David Cohen -- behind a subscription wall at variety.com -- tells of another visual effects house that doesn't pay its employees.
The latest bad news from the vfx biz comes from Montreal's Fake Studio, part of the Camera e-Motion Group. A handful of artists who worked for Fake on the 3D vfx for Dimension's "Piranha 3D" have yet to receive payments due in April. Their plight has inspired a great deal of anger in vfx circles, where hearing "unpaid artists" and "Montreal" opens the old wound of Meteor Studios and the problems artists had getting paid for New Line's "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
One of the unpaid artists, Manny Wong, told Variety that with the Meteor incident in mind, he negotiated a payment-in-advance deal, but upon arrival in Montreal, he liked the atmosphere at Fake enough to forego advance payment. He says the producer was "very upfront" with him about the pic's financial difficulties through two crises that threatened to shut down the picture. Then Fake management said it hadn't been paid by the client and couldn't pay the 3D team anymore from its own pockets. Months later, payment is still due.
Last week Dave Rand, a veteran of Meteor who has become something of a watchdog for abuse of vfx artists, posted about the Fake and its unpaid artists on his Facebook page. Marc Cote, an owner of Fake, responded with a note admitting the company is in arrears and saying it is "making arrangements with all of the creditors … to reimburse them as quickly as operations permit." He continued: "Short of shutting down the company we cannot reimburse everybody's debt in one shot. … We are 100% committed to reimbursing this debt." ...
I've encountered tales like this for decades, and I always say the same thing: Professionals should deal with employers professionally. If there are no wages, there should be no work.
It's a simple concept, but often a hard one to execute in real life. Management exerts pressure to be "a team player," fellow workers fall in line, and pretty soon most or all of the non-paid staff find itself "pitching in" to save the project. The difficulty is, people need cash flows to survive, and if the non-payment routine goes on for long, individuals find themselves gnawing shoe leather.
Once again I will point to TAG member Glenn Vilppu. You might remember Mr. Vilppu from a previous post or three. He's the Warner Bros. layout artist who refused to work for free.
On top of being a talented studio artist, Glenn is also a gifted art teacher, and a few years back found himself getting stiffed by an art school for which he worked. The owner, a lad with a silver tongue, had talked most of the artistic staff into working for free, giving them one sob story after another about why he "just couldn't pay them that week."
Most everybody went along, but not Glenn. He told the owner of the school that he was sorry about the problems the guy was having, but if he, Glenn Vilppu wasn't paid by cashiers check the moment he walked into his classroom, he wasn't coming back to teach.
The owner moaned, begged, pleaded. Glenn didn't budge. And since Mr. Vilppu was the star teacher in the school's glossy brochure, he got a check placed in his hand each time he entered the premises.
The other teachers? They went on getting no money. Sometimes it pays to be a hard-nosed professional.