A Token Payment

Are you a VFX artist looking for a job? Here is an opportunity of a lifetime:

LIBERATOR is a 20-minute short film/back door television pilot. It stars Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) as a disgraced, washed-up, ex-superhero whose attempts to get his life back on track go south when his secret black ops past comes back to haunt him. Also stars Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita,) Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Ed Asner (Up).

We are seeking VFX artists to handle a variety of shots from simple compositing and dust layers and green screen layering and finessing, to 3-D modeling and explosions. We have two excellent artists working on the film but need more to finish by our deadline, Jan 31. There is pay, but it’s only a token payment. There is very little money left in the budget. The ideal candidate will be excited about getting in on the ground floor of a new superhero franchise with this great cast, as well as imdb credit. This project is repped by New Wave Entertainment and also feature original comic art from former Marvel Comics Art Director Darren Auck.

To learn more, please visit www.facebook.com/liberatormovie.

Watch the sizzle reel here: http://vimeo.com/32345245

Fellow VFXers, please don’t fall for this bullshit. As you can see from the video above they spent all their budget on Z-list actors and Ed Asner in front of a green screen that they hope will have explosions and shit on it.

What I love is how they try to play it off as though a credit on their short film is appropiate compensation in lieu of pay. Do you think any of those people on the set agreed to those terms? I doubt it and nor should you.

I’ve written a bit on how some employers in the industry capitalize off the perceived prestige of their work. I call it the price of prestige.

Soldier On.



38 Responses to A Token Payment

  1. Paul Mica says:

    Thanks for posting this.

    I wonder, do newly graduated lawyers, doctors, and the like, start there careers working for free or token payments?

    If you’re one of those newly graduated vfx artists considering taking a job like this, you’d be better off working on your own reel. Please don’t be fooled and don’t work for free or for tokens.

    Soldier On!

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I assumed this was the case for doctors doing their residency but I was wrong. A family member is doing a medical residency and is paid 75K a year. After the residency is over the family member is expected to make 240k as a doctor.

      • Consider the fact that the residency still PAYS the prospective doctor enough to live off of, is accredited and is part of the doctor’s training to fulfill the requirements of the position. Fly-by-night jobs like this do none of these things.

    • Paul Mica says:

      Wow! This clip is appropriate! Just replace ‘writer’ with ‘vfx artist’.

      “Your undercut by all the amateurs!”

      -Harlan Ellison

  2. Dave Rand says:

    Taking advantage of people’s passion for the arts has gone on for centuries. So many of the masters died broke only to see from above their works go on to become priceless. From the book MichelAngelo and the Pope’s Ceiling: “By October 1512, Michelangelo had been working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for four arduous years. In a letter to his father, who had written from Florence asking for money, he wrote: ‘I lead a miserable existence. I live wearied by stupendous labours and beset by a thousand anxieties. And thus have I lived for some fifteen years [as an artist] and never an hour’s happiness have I had.'” Being threatened with eternity in Hell he eventually finished losing his sight.

    Not all artists and musicians are superstars but we are all driven by the same passion and unfortunately that is sometimes easily abused by others. There’s an ongoing controversy in the music world over clubs that can require you to pay to play : http://bit.ly/pEbVAQ

    Shows like American Idol and America’s got Talent make hundreds of millions while most contestants get token payments even thought the losers are as important to the show as the winners.

    I’ve yet to see an IT guy or a technically talented programmer offer to work for free even though they are driven by a similar passion but seen under a different perception.

    I still have hopes for a world where passion for your work does become an anchor for some and eventually harm the very productions that could have been so much better and so much more profitable if creativity was nurtured instead of trod upon by those who “know not what they are doing”. It’s a good enough reason for me to seek some leverage among vfx artists. In an environment where passion is turned into a weakness, creativity is stepped on and diluted by an ancient management style. In this world our leveraging is actually good for even those who try to govern us and great for the final product.

  3. Art says:

    Thank you for all you do to get this information out and for calling out continued poor management practices that destroy creativity and lives. Indeed, the comments above about doctors’ paid residencies and Michelangelo’s sufferings should go to show the inherit illogical double standard held on creative people. Such a double standard even translates to large groups like transactions between businesses. Business “consultants” are often paid ridiculous sums to do the obvious, or very little work at all, while entire creative firms are paid peanuts in comparison to do massive projects.

  4. Paul says:

    Supply and demand people! When 1 will refuse 10 will oblige!

    As long as you realize that many are willing to take it up the arse [quite literally in some fields] there’s not much you can do is there?!

    • Dave Rand says:

      It’s called leverage, what you’ve presented is life without any.

      If you want to do business with the most highly leveraged corporations in America it only makes sense to have some of your own, or like any business you’ll eventually fail.

  5. Let me ask a question, and before I do, let me make a few statements:

    1) I am in support of the cause that VFX Soldier champions. That doesn’t mean that I am in 100% agreement on every single point he’s ever made, if only to breed further discussion, but as a general note I support the ideas being posed.

    2) I am playing devil’s advocate with this question, pure and simple. It is just a question, not a statement.

    So, the overall question:

    How does an ‘opportunity’ like this differ from other scenarios, that maybe aren’t seen as quite such an infringement, such as contests? Maybe a contest where part of the payoff is the opportunity to have your work seen by a larger audience (think 3dWorld mag).

    Because I do understand. We don’t want young or inexperienced artists being taken advantage of by working completely for free (or darn near close to it). But it was a comment above that made me think about this. The comment was:

    “If you’re one of those newly graduated vfx artists considering taking a job like this, you’d be better off working on your own reel.”

    And it’s a comment that I get. BUT, what if that same effort went in to a project like this? And let’s not make it specific to this exact project, but maybe just a general scenario like this. And what if some great, reel-worthy results could be achieved? AND the additional benefit of automatically having more eyes on the work is gained. It doesn’t matter if it’s ten more eyes, a hundred, a thousand, ten-thousand…it’s *more* eyes by default than would have been there if the reel were to just go out in the standard way.

    Isn’t that a benefit? Doesn’t that provide some sort of ‘service’ to the artist? Am I just using the thinking/rationale that these guys are (erroneously) using, which is why they are doing it in the first place?

    Again, don’t burn me for this, I am *asking* sincerely. I am not making a statement.

    But is it just that they are getting the work for free? I know that might sound like a stupid question, but what we are talking about is value. You can give me money, which I find value in, obviously, but you can also do things for me in which I can also find true value.

    I mean, what if these guys, this director & EP, REALLY don’t have any money to get this thing done, but are working to make it happen? What if they are paying experienced actors (and I didn’t say good, I said experienced) bottom-of-the-barrel rates just to get them on the set? They obviously aren’t going to get ‘experienced’ VFX artists, but if they open it up to ‘free’ then they can at least have an outpour of those artists who are trying to get.

    Are we just upset about perception?

    Because at the end of the day, if the result works, what is the difference between working on this and working on your own reel? It’s still work, and the result is you still have some work to show, but the value is that (maybe) you get some more eyes on your work.

    Is this just about breaking that “gosh-I-want-to-be-an-artist-so-bad-I-will-do-ANYTHING” cycle that some will have? Can that cycle ever be broken? Or is it more about the people that are posting the job in the first place? Will THAT cycle ever be broken?

    I was thinking about this the other day, except in regards to comic book artists. The comic book publishers must have it SO. EASY. At least when it comes to finding talent. They have to train 0.0% of the artists they employ. They won’t be paying off any college loans. They will have a nearly ENDLESS line of artists waiting for their shot. Just go to a convention and look at the droves of fans walking around with their sketchbooks, praying for a look and a shot. These guys draw & draw & draw & draw, and there is an army of them. The publishers simply have to say “no, no, no, no, maybe, no, yes…” and they will always, always be stocked with artists. The more prestigious the publisher, the better artists they will get (this happens in VFX too). And this happens because some people, regardless of talent because that’s not what we are talking about, want to do this thing SO BADLY, that they will do literally anything to get their shot. And the advantage belongs to those who say “no, no, no, no, maybe, no, yes…”

    I just think, maybe, possibly, that’s something that the experienced, employed, high-end VFX artists overlook or downplay when discussing these challenges. Maybe. And I don’t mean all, and Mr. Rand brought up similar ideas in his comment above.

    And once more, just for clarity, I mean no offense to anyone, am not trying to take stances, and am truly just asking questions that I think might be relevant to the discussion. Thanks.

    • Dave Rand says:

      You make some great points. School sponsored Internships are a great way to break into this business but this is not what was presented in the advertisement. It’s really capitalism at it’s best side stepping minimum wage and encouraging free labor. If you like that ideas and want to participate then consider this: Those who participate actually contribute to a trend that harms the industry. I would think differently if they at least offered a small piece of the projects back end. Something that could easily be offered by this production, but as long as people line up for free that will never be offered. The main reason VFX workers enjoy decent compensation is because we work in an industry where most of the talent in unionized. People forget that when they try and throw a wet blanket over the idea that working for the most highly leverage and organized corporations in America without any leverage of your own is just bad business thinking on your part and actually harms the whole industry, even the studios, as talent gets scattered devolves into a lifestyle that kills what they think they are saving money on…creativity. Talent is not a commodity. Notice how you’re not seeing the Lakers this year. The superstars and even the mediocre players benefit from the leverage at hand from organizing their talents and their thinking….and we get to see some really great games that would otherwise not be happening if it were all just pick up games and player paid to play.

  6. There is another option. Take the “job”. Record your hours carefully. Get copies of call sheets and anything else you can get your hands on. When the “pilot” is delivered, we can help you file a claim with the State of California for full payment. Until there’s a union representing workers in this field, (and that day is coming), this will continue to happen. but, it’s illegal, indefensible, and easily corrected.

    • Paul Mica says:

      Hello James and thank you for the info.

      My guess is most people won’t do this as they’re afraid of being “Black listed”.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Since being ripped off the first time by Meteor Studios (Discovery Holdings and EVergreen Films) I’ve signed my real name to over a thousand blog posts, put out my own press releases, done 6 Variety articles, 2 Playback magazine articles, 1 CBC Radio 1 coast to coast interview, 2 NY Post articles, 3 Montreal Gazette articles, and four international podcasts, even one for IATSE. All of these to do with artist’s rights.

        I get calls regularly from all the major shops even those that are known to have shared data bases with each other…and many do. Don’t be afraid to speak out against any bad practice. Don’t be afraid to sign your name. Unethical labor trends hurt everyone, even the studios. They inject fear into the creative environment and choke everyone’s bottom line.

      • Paul Mica says:

        Thanks for sharing that Dave!

  7. Another View says:

    This could be the opportunity to flex one’s skill that someone maybe looking for. An artist doesn’t need to say yes to this job, nor does one need to deem it as “bullshit”. If someone is passionate and wants to take this on, perhaps it’s a good way for them to develop their reel and future contacts. As for grads, it’s far too often grads show up at companies claiming to be “compositors” or “riggers” yet don’t have anything to show. As an employer, where’s the proof of concept? This project could enable one to get further work. Not supporting working for free, but am certainly supporting the fact that it could potentially benefit someone. (an artist) I didn’t even read in to the project much, just stating the obvious.

    • Dave Rand says:

      Given that logic makes perfect sense for all productions to get as many free employees as possible. Some folks like Peter Schiff have recently petitioned congress that one of the problems with our country are minimum wage laws, they need to be abandoned to stimulate growth in America. Newt Gingrich recently pledged that getting rid of child labor laws made sense, maybe there will be a trend, if so it will be the single greatest downward force on the average wage for the VFX worker. Soon though after adopting the lifestyles of the average citizen of India or China we’ll be able to compete with them. For me I always thought hard earned labor advances where a major component of nations that LEAD the world rather than those that follow…

      …but… From a management “view” the benefits would be enormous for sure.

      • Dave Rand says:

        As I said above internships are a valuable educational tool and when connected to a university provide a great gateway to a career. Advertisements looking for free help in the creative fields prey upon the age old theme that we will even “pay to play” Discouraging that helps the artists, the industries they work for, and the creative evolution of all. Allowing exploitation hurts everyone and stunts creativity, there’s been enough of that through the ages.

  8. Another option here would be to accept the “job”, retain detailed copies of your timecards or records of how many hours you worked. Also keep call sheets, production reports, and any other documents you can get your hands on. Then, when the production is over, come see us at the IATSE and we’ll help you put together a claim you can file with the State of California, Department of Labor Law Enforcement.
    Lou Ferrigno isn’t working for free, and neither is the director of photography. Eventually, we’ll organize this segment of the industry and put an end to this exploitation.

  9. k says:

    The thing that those arguing for the opportunity to do free or token-payment work don’t seem to understand is that, once someone works under those conditions, the ’employer’ will never respect them. They’ll either never be called back if the series is picked up, or they’ll still be expected to work for next to nothing.

    I’ve seen this several times, and I’ve never seen the opposite. It’s a sucker’s game, and a certain dead end. Act as if your talent and time have no worth, and you signal to potential employers that you’re worthless.

    • Another View says:

      I disagree. If someone does work at a reduced rate to help a cause, normally they would be hired back at a higher rate and respected. (as well as being first on my mental call back sheet) But perhaps that’s not everyone’s outlook, just mine.

      • Dave Rand says:

        That’s exactly what they told us at Meteor Studios just before they bankrupted and screwed everyone. Opening up again five weeks later as a “new” company just to tell everyone again the same bullshit, keep them working and screw them all again two years later. Meteor was owned by the Discovery Holdings Company a network of family programing worth 8 billion dollars that screwed the artists (and their families) just weeks before Christmas. This new business practice then spread through Montreal like a cancer with companies bankrupting, taking advantage of the artist, the weak employment laws, and the border. Going bankrupt and reopening under a new name became standard business practice. Why did they do this? Because they could, they had all the leverage and no ethics. It only began to cease when artists began to speak up, shed light on the situation in the press embarrassing the legal and business systems in place and allowing the void created to be filled by legitimate ethical companies. Not everyone in business believes in the honor system. When you work for free your provided the illusion that your benefiting yourself but your only harming your potential, your colleges futures, and that of the company that gets as soft as your attitude allows them.

      • Another View says:

        Well then, those people are crooks and that’s absolutely wrong. We’re a small “family” outfit that stays between 15-75 employees. We think of people as people and pay / do the best we can to keep our employees (who are our “adopted” friends) as happy as we humanly can within our own means. Of course that never stops the crooks.

      • Dave Rand says:

        As I’ve said in other posts, if the choice that allows the employees to quickly become “owners” of the debt were removed maybe the shop owners would begin to look upward at the ridiculous bidding process enforced by those with all the leverage. This business model borrowed from the construction business and meant to come with a detailed blue print of every nut and bolt but instead comes with a whim. If that were replaced by what construction uses when there is no blue print..a cost plus model….the one adopted by the rest of production decades ago, maybe the owners margins would healthier, the shops would be healthier and the artists more creative, allowed to have lives with stability and creative nurturing. Ironically the very thing that is the most valuable software, the minds of the artists, would be used at full potential …and guess who benefits from that equation the most. Those with the most leverage…..the studios. They have gotten so big they can’t get out of their own way. Quality of fx is getting stale, innovations are coming slower while memory and processing power are expanding exponentially. Maybe it’s time for some balance.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Whenever a manager or facility owner says something to the effect of “were a family company” I get suspicious. I’ve had that line used on me more often than not.

      • k says:

        I call bullshit. This is NOT normal. I’ve been at over a dozen different studios over a couple of decades, and I’ve watched this situation play out with dozens of friends, acquaintances, and former students. I have NEVER seen a case where someone who did free work or who did production work for peanuts ended up being respected or appropriately paid. Not once.

        I HAVE seen cases where someone impressed as an intern in a legitimate internship, then returned to school, graduated, and after graduation got a decent offer from the studio they did the internship with. Surprisingly, in half of those cases they took a job with a different studio, because the other offer was better.

  10. Another View says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Funny enough and on a side note our firm recently did some previz for a construction firm. We were confused by the bidding process as everything was so fair, well planned and methodical.

    They were confused by the concept of a “fixed bid” – it was wonderful.

    I do agree with your statements Dave.

    My initial gripe was simply that some people do have good ideas, do need free help and do care about the people who donate their time. When we talk about the large players, you’re right. They don’t.

    • Dave Rand says:

      It’s sad that your honorable stance is the minority when you look at the large numbers overlaid with the greed culture that’s evolved in North America. In that context only a school monitored intern program works. Or outside of that realm, if an artists is going to work for free for a group of capitalists then he to should have a contract to share in the fruits of that venture. Back end money is easy to give. Then you share in the risk (loss of your time) and the reward, and the ancient abuse is held in check. My experience has shown me that setups like that described in the advertisement involve artists working for free on crack software so someone can get their pilot out. I’ve been approached by this offer at least a dozen times over the years some through companies I worked for and some personally…not one of them ever made a dime for anyone. Each time I’ve seen artists take comp time in leu of overtime or run their pay like a tab at a bar…they got screwed, every time, no exceptions.

    • k says:

      The large studios definitely don’t, you’re right. But the reality is that almost all of those ‘honorable people’ with ‘good ideas’ don’t have a clue how to do what they want to do, have no real industry connections, and have ideas that turn out to be less than genius. So even in those cases, the project is never finished or turns to crap, and the free work is wasted (plus there’s not even anything to put in a portfolio or on a reel for the person who chose to act as a stooge).

  11. Jeppe says:

    This is awesome!!!

    Where do I sign up?!? (Oh, yeah. Facebook but I’m not on it. Finally a good reason)

    Don’t forget the people trying to make something out of almost nothing. They might be the next generation filmmakers…

    C’mon you so called artists, you should be able so relate to this as I know most of you have similar ambitions. It’s not all blood sucking Hollywood business. Isn’t this worth your effort more than complaining about how more you should earn compared to X who works on big $$$ movies?

    You don’t know where they’ll end up next. Maybe you’ll be a part of it? It’s how most of us ended up in this industry and I still help out when I can on projects that interest me, and just hold your breath for a moment, I happily do it for absolutely nothing (free, for no money if you can believe it soldier boy)!!!

    I might be stealing work from someone who needs it (and deserves if for being a US citizen) more but those projects wouldn’t even finish if it wasn’t for people like me.

    I hate to break if to you Soldier, but the rest of the industry works in a very similar fashion. Ask any person on the production side.

    Modern vfx isn’t a production line, as much as you and some facilites are trying to make them. It’s far more about casting the right person for the right job. There’s always a place for talent.

    I can only assume you weren’t much of a talent so you resorted to this blog for a living?


    • Hard Worker says:

      You sir are absolutely speaking the truth.

      • Dave Rand says:

        “I can only assume you weren’t much of a talent so you resorted to this blog for a living?”

        So easy to cowardly insult when your anonymous isn’t it?

        Your attempts to twist this into something ugly and anti creative or non progressive are a complete folly. Reading is fundamental.

        Reprinted from above for those who skim through the logic and free thinking.

        ” I would think differently if they at least offered a small piece of the projects back end. Something that could easily be offered by this production, but as long as people line up for free that will never be offered. ”

        Soldiers service to this community goes far beyond anything most have every offered this industry and is one of the most powerful creative forces in the industry.

    • Dave Rand says:

      “I can only assume you weren’t much of a talent so you resorted to this blog for a living?”

      So easy to cowardly insult when your anonymous isn’t it?

      Your attempts to twist this into something ugly and anti-creative or non progressive are a complete folly. Reading is fundamental.

      Reprinted from above for those who skim through the logic and free thinking.

      ” I would think differently if they at least offered a small piece of the project’s back end. Something that could easily be offered by this production, but as long as people line up for free that will never be offered. ”

      Soldier’s service to this community goes far beyond anything most have ever offered this industry and is one of the most powerful and creative forces in this industry.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Jeppe, This is what happens when the window you view reality from becomes so clouded by the amount of time you spend licking it.

    • k says:

      “Don’t forget the people trying to make something out of almost nothing. They might be the next generation filmmakers… ”

      These are the words of a wannabe who has never worked in the industry. There ARE cases of talented people, working virtually alone or teaming up with friends/fellow students, doing films that opens doors to legit careers. But in every case I’ve ever seen of people advertising ‘free work for experience’ on Craigslist or Facebook or similar sites has ended up with absolutely nothing ever being finished to a professional standard. I’m not talking about being screwed later, when the ‘genius’ moves on. That genius is a no-talent with grandiose visions who deludes himself AND the poor suckers who do the free work.

      The people who ARE destined to be the next generation of filmmakers either have the skill to do this shit on their own, or they get into film or art school and make amazing films, or they get real jobs and rise rapidly through the ranks. But schmucks advertising like the ones in this ad are a dead end, and the people who do the free work mark themselves as rank amateurs.

  12. WiseAss says:

    Liberator also happens to be the name of a well crafted set of pillows designed to do just what the producers want to do to vfx artists. Best described by the first picture on this page:


    Seems an incredibly appropriate name for the film.

  13. wendy says:

    We could all take a couple of shots and then just……..sit on them for 6 to 12 months.

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