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.

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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.

Respectfully,

Daniel Lay


Keep Digging

December 6, 2014

I was contacted by some in the media. The reporter admitted they lack the technical abilities which many of you VFX pros have to actually find out what’s out there in the Sony hack. This made me realize something: VFX pros are the only ones in the film industry with the ability to find the truth of everything we’ve ever wanted to know in these files. What many of you are already finding is amazing revolutionary stuff. I was notified by some of you last night that another 100GB was released. There may be a smoking bazooka in there. Keep Digging.

Soldier On.

Update: a 4th 118GB batch has been released according to a mashable reporter. https://twitter.com/film_girl/status/541423775666171904


Sony Hack Reveals Croner VFX Animation & Games Industry Wages

December 3, 2014

croner

Yesterday 25GB of data in the sony hack was made available for download. The data unfortunately contains extremely sensitive and personal information. If you worked at Sony it’s pretty safe to say your private information including your ssn have been compromised. What’s even more devastating is it’s just the tip of the iceberg as reports show the hackers have claimed to have TBs of Sony Pictures data that continue to be released.

siggraph

This past summer Sony Imageworks used the paper above to advise young VFX recruits at Siggraph in Vancouver not to share or ask about salary information. The fear companies have is recruits having good knowledge of wages and therefore less likely to accept a lowball salary offer. That advice however doesn’t seem to apply to the companies that employ VFX professionals. As you know there has been an ongoing and expanding class action lawsuit of wage-fixing and collusion with some of the biggest animation and vfx companies here in the US. The companies openly shared wage info and allegedly tried to prevent wages from increasing by agreeing not to try to poach each others employees.

So I had a chance to look at some of the data in the sony hack and was curious to see if a certain piece of data was available: The Croner VFX survey. I wrote about the Croner survey years ago. Basically it’s the holy grail of US VFX wages:

The Croner Animation and Visual Effects Survey is the benchmark survey of the animation and visual effects industry.  For 8 years, the Croner Survey has provided up-to-date competitive compensation information about positions in companies that produce animated feature films or develop animation and/or visual effects for feature films, television and/or software games.

In 2014, 11 companies representing approximately 3,500 employees in the U.S., participated in the Croner Survey and are using the data to understand current market trends and to establish rational market compensation levels in their organizations.

This is the most accurate piece of information of wage information at these companies:

2014 Participant Companies:
Activision Blizzard, Inc.
DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc.
LAIKA, Inc.
Pixar Animation Studios
Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. (SCEA)
Sony Pictures Entertainment
The Walt Disney Studios
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Twentieth Century Fox Filmed Entertainment
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I won’t post the actual file but for anyone wanting to see it it will be named. You’ll have to find and download the released sony hack data which is out there. Or ask around for this file:

Location: ./HR/Comp/Surveys/2014/Croner/AVE/Results/

Filename: 2014_Croner_AVE_Compensation_Data_Results.xlsx

I’ve said if the contents of the Sony hack are true and available they would be a game changer. The game has changed as far as salary negotiations in the VFX industry starting today. Going forward nobody will go into negotiations without having reputable information concerning wages.

Soldier On.


Sony Hack May Reveal Sensitive Imageworks VFX Info

December 2, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 7.06.05 PM

Just arrived back to the US after a trip to Australia and as many of you know, there was quite a big story concerning a data security breach at Sony Pictures. A text file was released containing a huge list of names of file the hackers claimed to have and it seemed to be pretty legitimate. Names of various employees over the years were in the file (including mine as I was a former Imageworks employee).

I’m not posting the file but you could probably ask around and get a copy. Anyone with simple linux skills can grep through the file to search the file names. If we are to assume the file names describe what kind of information is in there then it seems the data breach is incredibly serious as personal and private information for Sony Picture employees concerning immigration, pay roll, social security, deal memos, evaluation, and so on are included.

Even sensitive corporate information is in the list of files which reaches about 40 million by my count. Over 5000 files refer to the term tax credits. Over 10000 files refer to the term Imageworks. Those files include meeting notes, executive power point decks, and all kinds of financial information.

The question is do the hackers really have the files in question? It sure seems like it after today it was revealed that 25GB of data are being shared by the hackers and it included compensation info of Sony employees. The hackers are also claiming they have TBs of more information. All I’ve heard that Sony is doing in the face of this so far is offering current employees free identity theft protection services for one year. Not sure if former employees are getting the same. I’ve posted the email sent to employees above.

Soldier On.


Variety’s MPC Puff Piece Reveals VFX Industry Woes; Few Solutions

November 6, 2014

mpc

Technicolor, owner of London VFX house MPC, is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary. Variety has come out with a series of puff pieces to showcase the company and one piece was on how MPC values it’s artists:

Moving Picture Co. Finds Valuing Artists is the Best Effect

Given the reaction in the comments section, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I snickered a bit reading the article. While I have never worked at MPC, many people have constantly expressed to me that it is one of the worst VFX companies to work for amongst the top tier VFX companies. I occasionally get an email from someone showing me an MPC contract that violates local labor laws by not paying overtime or I hear a horror story of someone who was wrongfully blacklisted or fired for really stupid reasons.

In my view MPC is sort of the Walmart of the VFX industry: It’s a powerful company that treats it’s workers just poorly enough to where they can get the most amount of work out of them. They’re pretty good at being really bad and I have to admit I’m regretfully impressed at the amount of work they can do at good quality while treating their workers so poorly.

So I read the comments on the thread about the bad conditions and can’t help but ask at this point. What do you want to do about it?

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Where Are The Women In VFX?

October 22, 2014

victoria-alonso-marvel

Marvel’s Vice President of Post Production Victoria Alonso was a speaker at this week’s VES Summit where she asked “where are the girls?” and called for more women to work in VFX.

In Variety’s report, she spoke about how lowering the gender gap would help bring balance to the industry. She also pointed out obstacles that make it more difficult for women to make it in VFX:

  • Subsidy-induced cycles of global displacement.
  • Long 16 hour work days.
  • Maternity leave dampens the ability to get back to work.

While I agree with her on the problems that cause a gender gap, I can’t help but ask the same question Scott Ross asked:

Why would anyone want to encourage anybody, woman or man, to join the tumultuous VFX industry as it currently is?

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