VFX Artists in U.K. Take Formal Steps Toward Addressing Work Conditions

Hollywood Sign - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Hollywood Sign - H 2015

The global visual-effects community has been asking for better working conditions for years — even staging rallies at the 2013 and 2014 Academy Awards to raise awareness of the issue, but not resulting in an industry change.

Now, U.K.-based trade union BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) is taking formal steps to address this in Great Britain. It has been steadily growing its membership of London-based VFX artists (England's capital is a major VFX destination) and recently reached out to Technicolor-owned VFX giant MPC, asking for trade-union recognition for the film compositing department at MPC’s London office (this would not pertain to MPC offices outside the U.K.), which is made up of an estimated 135 employees. That would mean that legally BECTU could bargain collectively on behalf of those employees on points including overtime pay.

That’s the biggest issue in the U.K., according to BECTU national officer Paul Evans. He told The Hollywood Reporter that with few exception, U.K.-based VFX workers are not paid overtime, and according to a survey of BECTU's VFX members, they work on average one and a half hours of overtime per day — “essentially an extra day per week, without pay."

“We have been trying to engage the employers, with no luck, over the past three years. They have been fobbing us off,” said Evans. “We are not out to pick a fight. We want them to negotiate with us, and take it seriously.”

MPC — whose recent and upcoming work includes Spectre, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Disney’s The Jungle Book — has agreed to negotiate with BECTU. “With well over 50 percent of the department’s employees as union members, we believe they legally have to agree with this,” said Evans.

Contacted by The Hollywood ReporterMPC provided the following response: “MPC has received a formal request for union recognition from BECTU, which we responded to yesterday [Dec. 2]. The request is seeking recognition for collective bargaining in respect of the MPC film compositing group. BECTU are requesting that they represent the compositors on discussions for pay, hours and holidays. MPC will engage with BECTU in more detailed discussions on their request for recognition.”

Evans said this is the first such reach-out, but additional VFX houses would be contacted, one in the very near future. He declined to name the company, but there are numerous large VFX houses in London, including Framestore and Prime Focus-owned Double Negative.

“We’re hoping this is an inspiration for all VFX artists, not just in London but around the world, that we can have a union,” said Joe Pavlo, a member of MPC's film compositing department and a BECTU member. “We’re hoping this will have a snowball effect.”