VFX Online Town Hall Session One: LiveBlog

This will be a liveblog of the VFX Online Town Hall taking place at 7PM PST 03/29/10.

Panelists include
Chris deFaria, Vice President, Warner Bros. Pictures
Jeffrey A. Okun, Visual Effects Society Chair and visual effects supervisor
Scott Ross, Co-Founder of Digital Domain & former CEO of Industrial, Light and Magic

The panel will be moderated by Lee Stranahan, a former visual effects artist and writer for The Huffington Post whose Open Letter To James Cameron: Fairness For VIsual Effects Artists started discussions all around the world.

Updates will be in reverse-chronological order with the newest posts appearing on top:

03/30/10: If you missed it, a recording of the Town Hall is here.

9:07 PM: All done. Maybe it’s too complex too easily talk about, maybe the problems are all too intertwined or overlapping. But I thought the panel maybe walked around the core problems… Or perhaps they were just setting them up – the state of the industry, after all. News flash: it’s a mess. We’re looking forward to the next one on labor issues and hope it gets more focused towards a guild, union or artists’ organization. It may happen in late April. We’ll keep you all updated over here. ‘Night.

8:52 PM: Wrapping up… inconclusive, but informative.

8:48 PM: Scott Ross: Of course Chris and anyone who is an executive in his position will get the shots at the lowest reasonable price. What needs to happen now is there needs to be a trade organization that will allow people to have a living wage and we need leadership to say this is what we need to do, this is where we stand.

8:44 PM: Lee: When was the last time Warner Bros. didn’t take the lowest bid? Chris deFaria: Ha, then anyone could do this job! We try to put the right shot / sequence with the right companies who understand and will deliver what we want and need …

8:42 PM: Scott Ross(?): What is the one thing we can do to make the VFX industry a better place? …. Jeff Okun: Mentoring, a more open dialogue. Chris deFaria: Find the leverage you have. Operate from a position of strength.

8:39 PM: Jeff Okun: When a director takes your work and re-presents it as his own a light goes out on you … But that’s what you were hired to do, and it was a job. So is that your day job or your passion? If it’s your passion, then

8:32 PM: Jeff Okun: Things always change when you get older, need to pay a mortgage, have kids. When you enter the industry and do a lot and work hard you can take a lot of the injustice and unfairness. If you really want to make money: Why are you in this industry? But now that people can’t make a living wage … We’re training the whole world to work like us.

8:30 PM Lee: You don’t eat the cheapest food all the time, you try to eat food that is good for you. And studios don’t lowball on everything. Otherwise movies would be filled with unknown actors … (Oh you mean like Star Wars?)

8:27 PM Lee: What about a trade group? Chris deFaria: No problem with that, especially if it leads to a functioning, thriving VFX industry.

8:24 PM: Scott Ross: Cuthroat, competitive pricing. Everyone competing with the guy down the street who will do it for less and meet the bid.

8:23 PM: Chris deFaria: There’s no ceiling on talent.

8:21 PM: Chris deFaria: Look at who’s opening up in Vancouver: LA and UK companies: Digital Domain, MPC … I’m not asking them to move there. They see that as a way to lower their costs.

8:17 PM: Chris deFaria: VFX companies are pitching me by saying they can take all this work overseas, how much they can save me by not doing it in the US.

8:15 PM: Scott Ross: You can’t just say individual artist have agency, since VFX facilities are the vehicles that make the films. Hundreds of employees are needed on each film.

8:11 PM: Chris deFaria: To be an artist, you sign you work. … Find your niche and work directly for those who need your talents.

8:04 PM: Jeff Okun: The cat is out of the bag. If you’re doing business as usual, you’re not doing business anymore. That means facilities may need to be making your own content, asking for points. As an artist, you vote with your dollars. You choose where you work. Unfortunately the collapse of the economy has taken that flexibility and choice away … Stand up and make some noise. Learn how to do business.

7:57 PM: Tax incentives? Chris deFaria: Some states like LA, NY, NC have incentives, but not a lot of facilities or work. All of the US incentives are much smaller than overseas … Scott Ross: A trade organization could help, since facilities do not go after those incentives for themselves …

7:53 PM: Q&A starts: How can the margins be so small? Scott Ross: Overhead. VFX facilities are put in a position where there’s nothing left after overhead, infrastructure and the bid process.

7:50 PM: Chris deFaria (?): Copyright may be the way out of this problem, out of commodification. The actual artists who make the “product” not the studio or the facility are the value… It’s not in the interest of a commercial production studio to give credit and recognition to the individual artists and designers, since they want to promote their “brand”.

7:49 PM: Lee Stranahan: The Writers’ Guild had to give up copyright in their unionization … A major concession.

7:48 PM:Jeff Okun: We have to change the perception of 30 years of VFX culture. “Look what my computer can do.” vs. “Look what I made.” We have to change from geeks to artists. There is still a need for a guild or union …

7:43 PM: Jeff Okun: The issue here is that the studios are not in business to employ artists. They are in business to create money-making products. Artists can complain about everything, but you have to provide a solution, even if it’s goofy.

7:40 PM: Chris deFaria up … Studios are “invested” in a competitive and innovative VFX industry. VFX is central to marketing and to “add value” to a project. Look development, technical development all done in early stages on a project. Bad news is the business of VFX is unhealthy. Pricing doesn’t reflect value. Price and tax incentives are subsiding the costs …

7:32 PM: Scott Ross: “The sensibility of who we are and what we have to offer has to change.” We are the ones who put the butts in the seat… VFX services price themselves as a commodity (and are treated that way).

7:29 PM: Scott Ross speaking now … Films are more successful than ever. Directors are doing well. Facilities are not. The margins for profit are non-existent in the VFX industry. No profit = no investment = no better working conditions.

7:20 PM: Lee: The industry itself is immature. There are no simple answers, but we all rise and fall together. Ecosystem is three parts: Studios, facilities, artists. Visual effects are now part of the production process, not post.

7:19 PM: This town hall is on the State of The Industry: Why are VFX films doing so well and VFX artists struggling? A handful of studios just shut down in the last few weeks … The 10 top-grossing films are 100% “visual effects” films. $11 Billion in Sales.

7:10 PM: Here we go … introductions. Jeff Heusser of fxguide also moderating. The Town Hall is being recorded, too.

7:00 PM: Nothing happening yet. Waiting on a panelist …

6:52 PM: We’re in the event, which is going to a moderated panel using audio and slides. Just waiting for it to start up in about 10 minutes …