Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Studio System: Then and Now

A number of bloggers and other industry leaders have recently commented that it would be preferable if visual effects were done "in-house", with artists working in closer collaboration with the director and other members of the production crew, and paid directly by the studio. While the IA agrees that this would better for all parties concerned (including the major studios), it is unlikely to occur any time soon.
When I started my career in this industry (in the 1970's!!), Studios produced films. And ultimately "distributed" them, too. It was unthinkable in those days for a studio to finance a non-union picture, and even subcontracting was only done with Union companies. Contrast that with todays' business model. Most big studios rarely "produce" the product they distribute. Warners, for example, "distributes" pictures "produced" by Malpaso (Clint Eastwood's company), Village RoadShow, or Joel Silver. As I understand it, Warners approves a budget in the form of a distribution advance, but the production company remains liable to bring the picture in on time and on budget. If they go over, the production company is on the hook. If they come in under, they get to keep the excess. But, it results in the fact that the Major Studio has little or no control over the subcontracting process and the bidding process for things like visual effects. (Although, typically, in the distribution agreement the major studio has an "approval" right over all major elements on the picture.... In short, the IA could ask the studios to exert more influence over the subcontracting over visual effects, and the Studios would truthfully say they no longer have the final say-so over that bidding process!!
For now, the solution is to seek recognition as the union representative of the very few lucky people who ARE directly on the payroll of the studio such as the visual effects supervisor and the visual effects producer, and to seek to organize the people working at the individual effects houses. When we get a critical mass of those people we can begin to influence the bidding process, the subcontracting process, the race to the bottom, and the last-minute frenzy to fix work done in far-away places. But, we need to start with the industry as we find it, and take steps to improve the working lives of those paid on a 1099, those not receiving overtime pay, those working ridiculously long hours, and those not covered by any form of medical insurance whatsoever.
The IA organized the Major Studios in the 1930's. It was difficult, dangerous, and occasionally bloody. It was a fight. The Studios did not acquiesce quietly. But, our members now enjoy the fruits of that contest. We hope to extend those benefits to the visual effects community. We ask all of you to contact us and begin that process, one worker at a time, one company at a time. Shoot me a note at vfx@iatse-intl.org.
I'm here for you.

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