Wikileaks Creates Searchable Database For Sony Leaks

April 16, 2015

From the press release:

Today, 16 April 2015, WikiLeaks publishes an analysis and search system for The Sony Archives: 30,287 documents from Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and 173,132 emails, to and from more than 2,200 SPE email addresses. SPE is a US subsidiary of the Japanese multinational technology and media corporation Sony, handling their film and TV production and distribution operations. It is a multi-billion dollar US business running many popular networks, TV shows and film franchises such as Spider-Man, Men in Black and Resident Evil.

In November 2014 the White House alleged that North Korea’s intelligence services had obtained and distributed a version of the archive in revenge for SPE’s pending release of The Interview, a film depicting a future overthrow of the North Korean government and the assassination of its leader, Kim Jong-un. Whilst some stories came out at the time, the original archives, which were not searchable, were removed before the public and journalists were able to do more than scratch the surface.

Now published in a fully searchable format The Sony Archives offer a rare insight into the inner workings of a large, secretive multinational corporation. The work publicly known from Sony is to produce entertainment; however, The Sony Archives show that behind the scenes this is an influential corporation, with ties to the White House (there are almost 100 US government email addresses in the archive), with an ability to impact laws and policies, and with connections to the US military-industrial complex.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange said: “This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation. It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there.”

Soldier On.

Why The VES Should Recognize Scott Ross For VES Fellow

April 14, 2015

The other day I got an email from the VES asking members to suggest nominees for title of VES Fellow:

The Visual Effects Society is asking for your suggestions for nominees for title of VES Fellow, which is a member who has maintained an outstanding reputation and who has made exceptional achievements and sustained contributions to the art, science or business of visual effects, as well as enabling members’ careers and promoting community worldwide for a period of not less than ten (10) years within the last twenty (20) years.

Previous VES Fellows recipients include: Jonathan Erland (2010) Dennis Muren (2010) Doug Trumbull (2010) Ed Catmull (2012) Richard Edlund (2012) Ray Feeney (2012) Carl Rosendahl (2012) Mark Stetson (2012) Bill Taylor (2012) Phil Tippett (2012) Richard Winn Taylor II (2014)

VES Fellows nominations, must include (2) two letters of recommendation for each nominated person. Please have this information available when submitting for this award as it is required.

If you’re surprised to learn that I joined the VES, it was in the hopes of lobbying their members to support ADAPT. Since that effort has ceased I will probably not renew, as the organization is restricted to only doing charitable and educational work.

Before I deleted that VES email I looked at that list of fellows and thought: Why isn’t Scott Ross on that list? He helped build two of the biggest VFX companies as General Manager of ILM and CEO/Founder of Digital Domain. He employed thousands, gave many their start in the industry, and hired many of today’s superstars.

If you’ve been an avid reader of this blog you might be surprised to read that. When I started this blog in 2010 as an anonymous VFX professional, I wrote strongly about my disagreements with Scott and the VFX business. Over the years, we would have a lot of debates back and forth in the comments section of my blog. I would hear about others who had, sometimes illegitimate and sometimes legitimate disagreements and opinions about him.

However, as I got to know Scott personally over the last two years after revealing my identity, I had a chance to see a person who cared incredibly about the VFX industry and the people who work in it. If anyone deserves to be a VES Fellow, it’s Scott.

Here’s why I strongly believe that. We officially met in person over 2 years ago when I wanted to go forward with a legal effort on subsidies and help start the short-lived trade organization ADAPT. It was an immense effort that would require me and someone else to put our necks on the line publicly and do it without compensation.

I wasn’t sure if Scott Ross was up for this immense task. He was relatively better off than most of us in VFX and attained success as a former CEO. Why would he take that risk with me? What I quickly learned is that no matter how deep the disagreements we had in the past, Scott put that aside to stand with all of us in an incredible effort to try to fix a broken industry.

When the big day came to announce our effort and reveal my identity at a demonstration during President Obama’s speech at DreamWorks Animation, Scott joined us and marched with us for hours in the sun. Afterwards I could see that Scott was dehydrated and tired but his spirit was enthusiastic.

As we drove back home and exchanged thoughts about what went down that day, I thought to myself: What former VFX CEO would do what Scott did that day? What VFX person for that matter, would do what Scott did that day for us? It’s sad to realize this but in many cases there were professionals in our industry deeply affected by the issues who wouldn’t even bother to move a mouse to support change, but Scott Ross was willing to move mountains for so many of us.

This is the Scott Ross I came to know and the Scott Ross that should be nominated to become a VES Fellow. If you’re a VES member reading this I kindly ask you to click on the link above and nominate Scott Ross.

Soldier On.

Quebec Government Says Bon Voyage To Film Subsidies

March 23, 2015

I haven’t posted much on this blog but some recent news caught my eye:

Last week’s Godbout Commission report sent shivers up the spines of Quebec’s film and television production industry. The Quebec Taxation Review Committee, chaired by economist Luc Godbout, recommended phasing out the Quebec Production Services Tax Credit beginning in 2020.

If you’re a reader of this blog you shouldn’t be surprised by the news. Last year I posted how the Quebec’s austerity measures led to an immediate 20% cut to their film and games subsidies. At the time the government was paying up to 60% of resident VFX salaries.

This is pretty significant news as there are a number of European VFX facilities that have opened satellites there to stay competitive with subsidies offered in Vancouver. My guess is those facilities will have to open in BC and move their talent there. This is also the first time since my blog started that a major international location is planning a massive cut to their film subsidies. Ontario is also having serious conversations about the costs of these film subsidies.

Here in the US, many states have begun to curtail the use of film subsidies: Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Connecticut, Alaska, and Florida.

If you work in VFX, be always prepared to move to the next place offering the most amount of free money.

Soldier On.

Francis L. Camacho Memorial Fund

February 10, 2015

VFX artist Francis L. Camacho recently passed away in Montreal. His family has created a memorial fund that you can donate to.–X00.facebook

While I didn’t personally know Francis, I was familiar with him in various social media circles as an avid supporter of the blog.

Soldier On.

VFX Artists Pen Piece Claiming Industry Discriminates Against Women

February 4, 2015

TechCrunch posted an article by VFX artists Sonya Teich and Raqi Syed entitled Visual Effects: The Gender Bias Behind The Screen.

The authors present a case that the reason for the low participation rate of women in the visual effects industry and the lack of discussion for this disparity is due to a culture of sexism and gender discrimination within the industry. The evidence presented in the article to support this claim are examples involving the use of “booth babes” by some companies at Siggraph, a porn mailing list at an unlisted company (I assume this is ESC Entertainment which went out of business over 10 years ago but some are saying this is Weta Digital?!), and a jest by a director who started his career as a VFX artist. To resolve the gender disparity, the authors propose the VFX industry begin to report data on female participation rates, change hiring and evaluation practices, and institute a quota system advocated by actress Geena Davis that would add hundreds of women incrementally to close the gender gap over a 4 year period.

Teich and Syed seemingly glanced over an important fact: While the participation rates of females are low in the actual technical creation of visual effects, generally speaking participation rates are quite high in corporate, administrative, financial, and production roles at visual effects companies. Many recruiters and producers are women and intimately involved in the crewing of VFX personal. If the authors’ claim of discrimination are true, why then would a large number of females involved in the crewing process effectively discriminate against other women?

Is there a discriminatory bias in the visual effects industry or is there something more subtle going on?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Irony As DreamWorks Closes PDI & Sheds 500 Jobs

January 22, 2015

In the same week that ADAPT announced an end to its legal effort, DreamWorks Animation announced the closure of PDI and the shedding of 500 jobs. Sad news and you could cut the irony with a knife.

ADAPT’s legal effort to mitigate the use of subsidies started at DreamWorks Animation last year when President Obama visited to incorrectly tout job growth in the industry. We hoped to raise attention to a collapsing local VFX industry. Companies were being put out of business by massive price distortion caused by government subsidies and workers were losing their jobs and having to chase work around the world in subsidized locations.

Given the relative stability at DreamWorks as opposed to VFX vendors who don’t own the intellectual property they work on, it was no surprise our plight was ignored by many workers there. We felt what they were missing is that as good as things were at DreamWorks, it was common for places to go through downturns and that there was a need for a healthy mix of VFX vendors like a Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, or Rhythm & Hues to pick them up. Not anymore, that ecosystem of work was destroyed by subsidies and ADAPT hoped to resolve the issue with a legal effort.

Read the rest of this entry »

ADAPT Legal Effort On Subsidies Ends

January 19, 2015

For the past year, Scott Ross and I (Daniel Lay), as well as others that cannot be named, have been lobbying the Visual Effects industry along with others to support the formation of ADAPT, a trade organization as well as a legal case that would penalize the studios that take advantage of subsidies and as a result, harm the domestic VFX industry and its workers.

We organized demonstrations, participated in industry panels and national media interviews, and met with industry colleagues in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Vancouver.

Additionally, we enlisted the services of Picard Kentz & Rowe, a Washington DC-based law firm that specializes in cases such as this, to help us build a case for the anti-subsidy duty effort (CVD). They met with various facility owners and worked with economists to help measure the impact of trade distorting subsidies. They also conducted meetings with key personnel in the International Trade Commission, US Customs & Border Protection, and the US Department of Commerce. These meetings helped lay the framework for the case as well as gauge what challenges might lie ahead.

It is important to point out that these government agencies completely understood the threat that subsidies were to the VFX industry and they were receptive to a trade case being made.

In fact, they were amused to see the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) argue (to these very same agencies) that digital transmissions were no different than tangible goods, and that the MPAA was seeking to create rules for US customs to stop digital piracy at the border.

We were also tasked with creating the legal paperwork for making ADAPT a non-profit trade organization. This would allow us to establish a bank account so we could accept donations to pay the law firm for the work that would be ahead of us.

We worked hard to lobby the State of California as well as various politicians, to help pay for our legal effort, but fell short, as we were only able to get vocal support from the California legislature in the recently passed film subsidy law AB1839. After all, we, as opposed to the MPAA and the Studios had no lobbying funds nor a trade association to help persuade lawmakers to take up our cause. Without government support , there was now additional pressure to raise funding from our industry.

Some members of our community donated money to help fund the effort, but most did not.

We suspected the reason for this was due to how rapidly the industry in California collapsed as work moved to Canada. This left many out of work without money and others being forced to move to Canada. Others were able to take advantage of the recovering economy and move into other industries which made them reluctant to help an industry they probably would no longer work in.

On the other hand, the reluctance to support ADAPT might also have been our inability to rally the troops or fully explain what we were doing and how much it was going to cost. And finally, and hopefully incorrectly so, it might be that the VFX community is more bark than bite and that the VFX industry  is unwilling to take a stand and be proactive in righting the wrongs of the industry.

Whatever the case may be, after months of campaigning, we were only able to raise a minuscule amount, which would only cover 2% of the total legal costs .

The only donor money spent was to pay the monthly website fees.

It’s important to point out, that none of the travel costs associated with our lobbying efforts were paid by any of the funds donated. In fact, Scott and I have received no funds, remuneration or any expensed items whatsoever from donations. All monies spent beyond the website fees were borne solely by Scott and me.

As the fundraising continued, Scott and I started to become concerned that ADAPT would not be able to pay the law firm for their work. Some were reluctant to donate unless we divulged how much the case would cost or report case details back to them. While we understood their concerns, we were concerned that the Studios would take advantage of any information we would report about the case. Case in point, two major US Studios were already in talks with law firms to prepare to refute our case. The Mayor’s office also wanted to meet with us to find out what was going on, though his representatives were former MPAA employees.

We also considered slashing membership dues to increase donations, but given that the amount raised would only cover 2% of the legal costs, it was hard to believe that lowering dues would get ADAPT to where it needed to be. We decided to continue to lobby for more support from the industry with more meetings and interviews to see if support would grow. Despite that effort, there has been very little growth in support.

After careful consideration Scott and I have decided to dissolve the organization due to insufficient fiscal support.

The question now is what should be done with the funds we have already received?

Scott worked very hard with the law firm to considerably lower their fees. The law firm was extremely interested in the case and slashed their costs considerably. They did a lot of work without any payments from ADAPT and even dipped into their own pockets for the work they did with outside consultants. The total amount of money raised does not cover the amount owed for the work Picard Kentz & Rowe has already done. It barely covers the law firms out of pocket costs. Picard waived their customary fees because they felt that this would be a landmark case that would significantly impact case law on digital goods.

While we could give the law firm all the funds raised, Scott, the law firm, and I were concerned that it would be unfair not to return a portion of the money to donors.

Last week the law firm came to an agreement with us for payment that would allow us to return about 40% of the donations back to donors. Over the next couple of months I will be writing checks and personally mailing back partial donations to donors. I will also immediately suspend any recurring payments of any members of ADAPT.

Scott and I are extremely disappointed in this decision. It brings to end years of work  in the hopes of trying to give the VFX industry a fighting chance. While we are upset that many chose not to help fund the effort, we want to thank those that did, and apologize that we couldn’t take it to the finish line and make history. We also want to thank Picard Kentz & Rowe which put so much risk, capital and effort to try to resolve the VFX subsidy issue.


Daniel Lay