Company-wide Email Sent To UK VFX Pros

According to a contact, this email was sent company wide at Cinesite 3 years ago. Every person in the industry should read this.

Unpaid overtime deprives people like you of a job

Visual Effects is no longer a start up industry like 15 years ago when a small pool of skilled people may have had to help the company get round a corner.  Today there are plenty of talented individuals who need work and many potential new entrants who are desperate to get into the industry.  There can be no justification for deliberately understaffing a project in the currect economic climate.  As those who actually do the work all know, the strategy of hiring (or switching from another show) only at the last minute is guaranteed to make a mess and ensure unnecessarily the need for extremely long working hours. The feeble excuse that “the clients made us do it” ( aka “leaves on the line”) begs the question of why, after so many years, this variable has not also been factored in as surely if this were truly a random effect, it would not happen repeatedly and throughout the lifetime of the project.  That level of lack of anticipation is only either spectacular incompetence or a deliberate and calculated choice on the part of the company for the purpose of increasing profit as they can get you to subsidise the operation by doing lots of work for free.

Fortunately. it is possible to challenge this shameful and discredited nonsense.

UNPAID OVERTIME

Your employer is not entitled to insist that you work at all beyond your contracted hours and you are within your rights to decline to do so.  The phrase “and other hours as necessary” or similar in an employment contract is only valid if accompanied by a system of annualised hours or some agreement on overtime pay for those hours so that you receive recompense in some way for every hour that you work.  Your employer can take no action against you for refusing to do unpaid overtime.   A contract is supposed to be of mutual benefit and this would so clearly not be.  Cinesite has acknowledged that employees do indeed have a free choice in whether to do extra hours but that rather glib assertion sits uncomfortably with the proclamation of a “mandatory” longer day, with “Tenko” style patrolling of the floors morning and evening and not least with the granite face, poker up the arse expression, curling of the nose and lips and sudden smell of vinegar if you dare to remind them that you are an actual human being and need to return on occasion to the land of the living for sustenance with your own kind.

If you agree to unpaid overtime then you are in effect cutting your own salary as your hourly rate inevitably goes down.

Attempting to assert your rights with your employer can be both intimidating and stressful.   BECTU (the Trade Union covering the film industry) can represent you on such occasions but only if you are a member.

In film industry businesses where there is union membership, this sort of thing cannot happen as the employees have the backing of a national organisation with the clout to stand up for them.  You can contact them with information about insidious working practices and such details or your views on the matter would be handled in the strictest confidence.

BECTU can be contacted at:

BECTU

373-377 Clapham Road

London SW9 9BT

Tel 020 7346 0900

Fax 020 7346 0901

OVERTIME PAY

In the USA, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that unless specifically exempted, employees covered by the Act must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay.

It is not unreasonable for the company to provide an individual audit of exactly how many additional unpaid hours you worked in the year and what that represents both in terms of your salary and time off in lieu within an annualised hours system.  This would allow you to use the information in future pay negotiations so that it aligns more closely to the contribution you actually make to the company’s profit margins.  Of course, you need to be correctly filling in those workorders and as the company want you to do this, providing the information at the end of the year to you would be the clearest incentive for you to do so.

Your annualised total contracted hours amount to 1816 (with bank holidays).

If you work 10 extra hours per week, you reach the total before 1 October and should not work beyond that.

This represents 25% of your salary at the normal rate or 37.5% at the FLSA overtime rate.  Calculate that against your salary and decide whether you want to give that much up as a charitable gesture to a profit-making enterprise especially as some of you work way beyond 10 additional hours per week.

It is also worth noting that this represents one quarter of an additional job.

BREAKS BETWEEN SHIFTS

Current legislation also requires that your employer allows every employee an uninterrupted rest break of 11 hours between shifts.

This means that if you work beyond 22:00 on any given day, your 09:00 normal start time the following day MUST be later by the amount of time you worked after 22:00 the night before.

This “compensatory rest” must be given at the earliest opportunity and the law states clearly that it should be taken the following day.

The legislation also places a strict duty of care on the employer towards their employees so that the latter do not suffer physical ill-health or mental distress as a result of the hours they are being asked to work.

Special circumstances can be invoked to compromise the normal, daily application of the 11 hour rule but these apply to limited conditions and the provisions on compensatory rest remain unaffected.

In essence, therefore, your employer cannot justify your working such excessive hours (i.e. after 22:00) as a continual practice over even a week because they would be unable to give you the compensatory rest to which you are entitled and which they are duty-bound by law to give you.

Further protection is available under law by opting-in to the Working Time Directive which then limits your working week to an average of 48 hours in any 17 week period.  This doesn’t stop you having to work longer in any given week but the company must monitor your hours so that the average is not exceeded and give you time off if necessary to bring this figure down to within the required limit.

You can opt-in at any time by signing a form and presenting it to your employer.

This is your absolute free choice and if the employer does anything to influence you in this regard, they are in serious breach not only of the provisions of the Directive but more seriously of the duty of care.

IN SUMMARY

A company which took seriously its duty of care towards its employees would have a fully-worked out publicly available policy covering all aspects of time-management (both in terms of active monitoring and measurement) rather than a conspicuous lacuna and a total inability to describe any aspect of how such a thing would work.    It would be able to say exactly how it ensured that nobody had to work overtime continuously because that is not what paid employment should be about.  And it would be proud to demonstrate in concrete terms how it looked after its workforce.

There is, additionally, no free and open discussion of these issues either individually or collectively because in such a climate, where the company had to admit that they were depending on your goodwill entirely to cover the gap they failed to see coming, the intimidation could not take place.

Think about it.

If you do nothing, you can’t complain.

If you do nothing, nothing will change for anyone.

Soldier On.

23 Responses to Company-wide Email Sent To UK VFX Pros

  1. martin says:

    I worked at Cinesite during the time this was sent. I won’t reveal any names and I generally agree with the sentiment. However I believe there is more than one view on the matter. We do not work in the only industry where individuals can earn hugely varying ranges of salaries with hugely variying expectations attached to their employment. A top lawyer earning 150k a year in the UK will not receive overtime pay but will be expected to get the job done no matter what. There might be other benefits such as bonuses or career bumps but generally once you reach a certain level in your career you have to look after yourself. This is of course not true for somebody with 3 years of experience that is doing mid level texture work or roto prep on 25k. Working free overtime, all the time wont be worth it it most cases and will be destructive. But if you are getting paid 70k a year and are employed in a lead or supervisor position … well, you gotta put in the hours when needed. You also gotta draw the line somewhere of course. But I had many lazy days where I arrived an hour late, left on time, and still got my usual rate. Then I got other days where I worked too much. As long as you personally feel the balance is right things are okay.
    I am not against more regulation, but what people forget a lot is that often our job is quite easy and relaxed and we do indeed enjoy late starts, lunchbreaks and 6pm drinks. And facebook at work. Any regulations would also regulate that, so in a way our jobs would maybe become more balanced but also less flexible.
    I guess my rambling is just trying to prove one point – things are more complex. But above points are a real concern.

    • Rob says:

      Why would you approach supervisors so differently from regular employees? There is no reason why with them it shouldn’t be all about their respective skills and responsibilities too. A company can have 2 or 4 supervisors just like they can have 10 or 20 roto artists. To properly handle a given workload.
      That said, I of course think the salaries would have to match that. And it generally seems to me that people on the “low end” are underpaid anyway while people on the “high end” tend to be overpaid. At least I would rather earn less and work less, be it as a roto prep guy or a supervisor. I guess one should simply have the option. If somebody is a workaholic who wants to work 70 hours a week on a regular basis – why not? But I think not everybody should be coerced to do that.
      As for the late starts, lunch breaks and whatnot: Why does any of that matter? It’s not like you get free pay for that time.
      And facebook at work for one is a usual thing at most office jobs. Quite some years ago, I have in fact worked as a programmer at some companies and things were a LOT more relaxed during work. Also, I find that it heavily depends on the companies and people. Most people I’ve worked with in our industry are actually very focused on their work. Which I would generally find commendable. But when people work their ass off with barely any breaks AND work late and weekends regularly, it upsets me.

      • martin says:

        I am not saying that supervisors should be approached differently, I am saying once you earn a certain amount you are dealing with skill levels, experience and competition in a way that doesnt protect you from overtime. I mean high paid top jobs will always be about who is good enough and puts in the work. Salary becomes less about your working hours directly and more about your potential, capacity and reactivity to problems. I am not disagreeing that regulation, especially for low and mid level employees is important. In fact I think it would help getting budgets more planable. But this industry also offers you a way to work your way up unlike most other industries, and the ones where you can achieve the same monetary success will usually lack the same regulations. What I am saying is … I like that this is capitalism and I like that I can stand out. I like that lazy people or people that really only want 9-6 and are very cynical are easy to overtake. Why is that a bad thing? This is not a charity, you are not entitled to your job and not entitled to keep it if you can be replaced by somebody more willing. The change must come from somewhere else, it must come from a belief that a sustainable business model involved happy employees that arent overworked etc. So that would be a reason for me to support the above rant. But simply because some people believe that earning 250/day entitles them to 8h work an no more … well … the average london salary is something like 30k. You can earn that in lots of places and probably need a degree for it, which a lot of our people dont have. You probably have a lot less fun, dont work in Soho, dont work in feature film etc. I think moaning is one of our biggest skills.🙂

      • JustCurious says:

        To Martin – perhaps I’m quibbling here but your lawyer argument falls apart. First, How do you equate a $70k job to a $150k job? You realize that 70k is less than half of $150k, right? Yet both workers are expected to give up the same for the good of the company? Second, in the US, you’d better believe that a lawyer charges for every single second of his/her time to the client. There might not be OT per se but they certainly aren’t doing any works for free.

        In your rebuttal message, you sort of suggest that anyone who wants a 9-6 job is lazy. If you didn’t mean that, you at least specifically stated that they can be easily overtaken. So it’s not OK to want a life outside of work while still being able to work on feature films? This is why VFX workers will never get what most want, because there are too many people like you who are willing to trample those who happen to have a family (and actually want to see them every now and then), or a hobby or even want to do their own creative projects on the side.

        Currently, I’m working my way out of this business because I’m tired of working 10-12 hours a day for 6-7 days a week because producers can’t say “no” to clients and then being rewarded with a layoff or a “can you take a month off unpaid until we get the next project going (that was supposed to start a months ago)? In other words, these companies don’t care about you… at all, until they are in a self-imposed crunch. Why on earth should I do free work for them? It sure as heck isn’t because I’m lazy.

      • martin says:

        JustCurious – you are right, I was not really meaning to label people lazy for wanting regular hours. But my points is where does this distorted idea come from that you are entitled to the job you want the way you want it? Of course 150k is more than 70k, but to get to the 150k you probably spend 10 years fighting and need to be one of the best of your various degrees. And just because the firm charges every hour doesnt mean the employe receives money for every hour.
        Regardless of the quality of the comparisson, this entitlement will get you nowhere in a free market. If you feel trampled upon by people that dont mind working irregular hours then what do you suggest we do? Dissallow people to be ambitious? It is your choice and I am not condoning the environment in which only people that work hours without pay will be promoted, but there is an element of capitalism in our industry. If you want to work on feature filmsand want to earn good money you have to put in the hours. If you dont want to do it you probably will find a lot of other stuff. People who are successful will always work harder. Doesnt mean everybody else is automatically lazy but your argument will never work because I will always find somebody that feels differently and doesnt mind working harder. If all the profit is only to the company and all the pain is with the artists, then yes, somethings is going wrong. But my point is that working hard should be rewarded, and this reward is not simply described in OT payments. Maybe 70k in this industry for 9-6 is too much. I tend to think so. Maybe 40k is too little for 5-10h overtime per week. I tend to think so. Maybe there should be more regulation. But I don’t feel one bit bad for making the best deal for myself and I couldnt care less about your family, I have my own and I handle my life quite well. You dont have to do this job, neither do I have to feel sorry or guilty for anybody that cant handle the hours. If you wanna play at the top you will not get far with this attitude. The top being feature film vfx, I guess. If you dont want to do this, if you disagree then you a) have a lot of avlid points for your point of view and b) always the option to do something else. Just dont be grumpy that you have worked in this industry all your life and it is not going the way you like.
        I have always gotten my rates and without too much pain, although sometimes it was fucking hard. But I and many others are doing fine. If I have enough I will leave. But I won’t be disgruntled that it wasnt made easier for me to do my job while getting paid the same amounts.
        As a freelancer you get paid x amount a year, and if you are smart you know that you have to realistically take 30% at least off that amount because you might be looking for work in between jobs. Then maybe another 10-20% because you work overtime. So yes, if you are on 70k you probably are comparable to a fulltime person on 40-50k, maybe less, mayeb more. If the effort is too much and you can earn 40-50k in another job: do it. What is stopping you and what makes you think I and anybody else are responsible for your preferences?

      • martin says:

        ps I am talking ukpounds, not us dollars

      • JustCurious says:

        Well, you think working harder is ambitious while I think working smarter works in the best interest of company and employee alike. But because of the attitude you espouse, which is the one that VFX seems stuck in, good, smart, ambitious people get burnt out and tossed aside for anyone willing to sit at a desk for a little bit longer than you are. In this “free market”( that doesn’t exist – hence the subsidy discussion), the VFX studios are constantly scrambling for any profit while the VFX worker is just hoping there will be another show after this one. It’s a lose-lose situation.

        I have lost any faith that things will change in the next few years which is why I’m moving on. It’s sad though. I have a lot of time and money invested in this career. But I’m not going to stick around in an abusive relationship hoping the abuser changes. It has way too many other co-dependents cheering it on. I wish you much luck and truly hope that you continue to love what you do.

    • martin says:

      I applaud your calm reply. We actually are agreeing, I think. This industry is not very kind. Would I like it to be kinder? Yes, i would like it to be more regulated and accessible for people that just want to do a good job, not burn out and have a family and life. I simply disagree that OT payments are particularly more relevant to this than the very nature of the industry in the first place. Its a free for all. It is like advertising, or top jobs that I mentioned where highly paid individuals need to get a job done for a certain amount of pay. Maybe this needs to be clearer, and I know too little about the legal issues surrounding this. But effectively we are all being paid x amount to do the job. The JOB determines your hourly wage, not the working hours. That is how I see it. If this was communicated more clearly maybe we would have less problems and the industry would not appeal so much to new starters that then end up disillusioned.
      And being smart is something that I mentioned in an earlier post – I dont see economic benefit in pissing people off. Happy workers are better. Tired workers are useless. But some people get tired more quickly than others, and as long as you dont want to work for a highly regulated public employer you will always to some degree have this tension along your career path. I for one enjoy it, but I can see that in i10 years I might be burned out. But I accept that and would not see it as a major tragedy, who wants to do the same thing all their life anyways🙂

      • Mike parsons says:

        I would have totally agreed with you Martin… Until last year. 28 years of vfx and 6 months of 100 hour weeks caught up with me mid feature and I ended up having heart surgery.. Twice… We all do this because we love it and push ourselves way harder than we should – but of late films have been more about HAVING to push ourselves above and beyond and I think that’s the difference. Just beware of what burn out might mean – in my case it almost meant dead at 46. It’s ok though I’m back in a flame suite now and having a lot of fun. Guess ill never learn!

  2. limbo jimbo says:

    This is one of the great things about working at big feature animation studios. They successfully manage projects so that people work 40-45 hour weeks throughout production. Rarely ever is there much overtime. It can be done.

    • JustCurious says:

      I worked at a big feature animation studio for one show – six months and I earned a year and a half of medical coverage due to the amount of hours I put in. It wasn’t as bad as the VFX studios but I was still doing 10-12 hrs a day plus 8 on Saturday. I was doing lighting and comp so perhaps that’s different from your experience as I believe lighting/comp suck up all the missed deadlines upstream (at every place I’ve ever worked). Just saying that you can’t really make your statement a blanket one. Regular hours can be done… there’s no question about that. But why should the facilities bother when everyone continues to do it without complaint or negative ramifications of any kind? This industry is pathetic.

  3. vfx_cynic says:

    I was working at a company were a similar but less sensational e-mail was sent and I know that management went into everyone’s work e-mail inbox and deleted the e-mail before anyone could read it.
    I think the part that says “granite face, poker up the arse expression” undermines the argument but I agree with it on the whole.
    Step one GO HOME ON TIME!

  4. VFX dude says:

    Working hours in VFX has always been a hot topic. On one hand we would all want to work decent hours and the other we’re dealing with a creative medium that is highly subjective. Your work can be technically perfect and yet you don’t get to pass because someone else has decided they didn’t like it. There’s only so much money and time for any given project. For VFX company management it’s already hard turning in a profit. Thus measures are being taken to reduce all possible overheads. For employees, you don’t want to feel you’re being taken advantage of and not being rewarded for your effort. When a deadline is being missed VFX companies have to partly refund the money back to clients. Money that has already been spent on wages. What would you have them do? Go bankrupt and close the shop down, then everyone would be in a mess. Management is of course responsible for not assessing the project correctly. But even if they did everything by the book, clients can still have the last word and mess it all up.

    For the employee, we want to have a work/life balance. But let’s be real, this business has never been a 9 to 6 kind. You were told that by veterans. You’re told that when you studied for it. You’re told that again during your interview. Now if you still want to go for it, then you knowingly accept the whole package.

    Concerning overtime pay, I think this should come directly from Film Studios. They should be made to pay for unreasonable demand or delays in their production. If they pay, then I can’t see any reason why VFX companies can’t follow. But until that happens, overtime will always be out of reach for many smaller studios.

    It’s a service based industry and competition is fierce. My final words would be for management to be considerate of their employees and consider them as your bread winner. The grunt of the work are being made by artists. They should be treated with respect and ask as kindly as possible whenever they should do longer hours and to also expect that ‘NO’ is also a possible answer.

    • Patrick Nagle says:

      I was told that New Line Cinema paid overtime for The Golden Compass at Framestore. This is the only time I have heard of this happening and I think it should be more common place.

      • Vfx dude says:

        That may well be but I also heard relationship were also very strained from that experience between FS and New Line. Nobody agrees readily for higher cost.

      • John says:

        I worked on Golden Compass at Framestore and this is not true.

  5. beenthere_donethat says:

    Well if you guys got that email from 3 years ago, where’s the one informing the artists that they are now working till 7PM instead of 6pm, even though 6pm was stated in the contracts?

    • Vfx dude says:

      If I remember correctly that one got sent out because people kept coming in much later than 9am. Not everyone was late of course but they had to do something about it. Most people were working hard on the project but since they didn’t want to confront a small number of employees personally they rather sent out a company wide mail.

  6. me says:

    stargate digital and stargate films should be put out of business. they are a huge offender in this area.

  7. ed says:

    Check this, specially people working in California. I don’t know if it is the same in all the U.S.
    http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_independentcontractor.htm

  8. Tenko says:

    It’s maybe a question of British humour but the bit about “poker up the arse” was unanimously applauded as even the most reasonable request (i.e. coming in 2 hours earlier because child care responsibilities made staying until 20:00 difficult) was deemed unacceptable. Fundamentally the problem in the UK is that, despite legislation limiting working hours (which allows up to 70 in a given week), VFX facilities do NOTHING to prevent their employees working beyond that.

  9. really? says:

    My friend was working at dneg when this came out, he posted a copy of it in the work newsgroups at dneg….the next morning he’d been pulled into the hr/3d manager’s office….he had to delete the email and post another saying he didn’t agree with it and should never have posted it…..Friday was his last day at dneg…

    All the companies are the same, they’re being ripped off by the big six, but they want to ensure their own margins.

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