Friday, September 14, 2012

Digital Domain Bankruptcy a Case for Organizing the VFX Industry

You’ve been hearing the rumors for weeks or maybe you haven’t and were caught completely off-guard like the Alperts family. They sold everything and moved to Florida with the promise of a dream job at Digital Domain only to find there was no job. Either way, it’s hard to believe what’s transpired.  Digital Domain Media Group,Incorporated (NYSE: DDMG) has filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.  Last week the company announced the closing of its Port St. Lucie, Florida facility. Police were on hand in case there were any “incidents” with the 300 employees who were given pink slips.

Industry insiders have been saying they knew for some time that the company had been struggling. There were rumors as far back as six months ago about company executives rushing to the bank with a 4 million dollar check from Warner Bros. to cover payroll. Apparently, last week they found themselves in a similar situation. 
What lessons can be learned?
It’s time to pull back the curtain and expose what’s really going on. Finally, the slick veneer that was Digital Domain has rubbed off. The truth is; visual effects companies, especially publicly traded corporations like Digital Domain, are concerned about one thing and one thing only; making money for their shareholders and owners.  They are not concerned about you as an employee or your family, or artistic expression, or the environment, or the country for that matter.  It’s about profit!
Reread CEO John C. Textor’s resignation letter of September 6th here. After all the self-serving nonsense he admits the decision to close the Port St. Lucie facility was, “without compassion”. That’s a good way to put it.
The truth is; as unrepresented at-will employees, artists have no voice in the workplace.  The company sets the conditions for employment. What they say goes and when they say, “go!” you go.  Usually with a cardboard box in your arms and a few mementos collected over the years if you are lucky. In Digital Domain’s case, under the watchful eye of police officers there to insure employees didn’t steal company assets on the way-out. 
You’ll find when VFX houses experience financial troubles, artists get hurt the most. If you are owed wages; you probably won’t see the money without a huge fight especially if you are working in Canada. In Montreal the government will cover 3k in lost wages but that is it. In Quebec you're considered an “unsecured creditor”. That’s legal jargon for “screwed”. Once they go bankrupt you're last-in-line to get paid. All you can do is hope they don’t go under. Things aren’t quite that bad here in California, but it’s still no picnic.
The time has come to ask tough questions. How many more Digital Domain like companies is it going to take before artists decide enough-is-enough? Wouldn’t you be better off working under the protection of a union contract?  After all, the CEO and the boards of directors all have written contracts. Why not you? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a grievance procedure and to know someone is looking out for your interests along the way? Don’t rely on a company to look out for your interests. They don’t care. Remember, they only care about profit. The drama that has become Digital Domain is the perfect case for finally organizing the VFX industry.
What about Digital Domain’s competitors?
Well, insiders say Sony is sending HR people to Florida to see what talent can be found. One result will likely be lower wages for artists and increased pressure for the bottom line as companies review their own balance sheets. Perhaps Sony will acquire some of Digital Domain’s projects. Either way it’s a mess.
That’s why Digital Domain is the perfect case for organizing the VFX industry. Until the industry does; you can expect the drama to continue. There are plenty more Digital Domains out there; companies treating artists "without compassion". The names change but the stories remain the same.


  1. The filing of bankruptcy will always depend on what the shareholders agreed upon doing it said by an Arkansas lawyer. I think the decision should always be depends on what majority of the company wants to do that's why I think this is one good example of a unified decision by an organization.

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