Mysteriously anonymous and often controversial activist VFX Soldier talks about the larger mission.
By Bob OedyIBEW International Lead Organizer
VFX Soldier was born from the ashes of burned out artists and is widely recognized as the new voice in the fight for VFX workers’ rights. VFX artists are the ones who give the Hulk the muscles, make Spiderman swing, Batman well... bat and sculpt J. Lo’s butt for music videos, it’s not black magic but very valuable Hollywood magic. VFX artists are the only part of the talent totem pole not part of a union which is why they end up at the bottom of the credit list and sometimes the creditors list. VFX Soldier remains anonymous to avoid being blacklisted by the entertainment industry.
Q: Where did the idea to do an anonymous blog come from?
A: The idea came from my troubles of trying to talk about unionization on an individual basis. I needed a wider platform so I took to the internet with a blog and twitter account. The basic idea to it was "A typical VFX professional thinking aloud." In order to make it effective I made it anonymous so others at various facilities could feed info that has made it on the blog.
Q: What’s the biggest obstacle VFX artists face today?
A: The biggest obstacle in my view are subsidies. VFX Professionals around the world are chasing their jobs country to country because local governments are offering huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to lure US studio work to their locations. This has made it difficult for VFX professionals to have families, homes, or savings as they pay huge costs in moving and taxes.
Q: What topic that you’ve written about has received the most attention or response?
A: The biggest topic on my blog that has garnered the most response was my posts dedicated to recent statements made to investors by Digital Domain CEO John Textor. In candid recordings he told investors that he hope to open schools where the government would give him grants and student would pay him tuition so they could work on some of the projects they intend to make money off of. What caused the most outrage was when he declared "Free labor is better than cheap labor."
While Mr Textor has apologized, what made the story so important in my view wasn't what he said but how it proved even my staunchest opponents wrong.
Q: When you exposed Digital Domain for charging students did you expect the response to be so dramatic?
A: Yes. As soon as I heard the audio I went on twitter and said this on March 26: "I think tomorrow's post on my blog is going to make some jaws drop.#vfx" The response was immense with follow ups happening on all kinds of websites and major newspapers.
Q: What did you hope to accomplish in starting your blog and have you met your earliest expectations? Where do you go from here?
A: When I first started my blog I hoped to be told I was wrong and be educated by those who knew more about the industry than me. What it ended up becoming was a resource that changed the narrative; before the talk used to be "oh my job is going to India," but today it's "oh my job is going to Vancouver because of subsidies." I randomly hear people at work quoting stats from my blog.
I'm looking to start a crowd sourcing project to enlist the services of a law firm that specializes in international trade law to challenge the subsidies that hinder the VFX industry. I've met with a few law firms already and we are getting ready to go. It'll get interesting.
Q: What career advice would you share with new artists interested in pursuing a career in visual effects?
A: It's great to love what you do but be sure to give it tough love. If you love VFX it should reciprocate and love you back. Be confident in what you do but also give yourself a healthy amount of skepticism and doubt. I've found that doubting myself along the way helped expose my weaknesses and made me address them to become better at what I do.
Q: How did you choose the name VFX Soldier? Did you serve in the military?
A: At the time I was looking to start the blog but I couldn’t come up with a name. At one facility I was known for being quite a stanch negotiator. When I didn't get a respectable deal I left. One colleague responded in amazement to how resolute I was: "Wow. You are a soldier." VFX Soldier was born.
I have never served in the military but I was recruited and thought about joining the Marines after school, but then the VFX industry came calling :)
Q: How can my readers help you expose illegal subsidies and unfair competition efforts?
A: My hope is that they can help donate to our campaign that will begin sometime this summer.
Q: What skills do you feel will be necessary to professionalize the visual effects industry? What classes or skills do you recommend artists focus on?
A: I believe unionization and enlisting the services of a personal attorney for contracts would help professionalize the industry. On the skills side I suggest anyone that wants to get into VFX focus their studies on computer science. The VFX industry is a very small industry and it wouldn't be prudent to spend 6 figures going to an expensive for-profit trade school for such a niche industry. With a computer science major supplemented with various VFX courses online you can put yourself in a pretty good position to work in VFX or jump to a more stable IT company.
Q: What blogs, books or magazines are your favorites?
A: If I told you it would probably lead to me revealing my identity! But I do a lot of reading and I love looking at data.
Q: What lessons or challenges have you faced in your career that might help my readers?
A: Some of my most popular posts about my personal story are below:
Q: How can readers help you get your message out or support your efforts?
A: The number one thing is to stop being apathetic. Engage your industry. This is your career and your life. You should be doing everything you can to make it better. The reason why the problems persist is because we have chosen fear and silence. History is unkind to those who do that.
Q: What do you think is the cause of the inequality of compensation between VFX artists and other motion picture workers? Why haven’t VFX artists been able to organize?
A: Much of the general inequality is due to how relatively young the VFX industry is. Many of the standards and practices that Cinematographers and editors enjoy come from the fact they've matured as an industry. VFX artists have not been able to organize due mostly to fear and misinformation.
_________________________________________________________________For commentary on the VFX Industry’s March to the Bottom go to www.vfxsoldier.com or follow VFX Soldier on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vfxsoldier .