A VFX Consensus?

We’re beginning to see a few more people be receptive to unionization. I’ve been extremely busy so I unfortunately missed a lot of news happening in the VFX blogosphere so let’s check out what’s happening.

The first is probably what I deem the post of the year by David Stripinis. Read all of it. It basically gives a run down of how the VFX industry developed huge problems with it’s business model:

So here we are, in 2011. With more VFX than ever, and the state of the industry as dire as ever. VFX driven movies like Avatar, Transformers and Harry Potter regularly add millions to the bottom lines of the studios, yet many VFX artists starting off today struggle to pay off student loans, pay rent in the markets VFX work exists in – London, Los Angeles and the Bay Area are some of the highest cost of living areas in the world. As the VFX industry has become global and driven by cost, artists have had to become nomadic. Los Angeles today, Toronto tomorrow. London next year, stopping off in Vancouver for a month in between. And while that may seem glamourous or even attractive if you are 22 years old, it seems less so when you must say goodbye to dear friends for the fifth time, your spouse wishes to have a career of their own, and your kids want to go to the same school for more than one semester.

It’s also worth reading the response by IA Organizer Jimmy Goodman and TAG rep Steve Hulett.

If you click on my link for Joe Harkins’ blog, you’ll probably notice that it’s gone. He garnered attention in Variety with his own open letter to VFX artists that warned against unionization. However, recently it seems things have changed:

While I continue to develop VFX Foundation, which at this point, is going to be a web 2.0 social network for VFX artists, I’m going to take the blog offline.  I started it as a suggestion from someone saying I should post the full text of the open letter that was published in Variety.

My position now is to support Jimmy Goodman and IATSE organizing artists here in Los Angeles, support the VES 2.0 effort, and focus my time on developing the VFX Foundation website.
Thanks for reading,

Joe

Joe mentioned that he met with IA Organizer Jim Goodman and TAG Organizer Steve Kaplan last week. I don’t blame anyone for having huge doubts of unionization. However people change when the facts are presented correctly. I can tell you that I was anti-union until I was a TAG member. I realized that what a union can do for all of us and the industry was legitimately better and could transform it. The same can be said for the VFX artist running the Organized VFX website. He was anti-union then read what they could do and joined the cause.

What this proves is how imperative it is to have the IA leadership allow more open lines of communication. How much more proof do they need that a website is needed and interviews need to be scheduled? Kudos to Joe for taking up the cause and leading by example.

Scott Squires had a few posts that give an overview of what needs to happen for a labor and trade organization for vfx Lots of great info there.

Progress is being made. It’s slow, but it’s progress. While there are legitimate disagreements, I see a consensus slowly forming.

Look, we are going to need a collective bargaining agreement that is enforced with a mandate. It all begins with you. Talk to others about it and join the cause.

Soldier On.

11 Responses to A VFX Consensus?

  1. n says:

    Here’s the link for David Stripinis’ post quoted above:

    http://www.davidstripinis.com/blog/2011/6/10/fixing-it-in-post.html

  2. occlude says:

    Hi Soldier,

    I sent a letter to the VES, and IATSE to clarify my position and also why I’m going to stop blogging. Here’s the full text:

    “VFX Foundation, at this point, is going to be a web 2.0 social network for VFX artists. I’m taking my personal blog offline. I started the blog as a suggestion from someone saying I should post the full text of the open letter that was published in Variety, and it grew from there. My views have since changed…for the better I think. Also, because I have relationships with studio execs and an intimate knowledge of the bidding process, I don’t want to have that information compromised or used in the wrong way. Openly discussing the VFX bidding process, or relationships with studio execs over the internet is not appropriate…no-one brought this up to me personally as an issue -but- I want to remain in the clear and not share what is usually close guarded information.

    My position now is to support Jimmy Goodman and IATSE organizing artists here in Los Angeles, support the VES 2.0 effort in whatever capacity they allow me to, and focus my time on developing the VFX Foundation website.

    It will be free to join and open to all professional VFX artists, and I will try to invest in marketing it to the community in an appropriate way once it is ready. It will in no way compete with, or detract from, any efforts the VES or IATSE are making in bettering our industry.

    Thanks for reading,

    Joe”

  3. TS says:

    That’s a good read by David. There were several missteps to the attempted unionization of Imageworks. Firstly, they never *earned* our trust. The union established a bridgehead with SPA. How? SPA was in its infancy and needed established talent from Disney and Dreamworks to lay a foundation. Those artists weren’t keen on leaving their union gigs but SPA lured them here with the promise that it would go union. Suddenly Sony had all these new hires signing rep cards and with a very small number of required signatures, SPA went union. It didn’t feel like the union won out because it was a better option for Sony. It won because that was the only way those story artists would leave their current jobs. Kind of left a sour taste for the Sony folks. We weren’t able to factor into the decision making process.

    Now they had a chance to negotiate with Imageworks, but there was a definite air of distrust among the Sony ranks. The union was very opportunistic on the SPA contract and everybody at Sony knew it. On paper it seemed like a winning strategy, but now they were going to have to work extra hard to get the bigger piece of the pie. And what did they offer? Well most of the talk revolved around how great the healthcare plan is. I get it. It’s great and portable. But when you are sitting in a room with a bunch of people who think they have good healthcare coverage, then it’s a non starter. It was all about the union promising us that their healthcare coverage was going to be better, but a lot of folks didn’t trust them, so it was a very tough sell. The mistrust did not come from management misinformation. It came from how the union got into SPA (small number of new hires signing rep cards) and how it was using that to springboard to Imageworks. Then throw in the fact that anyone with more than 2 weeks vacation was going to lose vacation time. They lost the crowd very quickly.

    Now what would the union strategy be for a place like Sony? Most VFX houses are 80% production hires in for 6-10 months. They drop in, make their dough and then leave. Does the union actually think a guy wanting to make a good impression to stay on longer will start getting active to establish a union? By the time a new hire gets comfortable at a new studio, say 6 months in, they are only a couple of months from moving on to another gig. Why would they play an active roll in the future of a studio that they have no future in? OR does the union expect to have these production hires to move from VFX house to VFX house signing cards to help unionize the industry? That’s a lot to expect.

    For the 20% or so of facility staff, the union is going to have to win them over. If wages, vacation and healthcare stand as the most important factors, what is the union going to do to entice them? Raises won’t happen as you lock into a scale. Vacation will lessen..and then it’s back to portable healthcare. They have one out of three maybe, and on the healthcare issue they still need to convince someone who is happy with their current plan that the union plan is better. I know that if you lose your job at a union shop you have coverage beyond your end date. That’s an obvious plus, but it still runs out unless you land something else. Still feels like a similar system where you really only have solid coverage when you are working. At least until you build up enough hours.

    Now I know what’s going to happen…a union rep will chime in and tell me I misinformed about this or that. Imageworks failed not because what the union did or didn’t do..only because imageworkers are uninformed. It puts the onus on the employees as opposed to the union taking responsibility for the misstep in the first place. It just becomes noise. People want to *know* things are going to be better, not wonder if things might be better by signing. It feels to a lot of people that the folks that stand to benefit the most by going union is the union. Until that perception changes, it’s a very steep climb.

    • skaplan839 says:

      TS –

      At the risk of invalidating your point, and therefore your argument, I won’t tell you you’re wrong or misinformed. I wasn’t with 839 at the time of the Imageworks campaign, but from what I’ve heard, you generally have the idea. SPA was under contract with the IATSE and IATSE was interested in representing Imageworks. Benefits would have been made available to non-staff hires, but the staffed employees were looking at losing a lot: “profit-sharing”, giving up a matched 401(k) for a no-match, a six month break in health coverage to switch to a comparable one that was portable as long as you went to Dreamworks or Disney following your tenure, most likely a change in the vacation time or sick time or the like.

      The representation vote was decidedly against union representation. Using terms such as “Landslide” or “Decimated” would be fair. Would things be different today? I certainly think so. Gone are the perks of staff employment and all the fringes that came with it.

      Your points of reaching the artists is also true. Imageworks is just like most facilities today in as much as they staff up when needed, and drop down when they don’t. It goes to what we are facing at any facility today .. the need to bring attention to the availability of a seamless cloak of benefits provided through a collectively bargained contract with the vfx studios to the artist community as a whole. Yes, cards need to be signed at each location in order to get that facility to sit and talk about a contract. Its not a short process, but one that we feel deserves its time in the sun.

      Steve Kaplan
      Labor Organizer
      The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
      skaplan@animationguild.org

    • skaplan839 says:

      Further, I’d argue that the artists stand to benefit a hell of a lot more than the union does through representation. Ask anyone at Disney or Dreamworks how the union is involved in their daily lives. Piece of mind, portable benefits and the ability to have a voice in workplace decisions are a substantial benefit to the artists.

      What are you referring to when you claim that the union would benefit?

  4. jimmy goodman says:

    it is inconceivable to me that artists working on a Sony picture such as Spiderman, working for Imageworks, would not be entitled to the same benefits and working conditions as the grips, electricians, makeup and hairstylists working on the exact same picture. Imageworks deserve to be treated equally to their co-workers. you eat at the same restaurants, buy coffee from the same starbucks, and park in the same parking lot. for SPA, you work in the same building!!! there’s no excuse for second-class treatment. Yes, the IA made mistakes in its handling of the election seven years ago, but Sony made extravagant promises which made Union represenation seem superfluous. Now we know those were empty promises. The safest, surest way to be sure management keeeps its promises is a written contract. We can do that. It’s what i’ve been doing as an entertainment attorney for 39 years!!! Let’s all get together and make it happen. contact me at vfx@iates-intl.org, or take a look at IA4thefuture@blogspot.com.
    We can solve this, if we do it together.
    Jimmy Goodman

    • skaplan839 says:

      We had an interesting comment posted on our blog that pertains to this conversation. I’d encourage everyone to read it.

      • TS says:

        I read the comment. Maybe that happened to some people but it certainly didn’t happen to me. Not one person tried to sway me one way or the other. Like I said in my original post, most people were not pleased with the union’s tactics. SPA going union was a choice made by brand new hires, not the current Sony employees. After that, the Union had to wow Imageworks and fell short.

  5. Joe says:

    I am a VFX Soldier with 7 years of experience. I am pro union for all of us. Someone please tell me how I can stand up and make a difference. How can I help to create a VFX Union? Thanks
    -Joe

  6. […] true for VFX Foundation founder Joe Harkins. Witness his transition from my April 24th post to my June 22nd […]

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