Television & Film

Rooster Teeth Restructuring After Weeks of Controversy

Austin, TX based media production company Rooster Teeth has been in the news quite a bit of late, most recently announcing a restructuring at the executive level.

Jordan Levin will take the reigns as General Manager. This will move former CEO Matt Hullum into a newly named position as Chief Content Officer. Hullum will be taking on a more creative role in the company while Levin will focus on the business end. Levin has many years in the industry, having been an executive at companies such as WB, Xbox and NFL. Levin will answer to Rooster Teeth parent company Otter Media’s CEO Tom Pickett. Otter Media also owns Crunchyroll and VRV.

This restructuring follows a 13% cut in staff two weeks ago. The company said it was due to a changing culture and to position themselves for future projects. That amounts to fifty employees of Rooster Teeth that were laid off. Then CEO Matt Hullum stated in a memo that the cuts were not performance based. “This decision is not reflective of anyone’s individual performance,” Hullum said. “And we’re thankful for all that our former colleagues have contributed.”

The overall restructuring of Rooster Teeth does not only affect the top level management but runs throughout the company.  Co-founders Geoff Ramsey and Burnie Burns will take on new roles where they will support the direction that Rooster Teeth will move. Ramsey becomes Executive Creative Director and Burns will move into a new position as Chief Creative Officer.

Doreen Copeland, who was the head live action productions, will now be the company’s VP, Head of Production operations. And Barbra Dunkelman will take over the creative leadership of Rooster Teeth’s direct comedic content.

Levin told Deadline that these people have created a fantastic company and that he looks forward to the future. “Over the past sixteen years, Matt, Burnie, Geoff and Gus have built a world class entertainment company amidst a turbulent marketplace engaging a fervent community of fans through a diverse portfolio of successful, entrepreneurial businesses,” Levin said. “I’m fortunate to have gotten to know them over the years and thrilled for the opportunity to join them going forward to lead this unique media brand with the full support of my friends at WarnerMedia. I’m grateful to be returning to both Austin, which has been my family’s second home, as well as the WarnerMedia family, to realize Rooster Teeth’s ambitions of producing more content in more places to reach and expand its community wherever they are and will be.”

Hullum told Deadline that he is happy to be getting back in to the creative parts of what inspired him to co-found the company, and that leading Rooster Teeth “has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.” Despite a rapidly evolving industry and corporate environment, he added, “we managed to grow the company to more than ten times the size it was when I began as CEO just over seven years ago. It’s been an incredible ride, and now I’m beyond excited to be returning to the creative work that inspired me to want to co-found Rooster Teeth in the first place.”

This restructuring comes after complaints of poor working conditions at the company back in June. Many former employees took to Glassdoor, a site that allows ex-employees to review their former employers, to voice their opinion, resulting in Rooster Teeth getting an abysmal score of 2.1 stars.

Glassdoor snip

Others took to twitter to voice their experience with Rooster Teeth. One of these was Georden Whitman, creator of Nomad of Nowhere, who took to Twitter to be the “reliable” source for these claims.

Rooster teeth tweet

Whitman also claimed that Rooster Teeth knew about its poor management for years and that they had not done anything to change it.

Hullum has since apologized to the former employees of Rooster Teeth, releasing a statement on July 20th that acknowledges the poor management of the studio and foreshadows the changes currently playing out:

We have seen the recent messages about Rooster Teeth’s animation studio related to crunch, and want everyone to know we take these concerns seriously. We acknowledge that we could have better managed our animation pipeline, and we apologize to all who have been affected.

Over the last several months we conducted a review and have taken several steps to improve communication and workflow to ensure we have a studio where people are happy to come to work every day. We are announcing today new measures on the road to improvement.

Effective today, we are moving forward with a previously planned change in our producing and creative structure. Gray G. Haddock is stepping down as head of studio for animation to dedicate himself to a strictly creative role. With Gray’s help, we have been in the process of hiring a new production head of the department, who will be responsible for the overall producer hierarchy and staff management. We want to thank Gray for his hard work and dedication to growing the animation studio over these years, and are excited to continue working with him in this new capacity.

Further, we are consulting with experienced leaders in the animation industry on our workflow, pipeline, production structure and other areas to enhance the workplace experience for our staff. Margaret M. Dean, the head of Ellation animation studios and president of Women In Animation, will consult with us and aid the search for a new studio lead.

We’ll always continue to work on improvements to our workplace, and we appreciate everyone’s support and feedback on this ongoing mission.

In late August and early September, following the complaints about the working conditions, four well-known members of the RT staff announced their departure from the company, although their public statements make no mention of the working conditions as a reason for leaving.

Ashely Burns, host of The Know and voice of Coco Adel in RWBY, was the first to announce her change in status in a thread on Twitter:

Bruce Greene, who served as general manager of the Funhaus division of RT, announced on September 3rd, that he was leaving the company:

This was followed on September 5th by an announcement from Max Kruemcke, who worked as an art director at the company:

A day later, it was Rocco Botte, co-founder of Mega64 and on-camera talent for RT:

Then, on September 13, gen:LOCK producer Gray Haddock posted that he and RT had “parted ways”:

There’s no indication here that the decision is related to Haddock’s removal as head of animation, although Haddock subsequently released a statement addressing rumors and accusations that gen:LOCK had become a “resource hog” and that mismanagement of the project is what led to the current upheavals at the company. According to a report on Clownfish TV, an insider at Rooster Teeth told them that Haddock had been fired.

Haddock released a statement addressing those allegations:

The most recent departure announcement came on September 17 from RT producer and cast member Ellie Main:

While the timing of these departures certainly has an accumulative effect of looking like a mass exodus, there’s nothing in their statements to indicate that working conditions contributed to the decisions, save for perhaps Haddock’s. Burns, for example, gave birth to a son on August 25th, and mentions her “teensy new family adventure” as a reason for stepping away. Her husband, Burnie Burns, is the creator of Rooster Teeth.

According to a report by Clownfish TV, there was another round of layoffs at Rooster Teeth back in March, with insiders telling them that about half of the staff for RWBY were let go. They also report that several animators came to them to corroborate the stories of mismanagement on Haddock’s part, and that gen:LOCK was a big source of the company’s current issues.

On September 26th Rooster Teeth sent out a marketing email that upset many of the company’s fans. This was due to the marketing email appearing as an invoice, causing some fans to panic. Nathan Isherwood, Director of Marketing at Rooster Teeth, apologized on Reddit for this email, stating that it was tasteless and a fruitless attempt at humor.

nathan.JPG

The restructuring comes amid the proliferation of direct-to-consumer streaming media channels. Rooster Teeth, which has a subscription service called First, is being eyed by parent company WarnerMedia as one of several feeder channels to send content to the in-development HBO Max, along with the other Otter properties.

SciFi4Me reached out to Rooster Teeth for comment, but so far we’ve not received a reply.

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