Workers in California’s beleaguered visual effects industry were left fuming Monday after a speech by Oscar-winning supervisor Bill Westenhofer was cut short -- by the ominous music of “Jaws.”
Westenhofer, who led the team at Rhythm & Hues that won a visual effects award for their work on Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” had intended to talk about the plight of his industry, which has hit close to home.
The El Segundo visual effects company recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors and laid off about 250 workers from its Los Angeles operation amid mounting losses.
But Westenhofer’s speech was cut off mid-sentence after he used up his allotted time during the Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theare.
That did not sit well with many visual effects workers, nearly 500 of whom protested near the theater Sunday to highlight the struggles of their industry.
“People were outraged and angry,” said David Rand, a senior visual effects artist at Rhythm & Hues and one of the organizers of the Sunday protest, which included having a plane fly over the Dolby Theatre before the event with a banner that read: “box office + bankrupt = visual effects vfxunion.com.”
“They played the theme song to ‘Jaws’ and cut him off,” Rand added. “It wasn’t funny to us.”
Scott Ross, a founder of Digital Domain, a Venice-based studio whose parent company also recently filed for bankruptcy protection, added: “People are really upset...It’s just another indication of how the film industry thinks about VFX!”
In an interview after receiving the award, Westenhofer elaborated on what he wanted to say in his speech.
“What I was trying to say up there is that at a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, visual effects companies are struggling,” Westenhofer told reporters. “And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians. Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by people pushing buttons. We’re artists, and if we don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to lose the artistry. If anything, ‘Life of Pi’ shows that we’re artists and not just technicians.”