Not surprisingly, talk of unionization and a trade association dominated the international Pi Day VFX town hall meetings on Thursday in LA, the San Francisco Bay Area, Austin, Vancouver, and Wellington.
Everyone agrees that the VFX industry has reached a tipping point and that the business model with the studios must change. VFX studios, particularly in Los Angeles, are closing or going bankrupt, with Rhythm & Hues becoming the poster child for all the ills of the industry as a result of its stunning failure to stay in business despite its Oscar win for Life of Pi.
But what to do about globalization, slim profit margins, low-ball bidding, standards for budgeting, tax subsidies, health care benefits, unpaid overtime, and a lack of solidarity?
At the Gnomon School of VFX in Hollywood, keynoted by vet Scott Squires, Deadline reported that they discussed forming a union or a trade association at the very least, with former Digital Domain co-owner and ILMer Scott Ross once again leading the charge for a union for artists and association for VFX companies (“The Digital Spring”), which is gaining momentum.
But do you organize an association in the U.S. or form one internationally to increase solidarity?
And what about creating or sustain jobs?
Meanwhile, Visual Effects Society rep Mike Chambers was booed when he emphasized the VES’ Open Letter call for increased California tax subsidies because many artists want to end tax subsidies altogether, while others are fed up with the VES’ limited ability to affect change as an honorary society.
When I asked a prominent visual effects supervisor in LA what he thought of the situation, he railed against the VFX houses that are eating up the work with low bidding, bringing everyone down with them. He also admitted that the studios don’t care about quality and that, ironically, it’s only the prestigious directors that are keeping the bar raised. Most of all, he worries about maintaining the quality of the craft.