Open Letter To James Cameron: Fairness For Visual Effects Artists

15 thoughts on “Open Letter To James Cameron: Fairness For Visual Effects Artists”

  1. Thanks for posting this link.
    It would be interesting to see how the readers of fxguide would vote if you created a poll and asked them “What is the main reason you went to see Avatar?”

    1. Groundbreaking Visual Effects.
    2. Actors who starred in the film.
    3. Story.
    4. 3D.
    5. It’s a James Cameron film, hype!

    1. I have to say I agree completely. Like Scott Ross said in his excellent fxguide podcast a few weeks ago, while something like Titanic will draw in many viewers because of the interest in the story and actors, the fact is simply that you cannot have a film like that without a sinking ship! In modern visual effects driven films, the overall visual effects experience and the level of quality that we have come to expect and demand places the vfx and the collective artistry of those who create it right up there in the ranks with an A list actor and it should be respected as such. I can’t help but feel that a lot of this stems from the fact that there is such a great demand and desire to work in the visual effects industry, that the studios feel that the artists may freely be shat upon because if you don’t like it, there are a million other people clamoring for your job…which in my opinion, is really low. Talented artists should be respected and treated as such.

  2. I think before thinking about artists they should do something to rescue VFX studios from producers or production houses. Once the studios are given enough respect and remuneration for what they do then it’s their duty to treat artist and everyone involved in their team the same way. I believe it is not a bottom end problem but the whole VFX industry tree is facing the same issue one way or another.

    From Scott Ross’s podcast I think VFX studios are more doomed compare to artists who at least still will be able to survive in some way.

  3. it ludicrous suggesting that visual effects artists be given points in the film. The main thing of value in that letter is highlighting the need for a regulated set of working conditions and a review of the way in which artists are forced to work in extreme conditions. The industry is still so immature and exploitative. With the exception of medical interns I have never heard of anyone doing the sort of hours and extreme un-compensated overtime that I have seen in this industry.

    Groups like VES have contributed nothing to their members in terms of support or a platform from which to voice these issues. They are basically just a social club for some old school vfx folks living in LA.

    1. one thing that is NEVER mentioned is that there are such things as Labour Laws, you CANNOT sign away your rights, no contract can be made that breaks the law.
      if you don’t know what your rights are – find out.

      Unions are not the answer here – artists need to know their rights under the law and speak up for themselves, and we also need to stop saying ‘yes’ to every damn thing (illegal # of hours in a work week, unpaid overtime – this is illegal in Canada and I’m sure in the US, etc).

      as for getting points on a film – insanity…do drivers get points? caterers? builders?

      1. Sorry but have to disagree with goldfarb. If you start “speaking for yourself” you’ll get no contracts anymore after that and that’s all. What would you like to be: “an unemployed and UNPAID fighter for human rights” or “a poorly PAID sweatshop slave”? For people who have to earn their living there’s no choice, I’m afraid.

        The answer here may be, I think, a kind of tax regulation: if you are a producer in the US and you find a sweatshop in China, for instance, ready to do some work for 1 peanut – it’s OK to pay them their peanut… but then you have to pay 2 peanuts taxes for using foreign labor. The tax should be equal to the extra profit of purchasing work abroad, that’s the idea.

          1. Goldfarb:
            For all practical purposes, there is no limit to the number of hours Visual Effects artists work per week. As a professional and creative industry, I believe we are exempt from most US overtime laws. In any case, most companies simply report 40-hour weeks on timesheets anyway.

  4. In hierarchical order:

    1. VFX
    2. Story
    3. 3D
    4. VFX & Story
    5. VFX & Story

    Cant help it i’m a VFX Junkie 😀

    (Just a point about something that was said in the letter)
    I do believe that, since the western world have spear headed this industry they ought to help 3rd world countries like India, China & Malaysia inculcate proper work standards. I hope VFX company owners who setup shop in these countries don’t just come in and exploit the artist for cheaper cost because this will only hit them back in the long run.

    And you know us Asians once we start under cutting it can go very low. So I hope they dont or it may snow ball into bigger problems. (I hate getting paid peanuts even more so when I am expected to do a gorillas job)

    I enjoyed the podcast with Scott Ross and couldn’t agree with him more. And in time I would assume VFX companies will get more and more saturated with companies opening around the world.

    Sigh… doesn’t look to good.

    1. douglas_prawnhead

      Sadly, I think this is a battle that is being rapidly lost. Studios and producers are the equivalent of huge corporations, always looking for lower cost in the short term at the expense of the greater good of the industry.

      In short, they ARE looking to exploit. They don’t have a problem with their shoes being made in sweatshops, they won’t have a problem with their roto jobs being done in them either.

  5. Ha, this all nice and dandy but Cameron is also a business man and probably also has his interests in cheaper visual effects 🙂

    Besides recognition translates into power which ends into money. So basically more recognition to visual effects artists means more power which consequently will lead to pricier vfx. And pricier vfx means less money for other bits of a film or higher budgets that end up increasing the risks involved. Directors don’t like risky projects that much because if things go south studios will put them in the fridge, and studios like them even less.

    But VFX professionals have a additional problem in all that. Most are not directly attached to the film production it self in terms of money, but attached to a company that is charging the production of the film. So, pricier vfx do not automatically translate into more smiles on the pockets of vfx artists. In the end I doubt the equation would change that much in favor of artists.

    I think it’s way too late for this, ten or more years late in fact. With the current economic situation it’s the wrong time to start to demand more.

    There is a whole bunch of things that are wrong when it comes to the vfx business and the way it’s artist deal with things.

    But I do agree that the credits order are way out of place when it comes to vfx artists. In films that are completely vfx oriented like 2012 the names of vfx artists should be right on the top. Specially since in those cases all that is left from the film is post work (vfx, grading, editing, etc).

    Anyway… I doubt Cameron will get involved into this.

  6. I think it is good to be a bit more specific. Work conditions vary greatly from company to company.
    On Avatar we worked long hours but got paid quite well and did get time and a half above a certain number of hours (at weta at least).
    I think other parts of the industry could be improved as per the open letter, but I was quite happy with my experience on Avatar. Also I think we artists are our own worst enemies some times – wanting to do great work regardless of the pay or conditions. But in the case of weta, at least you look at the bank balance at the end of the hard work and smile.
    No hours were worked without pay at weta and I felt that I could have worked less hours if I had wanted to. However that is not the case at some other companies.
    I would actually like it if James Cameron did champion this topic however I don’t think he has much to gain in getting involved.

  7. Since I started in the film business as a kid doing craft service 24 years ago, and now I study VFX, I think I can add my 2 cents to this open letter.

    In the US, the main crew base are often members of I.A.T.S.E. or International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees. I’m a member of local 484 in Texas. But I didn’t start out that way.

    The complaint about mistreatment to Mr. Cameron is no different than any other craft working in the film industry back in the 80’s or even today. Location film making by the studios became prominent in the 80’s and most states didn’t have any sort of union representation. Crew members would work a 24 hour day and get no over time, or double time.

    In one case, we didn’t even get straight pay. The crew had to accept a crisp $100 bill for 4 weeks of overtime, which amounted to less than a $1.00 per overtime hour.

    We still have assistant directors in Texas who are not represented by a union working 18 hours days without lunch. I was just asked the other day to forgo per diem and housing as a distant hire, which equals about half of the low budget daily wage.

    VFX is threatened with India, and US crew members are threatened with Canada and Prague. In our case, Canada has been winning productions for the past several years. Canada makes this all cyclical, because Canada is winning productions because of their VFX advancements

  8. “Also, editors and VFX Supervisors often make more money than the directors and cinematographers.”

    For what films?

  9. Maybe I don’t understand the problem … or maybe I do.

    As an engineer for the past 30 years, I’ve worked as an salaried employee, an hourly contractor, a fixed price project consultant and ran my own small business. In my early years as a salaried worker the companies expected long work hours when there was a crisis. Eventually I realized that some of those companies made sure there was always a crisis.

    I began to feel abused so what did I do? Did I join a union? Did I organize the other engineers and demand better working hours? No. I just found another job … or created one … and it usually paid better.

    Nobody can abuse me without my cooperation. So that’s the part I just don’t understand. If you’re being abused, quit. Want to help your fellow abused workers, quit. If the company doesn’t change it’s ways then it will be unable to hire good people.

    In fact that happen in a company I had to leave. It got such a bad reputation they couldn’t hire anyone local. They had to bring people in from other states, who often left after the minimum time to avoid paying back the moving allowance.

    The problem I have with organizing and unions is they want to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. I think I should be able to decide that for myself. I do agree that a guild might be useful. The guild could keep a list of the companies that are okay to work for and those that fall short.

    As far as the work going out of the USA, I’m in favor of free markets. Some years ago I worked for Motorola. They outsourced my job to a company in India. It took me eight months to train my replacements.

    Some in the company said it was unpatriotic for Motorola to send the work out of the country. I ask if it was unpatriotic for an Indian citizen to buy Motorola products?

    I think Us movies bring in a lot of revenue from foreign markets. Why shouldn’t they be eligible to work on those same movies? (Not that anyone here said that they shouldn’t. I’m just anticipating based on what I’ve heard in other venues.)

    You could always start your own studio and show the world how to treat those workers. Lead by example. Many of the costs have come down. There are new ways to distribute media. (Light a candle instead of cursing the dark.)

    Yes, I realize this would be very hard … and I admit it’s unlikely that I have what it takes to do it. But if you do, give me a call. If you treat me right I’d work for you 🙂



    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi

Comments are closed.