Did we pick the wrong week to go on vacation or what?

Apologies for being silent as of late. Occasionally, we need to spend time with our families for a little R&R after shows deliver.

What an amazing last couple of weeks! VFXSoldier was able to successfully call Digital Domain Media Group CEO John Textor to task, and he has given a one-on-one interview with FXGuide, explaining his position.

SpiUnion has really kicked it into high gear, with the help of The Animation Guild. Today marked the first meeting about organizing a visual effects facility that has occurred since 2003, when the original attempt to organize SPI was made.

Back in 2003, the climate at Imageworks was very different. Many employees had been given staff positions. The company offered profit sharing, and a handsome 401(k) match for staff employees. Staff employees were given paid sick leave and vacation, and even freelancers were given the option to have PPO health insurance. Most importantly, in 2003, Imageworks did not have facilities in Vancouver, Albuquerque, and Mumbai.

Things have changed over time for the worse. The outsourcing threat now looms large before us as artists. For example, Imageworks is attempting to recruit just over 100 people to work on Smurfs 2, and all of these positions are to be filled in Vancouver. While there are some exceptions, gone are the staff positions, and gone are profit sharing and generous 401(k) matching. Imageworks does offer health benefits to freelancers, but currently they are HMO only.

Artists in Culver City (and hopefully in Vancouver, too) are uncertain about their future, and now the option of standing together in the face of adversity looks even more appealing. Judging from the turnout at today’s organizational meeting, and the informed, articulate questions that artists were asking Mr. Kaplan, we have high hopes for a successful organizing drive.

Thanks go to Mr. Kaplan, SpiUnion and VFXSoldier for setting everything up and for getting the word out.

Shame on Digital Domain.

I would like to take a moment to thank VFXSoldier for bringing Digital Domain’s exploitative hiring practices to everyone’s attention. Much has been said on this topic already, but as I repeatedly beat my head against a wall, several thoughts keep coming to mind.

Let’s call a spade a spade here. Digital Domain is making use of indentured servants to complete visual effects work. The definition of an indentured servant is someone who works for free, in exchange for transportation, lodging, meals, etc. for a set period of time, like 3 or 7 years. Here, the reward is a diploma, and the dream of employment working for a major studio. Not a promise, but a hint. However, what DD has done is worse than indentured servitude, because the servants here have to pay for the privilege.

An Indian colleague of mine pointed out that this process has gone on in India for the last decade. So, that makes it OK for it to happen here? John Textor justified this to the Department of Education by saying that this is the only way to keep these jobs from going to India. So, if we can’t beat them, join them? Is that the idea?

When Wyndcrest Holdings bought Digital Domain several years ago, the first thing that they did was take the pirate flag down off the roof. That may have been the beginning of the end. The executive management of this company, specifically, John Textor and Cliff Plumer, have consistently paid themselves well over $700,000 a year, while the company has nearly continuously lost money. In 2010, DD lost nearly $45 million. In the process, they have all but destroyed the heart and soul of this once great company in Venice. I know that margins in Visual Effects are thin, and that owning your own content is key to success. However, just how greedy do you need to be? When is enough, enough? Is it not enough to own your own content? Do you need to now have slave labor to complete your projects?

This behavior is shameful and despicable, and should not be tolerated.