Friday, February 15, 2013

OPEN LETTER TO THE VFX INDUSTRY

I moved to Los Angeles on January 29th 2009;  from the moment I stepped out of the airplane and into my new Angelino life, everything was pure bliss and joy. I started working as a Compositor a few days after my arrival with one of the best bosses I could ever hope to have.

Having worked as a Compositor for years in Mexico City where hourly rates are non existent and there are absolutely no labor laws,  I worked for 4 months straight without a weekend or a day off (unpaid of course) around 15 to 17 hours daily. On one occasion I had to fake an injury to get a Sunday off.  I would find co-workers sleeping under desks because of the crazy hours, where you were treated as a freelancer and yet you didn't receive any of the advantages of being a freelancer - just the responsibilities. You were a "staffer" yet you didn't receive any of the benefits of being on staff either - just the responsibilities. Absolutely no one gets health insurance, and a retirement account is something as foreign as nuclear physics. There is no such thing as unemployment benefits or paid meals. You weren't viewed as a skilled artist doing your craft, rather you were seen as cheap labor. And my oh my! - how lucky were you to be working in Hollywood films! I should be paying them for such an honor.  You get the picture. Because you are in VFX, you know how it works.

Now you understand why I moved to Los Angeles, where just a few days after I landed, I started working as a Compositor and only doing 40 hours a week. And I was paid hourly! We worked only one Saturday for 6 hours and they paid us 8! We received a monthly massage, the kitchen was always stacked with yummy and nutritious snacks, we were treated not only fairly but as skilled artists that knew what they were doing. But as the story goes for hundreds of VFX artists every good thing must come to an end, the movie was released (I was even lucky enough to have my name actually put in the credits, because you know lots of times that doesn't even happen either). I moved on to another facility, which I am not complaining about at all, because after Mexico City, everything seemed better, but I did realize that the working hours weren't that compatible with life.  I realized oh wait... So we don't get health insurance either? How about a retirement account? Nope. You don't get that either... How about if I get pregnant will I get maternity leave? As you know, you are all freelancers, contractors, (i.e. you don't have a union...).

My best friend that works in Production as a Camera Operator would always ask me how come the VFX people don't have a Union? I would say I have no clue, I just moved here. But I am not writing this to talk about unions or horrible conditions for VFX Artists, because at the end, Los Angeles has been nothing but good to me. I have been lucky enough to move to another spectrum of the pipeline per say, where I actually have job security, at the end I have absolutely nothing to complaint about.

Which is why I am writing this letter, because my heart feels each and every one of you whether you worked at DD Florida, at R&H, or Dreamworks, since I moved here four of the companies I have worked for have closed down. Because I actually received an offer to move to Florida and I think of the Artists that actually pack up their families and leave in the hopes of a better life, like those that went to New Mexico, like those who went to Florida, like the many that have gone to Vancouver. I am writing this because I will never be able to work again as a Compositor with one of the best and nicest people I've ever come to know.  Unlike my current situation there are many people that are not as lucky as me, that received a phone call Sunday night letting them know they no longer had a job. Because I have seen dear friends move away chasing the dream of the next job. I have seen friends cry over the insecurity of it all. I know super talented people that are unemployed as I type this. I've seen my female co-workers not see much of their children day after day due to the lack of balance between life and work, because artists that have been in the industry for 8, 11, 15 years are looking for a Plan B, and there is no plan B in sight.

You see, Visual Effects it's like being in the military how do you translate all these skills to civilian life? And where exactly do you fit in civilian life? You've been cooped up in a dark freezing room for hours upon hours learning about curves, and anti-aliasing, pre-multiplication, additive processes, de-spilling, tracking, black edges, renderers, AOV's, python, etc. And like a lot of soldiers in the military you don't really want to go back to civilian life, you like to be fighting the fight, you like to be in the field, you like the challenges and the outcome, you are there because you are great at it and you shouldn't be looking for a Plan B. I love this Industry as much as you, whatever needs to get done, we should join forces and do it, because all the talented artists that I have come to know and love should thrive at what they are best at, because you shouldn't have only $75 dollars to your name when the tent-pole movies that you worked on are making millions of dollars.

I don't know if other industries in the U.S. are going through this same thing. Because this is the only Industry I know and love since I was 19 years old. Banks were bailed out - can R&H be bailed out? Can our Industry be bailed out? The only thing I am certain of is that it would deeply sadden me to have moved here just to witness the total collapse of what I love the most. I am with you wherever you are, and for those of you geeks out there that feel too secure and don't want to take a stand, word of warning: You are not safe - no one is.  It's like gun violence right? No one takes a stand until that fly by bullet kills someone you love. Well, fellow artists beware there are plenty of bullets flying all over the place. I took my citizenship test not too long ago, and the words of the Judge still resonate in my mind, she said: "become a citizen to be part of something, to build and create, to give as opposed of just taking". I am very proud to be a Mexican-American and to be a part of the VFX Community of Los Angeles, if I can give something back I certainly will.

And like VFX Soldier always types:
-Soldier on!

1 comment:

peppe Bugs said...

its really nice, make ma tears out, i wish you for a bright future, take care, <3