UPDATE: Organizers of the VFX artists’ protest scheduled during President Obama’s visit to DreamWorks Animation on Tuesday say they now plan to march between Griffith Manor Park and the street. The group has also announced the name of its CVD campaign coalition: Association of Digital Artists, Professionals & Technicians (ADAPT).
PREVIOUS, 1:34 PM: Barack Obama’s visit to DreamWorks Animation tomorrow will be matched by a protest by the VFX professionals behind an anti-subsidy tariff campaign, but the organizers say they don’t have the president — or DWA head Jeffrey Katzenberg – in their sights. “We are not trying to embarrass DreamWorks Animation at all,” the industry blogger known as VFX Soldier told Deadline. “This is about raising awareness about what is happening outside the walls of DreamWorks: The absolute collapse of VFX employment.”
Obama is in town today and Tuesday for midterm election fundraisers as well as his DWA appearance. After a studio tour and a meeting with industry leaders, Obama is expected to speak about the economy and the strength of the entertainment industry in his DWA address scheduled for 12:15 PM Tuesday. During his DWA visit VFX supporters will gather just under a mile away at Glendale’s Griffith Manor Park. The VFX activists are aghast that Obama would praise employment at a studio hit by layoffs in the last year to an animation and VFX community that’s struggling to survive. Pink slips delivered by DWA earlier this year were the result of changes in the studio’s production schedule, not outsourcing or similar activities. Sources tell Deadline that many of those let go from DWA have since been rehired as the studio has new films in the pipeline. Still, everyone in VFX feels the instability of the industry. “We’re trying to prevent the embarrassment,” said VFX Soldier. “Why would you go to L.A.? This is ground zero.”
While the president won’t see the protesting VFXers, the White House is clearly sensitive to perception about Obama speaking at the HQ of his biggest donor bundler. “DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in Southern California and the fact of the matter is Mr. Katzenberg’s support for the president’s policies has no bearing on our decision to visit there. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight the success of one business and the success that they’re having in creating jobs in Southern California,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest today on Air Force One according to pool reports. Similar to the fundraiser last week for Gov. Jerry Brown at Disney Studios boss Alan Horn’s home, a number of other studio chiefs such as Warner Bros’ Kevin Tsujihara and CBS’ Les Moonves are expected to attend Obama’s speech at DWA.
Protest organizers tell us they see their interests and Katzenberg’s interests as aligned and hope to see a show of support Tuesday from DreamWorks Animation artists at the unionized studio. Dave Rand, the VFX artist who orchestrated the headline-grabbing Oscars plane protest in February, has had 500 green T-shirts sent to DWA in hopes that the studio’s artists will “Go Green” in front of Obama. Job insecurity affects artists across the industry, says Rand. “My friends at DWA are scared for their jobs every day [because of the vulnerability and project-based nature of VFX work]. A lot of people are going to wear shirts Tuesday but ‘I wonder if they’ll let us’ is the thought floating around,” he said. Whether the studio allows it is in question. “It is highly unlikely that anyone will be wearing those green shirts when the president speaks,” a source close to the events told Deadline.
Organizers say their long-term goal for tomorrow’s gathering is to build support within the VFX industry and media for their campaign to appeal the WTO for countervailing duties (CVD) that would impose a tariff on foreign subsidies. Efforts to unionize the scattered and global VFX industry, a challenging prospect that’s been met with mixed response from the VFX community, have taken a backseat. “Right now there are just no jobs to protect. We have to stop the bleeding first,” said VFX Soldier, who’s been leading the charge with Rand and fellow VFX figures Scott Squires and Scott Ross. Law firm Picard Kentz & Rowe has been tapped to rep the group’s CVD interests. But the VFX organizers don’t expect President Obama to directly support their cause. “We’ve already won. We’ve already enlightened the president,” said Rand.