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Visual Effects Artists Use MPAA's Own Words Against It 131

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-daily-schadenfreude dept.
beltsbear sends a story about the struggles of visual effects artists against the Motion Picture Association of America. The VFX industry in the U.S. has been slowly dying because movie studios increasingly outsource the work to save money. The visual effects industry protested and fought where they could, but had little success — until the MPAA filed a seemingly innocuous legal document to the International Trade Commission two weeks ago. In it, the MPAA argues that international trade of intellectual property is just like international trade of manufactured goods, and should be afforded the same protections. This would naturally apply to visual effects work, as well. Thus: "[E]mboldened by the MPAA’s filing, the visual effects workers are now in a position to use the big studios’ own arguments to compel the government to slap trade tariffs on those studios’ own productions in high-subsidy countries. Those arguments will be especially powerful because the MPAA made them to the very same governmental agencies that will process the visual-effects workers’ case. Additionally, the workers can now take matters into their own hands. ... If visual effects workers can show the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission that an import is benefiting from foreign subsidies and therefore illegally undercutting a domestic industry, the federal government is obligated to automatically slap a punitive tax on that import. Such a tax would in practice erase the extra profit margins the studios are gleaning from the foreign subsidies, thereby leveling the competitive playing field for American workers and eliminating the purely economic incentive for the studios to engage in mass offshoring."
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Visual Effects Artists Use MPAA's Own Words Against It

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  • by adamchou (993073) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:19PM (#46350587)
    That's what you get MPAA
    • by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:36PM (#46350787) Homepage Journal

      That's what you get MPAA

      All it means is that they'll increase their lawsuit damage claims by the adjusted amount. After all, the member companies have never made a profit on a movie.

      • And that means what to whom? You and the shill-slash-idiot and the 3 others who moderated you up is the "whom", I guess.

        The results of a successful prosecution have fuck-all to do with what is asked for in most cases that I have read. I have not read all of them, but I have read what appears to be the larger awards. And they don't take the dollar amount requested into consideration. The amount awarded is calculated as the result of the evidence presented at the trial, and is deliberated upon by the jury

      • by Anonymous Coward

        All it means is that they'll increase their lawsuit damage claims by the adjusted amount.

        If your "insightful" argument is correct there would have been no economic incentive to outsource in the first place.

        Any argument that effectively reduces to "they will simply raise prices" doesn't understand pricing. If a company could charge higher prices they would already be doing so. There's no reason to find a "need".

        • by Sique (173459)
          "They will raise prices" is a fair argument if something affects all competitors in a given market. The prices at your local gas station will rise if the price for crude oil rises. It will also work if we are talking of an oligopoly whose prices are heavily influenced by public opinion or influence.
    • Re:Karma is a bitch! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:41PM (#46350859)

      No, I'm pretty sure karma would be the MPAA being sued into oblivion by the RIAA over distributing a movie from the 1930s that happened to have a short music clip they failed to license properly. This meanwhile is a bit of pointless protest that will, at least on the record, show just how obviously corrupt the system is that favors MPAA because of its lobbyists and will show no sign of respecting the VFX artists.

  • by Max Threshold (540114) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:20PM (#46350609)
    Visually stunning film at 11.
    • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:35PM (#46350779) Homepage Journal

      Correction for topic:

      People point out hypocrisy of major corporations, major corporations ignore the criticism and keep on trucking.

    • by digitig (1056110)
      With any luck it will mean they start spending money on storyline instead of VFX.
      • With any luck it will mean they start spending money on storyline instead of VFX.

        There are only so many basic plots. If you're starting to see rehashing it simply means you've been around long enough to notice. Stories always get rehashed and always will.

        Here's the basic hero-story plot:

        • - Hero has a simple problem and tries a simple solution.
        • - The solution fails and the hero learns the problem might be a little more complicated
        • - Hero tries a more complex solution. It also fails for unexpected reasons.
        • -

        • Very true. I was told by a Holywood producer that a Holywood movie should have the following structure or forget it -

          The hero must try to overcome their 'problem' three times. The first two times he must fail, but the failures allow him to learn and grow as a character. Thus he succeeds in the last desperate attempt.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Grab each and every single rat bastard associated in any way with the MPAA, line 'em up against a wall, and keep shooting until they get the message.
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:30PM (#46350721)

    TIme for IT to do the same if only we had a union!

    • by dysmal (3361085)
      If we had a Union, we'd have to learn a thing or two about being fat and sitting around during down time! (sarcasm)
    • by cayenne8 (626475)

      TIme for IT to do the same if only we had a union!

      Please, no union.

      I'm perfectly able to negotiate my own bill rates and job conditions. It isn't that hard, you just have to have a little backbone and learn some people skills.

      • by godrik (1287354)

        Well, it is not a union that is necessary in the field I believe. It is statistics. Detailled statistics of what gets paid here or there and for different kinds of seniority or field of application could definitely boost workers leverage during negociations.

        A union will do that statistics for you, but with lots of other things that might or might not be good.

        • by cayenne8 (626475)

          Well, it is not a union that is necessary in the field I believe. It is statistics. Detailled statistics of what gets paid here or there and for different kinds of seniority or field of application could definitely boost workers leverage during negociations.

          Again, a little research on the individuals part will let you know what's being paid what in different parts of the country.

          There are several places on the web now that gather and distribute this info, and if you're doing federal contracting, there's t

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Perhaps a guild, then.

        Engineers (and actors, oddly enough) typically join a guild, not a union. Unions are for unskilled laborers. Guilds are for skilled workers. The main difference is in how bargaining works.

        For unions, bargaining agreements cover everyone and provide a fixed scale based on "time served" (for lack of a better term), not on actual skill or even experience. And at a certain point, you max out and could potentially do better without the union.

        Guilds bargain for minimums and scales, but then

  • Dream on! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:38PM (#46350821)

    If visual effects workers can show the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission....

    No, they won't be able to because the MPAA with all their money will put a kibosh on anything the workers want. They may even pull the bullshit that tech companies pull and say that they can't get qualified Americans or some such lie.

    The little people have no chance in America. The middle class is disappearing. Upward mobility has disappeared and we're in a downward spiral to the bottom while the spoils go to the very top.

    We're no longer told the lie that if we work hard enough, we can get to the top too. Now we're told that we should be grateful that we're not in India. Well, we're on our way to have lifestyles like theirs.

  • Fools!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IonOtter (629215) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:46PM (#46350933) Homepage

    The law does not apply to the lowly masses, except when it is useful to suppress them or steal from them!

    This is not TV Tropes [tvtropes.org], and you cannot turn the law against the ones who created it! [tvtropes.org]

    • by Mortiss (812218)
      Thank you so much for those TV Tropes links. There goes any chance of any productive work this evening.
  • This is pure protectionism, effectively there are people elsewhere who will do the work cheaper of better. The way to compete against this is to lower your overheads rather than trying to get the government to be your friend.
    The problem is that people are too busy trying to create companies which create millionares rather than actually do work. Accept that fact that a VFX company doesn't really have much net worth beyond the capabilities of its employees and adjust margins accordingly.

    • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:16PM (#46351269)

      The problem is that people are too busy trying to create companies which create millionares rather than actually do work

      Where are you seeing the millionaire VFX artists?

      While I have no doubt that the very top of ILM et al are living a reasonably cozy life, the bottom ranks - be that the modelers, riggers or rotoscopers - are almost all jobhopping between studios not because they enjoy it, but because the studios themselves can ill-afford to pay them. And they can't ill-afford them because they're too expensive, but because the studios themselves see very little in return for what is done.

      I encourage you to check out the very recently (today) released short documentary Life After Pi [youtube.com]. It's more of an industry look at the problems being faced, but is based on the story of the VFX studio behind the effects work in Life of Pi - the movie that so far has a gross of $609M on a $120M budget (boxofficemojo numbers) and won the Academy Award for visual effects - Rhythm and Hues, and their ultimate demise.

      It is one of several documentaries being made on this subject - along with several protest actions calling attention to the issue (if you've ever seen people's profile pictures be a blank green square, odds are they're in VFX).

      Note that I don't disagree with you - in the end VFX jobs can be outsourced, so they will be outsourced. But that is just shifting the problem of extremely skewed compensation between various elements behind a movie from one geographical location to another.

      Payment as ratio to box office performance is something that the industry direly needs - and despite popular opinions that artists should just get paid once for their work created and not charge royalties, I think the other popular opinion that Hollywood Accounting is screwing everybody but the big wigs (the heads of production studios, distributors - the actual millionaires) over could bring some reasonable debate to the floor.

      • by mattyj (18900)

        There is no longer a 'very top' of ILM. The place was decimated last year.

        Another related part of the problem is one the VFX industry created on its own. Throughout the late 90's and early 2000's, new studios were popping up all over the place and got into an arms race by undercutting each other to get the work, thinking that maybe on the next show they'll charge the movie studios more based on the awesome work they were doing. Instead, they trained the movie studios to expect low-cost, high-quality effects

    • by Quila (201335) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:20PM (#46351339)

      This is pure protectionism, effectively there are people elsewhere who will do the work cheaper of better. The way to compete against this is to lower your overheads rather than trying to get the government to be your friend.

      The American VFX artists are getting the government involved because the foreign VFX artists are being subsidized by their governments up to 60%. RTFA

      • by mattyj (18900)

        The over head for most US VFX shops is already razor thin, it is not a profitable industry as it is.

        Most of the overseas, subsidized countries are emerging economies that are trying to kickstart their tech industries. It makes sense for them to subsidize as their economies grow. To subsidize in the US, it means that we taxpayers will be the ones subsidizing, and I find it hard to believe the general population of the US is going to have any sympathy for the lowly VFX artists and go along with subsidizing th

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You are assuming that is realistic for workers in one country to compete with those in another country with very different economic conditions.

      Also, even assuming equal cost of living in the US vs whichever country we wish to outsource to, "lower your overhead" is no solution if the government in that country is subsidizing their local businesses. Even if you argued that the US should provide similar subsidies, the layout of cities and suburban areas coupled with the price inflation of property in many lar

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      It's not about others working for less, but others working for more. If Peter Jackson gets paid by the NZ governemnt to have Weta do the sfx for LoTR, then the US should tax the imported product to even the playing field. Same with Ewe Boll in Germany (though it looks like cg is beyond his ketchup budget). It's about foreign government paying people to move jobs out of the US. The US should object to that, and tax accordingly.
  • Wow, an online-only newspaper caught an instance of the MPAA being somewhat hypocritical, I'm sure that'll change everything! Hoo-wah, I'm going out to buy me some stocks in the company that makes Green Screens!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If trade in intelectual property is the same as trade in manufactured goods, then it must be effected by the same supply and demand relationships. This would mean that as the intelectual property is infinately reproducable at an infinitesimal cost, leading to a near infinite supply, then, as demand is finite, its value must approach zero.

  • by slapout (93640)

    So that explains the SyFy channel movies of the week

  • by Xeno man (1614779) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @07:35PM (#46352227)
    The MPAA doesn't care about right or wrong or looking stupid. They will stand in front of the exact same judge and argue the exact opposite of what they argued last time and do it with a straight face. There are no beliefs or moral guidance. No mission statement describing good things they want to do. The bottom line is making more money. They will campaign for laws that hurt competition or reduce their own taxes. They will destroy lives and anything that stands in their way to make more money.
  • The VFX workers may eventually have to come to grips with the idea that if you can't do it better you can't charge more for it. And thus they will probably have to cut their rates to compete.

    This is basically the end game of the guild system Hollywood uses. You can keep people from undercutting you within the country by requiring guild membership and declaring union shops (or productions), but then the production just moves overseas. How many films are produced overseas nowadays to mitigate labor costs?

  • These **AA agencies truly have no shame, hopefully this little "oversight" lands a boot so far up the MPAA's rear that they'll think twice about their brazen and often completely false/misleading statements for decades to come. Sadly I'm not betting on it, they'll probably use some circular reasoning to "justify" why they can take advantage of off-shoring but others shouldn't, but one can always hope. At a bare minimum they've given the actual artists ammunition to use against them.

  • by Baby Duck (176251) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @08:09PM (#46352593) Homepage
    If the MPAA loses here, they'll just appeal to the WTO to override US law. If the US doesn't comply, the WTO will slap even bigger penalties at the US.
  • Such a tax would in practice erase the extra profit margins the studios are gleaning from the foreign subsidies, thereby leveling the competitive playing field for American workers and eliminating the purely economic incentive for the studios to engage in mass offshoring

    or ... to move entire companies abroad. Given that more and more movie content is CGI, it would be cheaper to fly movie stars to the set somewhere in Asia.

  • There is a good possibility that all this is a moot point in the end thanks to "hollywood accounting".

    take a look at the end credits of any movie. They are ALWAYS initially "owned" by a shell corporation, usually using the name of the movie + LLC or something.
    There is a reason for this.
    Once the movie is made it is promptly sold for a loss (or very small profit) to the "parent" company or any number of other companies in between before it gets to the top. It could also be sold (on paper) for a massive amou

  • I wonder if we could get I.T. work designated as a manufacturing product also. Have Government slap a tax on outsourced IT work.... I'd like that alot.
  • Engineering jobs are offshored (and subsidized) much more extensively than visual effects artists. The number of engineers in the world dwarfs the number of visual effects artists by at least 1000x to 1. Offshore STEM work is subsidized by foreign governments. I wonder if this can lead to tariffs on works thus derived overseas. iPad tariff, anyone?

  • I mean, why can't *we* use the same arguments in the US, that use of the H1-B visa is, in effect, dumping cheap labor on us, and demand more taxes on all employers who use them...?

                          mark

  • The first part of TFS starts talking about "outsourcing", which is the use (by a company) of a second company to provide part of it's product. For example, a design studio may outsource the scrubbing of shit cans and the serving of food in the canteen to a third party. After all, does a design studio really need to know how to burn food, or what sort of arse wipe is cheapest? You might not like outsourcing, but there's nothing new or strange about it.

    Then at the end of TFS, they've slipped to discussing a

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