Monday, May 20, 2013

The State of the VFX Industry and where do we go from here

The State of the VFX Industry and where do we go from here

I finally got a moment to watch this talk and I think it's great that someone has finally explained the complexity of the issues that lie before all artists working in CG, Animation and VFX.  Especially, someone without a thick Spanish accent, that no one can understand, and two individuals with street cred working in the business for years.  

I would love to hear a talk from these same two guys, that goes beyond the explanation of what is wrong with the industry.  I would love to hear more about their specific solutions, which they seem very determined to make the trade organization and union work, and further explain specifically how these two groups/orgs could even have a chance of working... when it feels to most artists working -  the "ship has sailed (pun intended)."

I would love to have questions like these answered specifically:

1 - How can a union for VFX be effective when studios are located all over the world and have their own rules regarding creating or developing unions? Specifically, I would like to know how a union here in the US could compete with studios overseas who may or may not have unions who hire non-union workers for their shows.

2 - How can a trade organization enforce any regulations when an American movie studio can simply incorporate overseas to avoid any American laws or taxes against runaway production?  Even better, studios could just buy cruise ships and sail to wherever the money is... and incorporate there.

3 - Even if a union were to succeed somehow (see Q #1) what exactly would this union do about the 1,000's of workers who are no longer employed and cannot join the ranks because they are not working as a formal employee at a facility.  How do you create a solidarity of work force when no one is working or worse, those working are forced to take jobs as mis-classified contract freelance workers for smaller studios because those are the only studios hiring domestically?  BTW, if you are not a legal employee, you cannot join a union.  I would say 75-80% of my colleagues are freelance contractors and although employed, are not a w-2 employee of any facility.  Where is the workforce?

4 - How would a trade organization go about lobbying to get subsidies to end? Specifically, how would they do this?  My father worked in the apparel industry and I listened to his woes at the dinner table as I grew up.  His choice was to create a sourcing company to find companies overseas that could produce garments cheaper than US workers.  Everyone in the apparel industry hated him at first when he started this company, and then later they all wanted to work with him because NAFTA basically did nothing to help the situation.  Sure assets are taxed when they come back into the country, but there are ways to get around that.  Do you tax every asset built for a movie set?  What if there are more revisions?  Do you tax it again?  You cannot find a American company now a days that can sew garments at the same level as India and China, it's a lost art.  How would a trade organization fix the fact that the world is now flat and we are competing globally?

5 - If it has taken 25 years for Scott Ross to organize the VFX facilities - why do you think a trade organization can happen in 6 months?  Why do you think you can now turn this thing around with the complexity of the entire industry moving... not only out of California, but out of the US?  This is a time sensitive issue.  People are losing their houses, their cars, and are faced with leaving the industry entirely to keep their kids in school and food on the table.

6 - What is the schedule to make all of these "solutions" you propose happen?  Is that schedule going to jive with the fact that it may be a day-late-and-a-dollar-short to make any change?  I would like to see a schedule.  If it doesn't happen in six months to a year... things look dire to most artists working now.

I ask these questions not to be arbitrary or argumentative.  I ask because these are the questions that are debated at bars and dinner tables by those working in the CG/Animation/VFX industry for years, and we haven't heard any specific answers.

I applaud the ability to finally explain such a complex issue in a clear and concise way, but...
By the time anything gets organized, will there be any creative left wanting/financially able to stay in the industry?

P.S. It might be good to change your graphic representing the people working on these movies from a guy at a workstation to a paint brush, pencil or some other artistic icon.  The biggest problem is neither the audience or the movie studios see VFX workers as artisans or creatives.  Only we can change that.

I also would like to coin the term VFX/CG/Animation Creatives (rather than workers) so we can change the reputation of what we do for film making. And, we should band collectively. There is no VFX only labor issues or any "sister" Animation industry. We are all in this together. Meaning anyone working on something that is not shot in camera. Period.

P.S.S. My animation students have great concerns regarding all of this since they are about to embark on the same journey into Animation and VFX and all worry they are making a bad decision.  My advice to them goes like this... There is a lot of money to be made.  That is apparent at the box office.  It's going to take a good year for everyone to decide how the pie will be split.  And, once the dust settles... I am hopeful about the outcome, but also realistic.

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