When a VFX town hall was held back in March, the visual effects community was in a state of panic, unsure of how best to unite to battle subsidies, runaway productions, untenable working conditions and other issues endemic to the industry. A follow-up event held last night in LA (and online from San Rafael and Vancouver — watch it here) focused movement toward forming a VFX union, but it marked only slight progress for organizing efforts. With many LA VFX artists preoccupied by the work that’s draining away from the region to other subsidized cities, community meetings like this remain hung up on the kinds of nightmare stories of extreme work days and paycheck delays that keep circulating around the biz. “I bought my co-worker toothpaste because she didn’t have money to afford it,” said VFX artist Diana Marie Wells, late of infamous NewBreed VFX, who streamed in from Montreal where she’s been battling alongside other artists for payment owed.
If momentum picks up in favor of unionizing, it might stem from IATSE addressing what affects artists first: fighting for fair working conditions and payment protocol that’s lacking in the most egregious of VFX shop violators. But the process will be a long march. And after the spike of industry outrage and unionizing interest that exploded when Oscar-winner Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt in February attracting media attention and international support, momentum has downshifted considerably. “I would say it’s normalized,” says Animation Guild/IATSE Local 839 rep Steve Kaplan. “It’s always going to move at this pace.”
Still, slowly but surely “artists are finally starting to consider unionizing as a serious option,” says one VFX organizer. “People think it can actually be possible – perception is changing in our favor.” It takes 33% of a shop’s employees signing cards to request an election for unionization, and 50% + 1 voting in favor to win. IATSE reps are looking for a more comfortable 70% margin to move forward with a VFX union. While March’s “Pi Day” Town Hall meeting drew a SRO crowd and a spike in rep card submissions, “lots of people right now are just flat scared,” said Kaplan. “But overall you’re seeing increased knowledge [among VFX artists] and the option of unionization has spread among the community in LA.”