The Big Picture
- The VFX firm DNEG is giving its workers a choice between a 25% pay cut or joining a loan scheme to lower costs during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.
- The pay cuts are seen as unfair and workers feel that DNEG is shifting the burden onto them instead of offering compensation.
- This move comes after DNEG laid off 70 workers and in an industry where workers are fighting for fair pay, DNEG’s actions are unacceptable.
DNEG, the VFX firm behind the upcoming Dune 2 and the smash hit Oppenheimer, is reportedly giving its workers an ultimatum. Deadline reported that the company is asking its staff to either take as much as a 25% pay cut or join a loan scheme to lower costs as the dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes continue. Employees have been given eleven days to pick one option, but for those that choose neither, insiders say their contract will be terminated. This will immediately affect the over 10,000 employees worldwide working under DNEG.
The cuts will largely be determined based on salary with most expected to be in the 20 to 25% range for seven months while the loans are being presented as an option for those who can’t afford to take such a cut at this time. Essentially, a more substantial cut will be taken from the salaries of those who choose the loan, but the majority of it will be loaned back and then paid back over the course of three years. Sources say both work out to similar amounts, giving workers the choice between two very bad situations. DNEG touted the decision in a statement to Deadline, saying that it will “enable us to maintain the maximum number of jobs through this period.” The workers themselves, understandably, are not amused.
The choice to force pay cuts is one thing, but in the eyes of workers and unions, acting with such rapidity made the move especially galling. The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union’s (BECTU) VFX and animation branch will hold a Zoom meeting to discuss what happens next, also reminding workers that DNEG can’t legally force such a reduction in pay without their consent. This isn’t anything new for the firm though. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they employed similar tactics to save money and throw the burden onto their staff. Resorting to this strategy again, in an industry where each employee’s vital and grueling work to make some of the most beautiful effects in theaters rarely gets properly compensated, is yet another slap in the face. “We feel like DNEG is not offering anything to compensate but are instead pushing all the weight and risk on the employee,” one employee told Deadline.
The pay cuts also sit in the shadow of dozens of layoffs DNEG imposed back in July as both strikes got into full swing. Around 70 workers from the firm’s London-based headquarters were sent packing, marking around 7.5% of its work force. The economic situation has certainly soured for all VFX firms as the labor stoppage rages on, but for a company that last year posted a 33% increase to revenues to $409 million and, again, is responsible for some of the industry’s biggest films, strikes, which themselves are for vital pay increases and protections, are simply not an acceptable excuse for resorting to such measures. In fairness, they’re far from alone as many companies throughout Hollywood have resorted to cutting staff at this time or other measures to save money. DNEG’s statement cites the upheaval, saying:
“DNEG is not immune to the impact of the current industry disruption, and we are not alone. These challenges are impacting all filmmaking departments, and our global clients are facing suspension or postponements of projects that represent meaningful revenue to all companies and professionals working in this industry. As a result, we are continuously and proactively reviewing all areas of our business to ensure that we can continue to deliver the highest quality work while protecting as many of our employees’ positions as possible. In order to do that, we’ve asked all employees and team members, including the most senior executives and creative leaders, to assume short-term pay cuts that will enable us to maintain the maximum number of jobs through this period.”
VFX Workers Are Looking to Fight for a Better Future
DNEG isn’t even the only VFX studio receiving scrutiny. Throughout the industry, a push is underway to get more of these workers who are forced to complete massive projects on brutal deadlines their long overdue compensation. Marvel VFX artists are the latest to unionize, marking a groundbreaking moment of solidarity that should change working conditions for the better. More at Disney are following suit in the pursuit of parity with the rest of Hollywood.
BECTU Head Philippa Childs decried the pay cuts forcing the burden on workers and is calling for DNEG to have an open dialogue with them about the changes, telling Deadline she “encouraged DNEG to engage with us to ensure that their employees’ concerns are heard.” Stay tuned here at Collider for more on the situation at the firm as well as the ongoing fights for fair pay in Hollywood.