Former LookFX Employees Tell Their Side

One of the big pieces of news that came out of Siggraph was David Cohen’s piece in Variety that LookFX was folding:

Look officially ceased operations doors Monday and its staff is already at work at Mass Market. LookFX partners Henrik Fett and Mark Driscoll will be co-managing directors of Mass Market’s feature division. They will report to Jay Lichtman, managing director of MassMarket.

I was sent an email from a group of former LookFX artists who wanted to share their side of the story which is posted below:

Friends and Fellow colleagues,

This letter comes from a longtime, dedicated, core group of individuals who, until recently, worked at Look Effects. Our employment ranged from several months to almost 10 years. After careful deliberation, extensive discussions, and sincere soul searching, we think it would be best to publicly tell our tale, given the news our former company has ceased operations. Closing its doors, yet the two majority owners already have new jobs to make money for their new employer, despite the fact they owe Look Effects employees hundreds of thousands of dollars. While our frustrations are admittedly high, the love we have for the Visual Effects industry and immense respect to our fellow colleagues in the industry prompted us to discuss this publicly. We want the industry more fully informed in an effort to prevent further damage to other individuals, projects or companies.

To start, the loyalty shown to the owners of Look Effects was extraordinary. Whether it was pulling all nighters to meet deadlines (recently, some stayed at the office 60+ hours in a row…without overtime), or assisting one of our other locations by helping with technical complications (such as Noah), the dedication and professionalism of our artists to not only the owners, but to each other, cannot be questioned. When payroll began to fall behind (yet again) in the middle of 2013, instead of demanding money, we asked for communication of when and how we would be caught up. We all love the work we do and are completely aware that getting paid to do what you love is hard to come by. We also understand the difficulties that our industry has faced in recent years, so we were patient on getting caught up. However, despite repeated and consistent attempts to get clarity on this, we received little to no information, and when we finally did get specific dates, they came and went without so much as an acknowledgement.

Most of us thought about leaving after almost a year of this, and some did. Unfortunately, in today’s climate, leaving a Visual Effects job is easier said than done, especially when families are involved. Many of us decided earlier this year that the disrespect for our contributions, sheer unprofessionalism in dealing with the situation, and the amount of unpaid wages owed to us (see below) had become too much and we were forced to leave a company we once loved.

To date, a majority of us recently departed employees are owed back wages, pension pay, vacation pay, IRA contributions and business expenses. For some of us, when we left we were told the company couldn’t pay us and were given a payment plan and Separation Agreement that they strongly encouraged us to sign. After attempted negotiation and barely getting any compromise at all, the owners couldn’t even follow through on what they sent to us. Many haven’t even seen a cent of the money we’re owed.

The amounts owed to each of us range from a few thousand dollars to over $50,000. We estimate the total owed to employees is somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000-$400,000. This does not count any work that was outsourced to outside entities (also owed money) and other creditors. Several employees have filed claims with the Department of Labor, while some are conferring with attorneys about steps to take. While these owed wages go back to October 2013, the company consistently was late on pay, with little or no communication regarding updates. Like with much of our industry, most Look Effects artists consistently worked well over 8 hour days and over 40 hour weeks. Staff employees didn’t receive overtime pay at all (Company policy. Freelancers would receive their hourly rate only – no overtime). We also put up with a lack of communication for a long time. For each of the last several years, the same pattern occurred, albeit on a slightly smaller scale – unexpected furlough days resulting in 4 day weeks (20% paycut), missed payrolls, broken promises, and little or no communication. Whether we should have left much sooner can be debated or commented on, one thing is indisputable… Look Effects employees were extremely, extremely loyal.

Late last week (August 7th), the company sent emails to a number of employees, without warning, informing them their health insurance was cancelled. That email, sent from the current CFO John Owen (the owners rarely addressed employees themselves), wrote that the cancelled policy was as of August 1st…6 days EARLIER, leaving these same, dedicated employees, AND THEIR FAMILIES, immediately without health insurance. He also went on to say that COBRA was not available– leaving them only a week to get insurance for September and no coverage until then.

The company is now closing up after having a staff of these same 60+ people just 4 months ago, and there’s little chance of us ever being paid back (the majority of employees resigned). The core team that clients loved and those largely responsible for the production of the projects are now gone. 99% of material from Look’s demo reel is by people no longer with the company. The fact that the owners admit they owe us money, yet aren’t willing to work or communicate with us says there’s no plan in place to ensure that they follow through. It’s our understanding the owners and a few remaining employees (also owed money) are becoming employees of another company, which further validates our suspicions (Most employees had already left. 17 are all that remained, including management). There were existing projects at Look Effects, and those funds could have started some form of payback process, yet there’s been zero communication. The cherry on top is this new “division” at the new company is to be run by none other than Look Effects’ majority owners, Mark Driscoll and Henrik Fett.

The Visual Effects industry has been going through a difficult time these past few years. Industry outsiders may question our motives, some may say it’s our fault for not acting sooner. Others may even say if we don’t like it, get out. Those close enough to our industry, unfortunately, know what we’re going through from personal experience. So, regardless of public opinion, if this letter prevents one more professional in our industry from being taken advantage of, disrespected, or lied to, it’ll be well worth it. The sharing of experiences and being honest to the Visual Effects community can only help us all.

Sincerely,

Former Look FX Employees

 

172 Responses to Former LookFX Employees Tell Their Side

  1. Peter Greenaway says:

    …again and again…

    • Rob says:

      Exactly what I thought. Doesn’t this happen like once a year?
      Last year, it was Pixomondo’s turn with London and Toronto. If I remember the timeline regarding the closure of facilities and debts towards artists evaporating correctly.
      2011 was Meteor.
      Who won the mismanagement douchebag award in 2012?

    • VFX Artist says:

      Break the cycle: if you are in Los Angeles forced to work 1099, work a day rate & work late without OT, consistently late in getting paid, or all of the above, which is usually the case, read this:

      http://animationguild.org/organizing/

      If you saw siggraph and saw technologies like Nuke Studio you know that the entry level to VFX has been lowered while productivity has been increased because of technology. Demand, especially for TV and commercials is up. Thats the good news. The reality is that artist will get screwed because the barrier to entry has been lowered. What I’ve seen is shadier and more unethical business practices have been on the rise.

      Don’t make the mistake of ENABLING these injustices by doing what the LOOKfx team did by only taking action YEARS AFTER you have been screwed. At least take the time to read what is out there. Read about how everyone else above and below the line do business in this town.

      When people go to see transformers 4, do they go to see the sound mixing? the editing? the acting? (Kelsey Grammar is pretty awesome in anything), the well prepared food from Craft Services? Nicola Peltz? (Ok, you got me there).

      No, they go for the fighting robots.

      Yet everyone else benefits from the residuals generated from tickets sold to people who came to see the fighting robots, except the people who made the fighting robots.

      Does that seem fair?

      • vfxmafia says:

        @vfx artist

        Whats wrong with 1099 exactly?

        I worked 1099 for 16 years.

      • Andreas jablonka says:

        @ mafia

        First: let’s distinct between illegal and unwanted.

        According to the IRS if you wit lay somebody’s equipment in their schedule In their office you are a w2 employee. You are protected, get cobra and unemployment insurance.

        Your employer pays half your social security and is liable for things.

        1099 makes you a contractor. You do not qualify for Unemploymemt, they do not have to pay ss and payroll tax.
        You yourself pay self employment tax rather than splitting ss with the employer. They are not liable.

        Legally it’s a missclassyfication and wrong. It’s cheaper for the employer. Also you are not protected by labor law like overtime, breaks or payroll. Many 1099 have to wait net30 before they see cash.

        It might still be desirable. Hence the distinction up there. You get to keep your cash rather than tax being deducted, you can claim deductions for tech stuff like MacBooks or blurays.

  2. Peter Greenaway says:

    “Mass Market’s Lichtman said, “In many ways it is business of usual for the bulk of the LookFX team,” but they will benefit from “a more robust pipeline and financial environment.” Lichtman said bringing Mass Market’s technology with Look’s talent will benefit the artists.”
    Amazing!

    http://variety.com/2014/artisans/news/lookfx-folds-staff-and-projects-move-to-mass-market-vfx-exclusive-1201282416/

  3. Time_is_a_flat_circle says:

    @ former Look employees

    Really well written….my heart goes out to you guys. Reminds me of when Asylum went down….they cut the health insurance…..cut benifits…got all secretive about shit….then stiffed us for 2-3 weeks pay. They still owe me like $4,000 K

  4. John Gross says:

    Wow. Sad. Excellent article and think you for sharing. Missing payrolls and not offering cobra are not legal.

    Another sad VFX facility story where the artists are the ones that suffer.

    • Former says:

      From experence, COBRA only exists if there is a company health plan. If the company health plan ceases to exist then there is no COBRA. COBRA does not exist if the company folds or the health plan gets cancelled.

  5. Rob Blauser says:

    MacGuff LA pulled something similar in 2008. I worked on an Expedia commercial as a “freelancer.” The client was a nightmare but we pulled it together at the last minute (in the middle of the night). Then came “outstanding payables” email. As best as I can recall, without digging through my old invoices, I was owed about $8500. I managed to recover most of it over the following two years, by threatening legal action, accepting a new monitor as partial payment, and settling for a percentage of the remainder.

    On the one hand, as a result of this experience, I want to feel for the people at Look FX. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find sympathy for people who constantly allow themselves to be taken advantage of, only to show up for more abuse under the guise of “loyalty,” or “the love we have for the visual effects industry.”

    If you’re owed $50,000, and you know that the company has been behind on payroll for a year, why the hell are you still showing up to work?!

  6. tc says:

    This is horrible, but if you’re willing to keep going after missing many pay periods, it is your fault. “Fool me once, Shame on you. Fool me twice+, shame on me.”

  7. Andreas Jablonka says:

    I applaud you guys for standing up and writing this emotional validated but not accusing letter. Thank you!

  8. Doug Creel says:

    “We all love the work we do and are completely aware that getting paid to do what you love is hard to come by.” This line from the letter perfectly exemplifies how people make victims out of themselves and then are surprised when they get screwed in the end. If your employer misses payroll, stop working.

  9. vfxmafia says:

    @ doug Creel
    @ TC

    Hey it happens…..

    If you are a free lancer (and if your sup or lead or even have an agent) you get paid 1099…..most companies are NET 30….before you get your first 1099 scorp check. They make an excuse about something…buys them another week (give them the benifit of the doubt)…..next week hits and you are offically 6 weeks fucked. and if your a sup or a vet or a lead that would probably be at $15K = 6 weeks……..

    and thats before you can confront them about it. COngradulations you have officially arrived at the shadiest business in the world the film biz.

    It is REAL easy to be in there position. You people need to lighten up on your critizim….funny i didn’t see this much out rage at douchebags like Jeffery Katzenburg or steve jobs or ed catmull for fixing salaries……but you bag on the poor schmucks at Look FX.

    This is why i left Los Angeles…..because there is no work there but shady little commercial boutiques…….and everyone in LA went canibal on each other after the subsidies hit.

    • minoton says:

      When in this position, show up for work . . . but don’t work. Until they pay you. They aren’t going to let you go in the middle (end?) of a project. Then they just have to figure out how to replace you, and that new artist is going to have to figure out how to pick up where you left off. That time is their money that nothing is getting done. They’re betting off finding the money to pay you to get you working again. If the work is that important to them, then it should come out of their own personal pockets. Let them be the ones to get reimbursed, not the artist. Or, do the difficult thing and ask the client for more cash. It’s a tough thing to have to do, but hey, running a business isn’t easy, or else everybody would be doing it.

      Thanks to the LookFX guys and gals for being dedicated to your craft. And for being open and honest with your story. Hopefully some good will come of this experience in the form of educating fellow artists. I hope you get your back pay that’s owed you.

      • minoton says:

        *They’re ‘better’ off . . . . . 🙂

      • VFX Artist says:

        i DO NOT thank the Look FX artist for their dedication. As an artist I have to compete with that “dedication” over and over and over again. There is no such thing as “back pay”. Theres “pennies on the dollar” pay if you are lucky.

      • minoton says:

        Well, I do thank them, just as I would thank someone for their patriotism, even though the crap state their country is in.
        Notice, I said “dedication to their craft”, not dedication to the company. It goes to show the quality of their character, as artists and as people. They made their choice. That’s history. I can only hope the decision was based on doing good work as professionals, and not out of some feeling of loyalty to the company or its owners.

      • VFX Artist says:

        Minoton, you are wrong again. You equate their acceptance of labor violations as a “dedication to their craft”. So in effect, their “craft” is getting ripped off.

        Again, I’m not scared of a better, smarter artist than me, thats inspiration, an opportunity to learn. An artist that works uncompensated and takes the labor violations and keep working… thats something NO ONE can compete with because whats chapter that $0/hr?

        Again, I do NOT thank the LookFX artist.. their “dedication” is whats destroying our craft.

        Another example, how many artist left LA to go to Vancouver to see Siggraph? Pay for the flight, pay for the hotel, the classes.. but they won’t take one hour a Month, not a week, not a day, but a month, thats all I ask. They won’t take an hour month to meet up in person and talk abut these labor violations and strategize a solution. They won’t take an hour a month to educate themselves on their rights. Talk to a labor organizer at the animation guild. Talk to their local politician. Again, they will run to Siggraph for the hope and dream parade, they will “dedicate” the money and energy to that, or even VES award gimmick, but not spend 1 hour a MONTH to even think about the labor situation in this town.

        It because of that “dedication” that there are so many shady shops in LA, big and small, operating by their own labor rules, 1099, No OT, long hours, etc.. Everytime I walk into one of the shops I’m getting lied to my face, and I have to fight to get the most basic boundary of an 8 hour day.

        That 8 hour day was first fought for by the International Workingmans Association in the late 1800’s. I’m fighting a fight that was already fought & won over a hundred years ago because of the “dedication” of artist like those at LookFX.

        Do NOT even get me started on patriotism…. Multinational companies born and built in the USA packing up shop, gutting whole cities in the US… Traitors all of them. Talk to the residents of Detroit about patriotism…

      • minoton says:

        VFX Artist, maybe if you talked TO people instead of AT them, someone might listen to you. You probably missed the part where I suggested what the LookFX artists could have done, which could have resulted in getting paid, instead of walking out or working for free. There have always been small shops that will try to take advantage of artists. Hell, one place I worked at in the 80s, I had to keep a roll of toilet paper in my camera bag because the shop owner was too cheap to keep any in the bathroom.
        I’m not anti-union, but have you noticed how many live action studio jobs have also left L.A. for subsidy locations? That hasn’t helped much either.
        But I still compliment them (thank them) for being good people and doing what they felt was right, even though it ended up poorly for them.

      • VFX Artist says:

        I understand what you wrote clearly Minoton, I just disagree with it. That “dedication” i see everyday in artist working free OT, not taking breaks, accepting pay cuts, and now this, wage theft. . I just think that bad behavior done by the artist shouldn’t be rewarded with a “Thank you”. It enabled the illegal labor violations by the company for YEARS. It enable the company to underbid and win projects FOR YEARS. LookFX is now closed, but the residual damage persist in a deflated value of the business. This is because these “Dedicated” artist delivered a $2 product for $1.50 not by productivity or being smarter, but by enabling LOOKfx to cheat them while the owners prospered..

        thank them? are you kidding me?

        To put it in perspective, when I worked at a union animation shop, steve hulett from the animation guild would make rounds around quiting time sometimes and check the offices to make sure people who were working late were getting OT and not just working “ghost hours”. When he saw me there working there late without OT, did he thank me for my dedication? NO! He told me to get out.

        There I was being extra productive.. I’m a night person, the juices were flowin’, the tunes were cranking… I was in the zone!!! I was new to the union thing and I thought I was doing right by the company. And here I am getting yelled at by some union guy? Yeah he seemed like a dick at the time, as I’m sure I do right now. But he was doing EXACTLY what a union is supposed to do: protect the interest of the workers. Me working late FOR FREE undermined my colleagues, and devalued the business by providing the extra productivity FOR FREE.

        Had VFX had policing like this years ago, we wouldn’t have had the lofty expectation of studios that pushed schedules and VFX shops to their breaking point. You reading this Scott Ross? With all of the “Compensation time” owed to Digital Domain artist who worked on Dante’s Peak, True Lies, Titianic? Movies that created & defined the brand of Digital Domain that a CHINESE company is profiting from. Could those movies even have been done without the hundreds of comp hours that the artist put in without OT pay? And then they were fired without noticed, owed all of that compensation time? That was in the late 90’s, during the “boom” of VFX, people.

        THATS what I’m talking about. This fuck parade has been going on for years, now almost decades. Artist have been getting screwed. Its just that before they at least tried to make a culture in the company to encourage it. Now they don’t even bother. Artist just take it on the chin and call it “dedication”. See below what I wrote about sick systems and how this is now a self propelled and continued decline.

        “I haven’t done my job until I put a VFX shop put of business”
        Producer approved.
        Artist enabled and financed.

        Again, why I do NOT thank the LOOKfx employees for their “dedication”. I will NOT reward bad behavior that has continued to contribute to the delinquency of this industry and has jeopardized my ability to make a livable wage and work reasonable hours. I will help them educate themselves to help prevent this from happening again. I wish them luck getting their money, but history has shown that at best you get pennies on the dollar YEARS later.

        Thats the stand EVERYONE has to take or expect this to repeat, as it has, over and over again like some groundhog day replay.

      • minoton says:

        I’ve said that everyone who’s moved to Canada or some other subsidized location was just enabling the subsidy model by the vfx facilities and thus the studios and undermining the artists that stayed in L.A. or otherwise couldn’t move. We’ve seen how that’s played out . . .

      • vfxmafia says:

        @minotan…

        don’t blame X-LA VFXers for going to Canada….

        LA people need to understand the business is NOT coming back…..and you sit in that smog infested city and watch as other people take your IMDB credits away from you.

        Hate to tell you Canada there is some big time pipelines up here with big time artists….and they come from all over the world….

      • minoton says:

        I don’t blame folks for going to subsidized locations to meet financial obligations back here in the states. (That’s right, send more of that Canadian tax payer money south!) I just think it’s rather hypocritical of people to complain about the ills of the vfx industry while enabling one of the factors that drives those problems. It’s the enabling of bad behavior we’re against here, right?

      • vfxmafia says:

        @minotan

        So how am i enabling bad behavior by working in Canada again?

      • minoton says:

        I think the title of a 1970 comedy sums it up pretty well:
        “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?”

        Suppose the studios said “Everybody move to Canada so we can pocket the subsidies.”? And just suppose everybody, in “union” told the studios to fuck off, make the movies where the accumulated talent already lives? Movies don’t make themselves, they need people, and they’d be made where the people are.
        But then, there’s that one guy who says “I’ll go! I’ll go against the ‘union’! I’ll undermine my fellow artists!” (In real union terms, breaking ranks is called being a scab.)

        In reality there was no such agreement among artists, other than a large bunch from CA who didn’t approve of subsidies and until the prospect of a CVD came up, was looking for a way to fight them. One of those ways was to just not go. To not participate.

        Remember when DD told it’s artists “Take a pay cut or else”? Do you think those artists who gave in and took the cut undermined the rest who stood their ground? Do you think they undermined everyone else by participating in wage suppression? Do you think going to work in a subsidized location enables the subsidy programs of those locations? The only thing worse would to be to speak out against something while participating in it.

        No wonder we don’t have a VFX union. Nobody is willing to do what would be best for ‘the union’.

      • vfxmafia says:

        @minotan

        why dont you blame the US gov….?

        Blame Obama for having corrupt friends like Katzenburg?

        Blame Jerry Brown for doing nothing to implement Tarriffs to protect its native businesses

        Blame all the CEO’s for being scumbag billionares that wont leave enough crumbs behind for their workers who create their movies

        Blame the progression of the industry…..the death of render man and the birth of the era of out of the box….

        Blame other goverments who try to attract business to their isolaed countries….

        but stop blaming me for making a living you egotistical parrot

      • minoton says:

        @vfxmofia,

        Victim, much? Back to the name calling again, I see.
        I do hold others’ responsible, the greedy studio heads, the government functionaries who waste their tax payers’ money on subsidies, the fx facilities who kiss ass to the studio heads just so their execs can keep their fancy cars. But if you can’t take a look in the mirror and see if there’s anything you’re doing that’s hurting and not helping the situation, then that makes you a hypocrite. You like to throw blame on the greedy corporate CEOs not leaving crumbs, yet turn around and brag how you make yourself an s-corp so as not to pay taxes. How fucking hypocritical are you?!
        Poor little you. You’re just a victim. Take some personal responsibility for fuck’s sake! You know what they say about throwing stones and glass houses.
        We’re all trying to make a living out here, but some assholes love to mouth off and really aren’t helping make things better.

    • Steve says:

      “the government functionaries who waste their tax payers’ money on subsidies”

      Those authorities are constructing their societies. And for them, it’s working.

      • minoton says:

        Until somebody does them one better. Live by the subsidy, die by the subsidy.

      • Steve says:

        But if you always do it better than everyone else, then you win. Have you never heard of victory before?

      • minoton says:

        Tell me exactly when it’s over? What year?
        It’s an ongoing race to the bottom. There are no victors.
        How’s the teacher’s strike going in Vancouver? Have they increased their wages yet? Maybe that $437 million paid in subsidies to American studios would have been better spent on local education?

      • Steve says:

        Over?! It’s not over. The idea is to stay victorious forever. C’mon, this isn’t a race. That’s the problem with you, thinking that the BC government is “racing” with other jurisdictions. They’re not racing, they’re building. There’s no end, there’s no bottom, they’re in it to keep it.

        You sound like some kind of 20th century, free market capitalist with your “ongoing race to the bottom” nonsense. Those days are gone, and they are not coming back. State capitalism isn’t just ascendant, it already is the way the global economy now functions.

        I’m really sorry that Vancouver is beating LA, but I’m more sorry that you fail to understand why and why it won’t change in your lifetime.

      • minoton says:

        That’s the problem, Steve. BC already lost. They lost when large tentpole movies decided to film in Louisiana, Michigan, and Australia instead of Vancouver. They lost when a group calling itself ‘SaveBCFilm’ started whining about lost productions and lost jobs and started creating fuzzy math to try to explain why subsidies work. All of that math was debunked and SaveBCFilm vanished in obscurity. BC lost when they called for consensus of all the provinces to not keep trying to outbid each other.
        BC and it’s residents have lost as they will forever be locked sending their tax dollars out of the country because they know the minute they reduce or stop subsidies, the companies will leave. I’ll point to Sony Imageworks in Albuquerque, N.M. BC has lost because it’s giving away tax payer money to corporate owned, American headquartered studios instead of paying better wages to Canadians, like its teachers who’ve been on strike all summer. BC has chosen American studios as winners and it’s own educators (or anyone else local that would benefit from subsidies given to rich studios that don’t need the money) as losers.
        Please point to one country where socialist capitalism has succeeded.

      • minoton says:

        The thing is, Steve, you’re not ‘bidding’ on anything. You’re paying corporate level, gangland style shakedown money, plain and simple. You’re not going to get beat up walking home at night or show up to work to a burnt out store if you don’t pay. They’ll just take the work someplace else. New Zealand got hit twice over the Hobbit and the Avatar sequels. The studios said “pay us more money or we’re taking the projects elsewhere.” New Zealand folded like a cheap suit. ‘House of Cards’ is using the same tactic to get more out of Maryland, even though the state upped it’s ‘credits’ by $11 million. There’s always the unspoken fear that if you don’t keep paying, you’ll lose the projects.
        In bidding, someone ultimately wins the auction. But here, the auction never stops. You’re not bidding on anything but the privilege of paying corporate level extortion money.

      • Steve says:

        “Please point to one country where socialist capitalism has succeeded.”

        Canada.

      • minoton says:

        Wrong. Socialism is the result of Canada’s growing economy, not the cause of it. Canada still has a predominantly free market economy.

      • Steve says:

        Exactly what part of Canada’s economy is “free market”?

      • minoton says:

        The part that has privately owned businesses that produce and sell goods and services on the open market.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/christopher-sands/canada-economy_b_1680077.html

      • Steve says:

        Oh god. You buy into the nonsense peddled by the Cato Institute and the Hudson Institute. Forget it, talking with you is pointless.

        Look, if you really give a shit, which you don’t seem to, about learning what Vancouver is getting from “sending taxpayers money to Hollywood”, which isn’t at all how the governments view it at all, go ahead and read their perspective.

        http://www.vancouvereconomic.com/vedcnews/economic-plan-lays-out-strategies-to-boost-economic-performance

        There is a reason why both Vancouver and BC have balanced budgets, and that Vancouver is projecting municipal growth in this country bested only by the oil centres of Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon. And Vancouver is doing it without a drop of oil exports. They’re transforming the economy into a hi-tech hub and they are succeeding wildly.

        So go ahead and keep talking about how Vancouver is “losing” all you want, because you know what? No one here at all believes you for a single second.

      • minoton says:

        Uh huh:
        http://opinion.financialpost.com/2013/10/09/william-watson-save-470-million-today/?__federated=1

        It’s also great when you don’t have to spend to defend your own country. Yet another way Canada just counts on the US to provide for its benefit.

      • Steve says:

        Hey look! The Financial Post! When in doubt, just toss up another right-wing link, right minoton? Notice how The Post never writes articles critical of government investment in agribusiness, finance, oil, aerospace or anything else which doesn’t comply with their ideology? KINDA LIKE YOU.

        And then let’s add some off topic non-sequitur about federal defence spending, which has nothing to do with the topic of municipal and provincial government spending. What a fun, mindless thing to do!

      • minoton says:

        Ah, yes. The liberal point of view. When you don’t like the numbers, blame the messenger. Denial. That’s a winning tactic. And when you don’t have to spend on other big money government sectors, you have plenty to waste on stuff like . . . . movies. American produced movies. Hey, why don’t you start some pineapple farms up there, as well? Maybe your teachers who are asking for more wages could grow some non-native tropical fruit?
        It’s easy to spend someone else’s money.

      • minoton says:

        Steve, I don’t know what leanings each Canadian newspaper has, or politician, or whatever. That really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the data. Obviously you don’t like the numbers because they show how wasteful your government leaders are. But that doesn’t seem to bother you. As long as you get what you want, regardless the cost, all is well and good, as it’s all someone else’s money, right? It’s entitlement thinking. You don’t build anything for yourselves, you just take from others who are already successful. Just remember, what government can give, government can take away. So go enjoy your bourgeois paradise up there. Because there’s always someone else next in line as a taker, and they’ve got their eyes on where the stuff is to take.

      • Vfx artist says:

        Interesting talk on the “end of capitalism”

  10. Pissed fxvet says:

    Brutal. Seems like the general artist ranks (not just those employees from look) should raise some money to create a rainy day fund to sue the living shit out of the look partners. This kinda crap makes my blood boil.

    • VFX Artist says:

      FXvet, thats flawed. The artist should organize, educate themselves, meet up and talk about these violations BEFORE they happen.

      The irony of when I’ve worked at shops with a day rate, we get together for dinner like at 8pm, 1 or 2 hours passed the proper quitting time for a day rate, so we’re effectively working for free. even sitting right there earning $0/hr, working the most expensive (OT) hours of the day that do the most damage to our bodies, they don’t want to talk about it. To borrow minoton’s admiration, they remain “dedicated” while they sit there eating unhealthy take out that the company told you to eat, when you eat and when you go home, like a slave. In fact you are a slave because you are earning $0.

      Even as they are getting fucked, artist don’t want to talk about it…

      The problem with your suggestion is that you still allow the injustice to happen, and tell the artist to organize AFTER the injustice, when there is no leverage, because the work is done. To chase after the money they are owed by a now dead corporation to collect pennies on the dollar if they are lucky…

      You don’t think companies aren’t RELYING on that inaction to take advantage of the artist?

      Read what I wrote below on sick systems… thats the psychology that they use to get artist to stay at a failing company while the owners wait for the next branch to grab on to…

  11. LMP says:

    Sorry, I feel no sympathy whatsoever. It is because this “love of VFX” that keeps the artists frozen and very much “raped” in the “behind”. Not taking action against the sharks that run the industry which only problem it has is the executives greed and artists fears.
    We are not living times where “love” will take care of things, until there is not an Unionized force to counteract the economic power of the sharks in charge, nothing is going to change. They (the sharks) just keep getting fatter and nastier.

    • Pete says:

      Yep, totally agree with this comment. Except I do have sympathy. I believe a Unionized force is the answer. Come together, form a strong army of artists, and stand up and beat down these sharks.

      • vfxmafia says:

        hate to tell you 2 out of 3 shops in the salary fixing scandals are union……………..lets see how they beat back Catmull katzenburg and the other “sharks”

  12. GT says:

    The sad fact is that this was a common occurrence a Look FX. I know of at least half a dozen times, through out their existence, where they fell way behind on paying employees, sometimes spanning months. Mass Market and it’s employees should be really concerned about their future as well, since Mark and Henrik’s leadership were always one of the primary reasons for their financial problems. In todays world of show hire VFX, loyalty = Being taken advantage of.

    • VFX Artist says:

      Write to David cohen, the author of the article. He called LookFX “a highly regarded small vfx studio”. I emailed him calling that statement unethical because of the overwhelming amount of repeated violations by this company that I have had personal experience with. They were complete flippant about honoring deals and paying people. To call them high regarded is an insult to every VFX worker. It says that its OK to rip of artist to produce a $2 product for $1.50 on the backs of artist, while the owners prosper. They are crooks. Period. I recall Henrik Fett riding his bicycle in the office giggling like a mad man. No conscious, nothing.

  13. stooge says:

    Wow-glad I wasn’t called back to work on Noah- and luckily got paid working on a w2 which I demanded. Don’t do 1099 work for this very reason and past experience. I saw the signs in 2013, with slightly delayed payments. The nicest and most welcoming artists I had the pleasure of working with, made a new long term close friendship, an extreme rarity. My best wishes and thoughts to the Look FX crew- you don’t deserve this shit, praying for all to get their monies due. I agree with VFX Mafia regarding 1099- exactly how it happens, like all the facilities are reading from a carbon copy script.

    • Rex Lewis says:

      Your demand for a w2 was maybe why you didn’t get a call back.

      • VFX Artist says:

        Hence the reason to end the misclassification abuse, Rex. Its not a reason to bend and take it on the chin and PAY for the VFX vendor’s payroll taxes

      • vfxmafia says:

        Hey …i was 1099 for over 20 years…..I managed my taxes through my company…..set up retirment funds….I love 1099. I would never go NET30 for a company again….(you just have to negotiate it into your contract)….

        if a company doesn’t want to pay you…….they wont pay you if your staff or 1099 or what ever…..

        where is all this bullshit coming from on anti-1099? The only reason i still don’t have 1099 is because most companies stopped paying it…..(especially if they want credit on the subsidy money)…..

      • VFX Artist says:

        You can Love 1099 VFXmafia, but IF you were working on their premise using their equipment, under their direction, It was illegal. Not only that:

        1) you undermined and devalued the workers sitting next to you.
        2) You undermined the business because you contributed to its delinquency and the erosion of the labor protections that were hard fought for to ensure workers get paid.
        3) you sold yourself short: Why work for the middle man if you effectively were hired as if you were a vendor. Not very smart.

      • vfxmafia says:

        @ VFX artist

        dude…the classification is called a “Loan out”. Perfectly leagal.

        I i used 1099 as a tax shelter just like the big corporations use.

        I got 95 cents on the dollar from a tax perspective. I made %30 more because my company could write everything off. Infact with the extra money i started a retirement account that has been my lifesaver.

        the one that made out was me …….not all the staff people who took staff positions then had their benifits removed….

        Bottom line if your making a certain amount of money it is very wise to have a 1099 Scorp…..

      • VFX Artist says:

        vfxMafia,

        You asked what is bad about working 1099. I’ll use your own answer above to reply:

        “If you are a free lancer (and if your sup or lead or even have an agent) you get paid 1099…..most companies are NET 30….before you get your first 1099 scorp check. They make an excuse about something…buys them another week (give them the benifit of the doubt)…..next week hits and you are offically 6 weeks fucked. and if your a sup or a vet or a lead that would probably be at $15K = 6 weeks……..

        and thats before you can confront them about it. COngradulations you have officially arrived at the shadiest business in the world the film biz.”

        Also you are talking about artist here, not CPAs. Not everyone is equipped to start their own company, do their own payroll and manage their own retirement funds. Some people will say “then get of your ass”, to which I will say “why not just follow the law”.

        Why would anyone subject themselves to the risk of not getting paid? This is why corporations want people to become corporations (LLC’s, S-corps) themselves and essential surrender any civic protection as an employee they would have under the law. Everything from sexual harassment to disability to labor laws to wage theft protection acts to unemployment insurance. Why would you willingly give all that up and play russian roulette with every pay period or job?

        As you say below, companies stopped paying 1099 because its ILLEGAL. Do not surrender your legal protections under the law to enter some shady agree where you give up your legal protections that was fought for decades ago. Don’t undermine your fellow artist. This is the core problem with VF, everyone wants to dress up and be a pirate, no solidarity. This is why the owners of the LOOKfx will prosper while the employees don’t.

        I don’t understand why someone would set up their own company and go work for the vendor instead of having their own client. Your like the omega wolf… you eat last every time. Its a terrible position to be: waiting to get paid until your employer, the vendor gets paid, unless he’s ripped off. Thats nuts. You inherit the profit loss aspect of the business, and none of the profit sharing.

        When I did proper freelance work as a graphic designer and photographer, I was a true freelancer, working on my own gear my own time. But I withheld final deliverables until I get paid. In VFX you have no such leverage. That “30 day net” is really 45 days vs at most 21 days thru a regular payroll system. Most commercial jobs last a few weeks. So you are essential out the door, having done all of the work and having not been paid one DIME. How smart is that?

        1099 is where companies want you: alone, isolated, at their mercy, no civic laws to protect you. It also fosters more competition and less solidarity amongst the “employees” because they are all essential vendors. Now the vfx vendor can do to you what the studios and clients do to them.

      • Stooge says:

        You’re probably right- the recruiter tried to hire me back, but we both couldn’t get an answer. Then they hired a shitload of less experienced lower paid artists… on a tv show and Noah. The rest is history as they say. Plus I was working for 20% less than usual. Wasn’t cheap enough I guess…..

      • stooge says:

        (Response to Rex Lewis): You’re probably right- the recruiter tried to hire me back, but we both couldn’t get an answer. Then they hired a shitload of less experienced lower paid artists… on a tv show and Noah. The rest is history as they say. Plus I was working for 20% less than usual. Wasn’t cheap enough I guess…..(Sorry for the re-post- seems to be posting out of order).

      • stooge says:

        And as a follow up to the 1099 vs. w2—this article may explain it all..especially in California:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/01/business/more-workers-are-claiming-wage-theft.html?_r=0

  14. Joe says:

    Why do people keep working for free?. If the paycheck stops coming, stop working and go home and update your reel.
    By working for free, you are validating what your employers are doing, which in turn validates them to the studios
    “Yeah, they went bust, but they delivered, so we’ll work with them again”

    • Andreas jablonka says:

      Totally agree!

      • VFX_Reckoning says:

        I agree.

        Man, this shit has got to stop. People, If you are not being paid, go home! I don’t give a shit what movie you’re working on, stop being weak willed slaves.

        We need to correct these thing in our industry, but first, artists need to take a step out of the fantasy, and start growing some balls.

    • Remi says:

      That was my first thought as well…

    • minoton says:

      If you walk off a job, you do not qualify for unemployment insurance. Stay at the job, just don’t perform any work. Make them either pay you, or let you go. Then you can file for unemployment.

      • if you are being paid 1099 you never qualified for unemployment in the first place.

      • minoton says:

        True, but I would hope that the artists who wrote this letter weren’t submitting 1099’s for the length of time they mentioned.

        “Our employment ranged from several months to almost 10 years.”

      • vfxmafia says:

        im sure the sups their were 1099….

        1099 just has to be careful not to let the pay periods extend too long.

        1. Never work NET 30.
        2. if they miss a paycheck professionally confront them
        3. if they miss a 2nd paycheck refuse to work and start telling other people in the company something is fishy on their payroll.
        4. if still don’t pay start making it public (because the company is going down).

        if they don’t pay you there is pretty much nothing you can do but move on…..(which is why you have to be careful not to work if your not getting paid)

      • VFX Artist says:

        OR…

        You organize and fight for companies not to ILLEGALLY hire you 1099, day rate, and not OT and

        1) show up to work
        2) fill out a time card that provides a paper trail that you worked there.
        3) get pay check every two because that is the LAW.

        You are not a vendor, you are an employee.

        For example:

        One company forgot to submit my payroll, so I didn’t get paid. They asked if I would wait for the next pay period. I reminded to them that its THE LAW to pay me every two weeks. They FEDEXed the check to me the next day.

        THAT is what the LAW provides when ENFORCED and not undermined by ARTIST contributing to its delinquency.

        The problem is that many artist fancy themselves PIRATES. Heck even one major vfx facility flies a pirate flag.. still does even though it makes them a chinese pirate now…. Many Artist, with their misguided Libertarian religion, and thats really what it is, carry it as a badge of honor.

        The thing is, they fancy themselves the pirates of lore.. with 8 lb canon balls that can go gun for gun against the English or american fleet of that time….

        What they should realize is that they are more like the modern day pirate. I want you to picture that skinny little Somalian pirate, like that guy in the Captain Phillips movie… with his AK47, maybe a few rocket launchers. I want you to picture that guy going against the modern american or British navy. AK47 vs cruise missile and 127 mm guns.

        Thats the same as a modern VFX pirate going against these larger multinational companies. Alone.

    • Abbey Singer says:

      Joe —

      Do you work in Los Angeles? If so, you should know how hard it is to find work in the area.

      Do you have a family? If so, then you know it isn’t so easy (or cheap) to pack up your life, and move to another city, let alone state or country.

      Do you get health insurance through your job? If so, then you should know there’s a bit more to just walking out when a paycheck arrives late.

      Do you seriously think people want to work for free? Seriously?

    • Thad Beier says:

      As an owner of Hammerhead Productions, I told my employees that if I ever missed a payment, you should quit immediately; because not paying them would be the absolute last resort — there would be no way that it would ever get better.

      While I was there, if never came to that (well, we owners didn’t pay ourselves sometimes, but never the employees)

      • tc says:

        Thanks for that. I’m glad to know some people are willing to do the right thing for their employees.

      • Andreas jablonka says:

        Thad :
        It’s nice to read from an owner with integrity!
        How do you feel about subsidies? It became very hard competing against foreign jobs. How do you balance making ends meet vs donng a good job? Have you run numbers of cost of opening a Vancouver office vs the work you might be awarded? I’d love to hear some inside knowledge as most of us here are artists not owners.

        Feel free to mail me directly as we’ll:
        Andreas.Jablonka@gmail.com

        Thank you
        Andreas

      • Dan chuba says:

        Hi Thad!

        You will be proud to know the company you helped found and build still aspires to the “artist first” philosophy you advocated.

        Competing against the subsidies of our Canadian friends has made things trickier than ever. The peaks and valleys are more extreme and we can’t keep a large permanent staff any more.

        1099 or W2 is up to the artist – OT is always paid regardless of how one files.

        Margins are tighter than ever and there is no pad to hold artists past delivery dates anymore. In response to these changes we give artists as clear a picture as possible of upcoming work well in advance of their potential out dates and try to hook them up with other facilities when we don’t have enough work to keep them with us.

        To Andreas – we have no plans to set up a company in Canada.

        — Dan

      • Andreas jablonka says:

        @Dan

        Thank you for your reply. This sounds like a very honorable and fair approach. Nice to see this still exists!
        Tell daniel Mellitz I said hello🙂

        Andreas

      • Thad Beier says:

        Good to hear that things are going well Dan. We tried to fight the subsidy at DD for some time, but (as I am sure that you’ve heard innumerable times) the studios said that even if the net cost was the same, they’d still rather do the work in Vancouver.

        What you have at Hammerhead is some exceptional people with good ties to the studios; along with a very low-overhead philosophy, and I hope that continues to work out.

  15. Sam says:

    Do everything in your power to recouperate your wages. Start an online group somewhere to report individual progress to each other.

  16. d3d says:

    This article just reminds me that ‘loyalty’ is a suckers bet. Working free nights, weekends, whatever, so they end up owed hundreds of thousands of dollars while the owners already have new gigs? Wtf

  17. Anthony R. Davis says:

    I would like to just say “Thank You”. Thank you for having the courage to tell your side of the story. I see young artists everyday in the industry putting all their chips in studios and not protecting themselves.

    Thank you for telling your side of the story, hopefully it can be inspirational for the newbies that are scared to rock the boat.

  18. Rob Blauser says:

    I won’t even go into the 1099 misclassification. It’s been covered extensively online, and as a younger artist a few years ago, I was naïve too.

    “They make an excuse about something…buys them another week (give them the benifit of the doubt)…..next week hits and you are offically 6 weeks fucked.”

    This is what happens when you show up to work after your employer misses a payday. The collective answer should have been “we’re not working one more SECOND until we’re paid in full.”

    “and thats before you can confront them about it”

    No, you confront them about it the first time it happens and you don’t do any more work until the situation is resolved.

    As far as “the poor schmucks at Look FX,” I did a brief job there back in 2007 (the first “World Without People” special – lol… and yes, we know how bad it was!). Everyone I met was very nice and not the least bit schmuck-like.

    Regarding the situation with Katzenburg, Jobs, and Catmull, I left the “industry” back in 2010, before much of this story came to light. I only know what has been published, but if I were a young artist still in that “business” today, I would be making an exit strategy. This statement will no doubt be met with the usual arguments of ” easier said than done,” and “but… I can’t leave because… Star Wars!… Childhood!… Movies!…” The fact is that the people profiting from your work have NO RESPECT for you. As long as you continue to let them rip you off, they NEVER WILL. Think of it as a bad relationship. It’s time to move on, or as you said-

    “This is why i left Los Angeles…..”

    Lol… WORD!

    • Earl Grey says:

      The fact is that the people profiting from your work have NO RESPECT for you. As long as you continue to let them rip you off, they NEVER WILL. Think of it as a bad relationship. It’s time to move on…

      ‘When you find out you’ve been standing in shit, you don’t jump up and down on it to punish it, you walk away.’ — Alan Moore, after leaving an abusive publisher for the last time.

      I’m still in Los Angeles, myself, but I no longer work in VFX. If I decide to get back into CG, I’ll aim for gigs in the unionized animation industry instead of the VFX industry.

    • VFX Artist says:

      I disagree with leaving being the only solution, Artist should organize. In fact, I don’t know why Google employees don’t organize.. well I know why: they drink the Libertarian Koolaide, gee that served them well… there’s your “free market”. But NFL players and the like are unionized, and they make millions! Just goes to show you.

  19. Rob Blauser says:

    @ vfxmafia

    sorry, forgot to tag you in my previous post

    • vfxmafia says:

      Rob…

      so whats wrong with 1099 again. (I been 1099 for almost 17 years)

      • Rob Blauser says:

        Nothing is wrong with it as long as you’re legitimately freelance. If you can set your own hours, use your own equipment, and work from wherever you like, it’s not a problem. In my own experience most places require you to work on site, using their machines, and hold you to a set schedule. Legally, this makes you a W2 employee, meaning you and the company split the taxes. But instead, they illegally misclassify you as a 1099, so when tax itme comes around, you get stuck paying for all of it. The best the companies can do is shrug their shoulders and say “well, that’s just how it works.” Back in 2009/2010, the government started getting wise to what these companies were doing. Some companies tried using this scam involving an EOR. You can read more about that here:

        https://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/employer-of-record-ripoffs/

        I was working at Motion Theory when they briefly partnered with MBO partners. That was the point at which I said “fuck it, I don’t need this shit any more.”

      • vfxmafia says:

        @Rob

        There are a few inacccuracys in your post.

        there is a loan out clause about hours and equipment. Your pretty solid if you have studio with box at your home office. Especially if you take the occasional freelance job at home. Setting your hours is pretty easy. And because of security and NDA it is permited to use in house computers.

        your quote
        “But instead, they illegally misclassify you as a 1099, so when tax itme comes around, you get stuck paying for all of it.”

        Thats the whole point of getting a 1099 is that you have special tax clauses because you are a freelancer. If you know what you are doing and have write-offs and proper taxdeductions you actually can pay very little in taxes.

        Lastly don’t confuse the Yucor scandal (which is W2) with 1099. 1099’s are good thing if you know how to use them.

  20. tc says:

    This is going to sound very harsh. Wow, “loyalty” and “love for the work”. I think people should keep in mind that this is a business for profit entity. This is the mindset that put this industry in the crapper. If you want “loyalty” and “love for the work” to mean anything, find a non profit organization and work for them. I keep hearing stories about how people keep getting screwed. Obviously, people are not learning and it makes me wonder who is the real enemy.

    Our fellow VFX artist is the real problem, not the Studios or VFX houses.

    We fail to unite time and time again, and we keep using “loyalty” and “love for work” as an excuse not to quit when “shit hits the fan”. Everything bad that happened, is because you let it happen. Have some dignity, self respect, and stand up for your own rights.

    • Come on! says:

      YES!!! thank you. Our Loyalty shouldn’t be with the facilities it should be with each other. Yet we fight with each other, and bend over for the jobs.

      Stop Drinking the Kool-Aid. Its 2014, we know how this works, you can read from all the comment everytime this happens. “oh yeah that’s what happen at VFX house last year/month/week/yesterday” This isn’t new.

      There are people, Literally (and I do mean Literally), making millions of dollars every month off of your hard work.
      Where does you “boss” live? what kind of car are they driving? how much actual work are they doing? Its time to think about that people.

      This has been floating around, maybe it needs to be here.

      http://happyplace.someecards.com/showtime/a-graphic-designer-wrote-a-fantastic-response-when-showtime-asked-him-to-work-for-free/

      • Jackadullboy says:

        One of the most insidious notions is the idea that artistic abilities are a “gift”, rather than something painstakingly acquired through years of (often quite obsessive) commitment and practice.

        The notion creates a win-win for those that would exploit artists.

        If it’s a ‘gift’, then you’d have to be a bit of an asshole to then expect to be compensated for your work in full, right? I mean, such ‘god-given’ talent is it’s own reward, correct?

        The naive Artist will be so accustomed to hearing they have this special gift, that on a deep level they come to believe the hype, adopting the persona of the ‘struggling creative’, heroically sweating blood and tears for their vocation.

        Only, the reality is that for the most part, we’re not involved in ‘art’.. It’s the VFX ‘industry’. The sooner we learn to put our egos aside and think of ourselves as skilled ‘workers’, and ‘professionals’, the more we might start to be able to collaborate on demanding better conditions.

    • Pete Jankey says:

      Remind me not to hire you since you place no importance on loyalty or loving what you do. “Business for profit”? Are you serious? That has zero to do with issue.

      As for the union/lets unite talk…I’m pro union, but the day it happens, is the day India, China, Praque takes a large leap in the Industry.

      • tc says:

        If you think “loyalty” and “loving what you do” justifies not getting a paycheck for a few months. Then sir, I don’t want to work for you!

      • VFX Artist says:

        Pete, your about batting 1 million at being WRONG on the india/china/dark side of the moon thing.

        Work will go to China/india/bottom of the sea, name your place. It always will. No union, no lost wages, no skipped lunch, no unpaid overtime, no pay cut, nothing you do that will prevent the exodus of ANY labor in the US going overseas without MAJOR movements happening in the US to pressure politicians to change their trade policies. Capitalism itself is in question by many economic and political scholars because of its SHIT track record of boom and bust. About how even when we regulate it like we did with the New Deal, the problems are that the same crooks are in charge and they simply undo those regulations (the past 30 years). Pick up a book and learn about history and stop talking stupid. you are contributing to the problem of no action being taken because “OMG the work will go to china”.. My god, this country pretty much deserves its fate.

        in fact, look at the track record: Dreamworks, disney, sony animation, Nickelodeon all union but still here in town. Katzenburg of dreamworks wine and dined the president during his campaign and Pooof! Dreamworks asia is born,

        Sony Imageworks, non union, went to New mexico for subsidies, POOF thats gone, then after pay cuts and layoffs in Culver POOF its gone to vancouver for subsidies.

        Stereo D, part of Deluxe, employed hundreds in Burbank CA. They did the labor intensive stereo conversion. No Union, long hours, labor violations, and POOF its gone this coming fall to canada because of subsidies

        “CrookFX”, the topic of this post, again, labor violations, wage theft, misclassification, POOF its gone and effectively “rebranded” as Market Media, same crooks, different company, debt obligation/backpay magically erased. Also a company with operations here and in vancouver yet still it goes POOF!

        Its a systemic pathology in our industry,

        Its not the employees fault for wanting a livable wage..C’mon, Pete say it with me, you will feel better: ITS NOT THE EMPLOYEES FAULT FOR WANTING A LIVABLE WAGE FOR DOING WHAT THEY LOVE” Thats NOT why things go to china/india/jupiter.

        You can earn $1/hr in vfx and still lose your job because of HOW THEY DO BUSINESS. They will want to turn that into $0.90/hr, then $0.80/hr. Just ask the employees at Digital Domain about pay cuts and lay offs In fact, in that scenario, CHINA CAME HERE! A complete reversal of what you said. And that was after years of DD employees taking it on the chin.

        Instead you have all of these companies that are in LA, like the british multinationals like the Mill and MPC because of the prestige of doing it here. But whats happening in LA is that because of the all of the lack of action by the artist, there is so much shady activity even by these giants. 1099 Misclassification, day-rate wage theft of OT, long hours B/C there is no OT penalty, wage suppression via recruiting practices, pretty much the worst parts of a Dickens England. This is now standard fair with many of the VFX shops.

        Here’s the irony: The fix to this would be the very unionization that you fear will drive the work out. Yes VFX would be more expensive because, well, they wouldn’t be able to rip off the artist! But as Scott Squires put so well, maybe the vfx film will have only 5 square blocks destroyed in CG instead of 10 to help pay the livable wage, healthcare and benefits that the artist have EARNED. Say it with me Pete, EARNED.

        So please Pete, for well, Pete sake, unstupid yourself. Stop spreading the utter nonsense that work will go to china. When companies close in united states, they usually go to the south where there are no unions. You’ll say, same thing, the work leaves, don’t unionize. The alternative is that we end up with the walmartification of our industry where wages are crushed and then guess what, the work will leave anyway to the south.

        Here’s what you fight for: have the work done here in Los Angeles be a high touch, less task specialized work. When Stereo D leaves, whats in its place? A TV and commercial VFX shop that opens here in burbank:

        http://deadline.com/2014/07/origin-digital-studios-vfx-burbank-fotokem-807218/

        Thats the future of ANY work in this town that VFX. And it should be union or regulated in some way so that its NOT like LookFX where it operates with shady practices, devaluing the bids, the business, destroying it, and above all else, hurting the workers, who EARNED, not just deserved, much more than that.

        Feel smarter Pete?

      • Abbey Singer says:

        I never knew the moniker “VFX Artist” actually meant “Know-it-all” until I just read most of your replies on this thread. Wow, if all of us just listened to you, it would be peace and harmony throughout. What’s next… Gaza?

        I won’t go point for point, as you do. All I’ll say is whatever research, experience, or examples you reference, and you have zero perspective from the other side, who happen to hold the cards, and always will.

        Because you’ve gone from shop to shop, and there’s now something called the internet… does not make you, or anyone an expert.

        Feel free to contact all the VFX Exec’s and ask their opinion on all you say. The same VFX Exec’s or “A” level Supervisors and Producers that don’t speak publicily about the industry ever…yet the overwhelming majority have openly supported AB1839.

        And for the record, I’m not an artist. I’m an Executive, and from what I read, have far more overall perspective on this than your 2-4 week jaunts at vendors.

      • VFX Artist says:

        Well I must have said something right if I got you all worked up Abbey!

        Please go point to point with me. I’m not being facetious, and I know it takes time. but if you have legitimate points to make, please bring them up.

        I’m not asking for Peace and harmony Abbey,. All I’m asking is for companies to FOLLOW THE LAW. Thats it. If you can’t, then there must be a problem with your business if you have to engage in wage theft, wage suppression and misclassification to run your business. I’d appreciate you not making light of my point by comparing it to lofty goals of world peace. Instead meet me point for point.

        As you said, the other side, your side, holds all the cards and always will.

        Thank you for proving my point about how the artist should seek leverage by organizing.

        Scott Ross often said that he couldn’t get companies to form a trade organization. Why would they? In the wake of the vacuum left in our industry by large companies leaving, theres potential to profit from that instability. That is always the case with an industry in distress.

  21. cro says:

    @tc I’ve been preaching this for years. It falls on deaf ears for the most part. The vfx culture has been a huge enabler to all this bad treatment. I’m not sure how long it will take, but as soon as people start being a little more community centric and less self consumed something may change. This sad letter is so familiar, I’ve heard it and seen it, over and over again for 20+ years.

    The vfx community had some major opportunities to make a big statement by walking out, but every time people let fear in the way. I commend Mr. Lay’s and ADPT efforts, and I hope that has an impact, but until the vfx community can change it’s culture its all mute.

    • Earl Grey says:

      The vfx community had some major opportunities to make a big statement by walking out, but every time people let fear in the way.

      Too many VFX artists I know live hand-to-mouth, from paycheck-to-paycheck. Some even carry debt — car payments, mortgage payments, student loan payments, medical debt, or credit card debt that came from a long stretch without work. That may contribute to the fear.

      I have no good advice for financially struggling VFX artists.

      If anyone reading this is one of the few without debt and with a monthly surplus in savings…please consider socking away that surplus into a “Chuck you, Farley” fund. Give yourself the chance to walk away from a bad scene.

  22. UnionizeVFX says:

    When you work for free, you are not being loyal. I’m sorry but that is the biggest misconception. You are actually the problem in the industry. YOU, not LookFX decided to work for free. They didn’t force any of you to do that and yet here we are, the company is bust and all your overtime and hard work was for NOTHING. You are cutting all your fellow VFX artists when you decide to put in free hours. The state of the industry is crumbling because people make bad choices and work for free. Take a look at how Disney and Dreamworks are run, their employees are paid well, they also are not immune to layoffs BUT no one is left without a paycheck in hand. I still have my health insurance from DWA because of the union. I also accrued hours from all the overtime that is paid into my pension, even though I no longer work there the hours that I did put in counted for something. I’m really sorry that you lost so much money and that you are now left on the curb but ultimately you made the decision to allow your wages to be taken. You could have stopped working, you could have walked away and you know what, the result would have been the same. Next time, if you really care about the industry and about VFX, please do NOT work for free. Put the mouse down, stop typing on the keyboard and walk out. That is how things will get better not by working for free. So far, it has not worked for any company or artist when you decide to work for free.

    • TA says:

      Do you still work in Los Angeles? If so, you should know how hard it is to find work in the area.

      Do you have a family? If so, then you know it isn’t so easy (or cheap) to pack up your life, and move to another city, let alone state or country.

      Do you get health insurance through your job? If so, then you should know there’s a bit more to just walking out when a paycheck arrives late.

      Do you seriously think people thought they were working for free? Seriously?

      You’re really going to compare Disney and Dreamworks with a small vfx house like Look fx? If you think small-mid sized houses have the same challenges as Disney, Dreamworks, even ILM, then I have a bridge to sell you.

      As far as unions go, the barn has left the stable. The industry is global. If you’re gonna compare us to some other global organizations, my guess is their industry is about 100 times larger than ours.

  23. Easy says:

    I just can’t feel bad for you anymore because when I read it, I just wonder what did you think was going to happen? It’s like you’ve been sleeping under a rock. This is going to keep happening until someone gets a clue.

    Seriously, wake the hell up and walk out until you get a check.

    My very last VFX job several months back was like a case study of the kind of bullshit most of this industry has come to. Final payment was more than 30 days late, even after being assured that net 30 was no problem. I got the old, “We haven’t been paid, so we can’t pay you” line of BS, which is comical because, they always say this line as if I should be concerned with their problems, when the reality is “Fuck you, pay me”. So myself and my co-worker asked them if we should contact the agency directly ]and ask them why we can’t get paid for doing their work.

    Amazing how a little leverage makes people find their checkbook.

    Likewise, if you walk out and make it impossible for them to complete final deliverables until you get paid up to date, they are fucked. That’s your leverage. Use it before the job is done, or you can come crying the blues on VFX Soldier about how you were strung along like the artists at the last 20 places that went under and didn’t get paid and act as if you are totally surprised that it happened to you too!

  24. […] Oh look! LookFX, which had opened an office in Stuttgart, maybe unrelated to said subsidies but maybe just because of them (I have no idea) has gone tits up. […]

  25. fourforfore says:

    Oh grow up. Most of the people in VFX in this era are not artists. They are typists. They live in a fantasy world where they delude themselves that the typing they do is a major contribution to giant VFX projects. Without them, the movies/commercials/videos would never get made. Yeah. Them and 2,000 people in India, China, Canada, etc.

    It’s such a thrill to get a screen credit amongst thousands of other names rather than a paycheck. The software is so dumbed down now absolutely anybody can do VFX. And thus the work is done all over the world by people w/o education, zero art training, no knowledge of camera lenses or computers. You don’t need to know how to do anything but type. It’s easy to do, and people can do shots at their dining room table or via email. But honestly, without a paycheck, who has a dining room?

    “I worked on a Russell Crowe movie”…and Russell knows you very, very well. In fact you toasted your historic and hard work on “Noah” with him at the wrap party. Not. You sat in Denny’s in Hollywood drank bad coffee and told people about all the “artists” on this historic VFX movie with the legendary movie star Mr. Crowe had not been paid, were waiting for their paychecks, and ain’t that a b&&ch?

    First of all, the VFX typing you do implements techniques invented 20 years ago by real artists & technical innovators. Now anybody can do this stuff.

    “We worked w/o pay out of loyalty”. No, you didn’t. You are too weak and lazy to make the effort to get another typing job elsewhere that’s not as glamorous in your minds. You can sit in a dark room and type all day to produce a different product like insurance policies or real estate contracts, but then you can’t brag that you worked on “Spidey” or you heard Robert Downey Jr. was in the parking lot 4 years ago right near where you park your bicycle since you cannot afford car insurance or gas or health insurance or a new pair of shoes.

    It is very difficult to run a VFX business. It only takes one mistake to get into a cash flow negative so fast it makes your head spin. Then the company owners try to figure out how to stave off the creditors to have enough cash to pay what is necessary to deliver material so the client coughs out more cash which can be divided up amongst whomever so the project can be finished. Sometimes it’s not possible to pay everyone. Ever.

    Don’t blameLookFX. Blame the typists who stuck around.

    • John Gross says:

      fourforfore says:
      August 15, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      First of all, the VFX typing you do implements techniques invented 20 years ago by real artists & technical innovators. Now anybody can do this stuff.
      ————————-

      I think this is a bit short-sighted and insulting to the “real artists” that are working today. Anybody “cannot” do this stuff and make it look good.

      It may be true that anybody could be taught to remove wires or something “simple”, but there are still very talented artists that know about things like camera lenses and lighting and performance.

    • Muse says:

      …trollbait by someone who probably flunked out of Introduction to Maya. But don’t worry dude, I am sure none of these newly-unemployed people can say “you want fries with that?” as well as you do.

    • hahaha. why are you wasting time typing on here? why don’t you go type up a movie and make millions.🙂

      Look up Kruger-Dunning effect while you are at it.

    • time says:

      You are an excellent typist. I’d like to see your demo reel.

    • TA says:

      Remind me to never hire you, typist.

  26. Nic D. says:

    Reading a lot of negative comments toward the former LookFX employees here and I find it rather disgusting. Do you people also lecture rape victims on their choice of clothing? Wow.

    A lot of people are saying “just walk away” or “you’re the suckers because you worked for free”. Guess what, until you’ve been in that situation, you don’t know what it’s like.
    You don’t know what it’s like to not know what’s happening to your paycheck, and yet, know that the only way to get paid is to finish the project at hand. That “just coming in and doing nothing” is just going to accelerate the process of destroying the company that owes you money.
    To know that no matter what you do, you and your family are fucked. Because if you leave, you’ll have to take a 1099 job (if you’re lucky) at lower pay with no health insurance and you forgo all your unemployment benefits by quitting. The fear is real and it is paralyzing.
    I know it because I lived through the R&H debacle and am still owed thousands.

    I am still astonished at how little this country protects its workers. It’s shocking to me that a company can just “fold” and deny it’s former workers compensation and worse of all “Health”.

    This is why this industry has to unionize. Now.

  27. cro says:

    @nic.d

    “A lot of people are saying “just walk away” or “you’re the suckers because you worked for free”. Guess what, until you’ve been in that situation, you don’t know what it’s like.”

    I know exactly what it’s like. You have to ask yourself if people keep doing this over and over again, working without pay, and seeing the end results, it never ends good, then whom is to blame? It’s some sort of weird group conformity insanity.

    I was often an outcast because I wouldn’t go along with the OT, or working on a weekend. I was the ONLY dude saying NO. Privately people would say, “Dude, you’re my hero” “Wish I could do that”. But, very few would support me or back me. I was standing on the edge of the plank. It was one of these times I realized that as much as I enjoyed the work, this culture wasn’t for me. People didn’t support each other, it was cut throat for no reason. While I still do work remotely from time to time, I’ll never set foot in a vfx studio again.

    It’s a really bizarre work culture that’s been fostered over the years, and the truth is, the work force is partly responsible. Largely responsible in my view.

    The workforce needs to get out of the white collar mindset and understand that vfx is really a bluecollar job at this point. Or was. The biggest problem in my experience is the large number of workers who’ve never really had any other kind of job history. Real jobs, not college jobs. Having an understanding of what it really means to work for a living, like manual labor, really helps in developing a broader understanding of community.

    The “artist” tag is a curse, and it needs to be dropped! It doesn’t help anyone, period. We are skilled craftsmen and women, not artist. Artist are the folks that wrote the book that is now a movie. A character designer is an artist, the animator is a craftsman who is translating someone’s vision. At least, this is the case on large productions.

    It is time for all of the work force to get off your high horses, stop thinking that you are the smartest dude in the room, you aren’t, the guys in the ivory tower, driving their Bentley’s and not paying you, are smarter. If you have passion for “art” then do it on your own, vfx is a job, it is a business, we are skilled craftsmen, start behaving as such and reclaim your dignity at least.

    The industry needed to Unionize 15 years ago.

  28. fourforfore says:

    Once upon a time, a famous VFX entrepreneur figured he could sell/rent more computer hardware & software cheaper if the products were made easier to use. The more people able to use his products, the more he’d sell and the more money he’d make. At that time SGI computers were 30-40 grand. An Onyx was a million bucks and an Flame program was 150 grand. This shrewd entrepreneur figured if he could sell his easier-to-use programs for 15 grand or so, he’d sell a lot more of them and put the high-priced competition out of business.

    He also wanted to figure out how to run the programs faster. Many smart guys/gals realized if there could be multiple machines running to crunch numbers whilst operators were home getting a few hours of sleep, more work could be completed and more machines would be sold. Hence the creation of render farms.

    But what to do about that pesky cost called “labor”? A company was opened called VIFX where an experiment was conducted. Many types of people were trained on a nascent compositing software called Chalice that was going to be marketed as easy & cheap to use. The company hired artists with visual arts backgrounds to train to use the new software.They hired people with prior experience in animation/cartoons.They hired former pizza parlor managers who who had zero training in computers or art who could not believe their luck & thought it was just way cool to work on movies. They hired a couple of former Marines who were simply looking for any kind of job. They hired engineers who wanted to get into production who had zero training and little interest in any type of visual art. They hired software people w/degrees in math & science who were bored and wanted to try their hand at working on shots rather than writing code all day.

    All these people were thrown into several large rooms together and trained on the compositing software side-by-side. Some of the art people struggled w/the math of compositing and lost interest and went back to painting. Some of the engineers did not have good compositional or color skills but could be shown by “point & click” where to move images and how to change colors. The pizza parlor guy spent hours using his new found compositing skills to manipulate images of his favorite Ninja Turtles into sexual positions and emailing these images to his friends with glee. That’s when he bought a BMW & started to call himself an “artist”.

    When I worked at Warner Bros Feature Animation there were not one but two compositing supervisors who were absolutely, completely color blind. They could not see color, but they could sample pixels and read numbers. One of them turned in a shot where Sponge Bob’s pants were bright green. He could not see the difference between green and yellow which became painfully obvious that day. He was one of the highest paid of all the “artists” at the facility.

    On a project at another company I worked with a painter who turned in several shots on Apocalypto where the derrieres of the males wearing thongs had to be cleaned up so the film did not get an X rating. This man turned in several shots where the skin was painted in shades of green, turquoise and extremely bright orange. When he was called in by producers, it was obvious he could not see color. This “artist” had gone into the front office the week prior and gotten a 30% raise that he requested because he’d learned a new piece of software that was paid at a higher rate. Nobody noticed this “artist” was color blind.

    I worked with a woman who had a psychology degree from UCLA who made $135@hr as an Inferno artist who knew absolutely nothing about computers, art, animation or movies. She heard about the astronomical pay she could make, quit working for psychologists, and had somebody show her what buttons to push on the inferno program. She was very good-looking, and constantly asked males on the staff for assistance with her shots. Many times I set up her shots for her entirely, or gave her templates to follow. She had others on the staff do her rotoscoping, painting and tracking since she had absolutely no idea how to do it. This phenomenal “artist” quit the business as soon as everybody was forced to move to Vancouver & Singapore & she could not find anyone to do her shots for her. She married a comp supervisor, and the last I heard had announced she put down her Wacom tablet and gotten a real estate license. Good for her. But she was never, ever an “artist”. She was a typist.

    Sure there are still some artistic people on VFX crews. But for the most part, most of them are typists. Over time, the software has been made so easy to use, things that took a lot of time can now be done with a push of a button. Want some clouds? What color? Want them blurred a bit? In front or behind the building? Anybody can do it. That’s why years ago companies like R&H built facilities in India, Malaysia and China where people could be trained to do this work which is easy to learn to do, and where workers are grateful to be paid 92 cents@ hour.

    • Nic D. says:

      Great story, but what is your point?
      You’ve worked with bad artists and you’re “obviously” not one of them, congratulations.
      Whether we call ourselves artists, craftsmen, whatever, we still deserve some degree of stability and protection. Our skills are still needed. Even if, in your eyes, it’s not considered Art.

      • cro says:

        Define Art? You may be an artist when you paint at home, but you, we, are not artist when working on a film that has someone else’s vision.

        You don’t deserve anything, you earn it, and you don’t earn it by being a door mat. By working for free you are saying that your skills are not worth paying for. How is that protecting yourself?

      • Nic D. says:

        I think we are of the same opinion. No one deserves our skills for free and we absolutely do ourselves a great disservice by working for free. But there is a big difference between working for free and getting shafted by your employer.

        Calling our trade Art/Not Art is, in my opinion, completely besides the point.

    • tc says:

      Hey saying that large specialist facility can hire new grads or anyone off the street and still get their project finished due to the assembly line process that was created to finish a movie. There is a certain truth to it, but that combination usually ends with a mediocre vfx movie.

    • reynoldt says:

      @fourforfore: Obviously, you’re not “an artist” because you don’t know shit how vfx works, because according to you, it’s all just push buttons and composites stuff.
      And please, stop with the insults to Chinese/Indians/Asians, you will never be as talented/good/”artistic” as we are, judging by the stupidity of your small brain.

  29. tc says:

    I only work for free under these conditions

    1) The person is a good friend and needs a favor
    2) I really believe in the project
    3) He has no money to pay me, because he himself is poor can’t afford it.

    If anyone of those conditional are not met, I don’t work for free.

    • Peter Greenaway says:

      you should not work for free..probably you are young. Later your energy will be very carefully managed.

      • tc says:

        I think in these situations, it is ok. Helping your friend out is different from helping a business out.

  30. Former_Orphan says:

    I went through this myself at The Orphanage. They owed me $5,000 and about 6 years after we filed our class action lawsuit I got a check in the mail…for $456.

    My heart goes out to all of you!!

  31. VFX Artist says:

    You can add me to the list of folks ripped off by “CrookFX”.

    I worked for them only two weeks, but in that time they owed me money because:

    1) paid me below the agreed rate.
    2) never paid me for my last day of work.

    …and these crooks get away scott free… and even allowed to prosper.

    However, the email that ‘Soldier received concerned me more because it shows the pathology of martyrdom and ignorance that vfx artist seem to almost pride themselves in.

    The loyalty the emailer wrote about wasn’t extraordinary, it was complicit in the wage theft crimes that LookFX committed. Its ignorance, not loyalty, that allows artist to put their health at risk for a business that they are neither partnered in or own. I know workaholics who own their own business that don’t even work that hard IN THEIR OWN BUSINESS!. And the vfx artist did it FOR FREE. And they weren’t just employees, they were employees where were REPEATEDLY paid late and/or paid below their agreed rate.

    “We all love the work we do and are completely aware that getting paid to do what you love is hard to come by.”

    Who told you this? VFX work is in continued demand. How is it that something in demand gets its value suppressed? Who told this to them that getting paid for what you love is hard to come by? Thats absolutely ridiculous. Mark Driscoll and Henrik Fett are allowed to do what they want and prosper, on your hard unpaid work. So its easy to be a crook, but not a talented and productive artist that actually does the work.

    “Like with much of our industry, most Look Effects artists consistently worked well over 8 hour days and over 40 hour weeks. Staff employees didn’t receive overtime pay at all (Company policy. Freelancers would receive their hourly rate only – no overtime).”

    That is now becoming the model of the ideal employee. Expect rates to be continually suppressed when they run out of hours in the day.

    “For each of the last several years, the same pattern occurred, albeit on a slightly smaller scale – unexpected furlough days resulting in 4 day weeks (20% paycut), missed payrolls, broken promises, and little or no communication.”

    The definition of Insanity is expecting a different result from that same pattern.

    ” Whether we should have left much sooner can be debated or commented on, one thing is indisputable… Look Effects employees were extremely, extremely loyal.”

    Ignorant, Not loyal. Dog are loyal but even they will leave after a while.

    “The Visual Effects industry has been going through a difficult time these past few years.”

    Yet Mark Driscoll and Henrik Fett are allowed to continue and prosper… but not you, the worker. Why?

    “So, regardless of public opinion, if this letter prevents one more professional in our industry from being taken advantage of, disrespected, or lied to, it’ll be well worth it.”

    Actually it won’t. In fact this blog is full of such stories that resulted in nothing because of no action. You want something to happen, walk off the job. Thats your only leverage.

    It may sound harsh, but every time I walk into a facility to negotiate a rate, I have to effectively compete with this stupidity. These “loyal” folks from LookFX are now the model employee.

    I urge people to take pause and at least acknowledge that this is an injustice, and that its also a pathology that has affected our industry. Every shop I walk into in LA & NY now insist that I work 1099, that work overtime for free, some even use crack software, because of the all of the “loyally” workers that have come before me to pave the path to poverty. I love who the rest of the industry negotiates for royalties, and we get ripped off for “loyalty”. LOL., what a difference one letter makes!

    Someone wrote a fascinating essay behind the psychology of creating a sick system as a means to keep someone with you forever. LookFX follows this almost point to point, with this artist’s email almost illustrating his/her own confusion for seemingly defying logic, even self preservation, to remain “loyal”. Google “issendai sick systems” to look up the original. Here’s a summary:

    Sick Systems:

    “A psychologically manipulative set of behaviors used to keep people dependent on you.”

    “A set of rules used in a large number of dominant or authoritative relationships – including governments, dictators, religions, cults, lovers, kidnappers, families and employers. Theres techniques you can use to achieve your goals using the “sick system” rules.”

    There are four main rules to creating a sick system:

    • Keep them too busy to think.
    • Keep them tired.
    • Keep them emotionally involved.
    • Reward intermittently.

    “Why maintain a good workplace with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay”, which demands a lot from you to maintain, if you can create a sick system; where your people can get stuck, and its all legal.

    These can be an unconscious creation, or deliberate from personality types that range from narcissistic to full blown sociopaths. The disconnect can go as far as folks bragging about it or thinking they should be admired for it. An example would be when John Textor described his business model to investors of getting DD students to pay DD for the privilege to work on movies.

    Here is how you maintain a sick system:

    1) Keep the crises rolling.
    2) Remind the people in the system that “things will be better when…” some impossible goal happens.
    3) Keep real rewards far in the distance.
    4) Establish one small semi-occasional success.
    5) Chop up their time.
    6) Enmesh your success with theirs.
    7) Keep everything on the edge.

    Qualities That Keep You in a Sick System:

    1) Loyalty
    2) Patience
    3) A strong work ethic
    4) Optimism
    5) Self-sacrifice
    6) A need to be useful to others
    7) Forgiveness
    8) Farsightedness
    9) Trust
    10) Hope

    • Peter Greenaway says:

      I always ask myself – how people can be so blind?
      You are working for CROOKS AND CHARLATANS….Is this clear?
      I mean – do tou realize the fact that your free time morphed into $$$ for them?

      Forget about art and talent.
      Plenty of these talented and unpaid “artists”, they will be very happy to do something else. Just they don’t know what!

      So they are ready to accept and work for free, just because there is no alternative.

      I totally agree with you VFXArtist – It is a sick industry, so sick that I cannot see any future in it.

      • VFX Artist says:

        Peter,

        Thats like saying you don’t see a future in anything because this is happening at every company. Apple has billions in the bank but they rip of thousands of their Apple store employees… look up that class action. The Tech companies ripping off tens of thousands of their employees despite having billions in the bank. These companies know only one thing: More. They expect growth to be constant. Despite the extra productivity that we provide, be it via OT, longer hours, faster technology, they want more. And when they run out of hours in the day, they go after the payroll in anyway they can. wage suppression, theft, etc.

        American workers have to organize, focus on local economies, stop throwing money at large multinationals. Look at NFL players, they make millions but they have union. Same could be said for some movie stars and directors.

    • Jackadullboy says:

      I found that post on “sick systems”. It’s awesome.. thanks for the link/search suggestion. The more detailed breakdown on ” keeping the crises rolling” really resonates.
      (At least one VFX company I can think of operates on that principle.)

      • c watts says:

        Companies who screw their employees rarely have reservations about screwing their clients too. I don’t bring work to companies with visibly unhappy employees, and the when I hear about a vendor missing payroll, i take it extremely seriously. Luckily, it’s pretty rare.

        The scenario often cited as the reason ‘that we need a union”: crooked senior management teamig up with evil studios or unreasonable productions to exploit the workers, is one that I have never been a party to and in fact, have never witnessed.

        My point is, even if your company doesn’t care about its workers, their clients certainly will. Good cheese comes from happy cows, right?

        If you find yourself in a situation like those at Look did, select a representatve and talk to your client. You don’t need a union for this, but you do need to make a convincing case. No client wants to get dragged into something petty. But employees not being paid for weeks on end is a serious thing and the client cares a lot more than you probably thinlk.

        courage!
        cw

      • VFX Artist says:

        Hey C watts,

        I’m not sure which branch of VFX you have served as a client. there are many as you know: feature film, TV, commercials, special venue.

        My experience, which has been in all of these as a worker, is that the artist is pretty far removed from the client. Even if the client is in the room, theres not really a dialog going on there.

        My experience has been different. The clients, often thru just unfamiliarity of vfx, though a couple of them intentionally, ask for revisions or updates outside the bid. The Vendor is pressured to deliver to impress the client. The crew is pressed to work longer hours. Because the margins are so thin, that profit loss is now passed onto the artist in the form of:

        1) wage theft (unpaid wages, unpaid OT or dayrate)
        2) Wage suppression (from the anti trust headlines to industry wide pay cuts lowering ceilings)
        3) Misclassification (on premise 1099 workers, EOR)
        4) one sided booking system of Holds-bookings-Releases

        All of these contribute to passing on the loss of profit to the artist.

        I’ve seen vfx vendors buy jobs to impress the client, and now the artist are effectually sent the bill vial the above means.

        So what i see is the opposite: the vfx vendors treat their clients TOO well, and the price of that is paid more and more by the artist.

    • GM says:

      Since you say you worked at Look FX, then I would assume you know there’s probably a lot more than just what’s in the letter.

      And what’s with dissecting the letter line by line? Step back from the coffee, dude…

      • VFX Artist says:

        hey GM,

        I dissected the letter line by line to clearly illustrate the pathology of our industry that leads to these violations, and how many are artist enabled.

  32. tc says:

    No sure if you guys are aware of this, but the Glassdoor job website, regularly have anonymous reviews of companies. If you worked for any company that has shady practices, it would benefit the industry to write a review of your experiences here. It’s like the review system on amazon.com for vendors, but for companies instead. Very good resource to figure out if you are going get into a bad company or not.

    http://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm

    • Peter Greenaway says:

      ..just name one good company please. Only one.Can you point to a great company to work for?

    • VFX Artist says:

      Thank you TC. I use that site and I recommend it to artist. Its less VFXisHell and more of a professional site that is moderated.

      My own study of various facilities came to common conclusions;

      1) Often the people are reviewed as being nice.
      2) hours are long
      3) “sweat shop” feel
      4) Upper management is cliquey

  33. the problems in the VFX industry are complex and varied. From no OT to not making payroll, from 80 hour weeks to no health care. All of these problems are as a result of an industry that does not make money yet makes other people gobs of money… That’s not to say that if the facilities were profitable, all companies would treat their employees fairly but I personally believe many of the current issues would be alleviated if not eradicated. The main issue to address is the pricing model… fixed bids are plain stupid. The second issue to address is the corporate welfare system known as subsidies. If those issues were fixed, your world would significantly change for the better.

    The facilities are unwilling to join a Trade Association which could deal with the pricing model. And IMHO the only way to address the subsidy problem is to join ADAPT and to fight this in court.

  34. VFX Artist says:

    I agree with ADAPT’s cause and I appreciate you acknowledging the fact that even with the subsidy issue fixed, that doesn’t guarantee the labor violations going away.

    My problem is that I keep hearing the same party line: We’re not profitable, we’re not profitable, yet you see fresh new VFX shops open right here in no profit land…

    http://deadline.com/2014/07/origin-digital-studios-vfx-burbank-fotokem-807218/

    Why would you start a business if theres such thin margins in it and hardly any profit? why? Why??

    Look at the subject of this post:

    http://variety.com/2014/artisans/news/lookfx-folds-staff-and-projects-move-to-mass-market-vfx-exclusive-1201282416/

    They literally are doing the same low-profit business, in the same low-profit area, some crook managers, just rebranded.. effectively to erase the debt. Why would you restart a business in the same business in the same location if its not profitable?

    Every post shop I have worked at from multinational to small TV shop has been experiencing growth for the past few years. Doubling in size while asking the artist to take a pay cut.

    Digital Domain, literally, starves its artist by not buying them dinner when they work late in the middle of no where in Playa, while doing construction, expanding, to build flame rooms…

    Explain to me where, in this dimension, do you restart, expand and grow a business where the margins are low and not profitable? I keep hearing that line like some how its the artist’s fault and that they should bear the burden of this oh so low profit business, while the owners expand, prosper and have their dreams realized. I’m not saying your wrong, but explain to me this logic.

    Scott you want to have companies show interest in ADAPT, have the artist unionize. The fastest way to get VFX shops to form a trade association is to have the artist form a union. Not my words, Ed Ulbrich’s.

    • Easy says:

      Well, that’s easy. Just because the VXF STUDIO doesn’t make much profit, the VFX STUDIO OWNERS still draw a fat salary and use the business to offset their own personal expenses and you can get really creative with this.

      They get to decide how much they get paid. Do you think they are taking a pay cut?

      • c. watts says:

        Either i work in a different Los Angeles, or somebody’s full of shit around here. Just who are these evil VFX companies who treat their workers so poorly? Sure, Look was bad, from the sound of it but they are not representative of this industry. I didn’t like the management and I found the artists assigned to my job to be friendly but inexperienced. If the owners spirited the money away, that sucks, but there are legal recourses and ways to squeeze them, especially if you act fast. Here’s a tip- track down the last two or three management staff who got fired. If something’s rotten on Hollywood, they’ll know it, and I bet they’ll be happy to talk. Now you’ve got your leverage.

        I don’t know any artists who I consider competent who are involuntarily unemployed. Our entire economy has been in the shitter, so a little less work or a little less pay is to be expected. But reading the posts on this site, I feel like there should be a Plumerville or a Sony Camp with refugee VFX artists banging their workstations looking for donations. But I don’t see that. in fact, things are busier than the’ve been in a couple years. So if you’re finding it that hard to get a job, maybe ask yourself what you can do better. Not what the industry owes you. There are artists out there, and they are working. What are you doing?

        I’m calling bullshit on this whole “sorry state” business. I would love to be proven wrong. But this, the whole tawdry Academy Awards thing last year, the green squares, etc- it;s the same six people shouting for a union or the sky will fall. Your arguments make no sense, guys, and your union, when it comes, will start deducting money from your checks, agree to minimum wages which will be less than what you make now, they will roll over when it comes time to represent your interests on issues between you and your employer. This is a competitive business. Pay is based on skill, experience, and hard work. So if you want to work somewhere new or make more money, stop browsing the web and final some shots.

        BTW none of the preceding should be construed as an endorsement of not paying people, no matter how shitty they are at ‘typing” A deal is a deal. Not paying your crew is a hangin offense, as far as I’m concerned.

      • Easy says:

        I’m glad everything is going great for you. How about you tell everyone where all of these great studios are and save everyone a lot of trouble. Then name 5 other industries that operate like VFX. I would be satisfied with 2. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

        I tell people the kind of shit that goes on and they can’t believe it because they have never heard of anyone in their line of work that have ever had anything like that happen beforr..

        Did you ever stop to think that you are an anomaly? Your great experience doesn’t disprove what misfortune happens to everyone else.

      • c. watts says:

        Easy,

        I’m not an anomaly. there are many who agree with me, I’m just the one to open my (proverbial) mouth. Naming facilities is fine, but as soon as i do, someone will say “I worked there and they were xxx” But here you go-

        I’ve been directly or tangentially involved in jobs at DD, Framestore, Company 3/Method/Efilm . Those are the big ones, as far as small shops it’s been a lot of Ingenuity Engine, Eight, At the Post, and some people in garages. Further back in the past but still relevant are ReelFX, Hybride, and Rising Sun. I’ve had a miserable time with management at DD and Reel FX, even if i wanted to bring work to those companies I’m not sure they would have me. (the artists and developers there were extraordinarily talented , I will add ) But even DD paid their employees, as far as I know. Everyone else was a pretty great to deal with and seemed to treat their employees well.

        I worked at MPC as a compositor in 2003 to see if I could actually do it and I will agree they worked people pretty hard. I earned the same low compositor rate as the rest of the people at my big table, but it was still £160 a day. £800 a week for an entry level kid in London isn’t so bad- I think I actually got a little less than most because they paid for my accommodation. We were paid OT but not as much as we worked. No one told me I had to work overtime, I did it on my own. London’s expensive but even at that pay it’s manageable. I made a hell of a lot less when I started in this business.

        Whether it’s true or not, some of these posts have an off-putting smell of entitlement to them. Every employee IS entitled to the wage that she is promised at hire, along with any extras guaranteed by the state. I’m going to assume we’re NOT talking about these kinds of issues, because there are well established channels to pursue grievances in those areas, Working conditions, overtime, forced unpaid labor, all illegal, all easy to prove, and all the mark of a poorly managed facility. Unions won’t help anyone here, they will just pass you along to OSHA or EDD. Once in a blue moon the union rep will show up, loiter in your cubicle, or whatever, but if you think anyone in TAG is going to fight for you, you’re mistaken. At least, that was the case when I was in that union. The state has very strict rules about retaliatory firing-if you can document violations you can write your own ticket.

        So if we’re talking about companies who break the law, bust em. You will win. And you wont get blacklisted for demanding what you have a contract for or what the statutes provide. If you’re not good at your job, and spend your time riling up the rest of the crew, well, I can see you not being asked back. I know 20 people who i would never hire again because they will spend an hour telling me why what i want is impossible while someone else fixes the shot in 20 minutes.

        2 industries like VFX- graphic design & layout for print, and programming are not unlike VFX in that they use the same employment model, and occasionally subject their employees to 1099 shenanigans. Getting paid on a 1099 isn’t the worst thing in the world, BTW. If this is the way you have to get paid, (and stands up to EDD scrutiny) there are advantages- the biggest one is the ability to fund your SEP with tax-free company money up to 30K or so. Contrast that to andIRA for a W2 worker and the limit is 3000 or something, You pay more tax on payday, but you get it all back and them some at the end of the year.

        People make their own misfortune. You can look at the world as it is, or as you think it should be, If you want to change the world, master the game in the current environment, and then work to change it from the top. With all respect, some of the arguments put forth here betray a profound lack of understanding about VFX business and film business. I dont want to get called a troll (again) but if you’re not getting what you want out of the business, find someone who is and see what she’s doing that you aren’t. If you can’t find someone who considers themselves happy and well-enough paid (and who can still look at himself in the mirror each morning), well maybe you are in the wrong business.

        Shit, there goes my Sunday…
        peace
        cw

      • Easy says:

        “2 industries like VFX- graphic design & layout for print, and programming are not unlike VFX in that they use the same employment model, and occasionally subject their employees to 1099 shenanigans. Getting paid on a 1099 isn’t the worst thing in the world, BTW. If this is the way you have to get paid, (and stands up to EDD scrutiny) there are advantages- the biggest one is the ability to fund your SEP with tax-free company money up to 30K or so. Contrast that to andIRA for a W2 worker and the limit is 3000 or something, You pay more tax on payday, but you get it all back and them some at the end of the year.”

        Not even close. My wife and numerous friends work in graphic design for print and digital, not one of them has ever experienced what goes on in VFX. (Just an FYI, I wasn’t even referring to 1099s, I am well versed in the pros and cons, but thanks anyway)

      • VFX Artist says:

        Thanks Easy. Of course, I was being provocative in asking about the dichotomy between growth in our business despite it not being profitable. ;D

      • VFX Artist says:

        C. Watts

        Much appreciated for taking the time for your detailed response. It puts much in perspective regarding our disagreements.

        It sounds like you haven’t worked amongst the rank and file in vfx for some time. Much has changed.

        DD and Method are known for being above board and following proper w2 employment. DD initially was a flat rate in the late 90’s buy their righted their wayward ways after the employees sued, or threatened to sue, I forget which.

        These are not entitlements. Its THE LAW. The problem is that now, culturally asking for an honest days pay for honest days work is sounding like entitlement. Again, employees are being ILLEGALLY subjected to:

        1) misclassification (1099)
        2) wage theft (dayrate i.e. no OT pay)
        3) labor law violations (no breaks, long hours, weeks of 7 day work weeks)
        4) wage suppression

        This is not entitlement. Again without the structures of a trade association and union the instability that it brings allow some to profit in that vacuum via the above methods. I don’t know how more succinct I can be.

        You say that working conditions, overtime, forced unpaid labor is all illegal and easy to prove. Its harder when other artist are complicit in it, thats how the culture of vfx has changed.

        Unions will not help you keep your job. If a company doesn’t want to keep you or hire you they won’t. I have first hand experience here. But they will help keep your benefits, labor laws, and allow an avenue for grievances should you legitimately have one. They also act as a levy against companies trying some shady things because they know artist have a unified front. The VFX artist would only benefit from a union because of the standardization and benefits that it brings. The “Pirates” of our industry will likely hate it because they can’t live by their ever changing rules. As fun & “free” as “Pirate” vfx worker like it, its that lack of standardization thats killing our industry. Like I said, Actors, directors, folks below the line, NFL players, policemen, firemen, .. people who make everything from a middle class income to millions all benefit from a union or guild. I’m sure all of them can legitimately complain about their unions. But take it away from them and out come the pitchforks!

        Blacklisting is VERY easy in our industry, especially now that the labor market is very malleable and is saturated. . With the long hours, compressed schedule, one peep out of you for missed meals, no OT pay, long hours or no breaks, again the stuff you talked about having legal protection, and they don’t call you back. You are a freelancer. The majority of the work force is freelance. The companies are constantly hiring and firing you. Its the perfect recipe for labor violations. Hence the expression “artist are like lightbulbs, as soon as one burns itself out, you replace it with another”. They will simply not hire you again for the next project. Period. Its very easy to label someone fighting for OT pay, proper breaks, not wanting to work long hours as “entitled” against this backdrop and not a “team player”. And news of that will spread like wildfire within the recruiting circles and bob’s your uncle. By contrast I see workaholics rewarded all the time.. they are the ones that “get it”.

        Again, C.Watts, I appreciate the time you took to reply, but it sounds like you haven’t worked amongst the rank and file for a while. Again, all I ask is that the companies FOLLOW THE LAW, and they aren’t. And its very easy for them to staff up just the folks who “get it”, who comply with the poor working conditions. Hence how you get a bunch of folks at LOOKfx who do nothing until after the fact. The “rabble-rousers” were weeded out long ago.

    • “Why would you start a business if theres such thin margins in it and hardly any profit? why? Why??”

      Great question. There are several answers here.

      1. The same question could be posed to Digital Artists that work for free or work 80 hrs a week or don’t charge for OT. Most owners/operators that are not foreign investors or studios or dying analog film services do it because THEY think THEY are different and that THEY know how to run a business ( think Orphanage, Asylum, BOSS, Apogee, Station X, etc.) and they love the film biz or believe they know how to transition their VFX business into a content business.

      2. The Foreign Investor desperately wants to be a Hollywood player and they feel much more comfortable with technology than they do with IP

      3. The dying/changing analog film services businesses do it because they think that since they understood the lab business, and since that business is dying, they have to “get with it” and jump on to the next thing.

      I’m telling you…. and I am probably the only VFX owner ( ex) that will tell you ( though you can look at financials from the likes of Framestore, DNeg, PF, etc.) there is no money in doing VFX. Now, as an executive, one can make a pretty decent salary running a highly unprofitable business… but, unless that executive is the owner ( which few are today), he/she should start looking for another job and/or industry immediately because he/she will in short run be fired.( Think Chris Kubsch, Ed Ulbrich,etc)

      4. And finally, if you are a director and you think you need to own a VFX shop because you want to be like George Lucas and ILM… you’re dead wrong. ( Think Cameron, Jackson, Emmerich, Ridley Scott etc).

      Believe me, there is no reason to own a VFX shop. They don’t make money.

  35. VFX Artist says:

    C.watts,

    I’m not sure what angle you are approaching this from, either from the client side, vendor side or artist side. Suffice to say, the view can be different from either of them.

    But lets start with the public headlines:

    https://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/anti-poaching-inquiry/

    Wage suppression:
    The antitrust headlines names: ILM, Pixar & Dreamworks.

    Wage theft: Employer of Record & day rate etc.. This names The Mill.
    https://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/employer-of-record-ripoffs/

    Tallying the companies I’ve worked for the last 8 years, Ive worked for 11, refusing 2 of them for offering only 1099 work. that makes a roster of 13 companies in 8 years to get data from:

    7 of them operated within labor laws. the remaining 6 violated labors laws. Those law were:

    1) wage suppression (contributed by the above anti trust laws)
    2) Wage Theft: Employer of Record, day rate (no OT)
    3) Misclassification (1099)
    4) labor law violations (no breaks, no meals, months of 7 day work weeks with no breaks)

    One of the above even used crack software throughout the production.

    They all treated me well, were very nice, and even had nice snacks. but they were ripping me off.

    I know many artist who are not just involuntarily unemployed, but have left the country, given up their sovereignty to work in new Zealand, England, Vancouver. Ironically before many had to leave, there was this rash of H1-B visas hired early last decade because there wasn’t enough qualified labor, which help pushed the stateside qualified labor over seas!

    I also know many involuntarily underemployed artist.

    I also know black listed artist who spoke up against these injustices.

    I also know many employed & staff artist that have put up with these violations for years because they see it as they only way to survive. Its either keep your head down or get out.

    C.Watts, you state that the economy is in the shitter. indulge me in a small digression here: The banks are unregulated, speculated way past their check books, crash the economy and the govt has to bail them out? then to pay for the bail out, americans have to bear the austerity that comes via cuts in education and social programs to pay for the bailout, again? The past 30 years, the extra productivity from americans has been turned to record profits for companies thru wage stagnation.

    I point out the history lesson to bring up the issue of the extra productivity that the artist produced is not being compensated for, and even asked for pay cuts. As I pointed out, as did you, demand is up. I’ve seen some of the companies I’ve worked at double in size since the recession while asking for pay cuts from the artist. I’ve seen new companies open up their doors, only to ask the artist to work 1099 and.or a day rate.

    Again, in the absence of structure and organization like trade associations and unions, the instability that it brings allow some to profit in that vacuum via the above mentioned violations.

    You ask what does the industry owe us? Fair pay for a fair day’s work. Thats all we ask. No 1099 bullshit. Not day rate. No labor violations. Its not what they owe us, its the LAW. Allow us to organize, its the LAW.

    I remind the artist that the woes of the economy and the industry IS NOT YOUR FAULT. There is NO REASON why you can’t earn a livable wage. There is NO REASON to experience the above labor violations doing what you love.

    It IS your fault that the labor violations continue IF YOU ENABLE THEM by not taking action to prevent them.

    The “tawdry academy awards thing” was a legitimate protest not by six people but by over 500. I’m sorry C.watts but you are refusing to recognize the legitimate claim of the protestors. In an age where no one gets off their ass to protest anything, over 500 people did.

    As far as unions, the vfx industry is the ANOMALY in the entire film industry for not being unionized. Its how business is done.

    You are entirely wrong about union minimums. People I want you to understand that C. Watts is 100% wrong about unions having minimums that will lower your wages. for reference:

    This is the animation guild website:
    http://animationguild.org

    this is a summary of their various CBA contracts
    http://animationguild.org/contracts-wages/

    This is their wage MINIMUMS… meaning you earn AT LEAST this much in each of the categories. Normally wages are higher than this The sky is the limit as far as the maximum.
    http://animationguild.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/TAG-CBA-minimums-2012-2015.pdf

    The purpose of minimums is to create a floor so that the value of the trade doesn’t hit the toilet.

    C.watts if you have any questions about unions, I worked a decade under their representation. A real expert is organizer Steve Kaplan at the Animation Guild. You are EXTREMELY misinformed.

    To the artist reading this. I truly hope C.Watts isn’t trolling here, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. However, expect this kind of push back to the status quo. Again, in the absence of structure and organization like trade associations and unions, the instability that it brings allow some to profit in that vacuum via the above mentioned violations. They will protect that ability to profit in any way.

  36. Peter Greenaway says:

    “I also know black listed artist who spoke up against these injustices.”
    I am one of them.

  37. c. watts says:

    I’m not trolling, and I appreciate your considered response, even if I disagree with large parts of it. I don’t want to lose my Sunday to this blog (as I lost my saturday night) but I will clarify a few things and come back after after I’ve finished budgeting my next project.

    I’ve been doing this a while. I’ve been in production for 30 years, and I’ve been in visual effects for 25 of them. I once made a list of all the different jobs I’ve done on productions- from a runner at DreamQuest and Apogee to VFX supervisor on 20+ features and I have had over a hundred jobs. I’ve never done wardrobe or makeup, but I have worked in just about every department you can think of . I’ve worked as an artist, and am, in fact, a member off the Animation Guild, or was, now my fringes go to local 600. (I’m not against unions, more on that later) I’ve worked on movies of all sizes, from student films to porn to the biggest blockbusters. And I have worked at half a dozen facilities, co-founded three, and I was the head of production at CFC in london until I left the UK to supervise movies here. And I invented the concept of DIgital Intermediate and personally supervised the first two. So I’m not talking out my ass, (most of the time) and (I think) I have the depth and breadth of experience to understand the positions of all the parties, and to fairly consider the arguments.

    I have two issues- 1) The alleged problems of the visual effects industry are being overblown to further an agenda, IATSE organization of workers

    2) the manner in which this goal is being conducted. Unionizing is being advertised as a way to ensure a secure future for people who are not comfortable with the status quo, when in fact this is easily shown to be erroneous.

    It’s my educated opinion that the problems cited are extant in every industry, and in every sector of film. It bugs me to see the unions and their proponents cite unions as the only answer. I disagree with this and (sooner or later) will get around to making a passionate argument for this position here. I also think that conflating this cause with the totally unrelated-to-your-issues demise of R&H and then taking it to the academy awards was just tacky. Many here will disagree, some more politely than others, but that’s how I feel.

    R&H did not abuse their workers, Life of Pi was not the reason R&H went out of business, and unionizing R&H or VFX would not have prevented or delayed any of these things. Proponents of the union cause are sending a deceptive message to people who don’t know any better, and that bugs me too.

    I did a movie that was supposed to have been completed in India about 20 years ago. The indian company failed midway through the project, and we put together a small facility (in what is now the iatse headquarters in Toluca Lake, ironically). We did the whole film in 4 months, paid fair wages and regular hours and finished on time and on budget. Back then, everyone said “Aaaah its all going to india! Well, Joe from Pac Title went, and a few other people, but I dont know anyone who lost work because of India (seeing “the immortals” almost 20 years later, was proof that there are still plenty of advantages to hiring talented (if expensive) companies with experience.) Last month I supervised a show for a tiny boutique in Hollywood, I’ve known these guys since they started, and watched become a pretty damn good facility, reliable and sought after. They’ve been fair employers the whole time, I’ve done fat jobs there, and i’ve done lean ones. I can’t say for sure what the pay was on every job but I do know that employees are well paid, and they get full benefits. This is the norm. There are people spreading the idea that facilities are run by fat cats rolling in money as the proletariat languish, choking on the fumes of the owners’ expensive sportscars. It just isn’t true. If it was, I’d be in the facility business. (kidding!) Same for studios. That “if i don’t put a VFX company out of business” quote is apocryphal at best. This is not the way that the big studios, or anyone else, really feels. So I take issue with the “us vs. them” tone, which its emblematic of union organizing efforts.

    What else… the article condemning the Mill and their contractor kind of misses the point. There is nothing inherently bad about an ’employer of record’ Usually it’s the payroll company. Almost every production in the world uses a contracted “EOR”. Cast & Crew and Entertainment Partners probably write 90% of the checks in production. If the Mill, or anyone else, isn’t paying their employees what they were promised, or are violating labor laws, they should be identified and punished. I know from experience that I am not the only one who feels this way. If a major studio is contracting with a VFX company and irregularities like missed payroll or unpaid overtime surface, that will absolutely scuttle a deal until the problem is fixed. I’ve seen it happen.

    OK that’s enough for now. I admire your efforts, and I agree with a fair bit that I read here. But one only has to look at history (or live through it) to realize that (for the issues facing the VFX industry) the promised pot of gold at the base of the union rainbow is an imaginary figment based on a simplistic and inaccurate view of the situation.

    respectfully
    cw

    • VFX Artist says:

      Thanks again for your time C.Watts,

      Your first issue of the VFX issues being overblown to further and agenda of unionization. You are 100% wrong. Again, its been years since you’ve worked amongst the rank and file. Yes IATSE has an agenda to organize workers in general. But the issues of vfx worker have not been exaggerated, in fact its been way under reported. Do you really think VFX soldier would have maintained this site for years just out of a hobby? When you look at the repeated posts on this site, do you think it comes out of a vacuum or an overblown fiction? Do you think this comes out of a vacuum as well? https://www.bectu.org.uk/news/2095

      R&H was a rare example of a more enlightened owner. Its also a clear cut example of how a creatively successful company can fail because of the pathologies of the business model. That was part of the reason for the protest as well as bringing to light the damages that subsidies do to a local industry as well as our flawed business model. . Your lack of understanding this is evident by belittling their legitimate grievances as “tacky”. There’s a common belief in our industry that if you don’t keep your head down and put up with the bad conditions that you are a “complainer” and I see that contributing to many of the pathologies in the business, and one could even say contributed to the incidents like the “Midnight Rider” accident. “shut up, do your job, don’t complain” This is a hierarchal town. As one actor turned restaurant owner told me: 99% of the time in the creative business, somebody is going to be taken advantage of without a union”. That 1% that he citied was R&H, and its that rare. VFX proves it. Like Abbey said, “they” hold all of the cards.

      You said the vfx studio in Hollywood payed them well and getting full benefits. I believe you. When you state its the norm, you are 100% wrong. The majority of facilities out there have a good number of their employees freelance. Lots of turnover too. The smaller ones hire them 1099, net 30 days, you pray. Like I said, in the past 8 years, almost 50% of the places I worked or solicited work from offered some sort of shady deal, 1099, day rate, etc. I know a lot of VFX artist trying to get ANY job at the unionized animation houses in LA simply because they are tired of 1099 and labor violations in the VFX industry. They don’t want to start S-corps do their own payroll, chase after vendors for pay.. they just want a job and to get on with their lives. Some people see that as entitlement.

      Again, as a client you can walk into a facility, see a row of smiling artist. You don’t know how many of them are freelance. You don’t know how many of them stayed until 10pm every night on a flat rate. You don’t know that the lead artist is made staff because “he doesn’t complain” when he stays until 2am to do the job. You don’t know that the freelance artist that the lead picks are the ones that don’t complain about the missed breaks, the long hours, the unpaid OT, the forced 1099 misclassification. They are all smiling loving their work. One artist I talked to said “I didn’t know you were supposed to be paid overtime, i thought it was always flat rate”. Again, smiling the whole time working on a flat rate into the night. Do you think companies are willingly going to start pay an artist overtime for their extra productivity after years of not doing so? Especially if they are not charging it to their clients?

      Regarding the Mill, a Judge would disagree with you, and did. http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2014/05/yurcorthe-mill-lawsuit.html
      Again, its not that EOR is illegal its how it was used in this case. That is the whole point.

      The US VS THEM tone that you say is emblematic of union organizing efforts is the nature of the business. Are you saying that the writers shouldn’t have had their strike in 2007 to get residuals from internet broadcasts? Were their protest “tacky”?

      Much of what you cite relates to Film post production, but more and more of the work being done in LA is commercials and TV post production, so perhaps thats where our experiences differ. And again, you cite being under local 600, so you benefitting from the residuals that you and the artist that work under you contribute through the fruits of your labor. Shouldn’t those artist below you also benefit from those residuals? And when they don’t, shouldn’t they protest about it without being trivialized or called tacky? Again, thats the disconnect. That disconnect taken to an extreme is where you have Textor talking about students working for free as a labor force, as a sound investment.

      Theres a cultural problem too, with the whole country. When you look at the LOOKfx problem, you commented that the artist had various legal avenues to take to get their money. True. But the problem is that you state it as an individual’s problem and not a problem with the entire system. The point to all of my posts is that its a problem with the entire system,. And lets be clear, when and if artist do collect on these damages, its usually pennies and the dollar and years later. Hardly a way to collect a wage.

      When I get into debates with people on these issues its because they disagree at the abstract level. They’ve lived in this flawed system for so long that its part of their belief system (don’t complain, keep your head down, work harder). When you walk back from the abstract you start to find commonality. Again, if you are still under local 600 and benefit from the residuals, shouldn’t the artist who do all of the work get that too?

      In the eighties when I worked in post production, we charged the client hourly and we had a day and night shift. The client was charged for the extra productivity, and myself and the company profited from that extra productivity. Today the worker is expected to also be the night shift despite the several magnitudes of speed increases and productivity that talent, experience and computers have afforded us in three decades. We are also expected to be “rented”, not hired, with no benefits, chronic unemployment, under employment and tolerate the labor abuses I’ve mentioned. As a whole, union work in the private sector has been on such a decline that its in the single digits. You still think this is some sort of spin by IATSE to push membership up? We work harder for less while producing more. Does that sound fair? And if means that there are less CG city blocks destroyed in movie, commercial or TV show to make sure that artist have a livable existence and the business has a sustainability beyond the booming and busting of shops, isn’t it worth it?

      I always, always tell artist that unionization is not “a pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. That its about building community & solidarity. The irony that the VFX & Film industry is supposed collaborative but in VFX you find so many pirates. The core of the union is the community and is only where it will get its strength. It sounds very kumbaya, but if artist sign rep cards and then just ‘tap out” at participating when there is a union, many of your complaints about a union arise. Your argument at the end suggest that given the history of the industry… what? that the unions did NOTHING to benefit the film and TV worker? The residuals, the benefits, the pension plans, the strikes, the collective bargaining, the statutory rights to daily and weekly rests? Much of this taken for granted. Film and TV production crews have all of that through IATSE and the Motion Picture trust fund.
      https://www.mpiphp.org
      http://www.mptf.com
      Most VFX workers have NONE of that, despite the MASSIVE production value we add to the shows & commercials and how we put butts in theater seats. Instead artist like VFXmafia suggest you go 1099 “Rogue” and go at it alone while, unfortunately, he states having a preexisting medical condition. Had he been under motion picture all of these years, assuming he’s regularly employed, being covered is one less thing he would have to worry about. Pirates in the 21st century don’t so so well…

      Thanks again for taking the time to read this C.Watts.

    • Andreas jablonka says:

      @cw
      Thank you for your post. I do disagree with some of your opinions but in more interested In What you feel we should do?

      “Leave now” being excluded for now to further the cause of discussion rather then end it.

      Thank you.

      • c. watts says:

        You have mischaracterized my reply to suit your own agenda. I never said the unions did nothing, I said that organizing visual effects under iatse is not going to solve the issues you’re complaining about, to the extent they exist. The articles you cite are either irrelevant or don’t prove your point. For example, the judge didn’t decide anything in the case of the Mill- the parties came to an independent settlement with no admission of wrongdoing, They settled because litigation was going to cost way more than the settlement amount- it says so right in the brief. Your wholesale indictment of the 1099 as an example of theft is laughable. Yurcor is a payroll company. They aren’t evil, they just did what the Mill told them to do. It sounds like the Mill’s biggest mistake was not explaining the way taxes work to their employees. While I appreciate the occasionally intelligent discourse, your return to the same hackneyed positions and arguments makes it pretty clear that you’re shilling for TAG. They have done absolutely nothing for the quality of employment at existing TAG signatories (excpt collect money from artists with little in return) Health care is not a strictly union benefit, by the way, I’ve been covered by MPHW for 25 years, with only occasional contributions through the union.

        finally, I am not a client who struts in, looks at shots, and leaves. I spend hours or days at a time at some facilities. I eat lunch and drink beer with the artists and the owners, where applicable. Some of these people I have known for years, other are brand new. Characterizing me as out of touch in this respect is laughable, and incorrect.

        Good luck with your agenda. I don’t have the time or inclination to continue with this because anything I say will elicit a similarly mischaracterized interpretation and more irrelevant facts. I’ve already made my point.

        It doesn’t take much time here before the record starts skipping.

        cw

        PS I did appreciate you printing the letter from Textor. That was good for a laugh.

      • Jay C says:

        CW —

        There are people who “get it”, and people who don’t. You’re one who understands the climate FROM ALL ASPECTS quite well. While not a supervisor, my history in VFX also goes back 20+ years. Producing etc on facility and studio/freelance side. You detailed and wrote much better than I could have and agree with much of what you have to say.

        Until some of these people look at a company’s books, sits in on studio meetings, or discusses the issues from the client side (who hold the cards, since it’s their money), they will have the same, one-sided opinions. A union, unfortunately, won’t work – the horse has left the barn (and normally I’m pro-union, not to mention been in one for years). The idea of a tariff won’t work, as studios will just open companies globally and run productions from there. A global trade organization is possible, but anything with “global” ahead of it, is my opinion, is concerning at beast (sorry, have gone off-topic)

        Time to get on with my day before I get sucked in. Again, great posts….

      • Andreas Jablonka says:

        The idea of satellite offices for studios is not new and as discussed in length on here wont prevent the tariffs to not apply. They have to funnel it back somehow and it will affect them.

        you are right with the rest or at least I can understand my missing studios round table experience. I think nobody has challenged the studios in along time and its about time this changes.

  38. Chris says:

    Next time an employer says, “sorry we cant pay right now”, tell them your leaving.

    When they say, “What about the team? What about loyalty? Do you know things are just starting to turn around…”

    Look them right in the eyes and say,
    — “YOU WANT LOYALTY – GET A DOG”

    Conversely if you’re loyal – don’t be surprised if you’re treated like one.

  39. VFX Artist says:

    It saddens me to see that C.watts and Jay C apparently seem fit to doom the artist to the status quo without actually offering a solution from their varied experience to help avoid another LOOKfX. They’ll tell artist that its too late to unionize, they’ll claim that it won’t fix the industry (which I never claimed). C.Watts tell artist to seek legal action to chase after lost money, despite history showing that it takes years to collect and its often pennies on the dollar. CW will have lunch with you, but not offer a solution to the persistent problems in VF.. an industry that he benefits from. That somehow we, as artist, need to look at the books and be at studio meetings (which will never happen) to better understand “reality”. This is classic deflection. As if what we as artist earn is solely dependent on whats decided in these meetings out of the generosity of their hearts. How despite that every other discipline in the film industry is unionized and gets what they want via decades of hard fought leverage, that VFX artist shouldn’t get those same tools to fight for what they want. that its too late. That it will never happened. because we don’t understand. Yet they offer no solutions. Yet they enjoy their years if not decades of contribution to the Motion Picture Health and Welfare from our work. But we shouldn’t. Does that sound fair?

    This is a good example to the artist to show that help won’t come from outside, there won’t be any “invisible hand” that will sweep in to correct things. Textor’s post on this site also shows the disconnect of the business & investor class. How our wages are alike allowances, and not earned. BTW, I also not only have lunch with the artist, I am one. I’ve experienced every one of these injustices first hand. This blog has YEARS full of such commentary on the abuses of this industry. The abuses of our industry have even hit non trade papers. And CW calls bullshit on all this.

    Had Look FX been a union shop, things would have ended differently. The excessive tardiness or non payment of wages would have been handled early on because the union has a Three step Grievance procedure and in many cases it wouldn’t have gone past step two because at that point its in writing, leaving a paper trail. When Look FX closed, since the artist’s health is through motion picture, they immediately would have been able to use their bank of hours to continue their healthcare. For artist who would have been there for years, they would have had over a year’s worth of health care “in the bank” from motion picture. When thats exhausted, they artist could have applied for cobra afterwards. Current LookFX artist can’t even do that. This alone would convince many the value of a union. When you have a family or a pre-existing condition, whats important to you changes drastically, especially during emergencies. And you would have qualified for unemployment because you would’t have been misclassified as a 1099 employee as I assume some were at LookFX.

    As non union, Look FX artist have nothing. This is what happenes when you don’t fight for what you want. Those are the tools that a union gives you. Its not magic. Its hard fought.

    Say you were one of the artist who was at lookfx for a decade. The company is gone and you are out there looking for work. A non-union vfx artist would have whatever he had in the bank, plus his own investment. A union vfx artist would now have been vested in the Motion Picture Health Care Fund, because 10 years is the minimum. That means when you retire, whatever medicare doesn’t cover, Motion Picture covers. and the years are based on hours per years. For instance, I have just about nine years at a union shop. Because elf the yours, the sum added to over 10 years, so i’m vested. Artist, this is a system designed for workers who freelance; temporarily employed throughout the years. Its cumulative, with tiers.

    Here’s a great post about it:
    http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2006/08/union-milestones.html

    Show me anything that VFX gives you that is cumulative besides health issues, divorces and excuses?

    This isn’t fantasy or speculation . This is real. This is how other union worker throughout the industry not just survive but thrive. This was hard fight for decades to get and maintain, and the fight continues with every contract negotiation. This what people call “the good fight”. This is what VFX artist should fight for,

    The “dirty little secret” is out, Courtesy of Scott Ross’ post here (to answer my question: why open a vfx shop if its not profitable) and other posters on the Textor post. While the VFX shops don’t make money, the people who run them do. They may not all be driving bentley’s, but they get a regular salary, health care, relative job security.

    As you can see, the LOOKfx owners were able to swing to the next branch while effectively erasing the debt, leaving artist unpaid. The “party line” of saying “don’t do it for the money, do it for the passion”, “vfx have low margin”, “unions can’t help you”. This is all to create a sort of marginalized, permanent underclass of high tech, high skill worker. Read again my post able on sick systems. Why should a vfx industry have a trade association to build a sustainable business and motivated employes when they can have a sick system to keep them there forever, even when their checks are late. Always kept the artist on the edge with an on-going crisis, reminding them that it will “get better when some impossible goal happened…. “we’ll make you staff”. And to keep that crisis rolling. To keep them there, have long hours to keep them tired and too busy to think or do things like organizing. Foster their Loyalty by enmeshing your success with them, have lunch with them like C.watts does, to give them hope. This rewards their work ethic, but not much else.

    Its cruel because it is. And thats what happened at Meteor, DD, LookFX, the folks at Imageworks NM, at Disney Imagemovers.
    And CW and Jay C says that we “don’t get it” and effectively we should keep the status quo, keep cranking out shops, maybe something will change, someday…

    Which is the definition of insanity.

    The one irony of the protest we had at the Oscars: We were protesting the oscars event at the Dolby theater which is full of… Union workers: actors, directors, writers, crew.. . The cops guarding us were begin paid overtime because they are … Union workers.

    …But these clowns tell you to not unionize to give you the tools to start gaining leverage to fight for what you want.. which is how show business is done in this town. Thats the poorest kept secret in this town.

    If artists want the perspective of someone who has co-founded and run VFX facilities, been nominated for an oscar, received a science and engineering award from the AMPA&S, and is a card carrying member of the VES and the Cinematographer’s guild, check out Scot Squires blog:

    http://effectscorner.blogspot.com

    In fact, his most recent post he talks about how he was challenged to cover a VFX success story for a change instead of chronically the repeated issues that face the industry. When Scott asked about the “successful” vfx shop about underbidding, the other person replied “well isn’t that just the business”?. Of course Scott replied no. And this is my point about the system being flaw and the artist being asked to be subordinate to it instead of striving to change to affect their corner of it.

    I really encourage artist to devour Scott Squires blog because he at least acknowledges that the system is broken and that artist should strive for a means to change their predicament. In fact he nails many of the issues right on the head.

    I was purposely provocative in my posts to get these answers out because I think artist need to hear them. I gave these guys the opportunity to explain their side and they offer misinformation & deflection. That how even in the wake of a disaster like Look FX, you will hear people make every argument to keep the status quo. My point was to say, that is no longer an option.

  40. […] a roller coaster of Bullshit, capital B. You can read about the company I work(ed?) for HERE and HERE. The Vancouver studio didn’t get paid like we were supposed to on Aug 7th, we all walked out […]

  41. […] Former LookFX Employees Tell Their Side […]

  42. Former FX Artist says:

    This type of thing is why I’m retiring from the vfx industry, and looking into new career options back home.

  43. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it,
    you may be a great author. I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually
    come back in the foreseeable future. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great job, have a nice day!

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