Labor Series Part One: Unpaid Artists

In part one of a new series on Labor issues we talk with Dave Rand who has taken on the role as spokeperson for about 100 artists who worked on a film in Canada at Meteor Studios who were not paid for the last few months of work as the company filed bankruptcy. This is an important story and a great conversation about the state of visual effects as a business.

Dave Rand

In this fxpodcast we meet Dave Rand. Dave’s path to his current career as a supervisor for Visual Effects is unique. He started as an artist, got a degree in pre-med, was a social worker, owned a construction company, worked at the Sports Club LA, and was a broker for Oppenheimer. While in that role he came across two proposals, one for Alias and one for Wavefront. While reading these from a financial perspective he was drawn to the imagery and his artistic side led him to find out more.

After a hiatus Dave re-connected with some investment clients who were in the business and that started him in his current career working on films like Flubber, Mr. Magoo, Batman & Robin, The Patriot, 8 Legged Freaks, Scorpion King, The Matrix and most recently Journey to The Center of the Earth. IMDB.

fxguide came to know Dave while doing research for a series of podcasts on Labor Laws and visual effects artists. Dave started this thread at CG Society that has generated well over 10,000 page views and brings to light a situation where over 100 artists have not been paid for work that they did. Here is the press release that Dave put out:

JOURNEY 3D – Unpaid, Digital FX artists seek back pay of $1 million from Discovery Communications and Evergreen Films

For Immediate Release

When Journey To The Center Of The Earth Movie 3D, the blockbuster and ground-breaking 3-D stereoscopic film starring Brendan Fraser, is released Friday, July 11, a group of digital effects artists from former Meteor Studios who worked on the film will continue a half-year later to wonder where their paychecks are.

According to David Rand, special effects artists worked for Meteor Studios, a company established by Discovery Communications of Virginia (Discovery) (owners of the Discovery Channel) and Evergreen Films of Pacific Palisades (Evergreen). During October, November and December of 2007, artists worked without pay; some put in 100-hour weeks and stayed loyal to the project with the promise of pay as soon as the accounting glitch was fixed. Most of the artists who applied their talents to the creation of the film have families, and half are American freelance artists like Rand, whose hope for a bright Christmas was extinguished when all artists were laid off without pay in December upon delivery of the film.

Over $1 million is due from Discovery Communications of Virginia and Evergreen Films of Pacific Palisades.

Dave Rand’s is particularly vocal about, what he calls an injustice, because accordding to Rand, he was asked to keep his crew working without pay.”A million dollars is not money – money is what you take to the supermarket to buy some bananas. A million dollars is power, and it shows a company’s true character. Being a family-oriented network, Meteor, Discovery and Evergreen should be ashamed of themselves.”

Discovery and Evergreen initiated bankruptcy proceedings for the studio, formerly known as Meteor Studios of Montreal, leaving artists without jobs or back pay. The action extended damage to other studios with less than deep pockets; Canadian banks refused lines of credit or stopped existing ones. Rand says many artists had to leave Canada and seek work in other countries.

Rand also reports a new company has been formed at the former Meteor Studios’ location named, “Lumiere VFX,” and that former Meteor Studios’ artists have reported being offered back pay to come on board at Lumiere. He has discovered many of the same management team are in place or have become partners in the new studio, and Rand states that several artists have commented on work to be done for the former owners, Discovery or Evergreen. “Although there are claims that Meteor’s payroll was insured,” said Rand, “this action – of hiring – may be interpreted by the insurance company as a reason not to pay. The payroll insurance company is believed to be fighting the claim.”

The Meteor Studios’ artists have up to this point contacted:

– The Governor General of Canada responded six months later with a form letter that did not answer any of the questions asked.

– The Labor Board of Canada has been unable to get any results to date and cannot help foreign artists who worked on the film. Statements have been made indicating that causing trouble for American companies is not in Canada’s best interest.

– Brendan Fraser. Speaking with his manager’s office has not produced a response from Brendan.

Rand suggests that examining the timeline of the FX industry reveals that FX artists are going through the same problems the rest of talent in the industry experienced decades ago. “This action (by Discovery and Evergreen) should receive the attention of the small animators unions and will hopefully see its ranks grow as it provides a perfect example for them,” stated Rand.

While viewers might imagine Journey 3D without Fraser, “you cannot imagine it without FX. We are very important to the product – all top-grossing films now contain extensive effects work. However, we usually end up at the bottom of the credit list, if at all. Meteor studios did extensive work on the film 300, and not one of the artists received a credit. Now, not getting paid seems to have become the practice,” added Rand.

Rand said one young writer with the Canadian Press reported on the story last week (…-quebecois.html).
“We think this is news. Unlike the recent writers’ strike where writers were looking for more money on the back-end, we just want to get paid for the work we performed. We have been looking for a writer with influence who has not lost the nerve to write for change to this valuable part of the film and television industry.

“We want the public to buy tickets and see the film because we are extremely proud of the FX work done on the film. It is a wonderful film exhibiting a new technology,” concluded Rand.

Dave is leading the charge to try and get these artists paid. As you hear Dave talk you can hear the passion for the business and the art involved. In every conversation I have had with him he has emphasized he is proud of the work on Journey to the Center of the Earth and hopes people will see the film. He also raises some excellent points regarding how the work is being bid, paid for and done.

When you look at the podcast we did earlier about insane post production schedules for feature films, look at the VES White Paper “The State of Visual Effects In the Entertainment Industry” and now this story you start to see that this part of the industry is reaching a maturation point and that it may be time for some changes.

There has been limited media attention paid to the story of these artists not being paid, one great article is in Playback magazine.

The youtube video Dave mentioned was “Digital Grunt” and it can be seen here.

In the second part of this series we will talk with Steve Hulett from The Animation Guild.

UPDATE August 1, 2008: The New York Post’s Page Six has picked up the story. This the first “mainstream” media outlet that has chosen to cover the story.

Also Dave has now been contacted by Brendan Fraser and he is trying to help.

We have a thread going on in the forums here at fxguide, check that out here.

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