Protestors are no rare sight outside Hollywood awards shows — members of extreme religious groups often set up camp near events like the SAG Awards and the Oscars. But at this year’s Academy Awards, a protest of a different kind was taking place; It came from inside Tinseltown. A reported 400 or so visual effects artists gathered outside Dolby Theatre Sunday to pronounce their grievances with their place in the industry.
The protest followed the announcement earlier this month that visual effects house Rhythm & Hues is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Protesters on a street corner near Dolby held aloft signs that read “Will matte paint for food,” “Respect for vex” and “We want a piece of the Pi.” Rhythm & Hues worked on Life of Pi, which took home the award for Best Visual Effects Sunday.
When Bill Westenhofer accepted the award, he doled out his thanks and then turned his attention to the troubled effects studio, saying, “We want to thank all the artists who worked on this film for over a year, including Rhythm & Hues. Sadly Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now. I urge you all to remember –” then he was cut off by the orchestra playing music from Jaws, though perhaps because the speech was running long.
In the press room, Westenhofer got his chance to express his views on the issue.
“What I was trying to say up there is that it’s at a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, but that visual effects companies are struggling. And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians,” said Westenhofer, who shares the award with fellow winners Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott (pictured above). “Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by people pushing buttons. We’re artists, and if we don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to lose the artistry. If anything, Life of Pi shows that we’re artists and not just technicians.”
Life of Pi director Ang Lee also told EW on the Oscars red carpet that the film’s visual effects team “worked with me for two, three years, and every one of them I consider them artists, not technicians.”
Rhythm & Hues found itself in financial trouble despite working on several films that scored big at the box office, including The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first Harry Potter film.
One protester, Nancy Evans, who left the visual effects business a few years ago, told Variety, “If these companies are getting subsidized by taxpayer money, where is the money going? If it’s not going to artist salaries and it’s not going to the effects companies, where is it going? It seems to me that’s a continuation of expressing money from working people to wealthy investors.”
According to Variety, among the industry practices that protesters declared detrimental to visual effects artists were the current fixed-bid business model and the need for artists to move from place to place around the world to find work.
Additional reporting by Laura Hertzfeld
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