Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Costs of VFX

One of the most heavily used arguments that a union organizer faces when speaking to visual effects artists about the reasons for unionizing visual effects work is costs. Most artists believe the costs to unionizing visual effects will be a deciding factor in a plethora of Gloom and Doom consequences:
*If we go union, the studio will send all the work overseas!

*The added costs of a union contract will put this studio out of business!

*There is no way we'll be able to compete if we have to raise our prices!

While I've become quite adept at countering these arguments, an article in this morning's LA Times has added some ammunition to my arsenal. It points out something that we've been telling vfx artists since I started my career as a Union-Man: the biggest driver of movie ticket sales is the work they contribute to the final product.

The Producing Studios are also well aware of this. While examples of this abound, these quotes from today's article highlight the point perfectly:

Amy Pascal, Co-Chair at Sony Pictures
"In the current business climate you want to be as cost-efficient as possible, but there's no avoiding the fact that to produce a summer tent-pole on the scale necessary to succeed globally, you've got to spend to be competitive,"

Jeff Robinov, President, Warner Bros. Picture Group
The biggest part of the budget for tent-pole movies is the special effects and it's very difficult to bring down those costs, particularly when you are continually trying to raise the bar and often working on a tight schedule,

Visual effects is the highest cost budget item for a production for a good reason. Visual effects is the reason the general public will see a movie. While the studios are raking in record profits for their successful films, they are struggling to keep costs down by forcing vfx studios to accept an unrealistic price for their work. (That IS what a good corporation does, right?) This ends up in the laps of visual effects artists who then have to bear the brunt of the producers pursuit for profit.

What's a VFX artist to do? Exercise the inherent leverage that comes with producing the key factor in movie profits by banding together to stand on equal footing with the vfx studios and production companies. Work to establish boundaries to protect themselves against the profit seekers using a vfx artist livelihood for their gain. Work with vfx studios to establish a trade organization and together bargain with the producers to get profits flowing back into the industry. All six entertainment companies are willing to pay to get the work done. Its time they do.

It falls on the artists to start this process. Get answers to common questions. Sign a RepCard. Contact me to set a time to meet. Make a stand and support the effort to make visual effects a better industry.


Steve Hulett said...

I've seen costs go up ... and down ... and sideways.

Right now, everyone understands that cg effects and cg animation are where the profits live, so they pay what they must to be competitive.

Naturally, they try and tamp down costs as much as possible, but they won't be getting out of visual effects tentpoles or animated extravaganzas anytime soon. There's too much moolah to be made.

Steven Kaplan said...

Agreed. And that is what gives the artists leverage.

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