Mass redundancy at MPC following their triumphant Oscar and BAFTA wins for The Jungle Book.

From its early small but ambitious beginnings in the 1990’s, London has grown into an incredible world leading vfx powerhouse. That the four latest Visual Effects Oscars in a row have all gone to London teams attests to that fact.

  • 2013 Gravity (Framestore)
  • 2014 Interstellar (Double Negative)
  • 2015 Ex Machina (Double Negative)
  • 2016 The Jungle Book (MPC)

All this stunning talent and all this world leading innovation right here in this great city and yet Londons visual effects facilities still think they’re in a race to the bottom.

A few weeks ago it was all smiles in MPC’s London compositing department as the talented team posed for photographs with their well deserved Oscar statue. This week, the same comp team has been notified that they will be made made redundant and replaced with low paid student labour subsidised by government grants.

Harsh? Yes, but it’s only one more example of how the visual effects facilities in London are shooting themselves in the foot by treating their immensely talented and passionate workforce as temporary and disposable.

 

 

This has to stop!

As a union, BECTU believes in competition between VFX houses. It drives creativity and innovation. It rewards talent. It’s good for the film industry and the workers alike. Or at least it should be.

In London, companies could compete with each other in important areas such as….

  1. efficiency and productivity
  2. innovation in terms of technology and business processes
  3. good management and leadership
  4. the ability to attract, train, retain and incentivise the best staff
  5. the ability to spot talent and nurture it – to be able to spot the key people from a crowd of artists and technicians
  6. flexibility, diversity and adaptability

The London VFX houses have gone a slightly different route. Instead of all of these good forms of competition, they seem to have chosen one important battlefield above the others: The ability to get VFX employees to work for free.

This is often done by stealth – appeals to pride in your work (just before you find out that you’re not even going to get a credit). Pizza at your desk! Sometimes it’s more brazen. Requests in writing – actual emails – urging people to work seven days in a row in breach of UK working time laws.

If you want to see a senior exec from a London VFX house really bristle with anger, just mention that you think that their company engages in bullying in order to get work done for free. They hate that! Yet there is no denying that the culture of short fixed term contracts has the effect of nailing fearful artists to their desks long after they should have gone home.

When the facilities push their employees for unpaid overtime – and we’ve seen examples of people working 10… 20… even 50 or more extra hours unpaid in one week – they directly and quantifiably damage their competitive advantage on points no. 1, no. 3 and no. 4 (above).

Do you really think that workers who are glued to a monitor for 11 or 12 hours a day (on a good day) are working efficiently and productively? All of the evidence we’ve seen tells us that this obsession with squeezing long hours out of employees means that most of them are working sub-optimally.

 

 

It’s a false economy!

If companies had fewer fixed-term contract artists quaking in their boots, the companies would have to invest a bit more in good management instead of low-level intimidation to get work out of the door.

We have seen some examples of great management in London VFX houses, but we’ve also seen lousy levels of bullying – and it’s got to stop.

Finally, attracting and retaining talent? We’ve lost count of the number of emails we’ve had from VFX artists saying that they’d had enough of London – the hours are too long, and that they’re going to work elsewhere because the management isn’t up to scratch and that they’re treated like cash cows here.

It’s time to end the race to the bottom in London’s VFX industry. It’s time for the Visual Effects Union.