The VES has issued an open letter called ‘Call to Action’. A copy is reprinted at the bottom of this article. In this letter the VES primarily asks for two things:
1. A VFX congress for all artists around the world to discuss issues and concerns
2. Increased tax incentives for California.
The second of these points is further highlighted by including a sample letter that VES members can send to “GOVERNOR BROWN AND THE CA STATE LEGISLATURE”. fxguide presumes it is not expected all the VES members in NY, Chicago, New Mexico, Vancouver, Toronto, London, Sydney, Wellington, Singapore or anywhere else are required to lobby for tax incentives that would directly work against their own jobs.
On Twitter the reaction was immediate with an experienced artist posting:
“Dear VES: “fighting fire with fire” doesn’t mean taking a flamethrower to an already burning building. Since apparently you’re confused.” @DorkmanScott
And there was this from an artist in New Zealand:
“@VFXSociety “Stop subsidies! Stop subsidies! Ss… Subsidies! Give us subsidies!” Congrats you just kicked the global unity idea in the balls.” @JasonCampbell.
This last tweet strikes at the heart of the problem the VES faces; many people believe subsidies and tax concessions are a part of the problem and not the cure. The VES only fighting for Californian jobs seems, let us say, unusually focused on just some of its membership at the direct cost of other members.
The congress is the next major move from the VES, and the Society states “it is hoped that this effort will lead to a number of direct follow up actions that will gain consensus from visual effects artists everywhere.” The congress will be an online meetup of visual effects artists from around the world in various cities (the details are still to be worked out) during which ideas can be put forward and discussed openly and honestly, as Jeff Okun explains further in our audio interview below.
Certainly, the VES is in a hard position. Normally a union or guild, such as the Directors Guild of America (DGA), would speak for a group, but unions are very country focused. The American Screen Actors Guild (SAG) does not influence policy directly in say New Zealand (where NZ Actor’s Equity merged with the Australian Union of Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)). Thus a studio would deal with SAG in the US, and MEAA in New Zealand. If the VES seeks to form some negotiating body worldwide it has an unprecedented task ahead of it. If it chooses to reduce to just American issues, it flies in the face of its global aspirations, and risks splintering into regional separate organizations. Furthermore any localized American body would be in direct conflict with those regional bodies, especially over subsidies.
fxguide contacted several leading VFX facilities on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific for their reaction. After some discussion, all declined to comment on the record. Which begs the question – what is the VES’s role here? Is the VES speaking for the artists that are its members? The companies that support it? What should or even what can the VES do?
Does the VES want to take the place of a trade association, a union or something new?
It appears that the VES wants a central role in the discussion. After the Open Letter email was posted by the VES, fxguide contacted Jeff Okun, the Chair of the Visual Effects Society, for a response. First off, Okun replied to our request with email responses, which are reproduced below (as Okun was apparently quoted out of context in a previous article about the recent VFX protest prior to the Oscars, we have included all his comments to fxguide below, with only very minimal editing that we believe is in no way substantial).
We also talked to Okun in a subsequent telephone call, and we put these questions about the role and scope of the VES, the California subsidies and the upcoming Congress directly to him.
Jeff Okun’s email responses
fxguide: At a time when many people are upset over subsidies and tax incentives, is it the official position of the VES that it is OK so long as it helps the Californian VES members? Leaving aside the rest of the world, is the VES for incentives that run against the interests of all American states other than California?
Jeff Okun: We are suddenly in a triage situation, we did what we did to staunch the blood flowing in the immediate present so that it can live long enough to attempt to solve the issues at hand. You can argue its pros and cons endlessly and find consensus on all sides of that argument. Right now subsidies exist in other states and countries. The call is an attempt to level the playing field. In the short run. It is not the job of the VES to go political in this manner. But it is the job of the VES to give our members the tools and information they need to survive.
THE BIG THING IS THE CONGRESS. Currently our industry is spending a great deal of time fighting EACH OTHER. There are factions that do nothing but provoke and cloud the bigger picture issues, derail movements and pit one point of view against the other. And they do this for their own reasons – some of which are moral and heartfelt.
It is very difficult to do everything for everyone at the same time. And in the coming days there will be announcements and invitations sent out to the ALL GLOBAL VFX WORKERs to attend this Congress – and that is important. The point is to hear all sides, find consensus where it can be found, elect or appoint representatives, empower them to walk together to present to and work with those that can actually make the changes we all need (which need to still be formally defined and agreed upon in each area).
The questions we have to answer:
1) What do we want – in detail and specific. You will find that we the artists and facility owners are not even in alignment on this simple question. We need to get a consensus or groups of consensus in order to move forward.
2) Who does the negotiating for the VFX Workers with the studios and other facilities? In other words: Who does the other side talk too?
3) Will the VFX WORKERS abide by what is negotiated or won?
fxguide: What advice do you have for all the regional members of the VES whose dues are now funding an effort to directly politically influence work to just California?
Okun: No monies are being spent to fund this specific call to action at this time. The call was for people to contact their government to let them know what they want.
fxguide: Is not the call for ALL artists around the world to join the VFX congress not in direct conflict with the VES promoting direct subsidies for just California?
Okun: Absolutely not! Again, the VES is providing information for members in order that they make their own decisions and do what they feel needs to be done.
fxguide: You directly quote R&H but vast amounts of their staff and offices are not based in California. Is the VES in support of only R&H Californian workers? How do you think a R&H non-Californian artist might feel if via the VES action, R&H could get Californian subsides and these foreigners lose their jobs?
Okun: Not at all. What good will it do anyone if California closes down? After that geographic location who will be next? What happens to Vancouver, London, Wellington, etc. when their incentives run out? It is no longer a matter of keeping the work local, but keeping localities open to do the work and insuring that they get paid fairly for what they do.
fxguide: Your open letter reads like California has some right to visual effects jobs? In the opinion of the VES what is wrong with VFX jobs being in London, Vancouver or Wellington? And if the only answer is based on tax incentives – then why push for more tax incentives?
Okun: I think you have framed the question wrong. We are for VFX workers – everywhere. But we feel that the artists and facilities need to be paid fairly for that work. We do not agree that this is an “Us” vs. “Them” situation. We are Global because the industry is global. The issue is how to not only keep the industry alive, but thriving and with things like job continuity, fair pay for what we contribute to the project and some basic human rights as talented artists – not assembly line workers.
Copy of the Call to Action Letter:
VES OPEN LETTER – CALL TO ACTION
In light of current events, the Visual Effects Society (VES), an honorary body comprised of the very best visual effects artists around the world, today issues two calls to action:
First, we call upon Governor Brown and the State Legislature to immediately expand its tax incentive program for the entertainment industry and to include a focused approach concentrated on the visual effects and post production sectors of the industry.
Secondly, because we have reached a tipping point for the visual effects industry and there is much pent up energy, anger and frustration right now, the VES, under its good offices, is organizing a VFX Congress to take place within the next few weeks to allow all artists from around the world to share their concerns to find common ground on the issues that face us today. It is hoped that this effort will lead to a number of direct follow up actions that will gain consensus from visual effects artists everywhere. Everyone is invited and should attend.
As has become all too apparent over the past few years, and especially in the past few weeks regarding the status of Rhythm & Hues, Digital Domain, DreamWorks, and other visual effects facilities, the future for professionals who work in the visual effects industry – and the entertainment industry at large – in California is in serious jeopardy.
We certainly recognize that we live in a global economy and in fact, VES has members in 30 countries around the world. Many of those countries – and many states elsewhere in the US – offer aggressive tax incentives – which seek to lure visual effects work to their communities and away from our state. While California finally created a tax incentive program in 2009 (AB1069, Chapter 731, which was recently extended it to 2017), it is woefully inadequate to the needs of today’s entertainment industry. In effect, thousands of talented visual effects artists are joining the unemployment lines or becoming “migrant film workers”, chasing the work outside our borders because that’s where the jobs have been going and are still going.
The amazing irony is that while 47 of the top 50 films of all time are visual effects driven and billions of dollars of profits are generated yearly, the actual people who create the work are becoming an endangered species in California. In short, Hollywood, the birthplace of all this art and commerce, is quickly becoming the land where creative dreams die on the vine and pink slips for dispossessed artists are being issued at an alarming rate.
We know that there are some out there who are calling for the elimination of all subsidies & tax incentives everywhere around the world. We think that’s a great idea and if there were a magic button that could be pressed to make that a reality, we would press it in a nanosecond. Why? Because California can compete with anyone, anywhere if there’s a level playing field.
But in today’s global economy, where many hundreds of localities around the world are feverishly devising new ways to make California’s piece of the entertainment pie smaller, the fact that California’s program doesn’t meet it’s current needs (it only allocates $100 million yearly … which meets the needs of only about 20% of the work that would stay in California otherwise. For comparison purposes, New York caps its program at $420 million yearly and both Louisiana and Georgia are uncapped in the amount of incentives they offer), and is recklessly negligent to the thousands of visual effects professionals who are daily losing their jobs to other locales around the world. This not only hurts those artists, but also California’s economy because thousands of good paying jobs wind up buttressing the economies of states and countries elsewhere and the technological advances that otherwise would be birthed in California are now taking root elsewhere.
According to a Milken Institute report from July 2010, commenting on the changing entertainment industry economy in California since 2008, their “research shows that if California had managed to retain the 40 percent share of North American employment it once enjoyed, 10,600 direct jobs would have been preserved here in 2008. Furthermore, those direct jobs would have had broader economic impact, generating an additional 25,500 jobs after rippling through other sectors. If the state had maintained its former level of dominance, a total of 36,000 jobs would have been saved, generating $2.4 billion in wages and $4.2 billion in output.”
But until such time as all tax incentives everywhere are a thing of the past, California will need to take action– right now – or we’ll lose many thousands more jobs and Hollywood will soon be the equivalent of an empty storefront.
If you support this call to action for a larger incentive program in California that matches the needs of filmmakers and would keep jobs here, then send letters to our state lawmakers that urges them to get to work immediately to increase our incentive program. (Ed. Included was a sample letter to the Governor).
Additionally, for the benefit of our membership and visual effects professionals worldwide, we will work with our global VES Sections and others to promote a healthy and vibrant visual effects industry in every country where visual effects are created. It is for all of our worldwide colleagues – here in California and everywhere else – that we hope a VFX Congress can bring us all together in a truly meaningful way. Details of when and where the Congress will take place will be forthcoming. Together we can make amazing things happen.
As always, feel free to send us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visual Effects Society
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