On Monday, the raunchy, R-rated animated comedy Sausage Party got a lot less fun as anonymous sources claiming to be animators who worked on the film alleged that the reason why Sausage Party’s creative team was free to make such a boundary-pushing animated movie was because they treated their below-the-line technical workers like sweatshop labor.
Let’s back up for a moment: The film was made for somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million, although directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan wouldn’t confirm that number in their recent interview with Cartoon Brew that started this whole mess. Instead, they said that “we knew damn well that we could deliver a movie that looks like a $150 million movie for a fraction of the cost.” That low budget meant less studio involvement, which meant fewer executives poking their noses into the creative process, which meant the film could be as raunchy as executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg originally conceived it to be. But, as has been alleged, that freedom has a cost: unpaid overtime and uncredited work for the animators.
Now, Tiernan tells Variety claims of animator mistreatment are “without merit. Our production adhered to all overtime laws and regulations as well as our contractual obligations with our artists.” Asked why people might complain about their working conditions on the production, he said, “We take these things seriously and don’t want to ignore these claims.” For their part, Nitrogen Studios animators who spoke anonymously to Variety gave mixed reports, some saying the experience was “uncomfortable” and others describing it as totally fine and typical of other jobs they’ve had.
As we mentioned when these allegations first arose, long hours and lack of job security are common in the animation and VFX industries, where unpaid overtime is accepted as a matter of course at many companies. “It’s sort of almost an accepted practice at the end of the day. A lot of it has to do with the fact that this is an industry of passion. And people don’t want to complain out of fear they won’t get the next job,” former animator and current VFX industry blogger Daniel Lay tells Variety.
That fear of not getting another job explains why those animators complained anonymously, and why Nitrogen Studios employees would only speak to Variety on the condition that their names not be revealed. Generally, animators and VFX artists are hired as temporary contractors, and a reputation as a rabble-rouser can affect a person’s ability to get another job. That may be about to change, though, as organizers in London are working to form a union at London-based MPC (Movie Picture Company)—which recently worked on Suicide Squad and Ghostbusters and is currently in production on The Dark Tower and Alien: Covenant—which Vancouver-based media union rep Jennifer Moreau says “would be a game-change for the industry.”