The R-rated animated film Sausage Party had a great opening weekend and the success of few other films have made me this happy. That’s mostly because Sausage Party seemed to help take quite a lot of wind out of the sails of Suicide Squad, the second unmitigated fiasco that Warner Bros. and DC have released in 2016. For such a mess to have the energy zapped out of it by a cadre of talking hot dogs, buns, produce, donuts, and other random grocery store staples is a lot of icing on a cake I have no interest in eating. The celebration for Sausage Party, however, may have to come to a bit of a halt now though, as animators for Nitrogen Studios, who produced the film, are claiming that some pretty sketchy actions were taken to get the film out and on budget.
THR got ahold of a letter that was sent in early December that accused Nitrogen Studios used “unfair pressuring tactics” in getting animators to work extra hours for no pay on the movie. The letter also says that these pressure tactics were:
“used against the team: intimidating staff into working past official studio hours, disciplinary measures utilizing fear tactics that demotivate and cause distress (such as threatening to terminate employment), implying that other departments are working overtime ‘voluntarily’ as a reason to deny compensation.”
These allegations seem all the more curious after a recent discussion with the film’s directors, Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, on Cartoon Brew, where they asserted a certain boldness in getting the film done for $20 million. That is quite a bit less than your average animated feature, but if the dispute from these animators is with merit, it may have been done by shorting people who worked on the film, more than a handful of which, it also seems, were not credited in the film’s closing credits. Attention to this matter exploded after a bit of a comment storm broke out at the bottom of the Cartoon Brew interview, which you can check out at the link above.
To be fair, Tiernan, who works as the chief creative officer for Nitrogen, issued a statement saying this:
“These statements are without merit…Our production adhered to all overtime regulations and our contractual obligations to our artists. Any time that any concern was brought up, it was handled appropriately.”
According to THR, after the letter was originally sent back in December, Annapurna Pictures, who backed the film, took measures to ensure that the animators were paid for overtime and that they received meals while working extra hours. Any back pay, however, was denied and the ensuing distancing between the management at Nitrogen and the animators by Annapurna didn’t help matters.
We’ll have to wait to get a little more information about all of this but I will say, it seems unlikely that 30 animators would band together to lie about their treatment at a production company. And as THR points out, there’s a culture of bullying temporary contractual employees in film productions nationwide (and internationally) that has flourished over the years, using the threat of being fired to get free labor out of ambitious artists. Let’s hope we get some clarity on this soon.