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Visual Effects Artists Protest at Oscars

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 11:29 AM

By James Hirsen

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Viewers tuning into the television programming leading up to the 86th annual Academy Awards ceremony may have noticed an unusual activity that was taking place alongside the red carpet.
 
Numerous people carrying signs of a significant shade of green had set up a picket line and were engaged in a full-fledged Oscar protest.
 
The color green in Hollywood typically means that an issue has some kind of environmental connection, but not in this instance. The signs displayed by this particular group were meant to invoke the “green screen,” which is a Hollywood technologically related mainstay used in the creation of modern digital special effects for cinema.
 
The protesters were, in fact, visual effects (VFX) professionals who were staging a demonstration in order to draw media attention to their unusual plight. The artists are concerned, as well they should be, that the VFX industry, which was created and honed in America, is disappearing within our borders and relocating to foreign countries that are offering generous tax subsidies to Hollywood studios.
 
The awards show demonstration was spearheaded by a group that calls itself the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals & Technicians (ADAPT). Still in the formation process, ADAPT is an emerging trade group that has assembled together to address what is currently an unmet need. According to the group’s website, it is a “visual effects organization dedicated to action for the business interests of its members.”
 
Hollywood has a long history of powerful unions, including SAG-AFTRA (actors), the DGA (directors), and the WGA (writers), which are accustomed to wielding clout both in Tinseltown and Washington, D.C. However, VFX professionals have lacked a trade organization primarily because the special effects industry came into being long after the time period in which unions had initially formed in Hollywood.
 
The special effects profession traces its origins back to the 1970s and the emergence of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas’ company, Industrial Light and Magic. The techniques have developed to a point where visual effects are essential for the vast majority of successful big-budget studio “tentpole” movies.
 
The most dominant films at the box office, such as “Avatar,” “The Avengers,” “Iron Man,” and this year’s Visual Effects Oscar-winning space film “Gravity,” are dependent upon mind-boggling special effects to reel in viewers.
 
In 2013 the Oscar for Best Visual Effects was awarded to the movie “Life of Pi,” a 3-D live-action computer-animated adventure. Ironically, though, Rhythm & Hues Studios, the VFX firm that created the much-acclaimed virtual tiger for “Life of Pi” declared bankruptcy on Feb. 11, 2013. During the 2013 Academy Awards, when Rhythm & Hues visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer mentioned his company’s name during his acceptance speech for “Life of Pi,” the microphone was cut off.
 
The technology used for VFX has evolved to the point where the work that creates the visual effects is no longer confined to Hollywood’s post-production studios but can be conducted and completed anywhere in the world.
 
Subsidies in the form of tax incentives encourage studios to turn to foreign locales such as New Zealand, Canada, the U.K., and Australia for film shoots, where entertainment companies can get up to one-half of their visual effects labor costs returned back to them.
 
Additionally, foreign subsidies can even induce studios to move their entire production abroad, as was done with “The Hobbit,” which was filmed in New Zealand.
 
As Hollywood’s own respected Oscar-winning special effects production companies are being driven out of business and thousands of jobs are disappearing from sight, one would think that the movie industry would, at a minimum, be expressing some concern.
 
Instead the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the trade group that purportedly speaks for the major studios, appears to be nonchalant in its attitude regarding the mounting crisis in the American VFX industry.
 
According to NPR, the MPAA has indicated that, since the digital artistry is a service that is not protected by trade agreements, the Hollywood studios are free to “send their work any place they want.”
 
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
 
 
 

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