The future is a pretty uncertain thing. In this industry, it is very much an uncertain thing. There are a number of things that we should be doing while we race to the bottom, continually fighting and undercutting each other. We should figure out how to come together and save our industry, save our jobs.
VFXLos Angeles is about more than the industry here. It represents a focal point of energy for the industry at large. This is where it happens, where the deals are struck with the studios. Huge contracts are awarded, tax credits and subsidies are demanded from here. This is where VFX goes to die. We need to consider, as artists, managers, producers, and owners how we can come together to make a change.
There is a lot of talk about a protest or a presence at the Academy Awards. I applaud the approach, but, like other writers and voices in the community, there needs to be a wall of anonymity, because we are all afraid of losing our little slice of the pie. No matter how small the slice, it takes only a momentary lapse or some ill conceived words to essentially blacklist yourself in this industry. This is the fear, the fear of organizing that we all feel. Not just artists, but producers, coordinators and facility owners. There’s five or six hands that feed most of us, and making them unhappy has been the downfall of many many businesses.
So, what can we do?
In large numbers we can change the industry. We can take back some of the ownership of the work that we produce. We can control the means of production and make a product that has a price that is equal to its value.
How do we do that?
Well, VES was supposed to be that thing that really helped make a difference, but it seems that they happen to be more talk and hand wringing than actual action. Their numbers are too small and not reflective of the industry at large. Perhaps the bar needs to be lowered to two working years and two referrals. The ranks of the VES need to swell, so that it can more completely represent the global VFX community and our interests in all of the countries where there is a significant presence. I believe that lowering the entry bar and reducing the annual dues, the sheer volume of people that are able to join, will make them a more effective voice and give them the power to start marketing visual effects to the general populace so that we have a voice and a representative at the table of commerce.
We should also consider the a trade organization, a way for the facilities (VFX houses) to band together and set a certain level of acceptable behavior as it relates to bids, notes, budgets, and invoicing. It should be a worldwide effort involving as many facilities as possible. Studios own a few of the very largest among us, and if they buy the work, then, so be it. Let Sony lose money. Let Disney lose money. They have the infrastructure and the tax plans in place to easily absorb and write off those losses. Losses that would be unacceptable to an R&H, Pixomondo, or Image Engine.
If most, or all, of the mid size VFX houses banded together and came up with a “bill of rights” and all worked together and not to undercut each other, the race to the bottom would stop in its tracks. Sure, there would be a few small pop ups that would try to start undercutting, or larger foreign companies that aren’t on board with the plan will start trying to undercut, but there is a lot of power in the bulk of the companies working intelligently, and making enough money to pay their people fairly. Small houses or large international companies can’t steal the work if they don’t have the workers.
This industry still rests on the backs of the people talented and experienced enough to do the work. Time and time again, it has been proven that you can’t take 300 kids off the streets and make ‘The Avengers’. You need all skill levels to undertake such a massive feature. VFX houses that pay fairly and within the laws of their respective communities will attract the talent. Leaving undercutting corporations and tiny pop ups in an untenable and untrusted position for the studios. They literally wont have the talent required to do the work. This is strength in numbers. This should be our goal.
This is not about Los Angeles. This is about visual effects. We have to make a change, and we have to make it soon. We need the heads of the facilities to start a dialog and figure out how this can get done. We can all go on competing with each other on pure dollar amounts, and try to get as much volume as possible even at a loss, so that we can pay our staffs, and pay ourselves. Or, we can join together, and find the common ground that we are willing to stand on. Figure out how to stand up to the studios as a united front and start earning the work on merit, on skills, and on the talent we are able to acquire and maintain. Only this will halt the slide.
Then we can go about rebuilding. Rebranding. Becoming the movie stars and television stars that we are. Not a bunch of pale nerds in a dark room, but people from all walks and all social classes. People of all abilities, with senses of humor and love of outdoors. The same type of people that are in most other walks of life. We are them. They are us. We are the wizards, visionaries, scientists and the dreamers that bring all of their movies, television shows, music videos, commercials and games to life. Without us, it would all be very difficult to produce, and would be much less visually interesting.
Stand up and be heard.
Be a strong front.
Be willing to lose now, so that we can win tomorrow.
Now go, keep the conversation going but make it louder.
Now is the time.