An Open Letter To VFX Artists And The Entertainment Industry At Large Visual Effects Society: 2.0

 

As an Honorary Society, VES has led the way in promoting the incredible work of VFX artists but so far no one has stood up to lead the way on the business side of our business. No one has been able to speak out for unrepresented artists and facilities – or the craft as a whole – in any meaningful way.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that the state of the visual effects industry is unsettled. Artists and visual effects companies are working longer hours for less income, delivering more amazing VFX under ever diminishing schedules, carrying larger financial burdens while others are profiting greatly from our work. As a result, there has been a lot of discussion recently about visual effects and its role in the entertainment industry. Many feel VFX artists are being taken advantage of and many others feel that VFX facilities are operating under unsustainable competitive restraints and profit margins. There have been calls for the creation of a VFX union to represent artists’ interests while others have pushed to create a trade organization for VFX facilities to better navigate today’s economic complexities.

As globalization intensifies, the process of creating visual effects is becoming more and more commoditized. Many wonder if the current business model for our industry is sustainable over the long term. Indeed, multiplying blogs are questioning why artists are forced to work crazy overtime hours for weeks or months on end without health benefits and VFX facilities are forced to take on shows at a loss just to keep their pipelines going and their doors open (they hope).

As good as we are at creating and manipulating amazing and ground breaking images, VFX professionals have done a terrible job of marketing ourselves to the business side of the industry. In short, no one has been able to harness the collective power of our efforts, talents, and passions into a strong, unified voice representing the industry as a whole. 

VES may not have the power of collective bargaining, but we do have the power of a voice that’s 2,400 artists strong in 23 countries -- and the VES Board of Directors has decided that now is the time to use it. We are the only viable organization that can speak to the needs and concerns of everyone involved in VFX to meet the challenges of a changing global industry and our place within it.

The work we do helps a lot of people make a lot of money, but it’s not being shared on an equal basis, nor is the respect that’s due us, especially considering that 44 of the top 50 films of all time are visual effects driven(http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross).

For VFX ARTISTS (NOT computer geeks, NOT nerds), we do not receive the kind of respect that measures up to the role visual effects plays in the bottom line. And that’s expressed in a number of very obvious ways:

  • Credits – we are frequently listed incompletely and below where we should be in the crawl.
  • Benefits – in the US, you likely do not have ready access to health care. Or a vision plan. Or a pension plan. Outside the US, unless you’re a citizen of a country with national health care, you likely do not have health care coverage either. Or have the ability to build hours for your pension. Or are eligible to receive residuals. On a UNION show we are the ONLY department that is not union and therefore not receiving the same benefits as everyone else on the set.
  • Working conditions – if you are a freelancer (it’s generally agreed that almost half of all visual effects workers are freelancers), because you are not covered by collective bargaining, you may be forced to work 70 – 100 hour weeks for months on end in order to meet a delivery date. And for that privilege (in the U.S.) you will also likely be considered an Independent Contractor and have to file a 1099 – and then pay the employer’s share of the tax contribution.


Many small to medium-sized VFX companies around the world are struggling to survive (or have gone out of business – (RIP Café FX, Asylum, Illusion Arts and many others). By now almost everyone in the industry is familiar with the quote from a few years ago by an unidentified studio executive that if he ‘didn’t put at least one VFX company out of business on a show, he wasn’t doing his job.’

The concern exists at every level of the VFX chain -- artist, facility and studio – how the impact of a “Fix” would affect the industry. Would it drive work elsewhere? Would it cut into the dwindling profit margins of VFX companies and put them out of business? Would it make VFX artists unhireable?

No matter one’s perspective, the interests of VFX artists can no longer be ignored.

In the coming weeks and months, VES will shine a spotlight on the issues facing the artists, facilities and studios by way of editorial pieces in the trades and VFX blogs, virtual Town Hall meetings, a VFX Artists’ Bill of Rights and a VFX CEO’s Forum (for the companies that actually provide the jobs that everyone is working so hard to safeguard).

There are solutions and we will find them.

We want the studios to make a respectable profit. We want facilities to survive and thrive in this ever changing fiscal environment. And we want artists to have high quality jobs with the commensurate amount of respect for the work they do on a daily basis. Therefore, VES will take the lead by organizing meetings with all participants in our industry in which we will make sure that all the issues discussed above are put on the table.

We are the VES and the time to step up has arrived. VES 2.0 is here and ready to lead.

If you’d like to share a comment with us you can contact us at eitherleadership@visualeffectssociety.com or through the leadership forum on the VES website at: http://www.visualeffectssociety.com/forums/ves-leadership-forum.

Stay tuned!

Eric Roth
VES Executive Director

 

Comments

Yes you the storyteller

Ethedneda's picture
Yes cannot be!

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orga's picture
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Thanks

Anonymous's picture
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2 years later

R&H employee's picture
This letter was written 2 years ago. 2 YEARS. In two years, has VES done anything to follow up on this? Since the writing of this letter at least two MAJOR vfx companies have either closed their doors or filed for bankruptcy. It would seem that there are more important things to do than rally for the rights of the artists that make up the visual effects industry. It's really too bad considering that VES is probably the only organization that has any weight to throw around in order to get things done. VES also only helps those who have been in the industry for 5 years or more. And even then you need to be recommended in order to receive membership consideration. How about a junior membership for those artists suffering harsh working conditions with no benefits? Wouldn't that be helping those artists a little bit? Perhaps VES does not have the interests of all VFX artists in mind and wishes to remain an elite boys club.

 Artists are the ones who

scottsquires's picture

 Artists are the ones who actually make up the vfx companies and they are the ones who are ves members.  And it's for them that the VES stands.

Any improvement to the vfx industry would hopefully help artists and the companies.

The VES's intent is to help all in vfx, not just members. Many of the accomplishments and classes cover everyone.

Artists are free to join the vxunion.com and companies are free to start up a trade association.

 

You've got my voice!

Andrey Kasatsky's picture
Excellent Idea!!

Every movie, TV show or commercial nowadays has visuals effects. They can be big like in "Star Wars" or they can be invisible like in "Forest Gump". VFX Industry became an important part of film-tv making. And yes, it's whole industry!!

In majority of recent blockbuster movies VFX is the real "star", not the screenplay, nor the actors, nor the directing but VFX. In our progressive society everybody should be treated as he or she deserve. The VFX artists should be treated as a true stars who make impossible possible and who make the dream reality.

Thank you.

JJ Chalupnik's picture
Thank you for posting this letter. This is one of those things that doesn't get talked about enough and it needs a collective voice. After hearing about Rhythm and Hues it seems that was the straw that broke the camels back for a lot of artists. All of us appear frustrated, but due to our intrinsic independent nature I think it is hard for us to really band together for a cause. Even if it means helping us out. Providing a platform for it may be just what the doctor ordered.

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Suprised

John Wonga's picture
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no union

dave's picture
I'm honestly shocked that there is no union for VFX artists. I come from the audio world, and union productions use union post audio most of the time (but that's not always the rule). I have a couple of thoughts based on the "open letter" and some of the comments: -Lobbying congress will get you no where, and getting government involved is the worst thing you can do. -Even if you are unionized, getting above "caterers" and "truck drivers" in the credits shouldn't be your concern. It isn't up to you where you show up in the credits, or even if you get a credit. I've been left out of credits, and I know tons of people that never got credit on movies they worked on. Look at any movie, and look at the credits list. Now double the number of people you see in that list, and that's how many people actually worked on that movie. Don't be so concerned with the credits. You can always add that info to IMDB later. I've had to do it a bunch. Get a union going, and make sure it is run by actual VFX artists and is fair to the VFX artists. I've had to look at outsourced VFX from overseas in the video game world, and it always had problems and was never as good as what our in house people could do. You guys work your asses off, you should be protected by a union.

Credit Placement

AnonForNow's picture
I couldn't agree more about credit placement. Music is almost always after VFX, and here's why: the credits are listed roughly in the order that the people got involved. Above the line first, because otherwise it wouldn't get greenlit. Supporting actors, First AD, Prod Manager, then the DP's crew, then other on set department leads, then sometimes editorial, then sometimes VFX producers and/or supes (although a few get them in the primary blocks with other HOD), then all the support crew for on-set, then assistants, then it usually gets to us, since almost all of our work happens in post. Deal with it. As far as getting credits for everyone who worked on the movie, a union would be a helluva lot more helpful than just hoping the studios come around to what's fair.

Well the truth is, there is a

Spark's picture
Well the truth is, there is a lot of nonsense connected to this, at home and abroad. I do storyboards for a living which is where a lot off vfx start. I cannot even get into my union, because of the way they've set it up. I can't work on a union job unless I'm in the union, and I can't get into the union, WITHOUT having WORKED on a UNION JOB! Now if any of that makes sense to you, or sounds FAIR to you, then the discussion is over RIGHT HERE! The fact is, A LOT of CROOKED stuff is going on in this whole affair. If we don't address the stuff as a whole, then how can we even address the NEW PROBLEMS? i AM a PART of the PROCESS! I am being abused also. Yet I'm not in your discussion, I'm sure. If a union is to be formed, then it needs to be one with a fair process. Not just some other crook oganization that operates under the guise of having the artist backs.Until you put something on the table that addresses this, it's hard to take this plea seriously. It just sounds like another boss, same as the old boss. Sincerely, Spark

Digital Domain, ILM, LUCAS

George's picture
Digital Domain, ILM, LUCAS and many others are a huge part of the problem. Yes they helped create this industry ( long ago) but they are now out sourcing all there jobs to Asia for cheap labour. They should be blacklisted by all creatives for helping create and grow this cheap labour / quality problem! These companies are truly Un- American and should be boycotted!

You can't blacklist

Anonymous's picture
You can't blacklist predominant studios in the business because they outsource. That's like trying to convince people to boycott Apple because they are 1. a-holes 2. overprice their dated gear 3. treat store employees like dirt through fear tactics 4. use cheap chinese labor instead of building factories in the US 5. dont give to charity 6. don't pay out to their shareholders. I'm sorry, but people have their heads too far up their ***es, too scared or are in a comfortable numb with Apple and with this VFX situation.

Thanks

Saunier Duval's picture
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Does this concludes the

IsNotOfImportance's picture
Does this concludes the Asia-Pasific region??

A few concrete ideas:

Anonymous's picture
First of all - hats off to the VES leadership for the initiative! There are things we can do something about, and things we cannot. For instance, if someone wants to work (almost) for free, and I have seen that, that is something we can do nothing about. In my experience, there is only so much blood those volunteers can give before they become extinct. But, here are a few things that I am sure collectively, VES members and artists in the VFX industry can do: 1. Lobby US government to give the same tax breaks that have moved so many productions overseas. Yes, it may hurt the budget a little, but it will also benefit it a little as there will be more income to collect taxes from. Can't collect tax from a company such as Cafe FX or Asylum any more. Lets make sure others don't disappear as well. 2. Use our collective muscle to make sure that CG artists are listed in movie credits BEFORE caterers, truck drivers, best boys, and so on. Also, make sure that EVERYONE who has worked on a production is credited; if that is too much, then may I suggest the production company frees up some space in credits by skipping best boys and truck drivers? 3. Perhaps, lobby the US government not to allow importation of goods from countries with dubious human rights and labor laws records... This is just an idea, and would probably never work, I know. The point is that I have no problem buying something that was made by a healthy adult who has hot water and functional infrastructure where he works and lives. But I do have a problem when I hear that something is cheap because it is done in a country where average life span is 55 years and where companies don't have to pay for infrastructure or worry about the environment because there is none anyway (and where an employer is allowed to beat employees who don't want to work unpaid overtime). 4. Apparently in the early years of Fashion modeling and photography, models worked for peanuts. Then came Eileen Ford and ever since, they are all well paid. I don't know how it was achieved, and I don't think that fashion models have a union; but, it was achieved somehow. Perhaps we need to learn from their example.

Unionization of VFX Artists

Joseph O.'s picture
I'm a recent graduate and received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Effects. My concern is how to protect myself as a new artist going into this industry. I've read the VES 2.0 letter as well as done my thesis on this topic. I'm well aware of the disadvantage we put ourselves into from bad contracts to intern-slavery. Does the VES have any material that arms us with practical knowledge to safeguard our livelihood and talent, so companies recognize that fresh out the door graduates aren't gullible and mean business without shooting down opportunities that may black-list us from future endeavors? Does anyone, for that matter, have any tools or resources online to spot shady or abusive companies and how to turn an awkward environment become a positive and advantageous one? Are their example contracts, good and deviant ones we can review and look out for? I know I'm not the only one with these questions and more. Fine art students are trained on these programs that make up the creativity seen on the big and small screen, but no one is given proper direction and guidance to help steer our career to be successful and progressive. I would also like to know what being a member of the VES as a freelancer would do for me in terms of the business side? I've read the member benefits, but I would like more detail why being a member would prove beneficial to my career in the long run. Thank you for addressing the current issue facing our industry today. You're paving the way for change.

I have been looking at this

Anonymous's picture
I have been looking at this page over and over again, and I am a little disappointed that nothing really happens. This discussion needs to keep going. Although I am from Germany and we might take jobs from the US market, we have the same problems here. What happens now is that companies go bankrupt to start over again. What happens first is, that they do not have to pay the freelancers because there is no money. Problem 1: Companies pay to late Now the old stuff is leaving to other badly managed companies. Because they need a job, they accept a lower wage. Or they stay and the new greedy management only take them if they accept a cut in their salary. Problem 2: Wages are getting lower instead of being increase no matter what your expierence is. The crew which is left over needs to work harder because business seem to run perfectly again and they do not think they need a bigger crew. Let them work until they fade away. Or they hire Interns that do everything for nothing because our business is the coolest job in the world??? Its like any other job we have to live from. Problem 3: Faster euipment does not compensate for bad artists..although managers and producer already had bad expierence with that they do it over and over again. Usually there is always a group of people taht do everything so they have some quality on their reel. Problem 4: Many Artist do all the work because its their passion. They have to learn to say "NO". They have to learn that every hour of work is reducing the budget. When you pay for a small car you do not get a porsche. If you boss wants a good result, tell him you need more time and it also cost more money. So we are discussing a problem that is a world wide problem and I am eager that we finally stand up to change things.

This attempt is not perfect,

LMP's picture
This attempt is not perfect, but hopefully by starting to stir the mud people would get out of their butts and get involved in order to create something to start with (in regards of a union or whatever you want to call it) I sure hope it continues to move forward, and I am willing to get involved.

Another solution to solve this problem

Adam's picture
The problem is that in the state the industry is right now even a union would not guaranteed you more work, you would get better conditions to work in but the industry would still outsource the work to place where there's no union and where they will still get cheap labour. Production Problems : Solving the industry Crisis with Management, not with a Union http://bit.ly/pXvmn5

The truth folks

Stewart's picture

Most of the replies seem ignorant to the reality of what is actually happening in the Vfx field. I have been a member of VES for the last 13+ years and a lead compositor/ VFX sup for over 22 years to date. First off i am American and i need to point out that Canada only takes away approx 4% of the runaway production and almost none ( less than one percent ) of the Vfx post work as after production wraps the Vfx comes back to us in LA for the most part.  Secondly, most of the popular vfx software that made our Vfx specific industry even possible ( but not all) were Canadian inventions like flame/ infernos, Maya, Houdini, 3d max and many other packages. To get mad at Canada is to clearly blame the wrong party. The actual problem is rather simple but is made of many small parts becoming a huge perfect storm. The newest people to our industry always accept lower wages and work longer hours to do the same job while at the same time software and hardware has fallen dramatically in price ( 1 million first flame and 200k first maya ( power animator) plus salaries of 250-500k were common for the last 20 years. All this is now being replaced with 10-50k cheap systems and salaries of only 60-250k.  Thus allowing the creation of all the new leaner competition " pop up" boutiques that can now compete and under cut with no overhead or legacy costs. Not only has this happened at the very same time while the US/ Australia/ Canada etc pay relativaly the same lower amounts for the same job but the third world will accept just pennies ( luckily they can live on pennies while we cannot here in the west). Ontop of all this, we are going through a Depression ( not a recession) so all movies and advertising has been chopped and your starting to get the picture. Almost forgot, since the quality of work also no longer seems to matter then experience and abilities that were once valued no longer are. The new lean boutiques hire 10 students whom can only do crap and they hire one senior guy to guide but they miss deadlines and dont do a very good job at all but the producer likes the price and accepts it. This is the new normal and there is crappy Vfx everywhere nowadays. The old schoolers would never have accepted this decline in quality but hey, kids today think mp3s sound good! This is also all happening at the very same time to create a perfect storm that will likely kill the Vfx industry and change it from a once highly skilled, high paid art form into a lowly under paid trade. The damage has been done people, its to late so time to get a new career! Only way to fix is close all borders and not allow any companies to do vfx work outside of the USA ( not possible). At the same time unionize all Vfx artists ( not possible). And make all the gear expensive again so cheap competition cannot happen ( not possible). Lastly, have the big companies set the "rates" in private as before and no one breaks the code. Gonna miss the old days. To bad we turned down the directors guild back then! Almost forgot senior Vfx artist with 5 years experience is an oxymoron. 5 years experience is nothing. Maybe Master level description should be added to show a true senior/ lead.

Artists do exist outside of the USA...what??no way...!!!!

RestOfTheWorld's picture
" Only way to fix is close all borders and not allow any companies to do vfx work outside of the USA ( not possible)."

So.. this is assuming that only the USA has a right to do Vfx work?? How the does the rest of the world not figure in this??? The market is world wide not in your back yard...the profits that most of these movies make is not from the USA alone the rest of the world makes a huge contribution to it.

There are people beyond your borders with the same passion and aspirations as any of you do. The reason why some of these "evil" outsourcing companies are still standing is because of that one reason...they are able to manage costs by moving work outside.If they didn't do that...there would be no vfx industry to speak of really.
Do open up the field of view a bit and see that this a world wide problem not just the USA. I do hope this goes some where... meaningful.

i think the real answer no one wants to do.

Anonymous's picture
This is ART. Unfortunately just as in the olden days thru art history, its a hard crap paid job. You have to love art to do this job. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his life for way cheap. I dont think artists know how to run a business. We just want to survive and do what we love doing. So the underbidding will continue. Because no one will live without work or that paycheck, no matter how little it is. This is a digital media and with the internet jobs can be over seas. We are not the on set crew. We are an unseen help to a story regardless of quality. Its too hard to compete with a lower cost of living in other countries. The US has the idea of unions, but what power does it really have when competing over the world?

it's applied art

Anonymous's picture
well Van Gogh created paintings that where his vision but we work for visions of others. It's applied art and your artistic freedom is limited. I can't scarify my whole life for the visions of others, thats bit too much enthusiasm. Don't get me wrong. Passion is god and to be a part of a movie crew is great but there are limits. Think we should not be afraid that a union will make outsourcing stronger. If they could outsource all vfx work they would already do it. The only reason why they still do vfx in western countries is that they can't get the same quality. The reason for this "quality" is not that artist from western countries are smarter or more talented. It's the result of talented artist from around the world coming to work in western countries because of the better life standard so the cheap outsourcing countries lose their most talented artist and thats the reason why they can't achieve the same "quality". So to keep the artist they will need to pay them more and to provide better working conditions. 15 years ago everybody was talking that all programming jobs will go to India because it's so easy to outsource but it didn't happen for the same reason I just mentioned. By the way script writing is probably even easier to outsource. It's just sending some string characters over the internet and a lot of people speak english in the world and can write so why pay those expensive script writers :) We should also not be worried that jung students willing to work for less will get our jobs. If they would be really capable of delivering the same "quality" for less money the companies would hire only juniors. Young enthusiastic people willing to work for pennies exist in many industries but this industries still survive for decades and centuries. If vfx artist don't let them treat like cheap labor production companies will be forced to save money somewhere else. The last 10 movies that I saw had amazing effects but not so good stories and directing but I didn't notice some big pay cuts for the directors or scriptwriters.... Of course they are way more important to a movie than a single vfx artist and their contribution is the most important but when I talk to people outside the movie business they blame the effects for movies being boring. They say now the movies have only effects and no story and the effects make movies boring. There is a lot of lazy filmmaking these days. Let the vfx do the candy stuff and we don't need a story. Then they make pressure on studios to produce cheaper because it's too expensive. How about good stories and good directing so the movie makes more money instead underpaying vfx which is often the only reason a lot of movies make money these days.

Two observations

MKochinski's picture

1.  Nobody seems to outsource producers, agents or directors.

2. The people who decide to outsource work are all union members protected by unions.   

 

 

Outsourcing

Scott Squires's picture
Outsourcing is almost always controlled by the studios. The director usually has no involvement and the producer may have minimal involvement. Studio executives are not union.

Where is the rest?

Anonymous's picture
Many comments have been deleted? Why? Pressure? Already loosing energy?

All comments are visible now

admin's picture

The site was hiding comments made by anonymous visitors. That has been fixed so all the comments are visible now. 

Congrats

Anonymous's picture
I am excited to see the VES address the critical issues of our industry. I have been fighting for the VFX industry to take a proactive business stand for 20 years. In fact, when I first tried to start a VES like organization back in the 1980's, it was my hope that an industry organization would address the critical business issues of our industry. Unfortunately for the last 25 years, we had not been able to have the leadership and determination needed to tackle these concerns. My hope is that we are not too late. It will take courage, leadership, vision and focus to reach our objectives. I applaud the VES for finally taking a stand to save our industry. Let me know how I might help! Scott Ross

less Blockbuster

Anonymous's picture
Just one more comment: Studios will do more and more blockbusters, but the number of films will go down due to less independent movies which will put even more pressure on VFX houses.

Union and I do this project no matter what

Anonymous's picture
I am pro unions. I lately watched a documentary where in China people where kicked out of the job because they talked to the union. Come on, we are not China and slavery is over! A union for sure needs to be flexible when debatting about wages, but we need a voice out there. But people even in modern countries fear to join a union because they might be replaced. That is really weird and frustrating. Actually for myself I do not care about credits in movies or working on a great project with super VFXs..ok it would be still nice to have a chance like that. But I care about surviving my life in good way like having time for family, having time to spent my money on vacation and paying my bills like rent, healthcare and retirement. Therefore my concern is: -- payment needs to be fair -- overtime is only an exception. And when there is overtime a fair compensation is being done. If that happens we are already one step forward. Sorry, but, if I want to have money from the movie I need to become a CEO or by stockshares from the company. Getting fair money for the job is all I would like to have..not really more. Just one more comment on VFX houses loosing money: If they do not get the money for good quality either they need to reject it or do them what they got paid for. If you pay 10 000 for a Toyota you do not get a Porsche for 100 000!

You seem to have little grasp

Anonymous's picture
You seem to have little grasp of the politics and problems involved in the VFX industry. You say you don't really care about credits or working on a film that requires high quality effects. Well, news flash, a studio can pay a lot less for these things in India or China. Many of those artist don't care either, but are able to work for pennies on the dollar. That's why the work is going overseas. For countries that have a strong economy, their governments are give so many tax breaks, they are basically buying the film for the companies to work on. There's something seriously wrong when it's cheaper for a studio to do the effects in London than LA. Canada is basically destroying the VFX industry in the US by itself and then you factor in India, Australia/NZ, Europe, Thailand, and Mexico. The VFX industry is going the same way the traditional animation industry went- all overseas to the cheapest bidder. At this point I fail to see how a Union would help the industry. It would help the artist in the sense that you could get health insurance, if you managed to get the required hours of work, but it wouldn't address the major issues that are really affecting the US VFX industry. A union would need to be able to get the Federal Government to give massive tax credits to get the work back here, get other governments to hire Americans and not just citizens of their countries to qualify to their tax credits (notice the jobs for houses outside the US almost always say you have to be a citizen of their country), get the Studios to only hire union workers (good luck with that one) and to have them care about the quality of work (which is really just dependents on how well the film does- if it makes money with horrible effects, then they will continue with horrible CHEAP effects). So, while you might only want to have a decent salary to support your family, the studio only cares about the bottom line and as of now, the US can't compete.

Getting this kind of dialogue

Anonymous's picture
Getting this kind of dialogue going is much needed, as our industry is certainly hurting. With the demise of so many small and medium shops in the last year (Asylum and Cafe FX being the biggest two), despite the record number of FX shots being produced for features, something is wrong with the system for U.S. VFX Houses. Note the news contained in this week's Digital Domain IPO filing regarding their fiscal performance, the company last year had a $45.2 million loss on income of $106 million. This is incredibly poor for one of the oldest and largest independent houses out there: "A prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday offers glimpses at the challenges facing DD as it struggles to change its profile for the 21st century. As successful as it has been at pushing the art and craft of visual effects forward, the company has never been a profit center — the company had a net loss of $45.2 million on revenues of $106.1 million last year, including $42.4 million in non-cash charges. Figures disclosed this week also showed In-Three running at a deficit, with operating losses in 2009 of $5.5 million on revenues of $2.8 million, and operating losses in 2010 of $4.9 million on revenues of $876,000. (Interest and other expenses increased In-Three's net losses further, to $7.0 million in 2010.)" I'm sorry, but increasing the cost of business by raising labor costs will just further cripple our industry. If the studios don't play fair with U.S. FX houses then you better marry a Canadian or Indian and change your residency, as all of the FX work will head outside our borders. I applaud and support the VES' efforts. Only through organization and coalition of professional artists, working WITH an independent studios coalition who together lobby our state and U.S. government for fair and competitive tax breaks and also, somehow, together lobby our Feature Film Studios to share in a fair way the profits, can we bring changes that bring better health and prosperity to our industry. But forming a union to fight for better wages and benefits WITHOUT the rest, will simply price out all FX work to studios outside of our U.S. borders. This is already happening, work is moving to Vancouver, Asia, and India RIGHT NOW..... higher labor costs will just sound the death bell for U.S. work.

Where is the money? Where is the Quality?

Anonymous's picture
The argument of Unions, vs. Labor costs, vs. Facilities survival is well debated in previous posts. I agree with the camp who argues that the facilities can not afford to pay any more. There is simply less money per shot. VFX have become so cheap that it is squeezing out other production jobs. for example, I personally know a lot of unemployed set builders. I think that is because a B+ green screen is "good enough" I see the problem as closer to the source. I offer a different angle; The squeeze on the VFX industry has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the average quality of VFX over the last 15 years or so. I stand in amazement over the poor work I see in Films and TV these days. Don't get defensive. I am talking about the AVERAGE. The excellent work is still amazing. We all want to do excellent work. This is why we endur the poor working conditions, and low pay. We (including many facilities owners) want to do good work so badly that we are wiling to sacrifice to do it. However, this is a business, and the people who run the business side of things really do not care about mat lines or roto chatter, or mis-matched color and light as long as the show sells. I recommend that we educate the public to appreciate quality VFX. I've been in the business for 30 years and we made a lot more money when the line between good effects and bad effects was a brighter line. I remember when people outside of VFX would make jokes about shows with week production values, including effects, and these shows would not succeed. Now, these same week effects (and production values in general) slide by un-noticed. If we want to be paid a fair rate for good work, then those who pay us must feel the repercussions of shoddy workmanship. That can only be driven at the market level. We can not ask to be paid for quality work if the consumer does not demand quality work. When the public demands high production value, Studios and their producers will pay for quality work and walk away from cut rate labor markets. Talk to your friends outside of the business. Point out that Mic boom no one bothered to roto out. Even in the best eye candy movies, there are bad scenes sent overseas for cheap labor. show your friends the difference between scenes made in India and the ones made in Hollywood. Get them talking and get them to "Wait for blu-ray" on movies that do not hold up to the big screen. Then show them that the same film does not hold up to Blu-ray ether. The studios will pay for quality work when it makes them more money. If it does not, then budgets and time lines will continue to be cut.

Curious

JHattin's picture

Who is the one or two stalwart anti-union person(s)? I can think of a lot of reasons a union could be beneficial to the industry, but on every forum and in every place it's mentioned there's this one person or small cadre of vehemently anti union people.

Posts like "if IATSE comes to you, run away." stuff like that. I've been doing this a long time without the help of any union. I've been lucky, I feel, to be fairly treated and decently compensated. If every other trade (except composers apparently) that works on film and TV has representation, why can't we? 

Somewhere else a woman named Fran Goodman said VFX facilities make fortunes and top level talent makes oodles of money. There may be a handful of very profitable facilities, but given the numbers of ones that have closed in the last few years, its not exactly gangbusters out here. 

I just don't get what is so big and scary about a union. Portable healthcare? Maybe a job board/reference like DGA, pension... how about some on set considerations and safety rules like everyone else? I don't think it should be financed on the back of the facilities, it should come from production, like all the others.

I'm just wondering why the pushback. 

I'm James, I composite

Union-Busters

Anonymous's picture
See: http://www.versobooks.com/books/98-wobblies "Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World" Why did the textiles industry flee overseas? Because of the Emancipation Proclamation. Nothing is as profitable as slave labor, so business goes to countries where they can still get slave labor. What burns me is that they believe that youth and the willingness to work long hours for no pay outranks experience.

Thank You & (Suggestion Starter)

Anonymous's picture
How about each production company that works on a film gets a percentage of the box office/dvd/tv/web royalties & they have to split this percentage among itself and artists. Each artist that works on it has to get some percentage of it. (maybe the company gets to keep 10-20% and the rest must be divided up appropriately among it's artists This way, getting residuals will help the company stay a float in rough times and artists will receive the recognition for their crucial part in this blockbusters.

Misguided if well-intended

Anonymous's picture
The illegal classification of employees as Independent Contractors definitely deserves a crack-down; and long hours -- painful as they often are -- aren't unique to vfx. Look at other areas of production and post; it's simply part of the cycles of the industry. And if the VES is so concerned about health care, how about offering coverage via the VES? So it's portable from one gig to another? The letter has a strong pro-union flavor, and frankly, that is the wrong path for the industry. It will certainly be a nail in the coffin of the CA vfx industry as we know it. Companies will shutter or they will reduce their LA footprint to a bare minimum, and instead establish a stronger presence where tax incentives make them more attractive -- like Louisiana or Vancouver. The VES's best chances of success are finding areas of common interest and representing the industry as a whole with regard to those shared interests. Imagine MPC, DD, ILM, Sony, R&H, D-Neg, and a host of small- and mid-sized companies banding together as one collective voice. Now THAT would be powerful! But to harness it, you need to get these otherwise competitors to unite around common interests, even things as seemingly shallow as "credits". Once they begin to realize the power of their unified voice, other, more substantive things just might follow.

wow

LRossetti's picture

That's not really bad!

Open Letter

VES Mark DP's picture

 Bravo for standing up for Visual Effects Artists.  I am fortunate to be a member of Local 600, but to many VFX Artists do not have the same opportunity for collective representation and a basic contract.  I look forward to making progress in this area for all members involved.  

The industry will not survive unless it is sustainable, and that means the members are properly represented, compensated, and treated fairly.  

No doubt there are challenges to this, as global competition invites a "race to the bottom".  I do think there are real answers and solutions to this that don't hinge on "putting a VFX company out of business once a year".  

More sustainability please.

Mark Doering-Powell 

I like

Anonymous's picture
We had this discussion in Germany a while ago and the same arguments came up that come up at this forum. It looked like some kind of union might form but nothing happened. Therefore I hope really strongly that you intension will come true. But I think sooner or later we have to demonstrate our powers to the companies otherwise they will never understand. The resistant will never come from the top. One good thing in the German forum was, that VFX companies where openly critisized, which was not really legal but helped to put at least a little pressure on the companies. One even had trouble getting freelancers, although management changed to really competent new CEOs. But even when finally studios understand that a worker that had enough sleep and a weekend with his family can even be more productive than an overworked artist the clients of those companies might still not get under pressure because they will always finder cheaper and more productive companies elsewhere because they find new youngbees that love to work on this aweseome project for free. So I think the problem is much much deeper. But as I said earlier, I always adressed that issue to friends, but they never give an answer why they work on weekends and never stop working. So Eric you are my last hope that our fun job becomes worth living for again.

I like

Anonymous's picture
We had this discussion in Germany a while ago and the same arguments came up that come up at this forum. It looked like some kind of union might form but nothing happened. Therefore I hope really strongly that you intension will come true. But I think sooner or later we have to demonstrate our powers to the companies otherwise they will never understand. The resistant will never come from the top. One good thing in the German forum was, that VFX companies where openly critisized, which was not really legal but helped to put at least a little pressure on the companies. One even had trouble getting freelancers, although management changed to really competent new CEOs. But even when finally studios understand that a worker that had enough sleep and a weekend with his family can even be more productive than an overworked artist the clients of those companies might still not get under pressure because they will always finder cheaper and more productive companies elsewhere because they find new youngbees that love to work on this aweseome project for free. So I think the problem is much much deeper. But as I said earlier, I always adressed that issue to friends, but they never give an answer why they work on weekends and never stop working. So Eric you are my last hope that our fun job becomes worth living for again.

Open Letter

Anonymous's picture
Every few years this issue gets raised. I hope now with the backing of VES it will come to something. My major problem are the working hours. Burn out is a real problem in this industry and we all live under the constant shadow of RSI and other work related health issues. As a contractor, if you cant work, because you have being working long hours to keep up with crazy schedule, then its left up to you to pick up the pieces. The stress of this alone can be a constant reminder that maybe you should look at getting out of the industry in the long run. Sometimes I think that our passion for doing what we do can be taken advantage off.

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