Catch the Oscars last weekend? What you might have missed amongst all the backslapping and bauble-fondling is that the most glittering night in Hollywood’s calendar was being picketed by some 400-odd visual effects artists – all angry as hell, and determined that they’re not going to take it anymore.
The objects of their collective ire? Overseas subsidies and, in particular, the major movie studios.
The subsidies issue ratcheted into focus on 11 February, when Rhythm & Hues, the visual effects house behind the dazzling imagery in Life of Pi, filed for bankruptcy, just a day after that very film had secured the BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects.
With 250 Rhythm & Hues employees facing redundancy, industry observers were quick to at least partially attribute the demise of the firm to the stiff competition US-based VFX houses are facing from subsidy-backed overseas rivals.
These subsidies effectively go direct to the big movie studios themselves, with the argument being that this has created a situation where, in terms of pricing, VFX houses are locked into a death race to the bottom.
The individual VFX artists, meanwhile, are consequently forced to chase work around the world, surfacing in whichever territory has the economic conditions most amenable to the engorged leviathans of Hollywood at any given time.
The growing storm in the VFX industry gained in precedence on Oscars night itself; first via that picket of the Kodak Theatre, where the ceremony was taking place, and then via Life of Pi visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer, who having just won an Oscar for his work on that film, tried in his acceptance speech to raise the issues which had scuttled Rhythm & Hues – only to be drowned out by the theme from Jaws.
Unsurprisingly, amongst a global TV audience of hundreds of millions, some folks twigged that Westenhofer had been trying to make an important point before the ghost of John Williams intervened, and he was subsequently able to elaborate to journalists backstage…
“At a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, visual effects companies are struggling. And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians… we’re artists, and if we don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to lose the artistry.”
Online chatter about the issue has been growing over the course of the last week, with a lively debate in progress as to whether unionisation A) would resolve any of the problems, and B) is even feasible.
And as the arguments rumble on, social media users are being asked to show solidarity with the VFX artists by changing their profile pictures to one showing that iconic emblem of the industry – the humble green screen.
Spectrecom is London’s only video production company that combines creative agency campaigns, film studios and online video marketing. Take a look at our campaign case studies to find out more about what we do.