I apologize for the poor quality of the video, but I wanted you to see how the VFX artists for the Life of Pi were treated during the Academy Awards last week. Generally speaking, the supporting jobs in movie-making are given the short shrift in favor of the actors. Those who actually merit being in the main program (rather than the lesser, non-televised Technical Awards) are expected to get up on the stage, grab the award and get the hell off, lest they be chased off by the Jaws Theme. And they should expect the actors, who let's face it, rely more and more on visual special effects, to be sneering and joking about giving them the respect they deserve.
But the story is even more poignant than what was shown on your television screen. If you happened to be in Hollywood that day, you would have seen more of the Rhythm & Hues Visual Effects crew outside the Kodak Theater, protesting the bankruptcy and subsequent layoffs of the same company simultaneously accepting an achievement award for a movie largely comprised of visual effects:
You might assume those who work on a film that wins an Oscar would be excited about it taking home the gold, but that's not the case for over 400 current and ex-employees of visual effects company Rhythm & Hues, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and fired over 250 employees last week. Deadline reports that many of those workers gathered and staged a large protest near the 85th Academy Awards ceremony last night.
Following the company's filing for bankruptcy and laying off hundreds of employees without pay, the effects house hoped to receive an emergency $17 million loan from 20th Century Fox and Universal so all their VFX artists could finish work on contracted projects that would last until the end of April. Legendary Pictures stepped in and paid the company around $5 million to finish the effects work on Seventh Son, the upcoming fantasy film set for release on October 18th, 2013. But things are still looking shaky for the VFX house.
The protest took place at the corner of Hollywood & Vine last night, only a few blocks away from the red carpet pre-shows near the Dolby Theatre. Reportedly even those who stuck around to work on Seventh Son haven't received a paycheck in weeks, and many are distressed about Hollywood's practice of hiring foreign companies instead of local ones to complete effects on blockbusters. Unionization is another big issue for VFX artists, but an undertaking like that is difficult to organize in a community with this many members. When VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer accepted the award for Life of Pi last night, he was ominously played off the stage by the Jaws score and abruptly cut off just as he was beginning to tell the audience about the current situation. "Sadly, Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now, and I urge you all to remember..." and that was all he could say before his microphone was turned off.
While it's easy to dismiss this as the free market working its invisible hand, remember that Life of Pi has now grossed $585 million worldwide, not counting DVD sales. Likewise, The Avengers, which stars Robert Downey Jr. (with a reported $50 million payday) and Samuel L. Jackson (a paltry $5-6 million) grossed $1.5 BILLION worldwide. Yet the crew that gave the Hulk his bulk has to resort to literal panhandling to stay in business. A Reddit discussion enumerates the grievances: