Question of the Day – Initiation Fees

May 24, 2012

We asked Steve Kaplan:

So what’s the deal with initiation fees? They are waived for new members present when a vote takes place, right?

If someone is employed at a later date, do they have to pay the fee?

Isn’t it true most companies will pay the fee if asked for as a signing bonus?

Can you pay in a payment plan? If so, over how many months?;

What are the dollar costs to people?;

Would the severance pay from a union contract basically balance out this cost?


Steve says:

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VFX Union Meetup – 5/21

May 18, 2012

Monday May 21st.

Culver Hotel

9400 Culver Boulevard  Culver City, California 90232
12-3 pm

Hopefully, you’ve received one of the 500 cards and buttons we shared with our Imageworks colleagues. Have questions? Come down to the Culver Hotel on Monday afternoon and ask. Now is also the time to tell the Union what you want to see in a contract.

IATSE Representatives Vanessa Holtgrewe and Peter Marley along with TAG organizer Steve Kaplan will be back at the Culver Hotel to answer, questions, hand out rep cards, and talk about the next steps necessary to Sony to negotiate a contract for the artists at Imageworks.

This time, the meeting will be held in the dining room of the hotel which is past the lobby. Water, iced tea and lemonade will be available along with some finger-foods. A sign will be placed in the lobby pointing the way to the room.

Heard lots of rumors about healthcare, and 401k plans? Not sure how the retirement benefits work? What would you like to see them do for you? Come by and ask them in person! You don’t need to be a Sony employee to attend. All vfx artists are welcome.

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Family Time?

May 16, 2012

I read a piece on Michelle Raimo Kouyate, President of Production for Sony Pictures Animation on She speaks of her passion for work and the benefit of a work/life balance in making her even better at her job. This post is not meant to criticize Michelle. In fact I applaud her for maintaining a work/life balance. The point is that we who work on films at Sony Pictures Imageworks for SPA or otherwise should strive for and deserve no less.

How often do you cancel on cherished moments with your children or significant other for another impossible deadline set by people most of us will never meet? Many who have seen the changes in the last 15+ years in our industry can attest to ever lengthening crunch time on projects. Some argue that we should move on to other careers if we don’t want to work endlessly to the detriment of our health and family. I fully believe that executives at Sony should enjoy life outside work, with their families. I think it is important for all of us to enrich our lives outside of work. Often we don’t get that opportunity as VFX artists.

Every twice unfinaled shot, every understaffed, underbid, over delayed project keeps us from watching our children grow and keeps us from precious moments with our loved ones. Does it really need to be that way? If the President of Production can have such a balance, can we not, as compassionate human beings who love the work we do, and love our families, come to a more equitable solution, where projects can be planned at least well enough to keep from going into crunch for a year at a time? I don’t know about you, but when my job forces me to miss out on a year of my daughter’s life or more, I think it’s plain wrong. How can I make a film for children and not spend any time with my own?

Besides this, how do I care for my family without health insurance, sick days or vacation days while working mandatory twelve hour days, six days a week for months on end? Is the value of my children or even myself less than others? I pose these questions, hoping to encourage discussion from people in all positions to think of the entire team involved in making these wonderful films and how it is vital for us to seek balance in work and life in order to continue doing the best work possible. For this to happen, we need the help of our production teams, executives, clients and our fellow workers.

I think we can work towards all of these goals, by organizing. It takes all of our efforts to make this happen. The leverage of collective bargaining can be used to work towards more reasonable safe guards against some of the most commonly recurring problems of poor planning that cause us to work endless hours. This is not a guarantee. It depends on the participation of SPI employees, who send in filled out rep cards and let the Union know what is important to them right away. You can keep waiting another decade to see if anyone will come and magically save the industry, or take a few minutes to fill out a rep card and start a dialogue where you can have a voice in making a difference.

What do you want?

May 10, 2012

Union representation isn’t about letting some third party come in and define your future as vfx companies already do. It is a process for vfx artists to come together and express grievances and work towards achieving goals that improve the quality of our lives while producing the best vfx possible for the benefit of studios.

The Union needs:

1. Filled out and submitted Rep cards. As noted before, the card is not a vote for the Union, just a request for them to negotiate a contract with the studio which we will vote in or out. If most employees simply fill out the cards, it puts us in a position of power to work out a contract in our favor.

2. Talk to Union representatives and let them know your concerns. What would you like to see changed to improve work conditions within vfx? You want a contract that represents you? Speak up.

3. Spread the word. Get the facts and let other people know. With enough rep cards in place, the union can negotiate a contract based off the needs of workers and studios. How much leverage it has depends on how many rep cards are signed and submitted.

It’s up to you. Let’s start in the comments here and learn some of the things that you as a vfx artist want to see happen in our industry. Perhaps we can get some conversations going and as a first step, start to figure out what could even be done.

What would make your experience at studios better?

Better pay? Sick days? Limits on crunch time? Vacation guarantees? Dispute assistance? Healthcare? Savings plans? Training? Credits? Respect for our contribution to films?

With a discussion we can begin to connect, even anonymously if you prefer. This will show us what some of our common wants are and we can begin discussing feasbility. Please, sign a rep card and send it in. Without it, we have no bargaining power. The more you participate, the more you can have a hand in defining your Union. United, we can make a difference.

Animation Guild live and in person at Imageworks on 5/10

May 9, 2012

Because of our odd multi-tiered benefit system ay Imageworks, we have a unique opportunity on Thursday 5/10.

Steve Hulett from the Animation Guild will be live in the North building at 10am in room 2000  to talk about the SPA 401k plan.

This is the one time the company is forced to let a union representative on campus. This is a good opportunity for everyone to ask questions.

Endless Crunch

May 8, 2012
One of the areas many of us in the VFX industry have a hard time with is endless crunch. Bad production decisions tend to affect our lives the most. Thanks to California labor laws, at least here in California we are paid overtime at Sony, but once we are on a project, there’s nothing we can do to reduce hours when our employers demand that we work 6 or even 7 days a week, doing 12+ hr days with no end in sight.

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To the MIB3 and Spidey crews

May 7, 2012

Read a great comment from Dave Rand on vfxsolider this weekend:

It’s been a fact for over 15 yrs the the most profitable films come from our efforts…from VFX. When you watch the credits roll our names are at the bottom of that totem pole and often just plain left out, why? …because pixels are expensive? because we have no representation!.

More disconcerting is that we actually fund their representation, and the pension and health care plans for all the names that appear ABOVE ours from the residual portions of the films that we supplied most of the profitability to.

Think about that.

So exactly how many jobs were covered under a union agreement on the latest 2 Columbia Pictures shows that we worked on? We asked Vanessa Holtgrewe from IATSE to let us know exactly what jobs were covered under these 2 films:

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