VES responds to VFX protest

Yesterday saw an outpouring of support for visual effects artists as they staged a VFX protest before the Oscars in the wake of recent financial difficulties faced by shops such as Rhythm & Hues, and due to on-going issues in the industry. During the day, Visual Effects Society Chair Jeff Okun was quoted in this Variety article with comments that suggested he thought the protest had been ‘badly organized’.

Now, Okun has emailed VES members in a message (which the VES has posted on its website) saying that his comments to Variety had been taken out of context. He notes also in the message that he was ‘angry and outraged’ at the apparent censorship leveled at the visual effects Oscar winners when they were giving their acceptance speech. Okun says the VES has been working for three years on visual effects industry and union issues.

UPDATE: Variety’s David S. Cohen mentioned on twitter:
@VFXSociety No one from VES, including @Jeffokun, has called or written to complain about his quotes in @Variety or ask for a correction.

Here’s the full message from Jeff Okun:

Message from VES Chair Jeffrey A. Okun
To The Members Of The VES

From Jeffrey A. Okun, Chair

We are at a tipping point in our industry – no matter where you live or work. It has become painfully obvious that while profits abound for producers and distributors, our budgets are being squeezed to the point of jeopardizing our jobs and the quest for a reasonable life style for VFX artists. This was evidenced by the Protest yesterday at the Oscars. There is just a lot of anger and frustration out there and it has taken tangible form at this time.

Add to this heated time what occurred on the Oscar broadcast when LIFE OF PI wins the award and the team is effectively censored from making any statement about our plight. Not to mention the further insult of the Jaws theme being used.

During the Oscar-cast I received a call from Variety (they amended the article to add my comments). I WAS ANGRY and OUTRAGED. I am still angry and outraged.

But what was printed in the article was taken out of context, which I am personally very upset about. What I said was: Change needs to happen. That I supported the protest and even more the protesters. I said that what we need is a clearer sense of strategic thinking about what we should be asking for with the support of the entire VFX community. I felt that to organize a formal protest without well defined goals was not the best way to capitalize on the anger in our community (although I was heartened to hear that hundreds of artists from our community took part).

The VES has been working extremely hard to bring us together and accomplish this. We have spent 3 years meeting, talking, presenting, planning and attempting to bring together the real stakeholders in this issue. We have brought the discussion to the forefront of the artists, the facilities and the studios as well as the press. We have hosted meetings for those who wanted to explore whether or not to form Trade organizations or Unions. We have spent considerable time and effort researching Healthcare issues for our members around the world who need it. We have continued to bring the issues to the forefront while never losing sight of our primary function as a Professional Honorary Society – to highlight the artists, showcase their work, focus the spotlight of the industry on our people and their contributions.

But at this moment, this tipping point, this is the time to come together.

There are many issues on the table and none of them are simple. Take incentives offered by various states and countries – they distort the marketplace, but obviously they are good for some people because they keep being created and renewed and used. If California expanded its incentives, a great many people might not be as angry and frustrated – they might be employed and achieve greater job security.

So, should the VES lead a call to action on this? How, as a global Society, can we do this without offending some members elsewhere? After thinking long and hard on this I believe the best answer might be that maybe we should. It is a thorny issue and will upset members somewhere if we do it and others if we don’t. And the issue of actually getting the state to offer a meaningful and competitive incentive is not an easy thing to accomplish either – So expect to hear more from us very soon on this.

Business Models – in a sense, we cannot blame the studios for our woes – we are in a business, not a charity. We must be willing to say no unilaterally if we want to make change. It is not enough for one company or one artist or one city, state or country to do it alone. We must all do it. VES is committed to bringing the leaders of our industry together to take a fresh look at what a sustainable business model for the most people could and should be moving forward.

At the end of the day – the VES is working hard to find the answers to these questions and asks for your continued support in these efforts. We will not rest until we can make the kind of changes that make a real difference and that we can all be proud of.


Jeffrey A. Okun

You can also read the message on the VES website here.