You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Guilds? Nah. Here’s Who the VFX Biz Needs

Agents are capable of the ultimate special effect: making it rain money for undervalued companies

Sometimes it seems like Hollywood treats the visual effects biz like an embarrassing reminder of the past, the country cousin with the ugly suit who reminds them of who they were before they lost the accent and learned how to dress.

Before films, most actors had all the prestige of carnival acts and were treated accordingly. Movies made actors into icons, but it still took a fight to create the Screen Actors Guild, as well as the Writers Guild and the other guilds that made it possible to have a solid career in pictures.

A lot of vfx pros are clamoring for their own guild and union now, as they’re subject to the thousand natural shocks to which showbiz flesh is vulnerable. I’m not optimistic. I’m not even sure it’s what they really need.

Don’t get me wrong, vfx pros could benefit from things collective bargaining might provide — health benefits, overtime, better working conditions. But a guild or union can’t address the problems bedevilling the companies those artists work for, or the industry as a whole. There’s one thing that can make these artist-driven companies into the stars they should be: Agents.

That’s right: Moneygrubbing, mendacious, self-interested agents — bless their tiny hearts — are just the thing to rescue the vfx industry.

I worked as an assistant in the literary department at APA’s New York office from 1989-92. The agent I worked for repped some of the best and most successful writers in TV. I’ve seen what an agent can do for a productive, successful client.

A lot of actors nowadays, even stars, are finding their quotes shrinking, even if they have agents. But good agents are always pushing their clients’ fees and careers upward. If they hear “no” on one front, they get creative on another.

I know. With feature vfx margins around 5% on a good day, there’s no way a vfx company can afford to pay 10% to an agent. But go with me on this.

If I were an agent repping a vfx company, here’s a one-side transcript of what the start of negotiations might sound like:

“Look, my client’s work is the anchor of your worldwide marketing campaign. They’re the real star of the movie.

“They’re not? Who is? Henry Cavill? Charlie Hunnam? Nice TV actors, but they’re not opening your movie. The only thing opening your
movie around the world is my client’s visual effects. We are making you millions. You need to pay accordingly.

“What do we want? First, credit: Vfx supes get opening credits in a card next to the d.p. And on paid ads, favored-nations with the director. If he’s mentioned, we’re mentioned.

“Calm down. You’re always groping to connect your movies with hits. Stuff like ‘From the Producers of ‘The Expendables 2’? Like anybody ever bought a ticket because of a producer.

“Okay, moving on to fees, we’re dropping this fixed-bid crap. Here’s how we roll: You cover documented costs, like labor, software, overhead. But that’s just compensation for expenses. The fee is $20 million on top of that.

“Laugh all you want. Look, your giant monsters and robots? Superheroes and supervillains? My client’s giving you that. If there was a
star who’d starred in as many high-grossing hits as my client, he’d own half the studio by now.

“It’s you studio guys who now compare hiring vfx studios to casting. You offered us this gig because you want the Jennifer Lawrence of vfx companies. And that’s what we are. We’re cool, we’re sexy, and millions of fans love our work.

“Yeah, sure, other companies are going to share the work. But we’re going to manage all that for you. And since we like making $20 million a picture, and we’d like you to pay us that again for your next movie, we’re going to do it better than you could.

“Okay, now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the definitions we’re going to use for my client’s back-end participation.”

More Biz

  • Biggest Scandals Feuds and Apologies of

    Biggest Scandals, Feuds and Apologies of 2019

    Variety looks back on some of the biggest scandals, feuds and apologies of 2019: College Admissions Scandal Wealthy parents including Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged with bribing school officials to get their unqualified kids into prestigious universities. Shane Gillis Executives at “SNL” hired, then fired, Gillis in September, before the new season started, [...]

  • Biggest Media Moments of 2019

    From 'Catch & Kill' to Shepard Smith: The Biggest Media Moments of 2019

    Variety looks back on some of the most memorable media events of 2019: ‘Catch & Kill’ Reopens Wounds at NBC News Ronan Farrow’s book relitigates his complaints that NBC News tried to tamp down his investigation of harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. NBC News denies the claim. The book contains new allegations against [...]

  • Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division nominee

    DOJ Sides With Irving Azoff Against Radio Stations

    The Department of Justice is taking sides in another hot-button antitrust battle, this time siding with Irving Azoff’s upstart music licensing firm against a group representing 10,000 radio stations. The DOJ Antitrust Division filed a brief on Thursday arguing that the Radio Music License Committee may have engaged in illegal price-fixing when it refused to [...]

  • Best Books of 2019

    The Best Books of 2019

    Whether you experience stressful days due to your professional position, your demanding family, or simply the barrage of never-ending depressing news, there is often no better way to unwind than with a good book. Letting your imagination wander into a new world unlike your own can be exciting, it can be thought-provoking, but perhaps most [...]

  • Makan Delrahim

    Antitrust Experts Decry DOJ's 'Outrageous' Stance in Writers Guild Case

    Several experts on antitrust law have expressed concern at the stance taken by the Department of Justice in the ongoing legal feud between Hollywood writers and their agents. Three agencies have sued the Writers Guild of America for alleged violations of antitrust law. A key hearing will be held in federal court on Friday, as [...]

  • Bob Bakish Viacom CEO

    Shares of ViacomCBS Dip in First-Day Early Trading

    Shares of the newly combined ViacomCBS were off in early trading, a sign that Wall Street continues to look for new signs of growth after two of the best-known names in entertainment merged to vie with bigger rivals. Shares of the company’s new common stock were off 59 cents, or 1.38%, in late-morning trading on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content