Shame Day: Hollywood and the VFX Industry

Let me begin this by saying that I did not watch the Oscars on Sunday night. I made a little joke on Facebook about how I didn’t have to because everyone else was doing it for me, and 14 people liked it, so I’m pretty funny. Anyway, let’s move this along.

Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Yann Martel novel Life of Pi won the award for best VFX [visual effects], which I can only imagine was deserved because, well, I have not seen it. Bill Westenhofer, the VFX supervisor for Rhythm and Hues Studios, was giving his acceptance speech when he was cut off by music, as pointed out by Variety’s David S. Cohen:

Word on the street is that this is because of what he was about to talk about. See, it would be wonderful for Rhythm and Hues that they received so much promotion due to winning an Academy Award if they weren’t bankrupt. Westenhofer had planned on addressing the crisis within the industry during his speech, and was thankfully able to voice his thoughts afterwards to writer Bill Desowitz for his blog, where he said:

At a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, that visual effects companies are struggling.  And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians.  Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by people pushing buttons.  We’re artists, and if we don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to loses the artistry.  If anything, Life of Pi shows that we’re artists and not just technicians.

During his acceptance speech for best director Ang Lee forgot to thank his VFX collaborators at Rhythm and Hues, which prompted a letter from Phillip Broste, the lead compositor at Zoic Studios. It’s quite long, but I feel like quoting two of the last few paragraphs, because they really say quite a lot:

Mr. Lee, I do believe that you are a thoughtful and brilliant man. And a gifted filmmaker.  But I also believe that you and everyone in your tier of our business is fabulously ignorant to the pain and turmoil you are putting artists through.  Our employers scramble to chase illegal film subsidies across the globe at the behest of the film studios.  Those same subsidies raise overhead, distort the market, and cause wage stagnation in what are already trying economic times.  Your VFX are already cheaper than they should be.  It is disheartening to see how blissfully unaware of this fact you truly are.

By all accounts, R+H is a fantastic place to work; a truly great group of people who treat their employees with fairness and respect.  Much like Zoic Studios, the fabulous company that I am proud to work for.  But I am beginning to wonder if these examples of decency will be able to survive in such a hostile environment.  Or if the horror stories of unpaid overtime and illegal employment practices will become the norm, all because you and your fellow filmmakers “would like it to be cheaper.”

It’s no mystery that most summer blockbusters these days are built on the backs of animators, artists who spend hours upon hours trying to perfect the texture of wood grain or the way light reflects off of the ocean. Rhythm and Hues won two awards for Life of Pi, both the Academy Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Special Effects; they won both awards in 2007-2008 for The Golden Compass. This studio going bankrupt is like . . . . well . . . . an award-winning studio running out of money because they weren’t getting paid enough.

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People who work in VFX are just as much artists as painters, musicians, and photographers, and all have the right to be fairly compensated for their work. Good art takes time and effort, and if Hollywood refuses to give those in VFX the respect and money that they deserve then we need to let them know how wrong they are. Tell people about what’s happening, tweet with the hashtag #VFXprotest, check out VFX Solidarity International, and don’t be okay with Samuel L. Jackson talking over Robert Downey Jr. just because you like the guy as an actor:

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6 responses to “Shame Day: Hollywood and the VFX Industry

  1. Articulate as always, Evan. And that video is appropriately frustrating. Gah.

  2. WATCHING THAT FRUSTRATES THE HAIRS OFF MY FACE. STUPID JAWS THEME

  3. The video has now apparently been taken down. I can’t watch it, and the message says it’s been taken down.

  4. Pingback: Culture War Reporters

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