VFX Company Rhythm & Hues Protested Last Night's Oscar Ceremony
Ang Lee's Life of Pi won Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects during last night's Oscars ceremony, but that last prize leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many who worked on the film. You might assume those who work on a film that wins an Oscar would be excited about it taking home the gold, but that's not the case for over 400 current and ex-employees of visual effects company Rhythm & Hues, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and fired over 250 employees last week. Deadline reports that many of those workers gathered and staged a large protest near the 85th Academy Awards ceremony last night.
Following the company's filing for bankruptcy and laying off hundreds of employees without pay, the effects house hoped to receive an emergency $17 million loan from 20th Century Fox and Universal so all their VFX artists could finish work on contracted projects that would last until the end of April. Legendary Pictures stepped in and paid the company around $5 million to finish the effects work on Seventh Son, the upcoming fantasy film set for release on October 18th, 2013. But things are still looking shaky for the VFX house.
The protest took place at the corner of Hollywood & Vine last night, only a few blocks away from the red carpet pre-shows near the Dolby Theatre. Reportedly even those who stuck around to work on Seventh Son haven't received a paycheck in weeks, and many are distressed about Hollywood's practice of hiring foreign companies instead of local ones to complete effects on blockbusters. Unionization is another big issue for VFX artists, but an undertaking like that is difficult to organize in a community with this many members.
When VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer accepted the award for Life of Pi last night, he was ominously played off the stage by the Jaws score and abruptly cut off just as he was beginning to tell the audience about the current situation. "Sadly, Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now, and I urge you all to remember…" and that was all he could say before his microphone was turned off. I'm not implying there was a conspiracy to cut his speech short in order to silence him, but it was just bad timing and it sucks he couldn't use that platform - with a billion people watching around the world - to at least illuminate the issue for everyone. At least we can shed some light on it. A few photos via this Flickr set:
It sounds like Rhythm & Hues is still in trouble at the moment, and our hearts go out to all of those who have been put out on the street without pay. That's a terrible thing regardless of circumstances, and we wish them the best moving forward. Hopefully things can get worked out in the courts, the studios might be able to keep them afloat for a little while longer, and most importantly, that these workers find new employment soon. In the meantime, the protest is gaining extra support from VFX industry members all over the nation, and various support/solidarity movements have started online, if you're interested in joining the cause.
You can find out more information on the protests by heading to the Facebook page for VFX Solidarity International, which aims to "[Unite] VFX Professionals and the Digital Artist community worldwide for sound international business standards and practices." They're also running @vfxsolidarity with the hash tag #vfxprotest, and we expect them to be pushing this effects industry agenda until a resolution is reached.
Update: For anyone looking for the exact details behind what they're arguing for, there's a great post on Reddit explaining the situation. "VFX studios are having a very difficult time making profit on movies they work on, even if that movies goes on to make millions or over a billion dollars. VFX studios make 5% profit on a GOOD year, but most of the time breaking even or even losing money on a job. This in turn has a very negative effect on vfx workers working at those companies." They lay out the specific issues causing tension between VFX studios and movie studios and all the workers, just waiting for a paycheck after doing work.