When Does Your Industry Need an Association?

In recent months, Hollywood's visual effects industry has discussed the creation of an association around its interests. The idea failed to take off a decade ago, so why now?

What happens when you have an industry with a clear need for a membership-based association but no association to represent them?

As Hollywood’s visual effects (VFX) industry has learned in recent years, the decision not to create an industry association could prove problematic down the line. That’s why the industry’s players have recently discussed creating their own trade group. More details:

Ten years ago, we needed to form a visual effects trade association, and it almost happened. But none of the actors could get together.

What’s happening: In recent months, the visual effects sector of the film industry has started discussing the possibility of building an association to help lobby for its interests with film directors and studios. Industry veteran Scott Ross is taking the lead. The current discussion simmered after one major company, Rhythm & Hues, filed for bankruptcy weeks before winning a visual effects Oscar for the movie Life of Pi. (The company was eventually acquired by an affiliate of a rival visual effects firm, Prana Studios.) Rhythm & Hues is far from the only visual effects house threatened by the recent downturn: As off-the-shelf software comes closer to reaching the capabilities of larger effects houses such as Industrial Light and Magic, the business model is in danger of shifting away from the industry entirely.

Why only now? A recent two-part series in Creative Cow Magazine explains that the unique business model in Hollywood, combined with competition among the VFX industry’s players, prevented companies from working together to build an association in the past. “Ten years ago, we needed to form a visual effects trade association, and it almost happened,” said Bill Taylor, ASC, who spoke to the publication. “But none of the actors could get together. They were all paranoid about letting the competition know their procedures. It would have helped a lot.” Taylor said the need still exists but the challenges are getting larger as time goes on.

What already exists: The industry has an honorary Visual Effects Society. Although it is not an official trade association, VES has spoken up about the issues facing the industry, particularly in California. “As has become all too apparent over the past few years, and especially in the past few weeks regarding the status of Rhythm & Hues, Digital Domain, DreamWorks, and other visual effects facilities, the future for professionals who work in the visual effects industry—and the entertainment industry at large—in California is in serious jeopardy,” VES recently said in a statement acquired by Deadline.

Next steps: Last week, a number of major companies met to discuss launching a trade group but ultimately came to no decision. “Is a VFX industry trade association in our future? It’s still too soon to say,” the companies said in a group statement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “But an informal meeting to explore the possible formation of a trade association for VFX companies did take place. The assembled group discussed the current interest in, and potential benefits of, having such an association. We plan on continuing that dialogue.”

What advice would you give to a group of professionals looking to create an association to represent their interests? Let us know your take in the comments.

The tiger from "Life of Pi," which was a CGI creation, helped win Rhythm & Hues an Oscar weeks after it filed for bankruptcy. (20th Century Fox)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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