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Working conditions in the VFX industry: a new study highlights a “crisis”

This article is available in: French

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a major North American labor union representing over 160.000 technicians, technicians, artisans, and craftspersons in the entertainment industry (including motion picture and TV), has unveiled a study on working conditions within the VFX industry.

According to IATSE, “the findings paint a picture of an industry in crisis” where “an overwhelming majority of VFX workers feel that their work is not sustainable in the long term”.
This data is mostly representative of the situation in the USA and in Canada, however these findings are of course interesting for the industry as a whole, since these issues are also found elsewhere. Moreover, working conditions in these countries have an influence on working conditions worldwide. Furthermore, many VFX artist from other countries join American and Canadian studios.

“An Industry in Crisis”

Here are the main findings of this study:

  • More than two thirds of the VFX workers surveyed “feel that their work is not sustainable in the long term”.
  • For VFX workers employed directly by film productions (and not employed within a VFX studio), “only 12% have health insurance which carries over from job-to-job, and only 15% report any kind of employer contributions to a retirement fund.”
  • Unpaid overtime is an issue most workers have encountered: “70% of VFX workers report having worked uncompensated overtime hours for their employer.”
  • There are also issues regarding breaks and rest periods: “75% of VFX workers reported being forced to work through legally mandated meal breaks and rest periods without compensation.”
  • Safety is also a concern for on-set VFX artists: “The majority of on-set VFX workers reported working in conditions they felt unsafe in. A further 75% of VFX workers employed by the major film studios had no access to any employer-provided training or educational resources. ”
  • Last, but not least, most VFX artists don’t seem to be very hopeful: “only about 1 in 10 VFX workers felt able to individually negotiate viable solutions to these challenges with their employer.”

According to IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb “These results are alarming, but not surprising”. He highlights that “espite record growth in visual effects as a sector of the motion picture and television production industry and insatiable demand for labor in this field, too many VFX workers are struggling to make ends meet, are working grueling and unrealistic hours, often without overtime pay, and broadly aren’t receiving the benefits and workplace protections they deserve.”

Wages in the VFX industry

The study also gives us an in-depth insight into wages in the VFX industry.

Please note that each grey bar represents the overall wage distribution for a specific job title. The blue bar depicts the lower half of the average wage range, the green bar depicts the higher half.

It should be noted that a distinction was made between client-side workers (in-house production artists) and vendor-side workers (employed in a VFX production house)
Rates are calculated based on a 60 hour work week with overtime after 8 hours a day.

Here’s the takeaway:

  • Since “there are no minimum stardard rates set across job titles”, and a lack of transparency about wages explains IATSE, there is a wide variation.
  • Moreover, taking into account overtime, including unpaid overtime, some workers are paid less than minimum wage.
IATSE - Working conditions in the VFX industry
IATSE - Working conditions in the VFX industry

Unionization, the solution?

Unfortunately, this study did not explore issues such as discrimination, or the gender pay gap. This would probably have highlighted other issues that need to be adressed.
That being said, this survey does highlight pressing issues. The single fact that some workers are, when taking into account unpaid overtime, paid less than minimum wage, is appalling.

Of course, these issues are not new: 10 years ago, following the release of The Life of Pi, this was already discussed in the industry (we wrote about it at the time, in French). These issues have also been discussed, for example back in 2015 in the Indian VFX industry (our article, in French) or in 2016 when the movie Sausage Party came out (again, article in French). More recently, Marvel VFX artists discussed their working conditions. A move that was echoed outside the specialised press as well, which is quite unusual.
The extremely high demand for VFX crews right now may be a good oportunity for artists to turn the tide, for example when it comes to wages.

IATSE highlights in the survey results that other workers from the entertainment industry do not face such challenges. IATSE states that this is due to the fact that these workers are unionized, which allowed them to ask for better working conditions.
In other words, IATSE states that VFX workers need to join together and organize. The union reminds workers that they can get in touch with IATSE and contact an organizer.

For more information, the survey is available both in French and English. You’ll find more information about data collection and more detailed results.
3DVF will of course keep covering this topic in the future.

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