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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

VES Visual Effects Bill of Rights – Now what?

VES Visual Effects Bill of Rights – Now what?

By now most of you have heard and hopefully read the VES Bill of Rights. If not check it out here.

This first step was to try to define where we want to go in terms of working experience for visual effects workers worldwide.  The next step is to try to implement what we can and to encourage steps to make it possible. The details are still being worked out. I’m hoping we end up with more concrete approaches and specific working conditions guidelines.

As always if you have input, feedback on the Bill of Rights or have suggestions and solutions, please send email to VES Leadership.  You can post here in addition to emailing if you wish to open it to discussion by all.

The VES Membership meeting is October 20 in Los Angeles and most of the world wide sections can be linked in. The Bill of Rights will be covered. See the VES website for info.

Most people seemed to be positive about the VES making these issues more public and to at least start the ball rolling. As some have pointed out the VES doesn’t have Collective Bargaining, nor is it a union or a trade organization. Yes, that’s true, which can make it tricky but we are the largest organization of visual effects workers. The VES has been in discussions with all 3 groups of players in this industry: studios, visual effect companies and the artists themselves. Hopefully we can help broker some arrangements that will help our industry based on the bill of rights.

A few have suggested it’s a distraction. From what? The VES stand does not preclude a real union or a real trade organization. If anything, the bill of rights should make some issues clearer for everyone. As always I’m hoping by providing information and inspiration here people will join in to help find solutions.

There have been a few that suggest the VES is an elite group made of elite members. The VES is an honorary society. You need to be working in visual effects for 5 years to be a member of the VES and need 2 members to submit letters for you. I don’t think of that as elite. It does mean that VES members are experienced professionals. The main reason the VES has gotten involved in these types of issues is because there are problems in the industry and members were asking the organization to get involved and help find solutions. No other group seemed to be making progress in this area. And the approach for the VES is to try to make solutions apply to all visual effects workers.

IA Union of visual effects artists – The IA would certainly be the natural fit for visual effects workers since they cover most of the crafts in motion pictures, including the camera crew. The IA spent a year ‘researching’ visual effects industry and has now spent almost another year with someone spearheading the effort to unionize the industry. Unfortunately that has yet to result in anything. You would think they would like to get the word out to as many visual effects workers as possible and that they would try to sell the idea of the union with a clear and concise guide of the benefits and costs. They should have also been selling the idea to the visual effects companies as well. But to date most of that hasn’t happened and it hasn’t seemed like the IA has put much into this process. Many visual effects workers have either not heard of the effort or now assume it’s not happening.  For more info on the IA check out their blog here.

Meanwhile the Art Directors Guild (union) has taken a definitive stand to bring in previs artists as part of their union. See their website here.  And the Vancouver IA has a good website and info here. There’s also a movement for the motionographers union.

Will the IA get going or should there be an independent group that forms a new type of union?

David Rand wrote a response to the VES Bill of Rights here.
Dave is correct that the current bidding process is broken. For more info on some of the business models in visual effects check out a previous post here.
To fix this process will require many visual effects companies to get on the same page because ultimately only they can control the situation. Most visual effects companies are very competitive and fiercely independent. The VES has been encouraging the companies to meet and discuss.  Many of the companies are in as much denial about issues as the workers and studios. Those doing well (especially if they’re in a location with tax incentives) see no reason to change. Why should they bother fixing the leaking roof when it’s sunny out? And of course once it’s starts raining it will be too late. The days of milk and honey will not last forever for any location. Scott Ross points out that if 4-5 of the major visual effects companies got together they could lay out some basic guidelines or requirements with their clients.

Currently there’s also been discussion among Indian visual effects workers about their situation that doesn’t sound too far off from the ones in the U.S. As I’ve said before many of these are global issues and do in fact affect you no matter where you are. And they of course make some of the same errors and false ideas as other here do.

1. Unions are only for laborers. We’re artists.
Guess what? The director’s are covered by the DGA (union). The Writers are covered by the WGA (union). The actors are covered by SAG (union). The Cinematographers are covered under the ICG (union). And so on for just about every position in motion pictures except visual effects. Are none of those other people artists? Do you gain anything by being a starving artist? Do you gain anything by not having health care insurance? Do you gain anything by not having a united group of similar artists? Can you change things by yourself and will the company change at your lone request?

2. Unions? Look at what happened to American automobile industry.
Stereotyping everything certain is not a solution nor is ignoring details of history.
Please see this previous post Using the Nail

3. Producing good work is the solution
Producing good work will certainly help you get work but it alone will not guarantee employment nor will it guarantee you fair treatment.

4. Working for free
Many starting out in this business thinks that they’ll work for free to prove themselves and then the companies will hire them.  You’ve already devalued yourself when you choose to work for free. Do you think the company that hires free labor will suddenly start paying people what they’re worth and stop the practice of hiring more free labor? Each wave of new workers comes in and is willing to work for free which means those with experience now will either have to continue to work for free or will have to move on. Some visual effects companies are run by people without the passion for visual effects.  Some can’t grasp the simple business solution that by hiring experienced and qualified people, treating them properly and paying them properly, they will have a true business that grows and can increase productivity and profits. Providing a quality product is of value. By simply hiring free labor they have forever tied themselves to the mediocre and will just continue being in a race to be the cheapest provider. And that’s a game that cannot be won. There will always be somewhere else cheaper, either by cost of living or incentives.

5. Working as independent contractors
One of the notions expressed is to be a remote freelancer for a visual effects company in another country.  Why would a visual effects company in another country hire someone directly in another country? What experience would they have had with that person directly? Most of the major films are covered by restrictions and guidelines so images and other movie data aren’t leaked out. Can you set up to qualify? Can you do an entre shot yourself (animation, lighting, composting, roto) or will they be sending just one step of a shot to an independent worker in another country every day or every few hours? If that were to work there will be websites where artist bid on how much to do a shot. The lowest bid would likely get selected. Every independent contractor is now in a race to the bottom themselves.


As always if you have input, feedback on the Bill of Rights or have suggestions and solutions, please send email to VES Leadership.  You can post here in addition to emailing if you wish to open it to discussion by all. Personally I’d prefer suggestions and solutions over complaints and reasons why none of this will work.