A little background: in recent years Hollywood’s visual effects industry has been crippled by a combination of competition subsidized by foreign governments, tighter production deadlines, and cost-cutting in Hollywood, which has led to thousands of jobs lost in the industry and, in the past six months, the bankruptcies of two of the four major effect production houses. As members of one of the only non-unionized trades in show business, effects artists have watched in despair as their work has evaporated. So when Westenhover — whose company Rhythm and Hues was the latest to announce it was shutting its doors — rose to accept his award, it seemed like the perfect time for a public statement about the struggles of VFX pros.
Here’s what happened instead: as soon as Westenhofer got done thanking his family and began to discuss Rhythm and Hues’ plight, the orchestra drowned him out with the Jaws theme. A grinning Seth MacFarlane quickly appeared to point the team offstage. When Ang Lee, the director of the effect-heavy film, rose to accept his own Best Directing prize, he neglected to thank the VFX team from his own movie. And in comments after the show, the director said he wished that visual effects could be “cheaper.”
The treatment couldn’t have gone over worse with VFX artists if they were colonists who’d learned about a new British tea tax. Within hours, members of the trade long accustomed to taking their lumps in silent, nerd solitude were in the streets protesting. Their online display of solidarity — asking supporters to turn their Facebook and Twitter photos green to represent the blank background screen filmgoers would see without their work — went viral across Hollywood.
But far more disruption may be yet to come from the people who hold the fates of Hollywood’s biggest films in their hands. “There is so much frustration because the studios haven’t responded,” said the writer behind the blog VFX Soldier, which for three years has served as one of the principle organizing points in the trade. The writer, a VFX artist with over ten years experience in the industry, spoke to BuzzFeed by phone on the condition that his identity not be revealed. He continued: “People are saying, ‘if you don’t listen your film isn’t going to get finished.’ If this keeps occurring you’re going to see a situation where a film doesn’t get done, where people walk out on a production. They feel that’s the only way to get the industry’s attention.”
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