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The Aggrieved Animators on 'Sausage Party,' the WB Open Letter, and the Role of Journalism

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | August 15, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | August 15, 2016 |

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s film Sausage Party made $33 million this weekend. That’s huge. Sausage Party was made for only $20 million, so it’s already turning a significant profit. How is it even possible in this day and age to make an all-CGI film for $20 million, when a film like Toy Story 3 costs $200 million?

Maybe by treating the animators horribly.

In an interview with the directors Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan over on Cartoon Brew, something of a war has broken out in the comments section. Several anonymous commenters — who claim to have worked on the film — are voicing their grievances about the way they were allegedly treated. Here’s a taste (via Dorkly):

The production cost were kept low because Greg would demand people work overtime for free. If you wouldn’t work late for free your work would be assigned to someone who would stay late or come in on the weekend. Some artist[s] were even threatened with termination for not staying late to hit a deadline.

The animation department signed a petition for better treatment and paid overtime. When the letter got to Annapurna they stepped in and saw that artist[s] were payed and fed when overtime was needed.

Over 30 animators left during the coarse of the production due to the stress and expectations. Most of them left before the paid overtime was implemented. This was met with animosity and was taken as a personal insult to the owners. Their names were omitted from the final credits despite working for over a year on this film.

The comments go on to say that more than half of the animation team was not credited for their work. In other words, they were treated poorly, forced out of their jobs, not properly paid for the work they did, and on top of all that, they weren’t even credited.

These comments inspired others to voice their complaints in other forums. Again, from Dorkly:

Working with Greg and the Nitrogen production was a nightmare for any artist, we believed in that project and stayed despite that fact.

I personally know & witnessed many other incidents during the production; such as an “Open Letter” to the clients, and how Greg threatened artists for it.


They fired the CG Supervisor mid production (one of many supervisors who got fired during the show) because he would say “we can’t do this in budget” to Greg and Conrad’s ideas. Which by the way both were the worst directors I worked with and had zero direction or vision. Their idea of directing was “lets throw shit at a wall until one sticks” so you would waste a ton of work until it gets approved and sometimes that would get unapproved in the future because they were in a bad mood.

There was always this weird rivalry between the directors. Mostly with Greg because while Conrad was a co-director on a bunch of DW movies all Greg has under his name is the Thomas the Train episodes nitrogen did and he felt like he had to prove he is the top dog. He would get SUPER mad when he walks into dailies and finds animators talking to Conrad before he is in the room. He actually fired an animation supervisor over this.

That sounds like an awful working situation, and we would never know about these allegations were it not for these anonymous comments. Greg Tiernan might have — and still may — get a free pass for his allegedly abusive relationship with employees. So often in Hollywood and other settings where power imbalances are significant, the truth surrounding bad or abusive behavior is only able to come out through anonymous “chatter,” rumors or jokes (the progression of the revelations about Bill Cosby from a joke by Hannibal Burress to over 40 women coming forward with tales of sexual harassment is just one recent example).

Though anonymous statements in a comments section beneath an interview do not constitute “journalism,” the primary aim of journalism is to share the truth, and to provide opportunities for public discourse that allow the truth to be told even where it may be impractical, unpopular, politically divisive, or a challenge to existing power structures.

A recent piece suggests that hiding behind anonymity is “base cowardice,” and that by allowing an aggrieved employee to stand behind anonymity, a forum is “protecting themselves from any criticism.” In fact, the protection offered by a forum that allows anonymous sourcing protects not the forum itself but the source. Depending upon the revelations involved, whistleblowers can face reprisals of many kinds, up to and including threats to their relationships and livelihood.

Throughout American history, the whole point of journalism — whether practiced by a “town crier,” a radio host, an editorial board, a magazine writer or a website — was to provide a forum for the truth to be heard. The fourth estate provides a critical check to otherwise powerful political and financial forces by allowing people to tell their stories. Ultimately, the goal is for information to be shared in as public a way as possible — but especially at the beginning of a story, it often has to begin with a group or individual bravely stepping out of line and coming forward to shed light on something otherwise hidden. When that happens, we know that the safety of those individuals can be compromised in many ways. Allowing anonymity is one way to help restore a balance — to offer some protection that could make it, while still very scary to “speak truth to power,” a little more likely that it might feel possible. The shield of anonymity is not ideal — not where the process should end — but it often gives the process an opportunity to begin.

Whenever you see a story or a piece, you are being asked by the author and the publisher to place your faith in them. You are being asked to believe that they have the integrity to vet their sources, and to ask questions that, as far as possible, check relevant facts and dates to suggest accuracy. While we are primarily a movie review site, we take seriously our journalistic, personal and professional integrity. We are independently owned and run by a dedicated crew of 18 writers, and we believe our 12 year track record of providing accurate information and being accountable to our readers means something both to them and to us, We work hard to be worthy of the trust placed in us both by them and, in this particular case, by the individual who shared their experiences with us through the WB letter

Should we afford anonymous statements in a comments section beneath an interview the same trust? That’s up to each of us as readers, taking into account all the information we have as well as the nature of the allegations and their timing and impact. By asking the question behind the numbers, about how it’s possible to make a CGI movie on the cheap, and allowing people who may have actual personal knowledge of the process to anonymously come forward, maybe more questions will be asked of Greg Tiernan and of Nitrogen Studios. Maybe those aggrieved animators eventually get the payment and credit they deserve, or maybe new industry standards are developed to make sure media makers and doers are able to profit fairly for the work that they do. If that happens, it could be because of an anonymous comment that was amplified by the people over on Dorkly.

And that, my friends, IS journalism.