The Displacement Of VFX Families

I’ve been reading with interest about the current debate on film subsidies in New Zealand: NZ VFX house DigiPost sits empty as it is faced with either liquidation or moving operations to the UK if subsidies are not increased. There are encouraging discussions about trying to localize the subsidies to avoid a race to the bottom. However the article I found most profound was this:

Production co-ordinator Dot Kyle never expected a career in film and television would offer a 9-to-5 routine or a weekly pay cheque. Yet the screen industry’s flowering in the last 20 years did bring job security – and a husband, in special effects whiz Sven Harens.

But the industry’s air of permanence has proved as illusory as a film set. The downturn of the past 18 months is forcing Kyle to look seriously at leaving the country – joining her husband who has already gone, and leaving two children behind to continue their schooling.

I sympathize incredibly with similar stories I get on occasion from VFX parents (both citizen and international) in CA who are not able to move. Here is one email I received from a VFX parent:

for the vast majority of LA VFX parents, subsidies have been horribly negative. They are unwilling or unable to take advantage of the “opportunity” to move to another country, so they have to deal with the huge contraction to the industry here.

Personally, I have an Autistic son, and we have spent years organizing his therapy and schooling.  It would be devastating to his care to just uproot him, move to another country, and try to piece it all back together.

Readers would be surprised to hear that our initial campaign against VFX subsidies was financially supported by internationally based VFX professionals. Many of them, like me, don’t care where the work is done but it’s the constant costly displacement caused by subsidies that effects both international and CA artists.

Soldier On.


49 Responses to The Displacement Of VFX Families

  1. You have always said this is not about CA or any specific region of the world. This is about trying to have this business be sustainable and allow the communities to grow naturally versus the artificial explosion or facilities and work that the subsidies create.
    I also don’t really want CA subsidies. Why not? Well, those are my taxes paying for the film subsidies. I am now inadvertently a film financier. Great, where is my back end participation? 😉

    • Scott Ross says:

      Rob.. you nailed it ( as they say). The British ( as well as NZ and Canada) make huge investments in film and TV. While the subsidies programs can be heavily debated as to their value ( I believe that they cost much more than they are worth) to Provinces and Countries… the investments have no participation in the film’s back end profits and interestingly these governments are handing money over to US Corporations… why not at least finance their citizen’s films?

      • ex mpc says:

        And the uk incentives rely on passing a british cultural test.

        I guess the real question is what will happen to the Hollywood industry if we take away the foreign box office from the studios? With people having limited money and also only so many Cinemas, if governments deice to sponsor internal industry they would also create import quota’s on hollywood films to benefit the local industry they would then support.

        All just theory but makes you think the loser would be hollywood.

      • Scathie says:

        “why not at least finance their citizen’s films?”

        It’s called the MPAA and it exists to stop this very thing from happening.

  2. hugo says:

    This, of course, is a trend not only relevant for VFX workers, but for many other “industries” also. Working in animated features for the past 3 decades, I have worked/lived with my family on 4 continents + many more countries. Many of my colleagues have done the same. So, in many ways it seems to me it is is more common to be moving multiple times in the course of ones career in animation and the execption would be to stay in one place over a long period of time (my experience). I am not too familiar with the FX community, but as Character Animation seems to be mostly treated as VFX work as far as a the subsidies are concerned this industry is probably comparable nowadays. For artists with families it is becoming very unattractive to stay in the industry for various reasons, but one in particular: projects tend to aim for shorter turn around times with more staff. In my experience the costs for moving (both financially as well as psycologically) can only really be recuperated with longer stays (from the standpoint of the artist).

    Oh…and …you or a member of your family should never become ill or sick..ever….

  3. LosingHope says:

    I’ve told lots of friends inside of VFX and out that I and most people don’t have a problem with moving for work…since the dawn of time people have had to relocate for jobs.

    But relocating every 2-3 or 4-6 months as projects end is absolutely ridiculous and unsustainable.

    Let alone trying to settle down and establish roots some place where the industry is the textbook definition of a “house built on sand”

    • Jackadullboy says:

      And as if to add insult to injury, these hyper-compressed schedules are accompanied by horrendous amounts of overtime, meaning those with families seldom get to see them.

      Not a recipe for physical health, mental well being, and healthy relationships… Movie credits are often accompanied by lists of “production babies”. Forgive my dark humour, but I often think a list of “production divorces” might be more appropriate.

  4. Not So Keen On VFX Too Bad Mad VFX Skills Unusable Outside VFX says:

    And since show schedules are getting shorter, with most less than one year, renting an apartment in a subsidized town for less than one year can be a real problem. You’re basically going from hotel to hotel… almost homeless.

    • hector says:

      homeless and big in ego.

      • Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know says:

        More like big in irony. Don’t really believe my skills (maybe I should have spelled it ‘skillz’) are ‘mad.’ But mad, bad or in between, the vfx skillset is deemed “not a good fit” by HR in other lines of work, even adjacent ones.

      • Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know says:

        Also: maybe I didn’t make the point clearly enough, but who will give a potential renter a 6 month (or less) lease?

        Or, more to the point, what if you own a home and your gig in another country finishes, but you’ve rented your home out so you must go… where, exactly?

  5. minoton says:

    Even if all subsidies go away, I’m not so sure how much, if any, VFX work will come back to L.A., at least with those companies with offices already established up in BC. The VFX facilities are trying hard to establish a talent pool in Vancouver by mandating artists work up there even though the company has plenty of available workstations in L.A. I’ve heard of one company even offering work in L.A. for a token period of time if the artists will then relocate to Vancouver after the holidays. Talk about bait and switch!

    1.) The facilities get a workforce in the same time zone. The company elites and recruiters don’t have to be bothered with relocating to colder climes, just the peon artists.

    2.) The facilities get a labor tax break beyond any subsidy the studios get for mandating where production takes place.

    3.) To the best of my knowledge (feel free to correct me) the facilities don’t have to have a 410k matching plan. At least, when Sony was closing down ABQ and trying to coerce artists in to moving up there, that was the case. Has that changed? Do any of the other companies up there pay into any kind of 401k matching for artists?

    4.) I don’t mean to take this into a political arena, but regardless of what happens with the ACA/Obamacare, facilities will not have to set up plans when the delayed employer mandate (they got a year break) kicks in next year. The facilities just shift the artists onto the country’s health care plan, paid for by the artist through taxation. There’s no way a VFX facility can hire artists part time (29 hours or less) so this represents a cost cutting for them.

    If you are being recruited to work in a subsidized location, I suggest charge the company a premium for the inconvenience of going to a location to work where they are getting all the financial benefits. If they have a sister facility in the U.S., then charge your standard, non-premium rate, and let the facility have the option to determine which is financially in their best interests until any CVD or other economic corrections can be implemented.

    • VFX worker says:

      These are great points, but point 4 will be hard.

      ” charge a premium”

      I don’t know what you do, but anytime I have tried to get a little more money the conversations stop. I know my rate isn’t that high, I have been working 7 years, and compared to friends “not working” I know my rate is at least $10 less then what they are asking. I worked at a company that moved most thier work to Van, they asked me to go. I told them I was interested but would need a raise. The conversation stopped. The artist manager, told me that “I’ll take that as not interested”, that ended the conversation. It’s been 2 years, since I’ve had an offer from them. All my other friends continually have thier rates lowered, or the conversation stops.

      If there was only some way all artist could come together, and set/lock rates based on experience, so that this doesn’t happen.

      • hector says:

        I know. This is everywhere. I know MPC offered 60000/year to one of my friend, a senior compositor. But this was last year. And this was in Vancouver. I don’t know what it’s happening, but seems very clear for me that if the company will be able to find a senior at a lower rate, then they will automatically adapt the whole system to it. Let’s say, someone was doing 60/hour couple of years ago, and now, he is not able to find work for 30/hour in Vancouver, where the rent is 1500/month.
        My humble opinion:
        1. The company is considering that the job can be made by a less skilled worker, since the software evolved so much, and they prefer cheap worker but willing to spend overtime as well. This overtime is sometimes payed, sometimes not, but if it is, then it is always in the supervisors or leads advantage since they are payed overtime as well. Big money today is coming from OVERTIME not from salary!.
        2. The companies act differently before Oscar 2013 and after. I know you noticed this. They don’t need trouble anymore. The oscar moment and the green avatar, put the companies in a situation to change policies, and 1st thing they’ve noticed?: The workers are not united at all. So let’s divide them even further and create an environment where the salary (t artists are threatened with job loss and created a false quotation taking into account minimum and no maximum) is maintain ( for now) at a very low level, so the basic artist will say “Thank You” for 3/4 of the price he was used to work before. I don’t know if you noticed how many job offers came from companies in autumn ( in Canada) but fewer artists were hired. This has only one explanation: They do not really need people at the moment they’ve posted the ad. They are trying to push many job offers hoping that the artist will see them (and he will understand that he is not esteemed) so he will try to beg for a role.
        3. hard economic times as well, movies are very close to game industry, and a lot of other issues that I think you know as well.

        Sadly, the movie industry have to rebuild entirely and add lots of values inside if he wants to exist.

        Chosen path is all wrong and leads nowhere for anyone.

      • See, this is where things fall apart for me. A senior compositor in Vancouver can hit 100k/year easy. MPC is a bad mark as they notoriously underpay artists. That goes for the UK and Vancouver. The problem is that people still go to MPC for the ‘cool projects’ and they pay premium for the pleasure: No real OT, shitty VAC pay deduction trick, daily rate calculated on a 10 hour day… It’s one of the worst companies in town. A senior comp makes $45/hr+ in Vancouver unless they are uninformed or are chasing a credit. is a pretty good bar measuring stick as far as I’ve seen.

        It sadly gets lean in data for the more senior levels, but Vancouver/LA aren’t that far off. Please compare rates for compositors. Vancouver has a much higher cost of living, but has healthcare covered and doesn’t require a car to live in. To me the locations are not totally incomparable.

        As to “Will all the work go rushing back to LA” post-CVD? That’s harder to say. Certainly the biggest strength LA VFXers have had in the past is their location relative to the studios home base. That’s also what helped Vancouver get on the map – A cheap CAD dollar and close proximity to LA made them a great option for projects that didn’t need heavy hitters. The CAD dollar stabilized, the government upped the tax credits, new countries and states joined the game. And here we are.

        And lets be up front and honest with one point: CVD’s wont exactly level the playing field as they are not applicable to state subsidies. VFXSoldier and others apparently have big plans to tackle that front. I truly wish them luck.

        When the jobs shift, the talent will follow – Or will try to. Are we happy if citizenship trumps skill? Will the Intl supporters of CVD find themselves lacking support when they are applying for a work visa? Time will tell. I know this much: Intl mid and Jr.s need to think of their plan B.

        To VFX Workers comment: “If there was only some way all artist could come together, and set/lock rates based on experience, so that this doesn’t happen.” – I personally only accept offers equal or above the rates are reflected on I’ve been doing that ever since it (and it’s predecessor) were created and promote that site at every opportunity… Because fuck recruiters.

      • ex mpc says:

        There were people on 140k + as a senior compere a few years ago at MPC. They change pay rates depending on what the supply and demand is like all industries.

        I hear the day after R/H let everyone go they were offering 60k for the same and people took it as they needed a job. As shows need more people the the talent pool dries up then the wages rise.

      • fishies says:

        “If there was only some way all artist could come together, and set/lock rates based on experience, so that this doesn’t happen.”

        You mean like say… join a union and have collective bargaining? Sign your rep card. Then we can all do this.

    • Bob (another one) says:

      I’m not so sure you’re right about getting rid of subsidies not resulting in vfx work going back to LA. I suspect that vfx work will go back to LA ten minutes after the first time there’s serious problems on a movie and some asshole suit has to fly out to wherever to find out what the hell’s going on and shout at people. Because… you know… why should they have to take a two day trip away from LA? Why the fuck should they be inconvenienced? Making them leave the place where they live and work just for some VFX for a movie? I mean, sure, it’s only two days, but fuck that noise. I mean… you just don’t understand how massively inconvenient that shit is.

    • polyphemus says:

      401K is specific to the United States.

      Canada’s version is the IRA/RRSP..

      In context of BC and Vancouver, when you work up there, you are working for a Canadian company. Yes the company may be Sony/RH/DD/ILM/etc, a US owned studio, but its a Canadian division for legal and tax purporses.

      For all intents and purposes, you are working for a Canadian company in Canada and there is no 401K provision. They may do a IRA/RRSP match, so you can put funds into a Canadian retirement account but that is separate than your US accounts.

      You need to consult with a tax expert. I know Canada has a provision to allow for a lump sum transfer of 401K/US Retirement funds to a Canadian RRSP, I don’t know if the IRS has something similar to converting Canadian retirement funds to a US 401K.

      So its something else to consider before taking a Vancouver job if you are in the US.

      Another reason for Americans to ask for more money to go up there, theres more tax, do your research and don’t get sticker shock when you start work up there.

      • hector says:

        the way people are against Americans today, I think pretty soon there will be no trace of americans up there.

      • fishies says:

        Be weary when setting up a RRSP, you have to pay taxes on in the US. Also be weary in general and you should ask for more money for the simple fact that if you make over a certain amount you will not only be paying Canadian/UK tax you will be paying an additional USA tax. The foreign income exclusion only covers so much. Being American and working over seas has a lot of ramifications.

  6. contessa12 says:

    Look it, what China is doing in the VFX industry in the micro view. china is doing this to ALL or industries, with the exception of fuel. The truth is China copies everything to perfection than takes over the factory, business etc & then throws every foreigner out! I can remember seeing the opening of the Olympics on tv, telling my husband that it would be awful to ever be at was with China! Well, this is the first part of the war, economic! Because of the US company greed, these fat cat CEOs will accelerate the decline of the US and the VFX industry is just a small part of it. Wall St wizards and leading these studio CEOs by the nose while they salivate thinking about their new found profits. CEOs of the US have been very successful destroying the unions so they do whatever they want. And, although I laud Obama for many policies I do not for he does not enforce trade laws and the Chinese and India’s business people are laughing at US and are delighted in their ability to hoodwink us. E unfortunate thing is at before they begin to feel the pain, we woring stiffs feel it first. This is history being replayed with a different industry…read about the guided age and what companies did to the worker. If your my age and went to college, it was because our fathers had great jobs, belonged to unions, had paid sick days, vacations and were treated to the 8 hour workday! By the time you all scratch yourselves, all foreign VFX houses will be proficient enough by your very hand! Read about the suffering of early union members, they went thro hell.
    There is no easy answer but going to another location than the US is a big mistake, trainingele for overseas houses? You might as well look for another profession because you are writing your own death certificate. Sorry but that’s the truth as I see it.

    • Miodrag says:

      it’s not easy to do business in China. if someone does it they have really good contact. plus VISA are difficult go get ( I mean the real VISA, which are Z, that allows you to work there ) If someone offers you another type of VISA you are not allowed to work and believe me the government check this things as you are asked to go the the police.

  7. LMP says:

    Thank God I am moving on… It has taken me two years of pain, but this fallacy of industry and nerds that are unable to relate to one another in order to defend themselves a group just almost destroyed me emotionally and has left me broke and desilusined..

    • Earl Grey says:

      I worked 14 years in Los Angeles as a VFX artist. Earlier this year I got mad at the Oscars and accepted a job offer that did not involve VFX. I miss my co-workers, but I don’t miss the exploitation.

      • Mad, Bad, and Dangerous To Know says:

        What line of work did you end up in?

      • Earl Grey says:

        I ended up in software project management.

        I know other VFX artists who left to teach, write apps for smartphones, work in bakeries, work as entertainers and run fitness centers. Some left to work in the unionized animation industry. It’s all over the map.

    • trying to get out says:

      @ Earl Grey

      Man ..Im so envious..enjoy your new life…..and best of luck…

  8. Ben .S says:

    Sadly true, but the VFX business was never meant to be stable in any form or shape nor any location. The fact it has almost gone for California depends on several factors that we ALL have been arguing about over the years on here. I just met up with a few artists recently, most of them have moved into Health Care nursing schools, two have become cops, real estate agents etc. good to see people have the determination to fall back on something and create dreams for scratch.
    One thing I have always told my fellow artists/friends, think about your retirement and a different country as a back up plan! just because we are “artists”. This sounds discouraging but very practical. I have also seen other artists hate on a few very successful artists in Vancouver who were bold enough to plan financially early on in life, which saddens me further to see them turning on each other rather than the manipulative system.

  9. James says:

    I really don’t want to offend anyone, but we all signed up for a gypsy business. It always has been one. There is no such thing as a permanent job in film. It’s like you joined the circus and are pissed off when it moves to another town every week.

    • minoton says:

      I disagree. When you sign up for the circus, you know the circus is going to move. When I moved to L.A. To get in to film in 1987, L.A. was the center of film production. And outside of ILM, the largest hiring center of VFX and animation talent around. This was before the economic altering effect of government funded subsidies.

    • Bob (another one) says:

      If you came into VFX after 2003, then, yeah, I guess it always has looked nomadic to you. Before 2003? Before the incentives (/rebates /donations /bribes) started happening? It wasn’t nomadic at all. Oh, sure, every so often a facility would get quiet and you’d have to schlep across town to a place that was busy, but commuting for an hour each way isn’t the same as uprooting your entire life. It was secure. You could buy a house, a car. Start a family. Have a life.

      TL;DR – You’re wrong, it’s only nomadic at all because of all the stupid subsidy shit.

  10. minoton says:

    I hate replying via smartphone. I was saying, the highest area of hiring outside of ILM was L.A. If you wAnted in the biz, this is where you sent. Not following some traveling road show.

  11. chex_mix says:

    Can someone post a complete list of VFX companies in Vancouver and Montreal?

  12. Michael Jackson King of Pop says:

    Some said I was dead, but I’m coming back with a new album in 2014. People may treat you “Bad,” but all you visual effects artists are my “PYT”s. Tell those movie studios to “Beat It.”

    Much love,
    Michael Jackson – King of Pop

    • hector says:

      hi Michael
      we were miss you. Where have you been?

      • Michael Jackson King of Pop says:

        Hi Hector! It’s the King of Pop here. All the rumors about my death may have been “Off the Wall,” but I can’t stay mad at you, it’s just “Human Nature.”

        Now I just practice my dance moves, read VFX Soldier, and keep up with all these artists who “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.”

        Stay strong!
        Michael Jackson – King of Pop

  13. VFX_Reckoning says:

    Hey Soldier

    Does your law firm know how how the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement might effect implementing the CVD on the U.S. side if it passes into law?

    It seems to be giving corporations a lot more power to do whatever they want within the trade companies, so I’m wondering how negatively this is going to effect the VFX industry and the subsidy chase. And will that also give the studios the power to sue the U.S. because of profit loss due to a CVD?

  14. Chris Simmons says:

    Subsidies are government kickbacks, nothing more, nothing less. If you or I do it as an individual, we would go to jail, but when a government does it, it’s a subsidy. You award my people a contract, I will give you some of that money back…

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