The VFX Foundation

On the heels of the VES announcing it’s intentions to take a bigger role on VFX issues, VES member Joe Harkins responded with this:

I propose that a new non-profit is formed, with a completely different objective.  The VES should help facilitate a trade organization that will rid us of small to medium sized facilities that are sweat shops, and collectively bargain with the studios to require them to use qualified personnel to complete work.  Eliminate the facilities, bring the artists back in touch with the studios, and unite the artists together with the filmmakers to get their projects done.

This isn’t the first time an idea like this has come up. If you remember, former blogger VFX Law, a CG Supervisor preparing to become a lawyer, proposed a new model where we essentially hit the reboot button and work directly for the studios instead of facilities.

It caused me to write about something I always ponder: What Purpose Do VFX Facilities Serve? I also have written about the approval process and how going through so many different vendors and supervisors only increases overhead costs in a bid. Joe elaborates on this in a post advocating an  alternative to VFX facilities.

He has also proposed the formation of The VFX Foundation which is a union that will do some of the following:

  1. Attain legal counsel to form a union.
  2. Create a communication drive to organize and certify VFX artists.
  3. Certify VFX facilities where they must follow labor law and employ at least 50% of certified artists.
  4. Negotiate with the AMPTP, the organization that represents the US studios.

You can read more details on the site but these are some very bold proposals. Even unions are too timid to ask for some of these proposals.

I might have some issues with the details of this but generally speaking, I’m for any proposal that would lead to better terms for vfx artists no matter where they work.

The word that screams out in my mind about all of this is eutopia: In a perfect world I would love to see vfx artists start their own union and go past the vfx facilities to negotiation directly with the studios. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. See Visual Effects Digital Artists Guild.

The issues that arise are money, legal, and logistics issues. I’m not against this proposal but there are challenges ahead and those bumps in the road need to be paved. Joe Harkins has indicated he intends to take this head on and initialize the funding himself. Again, bold and I hope it works.

Anything is possible with leverage and if enough artists support the cause then it could explode into an industry changing mechanism. The fact that this is an organization that intends to negotiate, set and enforce rules is already something that we logistically need. The VES is hindered by it’s charter not to collectively bargain or enforce any rules.

Regardless there is a general consensus of facts: There are legitimate problems in the VFX industry for the people who work in it. There needs to be change in the industry model. There needs to be standards in place that can be enforced.

The question is how this will happen and who will do it.

Soldier On.


13 Responses to The VFX Foundation

  1. occlude says:

    Thanks for posting about the Foundation, Soldier!

    I have contacted the VES, and IATSE for support, and have received no response. Steve Kaplan of TAG has been helpful with giving me his opinions and ideas.

    The VES official stance is that they cannot, and will not organize labor, as you pointed out. Some people seem to think the VES is going to suddenly come to the rescue for some reason. That would be nice, but it’s not going to happen that way…

    I vocalized my anti-union opinions, learned about it, had an epiphany (skip the facilities, go straight to the studio), and decided to do something about it.

    So far, the foundation website has received over 60,000 hits, and most of the IP addresses are from Imageworks, Weta, MPC, DNeg, etc. So people are at least reading the material. Some high level members from the VES are on board, and I have received a lot of e-mail responses requesting information on how to join.

    I may not be the best person for this, but I am doing it anyways, because no-one else is stepping up. Talking about it is one thing, doing it is another. Actions speak louder than words.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I’m all for going straight to the studios and starting an organization from scratch. The big question isn’t your actions or my actions. We are doing *something*.

      It’s how to address the apathy and the cynicism. Some prefer to just do nothing and thats a big problem.

  2. Rolling Red says:

    Just a note here, since you mentioned VFX Digital Artists Guild. As much as IATSE has been criticized for not having a web presence (in LA, Vancouver’s local891 has done an outstanding job in that regard which needs to be recognized) – at least they are a functioning, fully operational union that goes back over a century. VFX Digital Artists Guild (and I will go out on the limb and predict that the new VFX Foundation will share the same fate) is a prefect example of what we are good at: putting up websites and writing self aggrandizing open letters, manifestos, and idle talk that peters out eventually.

    For the record: Visual FX Digital Artists Guild was only:
    “A Blog to Discuss the formation of a VFX Digital Artists Guild”. It was never an actual effort – which is like everything else that we do – which is to say: *SAFE*.

    I accuse us, the vfx artists – of being passive aggressive: wanting improved working conditions but not wanting to risk our necks for it. The recent IATSE push both in LA and Vancouver failed – I think it is fair to say now – not only because of major IATSE shortcomings; the lack of a website was NOT the problem, see Vancouver, but hierarchical, political and organizational problems within IATSE.

    On our end, we failed too – by not wanting to upset our privileged daily well-being and routines. We didn’t want to sign the representation cards because alas – then, Collective Bargaining above our respective Employment Standards – would be within our reach. And we are after all collectively afflicted with a battered person syndrome – what is: the familiar however dysfunctional is preferred over bold action out of fear of retribution. And so we keep stalling, keep writing letters, keep having discussion, keep putting up websites, keep wonking around reinventing the wheel by disproportionally focusing on the business model, essentially we’ll do anything that will be long winded and non committal. We won’t do one thing though, take the one proven step that was taken by workers world wide and sign the representation cards so a union that is well established, experienced and operating on behalf of millions of others in the film industry could represent us. We are an ignorant and arrogant bunch. And I call our bluff.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      You are correct. Much of the organization process has failed because of stupid politics on all sides. Many artists want to be benevolent towards their employers. I’m in the minority there.

      The IATSE failed because of simple politics. They should have let TAG organize the drive and used their contract as the framework.

  3. Tired of it says:

    vfx foundation is a joke that’s going nowhere. I can’t figure out if Joe is just trying to garner attention as a “leader” in VFX or if he’s trying to make his weak arguments more valid with this pointless alternative.
    It annoys me to distract from valid efforts that need support. Foundation? argh, it has no money to organize (unlike unions), no predefined group already organised (like VES), its just a pointless webpage in space. Just b/c people talk about it doesn’t give it’s ideas value.
    I am not that interested in Joe being part of the continued discussion. He just adds a TON of extra debate, convoluting the issues. It and draws out the conversation to the point where many people lose interest in the whole discussion. And people forced to respond to him makes for #%^%!#$ long ass read.

    Joe Please don’t respond to this. I don’t have the energy to ready it, much less reply.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I think the big thing is money. The IATSE has the money and reach but just simply held itself back for reasons that are still unclear to me.

      Regardless of what Joe’s motivations are, it sounds like he is going to fund this endeavor. They say put your money where your mouth is and it certainly sounds like he is doing it. Well see where it goes.

      • occlude says:

        Putting your money where your mouth is takes guts. If I go broke, so be it. At least I can say I went down swinging.

        Once you start writing those checks, it’s very very real.

    • VFXPeon says:

      so the alternative is what? do you have a plan to fix things?

  4. Rolling Red says:

    Occlude or Joe Harkins – hi. You may recognize me, I’ve been on your case on twitter. I’d like to use this opportunity to let you know that although I am critical of your stab at VFX non profit/guild/union/you-got-no-clue-what-the-diff-between’em’all-is — I want to make it clear that I do not question your good will or your motives. But, before you jump off the cliff… :

    I’ve read your and thoroughly and it is painfully clear to me that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

    Your Action Statement recently posted on vfxfoundation demonstrates that you do not have any notion of how a union or a guild operate. You are confabulating a grotesque mishmash of a Non Profit, an Incorporated Business venture and a Labor Organization.

    You are on record saying that you hate the idea of a union, yet here you talk about unionization and representation cards. As much as I am disappointed with IATSE, I would not put my marbles in your bag…

    You talk about a new business model for vfx as your central point and say that organizing vfx is not an idea in itself – yet you recognize that you can’t do it alone and call for broad vfx community support. Perhaps ORGANIZING – is precisely the point and the vfx business model is secondary.

    Your neophyte rhetoric reaches many vfx artists that do not have the information or development necessary to discern the disinformation you put forth. After all, you have a flashy website and you do have balls and claim to have the time and the money.

    I ask you please, to perhaps use some of that time and money to educate yourself before you step forward. Some of us have been around the block and can see through your BS. Those of us who haven’t – are simply being distracted and confused by VFX Foundation.

    • occlude says:

      “it is painfully clear to me that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

      That pretty much sums up my life in a single sentence. Take risks, figure it out as you go along, otherwise you’re just a bystander.

      Lead, follow, or get out of the way…

      You decide what’s right for you. I made my choice.

      • Rolling Red says:

        Too many “leaders” in our f8cking business. Not enough followers. That’s why we’re screwed.

        Got to give you Respect for your determination.

  5. The lack of leaders was very obvious in the year IATSE wasted getting started. Joe is leading and that means progression , which is a step in the right direction for us.

    I think if the VES or IATSE use the added momentum they can actually get somewhere. If in the end VFX Foundation is but a catalyst but we reached our goal it would be fine and im sure Joe would be ok with that as well.

  6. Right away I am ready to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast coming
    again to read other news.

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