Sausage Party and Nitrogen – an open letter

To the VFX & CG-feature communities,

Many of you will have heard in the last week about working conditions on the recently-released “Sausage Party”. What started in the comments section on Cartoon Brew has now been reported by The Washington Post, The LA Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and many more besides. It’s sad to say, but stories of poor working conditions are becoming an embarrassingly regular occurrence in our industry. From the infamous MPC Variety article, to the Life of Pi Oscar debacle, time and again we’ve found our industry’s troubles in the spotlight. We’ve seen reports of a client saying “If I don’t put a visual effects shop out of business (on my movie), I’m not doing my job”. We’ve seen a facility exec tell an audience that if you don’t like long hours then you should get out. We’ve seen hundreds of VFX artists left off the credits of Star Trek Beyond. We’ve seen friends and colleagues forced to uproot their lives and move around the globe to chase tax-breaks and production whims. The question is this: when are things finally going to change?

The problems in our industry are well-known and well-documented. Whether because of over-promising to clients, underbidding to compete with tax breaks, creative mismanagement, inexperience or a simple lack of people, the result is always the same. Workers are pressured to meet impossible deadlines by regularly working late for little-to-no compensation during “crunch-time”. The “lucky ones” are rolled onto another project, where the whole sorry cycle repeats again and again until they burn out and leave. The “unlucky ones” are thanked for their hard work by being laid off. Many of us in this industry spend our lives jumping between companies and countries, trying to find a stable income and work-life-balance in a fickle industry that increasingly allows neither. And yet, our industry continues to cling to the antiquated and destructive motto that “we must deliver at all costs“.

However – things are changing. A process has started in London in the last 12 months which has given our industry a legitimate ray of hope. We launched a branch of BECTU for VFX workers in the UK, and gathered hundreds of members. We launched recognition bids at MPC and at Framestore, and we fought for representation for VFX workers at all the big London VFX studios. This has sent shockwaves through the industry. Our work is ongoing, and there’s still lots to do. However, we’ve started a process here, and we intend to see it through.

There are three groups of people we would like to address:

1. To the animators at Nitrogen. Congratulations to all of you on the release of Sausage Party. The film’s been a great success, and you should be very proud. We’re sorry to hear about the poor working conditions many of you experienced; that you encountered ‘intimidating staff into working past official studio hours, disciplinary measures utilizing fear tactics […] (such as threatening to terminate employment), implying that other departments are working overtime “voluntarily” as a reason to deny compensation’. We’re sorry to hear that some of you were threatened with blacklisting, or were denied credits for your hard work because you dared to ask for fair treatment. The fact that this happened on a CG feature – where your employer has even greater freedom over who to credit than a typical VFX vendor – makes things even worse.

To each one of you that stood up for fair treatment, by signing your petition or by speaking out to the press – a massive “well done” from all of us. It’s not easy to take a stand on working conditions in this industry (we know, we’ve been there!), and we hope that others will follow your lead. We feel – and we hope you agree – that this is a discussion that our entire industry should be having. You are not alone. The VFX branch of BECTU and its members have heard your story, and we stand with you. We hope that this is a turning point, and that management at Nitrogen listen to your concerns. But if not, you should know that you still have options. It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way. You’ve all experienced first-hand just how important it is that we have a voice in how we’re treated. This is exactly what a union is for. We know that our sister labour union in the US and Canada, the IATSE, would love to help you improve your working conditions. After all the coverage you’ve had in the press, we would eagerly encourage you to reach out to them. Nothing is impossible if you all speak to each other, talk about this, and get organised. It’s making a difference here in London, and it can make a difference for you too. Don’t let this chance to improve things go to waste. If there’s anything we can do to help, then please do get in touch.

2. To management at Nitrogen. We can’t imagine that it’s been an easy week for you. To see stories like this about your company after all the hard work on Sausage Party must be difficult. We’re not here to point fingers. We know that experiences vary by project and by team, and we don’t imagine that all of your employees are unhappy. However, judging by the number of people speaking out, there’s clearly a problem here – not just at Nitrogen, but across much of the industry. Nitrogen is not the first company to step on the giant landmine that is VFX working conditions; it is merely the latest.

It’s not in anyone’s interest – yours or ours – to see stories like this emerge every time a facility tries to talk proudly about its work after a tough project. We hope that you and other facility owners will agree that things cannot go on like this. We want to see public outpourings of anger like this and the MPC Variety article become a thing of the past. We’re sure that you do too.

Now is the time for facility owners to listen and to show leadership. Our industry is facing a crisis in working conditions, and to dismiss this outpouring from Nitrogen’s employees as the work of a disgruntled or opportunistic few would be a grave mistake. Hundreds have joined us here in the UK because there is a clear and widespread feeling in our industry that things cannot carry on the way they are. We – your workforce – don’t want a fight. We don’t want to cheat you out of money, or to make you uncompetitive. The vast majority of us just want a normal work-life balance and the chance to bring stories to life. We would love to work constructively with you to make this happen. However, we cannot do so if you bury your heads in the sand, deny the problem, or refuse to engage. We’ve spoken to many senior figures in this industry off-the-record, and we know that many of you share our frustrations in how this industry operates. We would challenge all facility owners in this industry to ask their employees to anonymously answer the following question: “What does this company do to protect me from mistreatment when a project goes wrong?”. If the answer is “nothing”, then it’s time to reach out to other facilities, and to talk about a shared solution. Without common industry-wide standards on issues like overtime, this industry will consume itself – and then we all lose.

3. To everyone working in VFX and CG features. We’ve talked to many hundreds of you now. Some of you are happy, but a great many more of you are not. We’ve heard your stories. The late nights, the weekends. The hundreds of hours of unpaid work. The missed holidays, the uncertainty of short-term contracts being extended week-by-week. The stress. The crunch-time. The fear of speaking out because of blacklisting. The trouble getting showreel material. The wage suppression. We’ve seen you share the stories, we’ve seen some of you even turn your profile pictures green. But unfortunately, sharing the stories isn’t enough. Things won’t change until we act.

Things started here in London when a group of us had enough, and decided to do something. We invited friends and colleagues out for lunch and coffee to discuss working conditions. We made chat groups, we shared ideas. We challenged each other to sign up, we set friendly challenges to see who could get the most colleagues to join. We made leaflets, we spoke out. We acted. And when we did, the facilities really sat up and took notice.

So what about you, dear reader? Have you joined a union? Have you talked to your friends and co-workers about joining a union? Because if not (and we hate to put it this way) – then you are currently part of the problem. Until we decide as a workforce that enough is enough, until we choose to establish a voice for ourselves, this steady drip-feed of horror stories is likely to continue. The facilities have had years to address these problems, but as we can see from the stream of stories like this one, their efforts to date have been sorely lacking. Crunch-time and insecurity remain rife within our industry. The next big story could be your next project. Ask yourself this: “Would I be prepared to stay in this industry and work at this level until I retire in my 60s?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to get off the fence and do something.

We would like to invite everyone around the world who’s read Nitrogen’s story and recognised these horror stories to join their local VFX union. We’ve started a process here in London. However, our recognition bids are only one piece of the puzzle. If you’re waiting for us to fix everything for you world-wide, then you’re in for a long wait. This is a big industry, and we can’t change the whole thing without you. We need to act together.

We’ve seen first-hand the improvements that happen at the workplace when workers get together in large numbers to declare “it’s time for a change“. We hope that you’ll get to see it too. There are unions and groups of people around the world that would love to help us finally improve the working conditions in our industry. The question is: will you let them?

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,
VFX Union UK

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No Credit? Star Trek’s Beyond leaves two-thirds of VFX Artists off end Credits.

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No Credit? Star Trek’s Beyond leaves two-thirds of VFX Artists off end Credits.

 It’s official. Star Trek’s opening weekend Box Office pulled in around $182 million coinciding with the franchise’s 50th anniversary. One of the heaviest Visual Effects films of the summer, it’s no surprise that the VFX community here in London pulled off awe inspiring visuals for this blockbuster, but artists expecting a bit of starlight and Hollywood spectacle are likely to be disappointed.  We’ve heard that two-thirds of the hardworking individuals for this film didn’t get the opportunity to see their name on the big screen. It is rumoured that Paramount originally only initially wanted to give 100 credits, and Double Negative, the lead VFX house on this, pegged them up to a little over 300 names to split between London, Vancouver, Singapore and Mumbai. For a team of nearly 900 artists, it’s just another notch on the growing divide felt between the treatment of the rest of Hollywood and the visual effects industry.
Double Negative’s valiant efforts still leave a crushing blow for the artists left out.  As one of the few non unionized Hollywood workforces we are often at the bottom of the credit list, almost tacked on as an afterthought, while assistants to the assistants and catering names come up ahead of us.  It is the power of the Hollywood unions that has ensured their members don’t get left out.
The union negotiations with Hollywood studios are the reason why other film industries get higher billing and a long credit list.Why are we being left out?  With digital reels, it would cost no extra money to add extra lines to include VFX crew in the credits. It’s another slap in the face, showing how under represented and under-appreciated we VFX artists are in a industry when it’s often OUR shots that brings in an audience and profits to Hollywood Studios.

 

 

Posted in BECTU Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Thursday VFX LunchMeet Today!

Lovely day for al fresco Thursday VFX LunchMeet! 1-2pm today, St Anne’s Churchyard, Wardour St.

Look for the green flag!

Posted in Uncategorized

VFX News

this is it!

THE  BIG VFX MEETING

7:00pm WEDNESDAY, 22ND JUNE

REGENT HALL, 275 OXFORD STREET, LONDON, W1C 2DJ

click here for more info


 

VFX Union members and non members alike are invited for an opportunity to hear about all our work over the past year, to discuss and to give feedback, and to have your say on where the VFX branch should focus its efforts next.

We’re in the middle of a Visual Effects Industry Revolution! Our membership has exploded by over 500% in the last year and we need you to keep pushing this amazing momentum forward. If you’re not a member, come along and find out what the visual effects union is all about! If you’re already a member, bring a friend or two!

We’ll be talking about all the work that the VFX Branch has done over the past year, and what the coming year might hold. There’ll be an opportunity for questions and feedback from the floor. This will be followed by a talk about the EU Referendum and the likely effects on the vfx industry in the case of a “leave” vote.

Non members can join the union on the night and there will be a special members only voting session at the end of the event to elect branch officers and decide our priorities for 2016-17. Sign up to attend here:

VFX Union Mass Meeting

Visual Effects News and Stories from Around the Web

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Posted in BECTU, News

VFX’s Annual General Meeting

The Most Important VFX Meeting of the Year!

  • It’s your time to decide. Come to our Annual General Meeting next Wednesday and hear about what BREXIT could mean for VFX.
  • Vote and decide on next year’s important issues and choose who represents you as committee members.
  • Most importantly help lead the discussion and become one of the committee members yourself!

All VFX employees welcome! All you have to do is sign-up HERE


To nominate yourself or another union member for the committee please email all nominations to Paul Evans <pevans@bectu.org.uk> by 5pm on June 19. All positions open for nominations and vote including: Branch Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, Communications or just general committee member.

Posted in BECTU Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

VFX Union Mass Meeting – 22nd June!

MassMeeting

FREE ENTRY!

Regents Hall 275 Oxford Street W1C 2 DJ

7:00pm – Wednesday, 22nd June 2016

http://tinyurl.com/vfxagm2016 

VFX Union members and non members alike are invited for an opportunity to hear about all our work over the past year, to discuss and to give feedback, and to have your say on where the VFX branch should focus its efforts next.

We’re in the middle of a Visual Effects Industry Revolution! Our membership has exploded by over 500% in the last year and we need you to keep pushing this amazing momentum forward. If you’re not a member, come along and find out what the visual effects union is all about! If you’re already a member, bring a friend or two!

We’ll be talking about all the work that the VFX Branch has done over the past year, and what the coming year might hold. There’ll be an opportunity for questions and feedback from the floor. This will be followed by a talk about the EU Referendum and the likely effects on the vfx industry in the case of a “leave” vote.

Non members can join the union on the night and there will be a special members only voting session at the end of the event to elect branch officers and decide our priorities for 2016-17.

Please sign up to attend here:

VFX Union Mass Meeting

jokerQuote4

Posted in BECTU

VFX News

Visual Effects News and Stories from Around the Web

 

Pressure on VFX firms to locate in tax havens

Visual effects firms are under continuing pressure from production companies and studios to locate in parts of the world that offer the best tax credits, according to a panel discussion at last week’s Media Production Show in London.

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Cringeworthy fun video! Apologies in advance if some of your work appears on it!

Here’s What Cast and Crew Really Earn on a $200 Million Blockbuster Budget

In the video below, Vanity Fair estimates the breakdown of a $200 million blockbuster. Unsurprisingly, above-the-line talent scores the biggest paycheck; Lead Actors 1, 2, and 3 comprise 9% of the film’s entire budget. But the director, producers, editor, DP, and lead writers don’t fare too badly, either, each earning $1 million or above.

Movie Review: ‘Warcraft’ Will Transport You With Masterful Visual Effects

‘Warcraft’ Movie Review by, Pamela Price – LATF USA From ‘Resident Evil’ to ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,’ video game franchises have seen their fair …

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Visual effects were used to bring the turtles to life. Paramount Pictures released a featurette Tuesday afternoon showing off exactly how the quad looks …

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Storyboard Artist Accuses ‘Chipmunks’ Maker Bagdasarian Productions Of Unethical Behavior

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Blackmagic Design Announces Fusion 8.1 Update

Fusion Connect for Avid lets editors work on their own visual effects and motion graphics or, when they’re on shared storage, they can collaborate with …

This awesome visual effects breakdown shows all the crazy details that went into making ‘Deadpool’

While the visual effects might not look as flashy as those in, say, “Captain America: Civil War,” it took a lot of work to bring “Deadpool” to life. Rodeo FX …

Preparing Children With Autism For Careers in The Visual Effects & Animation Industries

Since the studio opened less than two years ago, it has completed animation or visual effects and end title projects for more than 50 productions, …

Rising Sun Pictures Extends its Mastery Over Time in “X-Men: Apocalypse”

The visual effects studio contributed to several key sequences in the film, most notably an electrifying scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) uses his …

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Come along to our weekly Thursday VFX Lunchmeet

Every Thursday from 1-2pm at the Jurassic Church (St. Anne’s Churchyard, Wardour Street – nr. Shatesbury Avenue) Grab a sandwich or some sushi, sit on the grass, soak up a little sunshine and chat about what’s happening in the world of London VFX – look for the green flag!

1:00-2:00pm every Thursday

The Jurassic Church

(St. Anne’s churchyard, Wardour Street – near Shaftesbury Avenue)

Posted in News

Unions: Raising The Bar

“Unions have a spillover effect that helps the entire middle class. When employers perceive that unions could possibly organize their workforce, they deliberately keep wages and benefits close to union wages and benefits, in order to keep the union out of their workforce. This spillover effect is a clear example of how unions benefit even those who are not covered by a union contract.”

— Lawrence Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute

via Unions 4 Workers

Posted in BECTU

The UK VFX industry and Brexit

Facts, not appeals to emotion

Tony Lennon, BECTU research officer, recently outlined the implications for the UK entertainment industries of any vote to leave the EU. The recording of that talk is below.

The bottom line is that if the UK votes to leave the EU, this could have a devastating effect on Film, TV and Theatre production – especially VFX. The London Visual Effects workforce relies heavily on people from the EU and the free movement between member states.

Take some time to listen to this, it is important information about Leave vs. Remain for anyone working in the VFX industry here in the the UK.

Posted in Uncategorized

VFX News

Visual Effects News and Stories from Around the Web

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It is not just engineering that gives you a job, there are opportunities in visual effectsfor films and advertisements, 3D animation for 3D films and video …

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The character’s creation involves a lot of work from the visual effects team. In 2014, Digital Domain, one of the visual effects companies that worked on …

Film Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’

… visual effects supervisor, Pablo Helman; visual effects producers, Crystal Dowd, Susan Greenhow; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, Ghost VFX …

Creative Arts Emmy Visual Effects Contenders Wow Viewers with Mind-Bending Images

As the golden age of television continues, so does an era of spectacular visualeffects for the small screen aimed at creating a theatrical-level …

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Top 50 Films That Catapulted Visual Effects Into A New Era

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‘Taking Earth’: A Sci-fi film with stunning visual effects delivered on a limited budget

In an exclusive interview with International Business Times, Australia Director Grant Humphreys talked about the visual effects and other aspects of the …

img_1126-1

Come along to our weekly Thursday VFX Lunchmeet

Every Thursday from 1-2pm at the Jurassic Church (St. Anne’s Churchyard, Wardour Street – nr. Shatesbury Avenue) Grab a sandwich or some sushi, sit on the grass, soak up a little sunshine and chat about what’s happening in the world of London VFX – look for the green flag!

1:00-2:00pm every Thursday

The Jurassic Church

(St. Anne’s, Wardour Street – nr. Shaftesbury Avenue)

Posted in News