Transformers Dark of the Moon

Yet again, visual effects artists are unpaid and angry

The word has gone out again in visual effects business: “There’s trouble in Montreal.”

Quebec’s new incentives are turning Montreal into a burgeoning hotspot for the global vfx biz. But the city has a bad reputation among vfx artists due to a history of bad management, bankruptcies and/or artists going unpaid at its vfx facilities, notably Meteor Studios, DamnFX, Red FX and Fake Studios.

Now history seems to be repeating itself at Newbreed VFX, whose prexy Josee Lalumiere is the former general manager of DamnFX. Newbreed employees tell Variety they have been paid late or have gone unpaid altogether for weeks of work. According to some of their accounts, most employees have quit and the vfx company is having trouble completing its work.

SEE ALSO: Vfx Business Needs Agents (Column)

Newbreed was working on Mandalay Pictures’ “Horns,” starting Juno Temple and Daniel Radcliffe, and “Site 146” for Fox International. On its website, it lists among its credits “Piranha 3D,”  “Mirror Mirror” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

Lalumiere did not respond to an email request for comment. A phone call to Newbreed went to voice mail.

Several artists provided Variety copies of bounced checks from Newbreed and other documentation of their claims. One provided email chains promising payment, adding that the promised funds have not been distributed. Most asked for anonymity for fear of retribution. However Mikaela Garcia, a former Newbreed artist, agreed in an email to go on the record.

Garcia said she had only two of four paychecks due her or agreed-upon travel expenses, and recounted a series of broken assurances from management, especially Lalumiere.

“To be honest, I was hesitant accepting the job at Newbreed when I saw posts by (vfx pros and pro-union activists) Dave Rand and Scott Squires. Seeing that the posts were from 2010 and 2011, I thought things had changed for the better. I was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.”

One artist, who requested anonymity, said he had never been paid on time since joining the company and when he was paid, checks bounced. According to his account, artists began quitting once they went unpaid, and production fell farther and farther behind. “Management just walked around with a devil-may-care attitude,” said the artist. “The blame of being behind schedule was of course put on the workers.” HR staff and the company’s secretary have all quit, he said.

Another said he had only just received payment that was due May 17, and is now owed for the pay period ending June 7, “including 120 hours of overtime.”

Montreal’s infamy within vfx circles began with Meteor Studios after it declared bankruptcy in 2007 and left more than 100 artists unpaid. Two years later the artists settled for 70% of their wages. The very name Meteor has since become shorthand for deceptive management in the vfx community. Other companies in Montreal began running business seminars to improve management practices there – but the Newbreed problems suggest that the problems continue.

Vfx artist Dave Rand, one of the most outspoken voices urging artists to unionize, became an activist on behalf of vfx workers’ rights and unionization following his own bad experience at Meteor.  In a blast pro-union email to vfx artists with subject “A Brief History of Montreal,” Rand asked them to walk out if they’re not paid promptly.

“There is absolutely no excuse for these practices to continue in that town or any town,” wrote Rand. “You did not sign up to share in the risk or the reward of that business, and you certainly did not sign up to be lied to and manipulated into doing free work for projects that American studios will do quite well with while you go broke under much duress. We are not picking bananas in Guatemala, we are creating very profitable imagery.”

However the financial problems of the vfx industry have come to extend to large and small companies alike, and to numerous locales. In Los Angeles, two of the biggest and most respected vfx companies, Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues, have declared bankruptcy since last summer.

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