March 19, 2013
The visual effects community held a town meeting Thursday evening in Los Angeles to address rising concerns regarding the state of the VFX industry. “Pi Day” organizers included community members Bill Gilman and Neha Wickramasekaran. During the event, hosted by VFX artist Mariana Acuña, effects veteran Scott Ross and others proposed the formation of a VFX union and a trade association for visual effects facilities.
Approximately 250 people attended the L.A. meeting, which was also streamed live to participants in the San Francisco Bay area, Vancouver, New Zealand and Austin, Texas. (Video coverage is available on the VFX Soldier blog.)
VFX artists expressed grievances regarding slim profit margins they have been receiving for their work. Scott Ross introduced a five-point plan, which according to Deadline: “called for a new studio business model that allows VFX facilities to profit; the creation of new bidding templates across the competitive VFX market; standardized contracts and cancellation policies that would prevent VFX houses from taking the hit on stalled production schedules; industry education outreach including a VFX lobby in Washington to fight subsidy legislation; and a public relations push to teach the public about the industry.”
“Fear has stopped us because we have six clients [the studios],” Ross told the audience. “We are fearful of losing our jobs; [but] we are losing our jobs… It’s going to get worse until we do something.”
“I support a guild or union for the visual effect industry, but it’s in the timing,” he said. “You are going to sign [union cards] to organize VFX facilities, but the visual effects houses don’t make money. A lot of [employee ‘abuse’] is because they want to keep their heads above water. They are drowning.”
Mike Chambers, as a representative of the Visual Effect Society, noted the initiative for California to increase its production incentives, which did not please the crowd. Ross defended VES, stating that as an honorary society it does its job well. “However, the time has come… that we need additionally societies like guilds and unions and trade organizations so when you fight the war, you’ve got the bullets,” he added.
“I know a great way to form a trade association — unionize,” suggested Steve Kaplan, an organizer with The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839. According to The Hollywood Reporter: “This would prompt the VFX houses to form a trade association in the form of a multi-employer bargaining unit such as the AMPTP, he said.”
“‘Life of Pi’ could not have be made without visual effects,” Ross said. “Claudio [Miranda] won his award because of visual effects.” (Ang Lee’s film took this year’s Oscar for visual effects.)