you saying that an intern working for 6 hours can be as productive as a normal employee working for 6 hours?”

        That would depends what kind of work was being done. Having an army of assistants who can press buttons will work better than a TD if the work is just ‘data crunching’. I know of, and heard of studios who are more often interested in filling up low-level studio artist positions with interns. I reckon, no matter how productive or skillful a single artist genius can be, if the job doesn’t require brains, then brains won’t be hired.

        (Which brings me to ponder on the ‘vfx as commodity’ viewpoint. I feel that the more sophisticated vfx tech becomes, the more factory-like workers we’re going to have. )

      • JTJR says:

        It’s hard to say if more sophisticated tech will turn us into factory-like workers. Hollywood is always trying to push the limit, so it seems as though highly skilled professionals will always be in demand.

        If the work get easier because of better tools, then a company will obviously want to take advantage of that by either hiring less skilled workers ~or~ by expecting their experienced workers to become more productive using the new technology. If advancement in technology means you no longer offer more value to a company than they can get from newbies, then that sucks, but that’s life. You can’t expect to be paid more to do what other people are willing to do for less.

        Advancing technology will always change the landscape, though. When was the last time you booked a flight with a travel agent?

        What is happening now, is that studios are trying to pump the industry full of artists so we cannot command such high salaries. Salaries, they claim are forcing them to do work overseas. That is literally the DD pitch. We need to lower salaries in this industry in order to keep the jobs here.

        We can form a union, but that won’t solve all the problems. Actors have unions, too, but what percentage of actors are waiting tables vs. fully employed?

    • Dave Rand says:

      If what was described was an academic internship you’d have an argument, but what part of ” %30 of our work force will be paying us for the priveledge to work on our films” describes that? Especially in the light of the current VFX landscape this is just more wrongs pilling up even higher.

      To use your referance, a great book that will point out how the treatment of artists has not changed much over the centuries can be found here …

      I believe our “wining” as you put it is more accurately described as our voices expressing a long needed structure to move away from the creative being subjugated because of their passion for what they do and our eventual organization of these ideas are exactly there model the studios gained there enormous leverage and might. We simply want to enter into a valid business relationship…like valid buisness people do so we DON’T end up like those troddened over souls you so adeptly cited as being world wide. Acknowledging statements like Trextors as challengable is how change begins.

    • LMP says:

      One thing you are forgetting…Internships were and still are the “schools” where people learned their crafts. That is how trades were passed from generation to generation in the past and still today in many places around the world.

      In the US, someone had the great idea of creating schools for trades, so people PAY (dearly) to learn a trade.

      DD now wants to expand the school for trades concept: PAY (a lot) to learn your trade and PAY to work. Then when you graduate PAY again to move around the country and the globe to find a job which will pay you back less and less because of the race to the bottom.. All the while executives get richer and richer…
      I think it is enough of that BS.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        While we’re using history to justify industry practice could we include the casting couch also?

        In Hollywood if you wanted an acting job you have to sleep with the director. Perhaps we could implement a business model that includes the practice? After all you do love vfx don’t you?

        I’m joking of course but history and tradition makes us do stupid things.

  5. me says:

    JTJR –

    So you’re FOR the rights of workers and PRO union? Why are you arguing then? Just for the fun of it?

    “Comparing graduating VFX artists to slums of India is one of the most insulting things I have every read. You should be ashamed.”

    You should read more. It’s a slippery slope to the bottom, and if we don’t speak with one voice, even a “whiny” one, we’ll get there before you know it. You might think it’s impossible, but read the news about what life is like as a poor person in America these days.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      By the way it’s not us comparing the plight of vfx artists to india and china, it’s them.

      Dd’s CEO basically says if we don’t allow for subsidies and 30% pay-to-work-for-free labor then the industry will go to India and china. Keep in mind of course that he still intends to open the facilities in India and china.

    • JTJR says:

      Oh, come off it. The slums of India is an entirely different situation.

      So, you are one of those people that think companies are always bad and workers are always good, huh? So, the choices are either you’re pro-worker or pro-corporate?

      No wonder you can’t make heads or tails of what I say.

      Unions are fine and an essential tool for in some cases. I’m not sure what you mean by “Pro-workers rights” and “pro-union”. Do you mean specifically for the VFX industry or just in general? I’m not blindly pro-union, especially not when it comes to public sector unions where there is an inherent conflict of interest. Unions are not automatically good and companies are not automatically evil.

      What I do have a really big problem with is the government enriching corporations via taxpayer money under some phoney guise of serving the community. My main point of all this is that DD wouldn’t have a prayer if it were not subsidized with public funds. The artists working at DD Florida are paying taxes so the government can give it to DD so that they can lower all wages by subsidizing ultra cheap work and flooding the job market with VFX workers.

      Their aim is to commoditize the profession and I resent the use of public money to achieve this end.

      • me says:

        Ok, so what’s your beef then? You’re saying you recognize there’s a problem, and that the solutions we’re all recommending over and over are good ones, so what are we ‘whining’ about?

        It’s not the time or place for a debate, but ALL “workers” are trying to make a living and ALL for-profit “corporations” are trying to make a profit. There’s no need to be sanctimonious and go all OWS on every neighborhood Radioshack, but I think we can both agree that anyone who trusts a corporation to have your best interests in mind is an idiot.

        There’s a lot of angry character attacks in there, dude. You sound angry. I don’t know you but we’re doing the same thing and we want the same things for ourselves and our peers. How about we all agree to disagree about some shit and get on with making things better for everyone.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        “So, you are one of those people that think companies are always bad and workers are always good, huh?”

        … A comment on a post where I am praising a company and it’s CEO. I like your effort kid.

      • JTJR says:

        Um…. I’m a little confused. Is the user “me” also “VFX Soldier”, the owner of this blog?

        Obviously, I was responding to a specific user comment directed at me when I said that. It was not a random comment about the blog post. I’m not sure the condescending reply from VFX Soldier was warranted here.

      • JTJR says:

        Hey “me”, Where are my supposed “character attacks” you are talking about? Where was I making this personal?

        Yes, I do think comparing unpaid internships in the US to the slums of India or child labor in China is ridiculous. Those situations are a world apart from what we are talking about here. I’m not willing to let some people get away with dramatizing the situation by comparing it to true economic strife.

        I’m all for solutions, but I didn’t realize that in these forums we were not allowed to disagree. VFX soldier should post a warning if that’s true.

        The fact that I defend unpaid internships does not mean that I trust corporations to have anybody’s best interest in mind. I also don’t expect the corporations to think that I won’t do what I best for me.

      • Marcus says:

        Seriously, you are preaching to the choir with most of what you’re saying – but you’re coming across a bit brash with your condescending remarks against people who compare our “plight” to that of third-world workers. You got really hung up on that while – at the same time – saying much of the same stuff that’s been the general consensus on Soldier’s blog and the comments.

        Whether consciously or not, I think the “plight” argument is a talking point… the same old game where, on the other hand, US corporations tell tall tales of hordes of qualified and motivated workers in India and China, ready to get the job done for peanuts. That is also bullshit and defies reality. Most of the public discourse in the US is in talking points these days. As a group with very little political and economic leverage, we have to play that game, so I don’t mind people throwing that in here and there, but understand it for what it is.

        Don’t get pissed off and leave the site because of the little (perceived) banter here… you’ve put down some well thought out and level-headed comments that I’d want to read some more of in the future.

  6. vfxguy says:

    “The problem that I have is the government sending a big bag of cash along with these students. I’m fairly sure a crack team of experienced artists will ultimately be more cost efficient than an army of newbies. But if you throw in millions of dollars in along with the newbies, the veterans have no chance even if they are more effective in the end.”

    hmmm millions of dollars mix with newbies. yup your right now that’s sound business plan. Sure why not its not DD money its someone else.

    I’m sure DD shareholders will love that model.

  7. justmy2cents says:

    One thing that no one is talking about with this business model of using interns (sort of indefinitely) is that they are really missing out on the college experience! I went to grad school to study computer animation (really just to pull myself out of the rat race for awhile) and loved it. It was the most creative time of my life! It was so cool to sit around with my fellow students talking about short film ideas and then figuring out how to technically get it done. And I did that in my 30s. To throw kids in their early 20s into a production environment to just be cogs in a wheel is robbing them of the experience to explore and create and LEARN!

    There’s also the little fact that kids that age are figuring out who they are. They want to party! Maybe drink too much and stay out late… who of us didn’t? That doesn’t make them terrible people but if they get that kind of reputation so early in their “careers”, it could kill a career before it even starts.

    These are really important factors I think.

  8. Paul says:

    Alert! alert! A useful idiot has been detected in this thread. Please proceed to closest decontamination chamber asap.

  9. david stripinis says:

    While I guess I can sort of understand if someone was offended by my analogy. But I wasn’t talking about any of the issues related to the civil war. Rather the people who to this day still wave a Rebel flag as if the war wasn’t lost 150 years ago.

    The battle for VFX workers rights is over. We lost.

    Move on

  10. anonymous says:

    When the economy tanked, Jeffery made a speech to DWA employees that no jobs would be lost, that no layoff would happen and DWA would deal with the economy as a family. The message in practice didn’t carry down the food chain. Artists are hired on a contract basis, and many more expensive veteran artists did not have their contracts renewed. In their place a college outreach program was put in place bringing in new artists as trainees who were signed to multiyear contracts starting at 40% the of what the veteran artists were earning. At this same time, Dream Works India was ramping up production working on TV holiday specials and feature film sequences. Jeffery and DWA definitely have great working conditions compared to the majority of VFX houses in L.A. but the hype doesn’t always match the reality.

  11. anonymous says:

    Doesn’t Michael Bay own part ofof Digital Domain through his investment group that includes partner Dan Marino?

  12. […] is with all this green stuff. First off, this isn’t to make DreamWorks look bad. I’ve showered praise on how DreamWorks treats it’s workers and as a former Animation Guild member, I’m a converted evangelist […]

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