Over the last week or so, you might have seen people on Facebook or Twitter changing their profile pictures to nothing but green. A green screen. It represents what most movies would look like without visual effects artists.
VFX artists are united on social media in an attempt to bring attention to the working conditions in the industry. These issues have been present for years, but have recently escalated. The Academy Award winning studio, Rhythm and Hues, filed for bankruptcy weeks before winning another Oscar for their work on “Life of Pi.” How does a studio work on such a successful movie and then go out of business?
The reason may be about how foreign subsidies and tax incentives have created an unfair environment. When a U.S. studio bids on a job and says we’ll do it for X-amount, a foreign studio might bid to do it for half, the other half covered by the foreign government. So, the client only has to pay for half if they go to the foreign studio. That’s a deal, isn’t it?
In order for U.S. studios to compete, some might have pitched half the billings they need, knowing well that they’ll be going into the red. But it keeps the company alive and staff working.
The VFX artists have no union or protection of workers rights. Standard work days are usually 10 hours and can go up to 16 hours easily during crunch time. Often, artists will work seven days a week without sick leave or vacations. VFX workers are hired on a project-to-project basis and little to no benefits. They are expected to move wherever the work is; six months in Los Angeles, four in New York City, five in Vancouver.
This is an issue that’s been brewing for a while. Awareness may lead to a change for the better. But everyone in the industry will need to work together to make anything possible.