Thursday, August 19, 2010

VFX artists don't need to be taken advantage of

I wrote this post nearly 3 years ago yet here's another Montreal studio that has not paid their visual effects workers.

Here's another Variety article just today:  Trouble at Newbreed VFX Cementing Montreal’s Bad Rep

 I think that's at least 4 studios in Montreal that have pulled the same stunt and at least 2 of these companies were management by the same guy.  What is it about Montreal that makes people want to work for free? That people are unwilling to unite? That people would rather work for free for someone making profits than to demand pay and to walk out? I know those of us in visual effects are an optimistic bunch but come on. Either unite or you will repeat history.

Original post

Variety had an article about another VFX company in Montreal not paying their vfx artists:

“The latest bad news from the vfx biz comes from Montreal's Fake Studio, part of the Camera e-Motion Group. A handful of artists who worked for Fake on the 3D vfx for Dimension's "Piranha 3D" have yet to receive payments due in April.”

I know vfx people love what they do but they don’t have to scr*wed in the process. Besides having to deal with art and technology, vfx artists have to know some common business sense.

So let’s review a few things:
1. Get it in writing.  Get it in writing. Get it in writing.           
When you are hired you should have a signed  basic agreement regarding your pay rate and hours. You don’t want to find out that what you thought you were hired for and what the company thought you were hired for are two different things.  Nor do you want to find out they expect an extra 48 hours of overtime for free.

If someone makes a promise to you, get it in writing.  If they don’t want to put it in writing then it’s likely not as valuable as a sheet of paper.

A document won’t prevent a problem but the potential is there for legal follow through (usually you’d pay more for a lawyer so that’s not a great option).  The main advantage is there’s no discussion needed with management if something comes up.  It’s there in black and white.
[Related: VFX Deal Memo post]

2. If you don’t get paid for the previous week you worked, then stop working there.  Here’s the thing, if a business doesn’t have enough money for their employees, especially when they have a project, then they are poor business people and the chances to ever get paid are slim to none.  Someone mentioned getting paid a week in advance. If you don’t trust the company enough to pay you correctly from the start, then why would you want to work there?

When we had Dream Quest, the vfx company I co-founded years ago, there were times when things were tight.  When that was the case, we as the owners would skip our pay in order to pay the workers.  If a company has started a project they should have a startup payment and payments to be made during production. I’ll cover starting a vfx company in a future post but suffice it to say any company has to have at least 6 months of funding with no money coming in.

As pointed out in the article most vfx companies are started by artists who don’t know business. At Dream Quest we didn’t release the final product until we were paid.  Once we had to forced a client to provide a cashiers check because they had made the bad decision to not be paid until the end of their job, which of course was after we finished our portion.

3. If the employees didn’t get paid the previous week then they should consider going to management as a group to politely request payment or the option of all of the group leaving.  That’s when you have leverage to make things happen.  If you go one by one the company can dismiss you.  If you wait until the project is over and wonder why you’re not being paid for the past 3 months, it’s too late.  You have no leverage at that point. This is part of the reason there are unions.  This type of stuff was pulled by companies a fair bit at one time.  Once the workers decided they were tired of working for free they grouped together.  

4. A vfx company can be very pressured by their clients for non-realistic bids.  There's also pressure for not turning in change orders even when it's a clear client change. As a worker there, that's not your fault.

5. Somebody is making money and it’s not you.  Some how the company has money for leasing a building, paying for power, paying management, etc.  Someone is hiring them (i.e paying them) to do the vfx work.

6. Don’t assume the company will do right for you because you put in those extra hours for free and came through and saved their necks on project.  Management changes, business reasons or poor decisions are all likely to cause the poor treatment or payment of workers.  

7. You will need to be paid.  Just because you might not need the money today, you will if you hope to continue to do vfx as more than a hobby. The good companies are looking for professionals, not hobbyists.

8 It’s not the VFX artist responsibility to work for free so others can make money.  Nor is it to work for free to make up for a management mistake.

9. Respect yourself.  Respect your job.  VFX is a demanding art-form requiring gifted and knowledgeable people.

10. Your target should be to get a job at a great company doing great work and getting paid for it.  Even if you're starting out (after learning vfx from where ever or whatever (big school, online school, no school, doesn’t matter)). If it’s a shady company, the work they’re producing is poor, you’re not getting paid for it or you’re not having fun, then it’s time to move on.

Only work for free if:
1. It’s a true cause you wish to donate your time to. (i.e Save the Whales PSA)
2. It’s your own passion project (short film, music video, etc)
3. It’s your best friend’s project and you owe him one. (Even then, keep it short)

If you’re in school, sure, work on other people projects. That’s a way to learn and network.

Craig’s list is full of opportunities for vfx people who want to work for free. They offer credit and something for your reel.  Here’s the thing: No employer will care about a long list of never seen projects directed by someone they’ve never heard of.  So the credit being offered has as much value as the money they’re offering.

The item for the reel is only of value if it’s very good.  The experience is only good if you’re going to actually learn something of value (and I don’t mean learning not to be taken advantage of).

Be aware the client with the least money will be the most demanding.

 Internships are also something to be wary of - link to article

At the end of the day you have to be the one looking after yourself.  Don’t let companies take advantage of you just because you love what you do.

Bonus: Should I work for free chart

Monday, August 16, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Vfx helps U.K. post-production stay afloat

For those that don't think the incentives have anything to do with VFX:

From Variety article Vfx helps U.K. post-production stay afloat

 "While most entertainment business sectors in the U.K. are undergoing tumultuous budget cuts or worrying about downsizing, the folks running post-production houses are relatively sanguine. Sure, even the post biz stumbled a bit during the economic downturn, but the future now holds plenty of promise, particularly for those who create visual effects.

In fact, thanks to a concentration of talent and tax incentives, Blighty's share of the film visual effects market has nearly doubled from 2005 to some 20% of the worldwide biz."


"There was a huge fear in the election that government would change the tax credit, and thank goodness it didn't."

(Blogger evidently uses a random generator for font sizing and text placement)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Incentive and film program updates

Every week there seem to be new updates on state or country incentive and film programs.

Here's a snippet:
Scottish-born producer Iain Smith, whose credits include "The A-Team," "Children of Men" and "Local Hero," expressed the need for the government to quickly form a plan or risk producers looking elsewhere to shoot films.

"While we have a fantastic infrastructure, we have to protect that as much as we can and in order to do that we have to compete against industries in other countries," said Smith. "There's no doubt we need to tighten purse strings but we need to be careful we don't asphyxiate the film industry in general."

But in an article written for Blighty's Observer newspaper on Sunday, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt hit back at critics.

"If we are going to face budget cuts I have a duty to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent where it gets the most bang for its buck," he said. "It is simply not acceptable in these times to fund an organization like the U.K. Film council where no fewer than eight of the top executives are paid more than £100,000 ($160,000)."

Hunt added: "Stopping money being spent on a film quango is not the same as stopping money being spent on film."

"This new credit will give New York post production services a much needed competitive edge," explains Rich Friedlander, co-founder of Brainstorm Digital. "We increasingly saw visual effects post work going to Canada thanks to their their Digital Animation or Visual Effects tax credit (DAVE). This new program will allow work that was filmed in New York to stay through its entire production cycle. It's a major move that will attract and keep top talent here in state."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Sad but true..

Believe me,  you don't want to see most vfx artists stripping.
Unfortunately most VFX companies end up going through the following.  These would be funny if
they weren't so realistic.  I've seen the same things almost verbatim so they're not exaggerated
Note that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing since there are times when the client feels they need to define how the vfx need to be done to the experienced vfx people they hired.

    Caution: Explicit Language

The unrealistic portion here is the client reminding you it's a fixed bid.  They don't even bother saying that. 

Here's another example how clients work with VFX companies and vfx artists

VIDEO: The Vendor Client relationship - in real world situations

Overtime?  What's that?

VIDEO: Do you like fighting robots? The interview. 

Ray Harryhausen and Chuck Jones exhibitions closing soon

Just a reminder for those in L.A. the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a special exhibit on Ray Harryhausen that opened in May and will be closing Aug 22.  Free.
More info on the exhibit here.

If you don't know, Ray Harryhausen was the master of stop motion visual effects and worked on many films including Jason and the Argonauts and Seventh Voyage of Sinbad among others.
He inspired most of my generation of vfx artists to do what we do. (and Peter Jackson and other filmmakers)  Sony Imageworks recently named a theater after him and many of his films are being released on Blu-ray.  There was a large birthday party for Ray a few months ago.

The exhibition has quite a number of the stop motion models on display along with artwork, video from the films, interviews with and about Ray.   If you want to see some beautiful models and fantastic artwork, check it out.

While you're there be sure to check out the Chuck Jones exhibition that is going on at the same time in the same building (2 different floors).  Plenty of great artwork and sections from scripts.  If you don't know Chuck Jones he was the mastermind of many of the Warner Bros. cartoons - Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, etc.  More info here.

If you're in visual effects you really need to make sure you're up on film history and the artists that created it.  Even with the newer tools we have today we can still learn a lot about the actual artistry from these artists and apply them to our own work.

Below are a few of the books and videos but there are plenty more.


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Could unionization save vfx facilities?

Could unionization save vfx facilities? is  a posting by vfxsoldier.

There are those who argue that any type of unionization will drive the nail in the coffin for US VFX production.  Since it's unlikely the pay will be increased at most facilities the only additional costs should be things like health insurance.  As he rightly points out the IA unions receive film and TV residuals so the burden is much less than normal insurance, especially given the number of members.

Scott Ross has said unions would only make sense if the vfx companies were rich.  But health and welfare along with pension plans are also involved.  There are also issues of working conditions and hours.

The likeliest conflict is overtime pay.  Sure, some productions can cause this situation but in other cases the vfx company is the indirect cause of the problem by not properly scheduling crews or resources from the start.

If you watched the initial BP segment on 60 Minutes after the spill, an executive at the company demanded the drilling be sped up and precautions to be ignored.  That broke the drill and now a new hole had to be created from scratch. The same executives were putting pressure on the workers because they were now 2 weeks behind and so many millions of dollars over budget; as if it were the workers fault.

Poor decisions can be made by anyone - vfx artists, vfx supervisors, vfx company management, studio executives, producers, etc.  The problem is when a lot of other people have to suffer because of it. And it's even more of an issue when you see those same poor decisions made repeatedly.

Unions aren't the cure all for the ills of the vfx industry but they should be honestly considered along with other approaches and restructuring.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Escape Studios competition extended

I was recently contacted by Escape Studios, which offers VFX training in the UK and online. I thought readers might be interested so here's the info from them:

We're currently running a competition looking for the best showreel produced by a final year university student or recent graduate so that will be one individual from the UK and one from the US.

We've put a video on YouTube that may be able to explain things better than I can and gives a bit detail of the CG Graduate Design Awards:

YouTube Video Details

We’ve just extended the deadline to the 16th August to give students extra time to get more showreels ready.