Sony Imageworks Shifting Staff From L.A. to Vancouver; Layoffs Feared

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Visual effects division cutting costs; employees expect bad news

In a cost cutting move, Sony Pictures Imageworks is transferring a portion of the staff from its Los Angeles HQ to its studio in Vancouver, B.C.,  as employees in both locations are bracing for layoffs.

Sony declined to specify how many jobs would actually be relocated, but the number is likely around three dozen, mostly in software development, according to two insiders. The company is offering relocation expenses to the affected staff. Those who do not choose to relocate will likely lose their jobs.

“As part of this process, we are transitioning a percentage of our technology teams to our Vancouver, B.C. studio in order to provide greater support to our artist community and remain cost competitive,” Sony said in a statement issued exclusively to Variety. “Sony Pictures Imageworks is committed to our headquarters in Los Angeles and we have a healthy slate of projects through 2014 including Columbia Pictures’ The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and Warner Bros.’ “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Imageworks brass told the staff about the plans at a meeting at its Los Angeles headquarters at 4:00 PST Tuesday. 

An Imageworks employee who asked not to be named told Variety that staffers expect wider layoffs to come. Sony’s visual effects and animation studio has come under the microscope — along with other Sony divisions — as the company seeks to trim costs by $250 million. Bain & Co. was hired in Nov. 2013 to review all of Sony Entertainment. Sony’s statement that it is “committed” to its Culver City HQ is likely an effort to assuage concerns it might move most or all of its artists to Vancouver, as Digital Domain has said it will do.

Imageworks moved years ago from having a large permanent staff to a crew staffing model, where artists and technicians are hired on for the duration of a project, then let go. Therefore its staffing levels tend to fluctuate. It would be a simple matter for the company to wrap production on current projects and decline to staff up again. However a company spokesman indicated that in addition to the two titles mentioned in its statement, it does have other pictures on its slate.

Imageworks exclusively handles feature films, which puts it outside Sony Entertainment CEO’s plan to refocus the studio on television rather than features. When the unit launched, Imageworks’ business plan was to keep artists busy both on animation and visual effects, with animated features filling the gap between major vfx shows.

However Sony Pictures Animation’s releases such as “Surf’s Up” and “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2” failed to be the big hits the studio had hoped for, so the animation side didn’t produce the necessary revenue to prop up visual effects, which is generally a low-margin business. Sony has no animated features in production now.

There has been a nascent movement to unionize animators at Imageworks as its staffers have become increasingly disenchanted with working conditions and the company’s personnel policies.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 19

Leave a Reply

19 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Amy Pascal says:

    I don’t like the last few lines of this article. What can we do?

  2. As a Actor / Director. And living in NYC and CA. I understand the Relocating to Canada HOWEVER what is pissing me off is AMERICAN ACTORS ARE SCREWED AND ONLY HIRE CANADIAN ACTORS. for the most part YET THEY CAN COME HERE AND WORK. I WILL NOT SCREW MY LA AND NY ACTORS OVER. FOR ME AND MY PRODUCTIONS ITS IN NEW MEXICO AND NEW ORLEANS. SCREW THE CANADIAN RULES. TOMMY BULL

    • Ramon says:

      You’ve got it backwards, sir. Many a Vancouver actor goes in to audition for a role that has already been cast out of L.A. The main things we book up here are small dayplayer roles.

  3. Brick says:

    Start understanding that none of these studios care about where the work gets done as long as the work being done continues to be marginalized and portrayed as work that is “too expensive”. This idea that VFX cannot be done in Los Angeles is a lie and a “problem” that studio execs have to create in order to make sure that their profits stay in tact.

    Please stop getting upset over the idea that VFX is moving from one city to another… since we already know this is happening. Before B.c. and Uk were “booming” industries, these rats tried moving EVERYTHING to India, where they didn’t have to worry about some measly subsidy.

    Studio execs, Actors, Directors, Producers understand very well that without VFX, their tent-pole films would be nothing more than straight-to-video, bargain barrel, flicks. They know that the only reason movies like Avatar, Iron Man, Avengers, Star Trek, Spiderman, Hobbit, Superman, etc., do as well as they do, is because ENTIRE worlds are being created by talented artists that they deem “overpaid” or “too expensive”. So in order for their piece of the pie to stay intact, they will do whatever it takes to make sure that VFX continues to be discredited and marginalized.

    How many times have you been left off the credit list of a tent-pole film? How many times have you sat waiting to see a family members name roll by, only after all the assistants to the dog groomers assistants and kraft services have been credited? There is a mandated dis-respect, from the top down, that prevails in order to make sure that Visual effects and the artists who make up the industry, are torn down and made to fight each other for work. The chaos that follows the industry from subCity to subCity, around the globe, only helps them in their pursuit to discredit VFX as a whole.

    Visual effects Artists fighting for scraps at a dinner table, like mice at a king’s feast, is exactly the scenario they will continue to paint. The last thing they want is for VFX to have a seat at the table.

    • FTCS says:

      Brick.

      First, I totally agree that the visual effects artists in California face serious problems. With all due respect, however, your post (whether true or not) clearly illustrates your frustration, but more importantly, not the real issues required to make a change for the better. Blame the studios has been the war chant for years. Even VES spent considerable time indicating the studios were the fault. Only last year when VES decided to support California subsidies…did VES indicate (quite softly) that, perhaps, the business models and other issues might be causing some of these problems in the industry.

      Your second issue is an old one that by itself sounds correct and unfair. Taken in context, however, it is not a fair observation. The visual effects Supervisor and Producer are now often in the front end credits. Secondly, there are as many as 1000 or more people working visual effects for big tentpole (often longer running times) films. Most of the time, visual effects folks complain not only about the number of credits, but sincerely believe they should come far earlier in the credits by sort of jumping over other folks on the crew.

      This is a business. Running times can greatly influence revenue. Adding more and more credits can lengthen films so much that less showings per day may occur. So, the question really becomes…where does this end?

      Were I a working member of the visual effects industry, I would try to get something done positively to advance the work coming back, subsidies, the business model to be globally competitive, global affiliations, branch offices in subsidy friendly markets, union/trade organization (appears neither are doable) and other key business items which will bring the real issues to the forefront and get some movement actually addressing them. I know people have tried with some serious effort…yet, nothing seems to be REALLY getting accomplished. There just is no consensus in the industry. After a generation of trying there is no union and no trade organization. You can blame the studios for this too, but that is a big stretch if the desire was there to have one.

      So, in one person’s humble opinion…the focus of blaming the studios and more credits are not the issues which will make things better in any way…even if they are true and valid.

      There is one and only one single word which is the key to moving forward…consensus…providing the ability to back it up.

      Respectfully.

  4. TheEnd says:

    It’s sad to have felt so passionate and worked so many years of your life to develop the skills you need to produce art and technology of the caliber Hollywood has traditionally require, only to find that by the time you’ve made your name in one of the studios you aspired to be a part of, no one cares about quality anymore and the only thing that matters is how you add up on a sheet of paper so a few suits at the top can still afford that $500,000 renovation on the wine cellar of their $10,000,000 home in Brentwood and still keep the share-holders happy. Thanks America, for rewarding greed and wealth above all else. Stay tuned for the sequel.

    • FTCS says:

      The sequel will be just more of the same.

      For what it is worth, nothing that is happening to the visual effects community and the general production community in California is a surprise. It has been building for the last twenty years.

      Sadly, so many in Hollywood were convinced that their work was so superior to the planet that other people and places would not be able to produce the same quality of work…and, this may have been true in the purest sense…BUT, NOT IN A GLOBAL SUBSIDIZED MARKET.

      And, of course, the subsidy issue has proven that management and artists will follow the money…and, somehow the work gets done…and, even if it is not the highest quality that California can provide…it does the job.

      Disney, Universal, Sony, Warner Bros., Paramount and all the other big boys do business globally…and, that’s why they make the big bucks.

      The longer it takes for Hollywood to get over itself…the more difficult the future will be for the artists who do the work.

      Unless Jerry Brown writes a VERY BIG check to seriously prop up the California production environment IMMEDIATELY…this story stays the same at best, or most probably… gets worse.

      And, folks, watching this happen to many I have known throughout the course of my career has been and continues to be quite disheartening.

      I am lucky I chose to ‘retire’ from the Hollywood business culture when I did…voluntarily.

    • Glenn C. says:

      Very well worded! Excellent! So true! It’s all about THEM! Not about the ones who really create!

  5. paul says:

    argh, but surf’s up is absolutely one of – if not the – best computer animated movies made to date.
    houston, or whoever’s listening, we have some problems…

  6. Roger T says:

    Of course they are, Hollywood is dead and California is letting it happen. Might as well tear down the Hollywood sign while their at it, because it represents nothing now but a tombstone.

  7. NewOrleansGuy says:

    New Orleans/Hollywood South. We’ve got it all.

    • jan says:

      The free trade acts have not been enforced. It is not actually legal that one country BRIBE an industry to steal work from another. California should not have to subsidize films. Canada should not be allowed to. Howevert,the folks with the money to bring this issue before the world courts are busy counting their loot – and the rest of us are on unemployment. Beware Canada. You also have a good standard of living. When you start to feel safe in your jobs, they will be lured elsewhere by some other bribing country.

  8. rfk says:

    Vancouver is full, please go away.

  9. John Shea says:

    Do unhappy workers make unhappy movies?

    • I just moved out of Los Angeles having lived there since I was 18. I am heartbroken, but I could not do it anymore. I worked in London, Canada, and was offered gigs in New Zealand and Singapore, but I did not want to live this way any more! Paying mortgage or rent in a place I did not live in half the time, paying utility bills on an empty place, paying people to take care of the pets I missed having around, and never really feeling at “home” or part of a group of people that cared if I lived or died, but only that I got my shots done on time. I loved LA, but it’s so expensive to live there now that people are renting out garages for $1000@mo. Parking in the Valley used to be a quarter, and now it’s a buck and a half. I got a bogus “camera” ticket for running a red light, and when I went to the courthouse to request to see a judge, I was told I had to put up $600, wait a month, have the camera equipment subpoenaed and examined, and see if the judge would throw it out. $600 for something I did not do? The few jobs I could get in L.A. had this bogus “soft hold” BS where you are supposed to wait for them to call if there is work that day, but if there is not, you get paid nothing. If you take another gig that actually happens, and you are not around when the “soft hold” people call you, they take you off their freelance list. I don’t have health insurance because I used up my C.O.B.R.A. years ago. I’m so old that it costs $600@mo for basic insurance unless I want a deductible that costs more than my old R&H 401K plan that is now worth zip. A lot you out there who call yourselves “artists” in vfx are nothing more than glorified typists — and you know that. The entire business was hijacked by engineers who just want to blow things up like little boys playing with firecrackers. The “art” has gone out of much of VFX and it’s all about math and software and typing rows and rows of code. F&.c&k I.t. I used to love visual effects back when people actually did things with their hands and their eyes. I miss L.A, but I doubt if I’ll ever be able to make enough cheese to come back there to live.

    • the stanger says:

      Yes. Cant you feel the angst ?

      • mrmocap says:

        I was notified as an ex sony worker that sony had notified the government that they were shifting all their jobs to canada through 2015. You dont have to notify the government about doing that sort of thing unless its hundreds of jobs that will be effected. And while I was at the company the party line they kept to was always to say ‘its just this a few jobs of this one department’ but then later they would add more and more jobs to the list of those sent out of the country. They are between a rock and a hard place…to keep up with the other companies who are all doing this…they need to send as much work outside the US or to other states that give tax breaks as they can.

More Film News from Variety

Loading