Oscar Reax

Well the Oscars were on last night and here are some points of interest.

VFX Artists Win In Non-VFX Categories

Master makeup artist Rick Baker won Best Makeup for The Wolfman. Matte painter and VFX Supervisor Robert Stromberg won for Art Direction in Alice In Wonderland. It’s also worth mentioning the number of nominations and wins for The Social Network which was directed by former VFX artist David Fincher.

Pixar Wins Despite Collusion

Pixar won best animated feature despite the ILM Pixar collusion scandal. I thought it would had more play this year but when most major media outlets are owned by the studio conglomerates it’s a bit hard to get the word out. Besides, the director proudly proclaims:

Pixar is the most awesome place on the earth to make movies

Got it? So shut up about the collusion crap because that’s what awesome companies do.

Unions Get Respect

Inception dominated with Oscar wins in technical crafts such as Visual Effects, Cinematography, and Sound. It’s worth noting that Wally Pfister and Gary Rizzo who won for cinematography and sound for Inception both took time in their speech to thank their union crews. They are both IATSE members.

Wally Pfister elaborates on his support for unions here.

I’m compelled to speak about this because as talented as Oscar winning VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin is, he is severly misinformed about unionization:

The only argument that a VFX artist could present to a studio to demand residuals would be to threaten to withdraw their labour (which won’t get you very far). The implied automatic connection between creative contribution and residuals is false – the director of photography on a movie doesn’t get residuals.

Mr Franklin could have easily been informed by his colleague Wally Pfister who was Director of Photography on all of Chris Nolans films that he and other IATSE members receive residuals from the studios in the form of health and pension benefits. This has been the norm since the 60’s.

Furthermore, Mr Franklin and others in the UK VFX industry have boasted that they no longer need film subsidies to bolster the VFX work bids for US studio VFX work. Just recently Variety reported on the strength of the UK film industry despite the coming end of the Potter franchises.

Perhaps it’s time to take the training wheels off?

VFX Gets Disrespect?

Of course no Oscar viewing is complete without snarking about the respect VFX artists get in the industry. Quite a few artists and producers on twitter were a bit tee’ed off at host James Franco when he referred to the winners of the technical Oscars as nerds. I actually thought it was funny but I think this year the Oscars gave quite a bit more respect than usual to the VFX industry.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law came out to introduce the nominees for VFX much later in the show than previous years. Their sketch alluded to how if it wasn’t for the incredible hard work and attention to detail of the hundreds of vfx artists, actors like Mr. Downey wouldn’t be able to become Iron Man.

If VFX Artists Want Respect, Then Demand It

You don’t get respect in Hollywood by earning it. You get respect by demanding it. Former VFX blogger VFX Law once had a great post how we in the VFX industry are like unwanted step children to the studios. They don’t want to deal with us but they need us. Todd Vaziri on Twitter pointed out that the VFX nominees generated a combined amount of $3.5 Billion.

However, we will continue to be referred to as nerds if we keep accepting our status as second class citizens because of the shitty business model adopted by the facilities. Perhaps the nerds need a George McFly moment and soldier up.

Soldier On.

6 Responses to Oscar Reax

  1. Soldier, I agree with most of your take on the awards show last night but you left out an important win. Inside Job. If anyone reading this blog hasn’t seen Inside Job, I encourage them to see it. The film is one of the most significant feature length documentaries produced last year. It is popularly presented and one of the clearest explanations of the financial crash and Great Recession we are all suffering through. Understanding the big picture will help us fight those at the top who outsource jobs, lower working conditions and our standard of living. And make no mistake, the MPAA is joined at the hip with Wall Street and the banksters and they are the ones we are up against. A collective organized fight back is the only chance we have of reversing the downward slide.

    The struggle to organize the twenty first century visual effects workers is crucial to help slow down the race to the bottom. Prior to the computer revolution in film effects (early nineties) most folks creating visual effects were already members of unions. Optical people and photographers were in the camera local 695, model makers were in local 44, both unions were IATSE locals. Sculptors were in a basic craft local. Animators, both flat and stop-motion, matte painters, art directors, almost everyone contributing to visual effects were organized. Unfortunately organized labor missed the boat and should have been organizing computer workers back then, they didn’t so now we have to play catch up.

    A little history of my background. I began in the film industry in 1961 when the studio system was still firmly in place. I started in the grip department (local 80). I became a number one (seniority rating) in 1964 while working at Columbia Pictures and it led to a steady job for over four years. (crab dolly operator on the Monkee’s). In those days the studios were like factories with in house departments and people had steady work. Some of the grips I knew at Columbia had been there steady since the 1930’s. I left in 1968 because the job was too steady. The anti Vietnam War movement, black liberation and other risings around the world (very much like today) called to me and I wanted more time off. I quit and started working off and on at my father’s small visual effects studio in Hollywood until he closed it in 1979. It was the decade the system began to falter. In a little more than ten years the entire studio system turned upside down. The old movie moguls were dying off and the new crop of top brass tended to be accountants and lawyers. The moguls were business men to be sure and they ran their studios (factories) with an iron fist, they were in business to make money, but they wanted to make money making movies. They were film makers.

    By the 1980’s the world dominance of United States industry was challenged from abroad and the bosses launched a frontal attack against the labor movement to maintain competitiveness. I’ll post more about the last thirty years of decline and how it impacted the film industry at another time.

    At the rally on Saturday at LA city hall in solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin I was heartened to see more film workers at a non movie industry event than I have ever seen in my life. Maybe something is beginning to change.

    One last comment. Revolutions are rarely made (big ones or little ones), over the latest cut in pay or layoff. They happen when people won’t take it anymore.
    They happen when people demand respect, when they lose their fear, get off their knees and regain their dignity. When they develop solidarity and begin struggling for others, not just themselves. When an injury to one is an injury to all has real substance.

  2. Paul Franklin says:

    Wow – way to take my posting out of context. The conversation on CGTalk was about direct residual payments as a recognition of creative contribution to the filmmaking process and the way that the studios view this. The argument presented by some posters in the thread was that because VFX makes a creative contribution to the movie then it follows that VFX artists should get recognition from the studios (ie the movie producers) in the form of residual payments. Healthcare isn’t the issue I was discussing. If you feel that healthcare should be granted in recognition of your artistic prowess then great. Personally I think it’s a basic human right, but perhaps I’m just old fashioned that way.

    Cinematographers don’t get direct residual payments. Directors do. Production designers don’t but the 1st AD does. My point was that in the eyes of the studios (the movie producers as opposed to the VFX vendors) there is no direct link between creative contribution and remuneration through residual payments. For every example of an artist being rewarded with residual payments – through a deal that either they or their union has negotiated – there are examples of artists that don’t.

    As for subsidies – I don’t think I’ve ever “boasted” of anything, but I’ll happily point out that Double Negative’s Oscar-nominated contribution to Iron Man 2 received no UK tax incentive. The same goes for any show that doesn’t actually physically shoot in the UK.

    But why I am bothering with this? I’m sure you’ll find a way to make two and two add up to five again.

  3. Paul Franklin says:

    Wow – way to take my posting out of context.

    The conversation on CGTalk was about direct residual payments as a recognition of creative contribution to the filmmaking process and the way that the studios view this. The argument presented by some posters in the thread was that because VFX makes a creative contribution to the movie then it follows that VFX artists should get recognition from the studios (ie the movie producers) in the form of residual payments. Healthcare isn’t the issue I was discussing. If you feel that healthcare should be granted in recognition of your artistic prowess then that’s great. Personally I think it’s a basic human right, but perhaps I’m just old fashioned that way.

    Cinematographers don’t get direct residual payments. Directors do. Production designers don’t but the 1st AD does. My point was that in the eyes of the studios (the movie producers as opposed to the VFX vendors) there is no direct link between creative contribution and remuneration through residual payments. For every example of an artist being rewarded with residual payments – through a deal that either they or their union has negotiated – there are examples of artists that don’t.

    As for subsidies – I don’t think I’ve ever “boasted” of anything, but I’ll happily point out that Double Negative’s Oscar-nominated contribution to Iron Man 2 received no UK tax incentive. The same goes for any show that doesn’t actually physically shoot in the UK. You might counter that the incentives taken as a whole subsidise shows like IM2, I would counter that California’s derisory rate of corporation tax levels things out (around 1/10th of the UK’s rate).

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Hi Mr. Franklin,

      Congrats on the Oscar win and thanks for reading my post.

      You are correct that cinematographers do not receive direct residuals but my post was in reaction to the CGtalk thread where most posters didn’t know that they do indeed receive health and retirement benefits funded by residuals.

      The cgtalk thread was in reaction to Lee Stranahan advocating that VFX artists get the same health and retirement benefits funded through residuals that cinematographers and art directors. So your comment in reaction to comments by people who unknowingly too Stranahan out of context.

      Regardless, I was dissapointed in that thread and that many of us who know the facts aren’t allowed to post it. Hence the reason for this blog. For more information on the facts about vfx unions read my MVPs section.

      Regarding the subsidies, California’s corporate tax levels are low, the UK’s is high. No disagreement there but they aren’t illegal either. The subsidies on the other hand are a violation of international trade law according to some trade lawyers.

      • Paul Franklin says:

        To an outside observer it appears that everything always comes down to healthcare (and retirement benefits to a lesser extent). What surprises me is that the debate is framed in terms of the union/employer relationship when perhaps it should really be citizen/state. After all, a healthcare agreement with the purchaser of VFX services is only worthwhile as long as that purchaser remains financially viable. If your contract is with government then perhaps it has a bit more permanence?

        Setting aside the legality of tax incentives for the moment, my point is that whilst they have had a major impact in attracting large scale productions to the UK incentives are by no means a guarantee of success for UK-based VFX vendors who still have to compete dollar for dollar with all comers. My own take is that the current competitive pricing of UK VFX is more a result of the harsh efficiencies imposed by years of working with the pound at two dollars than it is of direct incentivisation of the VFX purchasers. When the pound devalued to $1.40-something London suddenly found itself able to take full advantage of a killer position which extended to shows that didn’t get the tax break.

  4. […] that James Franco doesn’t even get mentioned. There was a little mini controversy when he disrespected the vfx community as co-host of this years Oscars […]

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