As I do my usual perusing around Facebook today, I couldn’t help but notice the sudden uptick of people switching their profile pictures to a simple green square.
What does it mean? Those of you who watched the Oscars may remember Life of Pi winning for “Best Visual Effects”. Rhythm & Hues, the company responsible for said effects, actually filed for bankruptcy and laid off roughly 250 employees a few weeks before the ceremony. Upon accepting the award, virtual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer gave a speech which started to speak on a protest that was actually happening outside the theater. His words were eventually drowned out (over the theme to Jaws no less) and the microphone feed got cut. The protest, called “A Piece of the Pi”, had more than 400 supporters and was in response to what has been a sad state of affairs for the virtual effects industry in the U.S. lately.
The fact of the matter is that Hollywood doesn’t give these studios enough credit for the hard work that they do. The rise of overseas companies willing to do similar work for a cheaper cost have forced domestic studios like Rhythm & Hues to run on profit margins of 5% or even less.
As a business-minded person, I’m not one to chastise any for looking outside the country to outsource work. The problem I do find in this whole situation, however, is the fact that Hollywood is supporting a system where the lack of healthcare and overtime pay is the norm. With such shoddy compensation and the costs cut from said conditions, it makes it very difficult for any U.S. based visual effects house, Oscar winners or not, to compete.
Despite the Academy’s best efforts to drown out Westenhofer, online outlets took action to spread the word and their outrage. Facebook protesters have changed their profile pictures to the previously mentioned green square (symbolic of the green screen used for visual effects) and Twitter has been flooded with the hashtag #VFXprotest.
Until there is a change in business practices, this problem will continue and leave many pink slips in its wake. If you too are outraged over this, the best courses of action I can suggest is to write letters to the Hollywood studios as well as not support the films that outsource to shoddily run studios overseas. I would stress the latter more simply because money talks the loudest in matters like this and only we as the consumers of film and entertainment control the volume.