The VFX Trade Organization Hamburger

There is a hot threat on linkedIn that was started by former ILM General Manager and Digital Domain founder Scott Ross.

He would like various VFX facilities to pay $3 Million for the first year to establish a VFX Trade Association. Here is a snippet:

1. The ills of the industry can all be traced back to one single issue: VFX facilities are unable to make a profit.

2. If VFX facilities were able to be profitable, many of the issues raised would simply go away.

3. IMHO, an International Trade Association could address the core problem.

4. For an International Trade Association to be successful, several things have to happen:

a) At least 4 or 5 of the Big 10 need to be members
b) There needs to be a substantial budget to do the work
c) There needs to be broad based support from artists and owners alike

5. I have unsuccessfully tried to organize the Big 10 executives

6. I have unsuccessfully tried to get the support of the VES
7. I am now trying to get an awareness and hopefully broad base support from the artists, and other owners, in the hope that, like OWS or the Arab Spring, the populace could effect change.

Scott Squires has his reaction which I largely agree with. To say that profits for VFX facilities will trickle down and end bad labor practices is simply not true: Look at Pixar, they make a HUGE profit and engaged in collusion. However, at the end of the day I agree that the industry needs a trade organization to represent the VFX facilities.

However I’m reminded of a situation at a restaurant where I ordered a hamburger. The order was completely wrong and the burger felt a bit cold. I complained to the waiter and he took it back to bring out a gorgeous piping hot burger that I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into.

I took a big bite only to realize: It’s the same damn hamburger!

$3 Million Needed

Scott Ross has been proposing this trade organization for a long time and twitter and the thread is blowing up as if this is something new. It’s the same hamburger, the only thing new here is the $3 Million figure.

Just to put that number in perspective, The Animation Guild‘s yearly dues is at most around $400 a year per member. $3 Million is enough to fund the membership of 7,500 VFX artists!

Under TAG they would immediately get portable health insurance that covers them and their families in between projects, 3 portable retirement accounts, and enforcement of basic labor laws such as OT and the elimination of Employer of Record ripoffs. The best thing: All you have to do to unionize your facility is sign a rep card.

More Details Are Needed

Scott Ross’s trade organization is a little bit trickier. He needs $3 Million and then needs 4-5 of the big 10 VFX facilities around the world to agree to his proposals… wait, what are the proposals? and who is interested in joining?

According to Scott Ross only 1 out of the 10 have shown interest in the trade organization. So even if VFX artists decided to donate their hard earned cash to the tune of let’s say $10 Million, a good number of VFX facilities would still have to show interest.

But what specifically is Scott Ross proposing to do? Can we get specifics? Can he post a simple 10 point memo of what he will do if facilities agree to join? How about answering these questions?:

Many VFX facilities don’t make a profit. What mechanism will the trade organization create to ensure facilities make a profit and how will they do this without violating anti-trust laws?

Non-Californian VFX facilities heavily benefit indirectly from regional film subsidies offered to US studios. Many Californian VFX facilities are hurt by these same subsidies. How would the trade organization resolve this issue?

Californian VFX facilities would benefit from state-side subsidies to US studios to prevent work from going to other regions of the world. Non-Californian VFX facilities would be at a disadvantage and object to joining a trade organization that would lobby for competitive subsidies. How would you resolve this issue?

Many VFX facilities in emerging economies use pirated software to do VFX work. How will the trade organization combat facilities that engage in piracy?

It seems that VFX artists are being asked to donate to help raise the $3 Million for the trade organization. Yet Scott Ross has routinely pointed out that eventually their work will all go to cheap labor regions like China and India. Why should VFX artists support an organization led by someone who believes in such nonsense?

Sorry that last one was a cheapshot. Here’s the point I’m trying to make. Stop trying to play kumbaya with the world. An international trade organization would only be weakened by trying to make all parties happy. Instead focus on organizing the facilities in California. I’m sure most of them would agree with ending subsidies and going to a better pricing model.

Soldier On.

6 Responses to The VFX Trade Organization Hamburger

  1. bob says:

    It has always been interesting to me how I here there is no profit for this type of work and that defines my value as an artist. So I have to take less. Then I watch the people at the top of the food chain in every vfx house I have worked in drive away in cars that are more expensive then my yearly income or have planes and nice big houses. The no profit thing is a facade. The money simply goes to a few at the top.
    That being understood, more profit for vfx houses will not equate to anything for the artists.

  2. […] Artists Agency Founder Bob Coleman mentioned a VES Founders Award acceptance speech by Mark Stetson, an Oscar winning VFX […]

  3. meh says:

    Happy new year
    Exclusive: VFX studio in Taiwan pact
    Rhythm & Hues to launch film investment fund, production facilities
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118047997
    New US law may make outsourcing tough for MNCs
    http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2010-06-01/news/27604496_1_tax-rates-income-from-international-markets-ship-jobs
    Companies That Outsource Face New Legal Risk
    http://www.law.com/jsp/lawtechnologynews/PubArticleLTN.jsp?id=1202518220015&slreturn=1

  4. ideas says:

    Lets say that Scott Ross has a plan and that it works. The Studio makes money, but I find it hard to believe that the artist will see much of it. Here are the problems:

    1) There are a lot of facilities with the mindset of maximizing profit and minimizing cost. This means, make as much as you can no matter what, or you lose your job. People in management don’t care for their employees, they care for the dollar. (At least this is the mindset in the US, European nations seem to keep social responsibility in check)
    2) Too many new artist flooding the field. Many of them are willing to do it for free or for some ridiculous low rate.
    3) The world has gotten smaller and easier to transfer this type of work abroad. Its too easy to transfer everything you need on a high speed internet connection.

    I think the only way to fix this is to tackle it on 3 fronts.

    1) Government needs to impose laws that will make it harder to send work outside of the US. Maybe a higher tax on foreign services.
    2) A trade organization to regulate the bidding process with the production studios in check and to lobby the gov to change laws.
    3) A Union for artist to keep the job fair against greedy bosses and to lobby the gov to change laws.

    If we can’t get all 3 working together. The other units can’t do as well by itself.

  5. […] Furthermore the trade organization has yet to even make a proposal of how they intend to ensure the financial health of its members. Is this organization going to negotiate bids for the group? Are they intending to fix prices? I’ve asked for details of what they intend to propose. […]

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