Calling All LA VFX Professionals

Right off the heels of recent negotiations with the US studios, the IATSE, which is the parent union of The Animation Guild, is now refocusing their effort on organizing VFX professionals:

The IATSE has announced an open and infomational meeting for visual effects artists. This meeting will be held on Sunday, June 3rd at the International Cinematographers Guild building from 1:00 to 3:00pm. The Cinematographers Guild is located at 7755 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood.

As you know much of this was re-ignited this spring when SpiUnion came online to help rally Imageworks employees to join TAG and just like I suspected back then, spring leads to green shoots: resurgent growth in the organization movement:

The IATSE has (FINALLY!) launched a straight-to-the-point website:

Jeff Heusser also conducted an fxguide interview with IA Representative Peter Marley.

Former VFX artist / current TAG organizer Steve Kaplan and others have been outside of various VFX shops in the LA area handing out the fliers you see above.

If you are free this Sunday show up and have your voice heard and get your questions answered. We all have opinions about this but let’s start with the facts first.

Soldier On.


50 Responses to Calling All LA VFX Professionals

  1. Peter Kuran says:

    Be sure to ask how many hours you have to get in a year before you qualify for health care. I am all for representation and workers rights but at last count, you needed 600 hours from a Union Company initially to qualify before you can receive health care in a 6 month period. Personally, I think every hour should qualify you and the Unions should use their clout to fight back against the escalating cost of health care against the for-profit health care corporations.

    • skaplan839 says:

      Hello Peter,

      You do indeed have to have 600 hours in order to qualify for the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan. On top of that, once you achieve those hours, you have to wait until the beginning of the corresponding eligibility period to begin participating in the plan. Continuing participation, however, only takes 400 hours in a six month period.

      I’m lost on how every hour worked isn’t qualifying someone to participate. What you’re also not taking into consideration is the months of participation that are earned and used after a member leaves a union studio since 1) participation is checked in six month blocks and 2) you also accrue a ‘Bank of Hours’ that can be used to continue participation for another six-month block when you don’t have enough hours.

      As for the the IATSE using its clout to fight the escalating cost of heath care, I would urge you to review how the union bargained the highest contribution from the producers among any of the entertainment unions in the country, and therefore was able to keep our health plan’s structure and offered benefits the same in the face of the rising costs of healthcare.

      Your statement also implies that the union would be able to fight the cost of healthcare by taking on the health providers. I am assuming you meant the producers since taking on the health care providers is a moot point since we go through the Taft-Hartley MPIPHP; an organization that is born from the Hollywood Basic Agreement and who has a fiduciary responsibility to its participants to find the best care available. They report on their struggles to that end yearly in their review statements.

      • Peter Kuran says:

        Let me preface the following reply with an acknowledged naïveté:
        when I refer to the health care providers, I’m not referring to Producers (although I have my issues with corporate interests). Rather I am referring to the Insurance Companies. A confusing statement considering Insurance companies don’t actually provide health or care. But neither do Producers or small businesses. I have to admit that the IA’s H&W provides the best health care policy possible (which, unfortunately, I no longer qualify for). But health care costs are squeezing everyone from workers to H&W which effectively makes it harder to qualify. And what is a health insurance company but a large corporation of paper pushers headed by extremely overpaid CEO’s. Why don’t the unions pool their collective interests and become their own insurers rather than farm that business out to companies such as Blue Cross or Blue Shield?
        I know, naïve, right? Sorry to move somewhat off message but health care is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. As I said before, the unions are an important counter balance for workers rights and pay. Keep fighting for them.

      • skaplan839 says:


        You’ll not get an argument from me about the health insurance companies in our beloved United States. My father has been a self-employed physician for the past (almost) 50 years. I was able to see him squeezed out of business by the insurance companies who would rather deal with managed care facilities and large provider networks than a “rogue” doctor who believes he knows patient care better than a corporation does.

        What can a union do to stop that? The same any group of people can do, use the power of the collective voice. However, it would definitely take more than just the IATSE. Don’t forget that this system has strong political backing thanks to its deep pockets and the current ability for corporations to “influence” politicians as if they were individuals.

        As with anything, it takes passion and the desire to make a change.

        Steve Kaplan
        Organizer, The Animation Guild

      • Craig says:

        On a side note, you mentioned your physician father who was squeezed out of business by the insurance companies. You implied that this happened because he had a problem with the nature of the insurance companies getting in the way of the direct doctor-patient relationship and he thus considered ‘rogue’.

        In light of this, I’m curious what you think of government-run healthcare. If you think the insurance companies are bureaucratic, do you think the government wouldn’t be?

        For what it’s worth, I side with your father in thinking a direct doctor-patient relationship is best. If 3rd parties are in charge of paying doctors, then 3rd parties will always dictate the rules from upon high.

  2. Zippy says:

    What IATSE are doing is great and a long time coming but what’s to stop the US studios from continuing to press for non-US subsidies, more export of work to other markets etc? Wouldn’t that make all of the effort moot if there are simply not enough US VFX jobs to even fuel the union mechanism? Will IATSE be able to prevent a US studio from exporting work Vancouver, London etc?

    • Ashes says:

      Your questions are the very reason I’m not jumping on the union bandwagon. The biggest threat to the US vfx industry are all the tax incentives that are moving work out of the country and lowering the value of everyone’s work. Imageworks is basically closing in LA and trying to do about 85% of their work on Vancouver to take advantage if this. Whether or not there’s healthcare or a pension plan is a moot point if there are no jobs for people.
      Studios are even telling vfx house that they can’t even bid on their films if they don’t do them outside of the US. I haven’t heard anything from IATSE about what they plan of doing to stop this. In fact, the litte I have heard is along the lines of “We can’t do anything about the tax incentives, but we can help with the health insurance and overtime pay.” Now while I agree these are good things, but as I mention above, without jobs, it’s meaningless.
      Now if IATSE said they’d use their lawyers to challenge the tax incentives for violating WTO rules, I would be interested. Until then, no dice. I don’t want another reason to drive more work out of the US. Going global is fine, but it has to be by fair and competitive pricing. Not having governments paying to work on films.

      • While IATSE did not officially give money, many of their members in CA did give money to FTAC, which did file a trade complaint. Unfortunately, the effort failed and the petition rejected. Should we try again? Sure. Is it expensive? Yes. The teamsters (local 399) already sunk over $100k on the last action. I doubt they will do so again.

        As I have said to Soldier before, I think we should see how the EU rules on film incentives. If they find they violate the EU’s own trade agreements for member states, then we would have some precedent to point to.

      • skaplan839 says:

        As Adrian said, each local has the ability to throw its money where it wants. You want to end entertainment tax subsidies? You think you can do it by taking pseudonyms on a blog and saying that collective action is useless? What could be more powerful than a visual effects union with the financial ability to do just what you’re asking for.

        For example, 839 is paying for our lawyer to take on the Yurcor EOR scheme. Before it was brought to my attention, plenty of artists noticed how crappy it was, now a union is doing something about it.

        Unionization isn’t about the portable Health and Pension benefits. They’re a REALLY nice fringe benefit. Unionization is about focusing the leverage and voice of all visual effects artists into a single entity. That, is power. That is what you have available to you.

      • Ashes says:

        @skaplan839, first off, you have no idea what people are doing offline. Just because some of us prefer to remain anonymous online doesn’t mean we aren’t doing things offline. It’s rather insulting to imply otherwise. I managed to help keep a film in the US a few months ago. What has IASTE done to help?

        Second, when I did talk to IATSE, off the record of course, I was flat out told that they felt they wasn’t much they could do about the tax incentives since it was on such a huge scale.

        Third, I have had some conversations with people who claim that IATSE is not financially strong and that is part of the drive to include vfx artist. I haven’t be able to find a source, read trusted source, that could confirm or deny this. Until I can, I am not inclined to join. If I join a guild or union I want to make sure they are financially sound.

        I’ve dealt with IATSE, SAG, AFTRA, and several other guilds and unions and I can say that while there were some positives, there were some major negatives as well. I do not like just jumping into support something that I feel has a very weak grasp of how the vfx industry works. I’m sure Jim Goodman meant well, but his posts clearly showed a lack of basic understanding of the pipeline and politics of vfx.

        The fact that IATSE took over a year to even get a website up doesn’t fill me with trust that they can really help or get more complicated matters off the ground.

        I support the idea of a union, but I am not sure IATSE is the way to go. While I find it hysterical that Scott Ross is now trying to cast himself as a flag carrier of worker rights, I am intrigued by his idea of a trade organization. I am also interested in Vfx Soldier’s idea of filing our own lawsuit and plan to talk to a few lawyers about it as well.

        I feel no need to let IATSE know about anything I do. Offline I am very vocal and people around me know exactly were I stand. Online, I prefer to remain anonymous because people are more willing to be open about opinions that way.

      • skaplan839 says:


        I was making a comparison to acting as a collective versus acting as an individual and concluding that acting collectively is stronger. I commend you for any “Offline” advocacy for visual effects you may do. Hard to accept the claim since you choose to be anonymous though. I support anonymous blogging for obvious reasons, but your claims of fighting hard “offline” fall on deaf ears with me.

        Whoever you talked to at the IATSE is right. Fighting the tax incentives is going to be wildly difficult for anyone; union, grass-roots organization or whatever. These incentives are backed by some of the most wealthy organizations in the country. These organizations can influence political action now as if they’re individuals. While I support Soldier’s idea of a crowd-sourced lawsuit, and am willing to contribute my personal money to it, I have to say that the IATSE’s meager PAC money isn’t going to dent this fight.

        The IATSE isn’t financially strong? Horse apples. Look up the LM-2. Or, email me and I’ll send it to you.

        Having dealt with humans, I can say there’s both positives and negatives. However, its difficult to get away from the unassailable fact that visual effects artists, if banded together in a cohesive unit, could better themselves and the industry than what they’re doing now. If you’re one of those “I hunt and kill my meals, I don’t need you” types, fine. Have at it.

        Yes, the IATSE moved slow off the dime. Yes, the original approach to organizing didn’t work. It doesn’t take away from my belief that the IATSE is the right place for visual effects artists or that visual effects artists need to unionize. I don’t think it should mean that to you either. But, if you don’t trust the IA, then verify what they say. There’s a website now, there’s a twitter account, there’s two International Reps assigned to the task. Reach out to them and make yourself heard. That’s what Solider has been saying all along.

        Steve Kaplan
        Labor Organizer, The Animation Guild

      • Ashes says:

        @skaplan839, fair enough on the point of collective vs. individual. I agree, it is stronger. Which is why I was interested in unionizing back in the mid 90s. Unfortunately, at the time, no one in the industry seemed to want to do it. It took the collapse of some major houses and people getting older with families for the interest to be sparked.

        As for the anonymous, sometimes discretion is the way to go. I feel no need to post under my name. It wouldn’t help, but possibly hinder things. Kind like how plenty of people I know are now turned off by the trade organization idea because they know Scott Ross was the one to mention it.

        As for IATSE fighting the tax incentives, their connections alone would be helpful, if not money. I’m not sure if some of hesitancy is due to conflicts of interests because of branch locations or not.
        Would IATSE’s international branches truly support and fight to end the tax incentives?

        IASTE’s financial situation, I’ll check out what you mentioned and see what I think. As I stated before, I haven’t had a source that I trusted tell me anything about it from either side. I’ve heard everything from, “It’s fine and stable” to “They are $500 mil in the hole.”

        I completely agree that banding together is stronger. I am not someone who will only operate alone, although I am comfortable to stand on my own if I have a moral or ethic stance that the majority does not. In this industry you can’t be a total loner or a complete follower. We have to be team players.

        As I mentioned before, I am pro-organizing. I’m just not sold on IATSE and don’t want to jump into something that will not necessarily solve the most pressing issues for the US vfx industry. I think there’s plenty of work to go around and that our industry is a global industry. The tax incentives hurt everyone in the long run and, for the health and growth of our industry, should be abolished now. I don’t think any major houses outside of the US will go under if they are gone and we all could possibly be paid for the actual work we do.

      • skaplan839 says:

        Ashes –

        Its fair to say that while more artists are discussing the option of unionization now, most still question the purpose or ability. Many are wrought with fear or ladened with misconceptions or fear-mongering arguments. We’ve come a long way, but have far to go.

        Please don’t misunderstand my arguments to mean that I’m against anonymity. I respect your choice to remain anonymous and understand the importance of it. I was trying to make the point that its difficult accept claims of “Here’s what I’ve done” without a name attached simply for verification purposes. I still accept your points and arguments and enjoy our discussion.

        It wouldn’t be right for me to speak on behalf of the International President on the stance of the IATSE with regard to entertainment tax subsidies. I have postulated that if the IATSE were to pick up the fight against subsidies, the cost alone would outweigh what the IATSE PAC has to offer. I’m not clear on the internal political ramifications for such an action, but would have to agree that there would be some.

        Personally, I believe these subsidies are unsustainable. Throwing cash at Hollywood conglomerates out of tax coffers only leads to lack of funds for the municipality. Eventually, this will bite someone’s behind and the subsidy will be voted down. Much like chemical addiction. in the locales where politics have kept them going for extended periods of time, the removal will be harder felt and more painful (Yes, I mean you British Columbia).

        I’m glad to hear we’re on the same page with organizing and hope that someday we can meet and discuss how the IATSE *is* the right place for visual effects.

        Steve Kaplan
        Organizer, The Animation Guild, IATSE 839

  3. Marge Bouvier Simpson says:

    Time and time again throughout the ages! Isnt it worth noting that despite the fact that Canada is a separate nation its still doesnt really make sense to cry foul over any of these very International media conglomerates deciding which country they gamble their futures on? You decide to join their rank. Noone forces you…Not even the art schools that fooled us into this very limited perspective on our potential as future animation light bearers! I think its worth noting that as long as this is a movement (VFX unionization) to empower the many against the few, we will have history and the real power in our hands. Good for Imageworks slowly putting themselves out of business! When that tree falls there will be more light for the smaller VFX houses (hehe, already happening in New Mexico apparently) to grow and flourish with all these aspects well in the minds of the people who found them. Maybe a renaissance has yet to happen? Maybe the landscape is littered with a lot of very dry but tall trees? I say a union is just the thing to help force the needed collapse when all the studios do leave the US…This is how those helicopter roof types think. They get mad when the small bugs down below start demanding rights…This time we can and will force them overseas where…low and behold we shouldnt be surprised they meet their empires demise.

  4. Marge Bouvier Simpson says:

    You dont always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

  5. John Crane says:

    This is all too US centric, talk about global action if you want support from the EU and canada

    • Ashes says:

      Unless vfx artists over there are going to demand that the tax incentives be revoked, I don’t see how they would help the US. The general response I have gotten from them is that they support their governments paying studios to work on the studio’s films. What exactly do you think they could do to help?

      The tax incentives are bad for everyone. They force under bidding and devalue the work that artists do. They should end every wher, including the various incentive within the US.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      The subsidies in the uk are too uk centric. Would you be willing to remove them to level the playing field. My guess is no.

      • Zippy says:

        Actually, there is some thought out there that the UK VFX industry is starting the first stages of its inevitable decline. The tax breaks have aided the UK industry greatly but as many of you know it is not as simple as that for the industry there.

        We are talking about the considerable number of very hard working mid-20s junior artists and TDs with little reference point on the industry who are not being paid very well and for the most part are the production machine of many of these studios.

        Would they unionize? Based on their collective level of ignorance to the industry it is not likely but equally so you will not find senior managers at these studios telling these young people what is going on.

        If they did then they would most definitely be put of business by the rates they should have been paying these hard-working young artists and TDs.

    • Craig says:

      You’ve got to be kidding. Your government is buying your job for you. Are you willing to give up those subsidies?

      Part of what is decimating the leverage of VFX houses is the interference of government (i.e. taxpayer) money being thrown to the big studios in an effort to pay for the privilege of doing the work for a special group of people.

      You know, it’s always been my dream to be a lobster fisherman, but I love my life here in landlocked Kansas. It’s not fair that all the work goes to Alaska and Maine. I think I’ll petition the government to subsidize enormous saltwater lobster tanks here so I can do my dream job where I want to and compete with the places where the market naturally settles. Who cares if other people moved to those other places for their careers. I have a right to do my dream job where I want. Who cares about those other people who would lose the work due to this artificial distortion of the natural market. What’s important is me.

      • Peter Kuran says:

        I’ve always dreamed of being a right wing ideologue who twists logic to make a point but I’m not about to remove half of my brain to do it.

      • Craig says:

        @ Peter Kuran: I find it telling that you would use ad hominem attacks against me instead of a decent argument why governments should use money they take from citizens to help big studios save money on their billion-dollar films.

        The problem with people like you is that you think that anyone who disagrees with your “Government is God” ideology has half a brain. You are arrogant and typical of your ilk.

      • Peter Kuran says:

        You are right. I got carried away. And I apologize. However, with all the problems and issues in the world, I get upset when someone chooses to use an unrealistic metaphor to describe or possibly mock an issue. To make an argument of dreaming to be a lobster fisherman in a landlocked state and wanting the government to build you a giant lobster tank rather than moving some place when you can fullfill that dream is silly and it undermines the real problems we are facing. When you present a realistic argument, you get honest feedback from me as you did with another comment you made.
        As someone who loves California but has chosen to move to another state because I can no longer be able to satisfy my needs in California is a real issue. As someone who has looked at issues and am still doing what I love despite the hard economic times, I don’t just talk about it. And I believe in what I say enough to give you and everyone else here not only my opinion but my full name as well.

      • Craig says:

        @ Peter Kuran: I appreciate the apology.
        So, I’m a right-wing ideologue because I’m against using tax money, taken from the working public, for the purpose of big breaks and subsidies to Hollywood production?

        How well did that work out for the people of Albuquerque? How did it work out for the Imageworkers who moved their families out there?

        The massive subsidies and tax breaks given to productions distort the free market. Good for some who receive the subsidies (while they last), but bad for others who are now forced to compete with competitors who have an unfair advantage. They cause massive under-bidding which is not healthy competition, but a ruthless race to the bottom.

        Sure, my example was silly and simplistic, but it was obviously just a bit of satire, not a serious attempt to address the complexities involved. The basics are true. Subsidies exist so that local governments can buy work for their local people. Most fool themselves into thinking the financial backing is temporary until they establish a mature industry, but that is almost always wishful thinking.

        It seems there will always be those that will only focus on the good intentions of public policy, and not the unseen or unintended consequences.

        I hear quite a lot of comments of people in places like Vancouver who vehemently defend subsidies because they hate living in LA. Sure, I’ll bet Vancouver is as beautiful as they say, but it doesn’t change the fact that the government is buying the work for these people. That is not new work, it is work that is leaving LA and forcing studios and people to move to up there.

        Sure, there is no problem if you are happy to move your family to Canada. But again, this is an artificial boom funded by Canadian taxpayers and there is no guarantee the huge tax breaks will continue or an industry will survive without them.

        Anyway, this is a topic on unionization.

      • Peter Kuran says:

        I didn’t move to Vancouver BC, I moved to Vancouver USA, in Washington state just north of Portland. Vancouver BC doesn’t greet US citizens with open arms unless you have a million dollars that you are ready to invest in their economy. Your next question might be, so how do you exist where there is no film or special effects business? I work outside the box. Granted, there is a thriving effects business in Portland that mostly caters to commercial work, but I’m not part of that. I realized a long time ago that producing and owning content puts you in a better position that providing a service, especially when there are a million people all over the world capable of providing that service as well. I have my own content and occasionally I provide visual effects services when my old contacts have work. I use my vfx talent to produce content and I sell and license that content as documentaries and stock footage. I have learned from my years of working some important lessons. I sell my content, licensing and services in as many places as possible at the same time, in case any one of those “income streams” goes belly up, hopefully the others will continue. You might think this should make me a conservative thinker. I don’t believe in supply side economics. I believe in demand side economics. Without demand for my products, I cut inventory. Ask any small business if they thrive without demand. I don’t believe that tax breaks for multinational businesses create jobs. They haven’t, except maybe overseas. The Bush tax breaks plus 2 unfunded wars plus medicare Part D, all unfunded and off the books contributed significantly to the deficit. Austerity creates more unemployment and even less demand. Less demand creates less tax revenue and more deficits. Money has to circulate and turn over quickly, over and over for the economy to grow, at least in the short term. Trillions of dollars are out of circulation by big businesses. Why? Because, as those businesses will say, there is little demand although many use the tax code as an excuse even though tax rates have never been lower. I know this was a blog about the unions and I have had a love/hate relationship with them, having had a union shop at one time and, back in the 1980’s, according to ILM, I had 15% of the visual effects business then. I believe, however, that unions are an important part of the economic ecosystem that helps maintain the middle class, therefore I accept their existence. A billionaire, if I’m lucky, will buy ONE of my products; a thriving middle class has an unlimited potential for sales.

      • Craig says:

        @ Peter Kuran: Peter, I think what you have done and are currently doing is fantastic. I would agree with a lot of what you are saying here. I think you convinced yourself that I’m a “right-wing ideologue” and perhaps have an antagonistic slant towards me. That’s too bad.

        For the record, I’m an against the two wars and Medicare Part D ($16 trillion unfunded liability). Nothing but contempt for GWBush.

        I would consider myself a libertarian more than anything and I agree that unions are an important part of the economic system. This doesn’t mean that because I agree with the concept of a union, that I like or support all unions. Obviously, unions are there to look out for the employees, but what if a company actually treats its employees well? It’s not a crazy concept. After all, just because you run a company doesn’t mean you are out to screw over the people that work for you. I find it really interesting that SKaplan insists that people at PDI and Pixar choose to remain non-union because they are scared. Maybe for some people it is incomprehensible that an employee could actually like and respect their employer and vice versa. Heck, they might even like their working conditions, salary, and benefits. Why is it not OK to say that they simply don’t feel that they need to pay dues to a union?

        Some people may forget that there are huge benefits to having happy employees and many, many employers recognize this and do the best they can to keep them happy.

        On the flip side, a bad union can cripple a company by making too many overbearing demands. Or preventing a bad teacher from being fired (in this scenario, nobody ever mentions the new teacher with amazing potential that was not hired because the spot was taken by the bad one).

        If I was in Dave Rand’s position, I would certainly want to unionize, though, if not just for the portable health care benefits.

      • Peter Kuran says:

        I would like to share my observations of being a union shop with a few caveats: my experiences were mainly “pre-computer” era, it was a different playing field then.
        Although I think some of my observations may still hold true today.
        First, my shop may have averaged about 10 – 15 employees when busy, maybe 20 at most, not a huge shop by any means. When I unionized, I don’t believe it ever created an atmosphere of “us vs. them.” Nobody ever rebelled because I was imposing unfair labor requirements on them. There were individual issues but never collective issues with me as there would be in any shop, union or non-union. The unions usually never bothered me since there were always “bigger fish to fry.”
        There were added benefits to me as an employer. The unions had a pool of talent who could operate the equipment I had and didn’t have to train someone. Remember, at the time, people didn’t have optical printers or animation cameras at home or learn how to use them like they can learn computers today at home, on line or at many schools. If you needed someone, you had to train them unless you could offer them the union benefits to come and work for you. Almost everyone at the time with those skills were union.
        Also, if there ever was an unresolvable “labor” beef with someone, I was glad that the union was there as a buffer to resolve it.
        Also, the health care plan is the best in the world.
        As a facility, my main beefs were with the Health and Welfare folk who are a separate entity from the union folk but connected nonetheless. The people who provided the health care. I would be audited once a year and often I felt that their job was to find something they could penalize me for to cover the cost of their audit. One time I was fined $5000 because of a clerical mistake of when someone was paid. I had hired someone for a week to work on the stage and their pay was recorded as one week later by the book keeper by mistake. This, according to H&W put this person in another reporting period for insurance qualification and hence cost H&W money even though this person never used the health care they claim it cost. For a small business like mine, $5000 hurt. Also, things started falling apart when the computer age finally took hold. Most of the computer talent was non union and the union people at the time didn’t have the skills for the type of work required. I’m sure this is somewhat different now. This was a difficult transition period for me and probably the unions as well. Non union shops were springing up which I couldn’t compete with. One non union shop was run by someone who’s spouse was working at a union shop and hence they were able to acquire good union insurance for themselves (for nothing) while running a non-union shop without offering insurance or benefits. Eventually, I had to have a new business model, as previously described, where I created content and licensing and multiple income streams and abandoned the vfx service route. Now, I am working this new business model alone (although I wish I had help sometimes). The computer and the internet (ftp) made it possible to work anywhere and so I now live and work isolated where I can afford to do that. BTW, Vancouver WA offers the opportunity since the power costs are cheap and green, coming from hydro-electric power generation off the Columbia River. WA state has no state income tax and is right over the border with Oregon which has no sales tax.
        Regardless, I still believe in the union model as a counterweight to big business, because small businesses like the one I had and micro businesses like the one I conduct now are just as threatened by the power of big multinational corporations as the unions are.

      • 839spi says:

        “How well did that work out for the people of Albuquerque? How did it work out for the Imageworkers who moved their families out there?”

        I didn’t work out well for us.

      • 839spi says:

        “Obviously, unions are there to look out for the employees, but what if a company actually treats its employees well? ”

        Our stance is what happens when the nice company lays you off and you have no health insurance?

        This has become a hire-and-fire industry, with no safety net between jobs.

  6. Dave Rand says:

    I have a lot of friends on sound and editing. They are union members and their jobs are digital and exportable as well but their end of the industry has grown used to them being close to the director. Not like VFX that closeness, not when we have 6 people to pay in between us and the director…

    The IA is also in Vancouver. Subsidies and cheap labor are no reason to fear gaining leverage for your career’s sake. Outsourcing will happen if it’s efficient, union or not, and there are many limits to how well that works in the creative process. The IA has no intention of jacking up our wages or killing the shops but rather to give us a voice in our future and our treatment along with portable benefits and fair play. You may have not had to deal with unpaid overtime or just plane having your paycheck bounce like many of us have but the rest of the talent realized the need for this decades ago. We work under the most highly leverage corporations in America, the six studios that control most of our work. Sadly our shops have little leverage as well so the shit just naturally flows downhill when allowed, all the way down to us at the bottom of the credit list or worse the bottom of the creditors list.

    Dave Cohen from Variety once wrote me “..another vfx shop has closed with artists not getting paid, however sad, this is happening so frequently that the paper (Variety) feels it’s no longer news worthy”

    Competition causes this? yes! Many want to capitalize on what we do but don’t know how to make money off the bidding system…few do. it’s virtually impossible. No one else in the credits bids shit, they smartened up a long time ago to that scam.

    Trying to build a brand name when 95% of your creative staff are in constant turnover makes it hard to compete as well. Even the majors like ILM and DD ….a complete facelift every 6 months.

    The problems in our business have little to do with our rate of pay or our benefits. They have everything to do with a complete lack of leverage and voice as to how and were it makes the best sense fo us to work. If anyone should have some say, it should be those more responsible for the bottom line than anyone other group in the credits, the vfx artists.

    You all seem to care dearly about your careers. Those who post their arguments on this site all have that in common. The reason you make even the money you do in entertainment is because you work for a highly unionized industry. We are just late in the game that’s all and we are not trying to do anything unusual or fatal to our careers.

    You have concerns about outsourcing, healthcare, pensions, overtime, labor law enforcement, trade agreement enforcement, bidding without a blueprint, business schemes that are doomed to failure, or just simply general fair play according to the labor laws. You’ll have better luck with those and more issues in the future if you act together to form a organized voice. You’ll have more respect now and in the future. Have some faith in your talent and it’s proximity to the project…that’s a value that is non negotiable.

    • Peter Kuran says:

      The IA and the vfx workers potentially have a lot of issues in common as described: “outsourcing, healthcare, pensions, overtime, labor law enforcement, trade agreement enforcement, bidding without a blueprint, business schemes that are doomed to failure, or just simply general fair play.”
      However, the IA could settle the easy way to unionize a labor force which turns over every 30 to 60 days. That way, they get dues, pension and H&W contributions without ever having to do anything in return for those people. I hope this time that the IA has a broader vision and is willing to use their clout and legacy to go beyond the short term corporate thinking that ails the studios and corporate America in general. The IA can’t lay this solely on the backs of the workers or the middle sized vfx businesses and think that this effort will “trickle up.” I had a vfx company struggling with many of the same problems. I chose not to outsource work to compete. However, I’m pretty much out of the business now as a business. Noble, maybe but the results are still the same. Less good jobs are maintained or created.

      • skaplan839 says:

        However, the IA could settle the easy way to unionize a labor force which turns over every 30 to 60 days. That way, they get dues, pension and H&W contributions without ever having to do anything in return for those people.

        Wild assumptions your making, Peter. Not having to do anything? What about the work to maintain the contract for a VFX Studio? What if I told you 839 members who are only working for short stints (weeks, not months) pay small portions of their initiation fee and dues and have their accounts suspended until such time as they return to union work?

        I’m getting the impression your vfx company struggled under a union contract a while ago. Maybe even before the IA created the myriad of contracts it has now that address the needs of smaller and unique productions. However, I’m buoyed by the fact that you were a vfx shop owner who saw the reasons and advantages of working with a union contract for your employees.

      • Peter Kuran says:

        Having had a union shop and simultaneously being represented on both sides of the contract as a “producer” as well, I never felt either side had my particular interests at heart. That said however, I think it is important for unions to succeed because they potentially represent the interests and values of a huge majority of the people (who represent at least 70% of the world’s economic engine) and provide a counter balance to the large, self-serving corporatocracies.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Thanks Peter you have an amazing legacy and I feel
        honored to be on the same page as you.

    • Craig says:

      Sound editing? Really? You cannot compare sound editing to VFX, Dave, and you know it. You are comparing a handful of people (usually freelancers) with huge companies with expensive facilities and hundreds of employees. It would be financially negligible for studios to outsource just a few people and likely not worth the hassle. Yep, they are close to the director because it doesn’t take hundreds and sometimes thousands of people to do sound editing. If it did, sound editors would be in the exact same position as VFX artists.

      I’m not sure what your point was comparing the two. The fact that they are union has nothing to do with the fact that they are not outsourced.

      I am all for a union if the union can prove it can help matters.

      I’ve got a question. Why is PDI not a union shop like DreamWorks? Are PDI people getting screwed by not being a part of a union? Why would the elect not to join the union if it were in their best interest?

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Interestingly enough, even though pdi is a nonunion facility a few hundred miles away, Glendale employees are paid more and more work is done in Glendale. In fact Glendale has expanded…

      • Peter Kuran says:

        The reason the editorial staff often does not suffer the same fate as other film professions is because they work where the director chooses to hang out in post production. Many of the directors live in Los Angeles or prefer to spend their post production time which can be months, in Los Angeles. This is near the studios as well. So it is a convenient location for the production executives, director, producers and editors to do business.
        The computer and internet have made it easy to ship jobs wherever they please for visual effects. It has made it possible for other visual effects companies to outsource work where ever they please as well. The fly in the ointment however is that the American consumer accounts for at least 70% of the economic engine that drives film sales and other consumer purchases. And when you cut out the purchasing power of the American consumer to save a couple of bucks, the economy of the world suffers.

      • skaplan839 says:

        Nothing would make be happier than to be able to organize PDI. Any artist at PDI who is interested in discussing organizing the studio should email me.


      • skaplan839 says:

        Craig –

        To answer your question, PDI was acquired after Dreamworks signed the union contract. Much like Pixar is to Disney, PDI is a wholly-owned subsidiary to Dreamworks. Nothing in the Dreamworks contract demands they be union, so they are not.

        As with all organization, its up to the artists.

        Sign a Repcard and get it back to me.

        Steve Kaplan

      • Peter Kuran says:

        I think sound editors fall under the editorial umbrella which maintains its base in Los Angeles close to the director, producers, production executives etc. I don’t think a producer would outsource this job because the savings would be negligible.
        I had a good visual effects business between 1985 and 1999 and unionized as a effort to keep my crew happy when times were good. Producers respected visual effects then for two reasons: One, the work was done on optical printers, motion control and a variety of equipment that was too exotic for the executives to get their heads around. And it was too expensive for anyone to have compared to the costs of computers. Two, we maintained control over some negative, so they weren’t about to mess with anyone who held onto their negative. Both of these barriers were broken with digital. While I made the transition to digital, I realized that, in the long term, I needed (personally) to pursue goals that would keep me out of what would eventually be a race out of existence.
        Being a union shop during the pre digital era had a benefit of having access to people who knew how to run optical printers and camera equipment, lab equipment etc because those people were union and wanted to work where they could enjoy union benefits. So many young people now are much better at digital work then us old folk and don’t see the benefit of having health insurance or a pension.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Those observations where based on my conversations with my friends in the sound (both digital foley and mixing) business who’s digital jobs according to them are potentially exportable but no one dreams of doing that because their careers have evolved having them work closely to the director without bidding the job but getting paid by the hour. Although i did not state this I do wonder if that could be an influence from their organization.

        I’ve written extensively of my observations of how the disconnection of the director from our end (VFX) of the digital set and the broken bidding model are the main dampeners of the studio’s bottom line…not our wages. If our shops were paid on billable hours…guess who’d be showing up every day? The Director. Yeah it can be like watching paint dry…..but that’s better than watching money burn.

        So If you go back and read my first paragraph (as we keep having this problem with you putting words in my mouth):

        I never said it was the union that fought to keep them here or is fighting to keep them here just that the evolution of the way they work closely with the director and the complete divergence of our relationship there. Not sure who you are Craig or what part of the business you are in so I hope that’s enough of an explanation for you. And please read more carefully. It’s tiring having to constantly follow up with anonymous posters trying to change my message.

        If your not the same Craig I apologize.

      • Dig says:

        Dave is actually correct. There’s absolutely no reason why my job as a Foley artist cannot be exported to China or India. It takes a lot more of us than you may think especially on the same films you folks work on. Lots and lots of sounds going on in transformers in avengers in Tron you name it . And yes don’t think it has not been discussed this outsourcing. The companies I’ve worked for don’t bid on the digital foley work. Quite frankly we do not understand why vfx shops do. I agree it’s the reason the client is always around making decisions so no time is wasted making the wrong sounds. It is as much an art as what the visual effects artist do. I’ve actually had the opportunity to do both vFX and sound work but I prefer a union job and VFX’s not supplying too many of those right now, until you’ve actually worked the union gig you’ll never get the benefits completely because some of it is transparent some of that is just the evolution of the company growing with the union, becomes almost instinctive to just treat the artist right. I’ve spent some time at Skywalker also and they have tried some remote sinking. It worked fine except there were some dropouts occasionally from the data transfer this annoyed the fuck out of the director and because Directors want full control of the sound simply because that’s just the way it has always been done and I guarantee you it’s because we don’t bid that work so they showup. The whole thing is charged by the hour. As a matter of fact that’s the way the rest of Hollywood works. Maybe that has nothing to do with it but we’re all unionized and at least we have someone speaking up for us when business practices are bad even bad for both parties.

      • Craig says:

        @ VFX Soldier: How do you know Glendale employees are paid more than Redwood City people? Also, even if true, are you claiming that if Redwood City unionized, then they would all receive higher pay on average? Are there people working in Redwood City that are earning below what the union would set as a minimum? I would guess that most are earning more, anyway.

        Also, Glendale is the DreamWorks headquarters and where Jeffery is, so I’d expect it to expand there in preference to up north. I’m sure he’d move everybody from NorCal to SoCal if he could so that he’d have everybody in one place and he wouldn’t have to fly as much.

        @ Peter Kuran: You are right on some things here.

        @ SKaplan: You say, “Nothing in the DreamWorks contract demands they be union, so they are not”. You are right that it is up to the artists, so why don’t PDI or Pixar artists simply unionize if it is to their benefit? Are those people idiots? PDI has been part of DreamWorks for well over a decade now and they even work directly on the same films along with their Glendale unionized counterparts.

        @ Dave Rand: No, you never explicitly said that the union fought to keep sound editors here, but you did say right off the bat when you brought up that group that they were union members. This is a thread about unionizing, so it is not far fetched to read that as you pitching a case in point.

        I respect what you have to say Dave. From your history it is obvious that you’ve been through a lot. I, fortunately, have always been treated more than fairly by the fx and animation studios that I have worked for. Obviously, experience shapes our opinions more than anything.

        Labor unions have done a lot for this country and many times they are necessary, but they are not angels from heaven. All organizations that have power can lead to abuse and corruption, so there should not be an automatic trust in unions.

        I think a union is a great idea for many folks that work for short stints and need consistent medical insurance. It’s a shame that this kind of thing is linked to employers so much. Beyond that, I’m not sure what a union can do.

      • Dave Rand says:

        My point exactly there are many benefits to unionization that are transparent and run deep. I’ve been on the staff of five places that closed. They all owed me money at the end, gave no warning things ware even close to bad. The union shops never even came close to that scenario, the last one paid me 30k on the way out the door as a completion bonus. Did the union require that….no, the company evolved with the union and that type of treatment becomes engrained when your business relationship has balance. Ask yourself why the entertainment industry became so organized, maybe there’s a clue there. You already benefit from those unions. It’s a fact that employees in the not unionized portions of a highly unionized industry benefit from that organization. You can look that up yourself.

      • skaplan839 says:

        For the same reason VFX artists at studios who are flagrantly abusing labor laws don’t stand up for themselves? They aren’t stupid (no need to be insulting, Craig), they are scarred. Their fear stems from the misinformation and fear from their employers.

        Dave’s makes the point clearly .. if Unionization is so wrong for big business, why is all of entertainment unionized except for visual effects?

        It has to start from within. It only takes repcards to start.

  7. jonavark says:


    That post brought back memories of developing code and hardware for optical printers, downshooters, roto systems, cameras and all kinds of wacky stuff. Dang.. it was more fun then.

  8. MBS says:

    In the states where Incentives have brought jobs speaking out against the them in any way…(i.e. discussing their potential downsides) will automatically lump you in with right wing talking heads. Its alienated me from people I hoped to work with in this rather small VFX market. Repercussions run deep when money is used to navigate around what should be hard earned success. I was one of those Tax Incentive loving and fighting artists! i did really believe that Hollywood was just about to completely move based on some very well told story about how the studios there are collapsing under L.A’s expensive and creatively draining lifestyle. (This and how we were poised to gain an eventual upper hand in the industry) These stories whether founded in reality or not were enough to convince me that betting on this “trend” was worth our Tax dollars.
    The Incentives have in fact proven to be profitable. The long-term profits are hidden and sometime never fully realized. Its a guessing game essentially. Is this how we build communities?No. To artificially build something that took those who originally did it years?
    The greatest detriment to VFX is the stifling of smaller upstart studios. If Incentives hurt them than its pretty obvious they should be done away with. I’d rather plant a small tree and watch it grow over time then to hire a landscaper to up-root some massive old growth timber and expect it to grow well in a far away environment. In fact its true that doing this to large trees stunts their growth for many years…Your better off planting that seedling, for in the same amount of time it took the giant to find its roots (if it does at all and doesn’t die) you’ll have a much healthier and well adjusted “friend” for life.

  9. Nycvfx says:

    I hope this Union represents us vfx workers here in New York as well if this gets started!!!

  10. Hello it’s me, I am also visiting this web site regularly, this site is in fact pleasant and the people are actually sharing pleasant thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: