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November 2014
Issue: March 1, 2013

Editor's Letter: A VFX industry in flux

By: Randi Altman
The VFX industry is in turmoil at the moment. Studios are closing and Oscar-winning house (Life of Pi) Rhythm & Hues has filed for bankruptcy. While things have been shaky for a while now, the issue came to a head just before the Oscars, when hundreds of artists took to the streets for an Oscar-day protest. Then after the Oscars telecast, where the visual effects category seemed to take some blows to the head, including when Bill Westenhofer, from Rhythm & Hues, got cut off by the Jaws theme just as he was thanking his employer and co-workers. 

Visual effects producer and industry veteran Jenny Fulle (pictured, right) of The Creative-Cartel calls it a perfect storm. “The primary issue is subsidized work versus non-subsidized work, combined with too much supply and not enough demand,” she says. “This results in companies in non-subsidized areas to not only discount their work, but compete against each other for the jobs that do exist. That is unsustainable.”

Fulle (pictured) is amazed at how fast the momentum has been building over the last few weeks, but she is also worried. “It’s unfortunate we are fracturing into groups, because the swell is going to die and we are going to lose our momentum. I am afraid that nothing will come of it.” 

In Fulle’s mind, the first thing that has to happen is either ending subsidies or initiating subsidies for those companies that are located in non-subsidized areas so they can compete. “Now we are feeding that false economy, and I don’t think it’s the long-term solution, but it can stop the bleeding. Then we can let natural selection happen — some companies are going to fall away, because there is too much supply — so we can stabilize the business and focus on the other issues, like workers’ rights and portable benefits. Unions can’t help if there’s no work to collectively bargain for, and if you can’t bank hours you can’t get benefits. We have to ensure there is work.”  

Fulle believes the Call to Action letter last month from VES head Eric Roth, asking people to write to Jerry Brown and the California legislature, is a start.  

What about the film studios themselves? Do they have a responsibility? Fulle calls that a tough question. “They use a product, and just like you and me, if that product is on sale, we are going to buy it. And nobody is going to fault us for that. Do our schedules keep getting shorter? Yes. Do they want more for less? Yes. But it’s business.”