On Monday, it seemed like a celebration was in order as Sausage Party, an R-rated animated film, took the top spot at the box office. Critics have raved about the raunchy food film with an all-star cast that includes Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, and many more. So, it would go without saying that an animated feature earning $33 million for its opening weekend on a budget of approximately $19 million would have studios buzzing for all the right reasons, but instead director Greg Tiernan and Nitrogen Studios are answering for some serious accusations from disgruntled animators.
It started with anonymous commenters on a Cartoon Brew interview with Tiernan and Sausage Party co-director Conrad Vernon, in which the duo explained how they were able to make an animated film for far less than what these films usually cost. Typically, internet comments should be avoided, but two particular comments were retweeted more than 2,000 times, as the anonymous, supposed Sausage Party animators claimed they were forced into working free overtime and threatened with termination if they didn’t play ball, and at the end of the day their names were left out of the film’s credits.
On Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that in December at least 30 animators signed a letter that explained their accusations to the film’s co-financier, Annapurna, in an attempt to make sure that everyone is paid for their efforts.
A letter sent in December, a final draft of which was reviewed Monday by The Hollywood Reporter, alleges that “unfair 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.” (Via THR)
The animators claim the alleged tactics made “for an unrewarding and frustrating work environment,” and those who were supposedly uncredited are now speaking out, albeit still anonymously.
“There were countless hours of free time,” one uncredited animator said in a phone interview. “So, it was a consensus. We don’t need to put up with this.” (Via THR)
Variety also spoke with anonymous animators:
“People would go in to talk to Greg [Tiernan] or give their notice and there’d be screaming about being blacklisted,” said one animator.
The animator claimed that Nitrogen had no human resources staff so any complaints about working conditions had to be made to line producer Nicole Stine, who is Tiernan’s wife.
“There was no one you could go to,” said the animator. “It was uncomfortable.” (Via Variety)
The outrage and accusations don’t apply to all of the film’s animators, obviously, as both THR and Variety spoke with credited animators who were happy with the experience. However, they still believe that everyone should be paid and credited for their efforts.
To the credit of Nitrogen and chief creative officer/director Tiernan, they claim to be taking the accusations seriously, even if they are anonymous and began with internet comments. On Monday, Nitrogen Studios Chief Executive Nicole Stinn told the Los Angeles Times that the allegations “are without merit” and that the “production adhered to all overtime laws and regulations, as well as our contractual obligations with our artists.”
Tiernan told Variety, “We take these things seriously and don’t want to ignore these claims,” but added that the accusations are “without merit.” Additionally, he told THR: “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.”