Getting the message right

Thanks to all who attended the VFX protest yesterday afternoon.

A gentleman on Facebook quipped that we should make sure to unify our message before this turns into another Occupy Wall Street. Despite the name of this blog, we would tend to agree. When the WGA went on strike several years ago, they had a very clear list of demands, and they knew who they were delivering this list to.

Let’s do the same for us.

VFXSoldier has done quite a bit to lobby the WTO, and we fully support his efforts. Along these lines, we demand an end to illegal trade subsidies. Visual Effects work should be awarded based on merit and talent, not based on corporate welfare for the movie studios.

We want a union and a collective bargaining agreement in place. We want pension, health, and welfare coverage for all. We want guaranteed pay, and payment for all hours worked, including overtime. This should be an international union, as artists who work in the UK and Canada should be entitled to the same overtime pay as those in the United States.

For the facilities that employ us, we want several things as well. We want a trade organization, so that these companies can protect their interests. This trade organization should accomplish two main goals. First, movie studios, or any client, will pay for overages when additional work is asked for. Nobody, or no company, will work for free. Second, when a facility creates a star character in a film, such as R+H did with Richard Parker in Life of Pi, the company should be entitled to residual income, as if that character were a SAG actor.

Finally, and possibly the most important demand of all:

We want to be recognized by the entertainment industry and the general public as artists, not technicians. We are not assembly line workers creating a commodity product. We are gifted and talented artisans who create a unique work of art for every shot in every film that we touch.

We should send this list to the six major movie studios, and other independent film makers who wish to use visual effects in their films.

31 Responses to Getting the message right

  1. Jerry Weil says:

    Love this

  2. Todd Boyce says:

    Characters shouldn’t be the litmus for getting residuals. It should be the overall fx budget. Any movie that has more than a $25M fx budget should award residuals to all companies who work on it (in proportion to their slice of that budget).

    There also needs to be protections for fx companies when a studio changes the schedule of a project.

    • occupyvfx says:

      @Todd, absolutely. The feedback is very much appreciated. We have to ensure that the VFX houses that have provided employment for so many of us are taken care of in the future. A bid for a project should consist of X number of man-days to complete the work in a certain time frame, and should cost $Y. Any change by the client that results in additional work being done (overage) or a schedule compression should increase the number of man-days required to complete, and the client should pay for the additional cost.

      The concern with the blanket granting of residuals to facilities is that some of those residuals need to go into the pension funds of the individual artists who worked on the films, which is how the IATSE system currently works. We would have to devise some sort of system that would determine the percentages that the houses and the individuals receive, and if there are extenuating circumstances for more intensive character development, like Benjamin Button.

      • J-Rod says:

        In my personal opinion, a residual system for visual effects artists is a lovely idea, but is going to be hopelessly, prohibitively complicated to implement and maintain. How could anyone possibly track the contributions of individual artists on such a collaborative effort? The self-policing that would be required combined with the natural chaos involved in any sizable production would almost certainly ensure a constant stream of artists believing they got screwed on every job (and some of them will always be right).

        I don’t believe our industry is mature enough to handle that part yet. We have a long way to go just to ensure the very basic protections that every other segment of the production world enjoys. Even that is going to be breaking new ground in this business. Let’s start with tackling the well-defined problems first.

    • erin says:

      Residuals are a good idea and one i have thought about, but what about those in commercials and tv? And what if an artist came on for only a month, vs. someone who had been on it for a year, how to break that down.

      • Erin2 says:

        Finding out how to handle residuals is a high class problem, lets first get the residuals then figure out how to be fare with time on projects etc. :)

  3. fede ponce says:

    I don’t understand the way of thinking that goes..”.This is never going to work because its to hard or complicated”… Anyways, here are some ideas inspired in the real world:

    The gaming industry has an interesting model:

    Companies pay their employees and they also give them stock on the games they make. Perhaps a similar model could be implemented. An extra gets residuals, a music writer gets residuals, so why not the people that are creating all this imagery. Perhaps VFX companies shouldnt belong to stake holders, artists should own stock on their own work.

    Here is another idea:

    A fund where an artist can put some money in, matched by their company, matched by their state and doubled by the federal government. The fund can then be used to pay for unemployment or downtime between projects.

    8 hour days with OT after that.

    medical

    retirement fund

    • occupyvfx says:

      @fede,

      Great idea! When Shrek 2 did so well at the box office, PDI issued its artists massive bonuses. Perhaps if a VFX house negotiates a deal with the studio to receive back-end participation in return for doing work at a reduced rate, they can pay the artists who work on the film bonuses if the film does well? Such an arrangement could potentially give artists the ability to work at reduced rates in return for more back-end compensation, but this is a very slippery slope, and I would imagine that such an arrangement has the potential to be rife with abuse.

      • Fede Ponce says:

        Thanks for the quick reply. I think my bottom line is not a bonus, or extra cash at the end of the project. The idea is to create long term relationships between artists, their companies and studios. Doing so with longer term agreements and stock in the product they create. A bonus means nothing, you spend it and its gone. Again the point is to find ways to create SUSTAINABILITY in the industry.

        Thanks for the reply and opening up this forum

    • Jack Boats says:

      The game industry does not work that way for the vast majority of Artists in it. The union VFX Artists create should include all CG Artists. Power is in numbers and we should welcome any artists in the field of Computer Graphics into the Union.

  4. occupyvfx says:

    @J-Rod,

    There is already a system in place that is negotiated by the various IATSE locals. This states that for union films, a certain percentage of the residuals will go into the pension funds of the IATSE locals who worked on it. This is hammered out every time the IA renegotiates a contract with the studio. This would not be difficult to implement, all we would need to do is unionize and sign a collective bargaining agreement. This CBA would include the pre-negotiated percentage of residuals that would be contributed to our pension fund.

    Agreed, it gets a little more complicated with facilities. However, we need these companies to not only be in business but to flourish. They are an integrated part of our pipeline, and they need to be compensated properly for extraordinary achievement.

    If we are designing a system where the VFX house is required to charge additional fees for overages and compressed work schedules, then they could effectively negotiate a deal with the studio where they agree to do the work at cost in return for back end participation.

    • Jack Boats says:

      The problem with the IATSE is that they have very low rates for Artists and Animators. $30-$40 an hour when you may not work for 4 months out of the year is not a living wage especially if you live in California or are expected to move all the time for work out of pocket.

  5. James B says:

    Those demands are not unanimous across the VFX industry. If you want solidarity outside of LA, leave the talk of subsidies out of it (for now). R&H went down because they bid too low for an Oscar shot. If it was made in LA, they would have underbid just as bad, if not more.

    Stick to unionization/trade org/guild for now. Stick to workers rights, real OT, benefits for now. The more noise to add to the message, the less people will stand together.

    • occupyvfx says:

      @James,

      We are in agreement that unionization is the primary goal. However, subsides should be the next goal after unionization. The playing field needs to be level, and work should be awarded based on talent, not on corporate welfare. I know that many Canadians benefit from subsidies, but eventually, everyone loses. Just ask the folks in New Mexico or Michigan how well the subsidy program worked out for them. If we don’t focus on the elimination of subsidies, we encourage the race to the bottom. As the Canadian provinces begin to poach jobs from one another with ever higher subsidies and incentives, more and more Canadians will embrace the idea that subsidies are dangerous and in the long term will negatively affect their jobs and livelihoods.

      • James B says:

        I understand the argument for scrapping subsidies, but not everyone is on board with that yet. If you want unanimous support across the entire non LA based VFX workers, put that particular issue on the back shelf for now.

        People aren’t stupid: Anyone in a region with subsidized film knows that dropping subsidies across the board will instantaneously decimate the jobs in those regions. It’s easy for someone in LA to say “Good!”. But asking international workers if they would kindly vote to ship all the jobs back to LA is a big ask, and NOT EVERYONE IS ON BOARD RIGHT NOW. Keep in mind when people think of LA, they think of the 14 hour day, 7 days weeks in VFX. LA invented that. People in London wont be too stoke to lose their 20 days vacation per year unless they already have equal that for jobs in the States.

        Right now EVERYONE is on board with real OT, benefits, and fair bidding across vendors. Lets talk how to do that for now, and figure out how to deal with subsidies in the future once we’re truly organized.

        And when you discuss scrapping subsidies with consider a slow transition.

        • Fede Ponce says:

          Here is some food for thought. Subsidies are a moving target. You might be enjoying them right now, but without regulation, studios will just find the next country, state, city that will offer a better deal. Subsidies are a race to the bottom.

          • James B says:

            I understand that subsidies need to be discussed, but right now we should focus on things we can ALL agree on while people are still motivated. Outside of LA, the subsidies topic is a mixed bag. If people truly want international support for scrapping subsidies, people will have to look at it from the point of view as someone in a subsidized region. How does ending subsidies help a worker in a subsidized region personally? Right now it sounds like LA is saying “Take a gamble and send your job to LA before it gets sent to Montreal!”. That’s not going to motivate many outside of LA. If we’re going down that hole, lets talk about the real options for for non-LA artists when the subsidies are leveled. And there is LOTS to discuss.

            That’s why I think it’s important right now we should focus on things we can ALL agree on easily: Better working conditions, real OT, benefits. Stick to those 3 simple things, and work on the rest later.

  6. Gary Thomas says:

    All excellent thoughts. Wondering though, if starting by attacking film credits will limit any support you get from artists in Australia, the UK or here in Canada. If that’s not an issue, by all means make it number one. Wondering if you include other states? I know New York has some generous credits. Is your organization a California-centric one or are you fighting for the industry in general? Setting that aside, the next question is whether the goal is to protect vfx companies or just artists. it would be great to ensure all artists were protected, but I wonder if strengthening the independent vfx houses might be a better strategy? There is a huge talent pool globally, but the real top people/companies who are lead houses on most major films are much more limited and harder to bully with a bit of coordination. Most major vfx houses have offshore affiliations and as such also benefit from tax credit distortions.

    the move to low wage countries (India/China) will proceed as quickly as the talent pool grows. Investment in technology and software in top houses will reduce the outflow if not completely eliminating it. Independent vfx houses need to form alliances with other top firms globally to add strength and compete with multi nationals. The big multi national post shops are able to offer lower prices and spread work to a number of locations. Levelling that will help. Reputable shops will have to learn to say no. So many shops have closed because they went out on a limb for a prestige project on the heels of other low margin jobs and had no buffer for quiet times. Perhaps vfx houses have to demand back end compensation for R&D on projects like Pi that are less obviously commercial, but end up being successful. Possibly as producing partners? I think Framestore tried that route.

    The vfx industry should talk to banks in California and elsewhere to make bridge financing more accessible. The inability to keep the lights on for the two or three month gaps has killed so many great places. More reasoned financial interactions would help. Maybe a fund in California, with input from vfx houses and studios themselves could be used as bridge source?

    End the practice of unpaid interns working on films. This should stop tomorrow. Its a clear cut labour issue. Any labour used on a commercial project should be compensated. No discussion. All vfx houses should standardize the approval process. Set a number in advance and agree to follow it globally. Be reasonable, but set a limit.

    • James B says:

      Very well said

    • occupyvfx says:

      @Gary,

      Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed response. This is the exact type of dialog that we need in order to come to a consensus on the issues that face our industry as a whole.

      This blog and the group of us who author it are devoted to furthering the cause of the VFX professional world-wide.

      Subsidies are a very delicate issue. If we make attacking them the number one priority, we will lose the support of the VFX professionals who live in those countries/provinces that directly benefit from them. On the other hand, we will immediately gain the support of those working VFX professionals in those areas who have been displaced and forced to relocate due to these subsidies.

      The movie studios are in business to turn a profit and serve the interests of their shareholders, as they are all wholly-owned subsidiaries of public corporations. As such, they are going to want to conduct business in areas of the world that make the most financial sense. When a new subsidy is voted into law, it has an immediate positive economic effect on the area. The movie studios will bring in work as quickly as they can to take advantage of it. However, if you extend the timeline long enough, two things will happen.

      1. The subsidy no longer has the desired effect on the local economy. Provinces/States/Countries end up spending more money than they get out of the subsidy. Eventually, the voters realize what is going on, and they vote to either end or cap the subsidy. Examples of this are found in New Mexico and Michigan. When this happens, the studios will immediately pull work and move it to a more advantageous location.

      2. Another province/state/country offers a better deal. This is happening as we speak within Canada. Montreal, for example, is offering a better deal than Vancouver. There was an email sent out today by Framestore recruiting VFX artists from Vancouver to its Montreal location.

      The end result of all of this is that the studios, to serve their financial interests, will take work to a location with a better deal. The region that is vacated is going to suffer devastating losses to the film industry as the production jobs simply evaporate.

      It is our belief that this practice should simply be stopped, Work should go to the locations that have the most talent, plain and simple.

      WIth that said, VFXSoldier has devoted a significant amount of time and financial resources to this issue, and it is one of the main objectives of his or her blog. We applaud the efforts that have been undertaken, however, we do realize that it will involve the US Trade Representative petitioning the WTO, and the WTO agreeing that the practice provides an unfair competitive edge for the VFX professionals practicing their craft in the specific locale.

      The goal of OccupyVFX is the betterment of the VFX professional world-wide. The issues that we feel can be addressed immediately are those of collective bargaining, health and welfare, and fair pay for all hours worked. This includes unpaid interns, VFX professionals in the UK who receive no overtime pay, and those in Canada who only receive OT compensation after 50 hours. While the US has more generous overtime rules, US professionals often have no health care whatsoever. This is another issue we want to address immediately.

  7. Mary says:

    In an attempt to get the message concise and solid… This is a survey to collect data on what we VFX workers want to talk about and how we want to address issues. Please take the time to fill it out so I can start taking this sort of data to whatever meetings get started here in LA.

    Please note, data is collected but individual contact info is not needed OR collected. It is anonymous to the individual, but the data points will be made public.

    http://kwiksurveys.com/app/rendersurvey.asp?sid=jie8g5lq1gpdb67100147

  8. Fede Ponce says:

    For my international friends:

    Here is some food for thought. Subsidies are a moving target and temporary. You might be enjoying them right now, but without regulation, studios will just find the next country, state, city that will offer a better deal. Subsidies are a race to the bottom for all.

  9. guy fawkes says:

    There’s a lot of talk of the problems here and what should be done and what our list of demands are, but what do we do when the studios refuse to negotiate?

    The last writer’s strike lasted from November of 2007 – the end of February 2008. It cost the studios hundreds of millions of dollars.

    The only thing the studios understand is the balance sheet, and if you don’t threaten what they hold dear you have no place to negotiate from.

    Start saving your money because the studios are too.

  10. Nick says:

    This whole comments section prooves why there needs to be an official open forum with vfx bosses, supes and artists, talking face to face about the current situation. At the moment it just seems to be the mid/senior artists knocking idealistic notions around. Nothing will change if nothing is done. We also have to be careful about country specific demands. As much as you guys hate to admit, there are vfx artists born and bred in countries across the globe. Subsidies should end – yes. But what if that inadvertently puts hundreds of people out of work in London and Canada? Do we ALL move to LA? I’m not sure there’s enough room! I hope something comes of this I really do. I will act if we can act together.

  11. Caleb says:

    “We want to be recognized by the entertainment industry and the general public as artists, not technicians. We are not assembly line workers creating a commodity product. We are gifted and talented artisans who create a unique work of art for every shot in every film that we touch.”

    This has GOT to be the dumbest demand I’ve ever heard of. The most important demand? We are not ARTISTS, we are skilled workers. and on major films, it is an assembly line. In the early days of CGI, we WERE artist. Not now. Artist paint pictures from nothing. We work on other peoples ideas and visions. Taking on a demand like this is so incredibly egotistical that it immediately alienates a LOT of people. “I want to be called an artist!” How fucking juvenile.

    Having a credit on a film as an “artist” is so useless and means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

    Be adult and demand more tangible, important things, like, healthcare, working conditions, fair treatment..

    Titles mean nothing.

    You totally lost me with this one.

    • occupyvfx says:

      @Caleb,

      That is an interesting take on the situation. However, it is not a sentiment shared by the authors of this blog, nor by most other VFX professionals we have spoken with. We believe that we are gifted and talented and each one of us contributes something valuable and creative to the film making process.

      Your point is taken, however, with regard to titles. While respect and recognition are certainly some of the things that many of us fight for, we do realize that the most important talking points include health care, retirement benefits, fair working conditions, and paid overtime.

      We all need to remember that we are on the same team. We may argue about labels and titles, which are valid discussion points, but we should not let the movement become derailed due to infighting and disagreements over semantics.

  12. Pingback: Why Motion Designers need to have solidarity with the #VFXProtest « Notes on Motion Design

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