Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Woes of non-union VFX

The Meteor case has become a symbol of the shaky standing of the vfx industry and vfx artists in particular. Vfx artists have no union or guild, and no Hollywood union has consented to represent them. Meanwhile, some vfx studios are in such bad financial shape, with current income used to pay off past debts, that one analyst has called the entire business “a Ponzi scheme.”

Snippet from VARIETY article by By BRENDAN KELLY

Variety Article on Meteor Studios and the the Visual Effects Artists that worked there.


  1. Scott, I don't understand why the VFX houses would be underwater like that. Are they doing the work without getting paid upfront? Or is this because of capital equipment and technology upgrades or unbillable research?

  2. I'll write up a more detailed article at some point but most VFX work is done as a fixed bid with adjustments as needed. Since projects are feast or famine there will be lean times when staff will have to be paid and all other bills even with no work coming. If a bid is wrong or it costs the VXF company more money than planned they may lose money on the project Studios also tend to be very slow paying depending on the contract 90-120 days in some cases. The mark up for VFX isn't huge and the competition is fierce at times. So many companies end up just getting by. As such anything could cause them to go under.

  3. Hi Scott - Have you heard about the unionization going on in Vancouver? The traditional unions got a motion passed through the provincial labour dept. and presented everyone in CG with a fait accompli - union productions will only work with union VFX shops. The weird aspects have been the lack of dialogue with people in CG, and the formulation of a rate structure out of whatever.

  4. I've heard rumors of the union in Vancouver but don't know any of the details. If you or anyone has more info or links to data please feel free to post.

  5. Hi Scott,
    As you know I was up there when this mess started. Luckily I had a family to consider and couldn't continue to work without pay, so I left before it got really bad.
    But I'd be happy to supply contacts/info if you need it.

  6. Unions in VFX.

    On a film set, a talented set Dec. or carpenter, or script editor will get work based on merit.
    Those on set unions facilitate contracts and are successful partnerships for vender and worker. How do we know this? How about 2% growth since 2008? Or that the film industry made 9 billion in 2007, 25 Billion world wide, that’s the GDP of Montana.

    Just think about that for a moment, let it sink in. VFX heavy films world wide made more money than the state of Montana.

    Where there is money to go around the union is a vehicle for collective bargaining. The contract is the final outcome of a union workers unit of labour. The idea is that like any commodity, labour has a unit of value.

    I think that the shared goal for VFX studios, and artists is to understand that the VFX labour is a unit of value. Like a carpenter or a mechanic has a set hourly rate. That’s what we need. Of course what VFX clients want is to hide their creative process costs in VFX production. This is a system that is just destined to create waste and loss.

    The U.S. is shot through with miss-information about unions, even though Americans’ enjoy all the benefits that the labour movement has supplied to them.

    This idea American’s have “I’ll vote with my feet.” This suggests that markets are free. They are not. They are created, maintained, and managed.

    The experiment of VFX companies underbidding each other on VFX contracts that have limitless revisions and a labour force that is will to practically work for free(Vancouver) has failed.

    Our world is 2010 Capitalism not 1930 capitalism. If you want 1930’s capitalism of “Tough Love” Where the you really will have to compete that was truly unfettered, cowboy capitalistic capitalism.


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