Right now, there’s a considerable amount of action happening in Hollywood – and not the kind you’d expect from a blockbuster movie. No, there are major strikes currently taking place with the writers’ and actors’ guilds, in disputes over the lack of streaming residuals and the encroach of AI. And now, another part of the industry looks to be banding together in solidarity against the rising demands of film and TV production. Visual Effects (VFX) workers for Marvel Studios have, for the first time, voted to unionise under IATSE – that’s, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. It’s a notable shift, not only because of previous reports about difficult working conditions for VFX houses in the current filmmaking landscape (including on Marvel projects), but also because VFX workers have largely been non-union in the past.
What this suggests is the potential beginnings of a pushback against working conditions for those working in VFX. “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. This is a historic first step for VFX workers coming together with a collective voice demanding respect for the work we do,” says IATSE’s VFX Organiser, Mark Patch, as part of an IATSE statement. As for those working conditions, much has been reported in recent years around VFX teams having to work considerable overtime to complete jobs on deadline, while the VFX companies bid competitively against each other to line up future projects. “Turnaround times don’t apply to us, protected hours don’t apply to us, and pay equity doesn’t apply to us,” says Bella Huffman, VFX Coordinator. “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.”
Where exactly the conversation goes from here, what rights the VFX workers are able to establish for themselves, and whether there could be a VFX industry strike on the horizon too, remains to be seen. But this unionisation comes amid a period of recalibration for Hollywood as a whole with the current writers’ and actors’ strikes. Stay tuned for more updates as they come.