The dreaded “crunch-time email”

Work/life-balance has been a hot topic in the games industry in the last month, following publication of a pretty horrendous recruitment guide and rant by well-known games developer Alex St John. The attitudes in his articles have been rightly criticised by much of the games industry, and this critique will feel particularly familiar to anyone who has worked in VFX:

There is an embedded and endemic problem that is rooted in the upper echelons of game development production and management. It is not a new one: unrealistic expectations are set upon shifting sands, time frames are squeezed, deliver at all costs is the mentality. Typically, this will manifest itself as a team meeting or an apologetic email, followed by a “we’re all in this together” rally cry and a promise of free dinner if you work after 9pm (Need to leave at 8.30? Sorry mate, sort yourself out, your time isn’t worth dinner).

Employees are then expected to reorganise their own lives to accommodate their newly produced goalposts. Those who don’t “pull their weight” in this regard are passively ostracised as “not being team players”. But, as the craft of game development matures, so do those who practice it. With that we cease to be a population of devil-may-care 20 somethings with no strings attached. We grow up.

The “dreaded crunch-time email” is a well-known phenomenon in VFX. However nicely-worded the email might be (and they generally are), the core message is the same: “It’s time to put your personal life on hold. Don’t take holidays. Don’t make plans. For the next few months, this project is the only thing that should matter to you. We need everyone to go the extra mile, to put in 110%, to put their foot on the gas, to push harder than ever, to go above-and-beyond. And if everyone could start working extra hours, that would be great”.

Whenever a “crunch-time email” goes out, it’s hard for those affected to avoid asking questions:

  • How did we get into this situation, where the only solution is to ask whole teams to give up their personal time?
  • Is this the first time it has happened, or is it becoming a regular occurrence at the end of each project?
  • Are there changes that could be made to prevent this from happening again?
  • Which is a higher priority for the company I work for – employees’ work/life balance, or keeping the clients happy?

We’re not naïve to the workings of the VFX industry. It’s a challenging industry, and sometimes things go wrong. However, we would assert that crunch-time is almost always a sign of a deeper problem somewhere else – broken technology, poor scheduling, under-resourcing, unrealistic client expectations, and so on. Pressuring people to work extra hours only hides the problem – it doesn’t fix it. If a company is regularly asking you to work extra hours, then we think it’s only fair that they should tell you what lessons they have learned and what changes they plan to make to prevent it from happening again. We believe that it’s in every VFX company’s interests to have workers that feel rested and inspired. We believe that it’s in every VFX company’s interests to have workers that are able to develop a rich variety of personal interests and experiences outside of work all year round.

The VFX branch of BECTU stands together with anyone who wants to see an improvement in VFX working conditions. Since BECTU started pressuring the major VFX companies on working conditions, we’ve seen a number of improvements at MPC & Framestore. These changes have been needed for a long time, and are to be applauded. However, the phenomenon of the crunch-time email endures in the wider VFX industry, with members telling us of one such call for 6- and 7-day weeks being sent out at Double Negative just last week. As long as crunch-time emails continue, we will be here pressing for improvements to VFX working conditions. Over 20% of all VFX workers in Soho are now BECTU members. Do you want to see crunch-time emails become a thing of the past? Then join us. Come along to a Thursday lunchtime gathering, and find out about our efforts in other companies.

What is your spare time worth to you?

Posted in Uncategorized

UK VFX Union featured on fxguide podcast!

fxguideIcon

Paul Evans, the BECTU national official for the vfx branch and Joe Pavlo, the vfx branch chair had a chat with Jeff Heuser from the fxguide podcast to talk about their work in the UK to establish a Visual Effects Union. A lot of ground was covered from the explosive growth of the vfx union in the UK over the last year, to some of the issues facing people working in the visual effects industry and a look ahead at the future of the union in the visual effects industry.

listen to the episode here:

fxpodcast #303: UK Union update

We discuss the latest info about UK visual effects artists who are seeking union representation. Joe Pavlo (artist) and Paul Evans (BECTU) are our guests. Unpaid overtime, fear, social media, how to organize, collusion, opting out of overtime… just a few of the things Joe and Paul discuss with our Jeff Heusser

also available to download in iTunes

Inspired? Why not come along to the Thursday VFX LunchMeet every week from 1-2pm in the courtyard at St. Anne’s Church, Wardour Street (nr. Shaftesbury Avenue) and find our more about the vfx union – or just cut to the chase and join the union right now!

Posted in BECTU, Media, News Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

VFX Branch wins award!

IMG_9647

At the BECTU National Conference over the weekend, the Visual Effects Branch was honoured with the Roger Bolton Memorial Award. It’s basically the unions “branch of the year” award and it was presented to members of the committee at the conference in recognition of our record breaking recruitment over the last year and our recognition campaigns at MPC and Framestore!

Come along to our Thursday VFX Lunchmeet today from 1-2pm at Jurassic Church (St. Anne’s, Wardour Street – nr. Shatesbury Avenue) so we can give each other high fives and pats on the back! 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!

1:00-2:00pm Thursday

The Jurassic Church

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

jurassic-church

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

Thursday VFX Lunchmeet back at the Jurassic Church today!

With London weather, you’ve gotta be prepared to grab some sunshine at a moments notice! Spring seems to be finally here and the weather is gorgeous, so we’re moving the Thursday Lunchmeet back to the courtyard at St. Anne’s Church on Wardour Street (a.k.a. The Jurassic Church)!

1:00-2:00 Thursday at The Jurassic Church

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

 

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! Come along and tell us what you think about your experiences with the HourlyRateCalculator! It’s going to be a beautiful day, and I’m promised the T-Rex will behave itself and stay in the enclosure the entire time.

 

1:00-2:00pm Thursday at

The Jurassic Church

(St. Anne’s, Wardour Street)

jurassic-church

We are going to be here this Thursday and every Thursday to help connect and motivate people who work in London visual effects! 

See you there! Bring along a friend! Make new friends! The VFX Union can only work for you when you get involved!

Look for the green flag!

img_1126-1

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

VFXForum Living Wage calculator for Nuke!

UPDATED! Now works in Nuke, Maya, Houdini and anything that uses Python!

Is unpaid overtime driving down your hourly rate below the Living Wage?

One of the problems with unpaid overtime in the visual effects industry is that although we frequently work an extra hour or two (or six!), very few of us stop and think about the effect on our wages. It never occurs to most people that an extra 2 hours in the evening effectively means being paid 20% less per hour!

For example, if someone is on an annual salary of £20K and they are working 40 hours per week, that works out to £9.62 per hour. This is OK. This VFX employee is earning just above the London Living Wage for the hours they put in at work.

But what if that same person on £20K ends up working an extra 20 hours of unpaid overtime one week? At this point, they are not only making well below the London Living Wage at £6.41 per hour, but now they are earning below the National Living Wage and that is actually illegal.

BECTU campaigns for every worker in the UK’s profitable Film and TV industries to be paid the London Living Wage (£9.40 per hour) as an absolute minimum and if people are being paid less than that because of unpaid overtime, we’d like to know about it.

It is illegal for you to be earning less than the National Living Wage which is currently £7.20 for people aged 25 and over or £6.70 for people aged 21-24. If you are earning less than this, then please let BECTU know. BECTU can help to take legal steps to ensure that employees are earning at least the National Living Wage and we will do it without identifying you personally.

So now for the fun bit…

Would you like a quick and easy way to calculate what you’re making per hour after factoring in unpaid overtime? We’ve knocked together a little Nuke script which will make calculating your hourly rate easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Download the text for our HourlyRateCalculator and copy/paste it in to your Nuke script. It will look like this:
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 15.03.01

Simply enter your annual salary and the hours you work per weekScreen Shot 2016-04-30 at 15.30.28

 

Load it in to the Viewer to see your calculated hourly rate.Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.37.32

 

There you go! I hope you all find this little Nuke script useful and illuminating. Play around with it. Try out different values for your salary and hours and see what comes out. The HourlyRateCalculator can be a valuable tool for people at all levels of experience and pay grades. Maybe that extra £2K they’re offering you to promote you to Lead on the next show is not going to be all that great once you factor in all the free overtime the facility will be expecting!

Please feel free to share this script with anyone and everyone in VFX. Go ahead and install it in your Nuke Plug Ins so you can check your hours any time you need to!

Update 1! Now available to download as a .nk file from Nukepedia!

Download the HourlyRateCalculator here!Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 23.35.07

Update 2! Here is the same calculator as a Python script – which you can use in Nuke, Maya, Houdini and other Python friendly apps!

HourlyRateCalculator (Python)screenshot1

screenshot2

Take the VFXforum Poll!

 

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

Thursday VFX LunchMeet!

kinglyCourt

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday April 28th  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingly Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

img_1126-1

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s funny because it’s true!

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday April 21st  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingly Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

img_1126-1

Posted in Uncategorized

Won’t I be fired if my employer finds out I’ve joined a union?

No – that would be illegal. UK law is crystal clear on this – no company can dismiss or discriminate against you for joining a union or taking part in it. As a member of BECTU, you get access to legal advice and representation. If a company tried to discriminate against you for being a member, we’d take them to an employment tribunal on your behalf and fight for your rights. We always protect our members.BECTU membership is also entirely confidential – the only people who know that you’re a member are the people you tell yourself. Many of our members are very open to their employers and each other about their membership, but if you’d rather keep your support private, then you don’t have to tell anyone.

See also:

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday April 21st  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingly Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

img_1126-1

Posted in Uncategorized

Large BECTU survey points to serious concerns from MPC’s visual effects workers

full article on BECTU’s website here

Bare necessities missing for VFX workers at MPC

“Moving Picture Company appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm” says BECTU, the media and entertainment union.

In a large-scale survey of people who have worked at London’s Moving Picture Company (MPC), conducted in the week leading up to the UK premiere ofJungle Book, BECTU has found a workforce, both past and present, that has serious concerns about the company’s coercive working culture, with widespread complaints from world-class VFX artists about pressures to work excessive unpaid overtime.

In late 2015, BECTU started actively recruiting at MPC, which provided VFX services on Jungle Book.  In campaigning for union recognition, members were taken aback by management’s hostility to this move; recruitment literature was removed and discussion about the union was banned in staff forums. Thankfully, part of the company’s attempts to keep the union out resulted in small improvements to management attitudes towards their staff, but – as BECTU’s survey shows – significant concerns remain.

In particular, members were conscious of unfair pressure resulting from the company’s culture of short-term contracts. MPC has an employee-profile that dramatically contradicts UK Screen’s claims that “91% of the UK VFX workforce have a permanent contract.”

Short term contracts increase workplace pressures

Instead, MPC appears to have an overwhelming preference for short-term contracts, with a surprising number of individual respondents (in free-text comments) making a direct link between this and the climate of pressure from managers, particularly on unpaid overtime.

Significant numbers of staff were prepared to say that:

  • MPC is not interested in a fair dialogue with independently-minded employees
  • they have little faith in the ‘Crew Forum’ as a means of resolving problems fairly (current employees were significantly sceptical)
  • work-life balance for VFX artists at MPC is often very bad.

There were widespread fears around:

  • refusing to work unpaid overtime
  • raising legitimate grievances with management
  • management finding out about individuals’ BECTU membership.

There was a significant number of respondents who complained of “unwelcome pressure” or feeling harassed by colleagues / management, and an even larger number of respondents who said that they knew of colleagues who had experienced such pressure. A very clear majority of the respondents who knew about unwelcome pressure believed that reporting such behaviour would be frowned upon (in many cases because management were the ones behaving badly).

Paul Evans, BECTU national official, supporting VFX workers said:

“These results are very disturbing and we hope that MPC will agree to work with us on a full independent survey on this subject so that it can be dealt with properly. The VFX sector is now a central part of the UK film industry. It is astonishing that most survey respondents were frightened that MPC would find out that they are members of a trade union, and that there was a widespread fear of raising concerns, reporting unwelcome pressure and asking for a responsive management.

“MPC appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm – particularly the way the business is structured to pressure people into working long hours without being paid for overtime. In a few clear cases, respondents reported direct bullying and intimidation from managers.

“If the UK VFX industry is to retain the talent that it needs to survive and grow, it needs to be a race to the top, and not to the bottom. We need London to lose its reputation for excessive unpaid overtime, and this forms part of BECTU’s wider campaign to ensure that everyone in the film industry is paid for all of the hours that they work.”

 

BECTU is the media and entertainment union for the UK

read the full article on BECTU’s website here

 

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday April 14th  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

img_1126-1

Posted in BECTU, Media, News Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

JOIN THE DISCUSSION! Sick Pay: Part 2

How does your sick pay stack-up?

On our previous blog post we talked about sick pay, but do you ever wonder how your sick pay might stack up comparably? How it might stack up to other unionized sick pay?

The VFX BECTU Union Branch welcomes any company’s decision to give employees entitlement to some sick pay and it’s great to see employees speaking up and having serious dialogue about sick pay with some employers, but in reality offering 0.5 days per completed month, up to a maximum of 5.5 days within the first year of employment is peanuts in comparison to other employers in the media and entertainment industries.

The fact that so many employees in VFX are on short-term contracts means that even this paltry offer rarely ever matures into anything that would cover more than a couple of days paid sickness leave. Especially when we as workers can feel guilty about using those days during crunch and having our colleagues pick-up the slack when we’re all a team and under the gun together. Not to mention that it seems more and more these days we are in shorter deadlines and crunchtime with more work to do than ever.

Those sick days are of course used or lost and do not accumulate and when you change jobs, you must reenter another qualifying period even if you are returning to a company whom you’ve been employed with before.

Although something is better than nothing, not every visual effects company has had this policy. In fact, while not London based, Rhythm and Hues actually offered cumulative employment periods. That mean that returning contract employees didn’t have to re-enter a qualifying period if rehired. Their previous time employed, even with breaks, was counted overall for qualifying for extra holidays, sick days and medical.

We are aware that the VFX companies have a joint HR working group that is hosted by UK Screen and establishing something like this as a cross-sector arrangement would be a welcome development for the companies to offer fairly standard sickness terms to their owns staff and could help freelancers carry days with them to new companies. We also think that a cross sector arrangement might be beneficial helping visual effects companies come up to par with similar employers in the media and entertainment industries.

BECTU has seen comparative surveys of London-based media companies holiday offerings and the BBC turns out to have the lowest sick-pay provision – and even they pay up to four weeks sick pay for each illness, and up to 13 weeks for all absences to all staff who have worked less than two years in the company (the entitlement doubles after two years). There is no qualifying period on this.

If anything, because so many staff are on short-term contracts, we would expect an employer like this to offer much more generous terms. In the West End Theatres, while there are qualifying periods for earning more than Statutory Sick Pay, the industry has recognised that short-term contracts are a problem and the employers who are members of the Society of West End Theatres often use ‘continuous employment in The West End’ rather than continuous employment with individual employers as the qualifying measure for terms and conditions that vary based on length of service.

This makes sense to us on at the VFX BECTU Branch, after all, many times it’s not the employees or the company’s fault when there are gaps in projects. We fully understand that things get pushed, deadlines change, and sequences get cut on the editing room floor. However, we must admit that this is felt most by those who have contributed so much to the success of countless Hollywood Blockbuster that make millions who inturn then must deal with uncertainty and gaps in employment. While the gaps may be unavoidable, surely starting over and over at the same companies and reentering qualifying periods is something we can change.  As shown above this would be completely achievable and is already done by the West End Theatres and indeed was even implemented by another visual effects company.

This small change could make a world of difference for visual effects employees. It could even be broadened into a shared pension scheme, so workers don’t have to continuously roll individual pensions from one company to the next as they switch jobs and instead work through a “continuous employment in London Visual Effects” as the qualifying measure for terms and conditions that vary based on the length of service.

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday March 24  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag

green-flag

 

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