Creatives receive an Oscar but it’s not shoved in their hands!

My first Facebook post during the Oscars was my confusion about the Jaws theme being played over the acceptance speech of the creative special effects team for the Life of Pi, followed by the theme from the Magnificent Seven and switching to the smirking face of host, Seth MacFarlane. I just thought it was one of those glitches that happen with live broadcasts. It wasn’t a glitch — it was a purposeful bash at those considered less important than the stars who get extra time to ramble on, sometimes with political and social agendas they feel they must share with the world. Well, there’s another agenda that didn’t come out until the following morning.

It seems that the special effects studios, the teams of people who make the magic that enthralls audiences who pay outrageous ticket prices to see films like the Life of Pi, revolving mostly around the special effects, are going broke by slaving long hours with the utmost dedication to excellence. If the musical crescendo to drown out the one person who spoke for the team wasn’t enough of an embarrassment, director Ang Lee tightly gripped his Oscar statuette and thanked everyone BUT the special effects team. Creatives, once again become the door mats when it comes to recognition of success while those in charge find the “i” in “team.”

It wasn’t just a poor choice of how to tell effects team representative, Bill Westenhofer, it was time to get off the stage so more important people could stand up and slur their babbling speeches — it was yet again the Hollywood slap in the face to the creatives who make or break a film. The underlying problem with the state of special effects studios is that if… or more like WHEN Jaws is remade, it will have a CGI shark that will be animated overseas, by a huge company that underbids on its budgets and pays its workers the same amount Chinese prisoners earn to make sneakers for Walmart.

As reported by Richard Rushfield in his BuzzFeed article:

in recent years Hollywood’s visual effects industry has been crippled by a combination of competition subsidized by foreign governments, tighter production deadlines, and cost-cutting in Hollywood, which has led to thousands of jobs lost in the industry and, in the past six months, the bankruptcies of two of the four major effect production houses. As members of one of the only non-unionized trades in show business, effects artists have watched in despair as their work has evaporated. So when Westenhover — whose company Rhythm and Hues was the latest to announce it was shutting its doors — rose to accept his award, it seemed like the perfect time for a public statement about the struggles of VFX pros.

A-HA! So, what everyone thought was a glitch in a musical cue to stop a rambling lesser person was actually a purposeful method of stopping a political rant that would have embarrassed Hollywood itself. Would it have happened if George Clooney was saying it? He seemed to have problems of his own with McFarlane’s quips all night.

Not only did Ang Lee not thank his special effects team, he made comments after the show, saying he wished that visual effects could be “cheaper.”

It didn’t take long for VFX artists to leap from their cheap couches and scream out loud — loud enough for all of Hollywood to hear, and along with Tarnished Tinsel Town, also the movie-going public.

Thanks to the immediacy of the internet, there appeared an online display of solidarity — asking supporters to turn their Facebook and Twitter avatars green to represent the blank background green screen film goers would see without their work. The web site that helped start it all is VFX Soldier. As the situation has become moor public, VFX Solider has seen its traffic climb from 5,000 visitors a day to approximately 150,000 a day for just this past week, with posts receiving numerous comments of support and anger at the audacity of the industry and movie studios.

Rushfield also reports:

With nations such as India and Canada offering Hollywood studios heavy financial incentives to send their work abroad (British Columbia, for example, spends $434 million a year to subsidize production), many in the industry have been urging California to attempt to compete with similar incentives. The VFX Soldier author, however, disagrees with that approach, saying the focus on throwing more money at the studios creates a “race to the bottom” in which effects houses will still end up being squeezed for more and more savings. “The problem is,” he said, “it’s not a business anymore. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are or how successful you are, it comes down to the next government willing to offer more, not about great work, just about getting a tax rebate.”

The solution most VFX artists see is to form a union. The question is; why has it taken so long for them to consider this in an industry of large unions, considering the decades of blockbuster films with heavy special effects that made the films what they are?

Hollywood studios have not been quick to comment on the charges leveled by VFX artists but it seems, as with all creatives, they are voices that others would rather not hear. What will happen in the current plight of those who make the movie magic we love? Will comic book heroes disappear from the screen or the use of cheap costumes and wired guided flying people return with socko effects like the ones in the old Buck Rogers movie serials? Keep an eye on the VFX Soldier site for the latest in this epic struggle and be sure to download the green screen square and add it as your Facebook and Twitter profile avatar to show solidarity with other creatives.

See photos of the protests being held by and in support of Hollywood VFX artists.

Featured image ©neonmarg

Speider Schneider

Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. Follow him on Twitter @speider

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2 Comments

  1. Hey, thanks for the article. I just read it today and I am not a Hollywood creative but I certainly feel their pain. Creative’s are under appreciated everywhere and in every industry and it truly is a shame because the art that we look at, enjoy and admire everyday came from very talented and hardworking individuals. Your article brought the point home to me and I appreciate it.
    Thanks again.
    Allex

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