Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem director Jeff Rowe has detailed how he avoided putting his animators under the pressures of crunch working conditions. Earlier this year, reports emerged of the troubling working conditions for artists and animators on Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, with over 100 people said to have left the project during production due to unsustainable work practices. Sony executive and producer Amy Pascal also came under fire for her glib response to worker complaints, saying “I guess, welcome to making a movie.”
During a recent interview with Insider, Rowe revealed that both himself and his producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were conscious of trying to avoid placing similar pressures on their own animators. Suggesting that his artists “just do work better when they’re rested and have home lives”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem director wanted to ensure his film making approach was ethical and well-balanced. Check out his comments below:
That was the thing that was really important to us on this film, and I learned it from Seth and Evan because in getting to know Seth, I’m like, ‘He has a really good work-life balance and everyone at Point Gray does. And I asked him about that, and he is like, ‘Well, we’re like when you’re doing live action, sometimes you’re on a set for 40 days in a row, and it is exhausting and tiring. And we want to make sure that our people have time away from that and that it doesn’t become their entire lives.’ I really took that to heart and wanted to make sure that when we made this film, we did it ethically. We’d be like, ‘Great, let’s figure [requests for flexible working arrangements] out, and let’s accommodate that because that’s your process and that’s what leads you to make your best art. And we would often do that with most of the team and just try to make sure everyone always felt supported. I never want the team to be suffering more than I am. And I also hopefully am suffering more than the team because I’m the captain, and I’m paid to absorb that, and they’re not. It’s important to preserve that. People just do better work when they’re rested and have home lives.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the movie covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions.
How Animators’ Struggles Are Part Of A Larger Industry Issue
While Hollywood studios are currently contending with the impacts of the ongoing writers’ and actors’ strikes, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are still many more issues faced by those working within the broader entertainment industry. Though the stories surrounding the working conditions on Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse may have come as a surprise to general audiences, they echoed a slew of similar complaints already voiced by those working in visual effects and other key movie-making functions.
With increasing pressures from studios to hit release deadlines while maximizing box office returns, it is easy to see how many in the Hollywood machine may have fallen victim to inequitable and unsustainable demands. That said, the approach that Rowe and his own producers took toward Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem seemingly proves that it is possible for an animated project to become a box office hit without taking advantage of their animators and other workers in the process.
With calls currently in place for workers in other animation studios such as Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network to unionize, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem will likely serve as an example of what can be achieved by taking a far more ethical approach to establishing healthy working conditions. Hopefully it is trend will also begin to take hold in other industry functions beyond animation as well.