Blacklists in VFX

Now that my book had its big launch on Monday I can finally talk about all the exciting stuff I was holding back for so long. So welcome to my blog!

When I came out with the news that I really am publishing a book about the secretive VFX and film industry – how they really work and look from the inside – the most common reaction was simply:

“Oh really? That’s cool! How did you get the idea for writing this book?”

But as it often turned out the real question was more like:

“Are you nuts? Don’t you know that you are going to end up on a blacklist? Why the hell are you doing this?”

Visual effects really turned into a fear driven industry. Here are just some of the common fears among VFX professionals:

  • Fear to not get re-hired for the next show because of age, thus higher wage costs.
  • Fear to get fired or not re-hired (aka contract “extension”) if you are not the last guy leaving the office.
  • Fear to piss off your supervisor. So better be nice to him – even if he is the most retarded person you have ever met and you know he is going to send you though one useless late night after another.
  • Fear to piss off your production coordinator, so better say the timing is challenging rather than what it is: stupid!
  • Fear to get replaced by a young kid who has nothing more to lose than his internet connection (thus youporn).
  • Fear to get replaced by a young looking artist in Asia who has nothing more to lose than a bowl of rice. (Seriously? These days people in Asia have way more to lose than that!)
  • Fear to not perform good, especially not fast enough on the next show and thus to not to get re-hired.
  • And of course the fear to face the yearly performance review.

I could go on and on about VFX industry fears but ultimately — all fears accumulate into the ueber fear to not end up on a blacklist.  Do such lists even exist? Oh, I am sure they do! But why should you care? Blacklists only work for as long as you give into the fear and do everything not to ever land on such a list. To make sure of that, the majority of VFX people think that (or at least act as if) it’s best to stay down, say nothing, be slimy to all superiors and devious to colleagues! Then one day (I guess that’s the blue sky dream) you can be the one everybody else has to be slimy to. The result of all this is the visual effects industry of today.

In the old days you really had to do something to get on a blacklist. Like to post an unreleased trailer or to steal some code or at least a frame for a showreel. Today it seems like something as insignificant as a fart in a room can be enough to land you on a blacklist.  So yeah, maybe I get blacklisted because of Inside VFX – I don’t know. But honestly, it is about time that somebody writes about our oh-so secretive industry. Not only about the business but also how we are destroying ourselves from within — just for the chance to maybe… MAYBE!… to get to work on a pixel for a frame on the next Star Wars.

I decided long ago to not be part of this fear-driven game. We all have our blacklists running in our heads. I fire employers who are abusive, manipulative and deceptive. My quality of life increased a thousandfold as a result of that. Seriously, my sleep is better, even my health has skyrocketed ever since. I regard my own health as the most important asset I possess. And if that means that there is eventually no-one left in the industry I can work for… Well, then I truly have lost nothing. Just a bunch of employers who were never worth my time in the first place.

The truth is that the really powerful blacklists are not the ones the companies are running… it’s the ones their employees are running. At least for as long as they still need great artists and designers who are responsible for their pretty pictures. If everybody in VFX just realized that they, too, can fire their employees, the threat of company blacklists would be fully unmasked as what they are: an empty threat that gains its power through nothing but fear.

What are your thoughts? Anonymous comments are just as welcome!

Comment Rules: Anonymous comments are welcome. Critical comments as well. But if you’re rude, attack another commenter, your stuff is going to be deleted. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Tim Ferriss for the inspiration)