Visual Effects Society Slams Hollywood Over Working Conditions, Benefits, Credits

Eric Roth
Maury Phillips/Getty Images for VES

Especially with summer tentpoles, VFX artists "are working longer hours for less income ... carrying larger financial burdens while others are profiting greatly from our work," VES exec Eric Roth writes in an open letter to the industry.

Pointing a finger at the troubling business climate that has plagued the VFX industry for years, the Visual Effects Society sent out an open letter to the entertainment industry Tuesday, charging the VFX workers don't receive proper credit, benefits or working conditions.

The VES itself is an honorary society with about 2,400 artists in 23 countries. The letter, signed by VES executive director Eric Roth, raised the question of whether the VFX community needs either a union or a trade organization. It didn't answer that question but said that VES plans to take the lead "in organizing meetings with all participants in our industry."

"We are not trying to turn ourselves into a union," Roth told The Hollywood Reporter, noting that the society is instead going to try to bring a voice to the issue. "We are going to meet with whoever needs to be met with. We need bring in the facilities, studios -- anyone who is a stakeholder."

After some years of apparent neglect, not one but two unions are now trying to organize the field: IATSE and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. But it's an uphill battle, and not just because having two cooks in the kitchen is a recipe for jurisdictional squabbles rather than fine dining. The key issue is that the business is worldwide and jobs are instantly mobile, since the data files that VFX workers work with are easily transmitted between far-flung locales. That means that success in organizing Los Angeles companies would probably just drive even more work overseas. Add to that the multiplicity of companies in the business and the price pressure they're under, and it becomes obvious why organizing the field will take a lot longer than a digital download.

The VES letter also said that organization plans to issue a VFX Artists' Bill of Rights and that over the coming months it will conduct virtual town hall meetings and a VFX CEO forum to address issues of concern.

The letter explains, "Artists and visual effects companies are working longer hours for less income, delivering more amazing VFX under ever diminishing schedules, carrying larger financial burdens while others are profiting greatly from our work. ... Many feel VFX artists are being taken advantage of and many others feel that VFX facilities are operating under unsustainable competitive restraints and profit margins. There have been calls for the creation of a VFX union to represent artists' interests while others have pushed to create a trade organization for VFX facilities to better navigate today's economic complexities."

The letter comes at a time of year when countless VFX artists have been literally working around to clock, seven days a week, in order to meet impossibly tight deadlines set by the studios for many of the summer's big tentpole movies. Due to pressures involved, each year around this time, rumors fly that certain films are in danger of missing their release date. This season, such speculation has surrounded Warners Bros.' Green Lantern, although the film appears on track to meet its June 17 release date.

Among the issues, the VES statement highlights is that fact that, "If you are a freelancer (it's generally agreed that almost half of all visual effects workers are freelancers), because you are not covered by collective bargaining, you may be forced to work 70-100 hour weeks or months on end in order to meet a delivery date."

The complete letter can be found on next page.

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