Intimidation Or Motivation?

The TAG blog has a post on a letter a company left for some artists that they were trying to organize. A part of me feels like it’s intimidation, but another part of me feels like it’s motivation.

The general tone I get from the letter is one of that projects “the cautious friend.” I’m not comparing the company to the mob but it kind of reminds me of a scene in some mob movie where the boss comes into the store and says:

Hey we don’t want to see nuthin bad happen to ya. We’re your friend. Capisci?

and you see lines like:

Also, at [the company], employees do not need a union to speak for them. We have an open door policy that gives you the ability to address your concerns one-on-one with management.

Yes they have an open door at the front with an exit sign on top of it. Go there if you have a problem.

The decision you make may be the single most important decision you are asked to make concerning your employment with [the company]

Well I wonder what that means? I hope they aren’t saying they’ll fire people for voting to go union. That’s illegal but what else is new? How is the company supposed to know when all this info is private anyway?

Look, I know this is a form of intimidation but to me I look at this like it’s motivation. Personally, the way this company casually intimidates it’s workers only motivates me to try harder.

I think the letter is funny but a part of me wants to cry because in the end what’s this all about?

Just a group of artists looking to get health and retirement benefits that probably the person who wrote the letter enjoys.

What do you think about the letter?

Soldier On.


26 Responses to Intimidation Or Motivation?

  1. jay says:

    Is this company in the U.S. at all?

  2. gilddust says:

    “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

  3. anon says:

    That really sounds like a veiled threat.

    Like duc taping a velvet cushion to a baseball bat and beaning someone over the brain with it.

    I say we write one back to the industry with similar velvety gusto

    “Dear VFX industry

    Get ready to start paying fair wages.”


  4. beenthere says:

    I know which company you are talking about soldier…..I recently left because I had had enough. Not surprised this happened though. God the stories I could tell about working there. *sigh

    • c'mon! says:

      i really do support the efforts of these blogs and i think its fantastic that people are sharing their experiences, but it would be nice to know what studios are doing this exactly so that i can stop myself from moving across the country to sit at their desk and say to myself ‘ah this is the place’.

      Seriously people – if you want to help – expose the whole truth about these studios. Give us the god damn studio names – do it anonymously if you have to. Once people stop applying to ‘studio X’ then they will have no choice but to change their ways. Lets stop prancing around for gods sake and get all the details out into the open! The work force is the real power of the industry – without us they dont have a movie, game, tv show.

      So i ask you ‘beenthere’ – or members of the union, or anyone else who has important information, if you truly want to change things then tell us which studios are screwing us over otherwise you keep perpetuating the problem.

      • citizen says:

        While I agree that studios should be explicitly identified, I don’t think there’s much that can actually be done with anonymous whistle blowing. You can’t hold a company accountable because ‘some random guy on the internet said so’? Claims of illegal or immoral conduct require substantive credit, otherwise it’s hearsay and gossip. But using one’s name can bring on all sorts of problems, and this fear is understandable. This is why a union is so appealing to many. “Strength of the collective voice.”

      • jay says:

        I agree with “c’mon!” The power of the internet is the easy passing of information. We can’t just say “studio X” forever; otherwise, all of us just becomes conspiracy theorists without any solid/real subject to name.

        Just like when good companies need to be praised, bad companies has to named. After all, not all companies are evil and there are some that are a pleasure to work with… similar to the fact that not all VFX artists are competent and some are even really difficult to work with.

      • c'mon! says:

        Yup its true – anonymity can allow people to be reckless (especially online). But equally studios themselves have been reckless for too long, and im just not sure our silence is helping the matter. I think its time we regain the power by communicating as we are plus revealing their names. As VFX soldier once said – its all about leverage. Individually its hard to muster much leverage especially for the inexperienced, but by sharing information amongst our community gives us so much more.

  5. Winston Smith says:

    Prime Focus

    • Shootsy says:

      Ok if PrimeFocus is the company you’re all talking about then I’ve worked there in 2010 and I believe they were following CA wages laws and I got, as hundreds of people did, OT and DT and made thousands of dollars per week. So I’m not sure you’re talking about the right company here.

      After that assholes will be found anywhere you work, PrimeFocus had a bunch of them but they were definitely the minority.

      One guy told me Zoic Studio offered him $16/hour for compositing mid-level, dramatic or funny?! He told that to many people so that’s good, I’ve never and won’t even tried to apply there. Same thing for StargateDigital.

      The problem with that union/collective thing is that you would need the whole range of people/salary to voice their opinions, I doubt that the top end making +$10k/month have anything to complaint about. If you think you deserve $100/k for your beautiful matte paintings then start your own company, that’s what I would do if I were super talented.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Other disciplines in the industry are paid well also. What makes the hollywood industry different is that workers work project to project. Facilities are unable to adminster health and retirement across the industry. This is why so much of the industry is unionized. They can bring portability of benefits while enforcing labor laws.

      • union worker says:

        The union already has a “whole” range of job descriptions and rates for TAG. I don’t see how this is a problem. They have Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks, all with separate rates for different titles.

        On top of that, there is nothing wrong with having benefits when you bounce from company to company. If you have not worked at 2 or more effects houses then your opinions don’t matter. When you move every 6-18 months this becomes a problem for many reasons. Retirement and Health insurance to name a few.

        Additionally, the 5 year vested is well worth it. This is for your pension when you retire. And another exists at 15 or 20 years in the union (can’t remember).

        All of these combined help make it easier for employees to leave and come back to a company.

        I still don’t see why companies are fighting so hard when having a union is “cheaper” in the end (the company pays less for health care).

        The problem is a lot of companies want to still pay less than 30/hour. Even still if they provide benefits at 25/hour its costing them at least 50/hour to keep that employee. In the union it would be a minimum rate +plus about 40% in some cases less than 30% depending on the health insurance plans.

        The union health benefits are amazing. I left my last company in Sept 2010 and have union health benefits till Jan 2012… You cant say your employer can provide this in any capacity.

        Bottom line is, a union will help both the VFX industry and the companies, and the employees. When switching from company to company it is less of a hassle since all the benefits move from one company to another. Making this a priority is a no-brainer.

        Here are some numbers to think about:
        (my numbers are a little old, but they can’t be far off)
        Effects heavy films companies charge $500+ per hour when bidding on a job. In the end, the artist that work on the film get paid much less.

        40 hours per week * 4 weeks * 6 months = 480K
        Whats a film budget? 200 million or so for a big film, lets say 150mill,

        Hypothetical Film
        Director: 10 million
        Producer: 2 million
        Actor 1 : 25 million
        Actor 2 : 10 million
        Supporting Actors : 10 million
        Cast and Crew on set: 50 million

        107 Million for the above.

        Thats a 43 million budget for effects (6months)…
        Studio 1: 30.1 million for 70% of the shots
        Studio 2: 6.45 million for 15% of the shots
        Studio 3: 4.3 million for 10% of the shots
        Studio 4: 2.15 million for 5% of the shots

        Lets take studio 4 since its the lowest paid studio and only gets 5% of 1500 shots…

        75 shots for 2.15 million, lest say they are all the same type and about the same length of shot.

        Lets say we have:
        Rigger: 50/hour
        Animator: 60/hour
        Pipeline TD 1: 45/hour
        Pipeline TD 2: 40/hour
        Lighter: 55/hour

        Combined they take one week to complete a shot and we have 24 weeks.

        Thats 3-4 shots a week for 24 weeks. 3.125 shots per week.

        5 artists per shot for 7 days

        We need about 16 artists for 40 hours per week for 6 months

        250/hour * 40 hours per week * 24 weeks = 240K for 5 artists

        48K for 1 artist on average
        48K * 16 artists = 768 K to pay the artists

        Lets say 20 artists and managers all-together.
        48K * 20 = 960K for the production of 75 shots.

        Studio makes 1.19 million… (2.15mil – 0.96 mil)

        Ok, my point is. You really think the studios are getting what I am showing you? I would think the studios are bidding much higher… actually I know they are.

        So why shouldn’t artists get paid what we deserve. This is what the union is all about. Giving everyone an equal chance to start at a minimum rate. Where you go from that point is up to you and your negotiation powers.

        Plus, some of the big studios, e.g. the 80% example make much more since they negotiate for royalties. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they don’t. They would be stupid not too. The bigger studios also have a machine the pumps out shots. So the 3.1 shots per week now turns to 20+ shots per week.

        I made some of the numbers up … Ponder that for a bit. Do the numbers yourself. Even get sneaky and ask around to your friends at other companies to see what they are getting paid. I am not that far off. If anything, the number I am probably off on is the amount the studio bids.

        Of course I am leaving out overhead costs. But that is always ignored when bidding for shots. The film companies requesting the effects go by how many “man” weeks (and women) per shot.

        Oh, and “911” jobs are nearly double or triple the costs I have given. Especially for well known effects houses that are known to deliver on time.

      • vfxguy says:

        union worker your numbers are interesting. Since it’s clearly so profitable doing vfx, why don’t you just set up your own studio and get yourself a Ferrari or two?

        Also makes you wonder how places like Asylum and CafeFX managed to get it so wrong with all that money floating around. I guess management must have been using $100 bills for toilet paper?

  6. skaplan839 says:

    Honestly people ..

    Here’s how I answered the question on the TAG Blog:

    No [I will not say which company it is]. Bringing the example of what artists face into a public forum is important so that everyone can see what kind of fight management will put up.

    Naming the offending company only serves to strengthen their resolve and puts our campaign at risk.

    Is it that difficult to understand? If it is actually Prime Focus, how do you think they will respond once their name is made public?

    If you’re in a class of 20 people and I asked who stole my glasses, you at least have the anonymity of silence to hide behind. If I say “YOU .. Why did you steal my glasses” now you’re forced to react.

    I’d love to point out the shortcomings of each and every studio. We do as much as we are able. But please, respect our attempts to organize. All will be revealed .. in due course.

    Steve Kaplan
    Labor Organizer
    The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

    • Winston Smith says:

      Dear Steve

      “Naming the offending company only serves to strengthen their resolve and puts our campaign at risk.”

      Oh really? Please elaborate.

      From what I have heard and seen and experienced, people who try to control the narrative are generally looked upon with suspicion, as if they have something to hide. Not a good practice no matter who you are – governments, corporations, military, police, and unions.

      Neither TAG nor Prime Focus will control the dissemination of facts in regards to labor conditions at that facility – the ARTISTS will.

      I would strongly encourage artists at Prime Focus and other facilities to communicate their labor experiences on this and other blogs and to absolutely not hesitate to name names. Ask questions. Discuss with friends and co-workers. Act.

      “If it is actually Prime Focus, how do you think they will respond once their name is made public?”

      They might try something like sending memos to all employees about how it would be bad for the workers and the company if Prime Focus became unionized. Oh wait. They already did that.

      Respectfully yours,


      • VFX Soldier says:

        I have to say I’d prefer tag and the ia be more open about their organization campaign. It only helps the facilities when information isn’t out there for the artists.

        At the same time, artists are scared. Some troll at cgtalk loves to accuse me of hiding something suspiciously because of my anonymity.

        Winston, do you think artists would support the efforts of the workers at a facility if they tried to organize? The trend I’ve been seeing is artists attacking artists.

      • skaplan839 says:

        Winston –

        “They might try something like sending memos to all employees about how it would be bad for the workers and the company if Prime Focus became unionized. Oh wait. They already did that.”

        Cute sarcasm and it makes my point. Yes, the company would have sent that letter. Except, they would have sent it earlier. That would result in getting a fear mongering message to artists who would then back off and not consider their options. What kind of repercussion has that message had? How many artists now won’t sign a card or reach out to us because they feel that the company is looking over their shoulder?

        While I agree whole heartedly with your plea for artists to communicate openly and act swiftly, your experienced comment does not take into consideration the simple truth that artists are hesitant and frightened. Speaking to artists and laying out their options honestly and openly before being intimidated is key to our organization effort.

        While I applaud both you and Soldier for being outspoken artists and pro-organization voices, the fact you do so under anonymity punctuates my point. Announcing publicly the existence and progression of our organizing efforts would do nothing more than arm the companies with the information needed to squash the efforts before they have a chance to start.

      • Winston Smith says:

        Soldier & Steve

        I agree with Soldier that TAG and IA are better served by being open about their organizing efforts. I certainly understand where Steve is coming from in regards to his preference for keeping things on the down low. I “get it” as a tactic. I just disagree with it. My personal experience is that it is looked upon negatively by most vfx artists I have interacted with.

        My conclusion based upon my interactions with many other artists is that most prefer an open, candid, apples to apples comparison between the OBJECTIVE and QUANTITATIVE positives and negatives of unionizing or not. Do some/many have subjective philosophical/political/personal reasons for not wanting to join a union? Sure. But at the end of the day, the question that everyone wants answered is this:

        Is it better for ME, Joe or Jane vfx artist, to be in TAG/IA or not?

        In regards to Steve’s legitimate and well-founded concerns about management intimidation – I completely understand and “get” that too. But the best way to address those tactics is to expose them to the world, to shine a light on them and hold them up for scorn and ridicule. And name names. If a company like Prime Focus is going to issue a memo with their company letterhead, then they damn well better not be surprised that they will be held publicly accountable for what they say in that memo.

        I too have seen the “artists attacking artists” phenomenon. My experience is that the artists on both sides who engage in this behavior are often the most misinformed. They let emotion over take their good sense. This is not a PERSONAL decision. It is a BUSINESS decision. As such, emotions and feelings have no bearing on the answer in my opinion.

        From what I can tell, I do think that artists at Prime Focus would support unionizing. But TAG/IA needs to keep up their efforts to educate and inform. I suggest to Steve that he arrange another meeting where he can address workers concerns and questions, and follow-up on that company issued memo.

        “What kind of repercussion has that message had? How many artists now won’t sign a card or reach out to us because they feel that the company is looking over their shoulder?”

        Again, Steve, I suggest that you arrange another meeting where you can ask these questions yourself directly with Prime Focus workers.

        “While I applaud both you and Soldier for being outspoken artists and pro-organization voices, the fact you do so under anonymity punctuates my point. ”

        Well, Steve, I’m not exactly “pro-organization”. I’m “pro-what-is-best-for-Winston”. If I can negotiate a better deal with the company, I’ll do that. If the company offers me a better deal, I’ll take it. If I can get a better deal through TAG/IA, I’ll take that. Pretty simple really.

        Choosing to be anonymous is really a no-brainer. It’s not so much out of fear as it is effectiveness. I could be anyone, anywhere. There is probably at least one of me in every vfx facility in the world. After all, how did you end up with a copy of that Prime Focus memo?


  7. vfxguy says:

    Regarding the whole naming companies thing, if you don’t have hard evidence to back up your claims isn’t it libellous to do so?

    • sta says:

      quite possible, but if you have a genuine reason – get the truth out there! Don’t let their fear tactics prevent you revealing the truth.

    • sta says:

      Its also criminal to repress the genuine truth!!

    • Winston Smith says:

      Dear vfxguy

      I can’t say that I know much about libel and slander laws.

      What I do know for certain is that I would not publicly name a company or individual unless I was absolutely 100% certain that I was correct. In the case of Prime Focus, I have personally held and read the memo issued from the management of the company to the employees. My information is first hand and is supported by indisputable physical evidence.

      But please don’t take my word for it. Prime Focus employs hundreds of artists – odds are good that any experienced artist in the biz either knows someone there or knows someone who knows someone. Ping your network. Ask around. Please post any stories, info, rumours, etc. that you hear.


  8. vfxlabor says:

    This is a great podcast’s Jeff Heusser interviewing Steven Poster, National President of the International Cinematographers Guild, discussing vfx and cinematography and workflows. However the real gem is at then end. Hear it from a guy who has had 40 years with IATSE. It starts in the last ten minutes of the podcast. Required listening for all vfx artist.

    [audio src="" /]

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