New prices and in-depth Inside VFX review by BECTU

This month Inside VFX has been reviewed by the BECTU (UK’s media and entertainment trade union) Stage Screen & Radio magazine. For everyone who is not lucky enough to be a member of BECTU, I was kindly allowed to reproduce the in-depth review below.

Further I would like to use this opportunity to announce that Inside VFX has received a few updates. At the time of writing, ADAPT’s CVD efforts were still ongoing. Also, one of my readers drew my attention to a big VFX company of the 1980’s that I had neglected. Everyone who bought the paperback book from amazon can receive these and more updates via amazon’s kindle match program for just 1,99$ USD. All current kindle and iBook readers should be able to get the updates for free.

In addition I am happy to announce that I was able to make Inside VFX more affordable. As of now, you can get the kindle and iBook version for only 9,99 USD and the paperback for 24,95 USD. All prices are effective immediately but may be subject to change and can vary.

So, if you thought about reading the book– now is your time.

 

The following article is reproduced by kind permission of Stage Screen & Radio magazine.

BECTU’s Stage Screen & Radio magazine Review 

Pierre Grage’s book “Inside VFX” is an informative read looking at the visual effects industry from its earliest days up until today. If you want a look into the rich history and the many industry pressures found in today’s Hollywood VFX industry this is the book for you.

As an industry professional myself, and having garnered interest to pursue a career in this field due
to some of the work mentioned in Grage’s book, I was interested to read about the possible economic forces at play in an industry that has been facing financial difficulty and a race to the bottom.

Grage provides many cited sources and graphs showing Hollywood trends over time, and his book is well researched and insightful on the politics that play into the financial aspects of the industry. I felt he really hit the mark when discussing how tax incentives have affected the globalization of the VFX community’s workforce, why Hollywood chases these subsidies follows them around the world.

The book portrays a dire situation with a grim outlook, but I found the solutions lacking. I can only assume Grage feels the same way as a principle reason behind the book seems to be whether VFX is an industry worth him staying in. He is also under the assumption that the VFX companies hate their artists. While I find that a bit of a stretch, I do agree that we, as VFX employees, are a commodity. And yes, I AM going to call us employees even though many workers are freelance and on short term contracts. So often are we taken advantage of and have to pay the price for bad VFX business practices like fixed bidding with endless client corrections, you have to wonder… did they forget that we are human? Yeah that dinner they provided us with is nice, but I don’t want to be eating it at work five nights a week and miss out on seeing my family, and I need sleep to make quality changes effectively.

Someone should show the visual effects industry the charts on lost productivity with increased hours. They actually get a worse product and lose money, while also getting burnt out and tired employees.

 

Humanity

This is also where I felt Grage missed a great opportunity in this book. I really feel like this book left the humanity of the workers out, rather as many VFX companies miss the humanity behind their great productions. He briefly mentions the turmoil some employees face, but could have gone much further in expressing this. He does provide an extensive chapter on mental health issues, which he feels a lot of people in the industry seem to have (mainly being sociopaths and having Asperger’s). While I think it’s an interesting idea, I can’t say that I’ve felt the same way. Despite the “Hollywood glamour” which Grage seems to think lures sociopaths in, I do wonder why he feels there are more sociopaths in VFX than in other jobs? I would think there’d be just as many/few in any organisation.

If instead we had seen what I feel is the actual humanity behind VFX we might hear stories of workers whose contracts get cut short in foreign countries and are forced to suddenly sell everything and move back to Forces of capitalism: Avatar, one of the many VFX-heavy films on which Pierre Grage worked their home countries, finding themselves without jobs and losing their deposits on flats. Or maybe we might have heard about those who waited at home over a weekend when the news broke that Rhythm and Hues was going under, to find out if they weren’t going to get paid or have a job to show up to on Monday. We might hear about the men and women who don’t put their children to sleep or maybe don’t even live in the same countries. If we could have heard their real stories maybe it would really explain to people what it feels like to be in the trenches working long hours to finish a blockbuster and the abysmal outlook and hopelessness many employees feel for future and longterm job stability in an industry they have given so much to.

Grage mentions BECTU’s work reporting this human side of the industry, quoting: “77% of people knew someone who had recently left the industry over workloads, overtime and poor working conditions; 81% of people have felt pressured or bullied into working overtime for free on films; 83% of people said it was difficult, or very difficult, to raise a family while working in VFX.”

I think that sums up a little of where we are today in the industry. Grage’s ideas for the future are to take a long hard look and think about if this is the right industry to work in and the whole industry needs a reboot and maybe some new technology much like stereo 3-d helped to boost sales. He suggests it may come from oculus rift, but cautions the reader that the vFX studios would be happy to replace us with computer algorithms and low-wage workers who wouldn’t need the knowledge to produce great results.

Overall I would recommend reading Pierre Grage’s Inside VFX. It’s a good look into the history and economics of Hollywood’s relationship with VFX. As for my opinion on the future, let’s just say I think a united front with collective bargaining would help immensely, especially in the case of long hours. While Grage touches on this, it’s not his solution.

Just remember, it’s not just BECTU we will need to rely on to help achieve changes in workers’ rights and compensations, it’s you. You are the union. You will make the difference to change BECTU’s survey results on hours and poor working conditions. Are you ready to step up to the plate? I’m in, are you?

Jenn Epstein

Reproduced by kind permission of Stage Screen & Radio magazine.