A Call to Action

We at VFXLosAngeles did not write this, but we do support the message for the industry at large. We will let the content of the letter speak for itself.

Look Inward: A Call to Action

Fellow VFX professionals, an amazing thing has happened recently. A tipping point has been reached and it would seem that our green spring is upon us. We suddenly find ourselves asking each other what our next step ought to be.

Everyone in this industry can agree that the current business model is not sustainable. VFX facilities all over the world are being squeezed by their clients to accept razor-thin margins as the best case scenario, and they are passing their hardship on to the artists, engineers, and support staff that work for them because they simply have no other choice.

We VFX professionals love our jobs and we love this business, for all its flaws. We often consider our employers to be partners and even friends. We want desperately to see the facilities form a trade group to protect their interests. But they have thus far been unable or unwilling to do so.

A small contingent of us have been wracking our brains trying to figure out a way to force this issue. Many of us want to go union as an industry, but we would like to see our employers take this step with us and form a trade group. However, we have finally come to the hard realization that we cannot force this move upon them. We cannot coerce our employers in to taking this leap, no matter how badly we would like to. We can only be responsible for ourselves and our own actions.

Fellow VFX professionals around the world, it is time for us to take the lead. We will never be as powerful again as we are at this moment. It should be clear by now that no one, not the facilities and certainly not the studios, will take our cause up as long as it affects their bottom line. No one will wave a wand and speak the magic words “you are respected!” If you are looking for someone to blame for your current situation, look in the mirror. And then resolve to take control of your own destiny and join a damn union already.

It will not be easy. No one will hand this to you. It will take leaders who will do headcounts, hold meetings, and generally risk their necks for something greater than themselves. But look at it this way… one hundred years ago people were getting shot and beaten for organizing. To our colleagues in the western world, what is the worst thing that could happen, you’ll be laid off? In this industry, that’s just another thanks for a job well done anyway. It won’t be easy, but it won’t be that hard.

As for the facilities, we have to have faith that once they see where we are headed they will come along with us. They will have to, or they risk being squeezed from both sides.

However, there are gestures that we could make as a community that would guide them toward the right choice and help them make this transition as smoothly as possible. Our contracts can be negotiated so that some of the additional costs to the employer ramp up over time, so the facilities have an opportunity to reassess the situation and form a

trade group. Once trade group talks have begun, we could stage walk outs or protests at facilities that are not participating. We can create a partnership with the trade group and together we could revolutionize an entire global industry.

But first we have to form a single voice among ourselves. And like it or not, that means organizing.

Many of you who read this document will approach it with an anti-union bias. Perhaps due to your political views the term holds negative connotations that you can’t explain. Some of you may believe that unions can only lead to laziness, or a rigid seniority system where undeserving veterans stifle the advancement of younger, hungrier individuals. To you we say this: our union is what we decide it is. No more, no less.

To that end, as VFX professionals the writers of this document would want to see the following in any guild or union that we would join:

  • Mobile benefits (health insurance, retirement, etc.) extracted from employer contributions and subsidized by collected media royalties.
  • Hourly rates with overtime, double time, and reasonable limits to the amount of hours worked in consecutive days and weeks. (This is already CA state law. If your employer is violating labor laws where you live REPORT THEM to your labor board.)
  • No stifling of mobility among the ranks. Seniority has very little influence upon pay rate or position. Artists are awarded positions and pay based on merit just as they presumably are now.
  • No miscategorization of workers by the employer.
  • Hold fees for all freelance employees. Minimum notice for release.
  • Reasonable wage minimums, varying by position, that increase annually at the rate

    of inflation.

  • Increased rates for artists who are required to move from their ‘home base.’
  • Holiday pay, vacation days, and sick days accrued over time.
  • Maternity and Paternity leave for new parents with no professional consequences.
  • Pay structures for artists working remotely on their own equipment.
  • A cooperative relationship with management. We are all here to get the job done

    with as much quality and efficiency as possible, and would want to see employees negotiating in good faith to that end.

    The general consensus that we have been seeing online and in the workplace is that this is not necessarily about earning more pay. It is about pushing the industry to adopt standards that will lead to healthier lifestyle for everyone in the field of VFX.

    It is also worth noting, for those who are unfamiliar with the process, that no union or guild contract can be ratified without a majority vote by the employees under said contract. We sit at the bargaining table, we approve the conditions of our agreement, we enforce them. No one wins if the employer folds. Not the guild, not the workers, certainly not the facility.

Note that a global union and trade group movement does not directly address the contentious issue of government subsidies. The authors of this document believe that this is a discussion for another day. The courts of treaty law and public opinion will ultimately decide upon their continued use. This is a global industry and it will continue to be so. The subsidies themselves are the symptom of a greater problem: the VFX community has little to no perceived leverage vs. their clients. It is our belief that the formation of these entities will correct that imbalance.

Regarding Pi Day (March 14th 2013), we should turn it in to a day of solidarity among VFX artists. Wear green and take time to talk to your coworkers about what we can do to make life better for all of us.

However, we cannot settle for a mere symbolic gesture. This process must begin immediately to capitalize on the visibility and energy we have harnessed in our community. And it begins with us workers.

To the reader of this document: Set up meetings with a union rep. Educate yourself about what it would mean to be in a guild or union. Sign a card, and then encourage your coworkers to sign cards. As Dave Rand suggested in his YouTube video, let’s see how many union cards we can sign before Pi Day. Let that day also serve as your deadline. Get head counts in your facility so you know when you have majority support. Take responsibility for your situation and make something happen.

If the VFX business is to change, it requires bold action and collaboration between industry professionals at all levels. Competition will continue to be fierce, as it should be, but if we succeed we will be competing in a market of efficiency, ideas, and innovation, instead of one comprised of fear and exploitation.

We VFX professionals have just begun to awaken. The power we hold over this industry is incredible and should not be underestimated. Anyone who doubts this should note the deafening silence from the studios, the academy, the MPAA, and most every facility in the business. They are afraid. They are hoping we will go away and forget the insults and mistreatment. But everyday they open Facebook and twitter and see an army of digital green.

Show them that we are just getting started. Look inward for your strength. Band together around the world and #HoldTheLine against unsustainable business practices and unsustainable lifestyles.

 Image

The Future

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.

Join together.

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.

A point of clarification.

We would like to take this opportunity to clarify further on the goals of this blog, and we believe, the movement in general.

This is not Anti-anybody.

No one thinks that London is full of lesser artists, or that New York is somehow riddled with incapable maroons.  This is merely about promoting where the American film industry resides. We would like to see Los Angeles stay the hub of visual effects for American Cinema.

Organizing VFX talent and reducing or eliminating subsidies should be the goal of every artist and supervisor. Otherwise, nowhere is safe. No one is angry at New Mexico for offering really attractive offers… they are angry at New Mexico for stopping the offers and killing the industry where people bought houses and moved their families.

There is a fair amount of reward for people in New York, New Zealand, Vancouver, and Singapore. It seems like the gold will never leave. That there will be a glut of work for decades to come. It felt like that here in Los Angeles 8 to 10 years ago. When people flocked here from all over the US and other countries. We can tell you from experience that it does dry up.

This is why, while it feels protectionist, it is not. This movement is not an ANTI movement. We are a team. We are like minded, hard working professionals and students of every walk of life who dream of a better life making great imagery. We want fairness in pay, and options for our futures. We want the ability to settle down and live lives of success and challenges. None of us are averse to hard work.

VFX Los Angeles supports VFX artists. Period. The focus is to bring it back to profitability and to bring a once vibrant industry back to Los Angeles and be a partner with other states and countries. This train needs a conductor. For American film, that is Los Angeles. For UK film, that is probably London. For Asian film, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan. For Canadian film, Vancouver and Montreal. We all have our markets. Let us grow those markets. Let us work together.

We challenge other voices to start a VFX Vancouver blog or a VFX Sinagpore blog. Bring the voices together and help end any us versus them, and let us all make great movies and television, great commercials and trade projects.

VFX Los Angeles

So, it begins.

Well, it looks like VFX Soldier has started the campaign to reign in subsidies.

This is an important step in reclaiming at least part of the industry. This gives everyone a chance at a more equal playing field.

Between this and a union, there may be some real control over our lives as the industry grows and we become established like grips, painters, electricians, directors and writers. All of whom have guilds or unions to help them with an industry that is notoriously fickle.

Let us join together with one voice to help staunch the flow of creative blood that is having to leave California and leave families behind only to find less work, with more hours and no job security.

Why Los Angeles?

Why get your visual effects done in LA? Isn’t it all leaving for Vancouver, London, and New York?

Quite simply, it’s quality, speed, interaction with the team. With all of the major American studios being located in a 20 mile radius, and most of them in a 4 mile radius, it is really easy to justify having more, not less, visual effect artisans and studios in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, home to American film and television, accounts for a great deal of the economy in Southern California. It has a rich history full of experienced professionals who all learned from ‘someone who came before them.’ This is the power of the Los Angeles market, and to a similar degree, the San Francisco area. The people who invented the techniques and workflows that are so common today, did so while learning how to do it on scale and on budget needed for some of the biggest block busters in history.

It is this legacy that has translated down generations of artists and makes the quality second to none. Most of the artists that come to Los Angeles come to learn how to be great artists. They work in a competitive market and work with some of the best existing talent on the planet. This isn’t the case in the other markets and countries that now host a number of larger projects and production houses. Many other VFX communities have to work on developing their own workflows in their own ways that sometimes aren’t as successful. They have to import Americans, or Los Angeles natives to try and teach them how to be successful. At the end of the day, many productions are brought back to Los Angeles to save at the last minute because the work done elsewhere wasn’t the quality that the studio was used to.

The argument that we put forth is that it isn’t worth leaving the comfort of your own community of talent to get the work done. There is still an enormous talent pool here that can be drawn on to get top notch work done for the budget required by productions. Of course there are still giants like ILM and DD that will drive innovation and come up with the ‘next big thing’, but for the bread and butter effects required for features and television, the talent is here. The talent is more than qualified, and the talent is affordable.

more to come…

VFX Los Angeles

Welcome to VFX Los Angeles.

Started and maintained by VFX artists in Los Angeles, for the sole purpose of promoting the visual effects industry in Southern California and an attempt to reign in runaway visual effects production to other states and countries by focusing on quality and affordability of local talent.

This blog will focus on work done here by local artists and local companies, striving to provide effects of the highest caliber without resorting to sending work over seas and to Canada.