Casualties Of The Subsidy Trade War: Imageworks Culver City

So it finally happened. Sony Pictures Imageworks is moving all of its work to Vancouver signaling an end of an era:

Variety: Sony Imageworks Moving HQ to Vancouver
The Hollywood Reporter: Sony’s VFX House Imageworks Moving Headquarters to Vancouver
LA Times: Effects firm Sony Pictures Imageworks leaving L.A. area for Canada
Deadline: Sony Imageworks’ Flight To Vancouver Latest Blow In VFX Subsidies Battle
The Globe and Mail: Sony Pictures Imageworks to move HQ to Vancouver
Cartoon Brew: Sony Pictures Animation Will No Longer Animate Its Films in the US

The only reason for this move is because BC taxpayers are paying 60% of resident salaries. That’s a ridiculously unsustainable amount and if you think Sony is committed to staying there you should talk to the people who were sold the same bag of goods at Sony New Mexico. If you think Sony will stay there because the costs of labor are lower regardless of subsidies, talk to the people at Sony India. Kim Kardashian has had a better track record on commitment than Sony.

Subsidies create a permanent cycle of displacement that puts a significant burden and barrier on VFX professionals and their families. This affects everyone from the bottom to the top.

Shortly after the Imageworks announcement one of Imageworks leaders announced he would go to ILM rather than make the move to BC. I’m aware of other industry pioneers leaving Imageworks and while that’s a big loss consider the story of Joe Rosensteel who I met when we both first started at Imageworks. Mr. Rosensteel attended a very good VFX school and was immediately hired by Imageworks and finaling shots in front of Oscar winning VFX Supervisors. The prospect of having to chase work to a different country every few years has provided significant challenges in continuing:

I hold on to those moments, like Watchmen as the reason why I have pride in what I do. I like to hold on to those moments where I worked crazy overtime for pride in my ability to do a task set before me. However, without more of those moments I fear I’ll lose momentum.

Mr. Rosensteel’s story conveys the very idea of why many of us work in VFX: Meritocracy. Subsidies destroy the idea of meritocracy and puts the decisions of who wins and loses in the hands of foolish bureaucracies that are destined to fail.

This latest move by Sony actually helps add more evidence to our legal effort to mitigate the effect of subsidies that is currently being worked on.

Soldier On.



49 Responses to Casualties Of The Subsidy Trade War: Imageworks Culver City

  1. Paul says:

    Vancouver has been producing content for decades as oppose to New Mexico. And 60% gives quite a bit of room to play with and more enticement to settle. What’s happening up there looks big, companies are done opening satellites and simply move to even bigger offices than their birthplace. This is a major shift and not really a crisis anymore. One day they’ll find a way to skip the US entirely.

    • Dave Rand says:

      …and leave 100 yrs of branding behind to go up and stand in the rain?

    • minoton says:

      What other industries in Vancouver/BC does the government fund 58.4% of employees’ salaries? Teachers? Doctors? Shore workers? Pot growers? Don’t you think any of the other businesses in Vancouver are going to get annoyed at their taxes paying ~60% of vfx workers’ salaries? When are they going to wise up, and say “Hey, what about us? Why aren’t you paying 60% of my employee costs?”

      • Paul says:

        You make it sound like BC is paying 60% of all the workers in that province. What do vfx workers amount to of all working people, 0.1%? Do you think BC tax payers really care and wake up every morning bitching about 1000 people or so getting paid with a minuscule portion of their tax dollars? How many teachers, doctors, shore workers as oppose to vfx workers?!

      • minoton says:

        “Do you think BC tax payers really care and wake up every morning bitching about 1000 people or so getting paid with a minuscule portion of their tax dollars?”

        They should. Why are VFX artists so special, especially since the majority of them are not even native Canadians, over any other trade?

        “You make it sound like BC is paying 60% of all the workers in that province. ” “How many teachers, doctors, shore workers as oppose to vfx workers?!”

        Where do I say that? I said they’re only paying ~60% (by reimbursing the VFX facility) of the VFX artists salaries. I was asking why isn’t the BC gov’t paying 60% of everybody’s salaries, not just singling out VFX artists? Again, what makes VFX artists so special in the Canadian government’s eyes that they are singled out for this seemingly singular consideration? Maybe those companies that employ teachers, doctors, shore workers, et. al. would like a little governmental economic help, as well. (Hint: They’re already in BC. They don’t need to have their work shipped in from another country. It would mean keeping the tax dollars local instead of going to the major corporate owned studios in America.)

    • Bilbo Baggins says:

      New Mexico has been making films much longer then Vancouver. The state itself has film work dating back to old westerns. They had a good deal in Albuquerque but wanted more. I grew skeptical of Imageworks as a company led by truly arrogant upper management who was likely not happy their bosses had them relocate here. Who was in control? That was hard to tell…But we saw them very excited to be here and then walla! Bam…Like no tomorrow…GONE!
      I dont have much faith in their leadership. Amazing creative folks almost all the way to the top but a noticeable deterioration of morals and even humanity as you got to the highest levels of that company. Goodluck Vancouver!

  2. VFX Soldier says:

    Wait for my next post.

  3. Dave Rand says:

    They say don’t bite the hand that feeds, but who is the hand, and who is doing the gnawing?

  4. Ian Christy says:

    I agree about the subsidies, however feel a bit jaded as while film may get great subsidies in BC, games don’t and most of the decent work went to Toronto, Quebec, or states with incentives (and military bases) like Texas and North Carolina. Choosing to stay in Vancouver where I have family and home meant giving up livable wages and enjoying that second job.

    And for the record, Seattle gets more rain, and the rest of Canada more snow and ice. Before slagging the city I personally willfully chose to live in, run in, and work in, realize not everyone shares the dream of living in a roasting, smoggy circuit-board of a city like LA. Also, we have a wicked big airport wherein West Jet offers amazing deals on non-stop flights to Hawaii. 😉

    • Paul says:

      It’s true that cold, rainy or cloudy weather makes up for spending most of the day or night in a dimly lit if not dark enclosed space. How’s light therapy going for you by the way?

    • Dave Rand says:

      California is a big state. LA is still fantastic, as you go south or north its gets even more and more amazing. That is why the American film makers flocked here to create Hollywood and for the last 100 + yrs the nutured the TALENT and built the BRAND that the world loves and sometimes loves to hate…and it ain’t leaving the golden state or Hollywood entirely. It needs it’s roots here to enjoy the leverage that brand offers…. Sure VFX can be done anywhere but nothing beats having production and post in the same area…BC, NZ, UK, it does not matter if you are working creatively in human space you’ll always make a better product that you can in cyberspace….however, if you can keep renting your film biz from Hollywood and hope you local politicians keep ponying up the rent money. The sooner you build some real industry equity the sooner you’ll be building something more lasting and real.

      • BCIT Boy says:

        They flocked to Hollywood to “run away” from Edison’s patents pal. The long history of filmmakers moving to cheaper pastures continues…

      • They came to Southern California for cheap land, diverse landscape and, most importantly, sunshine all year during an era when the industry was much more dependent on it. Edison could, and did, dispatch his agents to California for enforcement.

        The theory that his patent enforcement cause filmmakers to come west is premised on the idea they could quickly move their productions across the border to Mexico, where Edison could NOT shut them down. Problem is that actually never happened. There aren’t any documented examples of any productions actually running to Mexico.

  5. tough says:

    No offence but you are editorializing. Who said Rob Bredow had to move to Vancouver so quit. The fact is he was offered an amazing opportunity to be a VFX Supervisor at ILM. THey never hire external vfx supervisors so this was a very rare oportunity and the likely hood is he will be on a small francise.

    • matteobject says:

      Yes, I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that he just happens to switch to another company in California as his existing company relocates most of itself to Canada.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      From the Variety article:

      One of the open questions about Sony Imageworks’ move from Culver City to Vancouver is whether its key talent will be willing to immigrate to Canada to stay with Sony.

      In the case of one of Imageworks’ most prominent employees, chief technology officer Rob Bredow, the answer seems to be “No.”

      • tough says:

        yes edotorializing. No one knows if he was asked to move. Instead he is relocation out of LA to San Fran.

      • SPInsider says:

        Rob was on the executive level at Imageworks and I can almost guarantee you that while Bob & Randy may have hoped he’d play the pied piper, nothing about his employment – present or future – was contingent upon his location.

        Rob could have easily sat in his cushy position at Imageworks Culver City for the remainder of their existence as a company. If this move says anything about Rob, my suspicion would be that it has more to do with his principles and his faith in the future of the company than about his willingness to move to BC.

        Ed Catmull quote from Rob’s pre-announcement blog post:
        “Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out […] Your employees are smart; that’s why you hired them. So treat them that way. They know when you deliver a message that’s been heavily massaged.”

  6. tough says:

    Its not the only reason to move. Aside from subsidies it is cheaper to do business in BC as a company. Different labor laws, company taxes, wages, pensions, socialized healthcare all make it more attractive to run a business in BC. If you take healthcare alone, the cost of extended medical that a company would have to pay in California alone increases the cost of running a business significantly. With no need for 401k matching other countries become even more attractive.

    Perhaps if along with the CVD, if you agree to no medical or 401k then businesses will return. Or you can pay similar taxes and obama can provide free healthcare

    • minoton says:

      Wow. No 401k matching? As an artist, I can’t wait to sign up! As for socialized medicine, screw that. A former ILM artist recently needed surgery or their life would be in danger. They could wait in Canada, or go to the states (Atlanta, IIRC) in June. But they didn’t have the money needed to get to the states, so a Kickstarter campaign was set up and they got the money needed. This article was attached to the call for support:

      Socialized medicine? No thank you. You paint a horrible recruiting picture for any artist thinking of going to Vancouver. Everything is in the favor of the companies. Maybe the gov’t should directly subsidize the artists, instead?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      It’s was cheaper at Sony India and that was closed.

      • tough says:

        they had no work so why keep it open. it is probably cheaper to tender out those tasks than keep in house at a facility that is idle.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        The reason Sony opened it’s own branch in India was because sending work to 3rd party vendors in India didn’t work.

      • tough says:

        that was then this is now. There are several amazing companies that solely do Matchmove, roto and paint. Times have changed and so has the model due to the success of some of these companies. I can name several but Yannix is a great example of a facility that most major studios use for matchmove because of there skill and pricepoint.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        I worked at Sony when they used Yannix and many of my shots on I Am Legend were delayed to to bad tracking.

      • Andreas jablonka says:

        I can tell you that
        The last 4 outsource facilities it had to work with were chosen simply by the cheapest price point. 15$/hr or 200$/manday

      • Name Required says:

        Yeah nothing can changed in 8 years. That’s like saying mocap technology hasn’t changed since Lord of the Rings.

      • BCIT Boy says:

        Guess you haven’t read what Scott Ross has been saying? 10-15 years and it will all be done in countries like India.

      • Andreas jablonka says:

        Scott said that 10 years ago. Nowadays it’s china but even that is
        Has not come true.

        Scott also supports the fight against subsidies very vocally with Adapt.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Correct….Both India and China have developing film industries independent of Hollywood. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

      • fgh says:

        Sorry vfx soldier but these days Yannix are a leader in tracking especially when they don’t have any onset data. And the turnaround is amazing.

        One of the best match move companies around . Fact.

        Go see Edge of Tomorrow and other recent Sony shows and see for yourself. And no they were rarely fixed in hose as there is no dept anymore except for one lead. I hear on the show you mentioned even the mighty sony almost didn’t deliver .

      • tazzman says:

        Oh please ugh. The only reason people at the studios give a rats about your company is because of cheap labor.

    • Jackadullboy says:

      Since the term is bandied around so much, maybe it’s time to define what ‘Hollywood’ is.. Is it an agglomeration of specifically American film corporations? Is it a place? Is it a sign on a hill? What is it exactly, and is there something more than nostalgia and a historical pooling of talent that roots it to California?

      • Paul says:

        Hollywood as someone put it is a brand name that could easily get away with a single mailing address and a small office in the valley. As long as the stars have at least one real estate property there all is good, they don’t even have to live in it.

    • Earl Grey says:

      Perhaps if along with the CVD, if you agree to no medical or 401k then businesses will return.

      Those conditions exist now in Los Angeles, yet the work refuses to return.

      I worked in Los Angeles VFX from 1999-2013. I worked at twelve different studios, and I did a lot of freelance. Only five of those studios had medical benefits for employees. Only two of those studios offered employees a 401(k) — and one of them was an 839 shop, not a VFX shop. Neither of those two studios offered a 401(k) match.

      Dropping workers’ medical and retirement benefits are some of the ways Los Angeles VFX shops try to underbid each other. Other ways are unpaid overtime and (illegally) making employees pay the employer’s half of the Social Security/Medicare taxes.

      Warner Bros profits from all of this, plus the fixed bid model which forces any cost overruns onto the VFX shops.

      The VFX industry is a vampire that thrives on artists’ futures.

      • vfxer says:

        I know when I worked in LA, this was true. I only was offered healthcare at one company. The one time I was given healthcare it was 6% of my salary to get it and that included overtime money, no cap on how much I could pay them. Most of the time I got nothing. No holiday, no sick days, no healthcare, no retirement plans… it’s surprising people think that the majority of people got that and that’s the reason why LA had problems! Trust me that’s not it!

  7. sony india says:

    Yeah VFX Soldier talking about Sony India makes you pretty clueless on a business level. The overhead to keep a building and crew going with no work as sony india is pretty silly when they can outsource the work as they need to. Especially with several very good companies like Yannix, Prana, Studio 8, roto factory. The list is endless and you can keep kicking stuff back without charge.

    I know several companies that use all these including places like MPC who have a huge office in Bangalore. Why, because sometimes it can be cheaper that crewing and holding so many artists.

    • tazzman says:

      Yeah and they all do roto and match moving. And they’re all cheap. You still haven’t put together a viable full service shop that actually makes a profit without government aid.

  8. TheClash says:

    Every damn vfx worker in Europe has moved to some other country to work. So why you – from the u.s. – shouldn’t do that as well is behind my recognition. Move your ass and shut your mouth. Or change job.

  9. TheClash says:

    By the way, it’s called “capitalism” and you U.S. invited it and it’s bouncing back to you. Biting, hard.

    • minoton says:

      Capitalism is based on private markets with no government intervention, i.e., subsidies. End market distorting subsidies then every damn vfx worker from anywhere won’t be forced to move for work, unless it’s their choice to do so.

  10. TheClash says:

    No, real capitalism is based on – I should make more money than the year before otherwise am gonna bust up and go out of the free market” i.e. if going to India is cheaper than working in Cali am leaving and phuq you all, I MUST survive. Again, move your ass or shut your mouth, it’s your own fault.

  11. TheClash says:

    Also, you north americans still do not understand that the market forces moved east FOR GOOD. You’re not anymore and you’re not going to be again the big powerful country that you’ve been during the previous century. Get used to it.

  12. […] common for places to go through downturns and that there was a need for healthy VFX vendors like a Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, or Rhythm & Hues to pick them up. Not anymore, that ecosystem of work was […]

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