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Lucasfilm Exec Blogs About Laying Off Animation Artists

If you’re an animation studio executive and you’ve just laid off a a crew of artists, what’s the first thing you should do? Going on Tumblr to blog about it should be nowhere near the top of that list. In fact, you shouldn’t even be thinking about whether that’s something you should be doing. Don’t tell this to Colum Slevin, Lucasfilm Vice-President, Head of Studio Operations, who decided that he would blog his company’s layoffs.

The layoffs probably weren’t Slevin’s decision. They are owed to the inevitable restructuring resulting from Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. Disney’s cancellation of the Clone Wars TV series caused an initial round of layoffs last week. After crew members working on the show were let go, Slevin made this post on his Tumblr account:

In another context—like an Oprah TV special—this might have been a nice thought, but the fortune cookie-worthy sentiment is more than a little icky coming from a well-paid executive who doesn’t have to worry about where he’s getting his next paycheck.

Executives love to promote the idea that studios are families, which is a silly analogy for countless reasons. For starters, families don’t lay off their own members. That’s why it’s a good idea for execs like Slevin to reserve the paternalistic pep talks for their own kids, and avoid telling former employees that they have Character (with a capital C no less) and showing them garish personal photos—though the latter does bode well for Slevin’s bid to become a Creative Exec.

UPDATE: The post has been deleted from Slevin’s Tumblr account.


(Photo of Colum Slevin by Joel Aron)

  • Businesses are not like families unless they are family-owned businesses… and I have horror stories about dealing with those also.

    No one is “owed” a job, so get over it and move on with your life.

    • I have to agree with your last line there. Anytime a major layoff occurs at a major studio like Dreamworks or Rhythm and Hues, it turns into a pity party online about workers rights, when the real fact is that people get laid off from smaller studios all the time, and somehow those people manage to find jobs again and get on with their lives. All this whining over job security is a bunch of BS, and in case any of you haven’t noticed, the film business is a traveling circus for everybody. Everybody moves from one job to the next, and if you get to stay at one place more than two years, terrific. But the people complaining about this have gotten too comfortable and forgotten what the film business really is. I’m very sorry you guys got laid off, but for crying out loud stop with the stupid green Avatars and go out and find another job, or go get the job that’s actually going to make you happy.

      • Oasis of Sanity

        Oh, yes. Spoken like true hacks.

        I’m surprised and delighted that people are actually calling the “defenses” of cutthroat execs what they are, Stockholm Syndrome. Never call a spade a club.

        • Doug Nichols

          BS. Like you know anything about the guy. We’re talking about ONE person’s honest comment, not a group pronouncement. You use “Stockholm Syndrome” like it should resonate with people who work making effing cartoons for a living. It’s not torture. It’s not imprisonment. Nobody is chained to their frickin’ desk. Get over yourselves, all of you.

        • Just for the record Oasis, I’m not defending anybody here. People can do whatever they want.

      • z-k

        More often than not, some of the larger studios do try to inculcate the feeling of “one big happy family in the treehouse”. Some of the smaller joints try to go for the “bro-fessional” angle as well, backslaps and “Such good work, bro!”. This is usually on the first day or week.

        Which in any business sense or setting is a major red flag – less so on a personal level, but still is something to pay attention to when a stranger acts the long awaited friend – since it will mean that the tic-for-tat is going to eventually weigh heavily in one direction, most normally opposite you. Is almost an inverse ration for the amount of unpaid hours and multiple hats that pile on relative to the amount of smiling and cajoling that roll down from up on high.

        For the most part, it’s a cheap route to fostering a transitory esprit-de-corps in a studio setting. Like Amid says, actual family or friendship isn’t fairweather – which should be common sense, but animators and artists for the most part (and from what I’ve seen) are generally the stereotype of the laid back and trusting creative community; they’re decidedly more Dude than wolvish. Which makes them all the more susceptible to the politicians and Bundys in this industry. Hollywood Accounting is a concept that covers more than just finances in the film world.

        “A submissive sheep is a find for a wolf.”

        • Well then, animators just have to remember they are wolves too. Wolves in sheep clothing. ;)

          • z-k

            Actually, it was seen (and still is in some areas) as honorable to be a hunter of wolves. Since animators and artists tend to favor the simplicity and adaptability of the serf/peasant character, the occasional donning of a wolf pelt or two befits that honor all the more.

  • Charlie

    Pretty gross.

  • Matt

    Sounds like another mindless prick running a studio to me.

    • Ronnie

      When someone who lays off co-workers plays for sympathy, it’s obvious he’s feeling guilty about what he did.
      But he did it anyway, and kept his job.
      No sympathy from me.

  • Dave

    Colum is one of the good guys. I worked at Lucasfilm for many years and friends of mine that worked in the animation groups (and were laid off) have nothing but respect for him. He put his heart & soul into the division. As tough as this was for everyone (it’s affected a bunch of AMAZINGLY talented artists) I am sure he did his best to treat people with class & dignity.

  • I’d rather not say

    So, what. You’d prefer he’d say nothing? Pretend it never happened and carelessly send off so many people without batting an eye?

    You seem love to promote the idea that executives are heartless monsters. It’s a business Amid. And in the realm of artists, you need to be quick to adapt because you don’t have solid ground. It’s the nature of industry. You take a big risk when following artistic endeavors.

    The guy’s trying to be nice as best he can in his position. He doesn’t deserve that sort of backlash for trying to bring people up in spite of how clumsy it might come off.

    • AmidAmidi

      He might be a great guy. I’m glad to hear that. But in a painful situation like this, Tumblr is not the appropriate place to do a humble-brag and try to show the world how sensitive you are. Because you know what, the layoffs aren’t really about him. I’d be much more impressed with Slevin if the artists he laid off were doing Tumblr posts about the inspiration they received from Slevin’s pep talks.

      • Anonymous Coward

        Who are you to decide what’s appropriate here? Who’s humble-bragging about his own moral superiority here? It’s you, not Colum…

        • AmidAmidi

          Why are you comparing a blog that reports news to a multi-billion dollar corporation. I didn’t just allow my company to be bought for billions of dollars and then reward the people who made the company valuable by laying them off. That’s not Slevin’s doing, but the useless sentimentality he threw their way just adds insult to injury.

          • Elana Pritchard

            Taken from Jason Falls article “The Critical Difference Between Blogging and Journalism”

            “As we went back and forth on the issue, I suddenly realized a critical difference between blogging and journalism: Fairness.

            A piece of journalism, even an editorial or opinion piece, written by a trained and ethical journalist, at least attempts to give opposing sides or viewpoints an opportunity to respond before the article or program is published. A blogger just publishes, one-sided or not, assuming that if anyone wants or needs to respond they can do so in the comments.”

  • exILM

    I am an ex-ILM from long ago. I worked with Colum and he is a great guy. It shows his character that he actually cares about layoffs and knows what they mean for people he truly cares for. To denigrate him like you have proves that I should not frequent your site any more.

  • JeanbearTheImmasculator

    I thought this was going to be bad like him laughing about someone crying or arguing. It’s not. Nothing really bad.

  • Karzay

    All this proves is that he cares and he was compelled to talk about it. It’s no different than you, Amid, making blog posts about things that concern you. Isn’t that the purpose of web logs anyway?

  • Denigrating some guy for expressing his feelings on the aftermath of having to do what we all knew was coming since Di$ney first bought Lucasfilm makes you appear like you’re trying to get attention for yourself by jumping on the poor-artists-always-get-the-shaft-from-every-executive-everywhere bandwagon without better things to do or valid stories to write.
    Try hitting the EA executives, or the horrible mistakes that lead up to the fall of THQ, or all those responsible for bankrupting Rhythm & Hues.

  • LAL Alum

    You don’t know one damn thing about the situation…how dare you judge. As someone who is intimately involved in everything that went down, I can tell you the sentiment expressed was genuine. There is no safety net for anyone here at Lucasfilm…its a new day, with a new agenda.
    Our family was torn apart last week and NO ONE here at Animation was exempt from the feeling of loss and heartfelt grief. The crew at Lucasfilm Animation is top notch and if there is one word that did define what we all saw last week was exactly what Colum said….Character. This crews strength of character is unparralled and while no one is happy it ended this way, ALL are eternally grateful to have been a part of something magically.

    • AmidAmidi

      No one is judging the situation that led up to this. This is about Slevin’s decision to blog the layoffs.

  • Toonio

    Its awful to speak about hunger on a full stomach. This guy really showed some nerves there.

    So its the end of Star Wars for me. Never done businesses over the tragedy of others and I’m not going to change that now.s

  • Iamsamjackson

    Torn in 2 directions on this one.

    It is no lie that Studio Execs and Execs in general are evil people. Money before people. I mean you have to be evil to lay off tons of people if your company is making tons of money.

    I used to work for Dell and they used to lay people off all the time even during good times just to inflate profit. It is a fake out on profit. Lay folks off, records show you have more money and less expenses looks like more income. That is evil especially since the descision makers make more money. They are not happy with 1 million a year they want 2 and they will get it at the cost of peoples jobs. I’m not saying this guy is one of them but the powers that be around him are .

    • Funkybat

      I don’t think things work that way in the animation industry. Animation is a business that requires skilled artists to produce the product, there is only so much cutting you can do and squeezing of the remaining talent before your product suffers and you risk losing money because you are seen as offering an inferior product. You know places like Pixar and ILM wouldn’t offer all the employee perks they do if they didn’t view them as a necessary part of the recipe for keeping their employees happy enough to keep creating high quality work on schedule.

      Laying off people is done not for phony botton-line boosing accounting tricks, but because of actual business realities pertaining to the profit or loss of recent releases and long-term strategies. Some of those choices may be stupid, and the full blame for stupid choices rests on the execs who put them through, but the kind of capricious “firing even during good times” you describe doesn’t work in an industry like ours.

      None of this is meant to say layoffs ar always done from fair reasons. But there are usually actual externalities that instigate them, because talent acquisition is an expensive and time-consuming process, and constantly hiring and firing artists like interchangeable widgets doesn’t work if you are int he middle of production on a film and you need people with a certain vision and aesthetic to carry it to full term. When layoffs happen, it’s because something is going on in the business, be it a buyout from a larger entity, or a box-office letdown that failed to deliver profit the studio was counting on to fund future projects.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Oh, corporations are indeed family. The Manson family.

  • john

    I was expecting something much worse than this from the title of this story. I don’t see the big problem with this post. Maybe its a little weird, but I can’t say its offensive. I think you are reaching here Amid.

  • Carl Russo

    Wow, are all animators such ruthless social Darwinists? Or is it a case of Stockholm Syndrome? I don’t have to be an insider to read a maudlin public blog post and yell b.s. when I smell it. P.U.!

  • Waaa to the exILM… condescension becomes you. Blogging about this is just tasteless and unethical. Speaking as someone who has been laid off before… I know how it feels… and to think that the goofwad that just fired me is going to try and make himself feel better by spouting a few platitudes is meaning less. Write that in your private diary or better yet just move on just as you were expecting your rubbish to do as you kicked em out the door.

  • rezz

    There’s two types of people in the industry. The people who
    drink the Kool-Aid and will go with whatever the redirect is for the company.
    Those who knows what’s going on but refuse to talk or say anything that might
    come back around and hurt them. The entertainment industry is certainly as
    toxic as the political arena, which is why you can get so many people to work
    for unpaid overtime/ poor work treatment etc. with a fear of “who’s listening”.

    So he might be a great guy in person but bottom line is a
    producer, a role that is not to care about the crew wellbeing. Anyone who
    worked on clone wars knows it was a tough ride just like any other ambitious TV
    show with its own toxic political caviar. I didn’t find his statement to awful
    but certainly wasn’t appealing.

    • mick

      Toxic political caviar…. now THAT is a great phrase

  • Hasmri

    Stockholm syndrome from working with a good cop during good cop/bad cop situation?

    • Doug Nichols

      Get real. Open your mind to the possibility that someone on the executive level at an animation studio can have feelings. Sheesh.

      • Eddy

        Did he do anything that will help your situation other than expressing how heartbroken he is?

  • Jason

    Family doesn’t layoff it’s own members though so I’m not really sure what your point is. Pointing out a blog post isn’t ‘stamping out someone’s rights’.

  • It’s like a bad Dilbert comic come to life.

    Even if this executive personally meant well, he comes off as patronizing and disingenuous. Hasn’t he ever heard that it’s better to say nothing and look like a complete fool, than to speak and remove all doubt?

    • Funkybat

      I would personally prefer that people at/near the top of the pecking order in studios (and any major business really) feel free to speak their mind when there is some kind of bad news, even if they are not personally affected. It’s a hell of a lot better than getting the silent statue treatment when dozens or hundreds of people’s lives are affected by their decisions.

      I have no idea if this guy had a hand in implementing the layoffs, I wold guess the order came down from much higher and he had no power to change it. In any event, I feel like it’s fine that he said what he said. People can take it as they wish. Again, I prefer the open exchange of ideas. If the exec is clueless or downright cruel, that will come through loud and clear if they speak their mind. If the person is actually human and has some kind of reasonable opinion or heartfelt regret at the turn of events, that will come through as well. What I hate is perfunctory PC pseudo-speak that attempts to “put a good face” on something while conveying no truthful thoughts or even useful information, which is what we usually hear from the higher-up of almost any business or politician.

      • Eddy

        Isn’t “putting a pretty face” is what Colum just did, Ken? How did that escape you?

      • Eddy

        Woops that was directed to funkybat, not Ken, sorry

  • Spencer

    Yeah, nothing builds character like getting laid off.

  • ILDC

    I don’t remember this happening to Marvel and Pixar.

  • pingrava

    After almost 35 years in the engineering and design profession I have developed a finely tuned bullsh*t detector. Currently, I’m looking for a job. My previous employer Deepak chopra type in love with his own voice and ill conceived ideas loved to refer to the company as his family.

    What a sad f**cking human being.

    Sure – we make close friends. We develop great working relationships and comraderie.

    But it not your g*ddman family.

    Lately I’ve been on interviews that have been a monumental waste of time and irritating enough to want to run a wrench across the HR guy’s forehead.

    Here’s a rundown of warning signs:

    Free coffee

    Ping pong or video games.

    A nap room.
    “Theme” work days like “ugly tie Tuesday”.
    Free candy.
    Free lunch on Friday
    Want to know what i want, Xander?
    First I want you to lose the bedhead hairdo and the Buddy holly birth control goggles. This is suburban New Jersey, not f**cking Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
    Second – and this is VERY important – I want to know in explicit terms what my salary will be, whether or not I get paid OT and what my benefits are – preferable without the corporate doublespeak.
    Third – I’m not some starry eyed neophyte. I’ve been around the block. hell – I’ve been around the entire city. Don’t sh*t in my ear and tell me it’s wax. Your little perks are here to keep people late. I have a family. I have responsibilities. I will work hard andstay late when required. But don’t expect me to ruin my health or marriage just because you have no concept of how long it takes to get something done.
    In short, I exepct fair compensation and decent benefits. I want to be treated with a modicum amount of respect. Most important – i expect you to live up to your end of the bargain. Don’t lie to me like I’m Montel Williams. If the job entails 20 hours a week OT tell me – and adjust my salary accordingly.
    Your job is simple, douchnozzle. You have to make sure that I’m compensated and motivated enough to show up for work again tomorrow at 8AM.

  • pingrava

    Just lemme add this. Anyone who regards their company as “family” needs to have their head examined. More to the point – any CEO who does the same – will ultimately run the company into the ground.
    “Family” Doesn’t kick you to the curb when things get tough.
    “Family: Doesn’t send your job overseas to make an extra buck.
    (In my case) “Family” doesn’t fire you two weeks after you notify HR of your doctor’s request of short term disability because you need a liver transplant”.

  • Bigger Picture

    All hail JJ, all hail JJ, all hail JJ…

  • Mickey_and_donald

    Having had several of those Zippp..this is confidential meetings where our beloved friend had a starbucks coffee and a mic in his hand, I would disagree with the comments below. Never ever at any given point, I thought column was genuine They are all suits and they get big bucks. btw, I was also laid off.

  • The underlying sentiment was one of sadness and respect. You seem to feel its better that executives remain indifferent and silent. Who really comes across as pathetic here?

    • pingrava

      A manager at my former company was a deacon in his church. He coached volleyball. He was every bit the family man.
      But when my employer decided to get rid of someone they always called him
      to escort the poor S.O.B. out of the building (no severance). Now I understand that managers have to do this on occasion. But really, do you have to degrade the person as he’s leaving and actually enjoy the process?
      Anyone who decides to enter the gateway to hell (management and HR) knows full well that firing people is part of the job. So they’re willing to take on the responsibility. HR reps in particular, relish it (about 7 years ago I worked for THE aerospace company. One the day they were gonna layoff 35% (about 1000 people) the head of HR was seen walking the halls whistling, smiling and hi-fiving. So much for respect.
      My point to my response is I studied a case like this in a psychology class. It’s normal for a guy to be two people – a demanding, insulting, degrading, hateful, backstabbing, d**chebag on the job and a loving, god-fearing, dedicated father and husband at home.
      Another example. I once gave my manager a ride to pick up his car. He completely broke down – his daughter was going through some pretty intense chemotherapy. We sat there and talked for an hour. I offered to cover for him or help him in anyway.
      A year later my wife, then pregnant with our son, was rushed to the hospital due to a life threatening emergency while I was on my way to work. I turned around called my boss and told him I would not be in.
      His response?
      So much for sympathy.

  • Elana Pritchard

    The truth is just as likely in the middle as on the far right or left. It doesn’t play by any set of rules. What matters is that objective facts are presented so people can reach their own conclusions, instead of being told what’s right and wrong or what to think.

    For the animation industry this is a need as well as a right.

  • bob

    this is actually a great thing for execs to do… if it’s genuine. And from the outside eg. the arrogant cartoon brew crew… it might look terribly offensive, but anyone not working with him doesn’t know him and therefor the negative interpretation is just a big bag of biased crap.

    Trust me… when your bosses and higher ups actually care, it’s nice.

  • Colum was an amazing supe and he has my deepest respect and I would wager that of all of the other LAL artists. This article does not represent the opinion of anyone who has worked there. Instead, we are thankful for someone who has always been upfront and personal and made it an amazing family to be a part of.

  • 3rdparty

    Colum is one of the good guys. There is no way this was easy for him, you really should retract this article.

  • This Slevin guy seems to have insanely good game faces. I bet he will get promoted in 3years or less. I’ve work in production houses before and trust me, those managers/ producers and higher ups dedicate their life to find talented artists that can be manipulated. When the project is ended, they “move on”.

  • joebutler

    A wolf in sheep clothing..
    thanks for ripping off thousands Colum
    hope you can sleep at nite