Visual Effects Protest Planned for the Oscars (Exclusive)

Visual Effects Protest Planned for the Oscars (Exclusive)

Daniel Lay, who runs the VFX Soldier blog, and others are hammering out details for a demonstration

Visual effects workers are planning a demonstration in Los Angeles next month to protest foreign tax subsidies they argue are destroying their industry, TheWrap has learned.

The event is being billed as the March in March and will be tied to the Oscars. It comes after a similar grass-roots protest drew more than 400 people at last year's Academy Awards.

“We're trying to focus on the destructive impact of the subsidies race,” Daniel Lay, who writes the influential blog VFXSoldier, told TheWrap. “We want to broaden it to include musicians and grips and others who are being drastically effected. It's great that there's an Oscar party going on, but a lot of us are being hurt by this subsidy.”

Also read: Salvation for VFX?: U.S. Could Tax Foreign Film Subsidies, Study Finds

Last year, protestors were motivated to picket because Rhythm & Hues, the Oscar-winning visual effects company behind “Life of Pi,” had just filed for bankruptcy. Its financial problems came on the heels of the failure of roughly a half dozen companies such as Digital Domain, Asylum Visual Effects and CafeFX. The visual effects industry in California has been decimated as cities such Vancouver and London have begun to offer lucrative post-production tax subsidies and incentives that lure major projects such as “The Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Star Wars Episode VII” outside of the United States.

Organizers say they are encouraged by the amount of interest in this year's protest and note that more than 100 people on Facebook currently say they will attend.

Also read: Rhythm & Hues Bankruptcy Sends Shockwaves Through Visual-Effects Industry

Plans are still in their early stages, but will likely entail gathering on March 2nd at some spot on Hollywood Boulevard east of where the stars will glide down the red carpet outside the Dolby Theater. Last year, visual effects artist Dave Rand hired a plane carrying a banner that read ”Box Office + Bankrupt = Visual Effects vfxunion.com.” Rand said he's not certain he'll charter a plan again.

“The march is going to be a less angry demonstration…we don't want to be disruptive or disrespectful to the Oscars,” Rand said. “We want this one to be more focused. Basically all of our jobs in Los Angeles have left, so that issue is moot unless we can bring the industry back.”

Also read: 17 Biggest Snubs & Surprises: Oscar Nominations 2014 (Photos)

Tax subsidies are the problem, Rand and others claim, but they're also focused on drawing attention to an ongoing effort to impose tariffs on films that benefit from incentives. According to a recent study by the D.C. law firm Picard, Kentz & Rowe that Lay commissioned so-called countervailing duties can be  levied by the government to alleviate the damaging effects that foreign tax incentives can have on the domestic production of certain goods. In the past they have been imposed on everything from steel to shrimp.

To that end, Lay, Rand and others have formed a group called ADAPT (Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians) that will continue to explore a legal recourse for fighting foreign subsidies. They hope that the Oscars demonstration can also serve as a way to familiarize the visual effects community with their work and their cause.

Also read: Oscar Nominations: The Complete List

“The idea is to return the visual effects industry to a place where it is a stable and secure business,” Scott Squires, a visual effects supervisor, said.

He noted, however, that despite job losses and destroyed businesses, many artists are still hesitant to take action.

“There's a certain number of people that are unemployed and may be more open to speaking out about it, but some people, who are out of work feel that there's even more of a need to keep their noses to the grindstone and not upset a potential employer,” Squires said. “There's still a fear factor.”

  • Badger1225

    Making a movie is like making any other product, it will have to deal with competition from the global market place.

    • JohnHWatson

      The competition doesn't come from the marketplace itself though. The problem is foreign governments buying the work. So it's not like “hey, come to China for your FX work because we're really good and cheaper.” It's come to China because we'll pay you to, because we want a bigger film industry.

      • aanonn

        Yes…….foreign governments hold about 46 percent of all U.S. debt held by the public, more than $4.5 trillion. The largest foreign holder of U.S. debt is China, which owns more about $1.2 trillion in bills, notes and bonds, according to the Treasury.
        Walmart, for example, imports some 70 percent of its merchandise from China. Now, the average US household credit card debt stands at $15270. Total consumer debt recently rose 1.1 percent to $11.28 trillion.

        The only thing our failing system creates is debt….there are no more slaves to import……….no more land to steal……..no more resources to acquire, except recently Iraq recently…….it's down to productivity, and intelligence supporting bankers.

        85 people own 50% of the world's wealth and there are always many people, seemingly with Stockholm Syndrome, ready to support their “hard work” . It's crony capitalism and legal abuse.
        The capitalist system failed and nobody noticed.

        Even productivity and intelligence can be undermined by politics and theft.

        Communism and capitalism is now in an economic war, not a military war, and the US is going to lose by it's biggest weakness……… …..it's own greed.

        The Chinese see multiculturalism as weakness, and all western technological developments they will replicate for less…..

        The Chinese theft of western intellectual property is Government sponsored. They also have the advantage of not paying development overheads……like pirated software,

        Digital Domain once flew a pirate flag, while it lost 11million dollars creating vfx on one of the most profitable film's ever, Titanic. I imagine that flag was made in China too…….as are the new captains now running that company.

    • VFX Soldier

      Badger, I agree with you 100%! Making a movie is making a product and like all products, they must adhere to international trade laws.

      Many of these trade laws regulate the use of subsidies which have been used to distort the price of VFX and cause a massive amount of injury to companies that don't have government backing.

      This is exactly why we hope to take this issue to the international trade court. They routinely discipline products around the world that are subsidized by various governments.

      • runnaway production

        An industry group i was a founder of petitioned for a “Counter Veiling Tariff” about 14 years ago. We spent a $250,00 on a top Washington Law firm (that specialized in tariff law). Our Petition was REJECTED by the COMMERCE COMMISSION. One large factor in that REJECTION was the OPPOSITION by IATSE every step of the way. The I.A. will fight you because they operate in Canada. I have a letter from Tom Short (President of the IA at the time) that was sent to the Secretary of Commerce, that says there is NO NEGATIVE IMPACT BY FOREIGN SUBSIDIES ON AMERICAN FILM WORKERS.
        The letter is a word for word copy of a letter sent to the Secretary of Commerce by Jack Valenti. In the intervening 14 years there has been no indication by the IA to alter the position taken by the IA under the leadership of Tom Short. My conclusion is that the producers and the the IA are in lockstep support of FOREIGN SUBSIDIES. My advice – move to where the work is.

        • Michael Everett IATSE 728

          Before Sheila Khuel captured the original runaway jobs movement in December 1999 and redirected it from trade remedies to subsidies, countervailing duties (CVD's) which would have neutralized the Canadian subsidies, were the first trade remedy we adopted. I still have my day-glo picket sign supporting CVD's and opposing subsidies that I took to the original FTAC rally in the Burbank park.

          FTAC continued to support subsidies as it began to disintegrate after a couple of years when it's chair took a job as Art Director in a Montreal runaway. At that time the late Brent Swift took over as chair of FTAC, and invited people like Gene Warren, various IA dissidents, SAG progressives, officers and members of the Basic Crafts, to reinvigorate FTAC by abandoning subsidies and turning to trade remedies. Our first contact with DC trade attornies persuaded us to abandon CVD's explaining it was more complex and more costly to attain, and instead advised us to file a formal legal petition with Commerce that, if accepted could put us on the path to forcing Canada to observe WTO free trade rules and get rid of their protectionist film/tv subsidies.

          We raised $300K for legal costs and the petition was filed. And yes, Then-IA President and mobster wannabe Tom Short (the father of runaway film jobs) did send a letter to the Secretary of Commerce stating runaway jobs didn't affect our members. The petition was soon rejected by Commerce, and we were out of options.

          When the battleground shifted from Canadian subsidies to state and local subsidies, it became clear who the villains were. It wasn't the studios who were simply doing what capitalism is set up to do — pursue profits by every legal means possible and pay legislators to add to their profits. The two principle backers of subsidies to raid jobs was IATSE which encouraged locals to front for the studios and lobby their state legislators for subsidies. This would expand the number of IA members by shifting jobs around and raise the per capita dues each member pays to the International union. The other principal authors of domestic subsidies were starstruck locals who bought into the various economic myths claiming subsidies created free money, stimulated tourism and was a win/win plan creating prosperity for all, along with those taxpayers who knew better and didn't mind paying more taxes, or getting fewer services so long as it provided a chance to run across Brad Pitt in a Starbucks.

    • Indyandy

      On almost every other products there are import taxes to protect the domestic economy. So maybe there should be import taxes on visual effects or services in general.