Now that the MCU had their big finale and the Star Wars universe is about to wrap up (sort of), the newest never-ending stream of hits seems to be live-action remakes of classic Disney animated films. Beginning with The Jungle Book in 2016 and extending up to the recently released The Lion King and on into the future, Disney has discovered that they can print money by making almost shot-for-shot live-action remakes of their older animated classics. And that’s great! People seem to love them (my wife and I watched Beauty and the Beast on our honeymoon). And if you aren’t a Disney fan, you don’t have to watch them. But these seemingly harmless cash grabs are hiding a more sinister reality: Disney is not paying their original creators.
To understand why we need to first understand that live-action and animated writers were–up until the 90s–represented by unions that were wholly separate entities with different jurisdictions. If you worked in animated films you were represented by The Animation Guild (TAG). If you worked in live-action you were represented by the Writers Guild of America (WGA, previously the Screen Writers Guild or SWG). There’s a lot of legalese and politics involved as to why, but the tl;dr version is that TAG was seen as second-class to WGA. As such, TAG creators didn’t get as much protection for their work as WGA creators. And that includes pay and credits for reuse of their work (interestingly enough The Simpsons is largely responsible for increasing protections for animation creators).
Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal. But, again, these live-action remakes are largely shot-for-shot carbon copies of the original animations. That means that, not only is the original dialogue often used but storyboards as well.
For those who don’t know, a storyboard is a sort of map of the shots that will occur in a movie. They can be as simple as stick figures or full-on beautiful drawings. They are so important that producers and directors will often decide what scenes to include (and exclude) or even what projects to take on based on the storyboard. Making a movie only a script and no storyboard would be like trying to make a cake with batter but no oven.
So to continue with my cake metaphor (I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show), Disney is making full-on wedding cakes but only paying for the icing. It’s not just monetary compensation they’re withholding either. The original creators are not even receiving credits for their work in the remakes. And credit in the film industry is not just something you point to impress a date after a movie. People get (or don’t get) jobs based on their previous credits. And if your name isn’t in that scroll that’s rolling as most of us walk out of the theater, you can’t put that work on your resume.
No change seems to be in sight for these policies. But the secrets about how Disney treats its workers seem to be getting more and more well-known. Are you planning to see Disney’s live-action remakes? Tell us below in the comments!
Billy is a freelance writer living in Indianapolis with his dog, BoJack. He enjoys TED talks, video games, sunny days, football, and the salty tears of his enemies.