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Scott Squires: Global VFX Workers

(originally posted at PSST!)

Scott Squires has posted another excellent essay on an idea for a Global VFX (and I’m hoping Motion Design) Workers’ organization. Is this a union? No, not really. But it just may be something that could happen right now for everyone in the industry; in films, tv, and commercial work, freelancers, independent workers, staff members and owners. And I think it has the potential to change the industry for the better. I’ve hilighted a few paragraphs which sum up what I think is the gist of the article. But I also encourage you to go and comment on his site if you have more questions, thoughts and ideas.

Global VFX Workers:

“The idea would be to have a group of vfx workers draft a list of working conditions requirements. I would suggest using some of the existing union documents as a starting point. Some of the possible issues could be: weekly payments (paid on time), if payment is not made worker has right to leave, clean work environment, safe work environment, ergonomical working setup, food break every 6 hours, 15 minute break every 4 hours, 12 hr minimum turnaround time (time you clock out until you’re required back at work), and might include such things as: limit of x hrs in a day, limit of x hrs a week, limit of x days without a day off, double time after x hrs, double time starting on 6th day and beyond, etc. Now the real unions do include some of these things such as food breaks, turnaround time, over time rates, etc but they don’t include any caps on amount of hours or days worked to my knowledge but I know that’s an issue with a lot of vfx workers who are tired of working 90-120 hr weeks.

This document probably wouldn’t cover such things as actual minimum rates for different types of positions but they could if it was desired. There is cost of living that already known and calculated for all major cities in the world. When I worked in London I had a given per diem that would qualify under the US tax code. This would mean it’s possible to say a roto person would be paid at least x % of the cost of living index in that city. A Compositor would be paid a minimum of y %. So if you worked in London and moved to New York or China you’d have some idea for what the minimum would be. Note that these are minimums, just like the union does. You can certainly negotiate higher rates depending on your experience, skill, etc.

Once a guideline was drafted then the idea would be to discuss it with the different companies. Now many vfx do have reasonable working conditions so the biggest sticking points with them would be the caps on time worked or if the overtime was higher than they’re currently paying. Of course those factors would also encourage them and the studios to do more planning and to avoid getting into situations that workers are squeezed.

So what would be in it for the vfx companies?
Assuming the guidelines are not unreasonable most companies probably qualify now. (With exceptions of caps as noted) If a company signs then they are listed on the group website with the seal of approval of the vfx workers. Now when vfx workers finish up a project or are considering working elsewhere the seal of approval would be part of their decision process of where they’d want to work. If all other things were equal most would tend to opt to go to a company that was willing to commit to signing the guidelines. Because you’d know if the company was unwilling to signup then it’s likely not up to the same working standards or that it could easily drop those working standards when they choose. Key info about the company could also be posted such as benefits packages, etc. Signed companies could possibly run job postings on the site.

Here’s the thing, you’re building a group from scratch so it can be what you want it to be. (A vfx union from scratch could also has a certain amount of flexibility of structure) Organize and cover the things that are similar. Build on that. If there are non-overlapping areas or areas that are at odds, then that’s probably not covered by the group.

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