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Hollywood Effects Artists Say It’s Time to Unionize

Graphics account for 60% of film budgets, yet the people who make them are some of the industry’s last to organize.

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Illustration: Illustration: Joshua Foltz for Bloomberg Businessweek

For decades, Hollywood has been a stronghold of the US labor movement, with groups such as the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild defending the interests of everyone from directors to stagehands. But one notable crowd has been left out: the visual effects professionals who create graphics that have grown to account for as much as 60% of film budgets. With artists working 18-hour days, getting few health or pension benefits, and facing thousands of dollars in penalties for quitting before a project is done, Ben Speight aims to change that. “Folks aren’t just saying, ‘Oh yeah, the abuse is bad,’ ” says Speight, a veteran organizer with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. “It’s getting worse, and they’re going to do something about it.”

The unionization drive comes as studios are preparing a slew of new content to feed streaming platforms and support a post-pandemic return to theaters. Speight and others in the business say there’s four times as much visual effects work in the pipeline as there are artists to complete it. Informal organizing efforts are under way as artists band together on Slack channels to compare pay, advise how to get raises, and boost awareness of mandatory benefits. But Speight says he can formalize those links, aiming to have a union with more than 1,000 members by next autumn.