In case you're scratching your head about those green twitter and facebook avatars popping up, allow me to illuminate.
VFX companies are protesting Hollywood. Why? Because they aren't getting paid for their work. Or they're being severely overworked and underpaid. And in the case of Rhythm and Hues the studio that did all those amazing effects in Ang Lee's Oscar winning Life Of Pi, they're going bankrupt. According to MTV, over two hundred employees were laid off without pay.
In order to draw attention to the issue there was a protest during the Oscars. Not that you knew anything about it. But some people took notice, and decided to go green screen for solidarity.
As the MTV post said, Rhythm and Hues aren't the only ones. Digital Domain (you might know their Tupac Hologram) has filed for bankruptcy and German-based Pixomondo who among other things worked on Hugo shut down its London office.
But it's not just the economy or lack of unionization on the VFX people that is causing these companies to fold. Rather it's the ever increasing demands of Hollywood that wants it quicker, better, and cheaper. And the companies are only too happy (or desperate) to comply.
This is Hollywood, mind you. The industry long notorious for creative accounting.
Now though, we are learning the cost of such practices.
Ang Lee, when asked about Rhythm and Hues said he would like the companies to make money but also would like the effects to cost less. I guess Ang Lee forgot he's paying for the craftsman as much as the craft.
One lead compositor named Phillip Ray Broste, who is a ZEUS digital set lead at Zoic Studios hasn't forgotten, and has written an open letter on his Facebook wall to Ang Lee as a response to the director's incredibly insensitive comments. Here it is, taken from the excellent site Film School Rejects in full.
Dear Mr. Lee,
When asked about the bankruptcy of Rhythm + Hues, the visual effects house largely responsible for making your film Life of Pi as incredible as it was, you said:
“I would like it to be cheaper and not a tough business [for VFX vendors]. It’s easy for me to say, but it’s very tough. It’s very hard for them to make money. The research and development is so expensive; that is a big burden for every house. They all have good times and hard times, and in the tough times, some may not [survive].”
I just want to point out that while, yes R&D can be expensive and yes it takes a lot of technology and computing power to create films like yours, it is not computer chips and hard drives that are costing you so very much money. It is the artists that are helping you create your film.
So when you say “I would like it to be cheaper,” as an artist I take that personally. It took hundreds of hours from skilled artists and hard-working coordinators and producers to craft the environments and performances in Life of Pi. Not to mention the engineers that wrote all of that proprietary code and build the R+H pipeline. That is where your money went. I’d say, judging from the night you just had, you got one hell of a deal.
Incidentally, those were the same gorgeous sunsets and vistas that your DP Claudio Miranda took credit for without so much as a word of thanks to those artists. And the same animated performances that helped win you the best director statue. Nice of you to mention the pool crew, but maybe you could have thanked the guys and gals who turned that pool into an ocean and put a tiger into that boat?
It was world class work, after all. And after a fabulously insulting and dismissive introduction from the cast of the avengers, at least two of whom spent fully half of their film as a digitally animated character, R+H won for its work on your very fine piece of cinema. And just as the bankruptcy was about to be acknowledged on a nationally-televised platform, the speech was cut short. By the Jaws theme.
If this was meant as a joke, we artists are not laughing.
Mr. Lee, I do believe that you are a thoughtful and brilliant man. And a gifted filmmaker. But I also believe that you and everyone in your tier of our business is fabulously ignorant to the pain and turmoil you are putting artists through. Our employers scramble to chase illegal film subsidies across the globe at the behest of the film studios. Those same subsidies raise overhead, distort the market, and cause wage stagnation in what are already trying economic times. Your VFX are already cheaper than they should be. It is disheartening to see how blissfully unaware of this fact you truly are.
By all accounts, R+H is a fantastic place to work; a truly great group of people who treat their employees with fairness and respect. Much like Zoic Studios, the fabulous company that I am proud to work for. But I am beginning to wonder if these examples of decency will be able to survive in such a hostile environment. Or if the horror stories of unpaid overtime and illegal employment practices will become the norm, all because you and your fellow filmmakers “would like it to be cheaper.”
I for one won’t stand for it. Please join me.
Warmest regards and congratulations,
Yo, advertising creatives: You can change your avatars green screen, but if you really care I have a better suggestion. Instead of being "inspired" by their work on Vimeo, when you're making that mood video, seek those companies out if and when you ever manage to sell some concepts through. Hire them while they're still around. And when you do, don't be as unthinking and callous as the dick who just won an Oscar after slave driving these people for a year.
They're artists. They deserve respect.