Vfx Soldier Blogger ‘Outs’ Himself to Lead Protest

daniel-lay-vfx-soldier-obama
David S. Cohen/Variety

The anonymous blogger behind the Vfx Soldier blog revealed his identity today to lead the visual effects protest outside DreamWorks Animation in conjunction with President Obama’s visit.

Daniel Lay, a visual effects professional who has worked at Sony Pictures Imageworks, DreamWorks Animation, Digital Domain and other visual effects companies, said he felt obliged to reveal his identity for two reasons. First, the movement he helped found to fight back against foreign tax incentives is becoming a formal organization, the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians (ADAPT). Second, he said “people have been falsely accused of being Vfx Soldier and have been blacklisted, so this is the time for me to come out. That got my blood boiling.”

Lay organized and led today’s demonstration by 40-plus green-shirted visual effects professionals that met at Griffith Manor Park and walked to the DreamWorks Animation campus. Lay said the protest is not meant to embarrass either DreamWorks Animation or President Obama.

“We want to correct the record,” said Lay. “We want tout the job growth in the entertainment industry. This is the last place you want to come to do that.”

He cited the massive job losses in entertainment production in Los Angeles, due to foreign tax incentives luring work abroad.

Lay acknowledged that subsidies in other states are also taking jobs from Los Angeles and said he and his organization would support efforts by foreign countries to fight US subsidies. He said he has repeatedly offered such report, but has gotten more takers.

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  1. Everyone seems to think this is some kind of whining about VFX leaving LA. That has NOTHING to do with it. This is about Governments, local and abroad subsidizing studios that don’t need it. It’s about creating a fictitious economy. If London or wherever can do it cheaper and better, fine, but the government of London or wherever should not be able to skew the price in their favor. The only people who are benefiting are the people who need the least help.

  2. Lori says:

    Thanks Daniel. My family has been hurt by these tax rebates so we appreciate you speaking out about it.

  3. monty says:

    What cards am I holding? I have a job that can disapear any second. The only difference between us is I never had the misconception of job security. There is no such thing. I live every day knowing what I do can be absorbed by people here, shipped to others or be replaced by something else that is developed.
    I agree with a ton of youre points…but ..for the third time…my point is..making yourself more attractive to employers/ studios or creating youre own content is more productive than protesting Obama. That was the only point Itruly had to make. Good luck to all you and happy thanksgiving.

  4. David Breaux says:

    But then again you are currently holding the cards so why should anyone expect you to care… You got what you wanted.

  5. David Breaux says:

    It would be interesting to see what percentage of sr talent at studios are from the local population.
    VFX studios are usually made up of a large portion of imported talent from everywhere.
    It isn’t the studio location of the studio but the talent that made them worth of the work.
    Now for those that say why should we have to move to the U.S. to make movies…. “Why should we have to move to your country to do something we were already doing here.” We took no ones jobs…. they displaced a large percentage of ours.

      • Frank W says:

        Yeah, Monty, but what you seem to not understand is that any jobs exported out of the country weaken the country–what ever country it is. Make jokes about it and act smug, but rules and laws are being broken by big business. For instance, Studios were divested of their theater chains because it was seen as a monopoly. So how in the hell can Comcast own NBC/Universal–and how could NBC even buy Universal in the first place!

        Yeah there is a new mentality. One of everyone wants something for nothing. Ask a musician about the new way things are as he no longer receives payments for his work from the likes of Spotify. Ask a photographer how his work is devalued because there is no longer proper rights management and copyright info is stripped from images uploaded to aggregate sites.

        I can understand saving money–even the publisher I work for had to send it out to China for printing–but that’s because they weren’t making a money on the project, the proceeds from sales go to support a charitable non-profit.

        Just because it’s the new way doesn’t mean it the right way.

      • David Breaux says:

        Writing about it and understanding the true forces at work with a level headed balanced perspective are two very diffent things

      • David Breaux says:

        Many, many,many of us in L.A. Decided to move here to work in film…we all came from many places around the world. Why should it be any different for anyone else. So what you are saying is you are fine with people who had jobs loosing them so that you don’t have to uproot your life. Your day will come and when it does your perspective will change. You would have me sell my home force my fiancé to quit her job or leave her in L.A. Alone while I take a paycut to work elsewhere just so you can have your government buy the projects….

      • Monty says:

        Ive written pages on this article.. more so then Ive ever done on the internet. Go read my other comments if you’re interested. I’m helping you see how old that mentality is. Jobs belong to no one.Everything is in motion everything changes. Evolve learn change.. or don’t..but jobs aren’t a right or a possession you earn them every day.

      • David Breaux says:

        That’s the best you can come up with…

  6. Joeseph says:

    Lack of innovation? From the sound of it, if you are actually in visual effects, you don’t understand it at all. Do you realize that many Los Angeles based supervisors are being asked to move overseas or to Canada? If each region had equally skilled artists, why would there be a need for this? The studios want to save as much money as they can and ruining people’s lives and families aren’t their concern unless exactly it’s their own.

  7. Barbie says:

    They haven’t streamlined the VFX process and it’s costly. It’s just cheaper to go overseas and you can’t blame people for seeking a deal. If you were trying to get a movie made, you’d do the same thing. Nobody has a right to dictate who they are allowed to hire. What gall.
    I work in VFX and there are ways to advance technology and actually compete. But they don’t want to here that. They want guaranteed checks.
    This is why the American Auto industry is crippled. Lack of innovation leads to stagnation… Progress!

    • noname says:

      The reason people are working cheaper outside the US is not because our VFX process is any costlier than theirs. It’s because foreign governments are paying a good percent of those costs so that their studios don’t have to. Whether you think that’s okay or not, or a right of those countries, I’m not going to argue, but the idea that we’re somehow worse at making VFX than elsewhere or our VFX workers are more demanding is absurd. IIRC, Canada is actually where most of the VFX work goes these days. Canada has always had huge (in comparison to the US) subsidies for the arts.

  8. Monty says:

    Yes ! Only people in Southern California should be able to work in VFX.Bravo!

    • Daniel says:

      Surely you can see that you’re knocking down a straw man, Monty. Arguing that subsidies are distorting the marketplace is not remotely the same as arguing that anyone should be excluded from working in the industry based on location.

      Imagine a scenario with two competing visual effects vendors who, by some quirk of probability, both have precisely the same capacity to do work at the same exact price point and the same exact level of quality. But one is found in a location with considerable government subsidies for the client to collect, and the other is found in a city without such subsidies. And let’s imagine that a client wants to get some work done, and there are no logistical issues that would sway their choice between either of these shops.

      Where does the work go in that scenario? Obviously if the client is savvy, they’ll choose the subsidized location to lower the effective cost of VFX in their film. No other reason, since in this scenario all else is equal.

      Even if we alter that scenario somewhat and say that the un-subsidized shop can do better work at a lower price-point than the subsidized shop, that work would have to be SO much better and/or SO much cheaper that it out-valued the subsidy. And not just by a little bit — by a LOT — because there’s such hunger for the tax credit that even a better bargain elsewhere may not be enough to convince investors who are seeking to take advantage of every mechanism they can to reduce their risk. They like to see that box checked off.

      The existence of the subsidy is a clear distortion of the marketplace, since without it the work would go to the place that offered the best work at the best price. That place COULD be anywhere. It could be in Vancouver, or London, or New Zealand, or Los Angeles, or anywhere else. In the absence of the subsidy, companies around the world would be competing based on price, quality, and logistics. Nobody would be “barred.” With the subsidies factored in, the scale is tipped, and a location whose government offers no subsidy is suddenly barred from entry unless it severely devalues its work, which in a razor-thin margin industry like VFX is the road to bankruptcy. Even a company in a location that does offer a subsidy might be left in the cold because some other location offers a bigger one.

      You might argue that it’s the right of a nation/state/province to decide that it wishes to spend taxpayer money to tip the scales of a market. And you’d be partially right and partially wrong. Any nation signed to GATT/WTO has agreed to certain practices. Its government may decide to violate that agreement (and subsidies benefit an industry in one nation while doing harm to the industry in another are indeed a violation of that agreement), since self-governance is a right of any nation. But that breach of the agreement enables a nation harmed by the action to take steps to even the playing field again.

      Jobs that were formerly in Los Angeles have been moved from there to subsidized locations, even within the same corporate entity. It’s not a case of one shop just out-competing the other, or of jobs disappearing in one location and coincidentally some new jobs appearing in another. People are very literally being told “You have the option to move to [SubsidyPlace], that’s where your position is being transferred to. If you don’t accept, we’ll let you go.”

      Under the WTO agreement, that’s a clear example of a subsidy in one location doing real and direct harm to an industry in another, and it’s not permitted. The country affected (In this case, the US. But it could be any country at all) has the right to levy a countervailing duty against the import of the product from the subsidized location in order to neutralize the subsidy’s benefit.

      That’s what’s being argued for — a tariff that will take a client’s considerations down from “price, quality, logistics, and additional subsidy offerings” to “price, quality, logistics.” That might result in many jobs returning to California. Then again it might not, if other places are more competitive in an undistorted market.

      No part of that is remotely the same as arguing that someone somewhere shouldn’t be allowed to work because of his location. Any place that has the talent pool to compete based on market fundamentals should have no trouble doing so in the absence of government cash tipping the scales. And any place that can’t compete unless the government provides subsidies is building an industry on a fragile foundation, one that will crumble if the government one day changes its mind, or if a different government decides to offer a bigger sum of cash.

      • Daniel says:

        To Monty below —

        Firstly, the CVD proposal does not apply to competing localities within a nation. Stateside subsidies will have to be tackled differently, but the States are already showing weariness. The CVD proposal only applies to the import of the work from one nation to another.

        You argue that a tariff to offset the advantage a subsidized area (you say Detroit, but again, that’s not relevant) is a penalty on the free market — but that ignores the definition of a free market and the nature of subsidies. Subsidies are an injection of capital from outside the marketplace by a government. A countervailing duty neutralizes the subsidy, restoring market balance in scenarios where the subsidy is harming one location in order to benefit another.

        You argue that California should create its own massive subsidy plan to counter foreign subsidies. How is that wise? Not only does it divert taxpayer resources from places that need it (infrastructure and education, for example), but it’s a solution that only works if the subsidy created is bigger than what anyone else offers. And as soon as anyone else offers a bigger one, the work flees. It’s the same as what’s beginning to happen in London and Vancouver now that you can find better subsidies in Ontario and Quebec. Every time a new government joins the race to the bottom with a bigger subsidy offer, the workers will suffer.

        Instead, a countervailing duty neutralizes the subsidy from every non-US location and costs the taxpayer absolutely nothing. It can never be trumped by a bigger subsidy. A worker will never again have to pack up from Subsidy Country A to Subsidy Country B, to C, to D, E, F ad infinitum. It stabilizes the marketplace, which is what all VFX workers should want. Vancouver will no longer have to care about what any other Province or nation is offering, and vice versa. Everyone outside the US will be freed from the subsidy race. And then the task will be to neutralize subsidies inside the US as well.

        Additionally, neutralization of subsidies ends the continuous devaluation of VFX work. If Company A charges 10 bucks for something, and Company B also charges 10 bucks but 6 bucks are returned to the client in subsidy cash, now the client really only views the product as being worth 4 bucks. The subsidy places downward pressure on the price of the product, even more-so than cheap labor in other locations. That downward pressure is passed along to the worker, who may move to the most expensive cities in the world while earning less and less all the time.

        You also argue that a tariff is unprecedented. That is is wrong. Recently protective tariffs were levied against cheap Chinese tires, at the instruction of the International Trade Commission. And that wasn’t even a case of an obvious GATT/WTO violation. Subsidies are an obvious GATT/WTO violation, and all the nations involved in this are GATT/WTO signatories.

        I wasn’t born in LA. I didn’t get lucky and magically grow up in a place where VFX work is found. I moved there from 3,000 miles away and gave up most of my social circle to do it, and left my family behind. Five years later I had built a life, earned a staff job, and earned several awards as part of a great team. And then my company imploded. Not because we were lazy — we were not. Not because we were out-competed by our competitors — we were not. It imploded largely because we weren’t doing the bulk of our work in a subsidized location. In other words, it imploded because of marketplace distortion by a government, not because of fair competition.

        Everyone else will suffer the same fate unless subsidies are neutralized. It’s only a matter of time. Vancouver has work today, but that boat is already in danger of sinking since other places offer better. London sees trouble ahead too. New Zealand was recently subjected to studio bullying to either match those other subsidies or lose large amounts of work. The EU just expanded its subsidies. Who will offer the biggest subsidy next? And then who beats them? And again, and again.

        The game benefits only the studios, and it hurts everyone else. It hurts the government and their taxpayers, who lose money on what independent studies have proved again and again is a bad investment that costs more than it generates. It hurts artists who live anywhere other than the most heavily subsidized location, by placing downward pressure on their rates and benefits and forcing them to move over time or face unemployment. And eventually it hurts even the people who wanted to see the subsidy in their city, because eventually someone else offers better, and now that person feels the pain everyone else has felt.

        Neutralize the subsidies, stabilize the market, restore the value of the work, and give the workers everywhere the ability to say with confidence, “The place I’m moving to in order to work has a strong foundation.” There will still be competition based on price and quality, as there should be. But the scales will be even and everyone will be better off in the long term.

      • Frank W says:

        Florida wants more features instead of steady television shows, so they are targeting their incentives that direction. Any wonder then why there is a tiny scene in Iron Man 3 of Vizcaya in Miami and every other bit that was in “Miami” was actually an effect shot filmed elsewhere? Meanwhile, all three TV shows filmed in MIami/South Florida are cancelled? Magic City could have hung on with incentives.

      • monty says:

        Haha sorry for the typos

        Written on my phone

      • monty says:

        Any state has a right to stimulate thier economy any way they see fit. Of couese if all things were equal they might stay home..but Detroit has a right to try and get some movies shot there. For thier self esteem and hopefully some economic growth..I’m happy for Detroit they’ve had a hard history. You say you’re not against the free market place. ..but taxes to prevent detriot from subsudizong the work is exactly that. A penalty on the free marketplace. Detroit is willing to pay for it. Now..if you want to get constuctive. TheGet on the california government to raise the taxes of the wealthy to create our own incentives..thats free markey. Aksing obama to come in and penalize the productions is…well unamerican..The United states has not levied large tariffs in any other industry where outsourcing is prevelent. What maked you think vfx os so special? Steel, automobiles , consumer goods of all shapes and sizes gone overseas..
        .but vfx is where the line is drawn? Why? I’m not sYing I don’t agree with done of ypur points or the message..but like I said. Protesting obama does nothing. Good luck to all.

      • Daniel says:

        I should probably mention, since my name is coincidentally Daniel, that I am not Daniel Lay / VFX Soldier. Just to avoid any confusion.

    • USA says:

      How about this Monty… anything created in the USA stay in the USA to be worked on, developed, etc… Other countries that come up with their own stuff can do the same thing. Let’s see how that would turn out! Most of the crap that comes out of China is a ripoff of what’s been created by the minds of individuals from the countries! How many blockbuster films or franchises have there been that were created in China, Vancouver, India, etc….? By the way, this is sarcasm!

    • Monty says:

      by the way… that was sarcasm..

      • Chris Nichols says:

        The issue is not that artists don’t want to won’t to work in other countries or that it only should be Americans. We just want a stable environment that is not going to change. Vancouver is lovely but why move there if I have to move again in two years when the those subsidies go away or are not enough? And trust me… that will happen. People in London are loosing their jobs to Montreal right now. SaveBCfilm was there for a reason.

        All in all, subsidies is actually a symptom not a cause. The cause is too many bad movies with high risk (which need big discounts to have a better chance of making movies), and over supply of VFX artists.

        The movie industry is not a booming industry. In the end there are only so many movie seats, and only so many movies people will go see.

      • Monty says:

        Nice! divisive, xenophobic, comments. This is the global economy, supply and demand..These things aren’t going away. You have to grow and adjust to survive, whining has never stood in the way of global progress. It just is what it is. there was a time when LA VFX was the only game in town.. they could have put the hammer down and unionized… they didn’t. Its too late now for better or worse. The only job security is to be new and cheap or to be worth more than you charge. We all have to bust our butts. I love everyone. :) I wish all our jobs to be safe and secure. Me and the people I work with fight for our jobs everyday…Its a way of life now. Were all freelancers now. ..

        …. that all being said.. I don’t think the kid growing up in Vancouver or Mumbai should be excluded the right to work at something they love just because of where they were born. I was lucky enough to work hard and get a job I love doing..other people shouldn’t be excluded because of their race creed religion or place of birth.
        Getting better at what you do is the only logical recourse. Good luck to everyone

  9. starvingVFX says:

    wow only 40 came out? after 500+ came out for the oscars. sad times.

    • minoton says:

      My sense tells many who would have been there were up in Vancouver taking a Canadian job in order to pay their L.A. mortgage.

  10. Contessa46 says:

    Kudos to you Daniel for being the voice of ALL VFX artists, most especially for those who have lost their jobs to outsourcing. The effects are yet to be determined but I am sure Obama will take note. Hopefully he will do something about it.

    • brubble says:

      Daniel Lay is really the perfect guy to represent us all. He is a very smart TD that can jump to any technology company, so blacklisting him in la la land won’t stop him from getting work in the real world. Silly rabbit, cartoons are for kids.

    • Sonserae says:

      You did a great job Daniel. I was proud to be out there helping the cause.

  11. Did foreign tax incentives lure the writing of this article abroad? Much of it makes no sense at all and seems like a translation gone bad.

    • Billy Brooks says:

      David may have made a grammatical error but at least he was actually THERE with us. Give him a break. I saw the guy working hard for our VFX community with my own eyes today and I appreciate it.

  12. winterkewl says:

    Please, please, please correct your grammar!

  13. Ima Confuse says:

    “He said he has repeatedly offered such report, but has gotten more takers.”

    I… I just… I have absolutely no idea what this means.

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