Visual Effects Workers on Planned Protest of Obama's DreamWorks Visit: ‘We've Already Won’

Visual Effects Workers on Planned Protest of Obama's DreamWorks Visit: 'We've Already Won'

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The artists and effects wizards demonstrating near DreamWorks Animation want the president to acknowledge the outsourcing hurting their industry

Members of the visual-effects community are protesting President Barack Obama's visit to DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus on Tuesday in order to draw attention to foreign and state film tax incentives that are luring work out of Hollywood and to far-flung outposts in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

The president had been scheduled to address the entertainment industry's contributions the U.S. economy, but protestors hope that the hastily planned rally will pressure him to acknowledge the struggles of top visual-effect talent to find work and the bankruptcies of such Oscar-winning firms as Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain.

In an interview with TheWrap, organizers acknowledged that many of the president's top donors are studio chiefs who have benefited from subsidies and credits that help lower the costs of the movies they make. However, they hoped that Obama, freed from concerns of another White House run, might take a stance that could alienate past supporters.

“Now it's time for Obama to leave his legacy,” Dave Rand, a visual-effects contractor who helped oversee the protest, said. “Does he want to be remembered as the president who got paid off and didn't take a stand? This would be a great way to put himself back on top.”

“He's says he's all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” he added. “This is a way for him to honor that promise.”

Also read: Digital Domain's New CEO on Exporting Hollywood VFX to China (Exclusive)

To that end, Rand has created t-shirts that are green, a reference to the green-screen footage over which visual effects artists construct digital wonders, and is hoping that protestors and DreamWorks Animation employees wear them as a sign of solidarity. Protestors will congregate at Griffith Manor Park and will gather on sidewalks near the studio, security permitting.

Tom Capizzi, a former Rhythm & Hues employee who arranged for permitting at the park, said he anticipated that a minimum of 50 people will show up. A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the protest and a spokeswoman for DreamWorks Animation declined to comment.

However, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday that the choice of DreamWorks Animation for Tuesday's speech reflected the number of jobs being created by the company. The venue was not chosen because DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was a top bundler for Obama during the 2012 presidential election and one of his most important contributors.

“DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in Southern California and the fact of the matter is Mr. Katzenberg's support for the president's policies has no bearing on our decision to visit there,” Earnest said. “Rather, it's an opportunity to highlight the success of one business and the success that they're having in creating jobs in Southern California.”

Capizzi said the protestors were inspired by similar demonstrations they participated in around the Oscars last spring, but said the emphasis will be focused on the loss of jobs, as opposed to other issues that plague the visual-effects industry such as a fixed bid model that negatively impacts profit margins.

“We feel publicly dissed by what Obama intends to say about all the jobs being created,” Capizzi said. “It's like, ‘have you been paying attention?’ We don't want that message to make the news. Hey, these jobs are not coming to America and the ones that are coming back are minimum wage, they're uninsured and they're part time. I wouldn't have taken them in high school. I've got kids who are college age, am I supposed to tell them to get an education so they can get a job?”

Also read: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Film Tax Incentive: Let's Lift the Cap

In some respects, DreamWorks Animation is an unlikely focal point for animation and visual-effects workers’ outrage. As the anonymous writer of the influential industry blog VFXSoldier noted in a post last weekend, the studio hires many members of the Animation Guild, has been praised for creating a nurturing working environment and has kept many animation jobs in California even as rivals show a greater appetite for overseas labor. Production delays did necessitate cuts to staff this year, but those layoffs were not related to outsourcing.

Still the writer behind VFXSoldier believes that the time is ripe to draw attention to actions the government can take to make subsidies less appealing. In particular, VFXSoldier commissioned a study last summer from the D.C. law firm Picard, Kentz & Rowe that found that countervailing duties could be imposed on films that have benefited from foreign subsidies, which would theoretically make them less financially attractive for studios.

“If the president wants to promote job growth in the entertainment industry, the last place he should probably do it is in Hollywood given what's happened in the visual effects industry,” the writer of VFXSoldier said. “It's not about making DreamWorks Animation look bad. Imagine how much worse it would look if he came to Hollywood touting job growth in an industry that is being decimated by foreign subsidies.”

Rand believes that no matter how many visual effects artists heed the call to organize outside the president's speech, the media coverage about the planned protest will further galvanize the anti-subsidy movement.

“We've already won,” Rand told TheWrap. “Our goal was to get the president's attention and there's no way with all the media coverage that one of Obama's aides hasn't whispered into ear, ‘We have to fix this speech.'”



  • Stuart W

    Let President Obama know the way things really stand guys. This perhaps your
    best opportunity to gain his attention. Good Luck!

  • A.L. Hern

    I don't know what they think Obama, or any other federal official can do about the loss of jobs to competitors outside California or the U.S. This is purely a matter for the State of California, and the unions should address their concerns to the legislature and Governor Brown in Sacramento. Sad to say, but the federal tax code is simply not set up to make and keep industries and workers competitive in one state over those in another.

    • adrian mcdonald

      The CVD action would target foreign subsidies. Specifically in Canada, but also elsewhere. So, no, this is not a California issue. There is literally nothing Sacramento can do on the international trade agreement front. ONLY the federal government can.

  • TruthisALie

    Obamanation is only a puppet……………… This will do absolutely nothing………………. But it's important to let the REAL powers (corporations) know that people are not falling for their lies any more………………… Protest away, folks.

    • vfxfan

      How very insightful of you, and thank you ever so much for contributing to the conversation in a meaningful way. I think there's a little more room for your clearly researched and well thought out arguments over in the Fox news comments section.

  • Gojiraman

    I started supporting this movement because I thought it could generate an interesting conversation concerning, “fair and sound international business standards and practices” (as your facebook puts it), Instead I'm hearing mostly a bunch of whining that film companies are taking advantage of film subsidies in other states. Well you know what I live in Louisiana and I have no qualms about our state's subsidies attracting film business. VFX Solidarity is supposedly here to represent an “International” Voice? Yeah right. All I hear is a frustrated youth living in an overcrowded city trying to overtake a bloated system. The Industry right? You're mad that they wont let you in, so, you feel you have to fight against it? I'm all for the setting the precedent for fair compensation, hierarchical structure and dividends to VFX workers, but from the way you have presented this movement, I'm convinced that that precedent will be set outside of Hollywood. If you can't get work in an over crowded city? Move out! There's plenty of VFX work elsewhere in the world. You'll get paid more and you'll get a lower cost of living in all likelihood depending on where you go. Talk to the people who did ALL the VFX for Seth Rogan's, This is The End. Modus FX, located in Montreal Canada. They didn't go bankrupt.

    • joevfx

      ” Modus FX, located in Montreal Canada. They didn't go bankrupt.”
      I'm sure the government re-imbursing 35% of their costs with tax payer money probably had something to do with that.

      • Gojiraman

        Quebec Film and Television Council says they offer a 20% tax incentive for VFX work. Where do you get 35%? Which, fine I understand that. These are things that deserve to be laid on the table and in the discussion.

        Also I'm trying to point out that I understand the issue Los Angeles VFX workers face is unique to the fact that they are in a well established industry that's harder to get into than the Free Masons. Yes there needs to be a forum that establishes the fair use of VFX workers, but it can't be done simply by attacking tax incentives that are aimed at boosting local economies. Michigan just won a bid to build an enormous sound stage. They beat out Louisiana. Am I mad that Michigan won such an unprecedented monument of film? No. They deserve the boost. Their major metro area just went bankrupt for crying out loud. VFX Solidarity International would be well advised to come to terms with outsourcing within North America before they can claim to be building the framework for an international voice of VFX Workers. I want everyone to be treated fair and to be happy. This is something that CAN be achieved.

        • AgNO3

          because there is quebec subside then the Canadian FEDERAL subside. And Americans's can't really move to Canada for more then a few months. AND its cost of Living IS WAY MORE then LA. Vancouver is the most expensive city in NORTH AMERICA. Montreal isn't much less. We also aren't talking about INTERNAL STATE we are talking CANADA and the UK who have FEDERAL subsidies.

          • Gojiraman

            I thought I replied to this, but no you're wrong, in order to get National subsidies in Canada you have to shoot 75% of your production and do 75% at Canadian post-facilities, since we're talking about VFX alone, you can only get state subsides to the tune of 20%

          • AgNO3

            NO YOU ARE WRONG. This is from THE OFFICIAL QUEBEC WEBSITE. So thats 25% on ALL including VFX plus ANOTHER 20% BONUS if you ALSO DO VFX there. THATS 45% on the VFX Thats WHY ITS CALLED A BONUS.

            QUEBEC offers some of the most advantageous cash rebates available in North America:

            – 25 % cash-back on all expenses
            – 20 % bonus on all CGI and Green screen shots applicable on extended eligible labor.
            – No minimum spend, no caps

          • Gojiraman

            yeah but you're basing that on an original 25% that doesn't exist unless you hold at least 75% of you're production in Canada.

          • AgNO3

            lol 80% of tv is shot in CANADA that leaves movies that do A LOT of shooting in Canada now on GS stages.

          • Gojiraman

            Well welcome to the future, buddy. I really don't know what to tell you except find something you're good at and stick to it.

  • Daniel Sterling Sample

    Can we all agree on at least one point that VFX work is very “labor intensive” and it is rapidly becoming the dominant factor in producing movies. The Hollywood Studios must go where the VFX labor costs are the lowest. Subsidies can only be awarded by state governments because the federal government can not favor one state over another. Also, there is a new bull in the china closet… China. More and more VFX work will go to China because the Chinese government has set a very low quota on the number of Hollywood movies that they will allow into their theatrical market. The only way that the Hollywood Studios can get around this quota is to set up co-productions with China, therefore, more VFX work to China and less to America. I can only propose one step in the right direction. First of all, we must elect, as our next President of the United States in 2016, an individual who has dedicated a major proportion of his life to finding out the many, many problems that plague America. He has then searched out Americans most knowledgeable and best suited for correcting those problems. Finally, he has invited these people on to his weekly PBS television show and given them the opportunity to speak to America. Yes, I am talking about BILL MOYERS, undoubtedly the best qualified American to occupy The White House in 2016. Please note that I am attaching my Hollywood email address for anyone, VFX worker or not, who is tired of greedy politicians with sticky fingers buying their way into OUR White House.
    Daniel Sterling Sample in Hollywood

  • Daniel Sterling Sample

    One more closing thought, fired across the bows of the Hollywood Studios. Kiddies, (I'm a feisty 71), corporations have pretty well destroyed the way our government and private enterprise operate. Employee owned companies seem to be the way to go to counter the way the corporations have screwed up our wonderful nation. I'm not talking communism, I am simply proposing putting the larger companies into the hands of the people who built those companies into the giants they have become, including the Hollywood Studios. Again, my email address is attached.
    Daniel Sterling Sample in Hollywood