Marvel VFX Workers Explain Why Unionizing Is Necessary To Save The Industry

Earlier this week, over 50 on-set VFX workers at Marvel voted to unionize under International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Today, speaking to IGN, five workers and organizers have explained why the unionization push is so important, describing jobs that are fundamentally unsustainable despite their huge importance to the industry.

The workers describe an industry that’s slammed by more demand than its workers can keep up with–especially as studios are creating more VFX-heavy TV shows with far longer runtimes than a theatrical release would have.

“When you’re turning a 90-minute movie into a 10-hour feature basically, you’re doing 10 times the amount of work within the same, or even sometimes a shorter period of time,” said Mark Patch, a VFX organizer who worked on Disney’s WandaVision.

“With Disney+ and its advent, there was a bunch of new content that was being requested for the service, but we actually were finding that visual effects workers were so tapped out and being spread out so thin that shows were waiting in line to essentially get their work done,” added Alex Torres, who worked on Marvel’s Runaways.

“It definitely feels more like a conveyor belt nowadays than necessarily each project being given its own thought and time,” says Gabrielle Levesque, who has worked on a number of Marvel’s projects both before and after Disney+ launched. “It really becomes like the McDonald’s of content.”

“I was on WandaVision and they told us, ‘Well, you’re not going to have any more days off in the next three months until we deliver episode 10,'” Patch adds. “We were already working 18-hour days. I was like, ‘How is this supposed to be sustainable?'”

All the workers interviewed by IGN echoed the same thread of unsustainability, with the people who fuel today’s VFX-heavy films and TV shows being “drowned” or “burning out” on the expected workload.

Patch explained that most VFX workers currently are paid a weekly flat rate, which doesn’t take into account the high levels of overtime and crunch often expected from them. The issues have led to a shortage of VFX workers, even in outsourced studios across the world. “Like, across the globe, we’re out of people,” said Torres. “But the order still keeps coming down. It still says just like Mark says, ‘oh, you got 10 days to finish this because that’s what we need.'”

As well as the negative effects on the people working in the industry, these issues also have the potential to impact the quality of the VFX work that ends up on our film and TV screens, with critics often picking up on unconvincing VFX.

While all the workers have plenty of passion for what they do, the conditions have ultimately become unsustainable–and that passion is being taken advantage of. “I like the kind of problems we solve in this department, but if you make the job so difficult and so unsustainable, what do you expect us to do?” says Maggie Kraisamutr, an in-house artist who has worked in many Hollywood studios. “We want to save this job, so we’re going to unionize. We’re helping ourselves.”

VFX workers are looking for protection under IATSE’s Basic Agreement, which covers minimum wage, pension and health care, turnaround protections, meal penalties, and more. Without these, Patch says “our lives are ultimately unsustainable.”

“We’re going to make VFX’s voice heard because it’s been 50 years since now since the first Star Wars was made and the modern VFX industry was created,” he continues. “Half a century is a long time to wait for health care and overtime.”

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