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

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.

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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