Thursday, April 11, 2013

Calls to Action


LAS VEGAS -- The movement to rescue the troubled visual effects business is gathering momentum with VFX facility leaders planning to meet in May to discuss forming a global trade association, while artists are talking about the possibility of forming a union. ...

Industry leaders Scott Ross and Scott Squires addressed the issues surrounding the bankruptcy Tuesday night at the "Super Meet," an annual gathering held in Las Vegas during the NAB Show, which drew a crowd of more than 1,000. ...

On subsidies, Ross said, "You're spending $1 to $1.5 million to build a facility [in Vancouver], so the studios get a tax rebate. And the impact is on the digital worker, as well as the companies. [Artists] are uprooting their families, their kids, finding a home, then getting laid off."

Squires addressed work hours, saying, "Most countries have a cap of 60 hours a week. We typically start at 60 and go up from there. ... It can go up to 90 hours or more. It’s not unusual to work seven days a week.“ ...

If digital visual effects had been around in 1940 or 1950, the industry would now be unionized, top to bottom. But digital effects were born in the late 1980s and after, when organized labor was in decline, and here we are: smack in the middle of long, uncompensated work hours and spotty health and pension benefits.

Artists tell me that labor unions missed their chance to make special effects union. "Should have happened twenty-five years ago, when the industry was starting. Too late now."

I used to get the same line of dialogue about an animation studio named Film Roman. It's too big now. Too many Film Roman employees hate unions. Train's pulled out. Don't even bother ..."

We signed a contract with FR -- the production house making The Simpsons -- close to a decade ago, after more than a decade of performing face plants trying to organize the studio. All along the way we heard "Forget it ... forget ... won't ever happen. ...".

But it did happen, partly because we persevered, and partly because there was a need for better working conditions. Benefits had been cut, and wages stagnated, and employees ... after long hostility ... saw their lives would be better off under a TAG collective bargaining agreement.

I've known and worked with CG artists for close to twenty years. Many have a strong libertarian streak, many think unions aren't for them. CG artists and tech directors, however, are a long way from stupid. They know when they're getting shafted, which is why they are lots more open to being in a union or guild in 2013. (You get beaten about the shoulders and head with enough ferocity, your outlook changes.)

We're not to a union presence in visual effects yet, but we're way closer than we were a decade ago.


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