Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I ... am VFX Soldier

Tonight marks the 10th time the Visual Effects Society has gathered to present their awards for achievement and recognition. As I was sitting by Twitter eagerly awaiting news of results, this caught my attention:


Good day for a reminder that we all need to be @VFXSoldier 's, fighting to improve conditions for #vfx artists

Most of my recent conversations regarding unionization of visual effects end up in a discussion of why organizing is important. Usually, this begins by discussions of the Hot-Button topic of the day (Health and Pension plans, job protection, globalization, etc) but always end up in a dialog about the purpose of collective action and why standing together and organizing should be important to all artists.

At the core of the work relationship between artist and employer, there is a symbiotic relationship based on need. Shop Owners *need* artists for their experience, skill and talent. Artists *need* shop owners for their ability supply employment by successfully bidding on (or creating) work. This basic relationship is mutually beneficial and co-dependent. As long as the shop owner has work, the artists will keep working .. and as long as the artists keep applying their skill, the shop owner will be recognized as successful and continue to get work.

Union contracts like ours use the collective leverage that comes from the above mentioned core relationship to establish boundaries against owners seeking profit at the expense of artists. Our contracts set standards and conditions that artists have input in drafting. Effectively this resets the artist/owner relationship back to that core where both sides stand on equal footing with regards to the items stipulated in the contract.

Artists not only have to talk about this, artists have to stand up and demand this. There are precious few shop owners I know that are willing to open their hearts to unionization. Organization has to come from within and eventually be demanded by artists.

Artists need to learn what the union is, what it can do, and why collectively they are a dominant force in the industry. While we are able to talk to that, the message spreads more effectively and is better understood when it comes from within the community. None has done a finer job of this than the anonymous artist known as VFX Soldier.

For his efforts in maintaining and contributing to his blog, and discussions across the internet, his identity is constantly sought out. Jeff Heusser's tweet tries to tell us, the identity of VFX Soldier isn't important, his message is. Jeff also understands that in order for the industry to stop using artists as a means to speed up the race to the bottom, we all have to identify with VFX Soldier and stand for the same cause.

I've been questioned countless times by artists, friends and shop owners if I am VFX Soldier. While I can not say I am the blog author, I hope you start to say with me "We are all VFX Soldier. I Am VFX Soldier."

(if you are interested in the pin pictured at the top of this post, email me and I will try to find one for you)


Dave Rand said...

Thanks Steve. I believe people are ready especially those who have seen enough "battle time". The modern world has given creativity enough importance that artists can make a living in larger numbers than ever before. The wonderful careers that we are fortunate to have are worth fighting for That very fight improves the quality of our lives and therefor the quality of our work. This will only benefit everyone, especially the studios who's product can only be as good as the sum of its parts. Those who may have a different agenda, will soon see their influence weaken as the focus of this group is as inevitable as it's rewards.

Anonymous said...

I believe people are ready especially those who have seen enough "battle time".

I hope you're right. I'm a VFX artist in my mid-thirties. I had a talk with an older co-worker who repeatedly insists he has no interest in collective bargaining. From his perspective, he's earning a nice salary and he already receives health benefits from his employer. He does not see any personal benefit to him in changing the status quo.

I asked him what happens if his salary and medical benefits get cut. He replied that he'll just leave his current job and get one at another studio. I asked what would happen if all the studios hit rock-bottom and paid poor wages and no benefits. He replied that he'd just quit the industry altogether. He firmly believed that a union would not improve his life, and he'll do everything he can to avoid one.

My younger co-workers are more open to the concept of collective bargaining. Most of them have no health insurance, and they're barely earning the cost of living in Los Angeles. I see a union in their future, if not in that of the older VFX artists.

Steven Kaplan said...

There will always be detractors. Many can't fathom the strength and comfort that can come from working under a union contract. Some would rather align themselves with those whom they would like to be.

In the few years I've been with the Guild, I've seen nothing be more persuasive than facts and the truth. And since we have both to offer, its just a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

Regarding to older co-worker in the 5:29 PM post who has no interest in collective bargaining, that's his right not to want to belong to a union.

However, when it's time to "fight" his employers against cuts in wages and benefits, he'll be fighting corporations that are well organized and have the strength in numbers to fight an individual.

Organized and has strength in numbers? Sounds like a union doesn't it? The producers who create the jobs are unionized themselves (look up AMPTP), yet they would rather not have artists stick together and fight collectively. A large, organized entity generally has a easier time defeating smaller, disorganized groups or individuals.

Why try to "fight" the big guys by yourself? I think you can accomplish more if you are part of a group that has your back.

Anonymous said...

--> I had a talk with an older co-worker who repeatedly insists he has no interest in collective bargaining.

Imageworks workers are not represented by TAG. There is no economic pressure to keep salaries above the Union minimum.

Imageworks continues to outsource work. Albuquerque workers are being told to prepare to move to Vancouver, where Imageworks is going to double its footprint.


Good luck, seasonal workers of the new century.

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