June 2012 VFX Meeting Recap

The first Sunday of June, we filled the conference room of the International Cinematographer’s Guild with VFX artists, supervisors, coordinators, bloggers and even a shop owner interested in speaking about the visual effects industry and the union. Ben Pezzillo (Art Director’s Guild), Steve Kaplan (Animation Guild), Peter Marley and Vanessa Holtgrewe (IATSE), introduced themselves and thanked the standing-room only crowd for attending.

Peter Marley gave a brief opening presentation which introduced the union: What is it? What are the benefits? How can VFX employees join the rest of the crew in garnering portable healthcare, pension, and standardized working conditions on the commercials, television shows, and features they work so hard to make? He spoke about the history of the IATSE with visual effects and how that brought us to the meeting on Sunday. He highlighted the desire of the IATSE to support visual effects artists banding together to form a union and being able to have a local chartered strictly for visual effects artists and workers.

The floor was then opened for questions…and after 2 and a half hours, we had to thank everyone for attending as our time with the room had run out. It was a spirited discussion which could have easily continued for another few hours. We look forward to picking it up at the next meeting!

Here are some of the highlights:

While the costs for participation in the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans are easy to point to, its impossible to say with certainty what costs will be included in a contract with a vfx studio. This is because each contract is unique and negotiations are impossible to predict. However, the IATSE has a solid history of being able to find flexibility in its negotiations and is not interested in forming a contract that will financially not make sense for a visual effects studio.

For skeptical vfx shop owners, its important to realize that unionization brings the benefit of setting standards and conditions that will help stabilize the industry. History shows that “leveling the playing field” brings stability through the shared knowledge of common workplace conditions and standards.

Sony Imageworks employees spoke of their activism, and how to protect yourself and still get the word out.

Artists shared ideas for how to get their co-workers interested and active. Apathy is constant battle and we need to change the mindset from “I’ll move on in a few years since this career is so brutal” to “My union jobs help protect my pay scale in my 20’s, gives me healthcare in my 30’s, and in my 40’s onward, now I’m excited for the pension.”

A cinematographer from Local 600, in a quiet, measured tone, shared his experience working union for the past 25 years. As he said afterwards, “If people don’t envy what we have after I talk about our healthcare and benefits, then I haven’t done my job.”

There were questions about who would be covered under an agreement – what about coordinators? and supervisors? We’re looking into these positions and will report back soon.

Many thanks to all who attended. We look forward to holding more of these meetings where we can meet more new faces and answer questions. Please visit the contact page and fill out the form if you’d like to be notified when the next meeting will take place. We’re growing our little army and we’d love for you to be a part of it!