In the previous post (Reinventing the CG Wheel Part 1) I suggested that the root of the problems facing the VFX community has gone relatively unidentified and unaddressed in the majority of the proposed solutions. I referred to this as “the problem of the CEO” (which, for the sake of simplicity, I’m using as an umbrella term for President, CEO, Executive Director, etc.) Consider the following.
The CEO is ultimately responsible for all of the decisions made in our industry. Yes, there are outside factors that influence his or her decisions (though primarily driven by other CEOs), but at the end of the day every problem in Visual Effects can be traced back to decisions made by this one individual.
The decision to focus on profit instead of people. The decision to give into clients demands at the expense of their employees. The decision to expand (and contract) in cheap labor markets, even in the face of collapse, where often the highest reported salary is less than 8,000 USD/yr and the working conditions are described as far worse than anything we’ve ever witnessed. The decision to try to get ahead of other VFX facilities at the artists expense while refusing to work together to agree on standards that might improve the industry and maybe trickle down to the lives of workers. All the while choosing to collude against the artists, and engage in illegal wage-fixing. The hair-brained, completely idiotic decisions to try to fix their company’s crappy buisness model and razor thin margins. The bold faced lies, the dumbfounding ignorance and naivity, and perhaps utter lack of interest about the state of those they employ. And despite the climate and conditions they perpetuate, they are actually incentivized ($4,468,170/yr for example) to continue unchanged.
As more evidence of this claim, a document recently shared with me, alleged to be a part of the Sony Pictures leak, shows high praise of Imageworks President Bob Osher in his executive performance review. This praise makes no mention of creating a superior product or a rewarding workplace, but rather praises his “significant reduction in overall headcount (230)”, “annualized savings of $4.5M through headcount reductions“, and his “accelerated […] transition of Imageworks’ production and technology departments to Vancouver so the Company can continue taking advantage of the 58.4% tax rebates.” If you haven’t already fallen prey to this unquenchable executive thirst, you will soon enough.
The bottom line is that at the end of the day a CEO is incentivized to care about one thing and one thing only: profitability. How that profit is attained and to whose benefit or expense is not relevant, as long attaining it is not illegal or so illegal that the penalty negates the profits. Sure, for some it’s nice if you can attain profit and the adoration of your subjects, but that is merely a perk of the system suited to the types of personalities who appreciate it. This is not to say that there aren’t beloved CEOs around the world who appear to be good people and help cultivate a thriving company culture, but rather that – particularly in our industry – it is not required and the system incentivizes bad behavior, even in the most beloved of them.
The system that we operate within can create such antagonistic relationships between the workers and “the company”, that Workers Unions and Trade Associations are suggested to protect the two groups from each other. This is because at the core of each role, we share very different motivations.
We can shout about all of the things we see that need to change “END THE UNDERBIDDING!” “MANDATE LABOR STANDARDS!” But in the end, many of these solutions are not actionable by those demanding them because they require agreement and action by the CEO, whose position and decisions we have no control over. But they should be, and we should.
If the CEO is the one person that stands between a thousand workers and our ability to control our own situation, then maybe the CEO must go.
In my previous post I concluded with the question:
If the problem is that the workers are being trampled on by a powerful few who don’t share their interests or objectives and there a thousand of us for every one of them; then why exactly do we think we need to keep these people around?
So why do we think we need to keep them around? And more importantly, why does every new solution we propose and every new company we try to start simply assume they must exist and include them in its makeup?
This is the moment in the conversation where people often enjoy a good snicker at the sudden exposure of apparent economic naivety and childish idealism; so before I continue, if you need to, feel free to take a moment to get it out of your system <comments section below>.
In the next post I’ll take a stab at answering the question and try to elaborate on how we could solve the problem of the CEO.