04 3 / 2014
friendly reminder that visual effects artists have protested the Oscars for the second year in a row over job instability and poor treatment due to the fact that they are some of the only workers in Hollywood that don’t have a union
As someone who works in the VFX industry in the Los Angeles area, this is all 100% true.
Post production schedules for shows will literally be structured to assume that work will be done by VFX artists over the winter holiday hiatus even though (and because) editors, producers, actors, and directors are all mandated to take it off per guild rules, but VFX artists have no such protection.
It’s also pretty regular practice to not pay VFX artists overtime even though they work insane (read: INSANE) hours. (The company I work for fortunately is run by decent people who pay fair wages.) It’s also common for VFX producers on the production side to try to negotiate down prices that VFX vendors quote them, or to refuse to pay extra on shots even if the scope of work completely changes — e.g. originally the request is to turn a dude’s eyes red, then production notices a boom mic shadow and wants that removed, then they notice a crew reflection and want that removed — but because the line producer has locked the prices in stone at this point in the production, the VFX producer is hard-pressed for cash and asks for a “loyalty discount” to negate the extra cost they might have incurred. We’ve had as many as twenty extra shots added mid-stream to an episode and not received a dime for any of them.
The reason why VFX workers can’t say “no” to these kinds of requests is that almost all VFX work is done by third party VFX houses — i.e. companies that are hired by studios to do work on movies and TV shows rather than the studio hiring artists themselves. This not only frees studios from the responsibility to give VFX artists job security but also creates a pretty toxic situation where a VFX house usually has to rely on one or two big VFX producer clients to keep them afloat, which means that if they make one of those clients unhappy (i.e. they don’t give them a discount where they want it, when they want it), there’s a very real possibility that the client will drop them and go somewhere else, leaving the company with about 50% less work and the very real threat of going out of business.
Studios are also notorious for not paying VFX bills on time, which is part of the reason why VFX house Rhythm & Hues went out of business following Life of Pi. (Truth Bomb: The very same movie that gave it an Oscar also took it out.) As a firsthand example, one of the TV shows we worked on this season was literally about six episodes behind on paying us — as in, if we hadn’t had a different TV show that was very timely with sending checks, it might have driven us to the brink of bankruptcy.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
It’s fucked, yo.