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?

UK VFX Union featured on fxguide podcast!

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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!

VFX Branch wins award!

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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)

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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!

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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

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