For the second consecutive year, visual effects artists are demonstrating at the Academy Awards today in protest of studio finance strategies that they say are driving them out of business. Workers are gathering at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Los Angeles to protest the foreign tax credits that have put US effects studios at a disadvantage when bidding on film projects. "These subsidies are a form of corporate welfare used by Hollywood producers to game various governments against each other," the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals, & Technicians said in a statement. "At the same time, this has unknowingly cost taxpayers billions."
The protest comes amid the release of Life After Pi, a short documentary about the history of the acclaimed visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues. The studio, which won Academy Awards for its visual effects on Babe, The Golden Compass, and Life of Pi, filed for bankruptcy last year, costing 238 people their jobs. The workers sued for back pay, eventually winning a $1 million settlement.
VFX has become a far worse business for the artists themselves
Life After Pi charts the demise of Rhythm & Hues, which struggled to compete against foreign effects studios that used tax subsidies to dramatically under-bid them. Even as Hollywood studios rely more and more on visual effects to tell their stories, it has become a far worse business for the effects artists themselves. They bid a fixed amount on a contract, and can almost never charge more than they bid, even when directors make significant changes to their original storyboards or keep the studio working for months longer than originally scheduled.
The short documentary is the first chapter of Hollywood Ending, a forthcoming feature-length documentary that will chronicle the broader challenges of the US film industry and its workers. Life After Pi gives a compelling, if one-sided, look at the damage wrought by a film industry that is becoming increasingly global. Today's protests may help draw attention to that damage — but as Life After Pi notes, the studios still have almost all the leverage.