I have great respect for Alex Alvarez. I owe a lot of my education to him and Gnomon. I pointed out that there is a market of vfx facilities that prey upon students for free labor through unpaid internships. Even after years of experience, when I’m sending out my reel for jobs, I occasionally get a response from a vfx boutique that says “we aren’t hiring right now but we are offering an unpaid internship”.
I started this blog hoping to guide fellow vfx artists through the mine field that is the vfx industry. It used to be that if a company treated you poorly you could just quit and go to another facility. However, with the way the industry has been, I’ve started to notice that even the good institutions start to do questionable things. Lucasfilm recently lossed a lawsuit for denying a woman a job because she was pregnant. What has become of our industry?
That’s part of the reason I was so angered to hear what was happening at Gnomon. Many of us in the industry respect Gnomon as a good institution and don’t want to see it’s demise. I want to respond to a few of the things Alex said:
Some people seem to be jumping to conclusions without taking the time to contact me or Gnomon (i.e. the vfxsoldier guy)
Sources at Gnomon have expressed concern to me over Gnomon Studios. Students had mixed feelings about not being paid and others felt the students were being exploited. There was also concern that more resources were being devoted to the studio rather than the school curriculum and the computer lab that needed updating. If those sources are wrong then I’m sorry but they matter if it’s true.
However, there are studios and companies out there in a wide variety of fields that offer unpaid internships to students. This has happened for a long long time. My first industry job was an unpaid internship at Alias|Wavefront in 1995. At this time this was a HUGE opportunity for me and in many ways it is because of that internship that I was later offered a salaried job there and eventually made the contacts I needed to start Gnomon in 1997. So my personal experience with an unpaid internship was rather positive. My .02c
People work unpaid internships all the time and it had led to many opportunities but that doesn’t justify the means of unpaid labor. What’s so hard about paying people? The Animation Guild has rules for trainees and one of them is a pay scale minimum of $23 an hour. There are plenty of other paying methods to get your foot in the door. Artists I know started off working as render wranglers and coordinators. Those starting positions were paid (some wranglers get paid more than artists!) with no questions asked, but production work? Oh we can’t pay you to do that.
When Green Lantern came in, I wanted to pay the students and was told by our compliance officer that we were not allowed to. I find this strange but it has contributed to why we are not doing any more production work. As I get more production work for myself, if I choose to ask a student to work with me on it, it will be done outside of the studio internship program so that I can pay them.
A compliance officer? Really? Come on, if you paid those artists on Green Lantern would the school be found in violation or shut down or something? It’s good to see that you want to pay them but you can see less noble vfx businesses go the opposite direction with this. Giving naive and desperate artists that just got out of school and deep in debt a lame excuse to do unpaid work is a situation I’m fighting against.
Trust me, Gnomon is not the enemy and all we aim to do is empower artists.
I trust you, but I also hope you are with me to verify that. The same goes for all artists in our industry. We need to stop turning the cheek when we see unpaid labor and overtime and stand up together. Why are guys like me so big on having minimum standards of pay for our industry? It’s so we stop the race to the bottom and begin the rise to the top. Felix Salmon says it best:
Without unions and minimum-wage laws, corporations compete on who can pay the least. With them, they compete on who has the best employees and they invest significantly in those employees.