VES Ups It’s Game

Well surprise surprise, on the exact day of my one year anniversary post, the Visual Effects Society has announced it’s intention to take a stand on the adverse issues affecting VFX artists.

For those who have long denied there were any problems at all, this announcement puts the naysayers to rest. There are legitimate problems in our industry and they need to be solved.

Now I’ve been pretty critical of the VES and so have members such as Joe Harkins and former blogger VFX Law. I’ve mocked them for being “Visual Effects Switzerland” due to their reluctance to take a stand for the welfare of vfx artists.

So many artists question the very idea of joining a union yet never bother to do the same when joining the VES. They charge you a couple hundred bucks and have an honorary awards ceremony each year. I’ve said if I wanted to give someone 200 bucks for a pat on the back I’d go see a masseuse.

However with all joking aside a huge debt of gratitude has to be given to Jeff Okun, Eric Roth, and the VES members. They could have easily continued supporting the status quo but chose to finally do something about it.

The VES listened to vocal members and extended a hand, the last thing I want to do is give them the back hand. In fact, the open letter they presented yesterday is eerily similar to my initial post one year ago. So I’m on board and look forward to doing my part.

For the IATSE leadership, this latest event is another example of how badly they missed the opportunity. They didn’t fail in the substance of what they offered, they failed in the delivery of the information by avoiding the media or creating any official website to get that information out. That turned off their most passionate advocates like former members such as myself and garnered the suspicions of those on the fence.

In one day the VES was able to make an announcement through twitter and their website, have a townhall chat with Variety’s David S. Cohen, an interview with Jeff Heusser, and also garner media coverage in Variety, Deadline, and the LA Times. They basically accomplished more in one day than the IATSE in one year! Boy, I hope IA members have a short term memory or else it won’t be pretty for their leadership come election time.

However, there are some HUGE bumps in the road for the VES. The VES has re-iterated that it is not a union or a trade organization and will not create a collective bargaining agreement.

Given those circumstances, how will they garner any leverage for change? This issue is further compounded by the fact that the vast majority of their board members are executives, producers, managers, and facility owners.

How will the VES convince certain facilities to pay for overtime and avoid illegally misclassifying artists as independent contractors? How will they stop collusion?

How will they leverage of the economics of scale to garner affordable and portable health insurance with relatively small membership compared to the IATSE’s 100,000 plus membership? How will they negotiate for residuals? Much of this has already been settled with existing entertainment unions.

These issues aren’t just limited to artists. I passionately argue that VFX facilities in California are being injured by international tax subsidies for US studio producers. Many trade law experts argue that those subsidies are a clear violation of WTO international trade law. How would the VES rectify the issue when many of their members are facilities that depend on these subsidies?

I look forward to seeing what they propose. For VFX artists who question the very idea of collective bargaining, I suspect you’ll understand it’s importance if and when these proposals are ignored by the facilities and studios.

Soldier On.

UPDATE: Joe Harkins posted his reaction which I agree with. See it here.

26 Responses to VES Ups It’s Game

  1. Jeff Heusser says:

    You make an excellent point about VES using every tool available to them yesterday to get the word out.

    Compare that to IATSE who released the press release to VES and then refused interview requests and did nothing online at all. They have continued to refuse interview requests to the point where I have stopped asking.

  2. Aruna says:

    I really hope that this doesn’t go the way of Lee Stranahan’s message of last year about wages from Avatar. This was all over Facebook yesterday, and I just couldn’t handle it. There’s a ton of talk and talk. I hope they can just start doing. I have been in talks with some committee members of the Business Labor & Law section of the VES, and we had a good discussion about some of the items they want to see come to fruition.

  3. […] VFXSoldier: VES Ups It’s Game […]

  4. parsh says:

    This is random and off topic, but I’d like to see more ARTISTS (not producers, execs, owners of studios, or any kind of note giver who doesn’t touch the plate) accepting visual effects awards, especially at the VES Awards. If a vfx producer wants to accept an award, they should have a “who built the best budget spread sheet” category.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I agree but to be truthful, the VES was created by VFX producers to market vfx done at various facilities. Regardless, there are artists that win awards.

    • Dave Rand says:

      I certainly should have gotten “Best drool from a T-Rex”
      –sorry I’m delirious from this last crunch…seriously, yes I do agree with you.

  5. Vince Faro says:

    + 1

    This is random and off topic, but I’d like to see more ARTISTS (not producers, execs, owners of studios, or any kind of note giver who doesn’t touch the plate) accepting visual effects awards, especially at the VES Awards. If a vfx producer wants to accept an award, they should have a “who built the best budget spread sheet” category.

  6. Winston Smith says:

    It is commendable that VES has finally found the courage to take a stand on some of the adverse labor and economic issues facing the visual effects industry.

    However, it is difficult not to gag a little on the hypocrisy when viewing the membership rolls of the VES (cough cough Strause brothers cough cough). VES is comprised of many if not most of the top VFX Supes and Producers who routinely work with or for the VFX facilities that are known to violate labor laws and collude against the interests of vfx artists (cough cough Pixar cough cough ILM cough cough).

    For VES to be a credible voice for reform, they should at least have a Code of Conduct/Ethics for it’s own membership.

    For example:

    – No member of VES shall knowingly violate labor and wage laws of the jurisdiction(s) in which the work is executed.

    – VES members are obligated to report any knowledge of labor and/or wage law violations to the relevant government enforcement body of the jurisdiction(s) in which the work is executed.

    – The VES will rescind recognition awarded to individuals and facilities who have been found to violate labor and/or wage laws of the jurisdiction(s) in which the work is executed during the production for which they were awarded.

    How many VES members would not be able to meet these three simple standards of conduct?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I completely agree. I can name quite a few members who have been admonished for even supporting the unionization movement.

      Why should the Strause Bros be a part of an organization that advocates companies follow labor laws?

      Why Should a regular vfx artist join an organization that won’t look out for their own welfare?

      The VES has an identity crisis. It wants to advocate for better conditions, but it doesn’t want to twist arms. It doesn’t want to mandate a standard.

      This is why I believe that there has to be a collective bargaining agreement that separate for just workers at particular facilities.

      There needs to be a separate trade organization for the facilities. We can’t comingle.

      • occlude says:

        Soldier, it’s this idea that has led me to believe that unionization is actually a good idea for us, as long as we don’t target the facilities. I look at my own statement from a few weeks ago saying “to come together as one, would be near impossible”, and I think to myself…why is it impossible? Because no-one is willing to reach out and make it happen? Why can’t I be the one to kick start this if that’s the case?

        And that’s why I think now is the time to strike, and why I am starting a movement for us, by us, and only with us in power.

        http://www.vfxfoundation.com/

        I’m hoping others will see that this is a good opportunity to organize, in a different way, and one that might actually work…

        If not, I start the foundation anyways, and the other missions will be carried out. If nothing else, I hope the foundation becomes something that helps artists, not hurt them, and that makes it worth doing.

      • VFXPeon says:

        but how does the union succeed if there are no dues and people are free to not join? i feel like a hiring manager will probably always go for the non-union guy if they can because they will be less of a headache. i think it is awesome that you have come around on unionization, but i don’t think you fund this thing out of your own pocket, or out of the pockets of a few other guys. i think for it to succeed everyone really needs to pitch in somehow.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        I am totally with you on the idea but there are a lot of logistical issues. Non-profits need lots of money to be run. We need lawyers, reps, etc. This costs money.

        fxdag.org tried this last year. I believe Scott Stokdyk was involved but there were alot of legal issues involved.

        I understand the sentiment and I wish we could just group together and go over the facilities directly to the studios.

        Let me know what the next steps are and I’ll be more than happy to post about it on my blog.

  7. KGB says:

    fyi my reply to occlude
    http://occlude.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/ves-2-0/#comment-114

    ——————————-
    Awesome idea! Amazing! This is like a dream come true! I’m in! I always wanted to be a pro film crew member! Yes!

    BUT there is one big fault in your idea – it is utopia!

    Lets see… You agree, ultimately studios executive will make a final decision who to hire:

    On ONE hand vfx facility that underbid everyone else by a lot!!! and has an up and running working “sweat-shop”. Nice!

    On ANOTHER hand we have a VFX Sup+ VFX Producer that want to get paid like film’s pro, we have IT dudes that want to get paid like film’s pro, you dear artists that want to get paid more than in “sweat-shop”, who else we need? hardware, building, ah… software rent!!! I know no overhead of vfx facility, but we do want to get paid more, all of us!!!

    Hmm… what should I choose as a studio’s producer… Hard choice… Surprise! I choose option ONE. Even if I will drive this vfx house down, no worries, a new will rise.

    Sorry, sorry to disappoint you, your plan is utopia!

    But, do not be sad, I’m not a negative person, I do not want to bring you down, like all others. I’m with you. I do not want to sweat anymore too.

    You need a better plan! Much much much better plan! A real one! Not a dream that will never come true! A super plan that will work!

    And I have it! The only solution:

    VFX Workers of the world, unite!

    We organize more than 53% artists worldwide! All agree to join! Free! All agree to change!
    AND All agree to DOUBLE profits of VFX industry INSTANTLY!
    And than we go on strike worldwide, with only one demand: “Studios IMMEDIATELY pays double of what they are paying to anyone related to VFX! All Facility, artists, etc. get paid double what they promised and currently paid.

    Problem solved, everybody (except rich studios) happy!
    VFX problem you all have been talking so much is solved with one strike! Everything doubled, we all happy!

    Done.

    Anybody with me?

    • vfxguy says:

      Isn’t this essentially what the animation unions tried in the 60’s? Didn’t work out too well for them did it?

  8. Scott Ross says:

    I am cautiously optimistic about VES 2.0.

    At last, the ostrich has pulled his head out of the sand and realized that he might be headed to the slaughterhouse.

    I’ve been trying to point this out since 1995.

    VES 2.0 is at the very least, a statement that the industry is indeed in disarray, has not been managed well, is terribly under compensated for it’s value and that the situation has become critical.

    A first step, but a very important one.

    “My name is the Visual Effects Industry and I’m an alcoholic.” A realization critical to recovery.

    The 12 step program for our industry is hazy however. There doesn’t seem to be a clear strategic plan for success, at least not one that was proffered in the VES 2.0 missive. The journey ahead will be fraught with political issues and might be frozen by certain fears. Leadership will be critical, communication essential but mostly it will take courage and conviction.

    I am excited by the possibilities. It is but a first step, yes, but I’ve been waiting a very long time for this day. I wish the VES great success in their efforts and I would be thrilled to help in any way I could.

    May the force be with you..

    Scott Ross

  9. n says:

    Maybe VES can tell its members what TAG can’t: the 839 is a live union with an actual website that would love to have more VFX artists in its ranks. Sign them cards!

  10. JWtemn says:

    Interesting to see talk of a strike. Can’t really see that happening, but it got me thinking – how about A Day Without VFX Artists as a way to broadcast (and perhaps find out) just how strongly VFX Artists feel about the current circumstances.

    Simple idea really – pick a date, and publicise that VFX Artists should call in sick, take it as a vacation day, basically just not turn up to work for one day.

    Might send a clear message about how seriously (or not !) people feel about these issues.

    • Scott Ross says:

      Anyone paying attention knows how VFX artists feel about their current circumstances. @JWtemn…. your idea will only make matters worse. If the sick out idea was to happen… then the VFX companies would take a tremendous financial hit. The VFX companies however would have no recompense… they could not go to the Movie Studios and ask for more money or time to deliver the project that they are already losing money on. The only ones hurt would be the VFX company and the VFX worker. The VFX worker would then have to put in more hours that they may or may not get paid OT for to do the catch up work so that the movie studio receives its shots on time.

      • JWtemn says:

        I applaud and am heartened by your belief in the innate goodness of humanity that the film studios and effects companies will sort things out for the VFX artists without any kind of threat no matter how heavily veiled.

        Personally I think that a lot of local middle-sized VFX companies are going to close down with fewer companies growing in size to replace them (middle-size seems to be the VFX business equivalent of Everest’s ‘death zone’).

        The work that those companies would have done will wander the globe to whichever territory is desperate enough.

        The US industry will stratify into the ILMs and DDs at one end and a slew of boutique-y artist collectives of no fixed abode in a constant state of flux at the other.

        I kinda think Pixomondo have the nearest to right idea with mini-branches popping up all over.

        Welcome to the Starbucksification of the VFX industry.

        Latte to go ?

  11. Scott Ross says:

    Maybe I don’t get the current state of affairs or maybe the companies that I ran were different than the companies that are around today.

    But I was very well aware of the fact that the artists at DD or ILM were the reason why I got a paycheck. Directors came to work w Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Rob Legato etc…. not with me. I knew full well that I needed to pay the VFX worker a competitive wage, offer a fun workplace, offer reasonable percs, health insurance, vacation and time off.

    On the other hand, the VFX company was not in control of a directors inability to make final decisions, a movie studio moving the date, production delivering plates or cut sequences nor the addition of a massive amount of new shots or change orders.

    There for schedules got crunched, overtime was utilized and 6 and 7 day weeks became mandatory. We did not control the pipeline and as much as I didn’t want OT for my employees , the deadline delivery date rarely moved.

    And since the margins were non existant, there were limits to what we could provide to our workers. BTW, if we were making margins like, say Apple Computer… there would be cafeterias w chefs that prepare meals for free, gyms and trainers for all employees, sabbatical leave for folks, paid educational benefits, etc. etc, etc.

    Because, after all, it’s ALL ABOUT THE ARTIST. But when a facility is beat up, has no wiggle room…. VFX facility owners do what they can to keep their doors open.
    Hope this helps.
    S

    • Dave Rand says:

      I can’t think of someone I have more respect for in this industry as you Scott and I’m grateful to share this space with you.

      I’ve often questioned our embracement of the bidding business, a construction model meant to go with a fixed blueprint. I believe post production is really production now and needs the decision maker on site or at least on tap while the crew and vfx shop gets paid on a cost plus basis, the construction model meant to go with a sketch and the way production has functioned profitably for years. I’ve watched the waste resulting from the creative hierarchy attached to this bidding choke profits from the inside out for 16yrs and been on the staff of 6 major facilities that have closed their doors. It’s laughable really to anyone from the business world. There’s no reason why the creation of a product that goes on to make 100’s of millions of dollars can’t facilitate some profit for those that are doing the heaviest lifting.

      • Scott Ross says:

        Thanks, Dave… I truly appreciate your kind words. It’s been interesting for me after I sold DD. For some reason the industry leaders have not asked for my involvement in helping to solve this mess. I believe I am uniquely qualified to do so. But… there must be some folks that are afraid of seeing the truth and dealing with it. I have enjoyed my years in the VFX industry and believe I have made a mark in it.. for the positive. I wish Eric Roth and crew the best in solving the outrageous problems are industry faces.

  12. Scott Ross says:

    BTW, I gave up coffee! It’s bad for you.

  13. JWtemn says:

    I think it’s a bit disingenuous of you to say “Maybe I don’t get the current state of affairs”, you were fairly instrumental in events leading to them after all ! but I *do* think that the companies you ran are different than the versions that are around today.

    DD opening branches wherever there are tax dollars to be taken and getting into content creation, ILM with aggressive outsourcing and their own ILM-lite in the far East. We’re certainly not in Kansas anymore.

    I do agree with what you say – but that was back in the days of fridge sized SGIs, custom code and, erm . . . well when working on films meant working on film !

    Not an easy landscape for foreign upstarts to get a toe-hold in.

    The artist was king because there were so damn few of them. Today, anyone with a PC can start doing shots and will find a client whose budget is tight enough to employ them. I’m not saying that the shots will necessarily look any good, but the fact is that for a huge number of VFX movies, good enough (on a budget and tight schedule) *is*.

    There will always be a market for high-end guaranteed VFX work – and it will always go to the big well known companies. The rest . . . well there’s a lot of work that really doesn’t *need* English speaking ‘Artists’ in the right time zone.

    Ultimately it will even out – supply and demand – fewer people will get into VFX because it’s not the lifestyle they want and so the value of the smaller workforce will increase.

    VFX will not be the first (or last) industry to move in this direction.

    As they say:

    “Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.”

  14. […] VFXSoldier: VES Ups It’s Game […]

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