Last week VFX Artist Joe Harkins started a petition to end VFX subsidies and lobby for a trade organization that represents the VFX facilities. He also wrote a post on why we need to support the trade organization:
Unlike other crafts in the film business, we don’t work directly for the movie studios. We work for a 3rd party that negotiates the work, agrees to a price, and then executes the task at hand. We need the facilities we work for to be healthy.
While I agree with the conclusion that we need to end subsidies and form a trade organization, I have to respectfully disagree with the premise used to make the argument. The trade organization is a helpful but unnecessary earmark to the very prudent idea: Ending subsidies.
The Nationalist Point Of View Alienates Supporters
Throughout Joe Harkins’ post he conveys a nationalist point of view by proclaiming things like “I’m an American first, VFX artist second.”
This is a big mistake. The US VFX industry is made up of a huge number of immigrants and by making this an “American first” issue he alienates a huge group of vfx professionals who built and support the industry here and also want to see an end to subsidies.
Now to be fair, some of my international readers alienate those artists based here also by expressing that their struggle is somehow retribution for US corporate and government policy.
Since when did advocating for families, labor rights, and health insurance become a strictly American idea? If anything it’s a global idea.
The irony is that many of these struggles are symptoms derived by global subsidies offered to US studio conglomerates. You don’t hurt US corporations by giving them your local taxpayer money and you definitely don’t hurt them when you cheer the demise of the middle class in the US.
Mr. Harkins post also alienates foreign VFX facilities too. Why would a VFX facility in London join a trade organization that’s about putting Americans first?
It’s Unfair To Condemn Foreign Subsidies & Condone Local Subsidies At The Same Time
Mr. Harkins argues that we need to have a VFX trade organization that will end foreign subsidies but lobby for local subsidies too.
Again I disagree. I have been strongly against subsidies in New Mexico, Florida, Michigan and even California. Subsidies are regulated by the WTO not because of “Americans first” but because its a form of protectionism that artificializes the price of VFX.
Also again, why would a VFX facility in Vancouver want to join a trade organization that wants to take their subsidies away but lobby for subsidies in the US?
Unions Don’t Need To Wait For A Trade Organization
Mr. Harkins feels unions should wait for a trade organization because that’s how Hollywood did it. Historically speaking, that’s not correct: The MPAA was formed in 1922. The IATSE was formed 30 years before that in 1893.
He also argues that unions are for employees of studios, not subcontracting companies like the ones many of us work for. However many members of TAG and other union locals work for subcontractors.
To ask the unions to wait is a cop out. If anything, the formation of a union would coerce the facilities to jointly negotiate. Boom there’s your trade organization.
Mr. Harkins argues that forming a union is too much of a monumental task.
I disagree: They have the money, the retirement & health insurance plan, infrastructure, and representation. In fact The Animation Guild already covers many VFX artists. All they have to do to unionize is to confidentially sign a rep card.
The Trade Organization Has A Monumental Task Also
On the other hand the VFX trade organization is a monumental task: No money, no policy proposals, and most importantly, no interest from the facilities.
Asking the President and having professionals sign petitions is great but none of those have the authority to require the facilities to organize. However if vfx professionals confidentially sign union rep cards the facilities and studios are required by law to recognize the labor organization and collectively bargain.
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.
The Trade Organization Is In the Best Interest Of VFX Facilities, Not VFX Professionals
Has anyone even checked if the trade organization is even legal?! I’m skeptical that a trade organization will have the best interest of the professionals. If poach-gate is any indication of what happens when trusted facilities work together then count us professionals out.
Secondly, does this organization intend to save the US VFX industry? Scott Ross was asked that in a thread about saving the VFX industry and sort of skirted the issue. I’m not surprised by this as Mr. Ross has often stated his belief that the whole VFX industry will eventually go to India and China.
I personally feel Mr. Ross is bluffing but if he really believes VFX is going all to India and China, why not concentrate your trade organization effort there?
Also, why would professionals want to help an organization whose leader throughly believes in seeing your job go away? Scott Ross is a great guy but he doesn’t share the same goals as vfx professionals.
Don’t Trust, But Verify
I have never asked for readers to trust me, but I do ask that you verify what I write. If I post something incorrect then I lose credibility. I welcome challenges on my blog whether they be insults condemning me as a wanker or more thought out arguments based on facts.
That notion should also be true for anyone in this industry: Don’t trust them but do verify the information they give you. This industry needs tough love and so does Mr. Harkins. There is a legitimate concern over how wildly his position has changed over the past few months.
Harkins 1.0 & Harkins 2.0
For those of you who are new to the discussion Joe Harkins exploded onto the scene with his Open Letter To VFX Artists basically impugning the struggles of VFX professionals. Some of accusations he made were incredibly wrong and wild. I call this “Harkins 1.0”. All of a sudden he was pro-union and recognized the struggle of vfx professionals. This is “Harkins 2.0”.
Consider some of the tweets and posts he made (which have been deleted):
Harkins 1.0 – May 5, 2011: I hate the idea of government programs that try to “improve” the welfare of our citizens by spending my tax money.
Harkins 2.0 – Our government should be interested in protecting our jobs in the United States, first and foremost. The recession, and our economy, have taken a toll on all Americans. We are not exempt. We need a bail out.
Harkins 1.0 – I’d like to say this to all the artists out there working in VFX.If you really feel bad for yourself, on your next walk to get a five dollar latte, or when you go to your companies parking lot full of high end foreign cars, remember that there are people out there who woke up today and didn’t know where their next meal would come from.
Harkins 2.0 – I had some great meetings yesterday about the VFX Foundation. Turns out I’m not the only one trying to do something about the struggles we face as a VFX artists in this business. I listened to some great ideas on how to solve difficult problems like group health care, retirement funds, and legal services.
Harkins 1.0 – 6-15-2011: I don’t give a shit about non-american VFX workers stealing our jobs with their foreign subsidies, and that I only care about workers here in the U.S. and workers who are U.S. citizens working abroad.
Harkins 2.0 – A global industry is important. There’s nothing wrong with globalization. China, India, and other developing countries that can offer work cheaper will continue to see new success. I hope they do.
So I’ve experienced Harkins 1.0 and prefer Harkins 2.0 but sometimes I wonder how someone so convicted in a belief can change it all so quickly.
When Mr. Harkins originally posted the petition, it was just asking for support of a trade organization. Quickly people were signing with comments about ending subsidies. An hour later the petition wording was quite different. It was now mostly about subsidies with the earmarked support for a trade organization. I tweeted a question to Joe to see if he changed the petition wording and his response was yes because people were saying it was too vague.
I hope that this isn’t all some ulterior motive to whip people up about subsidies and get them to funnel money to fund the $3 Million Scott Ross has asked for the trade organization. I hope that isn’t the case but I can’t trust anyone, but I do have to verify.