VFX Law has a new post that proposes ideas for a new business model:
1. Have the studio pay the artists directly, weekly, like all other union employees on the film.
2. Don’t allow our work to be shot based, but rather cost based (see #1)
3. Give us residuals to pay for benefits
4. Lease us machines and space during production instead of paying facility overhead.
5. Replace facilities with studio hired producers, VFX and CG Sups who build a portable infrastructure that can roam project to project.
That’s right, VFX Law goes there: Eliminate the facilities and I agree with a lot of this. In fact I’ve rhetorically asked this question often:
What purpose do VFX facilities serve?
They don’t create or engineer vfx. The artists and technical directors do.
They don’t fund vfx. The studio producers do.
What they do is facilitate the purchase of vfx between a group that can produce the work and a group that needs the work done.
VFX Facilities = Real Estate Agents?
The relationship is a bit similar to real estate:
Developers build houses to sell, while people who need to live in homes purchase them. The purchase is facilitated through a realtor who collects a commission on the sale.
With the cost of equipment going down, essentially VFX facilities are forced into becoming middlemen just collecting a commission on the sale.
Obviously the real estate analogy has problems:
There is no blueprint and the product needs constant updating and changes from the client. However this relationship is disjointed because we both facilitate the process through the vfx facility.
What If VFX Facilities Didn’t Exist?
What if one day we woke up and all vfx facilities went out of business?
Well before you freak out, consider that the studios would still have a need for a huge capacity of vfx work. There still exists a talent pool that can do the work.
Doomsayers say all vfx work would just go overseas but the fallacy in this is that vfx isn’t very scalable. For example, many facilities in the UK are booked up 2 years in advance by subisidy-hungry studios.
If vfx facilities didn’t exist tomorrow, the production would probably have to hire the talent directly.
Why Do We Work For VFX Facilities?
I sometimes wonder why vfx artists work for vfx facilities. Obviously it’s the only option but much of that stems from back in the 90’s when many facilities started.
They had funding to purchase very expensive equipment and software, and could provide stable work with benefits because of a steady stream of work that comes in.
Naturally everyone wanted to work at the facilities.
This is no longer the case. The price of equipment has fallen and most off the shelf software is capable of doing very high-end work.
This has commoditized the facilities making them very competitive with very small profits. Job security is gone as many of us work project-to-project. Fringe benefits have been almost useless as they are whittled away at larger facilities while smaller facilities offer none.
VFX facilities are trying to become producers but with vfx facility produced films like Yogi Bear and Skyline is this really feasible?
Why Not Work Directly For The Production Companies?
Given the current state of things, a few of us have realized that we have essentially become freelance workers working for unprofitable middlemen. Why not work directly for the production companies?
We would still work project to project but like cinematographers and editors, we would work directly with the producing client. It would be easier to unionize at the big 5 studios and get portable fringe benefits that cover us even when we are not working.
VFX artists might preferably be able to work directly on the lots of studios like Warner Bros. instead of some dark unsuspecting office spaces.
The production studios would save money in redundant costs with the elimination of executive management, human resources, accounting, recruiting, and other overhead.
They would have direct access to production management and coordinators who help organize the artists work and monitor what gets done. They would also have iterative control with the work artists do.
The unions would provide access to fringe benefits and a framework for labor practices that provide for a floor. Agents can be hired by artists to represent them in negotiations with the studio to provide the best deal possible. I’ll provide more details on this later.
It’s Already Happening
If you think this model is unfeasible then think again. As VFX Law mentioned, he is working directly for a production company. A similar model has been used for films like 2012 and The Golden Compass. Former Sony Pictures Imageworks VP Jenny Fulle proposed a similar idea back in 2009.