The Oscar protest that you didn't know happened

If you watched the Academy Awards tonight, you may have noticed an awkward music cut-off during the Life of Pi Visual Effects acceptance speech.  It may have looked like they were just stopping a long running speech, but in truth the speaker was about to mention a hot button topic of the evening, and many people think it was cut short intentionally to hide the truth.

Most viewers were unaware of this incident and most media outlets failed to report on it, but outside the Dolby Theater, there were over 400 picketers protesting the poor state of the visual effects industry.  Although it was being ignored on the televised broadcast, it started gaining momentum online during the ceremony, and is finally getting the media attention it was lacking.

So what is the protest about?
The film Life of Pi was nominated for Visual Effects (and won!), but sadly the studio that did the effects for the movie (Rhythm & Hues) had to file for bankruptcy a few weeks ago, and laid off close to 250 employees.  The protest was named “A Piece of the Pi” to show that the VFX studio behind the film wasn’t getting their share of its success.

imagePhoto credit: @tvaziri ()

This tragic story is just one example of the poor state of the VFX industry.  With overseas competition, domestic VFX houses have been surviving on less than 5% profit margins, and other studios have gone bankrupt as well (see: Digital Domain).  Supporters decided it was time to raise awareness to figure out how to stop this from continuing, so they set up a protest outside the Oscars.

Sadly, the media did not report on the protest at all, and there was no mention of it on the televised broadcast.  But the Internet can always be counted on in cases like these, to get the truth out there.

When Life of Pi won for Visual Effects, everyone was listening intently to hear any mention of the protest happening outside.  But when Bill Westenhofer was done giving his thank yous and tried turning the subject to Rhythm & Hues, the orchestra music obnoxiously drowned him out until his mic was turned off  (watch the video here).

When this happened, the #VFXProtest hashtag on Twitter went nuts calling foul play:


The next opportunity for visibility came when Ang Lee gave his speech for winning Best Director for Life of Pi.  While he did thank “all 3,000 people” who worked on the movie, he didn’t mention Rhythm & Hues by name (possibly just an oversight), and that enraged the protestors and fueled the fire even further:


So let’s view the reality of the situation.  Even if these 2 incidents were unrelated to the protest, it still seems like the Academy handled this situation poorly.  The speech being cut off could have been purely about Westenhofer going over his time limit.  And Ang Lee may have honestly just forgotten to mention them in all his excitement.  But the damage has been done.  People are angry, and the events from tonight are only fueling that anger further.

In the hours since the Oscars ended, throngs of people are changing their profile picture to a solid green square.  This represents a green screen, which temporarily substitutes for effects during a film shoot so they can be added later.  It looks like it started from the Facebook group VFX Solidarity, which has been “liked” more than 7,000 times since last night.


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