Variety has an article out discussing the latest issues in the VFX industry:
Everyone’s feeling squeezed. Vfx companies say the major studios are shaving their margins down to nothing, but fear retaliation if they try to form a trade organization. Artists, who receive no health or retirement benefits, say salaries are falling though demand for their craft increases, but worry that vfx companies would retaliate if they try to unionize.
Yes there is some fear but I think the majority of the sentiment is apathy. While one interviewee claims an average drop of 20% in VFX wages from the peak my research doesn’t seem to show that. The good news is it seems the trade association is getting some positive traction with various facilities according to Mr. Scott Ross.
This past week is a good example of how volatile this industry can be and how a trade association and a labor organization can help mitigate those crashes.
Shortly after last week’s post on Rhythm and Hues, rumors went around on Friday that around 200 non-staff VFX professionals were let go or asked to go on hiatus after a project went on hold. Really sucky situation as some were surprised to be let go with no prior notice.
A labor organization can help mitigate these situations by ensuring things like a 5 day notice before termination and health insurance that can seamlessly cover them and their families at their next job or for a long bout of unemployment.
Even though Rhythm, like other big facilities, offers very good health insurance, the nature of the industry is project-based employment. You need to have a system that allows portability of the health insurance or else you end up paying huge penalties when unemployed. SPIUnion has a very good piece on this. Check out the costs for COBRA. If you don’t know what that is it’s named after a venomous snake for a reason.
A trade organization could also help mitigate the situation by standardizing payment schedules, requiring completion bond insurance if a producer puts a project on hold or pulls it. I was a little concerned about Mr. Ross’s claim that the facilities could share capacity information. If a facility says “hey we are at full capacity so you other facilities don’t touch our artists” that could be collusion.
Finally Digital Domain CEO John Textor, who has bankrolled $100,000 towards the trade organization has placed focus on key filmmakers to help with the woes in the VFX industry. If reality is any indication, it seems many filmmakers are a part of the problem. Just a few weeks ago director Peter Berg claimed that “all the money is going to ILM.”