Getting Organized About Organization

For a better part of a year I’ve been observing the organization efforts in the VFX industry. I’d like for readers to comment on what they would like to see improved. Here are some of my thoughts.

We Need Clarity

Even though there have been informal meetings for artists, the IATSE has been reluctant to publicly announce many of these meetings. I think they are all being a little bit too cautious since they fear the companies will come down on employees and scare them away.

However, in the age of the internet, there should be no excuse to get that information out to the masses. The locals in Los Angeles and Vancouver have actually done a great job at this. The Animation Guild has had a very popular blog, new and informal website, and even hired a former VFX artist, Steve Kaplan, to help the organizational effort through outreach. Vancouver local 891 has done the same and recently held an informal talk with Dave Rand about the issues artists face.

The parent organization, the IATSE which is looking to form this new VFX union, needs to be open about the information on organization. Jeff Heusser of FXGuide has constantly asked representatives from the IA to do a podcast with them. They should openly answer artist questions and concerns with Mr. Heusser. They should start a website which gives concise information and compare their benefits to major VFX facility benefits.

I get the impression that the IATSE is used to studio-side negotiations where deals are made over face-to-face “let’s do lunch” meetings. Having a beer or lunch with IATSE reps is nice but they need to also understand that VFX artists are a digitally connected group. We converse over twitter, facebook, email and need direct access to information.

Artists Need To Get Involved

I’ve talked to quite a few artists that are gung-ho for organization, but when it comes to taking action, they are too busy to take the initiative. It seems to me that organizing is a lot like making bacon: We love the end result but want nothing to do with the process of making it. It takes courage to have your voice heard.

In a recent article I pointed out a scam at a vfx forum run by a shady businessman. The response was tremendous with artists banding together against VFXTalk. What I couldn’t understand was while the outrage over VFXTalk was huge, there was very little outrage by artists over the ILM/Pixar collusion settlement. My guess is that going after a forum or even the union garners very little consequences for the artists, however taking a stand over direct illegal practices involves having some skin in the game. My biggest fear about our industry is that we artists are going to wait until the freight train is directly in front of our faces to react. Prevention goes a long way.

We’ve Come A Long Way But Have A Long Way To Go

I know there are some who are going to use this post to gloat but consider the following. What happened to former ILM and Digital Domain executive Scott Ross’s proposed VFX trade organization? At the time I would have figured this would have taken off, however for the facilities this proposal was dead on arrival. Yet, no less than a year after Stranahan’s letter to James Cameron, there are green shoots of a grassroots efforts in the VFX industry by the artists themselves. I never expected it happen this fast but as far as I’m concerned, I’m still betting on the long game.

Soldier On.


9 Responses to Getting Organized About Organization

  1. Winston Smith says:


    I strongly concur with your comments about IATSE’s organizing efforts. Their overly cautious approach strikes me as timidity at best, suspiciousness at worst. In either case, it does not reflect well on the leadership of IATSE. This and my first hand experience with an IATSE organizing attempt at a facility are large factors in my personal reluctance to be represented by such an organization. It’s not that I don’t trust IATSE per se – I just do not have a lot of confidence in the competence of their leadership.

    On the other hand, I have been impressed by Steve Kaplan’s organizing efforts representing TAG. His meet and greets with groups of artists are an excellent way to reach-out, communicate, and educate. His personal style also work quite well and is far far superior to the arrogant and dismissive tone and attitude that I have personally witnessed from some members of IATSE’s leadership.

    Steve, please consider doing more follow-up meetings. I see that artists tend to need some time to consider what you are proposing and then want to ask a lot more questions. My experience is that most artists no nothing about unions, collective bargaining agreements, labor and wage laws, etc. I am often shocked that even very experienced artists are quite ignorant about most of these issues.

    Much better for you to confront this head on, in person, town hall style with groups of artists. I’ve seen you do it. It works.


    • skaplan839 says:

      Winston –

      That is high praise and I am greatly appreciative of it. I will continue my efforts at reaching and informing artists of their options as long as 839 and the IATSE will have me.

      Steve Kaplan
      Labor Organizer
      The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

  2. vfxgirl says:

    yes i do think this has to be a grassroots effort but even
    for me… as gung ho as i am… i need information to be readily accessible. im in LA but its still requring alot of hunting around for information.

    i wonder if you could create a VFX union hub or something on
    your site here?? maybe a link or just a little space on your blog somewhere? something where you IATSE could post all their
    info and you could pass it along to everyone or we could all know that we come here for the latest information about meetings/decisions/etc?
    thanks for all your hard work!!

  3. VFX Soldier says:

    @Winston I’ve heard other artists randomly give praise for Mr. Kaplan.

    @vfxgirl – I agree 100% with you. I’m urging that the IA setup a website or even a one sheet explaining everything they offer concisely. As Winston mentioned, most people aren’t educated about what they get… even union members!

    The Animation Guild has a FAQ on their site that gives details as to what they offer:

    I also have a page above called MVPs: Most Valuble Posts. You’ll find some information as to the benefits for VFX artists to organize.

  4. union worker says:

    I just have to go off-topic a little. Since you mention the union. Have you seen the website for T.A.G.?

    I personally think its an embarrasment. We have several people in the union who are great artists. Some of the best in the world and the website is a 1994 website that appears to be updated every so often. Even this wordpress website is leaps and bounds better than the website.

    I bring this up because if you expect the union to have a better web pressece. They first need to make a nice clean website, a way to communicate through the site (twitter, facebook, whatever…).

    I also want to point out, I bet only about 10% of VFX artists even know whats going on with this sites efforts and others efforts in regards to giving VFX artists better wages.

    I have been doing my part to at least show people this site. However, I don’t think enough visibility is being made. I suggest pulling out the big guns, say talk to the local news stations… ABC/NBC/WB/CBS/FOX all are within a 25 mile radius. I am sure someone will be willing to bust this wide open 🙂

    • union worker says:

      ok, I stand corrected, they finally updated the website… I had not been to the site since about last august. Looks pretty nice now compared to the 1994 site.

      My point still stands, not enough visibility to the workers outside the union.

      • skaplan839 says:

        Was that your point? You spent three paragraphs insulting the old site and two stating that the message needs to be wider spread. You did that under the assumption that the site hadn’t changed when its been over a month since we’ve launched the new one.

        We’ve communicated through email, twitter, our blog and facebook about our site redesign and launch. I’m sorry you didn’t get the message in these closed and ineffective ways.

        I will agree on the point of spreading the message further. We are working closely with Jim Goodman on plans to hold regular and public meetings for vfx artists. Please send me your email address and we’ll keep you in the loop. Better yet, introduce yourself to me at the membership meeting tomorrow night. I’m always interested in meeting artists who are spreading the word about organizing.

        Steve Kaplan
        Labor Organizer
        The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

  5. […] not at all surprised by this. Months ago I wrote a post about my concerns and that IA leadership meddling would lead to a […]

  6. […] extremely disappointed in the IATSE leadership’s non-involvement. I criticized them months ago about this and warned that if they could not provide clarity in what they offer, misinformation will […]

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