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

I agree.....

LRossetti's picture

Good morning all, I'm very happy to hear this and I'll will be in the front line to fight for this....I' m proud to be a new member of the VES, but I'm, like most of you,  a professional artist since more than 15 years...and today due the changing of the vfx field, I'm gonna getting a bit fed up about the situation...

I just want to say the most important thing that people DO NOT CONSIDER  to much

We are the core engine to produce this fantastic works, stunning imageries and vfx, We are who is able to support massive vfx pipelines, we are the creativity behind....

without us...a movie will never come up they can't even start!!

I'm not sayng we should be considered on top of the tree...but equally balanced as the rest of the crew.

Just togheter we can do something....

now...Simple rules in a  simple world

Tax breaks

We can't say are not usefull, actually they are...in this way Companies save more money....
the question is ...where these money are gonna going?


Wages and Levels

If an International  Guild,/Union Can control the VFX field

1. any Artist is positioned in a such of level based on years of experience and level of it
    1-2 years of exp -  $
    2-5 years of exp - $$
    5-10                     - $$$
    +10                      - $$$$

 2. people coming from Institutes/Univeristy
  
    they are just now entering the market so thet are not still professional, maybe a payed Internship is correct at least for one year


3. Entering the Guild

   Until your anot considered a professional at the first level, Companies could not hire the guy unless as internship, that's means he is there to learn not to work on proper material


4. overtimes and benefits

 There is not so much to say about it...they should be a base rule... anywhere



Those are very simple, understandable rules...that can make life easy, what's wrong with that?

When you start to talk about this argument, the commmon idea is...It will never works a businness model like that, controlled by a Union?

Try to a have an OFFICIAL organization that publics officially all the Survays, wages and rules, monitoring the field and the vfx workflow companies every month...that, you will see if is working or not....I reckon yes...
 

......and when you think..." oh my god..if I do that, they gonna fire me....what about me, my family and money...and bla bla bla..."

well if you keep thinking in this way...nothing will never change...you will be a slave of this market, forever, breaking the field to others!

Finally i would like to apologize my idea if seems a bit rude and straight forward, but i did not find any othes gently ways to present the actual situation. I hope accept just another point of view...I'm not saying is totally right..but could be a start to reflect on it

........I suggest to you to follow this Fantastic guy, which I consider a pioneer of our field...Scott Squires

Here a link if you want to have a look

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0820140/


and this is one the best site talking about us and also our situation today


Good reading

Holy heck, Batman! What has

Anonymous's picture
Holy heck, Batman! What has this board done with my formatting? I know this is a response to a very old comment. But for the benefit of those who, like me, just stumbled upon this article, I'll attempt to play the Devil's advocate. @1 Raises and salary should be based on performance, not experience. A guy who has 10+ years of experience should not receive more compensation than his colleague with 5 years in the industry who is more talented, more motivated, more productive, more technically skilled, more knowledgeable, more efficient, etc. @2 Hire the right person for the job. There's a lot of young talent out there. Some people are production ready out of school. Many jobs require onsite training to get employees up to speed, industry veterans not excluded. @3 Refer to @2. Perhaps, I misunderstand you, but are you trying to suggest that VFX companies should only be allowed to hire guild members? Clearly, it is okay to discriminate against non-union workers, yet it is wrong to discriminate against union workers...utter hypocrisy. @4 Perspective of a union worker: God forbid they take away my precious eight-hour day! Perspective of a non-union worker: There just aren't enough hours in the day to get the job done right! In addition to these points, all of the standard problems with unions are relevant: (1) Some unions have a history of corruption/misappropriation of dues. (2) Unions frequently engage in political activism. Just as a company's views do not necessary reflect those of its employees, a union does not represent the political interests of its members. (3) Unions place all of the risk and burden on the employer. For example, it is near impossible to fire union workers. Why would an employer want to take the risk of hiring a candidate for a position without having absolute confidence in this person's abilities and work ethic. A hiring mistake can turn out to be a very costly and permanent one. Point #3, in particular, will likely cause more shops to close down. The VFX industry is not the teaching industry. We need domestic teachers in every city. There is no need, however, for a VFX house to have a physical presence in the United States. For some companies, it would be more beneficial to layoff all of the current development crew and relocate to outside of the USA. The concept of unionization is to protect employees from exploitation by companies that are run by greedy individuals bereft of a conscience. If this appraisal of VFX companies is accurate, what's to stop them from relocating to a more profitable, business friendly environment?

Espresso Maker | Electric

Jake's picture
Espresso Maker | Electric Scooters. | Stand Mixers | Slow Cooker I agree with the entire comment above. Thanks for sharing nice information with us. i like your post and all you share with us is up todate and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.

interns

Anonymous's picture
I disagree with the notion that people coming from University/college or otherwise just entering should have to be interns, especially for an entire year or more. Many of these people graduate with the ability to be productive in a production environment after a short training period - condemning them to a year+ of unlivable wages just because they recently graduated isn't really fair (especially considering that in the US most only have 6 months before they have to begin paying loans back, something that is nearly impossible to do on an intern's salary.)

Please, having them work as

Anonymous's picture
Please, having them work as an intern is the best thing for them. When I started out, I was unpaid for 3 months, then got a whopping $7.25 an hour for the next 6 months. I lived in LA and was able to live on that. I just had to have roommates and watch what I spent my money on. It makes you work hard and those with bad attitudes quickly fell by the wayside. I have interviewed many recent grads and the sense of entitlement is ridiculous. Even those willing to work hard just don't have the experience and it shows. I can have a newbie give me 10 versions of a shot in 2 hours and they are wrong or I can have a vet give me 1 version in an hour and it's correct. After 16 years in VFX I have learned that nothing can replace experience. Recent grads need to get that experience. By having them as interns and getting intern wages more houses will be willing to take a chance with them because it won't cost a ton of money. After a year, if an intern has talent they should be able to ask for more because they will have the proof to back it up.

Interns

Anonymous's picture
I haven't met a recent grad who didn't work for a year or more for crap wages. Nothing wrong about it being policy. I firmly believe in the trade system with mentoring and all that. VFX schools right now simply take advantage of students asking them to take 80 thousand dollar loans simply for an entry level job. Half of those artists will never be great. They will merely fill chairs in a 3d conversion house until the next fad comes along or they get enough experience. I do what I can do for artists I see coming out of school that show a lot of promise.

No to union

Anonymous's picture
You need to learn from the history of unions before you blindly lead us down that path. A union is only going to drive more vfx houses out of business by increasing their costs against the already slim to no profits! It will force the small to medium houses to incease bid prices that you know the studios won't pay ! If you think we are losing business to vfx houses in Canada and India, you haven't seen anything yet. Refer back to our once thriving steel industry and auto industry in this country. The steel industry is gone and our auto industry had to be bailed out by the govt and has more competition today than ever before by foreign car makers that make better cars with lower overhead. And where are all those union workers now? They are gone or have given concession after concession just to keep a sliver of their once great benefits and pay. Our efforts need to be focused on working together as a vfx industry to form a healthy coalition of all the vfx houses to come up with a plan that will address the studios constant profit shaving from realistic vfx bids. The problem here is not with vfx houses, it is a lack of respect and crazy production schedules from the studios. A union is not going to address or change that at all. It is only going to drive a wedge between artists and our vfx management. While we are pissing around trying to form a union , taking votes, ironing out work rules, and regulating work hours, more and more work will be leaving the country. Then once you have your union ( with a monthly dues and initiation fee no less) the cost of doing business for vfx houses goes up and their bids are more out of line. It is not the answer. We need to be working together as vfx artists, producers, and owners to gain the respect from the studios. Whining about credits seems so trivial to me. Who cares. We want to work and the more WE work, as opposed to foreign artists, the more status and credit we will get.

really?

Anonymous's picture
So you are anti-union because the steel industry went overseas (primarily due to cheaper production methods) and the auto industry (overseas Japanese cars were just plain better) and the unions made ridiculous demands despite not delivering a superior product? The VFX work done in the US (and WETA) are the best in the world. If they weren't then ILM would have closed. DD farms out some of their work to India to defray costs (they are not union). The work is going overseas and you have no union. Studios are looking to cut costs wherever they can. Yet, they have made all these blockbuster profits with Union Actors, Union Shop Stewards, Union Painters, Union Directors, Union Grips, on stories with Union Writers and even Union Craft Services , and yet still manage to make a profit of gargantuan proportions on these VFX led films. Hmmm... I think you may be right. Why organize and get yourself a group health care plan that is portable, some pension, a portable 401K, holidays off (I've worked one holiday working union in over 20 years, working non-union, I work them all), descent salary minimums that keep you from being undercut by those willing to work for free. BTW, India has no OT laws, so most work salary, with no job as the alternative. You are competing with that and the world whether you like it or not. Whether you have a union is not going to be what drives them overseas, they're already doing it. I am not saying a union is a cure-all, but you haven't even tried it. Disney went union, and gloom and doom was predicted, they're still here. Film Roman went union, they're still here. The thing is, you haven't even tried it and your alternative is to talk to the producers to gain respect when they see you accepting less and doing more. They laugh at that. In a team-building seminar I listened to an exec talk about how they knew the animators cared more about the work than they did and would do free OT if you just tell them it has to be done and theres no OT available. They love your argument. Oh, monthly dues (TAG dues are around $100/qtr). If the union is super powerful and unreasonable, you will get the auto industry collapsing. If it's like the TAG union, well, theyr'e not super-powerful, they're not even powerful, they're just collective bargaining for minimums of pay, health care and conditions. No one seems to want a union in the one category of most Hollywood films, they can't survive without it and continue to hire ILM, DD, Imageworks and the like, then the work ischedule is overwhelming so they farm it out to smaller houses, and each other to cover themselves or they can't get the work done. . Imageworks already started a joint venture with India, and New Mexico and now Vancouver and they aren't union. DD has India and Florida and Vancouver. Pixar opened a shop in Vancouver. You can't stop it and that wasn't caused by unionization. The market is worldwide regardless of whether they use union shops or not.

Let people join VES then....

Anonymous's picture
The biggest issue you so clearly have, is not support. Every artist in the world would support this. I am an artist with 12 years top level experience at the top UK companies, and frequently approached by US companies. I myself have been involved with several vfx-oscar-nominated feature films, and a couple of winners. My personal contribution has also been considerably responsible for a number of VES award nominations and wins, over the years. Whats my point? ….put simply, that in spite of all this and much much more, I am still NOT a member of VES. Its not that I haven’t tried, or that the membership cost is a tad steep. Its that it is simply very very very hard to become a member if your not in the US. There are only a small number of members here in the UK, who each only get a maximum of 2 new endorsements for new members each year. Every year, some of those members make themselves publicly known and invite their friends to get in a queue for the endorsements. But 2 just isn’t enough. Your power as the VES is extremely limited. You mentioned you have over 2,400 members….lets be realistic, that’s not enough to put crampons on the film industry and start making change. If you made it possible, even on a once-off, for anyone in any country to join, it would more than quadruple your membership over night. In the UK alone, there are between 3000 and 5000 visual effects artists at any one time, and more than half of them would happily join tomorrow if they could. Theres a thousand or so in New Zealand, over a thousand in Australia, a few thousand in India, a few hundred in Germany, France, Italy, Spain….. Surely, if the VES wants to lead the way in real and meaningful change, they need to lead by example. You NEED to change the way you accept membership, if you want considerably more support, and more financial capability.

I'll endorse you

RDunlop's picture

I interview the UK and New Zealand all the time and if I know you and am comfortable with your work and work ethics, I'll endorse you. We only get two a year too, but I don't *think* there is a reason why I can't endorse the UK. I'll check to confirm, but if this is within the current guidelines there are probably others from the States who would endorse you as well. Feel free to get in touch to discuss if you like.

thanks

Anonymous's picture
Thanks RDunlop, thats very kind of you. How do I get in contact with you?

YEAH

Anonymous's picture
ABOUT DAMN TIME!!! What took you guys so long? I'm ready for this fight! Who else is in? Hitman

Well said, here here!!

Anonymous's picture
Well said, here here!!

"Hear, hear!"

glenncurry's picture

As a new member I am very proud to be a part of the VES and I offer my wholehearted support!  VFX is way too integral to the success of today's films to be in a "have not" position in terms of business.  Thank you, Eric for all your efforts on behalf of the society!  Looking forward to meeting you all soon!

We're helping make movies

Anonymous's picture
We're helping make movies with big budgets. Movies that make huge profits. Yet we have to fight for every dime and cent, including that which is due from overtime. I look at this industry and shake my head. Sure most of us are just making it, and are above the national average in pay scale, but someone's profiting immensely from our work, and it ain't us.

Please Shine a Light on Predatory "Employers of Record"

Anonymous's picture
I don't object to paying my own health benefits, nor the overtime or payroll taxes. And for some projects, I'm relieved my name is not on the credits. But I STRONGLY object to small VFX companies employing the likes of Yurcor or MBO, these so-called "employers of record" to skirt payroll taxes. These companies are operating in a blatantly illegal way, taking 2% cuts out of freelancers' paychecks, claiming freelancers are their employees, yet charging them for the employers' cut of payroll taxes and workers' comp insurance. They've managed to operate without getting zinged because labor infractions are the jurisdiction of the state--and their operations are based outside of the VFX hotspots. EPs, Heads of Production, Comptrollers, Accountants, even, at studios in the industry are playing dumb and ignoring the outcries from freelancers. So freelancers are stuck taking a huge bite out of their paychecks by these predatory illegal employers-of-record while VFX companies shrug their shoulders and feign ignorance, or ask you that you incorporate, yet another skirting of the law that puts the legal and administrative onus on the freelancer. I've seen a few industry rags, like AWN, sing the praises of these employers of record. Don't follow blindly and let MBO and Yurcor convince you that what they are doing is legal. If you really want to stand up for the VFX industry, here is your first, real challenge. MBO and Yurcor. They steal money from hard-working VFX artists, while studios turn a blind eye, or worse, enable the situation.

VES 2.0

Anonymous's picture
I was thrilled to read this.... Good luck and let me know if I can be of any assistance

VES 2.0

Anonymous's picture
Amen Brother! I wish you and us well in this worthy endeavor. The toughest part of this equation will be figuring out how to keep business from going to countries where workers interests are even less protected.

Credits? Really?

Anonymous's picture
Where the credits fall should NOT be at the top of the priority list. The focus should be on the money.

-- The minimal budgets given to the VFX facilities need to stop. I feel if you can change the crazy production schedules with low budgets, it will allow facilities to bid appropriately, which might all them to hire more people, possibly pay for benefits, and provide an overall better work/life balance for the artists.

-- There needs to be a more level playing field for the US companies vs. Canada, UK and Australia. Part of the problem why Cafe, Asylum, et al, closed was because the work kept going overseas. How are US companies supposed to compete with tax breaks?

this is a far wider issue than just vfx

Anonymous's picture
Hi, The bigger issue goes higher than individual vfx operations. Most people - including many executive levels I have worked with are totally unaware of details held within the first WTO signing in LIMA 1976 for the GATT (general agreement on trade and tarifs for industry) and the later GATS 1995 (general agreement on trade and services). To my mind, there is both issues with both external business environments and national business environments. But given the binding scope of the WTO and World Bank treaties, I'll give my two cents on the international trade environment first. Understand one thing - US and much Western Industry was signed away by National Governments under GATT and GATS, particularly under Clinton, including wholesale subsidies and relocation of industries, under supervision of the largest national corporate entities, its a no brainer. You get paid by subsidy if you relocate to favoured nations (in VFX, particularly to China or India). Vancouver is a large second hand recipient of Chinese GATS subsidy. But VFX is just one amongst many industries in this respect. If you want a glimpse of the future, just look at Detroit or IT workers over the past decade. GATS covers everything, architecture, accountancy, nearly anything. To the ordinary Joe, you don't really have any say over your national government, this is a straightforward carving up of cheap labour and land on behalf of the largest, financial savvy CEO's. There will always be opportunities for development of high end technology but for anything labour intensive, the future is pretty much on the same route as car makers and IT workers. It doesn't help that the work and artists have also allowed themselves to be 'commodified. Its tough but artists have to make a stand and have either a backup skill/industry or independent business on the side because the more that you have small boutique firms assuming that people are just a two week or two month slot on a spreadsheet to cover these shots/tasks, and you play that game, the quicker the deimise of the VFX industry occurs. Its far more important to build artist relationships within the wider industry bodies (such as film guilds, etc.,). In the long run, for the VFX industry to become anything else than a clipart factory line, it may require a change in the nature of movie production itself with large number of owner-operator businesses collaborating with independent film makers raising funds directly from venture capital firms, instead of the large studio, GATS-Tax break funded system at present. Make no mistake though, the current model is not free market capitalism. Until you read into the various WTO, UN, GATT and GATS treaties, you'll always just swallow the narative given of 'low cost labor and low cost centers competing and funded with hot flowing money from Wall St". All this is manipulated in the broader sense and the individual has little influence in the absolute. Independence, stealth and dedication to trade is your greatest asset in the future, getting out of the international-corporation made movies, in favour of home grown cultural industries and personal relationships. Never, ever, allow yourself to sit on the end of a production line, outsourced, spreadsheet based production.

hi

black friday kindle fire's picture
The best time to get anything electronic is on Black Friday. While that fact has always held true, it is going to be especially good this year.

VES logo

Follow the VES on TwitterView the VES profile on LinkedIn© 2010 Visual Effects Society. All rights reserved.