This blog is dedicated to discussion about a potential future in which vfx/animation/film studios may arise that are cooperatively owned and operated entirely by the workers, where decisions about the direction of the company are made democratically, where leadership is elected, where every worker from a coordinator to the CEO has an equal vote, where finances and profits are transparent and available to all workers and where we the artists, creators, and innovators, could be the immediate beneficiaries of our own successes instead of boardroom of inaccessible executives
and a sea of anonymous shareholders.
YOU MIGHT ASK YOURSELF
Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat. I’ve had this discussion enough times to be familiar with the initial reactions you often get when you suggest wild, unheard of ideas like: “What if the artists collectively owned and democratically operated the studio.”
Like many, you might immediately experience a sense of shock, outrage, comic disbelief and say something dismissive like: “HA! It’s a cute idea but this could never work“. You may pose questions to which you think there are no good answers: “But who would make creative decisions? Who would deal with the finances?” You might assume that this hasn’t been thought through: “Making your own content is expensive! Who would direct it? You could never compete with other facilities and have better working conditions.” Or you might try to make pithy analogies and metaphors to express your indignation:“Artists are like cats. You can’t heard cats.” or my absolute favorite actual quote “Inmates running the Asylum has been tried before and rarely succeeds.”
But like many, you might then take a second to entertain the notion. You might think of all the decisions made by the presidents of the companies you’ve worked for to keep you on uncertain, short-term contracts; to force you to move abroad or terminate your job so they can maximize their profit; to collude to keep your wages low and not at scale with inflation and the cost of living in your city. You might think of all the times you and your colleagues knew from the beginning and agreed that a decision was a bad idea, whether that was a terrible project, a decision by upper management to gut the R&D team, or a decision by producers to put off dealing with that problem you all knew would result in 16 hour days at the end of the show.
You might remember the reasons you got into this industry: To do what you love, to work on things that excite and inspire you, to be inspired by and learn from those around you, and to get the enjoyment of instilling that sense of excitement, wonder and inspiration in everyone who watches a movie you worked on. You might recall that living at the mercy of profit and investors, maximizing a studio’s bottom line, ensuring that your CEO didn’t have to let your job security or the cost of driving his Mercedes eat into his $5,000,000 salary, or having little to no say in your employment or the projects you work on wasn’t one of those reasons. You might think of how much you care about your co-workers, how much you value their input and inspiration, and how you wish the best for everyone.
And then you might think… “man, wouldn’t it be nice I had a voice? If we had a voice.” Which may lead to thoughts like: If we could vote on who our CEO was and he/she was accountable to us, and not us accountable to him/her, maybe we wouldn’t find ourselves in so many situations that seem completely counter to our interest or result in the involuntary sacrifice to our overall quality of life.
THERE IS A MODEL
As it turns out, there is a business model – relatively unheard of in the US – built around these very principles. It’s been called things like “Worker Self-Directed Enterprise (WSDE)”, or more simply a “worker-cooperative.” This model has been effective internationally in companies from 10 to 100,000 and has spawned a host of organizations to spread the idea (http://1worker1vote.org/, http://www.democracyatwork.info/, http://www.usworker.coop/).
And to give credit, I did not come to these conclusions on my own. It was the result of many months of conversations with colleagues much more knowledgeable than I, in response to issues in our industry, disruption to our overall standards of living, and the ever strengthening belief that there is no reason we should be in this situation and getting out of it may require outside the box solutions.
NO SILVER BULLETS
To be clear, this concept is not intended to downplay or usurp attempts to organize in other ways, organizations like ADAPT, or the actions of bold, intelligent, courageous minds pursuing real solutions to attack the issues we face. There are a growing list of problems in our industry that need to be tackled in a variety of ways, and I don’t believe there is an immediate or silver-bullet solution. What I’m advocating here is that at least some of us consider ways we can take our collective power a step further than anything the film & vfx industry has seen.
SO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE EASY?
Would starting an animation cooperative be easy? HELL NO. It might just be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But would it be any more difficult than starting any other type of vfx/animation studio? Would it be much more difficult than creating any other independent movie? We can acknowledge the inherent difficulties, but let’s not forget that more difficult things have been accomplished by fewer people.
In conversations with colleagues, we’ve collectively talked through a number of the major hurdles, but there are still many more to go. And that’s why I’m starting this blog. To share things that have already been discussed. To have and entertain this discussion. To flush out these ideas and the spread them around.
I hope you’ll join forces in discussing ways that we can take control of our livelihoods and create a better more fulfilling future for ourselves and our friends in this industry.