VFX Town Hall photos and notes


The whole meeting can be watched if you scroll to the bottom of this page.

The VFX Town Hall on Pi Day 3.14 meetings are happening and being webcast around the world. (LA, San Francisco, Austin, Vancouver, Wellington and elsewhere).

Approximately 250 people attended the Los Angeles event with live video hookups to San Francisco, Vancouver, Austin, New Zealand and more and many many more watched the event live online. The organizing team should be congratulated for not only hosting the event but running it live and allowing people around the world to watch. Prior to the meeting the hashtag #vfxtownhall was announced and there was an active twitter conversation going on throughout the event.

(We wrote and posted this fxg Quicktake with images and some notes as the night progressed.)

Mariana Acuña (@Da_VFX_Chick) started the evening and acted as moderator. She introduced the cities and the panelists and kept the event flowing smoothly.

Mariana Acuña

Scott Squires (@scott_squires) delivered a “State of the Industry” address, he gave a detailed account of the issues visual effects face including subsidies and cash back financial models. Much of the focus was about unionization and the issues of subsidies. Scott later pointed out “like you, I don’t want to just keep talking about it…it is up to you now”. He suggested people join a union, push their companies to join a trade association, and keep the momentum going.

Scott has made available the outline for his talk:

Scott Squires


David Rand (@daverandcom) delivered a strong and powerful talk focused on unity and how visual effects being a strong partner in the process can save a production money. Dave exclaimed: “I hope vfx managers & studios are watching. We want to help you make money smarter.”

Dave Rand

Steve Kaplan from The Animation Guild (@animguild) talked about his personal story of being a vfx artist and making the transition to union organizer.  Steve gave fxguide a shoutout, mentioning hearing the influence one of fxguide’s first podcasts on the issues facing the industry (the open letter podcast with Lee Stranahan) and the question of unionization.

Steve Kaplan, Animation Guild


Mike Chambers is one of the Vice Chairs of the Visual Effects Society (VES). He said that Jeff Okun (VES Chair) sent his apology for not being able to attend. The VES wants to be a convener. When he mentioned the VES call for Californian subsidies he was initially booed from the crowd. Chambers did say the VES was against subsidies. The VES has 3000 members and two thirds of those are in California. The mood in the room was decidedly uncomfortable with several LA audience members interrupting and clearly angry with VES.

Mike Chambers, VES


Scott Ross

Scott Ross (@drscottross) –  Scott started by naming this the Digital Spring – in reference to the Arab Spring uprising. He starts by praising the VES and pointing out that in addition to the VES – which is an honorary society – it is the time for something else, in his opinion. Ross’s focus is the feature film studios – the “6 clients..they are not villains – they are just doing their jobs – and we are not”.

Scott Ross half joked that this industry did not want a trade association – since it was ‘competition’ to which he says – “Coke and Pepsi have a trade organization, Ford and General Motors have a trade organization, the porn industry even has a trade organization…”

He spoke of:

  • Industry body
  • Changes to the business model including cancellation policies and payment schedules.
  • Push government to remove subsidies
  • Education policies to the broader industry
  • Standardized contracts
  • The industry needs PR

Ross has re-contacted after the Oscar day protest 15 vfx houses and almost all “except some over the pond – and that might be a timing issues”… have agreed to meet and discuss a trade association.


vfxtownhall panel


The question was asked from NZ about how an American union would affect non-American artists. The response from the panel was to point to live action production, where not all people are unionized, but those non-union situations need to match union conditions – the position was expressed that “everyone benefits when a floor is set.”

There was a request for ideas outside unionization: not to take that off the table but in addition. One was the trade organization. Scott Squires questioned how an individual artist could achieve much without solidarity – “without some body that has some legal or contractual deal with the studios – I can’t see them (artists) being able to do much”. Scott went on to point out that the union ‘deals’ would not be one standardized deal. He believed via a union a deal could be made more productive for both studios and workers.

“I am not going to do this anymore when I am told that my paycheck is going to stop.” – David Rand @daverandcom

A question was asked if the gaming industry was involved so far? Scott Ross answered that the trade association that he ‘dreams of’ would like to move from vfx to games once the trade association was working.

One of the final questions from the floor in LA was how many people need to be in the union before it becomes effective?  National labor board says 30% – “union wants 60-70% of people in the shop,” says Steve Kaplan from @animguild. IATSE Local 839.

Another centered around the fact that unions are normally between worker and company, so how does this help the situation between the vfx houses and the studios. The person who asked pointed out that many of the other guilds get funding from residuals. This was agreed by the panel – the union would be between the vfx house and the worker, and not involve the studios. A point backed up by the next person, who pointed out that this is why a trade organization needs to also be central.

Steve Kaplan made one key point, while someone needs to be in a working situation with an employer to join the union, people working full time at a facility as ‘an independent contractor’ is seen as an employer under the law (in the USA) “If you’re working on their equipment, at their facility – I don’t care what they call you, you’re an employee.”

After the event Jeff Heusser asked Scott Ross about the idea of agents, after all actors, directors, writers all have guilds or unions but they also have agents – why not effects houses? These Hollywood agents fight for their clients to win them money, terms and on screen credit why not take on vfx houses as clients? Plus the argument goes – Agents work on commission and vfx is a large single line item in a budget – equal or more than any one actor often times, would they not be highly motivated to work hard for bigger vfx fees?  “I dont believe the Agents will work yet” said Ross – former president of ILM and of Digital Domain. ” The agencies clients are the studios – the agencies make millions and million of dollars based on their client base and who their ‘benefactors” are. Their benefactors are the studios…the directors etc.. until the studios come out and says I am willing to do this – it would be like shooting your own foot”. While Ross said thought that maybe in some point the agents would be interested – it was not now.

The Los Angeles event ended with Key Lime Pie being served, a clever nod to the theme of the evening.

Here is the video of the event with a breakdown of times for each presenter:

0:00:00 – 0:15:26 Mariana Acuña – Introductions and pop around to various cities
0:15:26 – 0:23:45 Dave Rand Introduction and History
0:23:45 – 0:46:07 Scott Squires – State of the Industry
0:46:07 – 0:55:39 Dave Rand
0:55:39 – 1:00:19 Steve Kaplan, IATSE Local 891 Animation Guild
1:00:19 – 1:02:35 Dusty Kelly, IATSE Local 891 Vancouver
1:02:35 – 1:11:32 Gene Warren, Jr. Fantasy II Film Effects (Visual Effects Oscar for Terminator 2)
1:11:32 – 1:21:51 Mike Chambers, Visual Effects Society
1:21:51 – 1:34:26 Scott Ross
1:34:26 – 2:48:29 Q&A from remote locations and Los Angeles


Note: 72,276 people “liked” the VFX Town Hall on Facebook.

•  All images : Jeff Heusser, fxguide. Jeff’s Flickr feed. Please do not reuse without credit.

NB: Quotes are as accurate as we can make them, our apology for any mis-quotes.



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