VFX Recruiter Comments On Collusion

I thought I’d post a comment by Lisa McNamara, a veteran recruiter in the VFX industry, on Lee Stranahan’s recent article.

What I found interesting is that Ms. McNamara has been reprimanded for trying to recruit talent from studios that had these kinds of recruiting agreements:

I commented on your Variety article several months ago, saying that artists complain too much about working conditions in a rarified business.

As a recruiter for ten years at animation/ VFX studios, i despise the kinds of agreements cited above. It’s simple: if you want to retain an employee, either make working conditions so good that they won’t want to leave or OFFER A CONTRACT.

I’ve been reprimande­d for pursuing employees of studios that had these “gentlemen­’s agreements­.” And i think they create a sort of indentured servitude for the employees, who are prevented from pursuing other opportunit ies because they’re unaware that they exist (by keeping recruiters from cold-calli­ng) or are afraid to pursue them because they risk exposure to their supervisor­s.

I agree that the VFX industry should be unionized and salaries standardiz­ed. As a recruiter, it’s frustratin­g not to be allowed to pursue an artist because they are “off-limit­s.” As talent, it’s frustratin­g to be denied freedom to pursue opportunit­ies because these agreements are in place and they fear exposure and prejudice for looking around.

I’m sure i’m not alone in wishing that these kinds of ludicrous and, now, illegal, agreements would cease to exist. I would be thrilled to see a union put in place to protect the artists and standardiz­e pay scales. It may result in certain jobs carrying reduced earning potential, but it would even the playing field for the industry as a whole.

Soldier On.
Update: “salaries standardized” caught my eye as did many of you who mentioned it to me. I can only assume that Ms Mcnamara thinks the union wage minimums are maximums which is a common mistake.

27 Responses to VFX Recruiter Comments On Collusion

  1. Lisa McNamara says:

    Actually, when i was referring to standardized salaries, what i was thinking of was having a delineated range for each position. The Croner survey seeks to address that issue and while many studios follow its guidelines, there are no rules stating that they must adhere to them. Union shops have such a salary structure in place, but because many shops are non-union, there are no mandated salary structures; as a result, artists can either be bought with incredibly high salaries or less savvy artists can be lowballed. I just think that if all shops operated under some kind of union salary restrictions that were based, say, on years of experience and level of position, it would help to reduce the wage wars that often go on over a particularly hot talent and help those who don’t have the taste for fighting over wages to be treated fairly.

    • VFXinsider says:

      I must say that I’m confused by this letter. I don’t understand delineated range and standardized salaries.

      Where else do you see this kind of salary cap? Education? the sciences maybe?

      I really get the impression that VFX Recruiters think VFX artists make too much. Respectfully, Lisa McNamara, as a recruiter are you aware of what our Union counterparts make on set?

      Would you like to see what a 70 hour work week with Double time, triple time and pension payments looks like?

      This seriously seems off track. VFX artists are talking about “just getting paid for our time” and and someone will chime in with the problem of “wage wars” like some huge percentage of the industry is making $200.000. I’ve talked to guys that were greens keepers on X-files that had $200.000 years.

      The median wage of VFX artists is very low.

      I think recruiters see artists come in to a studio, get their rate, and their done. And that’s all they see. They don’t see the 70 – 80 work weeks that aren’t paid overtime on. and they don’t see the 3-4 months that we may spend unemployed between contracts.

      • Lisa McNamara says:

        I am hardly a novice to the business…i used to work in production and was a producer for longer than i have been a recruiter.

        What i am saying is probably more germane to the high-end studios than to the smaller shops. Because yes, many of the artists i have hired have in fact been in the $200K range. That said, i TOTALLY agree that artists can be abused by not getting paid for their time. So can recruiters or producers, who are paid a flat salary and often work as many hours as the artists…sometimes more. I have logged in 70, 80, even 100 work weeks with no paid OT…in fact, one of my producing colleagues was once told that OT meant “Own Time.”

        So please don’t insult me by labeling me a clueless recruiter. Trust me, i’ve walked in the shoes of the underpaid far too many times. And i have similarly seen many so-called artists paid huge (and undeserved) salaries. But if you read my comment carefully, you’ll see that i advocate wage ranges so that the artists who may not carry the high price tag get treated fairly. I’m talking about evening the playing field across the board.

        Did you not see that?

      • VFXinsider says:

        My questions were not meant to be insulting.
        I apologize. I asked where else can we see standardized salaries?

        I would like to learn more about what recruiters think (and what you think) about the industry and how to fix it. You are clearly very experienced and well spoken.

        In regards to the Croner survey;

        SO what is the median wage of VFX artists?
        What is the median wage of on-set workers?
        Should overtime be paid to an employee?

        -I’m not so interested in the .04% of the workforce that makes $200.000 and doesn’t get O.T.

        -Or the producers. who have a union, so, their O.T. is based on whatever the language of their collective agreement is.

        i think we would probably agree to focus on the 80% of the workforce makes $23 an hour and doesn’t get O.T.

        or doesn’t get paid at all.

        SO i would like to know more about what you think?

  2. […] Is The Croner VFX Survey? VFX recruiter Lisa McNamara chimed in with some comments on my last article. I thank her and appreciate the comments from reading my blog however there was something she […]

  3. vfxguy says:

    “And i think they create a sort of indentured servitude for the employees, who are prevented from pursuing other opportunit ies because they’re unaware that they exist (by keeping recruiters from cold-calli­ng) or are afraid to pursue them because they risk exposure to their supervisor­s.”

    Eh? Really? If you’re relying on getting a cold call to find yourself a better job then you deserve everything you (don’t) get.

  4. skaplan839 says:

    Thank you Lisa for weighing in and contributing to the conversation. I feel we have a strong ally in the struggle for artist protection and an equitable workplace whose experience is invaluable.

    I’ve recently contacted the Croner Company and was met with some resistance when I asked for, and offered to pay for, their survey. My discussion with them will continue shortly and I will post about it when the time is right.

  5. Lisa McNamara says:

    Boy, this is surely a topic that gets a lot of attention!

    Here’s what i’ve observed: yes, the Croner is often used to insure that artists are being paid an acceptable minimum wage. And yes, TAG guidelines also establish minimums. One problem is that these guidelines are still open to interpretation in that someone who has not previously been a TAG member may not be classified in the appropriate category (i.e. they may be too inexperienced to qualify for a certain level, which means that they are “under-classed” if you will. Also, while many of the bigger studios do subscribe to and use the Croner survey appropriately, many do not. They may indeed use it as a tool to tell artists that, as someone stated in their comments, they are being fairly compensated and therefore try to get away with paying the artists as little as they can get away with. Also, there are certain types of artists that don’t always fall neatly into, say, Croner or TAG categories (in terms of job description) and sometimes that effort to manipulate the artist into a category does a disservice to the artist by pigeonholing him or her into something that doesn’t quite recognize the scope of their responsibilities.

    That’s why i have always wished that there was a true industry-wide union that provided industry-wide guidelines and was informed by industry veterans who really understand what the job descriptions mean. Often, the people who are participating in feeding information to the Croner survey are HR people who don’t really grasp the fine points of what an artist does. Most of the time they’re just reporting, but it would be preferable to have people who are informed enough to be able to clarify, for example, categories that seem murky or overly broad. With so many specialties and sub-specialties, it’s really hard for someone who has little production experience to understand how to fix things that may need to be improved upon in terms of better defining job descriptions, leading to proper compensation.

    As for the collusion stuff, it just plain stinks that artists are restricted from freely exploring other options if they’re not under a mutually agreed upon contract. (And to the person who said that if artists are “relying” on cold calls to inform them of positions rather than seeking them out for themselves, all i can say is that there are occasions when a recruiter will know of a position before it is posted. Also, some artists believe that they are happy at their current position and aren’t actively looking. So while they may be satisfactorily situated, sometimes they could be even better off, and without being able to receive the cold call, they would simply never have that possibility on their radar.)

    To the person who inquired about median salaries and whatnot: it is WAY too complicated to answer that easily. Again, because of the many types of artists, because there are certain positions that qualify to receive OT and certain ones that don’t (i.e. producers don’t have a union and don’t qualify for OT in most instances), i don’t feel that i can neatly sum up all of that information in a tidy fashion. Maybe there is someone else out there who can…i certainly welcome their input.

    As for how to “fix” the industry:

    I believe it will take a lot of patience and cooperation. For one thing, the clients will have to embrace the idea that there is a minimum cost of doing business. One of the biggest problems i’ve observed is that many studios are under enormous pressure to keep budgets tight. With the considerable growth of overseas facilities who can pay artists less than their U.S. counterparts, it becomes even more problematic. This is purely my opinion, but it seems to me that because the film industry is one of the biggest things “manufactured” in the U.S., the studio execs (i.e. clients) should embrace the idea that high quality work comes from highly skilled artists, and the clients should be happy to keep that work in the U.S. rather than sending it overseas. (I drive an American car and never go to Walmart.)

    Anyway, having worked as a producer, i can tell you that the pressure on the studio to keep costs down is brutal and that way of thinking cascades down, affecting nearly every studio and every artist in the business. So, again, in my opinion, fixing the problem begins with those who are responsible for awarding projects to the facilities. It continues with studio managers, who must then have a commitment to treating their artists and support staff fairly, and not treating them as though they are a commodity…”fresh meat for the grinder,” if you will. And then it extends to the artists themselves, some of whom actually don’t like the idea of union membership because they fear that it may limit their potential for salary increases and career growth. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but i have definitely worked with artists who were vehemently against union participation.

    Finally, to Steve Kaplan: if you think i can be of any use in your efforts, i would be more than glad to help in any way that i can. I really believe in fairness across the board, and when i see certain people being overpaid and complaining about the fact that their employers have discontinued supplying free soft drinks and snacks, it upsets me. And it really upsets me when i see artists and, yes, producers, recruiters and other non-technical support staff underpaid, overworked, and denied health insurance and other minimal benefits. But perhaps most of all, i think it is just evil that an employee can be prevented from making their own choices about where they’d like to work because studio managers have agreed among themselves not to pursue one another’s employees. Having an industry-wide union that specifies salary ranges can only help, therefore, by making it difficult for one studio to raid another by throwing money at their employees. In my opinion, if the salaries and benefits were essentially a non-issue, artists would be free to make career decisions based on the best possible “fit,” leading to an overall happier workforce.

    But, as many people have pointed out, getting to that stage will take a lot of time, patience, and cooperation.

    • JTJR says:

      Wow. Are you for real?

      In the same comment you write that you are astonished that some artists are opposed to unions because they fear it “may limit their potential for salary increases and career growth” …

      …and then you go on later to say that having an “industry-wide union that specifies salary ranges” can help by “making it difficult for one studio to raid another by throwing money at their employees”.

      For all the talk on this blog about unions not dictating a maximum salary, you sure seem to be advocating that very thing that as a main feature.

      I suppose eliminating high salary potential would make the recruiters job a lot easier, though huh? Sounds like you are happy to limit the earning potential of others in order to make you own job easier.

      I see your idea of a right “fit” is to place an artist at a studio or on a production. As a recruiter, that makes sense. However, perhaps the idea of a right “fit” for that artist is striving for excellence and maximizing their own earning potential.

      Veteran artists have all worked with others that have equal or even more years experience but are not half as productive. That may be because of a lack of talent, a lack of comprehension, or just plain laziness. I’ve seen all of the above. Don’t tell me that I deserve to be paid the same as this guy and that a studio should not have to fight to keep me.

      If I do the things to make myself valuable to the company, I deserve to have another company throw money at me to try to steal me away.

      As a producer, I’m surprised that you haven’t often recognized great disparity between artists with the same title and years experience. Your ideal of lumping everyone together and homogenizing the workforce is scary and insulting.

      • Lisa McNamara says:

        Wow…yeah, i’m for real. I think you need to read the whole thread…you’re missing a few key points (such as having salary “ranges” that won’t “lump everyone together,” etc.). Trust me, i fully realize the differences among artists and productivity and that’s what such a range would (ideally) be designed to recognize.

        That said, it’s a difficult time for the artists and the industry as a whole, and coming up with some sort of regulations may help keep projects in the U.S., thus employing more people here overall.

        And frankly, i’d rather see more people make slightly lower salaries than a few people make a lot of money. But that’s just me.

        (And i’m not saying that because i earn a whole crapload of money and it’s easy for me to talk, either.)

  6. skaplan839 says:

    Lisa, I most certainly think you can be of help. Knowledge is power and I would never turn away the chance to have a conversation with someone who could offer me more than I currently have.

    Please shoot me an email at your earliest convenience. We’ll try to arrange a time to meet.

    Steve Kaplan
    Labor Organizer
    The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

  7. vfxguy says:

    “high quality work comes from highly skilled artists, and the clients should be happy to keep that work in the U.S. rather than sending it overseas”

    Would you care to clarify this comment? Just that it sounds an awful lot like you’re suggesting that Americans are somehow inherently better at doing this work than someone born in another country.

    • Lisa McNamara says:

      Sorry, no..not what i meant at all. What i meant was that there are a lot of highly skilled artists right here in the U.S. and that it would be nice if American film producers kept the work in America to aid in what is really a terrible economic situation here right now. I’m aware that there are LOTS of highly skilled artists internationally…in fact, i’ve hired many given that sometimes in certain areas there aren’t enough available U.S. artists or that a particular foreign artist is more skilled than the U.S. candidates who have applied. I also know a lot of U.S. artists who travel to foreign studios to work and that the work at some of those places is of the absolute highest quality.

      If you read the context of what i’m saying (especially because i note that i try to “buy American”) my comments have to do with the fact that America seems to export less than it imports and that it would be nice not to have more jobs go overseas. That’s all.

      But really, i think you just like to needle me…you’ve jabbed at me a couple of times now.

      • vfxguy says:

        Not sniping, but I do appreciate that I ignored the broader context a little. I just reacted to what could be construed as a bit of a xenophobic comment – I don’t like protectionist attitudes, but really that’s a bit of a tangent…

        Regarding my first “jab”, I understand that the recruiter will know of the position early, although I still don’t see how that limits anything.

        Whether a person who “thinks they’re happy” until you call them is actually happy or not, and whether that happiness can be measured in purely financial terms is a philosophical argument probably best left for another day 🙂

      • Lisa McNamara says:

        Thanks for replying…i just think that in our current economic climate, it is, um, “desirable” to try to keep as many people employed as possible here in the U.S. Also, the VFX artist skill sets are often arcane enough that it can be a little difficult to apply those talents to other industries when producers choose to send work overseas, thus decreasing the number of positions available in the U.S. So that’s why i have sort of a protectionist attitude.

        I also know that using myself as an example, i would probably not have thought to change jobs in certain instances unless a recruiter had called me to ask me if i’d like to learn about other job possibilities. In several of those instances, i made the move to another company and although the jobs paid a similar salary, they offered me a chance to broaden and/or deepen my skills. Therefore, i personally think the cold call can often be useful. But irrespective of the value of the cold call (or not), it’s still any non-contracted employee’s right to be able to receive it and to make that decision for him/herself! I think we can certainly agree on that, right?


      • vfxguy says:

        Well when you put it like that it sounds so reasonable doesn’t it? I think it all depends on circumstance. I read a comment somewhere else about this where someone said they thought this was more about trying to keep a team together than money, and I tend to agree with that.

        Certainly in my career I’ve experienced working at facilities in close proximity to each other where one shop will hit a sticky patch and will try and wholesale hire a team from the nearby facility, often paying way over the odds for the artists, because losing money is far better than not delivering (surely with your experience you must have seen this too, and the turmoil it can cause). The facilities don’t even have to be that close to each other: surely everyone knows someone who’s taken 6 months off after helping finish a show at a certain shop in the southern hemisphere.

        Great for the artist who gets the call you could say, and that’s hard to deny. But when he starts on his first day at the new place, on a nice pay raise, what about the guy he’s sitting next to, with the same experience and talent, who’s already been there for 2 years and purely through circumstance is making $10k less than the new arrival?

        Or worse still, what about the guy he was sitting next to at the old place, whose name the recruiter didn’t know, and is still there on the same money. Not only is he still getting paid the same, but he’s working late to pick up the shots of the guy who jumped ship early to chase a bit of extra cash.

  8. tim Crean says:

    great post lisa. i think you’ve really nailed a lot of the key issues that contribute to the present state of our industry. Emotions are running pretty high, and for good reason, but i think articles such as yours which shed light on ALL of the forces at work is what will move our industry back in the right direction. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you!

    sincere regards,
    tim crean
    partner / ECD

    • Lisa McNamara says:

      Why, thank you, Tim! I appreciate your kind words and agree that it will take some considerable doing to attempt to put things right in our industry, which is experiencing the kind of growing pains common to relatively new industries.

      Thanks for the support…i hope i can make a small difference as this dialogue continues.

      My best to you along with wishes that your company flourishes in the new year!

      Kind regards,


  9. VFX Soldier says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for all your comments on this issue. Pertaining to your last comment on how hard it is for vfx artists to move to other industries, what industries have you seen vfx artists generally move to?

    I ask this because I know myself and other artists who are getting older, need health insurance, and want to start families don’t see working in the vfx industry as a feasible option.

    • Lisa McNamara says:

      To VFXguy first: i’m in agreement about the disparity in pay. That’s why i do truly advocate an industry-wide “leveling.” For now, though, it’s undeniable that if an employee isn’t being retained by a contract, they should have the right to look around. The industry takes on a mercenary quality…but if both studios AND artists had to adhere to guidelines, the protection of those guidelines would help those who are the unfortunates in the scenario you describe above.

      As for what artists do for their “second acts”…it’s a tough one. Honestly, i don’t know all that many people who have had really good luck moving to other fields. I know that a number of people have gone into games. Some do things in the field of medical imaging. Others leave the business altogether to follow some other calling (opening a restaurant or writing or teaching at one of the many art schools that now teach computer graphics, supplying the industry with fresh, less expensive talent). Those who have programming skills seem to have the easiest time moving to places that do software development or manufacturing. But too many artists i know, especially those of us who’ve been around for a couple of decades or more, find themselves working for smaller shops and earning less money than they did during the heyday of VFX. And worrying a lot.

      Truthfully, i have no great answers. I want to think that if there were to be an industry-wide union, fewer of those who are deeply experienced would find themselves wondering what to do next. But maybe not. Maybe the industry will always seek to find new talent that will cost less. Maybe it’s the way things are moving in most industries. That’s why i think that an overall leveling of the pay for artists would allow more people to work for more evenly-distributed wages for longer. I also like to think that if all of these sorts of issues were resolved through an organized labor entity, keeping teams together would be easier because people would go where they’re happy and stay there. They wouldn’t always be looking to jump by the lure of money. Kinda smacks of socialism, i know, and doesn’t necessarily take into account the project-based nature of the business. But if we really care about making the industry a place where people can work and have families and benefits, it seems worthwhile to see if we can come together to find ways to address some of the problems that are being raised with increasingly louder voices and with increasing frequency.

  10. […] on recruiters, it’s important to know from the very beginning of this scandal there have been very good recruiters who denounced this practice. Furthermore, I know a few Dreamworks recruiters who were an absolute joy to work with (except […]

  11. bob says:

    Can I just note that there is nothing wrong in the least with Americans wanting to retain there jobs. It would be really nice if these countries buying Hollywood jobs were capable of actually creating there own film and vfx jobs. If any of you were in American artists shoes you’d be saying exactly what I just said.
    Not mention you’re undermining yourselves and everyone else by not demanding over time pay(London). You seriously have no right to complain when you can’t even stand up for yourselves and on that note American’s have every right to complain cause they definitely stand up for themselves more then UK artists or Canadian.
    It’s tiresome reading about how offensive it is that American’s have issues with other nations breaking the law to take their jobs. Face the facts, though you may all be amazingly talented artists, your country stole the jobs, they didn’t create them and they certainly were not earned.
    What your country should be focused on is creating it’s own version of Hollywood, not exploiting it and then bitching about American’s frustration with this exploitation and bitterness towards outright illegal behavior.. ,

  12. […] #VFX Recruiter comments on Collusion. […]

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