Oscars: Visual Effects Rally Attracts Over 500 Protesters

Oscar VFX Protest Rally - H 2014

Oscar VFX Protest Rally - H 2014

An estimated 540 people from the visual effects community participated in a rally on Hollywood Blvd. that started at 1 p.m. PT to raise awareness of the factors damaging its troubled business and offer a proposed solution. At the demonstration, many were donning green -- the color of a greenscreen -- which has become symbolic of the issues protestors are facing.

The Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians (ADAPT) -- a trade group being formed to address the business interests of the VFX community -- organized the demonstration and is calling for an end to the subsidy race that has created an "uneven playing field," forcing VFX artists to frequently move around the world in order to stay employed.

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"There's a very large discussion in the state of California about increasing film subsidies to stop runaway production," said Daniel Lay, a rally organizer who runs the influential blog VFX Soldier. But he sees this as a "short term solution. ... It's going to be very costly to offer larger subsidies here in California, and the amounts are going to increase each year to compete.

"The taxpayers need to understand that right now, if a VFX worker is asked to move to British Columbia, producers collect a 60 percent rebate on their salary," he emphasized. "If [California] competes with that, it going to cost well over $400-500 million." This is a message that he sent to Los Angeles' City Council at a meeting this past week.

ADAPT believes the better solution is to put an end to the subsidy race. With this goal, it has retained law firm Picard Kentz & Rowe to challenge subsidies in the U.S. Court of International Trade and ask that a mandatory duty be levied against producers who utilize subsidies.

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Lay reported that in this week's City Council meeting, he recommended a plan that he calls "Take 5." He explained: "Let's say California does offer a program of larger subsidies. Take 5 percent of that and devote it to legal efforts such as mine. They are such a relatively small investment and could lead to a huge return -- which is a level playing field."

Among those in attendance at Sunday's demonstration were Scott Leberecht, an art director at VFX house Rhythm & Hues; and Christina Lee Storm, a R&H alum who currently serves as executive director of Act One. They are the director and producer, respectively, of a new documentary that was released Tuesday, which explains the VFX business model and offered a revealing look at the downfall of R&H, which filed for bankruptcy two weeks before its work on Life of Pi won last year's Oscar in VFX--an incident that became symbolic of the troubled industry. Leberecht told THR that since Rhythm & Hues: Life After Pi was posted (Tuesday night), he expects it to exceed 400,000 total views on Oscar Sunday.

“Subsidies move jobs around, they don’t create jobs,” VFX vet Scott Kilburn said, noting that colleagues who recently relocated to incentive-friendly Vancouver are already seeing jobs move to regions offering greater subsidies, such as Montreal and Toronto.

Some of the rally attendees brought their children, underscoring the impact of the situation on families. Said one artist with a second child on the way, "It’s really had to find a job here in L.A.; [parents] don't want to have to move to a different country.” One child held a sign that read "I Don't Want to Move Again."

Many of the signs addressed subsidies, such as "Subsidies Do Not Create Jobs" or "Level The Playing Field." One read: "Will Win Your Film An Oscar For Food."

The VFX community held its first Oscar day rally in 2013, which generated added attention because of the bankruptcy of Los Angeles-headquartered Rhythm & Hues. (This year, the lead VFX house on Gravity -- which is widely expected to win the category -- is Framestore, a company headquartered in the UK.)

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A year ago, many VFX pros took to social media to express anger when Life of Pi VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer's microphone cut off as he started to talk about R&H during his acceptance speech, and then was played off the stage to the music from Jaws. Many may also remember the backlash when, while accepting their Oscars, Life of Pi director Ang Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda failed to mention the film's visual effects team.

Lay said he expects to see a "good" change in the respect shown to visual effects this year. "The director of Gravity and also other people who worked on the film regularly praised the visual effects artists when they won awards."

But he emphasized that "it's important for us not to look at these positive words as things that are going to solve the problems. There needs to be something done about subsidies."

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com

Twitter: @CGinLA