In case you missed it, Variety reporter David S. Cohen had a live chat with Scott Squires, Lee Stranahan, Dave Rand, and Joe Harkins. You can view a log of it here. It also spurred a new open letter from Lee Stranahan. Variety also published another article reporting on Joe Harkins comments about unionization which is echoed in his own open letter to VFX artists. There was also a very good dialogue on my last post which you should read. (Update: Scott Squires posted his reaction.)
IATSE Leadership Is Failing Us
I started this blog hoping for an open dialogue and I’m 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 foment.
For example, in the Variety live chat, the issue of having a “certification process” or “hiring hall” for vfx artists was brought up. Anyone who has a basic knowledge of The Animation Guild and the vfx artists they represent know there is no such thing. This could have easily been shot down if the IATSE leadership allowed organizers to speak. This allows misinformation to grow.
Out Of Touch Artists Are Failing Us
I’m also disappointed in how out of touch some of the comments that came from Joe Harkins. Here is one he repeated in his open letter:
I’d like to say this to all the artists out there working in VFX. If you really feel bad for yourself, on your next walk to get a five dollar latte, or when you go to your companies parking lot full of high end foreign cars, remember that there are people out there who woke up today and didn’t know where their next meal would come from.
Joe’s statements implying that VFX artists are spoiled is a stark contrast to reality pertaining to the gross amount of excess on display by the studios.
Just a couple of weeks ago I posted about Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav and his compensation surging to $42 million dollars. You’ll remember that Discovery owned Meteor Studios which failed to pay VFX artists like Dave Rand $1.3 Million in compensation.
They eventually settled for less money and I guess you could argue that’s fair given that you could still afford $5 lattes on 70% of your salary right? Afterall, according to Harkins, VFX artists should know that kids are starving in Africa. Mr. Zaslav seemed to miss that memo.
More Out Of Touch Comments
Joe further shows just how out of touch he is with a series of tweets on Twitter. Check out this reaction to complaints about working conditions on twitter:
Coincidentally, a day before he tweeted that a very long thread was started on CGTalk by many young artists going through injuries exacerbated by conditions at work. A month ago I even admitted that I was developing a heart condition at a premature age.
What’s in store for artists when they reach their 50’s and their health deteriorates further? It’s not pretty and it’s compounded by the fact that artists in the US lose their health insurance when they are laid off after working on a project. It’s unsustainable and we have an obligation to fix this.
In reaction to the violation of labor laws by some facilities Joe said this:
and on how to prevent collusion such as the incident between ILM & Pixar:
Again, totally out of touch. Yes ILM and Pixar got caught and they didn’t even get punished. Joe used to work at Hydraulx and it’s known they don’t appropriately pay OT and misclassify workers as independent contractors. Did you call the CA DOL about that Joe? Why not?
Just this week I got an email from an artist alleging that the yU+co, a vfx company in Hollywood, work their artists 16 hours a day including weekends: No OT.
then there is this:
@tk1099 are you not sitting in front of a computer in an air conditioned office, and fridge/coffee maker nearby? What “working conditions”?
Funny Joe mentions that because at Digital Domain Vancouver an artist contacted me about how it’s common for the temperatures to rise around 90 degrees due to cramped conditions and a constantly broken air conditioning system.
A Legitimate Grievance
Look my point in all this isn’t to whine, but to express disappointment with our industry. It’s going through a huge boom and we are left asking for essentials like enforcement of labor law to stop unpaid OT, portable benefits so we can provide health insurance for our families and not have to go through vesting periods for retirement benefits every time we start at a new facility. That’s a legitimate grievance. This is why the film industry is so heavily unionized: The physical production model needs unions to provide coverage in between projects.
Now look, Joe’s a successful guy. Hell I guess he even wrote the book on it. I think the mistake being made is thinking that unions are for unsuccessful people. You’d be interested to know that some of these union meetings have been attended by former Oscar winners and nominees.
I’m not saying Joe is doing this but some of us are confronted with the reality of this industry and we respond with pride and condescending remarks. We sometimes use the dialogue as a platform to show others that we are better than them. I guess it stems from the work we do since we spend all day trying to prove we are better.
I’m all for proving how good we are on the silver screen. But for now if we are going to continue this dialogue, we are going to have to keep the egos at bay. That goes for artists and the IATSE leadership.