You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t…

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Union has been accused many times of not reaching out to VFX artists so when an invitation came across this author’s desk about a VES Vancouver chapter’s pub night, I noted not only was it addressed to VES members but also anyone else who had an interest in the VFX community. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get out at a low key casual affair, listen to the artists chat about the industry, and put a face to the Union.

I showed up, not too early, and promptly introduced myself to the host, making sure he was aware of my union status. He welcomed me, “we got appies but you have to cover your drinks” and I took a seat at the bar, the social was being held in a open restaurant. As artists began to arrive a few who recognized me said hello, I began to mingle and general conversation ensued. I chatted with a couple of senior professionals, including a discussion with one artist on running his own VFX shop.

I then sparked up a conversation with a production professional whom had been conversing with me over this blog, he had many questions all about clarifying Local 891’s existing VFX jurisdiction in motion picture production.

While engaged in deep conversation, the VES membership committee coordinator interrupted us and told me I was not welcome. We both looked startled and when it was explained that he knew me and we were continuing a conversation she told me this is “a social for working VFX artists only.”

Hmmmm, the invitation said any one with an interest, it wasn’t that specific. Pardon the misunderstanding but talking about VFX artists working conditions is not a relevant conversation? Local 891 has VFX artist members. I thought the VES was an impartial organization. When did the VES start determining whom its members talk to and what they talk about? I am asked daily about the union’s role in VFX. I am requested to reach out and engage the VFX community. However on this night, doing what artists have asked of me was unwelcome, at least for this union representative.

Anyway rather than make a fuss (I have been known to express myself) I bade the production person good night, paid up my bill, and left. You’re dammed if you do and damned if you don’t!

I wonder how the next social’s invite will look?

Union members not welcome?

In Solidarity,

Dusty Kelly

  1. Anon says:

    Why would VES Vancouver kick someone out of a meeting? since when are people kicked out of VFX meetings? that’s shameful .

  2. X says:

    Sounds like to me the VES has some questionable motives. Apparently, they’re not on board with a VFX union?

  3. Anon says:

    I’ve worked in Vancouver VFX for 13 years. I’ve always known that union film makers have health benefits, guaranteed overtime and overall better working conditions, but not VFX. Until now we have not had a choice in the way we are treated. Now that we actually have a growing interest is a VFX union these assholes at V.E.S. refuse to even discuss the possibility of bettering our industry. who the fuck are these guys?

  4. fixed bid says:

    “This night is open to not only VES members, but anyone interested in the VFX Community.”

    Invite doesn’t specify that you have to be working in vfx. Send a letter to the heads of VES in California. Its sad that an organization like the VES would be against a change for good.

  5. Jeffrey A. Okun says:


    As the Chair of the VES, I want to let everyone know that the VES has no position on a union. What we do have is a need to insure that the factual information is available to our members so that each one of them may make an informed decision for their specific and particular situation.

    As to the accusation that a Union Rep was “Kicked Out” of a meeting, we are looking into it and will take the appropriate measures when we have all the facts.

    Please keep in mind that the VES is a Professional Honorary Society and not a Union, Guild or Trade Organization. Our mission is to educate, inform, honor, and elevate the art and science of visual effects and to form a community where our members can thrive, now and in the future.

    • Horn Swaggled says:

      Dear VES,

      Why are studios going broke, artists not getting paid and union reps being asked to leave your meetings?

      You have a really nice web site. But nobody cares about the VES opinion on tech, tutorials or trophies. We are looking to you for leadership. Please take feel free to take a position and stop bullshitting us.

      • realitycheck says:

        OK, lots of anger/borderline flaming commentary about this issue judging from these posts. Now in debates here and elsewhere, I’ve certainly used my share of withering, even snide sarcasm to what I consider logic lite emotional rantings, but that’s a debate on philosophical positions. The commentary on this one event is getting a little too hyperbolic given what actually happened that evening. I appreciate VES chair Jeff Okun’s post but this was not a proverbial “International Incident/close the embassies/send in the Nimitz carrier group to blockade” situation. Please everybody take a long, deep breath, take the blue pill and calm down.

        Let me say, first off, as someone who attended said VES event, and point of fact, was the “VFX production professional” engaged in deep conversation off to one side of our loose “designated VFX area” within the restaurant/pub (cordial, polite give and take; no yelling, wild gesticulating, mudslinging, krav maga moves or drink tossing was on display on either side) with Ms. Kelley, and she was nothing except respectful to me as I was to her, despite our difference of opinion on many issues.

        This VES event was not ‘a meeting’ in the traditional sense (as many seem to assume). There was no chairperson, no agenda, no minutes taken, no public speakers, no motions put forward and voted upon, and no Robert’s Rules of Order in play. This wasn’t the Italian/South Korean parliament degenerating into fisticuffs. “VES goons/stormtroopers”(in their geekchic Star Wars outfits) did not shout Ms. Kelley down nor eject her from the premises. This was a casual “pub night” and intended as Purely Social. Drinking, gossiping, catching up with colleagues, networking, meeting new people in the industry, basically “shooting the sh*t”.

        Was “The 800 Pound Issue” of unionization a topic of conversation? Yes but near as I could tell, it didn’t dominate the evening and was one of many informal topics bandied about during the approximately 4 hour event of mingling, appetizers and drinks.

        Did a VES representative approach and ask Ms. Kelley to identify herself during our conversation? Yes they did. Did the rep tell Ms. Kelley that this was a “social event for VFX professionals” and it was “inappropriate” for her to be there? Yes. As the person standing between the two, did I find this exchange an awkward situation? Hugely, because I know both parties involved in this exchange and know both to be reasonable people, not wide eyed witch hunting militants. I have no animus towards Ms. Kelley and in fact she is a marked improvement over her predecessor in the position at IA891, whom I would classify as difficult to engage in conversation if your opinion differed from their outlook.

        Did the VES rep “eject” or “demand” Ms. Kelley leave? To my recollection (and Ms. Kelley’s may differ, but the old Rashomon-style saying of there being “3 sides to every story, yours, mine and the truth, which is somewhere in the middle” is more often true than not), aside from the “it’s inappropriate” comment, no, the rep made no such demand. I believe the VES rep was trying to maintain an “apolitical” stance (as the VES itself does) of being neither Pro or Anti union and having a senior union rep there was construed by said VES rep as “inappropriate” since this particular issue has split the VFX community in Vancouver almost right down the middle, with very passionate opinions on both sides. I found out after the fact that several VES members at the event pointed out to the VES rep that night that an IA891 rep was there and they felt a bit awkward at her presence at what was ostensibly a “social” evening.

        Who was “wrong” (or “wrong-er”) here? I was standing (and was a nascent participant) at ground zero when this went down and I don’t know. Did the VES rep “overstep” their bounds and authority (not to mention propriety)? I don’t think so. Did Ms. Kelley have no “right” to be there? As that the invite was reasonably “open” in it’s wording (did not specify “members only” or “members and their +1 guests only”) and the event was in a public restaurant (we didn’t “buy out” the joint for the evening) I’d say no. Could the exchange have benefitted from more diplomacy. Oh yeah, I think so.

        That said, given the tenseness and inflamed passions on both sides of this issue within the local VFX community (the term “powderkeg” or “unstable large hadron collider derived antimatter spiked nuclear core” comes to mind), perhaps in the future if Ms. Kelley or another IA891 rep wants to attend a “VES social event”, they should contact the local VES board to establish some basic ground rules.

        I believe Ms. Kelley, whom I have told in our past conversations/online communications that many in the VFX community don’t believe IA891 has done near a good enough job of “reaching out” to the VFX community and answering our questions/concerns, was honestly there at the VES pub night to attempt do just that in “our” environment, since many VFX members (myself included) have avoided the “formal” IA891 VFX meetings in the past (our lack of trust being directly tied to lack of consultation/communication). I also think some VES members there construed her presence there as a blatant “recruitment drive” that “politicized” the evening and felt hugely blindsided by her surprise appearance.

        Dispassionately asking questions of IA891 and back and forth communicating can only help us perhaps(that should be a capital P in Perhaps) find some common ground on a (Big V) Very polarizing issue. Whether that means an IA rep attending a future VES event (with sufficient warning/promises to keep the discussion ‘informal/informational’ only) or IA holding an ‘informal” pub style event of their own (which sounds like what they’re trying to do with their announced Feb 13 event), we are at the point where both sides can’t keep ignoring the “pink elephant” on the other side of the divide.

        Remember, “Only Nixon could go to China” – sorry, quotes can’t always have Shakespearean (whom I worship as a wordsmith, despite the Iambic pentameter), Gandhi/JFK or Jack Bauer gravitas.

  6. fixed bid says:

    Although the VES has no position on a union, the VES has to openly begin addressing some of the challenges and hurdles facing our industry. This is a great opportunity for the VES to grab the torch and run with it, instead of sitting on the sidelines.

  7. VFX Soldier says:

    @realtycheck hate to change the subject but since you are admitting that you’re a producer why did you go around my blog pretending to post comments as a Vfx artist? Why did you engage in sock puppet arguments on my blog? You lose alot of credibilty when you do that and it just confuses and misinforms artists. Post to come.

    • realitycheck says:

      To VFX Soldier,

      Sir/ma’am (though I assume you’re a sir based on your writing style), I have never made the claim (to my recollection) that “I am an artist” nor a “producer” for that matter.

      What I am is a freelance VFX person (generally “production hired” but have also worked at several VFX facilities in Canada and overseas) who, along with many others, has not had any say, been consulted or being offered a vote on the matter of membership in IA891. Through a process I’m still trying to get complete clarity on, AMPTP and the Canadian equivalent apparently “offered up” all VFX workers (which means pretty much everyone except VFX producers) in Vancouver to IA891 without an industry wide vote. This was participated from a single Production side VFX department (hired and paid by production) of 6 to 10 artists who voted to join 891 on a since cancelled TV show. As it stands, workers at each individual VFX facility in Vancouver, whether “in house” or independent, have the right to a “shop vote” if enough employees express an interest.

      While there are exceptions, generally locally owned/operated VFX shops in Vancouver offer OT/benefits, while “satellite” facilities from LA, London or elsewhere often try to “skirt” the issue of paying OT/benefits much like they do at the Mothership facilities back home. As I said there are exceptions as a few local facilities have been called out for being just as wrongheaded on the OT issue and several foreign operated satellite operations do pay OT per labour (that’s the Canadian spelling) law. Also, health plans, while a concern, is not as big an issue as the US due to our universal health care system, though things like dental etc. are of concern to VFX workers.

      However, one of the big stumbling blocks on the IA891 push to represent VFX is, all Production Hired VFX freelancers (which includes VFX supervisors, production supervisors/managers, coordinators, data wranglers, PA’s, lidar techs and pre/post viz artists not affiliated/employed by facilities) have ZERO right of any vote and are to be simply “absorbed” without a say if IA891 have their way. That is one of the biggest (though not only) issues that is causing a split within the VFX community in Vancouver. A good percentage of facility workers want a union (in this case 891) and a good percentage of VFX freelancers don’t, or at least don’t without a vote on the matter (which seems to contradict the spirit if not the to the letter legality of the trade union movement).

      As a definite “pro unionist” who tends not to logically see(my opinion) the other side of the issue, I understand your interest in this subject, even if it’s not happening in LA/California. However, I also know one of your underlying goals is to return most if not all VFX work to California by having (the so far legal for the better part of 15 years) tax breaks eliminated from international jurisdictions offering them on VFX work (mostly because California can’t afford/has no political appetite to compete on the “tax break game”). Given that motivation, there is huge subtext to any commentary you might have on what is currently a uniquely Vancouver situation. That said, feel free to offer your opinions (freedom of speech is a basic tenet of both our countries) as I have offered mine on your blog, which has often contradicted your core beliefs. Where we also differ is, I believe in going where the work is, be it here in Canada or overseas (or even California). It’s a great and exciting way to see the world and absorb other cultures. You seem to be that uniquely California-centric type who thinks the work SHOULD come to you, because you (California) have “historical precedent” and don’t want to move. To each his or her own.

      • UNrealitycheck says:

        It sounds like realitycheck just really wants attention, no matter how bad it is. I believe his (judging by his whining.. a small male with a big complex) long-winded rants are a purely self-indulgent passive aggressive attempt to gain attention. Good on you sir. You’ve won! You now have the longest posts in these threads, which means absolutely nothing with the topic at hand.

        Take the black pill…

  8. […] she was not welcomed to the event. VES chair Jeff Okun chimed in on the comments section basically saying “hey we are Switzerland folks!” I’m dissapointed of course and sometimes wonder […]

  9. […] of my Vancouver readers probably have heard about some shenanigans IATSE organizer Dusty Kelly ran into when she tried to attend an informal VES event that invited […]

  10. Dave Rand says:

    The letter to VES from IATSE cited in Variety was a very respectful introduction. Given that excellent start, and out of continuing respect, I believe IATSE could have contacted VES in advance of even this small gathering no matter what the invitation stated. It would have shown continuing respect for VES’s chartered position on labor relations, which is one of neutrality. Given that, anything short of an apology at this point only engages a fruitless front for both parties. Our efforts going forward need no strain or drain of energy fighting amongst ourselves where true objectives get clouded and missed and only bad feelings evolve between friends. Original intentions that were both good on Dusty’s part and the VES folks at the gathering are getting turned into less by these distractions and the only winners will be those who wish to keep us all down. …Dave Rand

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