Marvel — The WGA and SAG-AFTRA union strikes have stymied Hollywood productions, forcing them to halt until a settlement is reached.
After discovering that animators and VFX artists were having comparable issues, many people have taken a step back and refocused their efforts to the greater entertainment business. Overworked and underpaid, Marvel has been the subject of a similar problem that initially surfaced a year ago.
With many individuals in favor of unions, the visual effects teams at Marvel Studios elected to participate in the effort to obtain the pay they deserve.
The Marvel crew
Last Monday, Marvel Studios’ visual effects staff petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a unionization election. According to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the crew of more than 50 persons signed authorization cards to verify their desire for union representation.
The team members that signed the cards include VFX experts who work directly for Marvel. They are separate from the hundreds of VFX artists who have worked on Marvel films through third-party VFX businesses and normally work in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York.
The VFX industry through the decades
After Star Wars ushered in the VFX boom of the late 1970s, the VFX industry was primarily non-union. However, the IATSE believes it is past time for a significant change in the labor landscape.
When Rhythm & Hues declared bankruptcy after completing the Oscar-winning Life of Pi, the VFX industry shied away from the idea of forming a union for over a decade. Nothing happened since the idea did not come to fruition. However, a new organizational effort has recently begun, with the Marvel VFX crew spearheading the movement becoming public knowledge.
It remains to be seen whether the artists will be allocated to an IATSE Local or if a new one will be formed.
“For almost half a century, workers in the visual effects industry have been denied the same protections and benefits their coworkers and crewmates have relied upon since the beginning of the Hollywood film industry,” said IATSE VFX organizer Mark Patch.
“This is a historic first step for VFX workers coming together with a collective voice demanding respect for the work we do.”
Although the current labor movement has had an influence on Hollywood by forcing the closure of entertainment companies, other factors have also contributed to the current efforts.
Collectivist efforts come after a challenging period of months on the field. Marvel, for example, published Victoria Alonso in March.
Alonso was in charge of VFX at Marvel, although her resignation was thought to be related to issues outside of her responsibilities. Marvel also had to deal with unfavorable headlines from anonymous VFX employees who complained about working conditions that pushed them to work long days every week.
Isabella Huffman, a Marvel visual effects coordinator whose credits include Hawkeye, made a statement outlining the industry’s working conditions.
“Turnaround times don’t apply to us, protected hours don’t apply to us, and pay equity doesn’t apply to us,” said Huffman.
“Visual Effects must become a sustainable and safe department for everyone who’s suffered far too long and for all newcomers who need to know they won’t be exploited.”
A set date
The lack of VFX unionization has helped Disney and Marvel, but the collaboration between the VFX workforce and IATSE will change everything.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, cards will be delivered on August 21, with ballots being tabulated after the September 11 deadline.
If the union is created, Hollywood will experience a dramatic shift in favor of VFX artists and laborers.
Cross-industry unionization attempts
The Marvel VFX staff’s unionization push is more than just a component of the Hollywood labor crisis. It is also part of a countrywide push to unionize workers at companies like Amazon and Starbucks.
The timing of the initiative also coincides with unions enjoying their highest popularity rating since the 1960s, according to Gallup.
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb stated:
“We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of solidarity that’s breaking down old barriers in the industry and proving we’re all in this fight together. That doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”
“Entertainment workers everywhere are sticking up for each other’s rights. That’s what our movement is all about,” Loeb added. “I congratulate these workers on taking this important step and using their collective voice.”