Nitrogen Studios’ Sausage Party has had a strange journey to the big screen. Its adult humor received mixed reactions upon its first few screenings, but by the time it came around to theaters, reviews were positive enough that it put up a decent fight against Suicide Squad in its later weeks. All told, the film has made about $71.3 million at the box office, and there’s a particular set of people who are less than happy about that: the people who made it and didn’t get paid.
Earlier this month, animators from the production took to a major trade blog to express their dismay at being denied overtime pay despite the movie’s astounding success, due to its budget of a low $19 million. With a voice cast that includes the likes of Seth Rogen and James Franco, many of the animators were stuck with working for zero pay the moment they went over their time, which was something demanded of them by the movie. This is a common occurence during production that would have been fine if the animators were compensated, and because of that, they’ve been fighting since as far back as December for payment. Now, thanks to a Vancouver-based union representing them, it’s going to court.
The union in question, Local Unifor 2000, represents over 1,200 media workers in Vancouver. They filed an official complaint on Friday, following major reveals in the form of a comments section below an interview with the film’s directors, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan on CartoonBrew. Not long after the comments section made headlines, animators spoke with THR about the lack of overtime pay, and how animators who complained during the production process were left uncredited at the end of the film. What’s more, the animators apparently have reason to be worried about being blacklisted from Vancouver’s “tight-knit” production community. No other legal action has been taken on behalf of the animators just yet.
In the letter to Nitrogen Studios, which was written back in December of 2015, the animators say that not only were they forced to work long hours — they were scared into it. They allege their superiors were “intimidating staff into working past official studio hours, disciplinary measures utilizing fear tactics that demotivate and cause distress (such as threatening to terminate employment),” and, “implying that other departments are working overtime ‘voluntarily’ as a reason to deny compensation.”
Jennifer Moreau, Vice President of Unifor Local 2000, issued a statement detailing the formal complaint filed on Friday. “We are aware of serious allegations that Nitrogen did not pay some of its animators overtime, and we’ve formally asked the Employment Standards Branch to investigate,” she said, before referencing the animators’ previous complaints of intimidation on the Studio’s behalf. “Many of these animators are too scared to come forward — that’s why we’ve filed the third party complaint.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Vancouver-based animators have found themselves in dire straits regarding their paychecks. Because of a loophole in their designation, which labels 3D artists as “high technology professionals,” employers like Nitrogen Studios are allowed to set work schedules that last much longer than 40 hours a week without offering any overtime pay, time off, or minimum daily pay rates.
So far, the only official response comes from Sausage Party director and Nitrogen chief creative officer Greg Tiernan. “Our production adhered to all overtime regulations and our contractual obligations to our artists,” he told THR, saying that any time a concern was brought up, it was handled properly.
Sausage Party is now playing in U.S. theaters.