Education and Exploitation with John Textor

By Rebecca David

Publisher’s Note(Mike V): Apologies to those readers still interested in following this story.  We were unable to schedule the second half of our interview with John Textor in an expedient fashion, and felt it best to get what we do have to you sooner rather than later.  The first half felt like a warm-up, to be fair.  The man is smart, and affable, and I can’t say I disagree with a lot of what he says.  But there are incongruities that I’d like to see addressed.  Clearly, his earlier statements to investors have to be taken int he context of a sales pitch.  The magic 30% number sounds like it’s far from set in stone, and there appears to be a very real emphasis on education.  I have further questions though.  And they haven’t been answered.  The specifics of how this particular finacial snake is eating its tail are unclear, and for this to make financial sense still seems to require tuition dollars (usually provided through student loans) to be funneled via various legitimate routes into the production budgets of the feature animated films being produced at DD’s new company, Tradition Studios.  The whole thing, while I’m certain very well-intentioned, smacks of the kind of short-term-profit thinking that has lead western economies into our current precipitous state.  Jobs are being created, yes.  Films are being made, yes.  But there seems to be no consideration given to any true sustainability.  John will get his bonus next year, investors will see their return, and government officials will report on the increase in the VFX and animation job sector.  But will the industry be any healthier?  Will these students embark on long-term, rewarding careers?  Or is that even a goal of this endeavour?  I’m still left with the feeling that the priority here is the bottom line, and while I have tremendous respect for that, I don’t believe it should be at anyone’s expense, especially those footing the bill.  If these students are indeed financing production via student loans or personal savings, in my eyes, that makes them investors.  No different from those to whom John was pitching in his now-infamous clip.  So where’s their return on investment? 

Oh right.

They weren’t paying for a piece of a film.  They were paying for a privilege.  Rented privilege though, from what I can see.

Here’s Beccy:

Last Thursday Mike and I blundered through Skype and had a succesful encounter with Mr. John Textor, CEO of Digital Domain.
Textor was a polite, talkative and engaging man. This is, I suppose, the kind of man you would hope a CEO would be. We had a lot of questions we wanted answers to, but Textor leads an understandably busy life and we didn’t get as much time with him as we would have liked. What we did get, however, can be found below.

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The fellows over at VFX Guide did a much longer interview, which contains similar material, but with a longer focus on the VFX industry as a whole. It’s a kicker at over an hour, but they had the advantage of being in the same room as the guy.
—–
I’m going to make an honest attempt to be brief about my thoughts after talking with Textor.
I don’t think this is Textor backpedaling. It’s important to take everything with a grain of salt, but overall it seems like this man has a few ideas about our industry and the way we educate the next generation that I would tend to agree with.
Digital Domain Institute is not fully operational yet, and it won’t be for a few years. The only program they’re currently running is the Essentials program, which is similar to any other ‘bring you up to speed’ education stream out there. The student exploitation is a few years down the line, and it isn’t just Digital Domain in charge of whether or not it continues.
I suggest that we take a few steps back, but in no way should we let go of this situation. Florida State University deserves our opinions and feedback just as much as Digital Domain does. Nothing is set in stone yet, so we should keep ourselves informed of what’s going on. Canada isn’t the best spot to watch Florida from, but let’s pay attention.
Textor claims complete transparency. He says he wants legitimacy given to the program his company is creating. Reputations are hard to build and easy to destroy, so we should keep an open dialogue going. Maybe this will all turn out fine, but if it starts to lean in a direction we don’t like, let’s make sure to push back.

Edit: 

Unpaid Interns and Federal Labour Laws  – Schneider & Rubin LLC

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8 Responses to “Education and Exploitation with John Textor”

  1. This is cool.

    #47735
  2. Rob

    Yes, Mr. Textor sounds very eloquent and it does sound like they are still in the developmental stages of the prgram. However at the end of the day not matter how they go about it, Digital Domain should not, in any way, make any kind of money from these students aside from a tuition. No student should be made to work on an actual ‘in-production’ film no matter how cool most students would think it is and that’s what I think they will use. The diamond like attraction of being able to work on an actual feature film. I still believe this is what they have in mind, but got caught out and are trying to cover their tracks. It would be worthwhile to keep an eye on them and see where this goes.

    #47741
    • Rebecca David

      Yes, definitely.
      In the interview, Textor commented that I might have forgotten the excitement of what it’s like to work on something real. What he forgot is that I am just barely a year graduated, I am still all eager-beaver excitement to do my job because the idea that I get to work in this industry at all is amazing to me.

      He also mentioned that the educators will be even more discerning about this than we will. I hope that’s true, because (and I should perhaps track down the post) there is literature about the Florida labour laws that seem to clarify the murk around whether this is legal or not. And those laws side with us.

      I stand by everything I said in my editorial. I am just also hopeful that, with the time delay between this news breaking and when it’s actually going to happen, changes will be made to the curriculum to stop Digital Domain from turning profit (hopefully illegally!) from the work of tuition-touting students.

      #47742
  3. Rob the Animator

    I’m not sold on this idea.

    I’ve been in the industry for over ten years.
    Having faith that the studios will not take advantage of all the “wet behind the ears” students that are fresh out of school seems ridiculous. The majority of big industry studios already take advantage of the experienced professionals as it is. -How much more will they do this to anxious students willing to work for nothing, just so they can have their foot in the door.

    This really only gives them the experience in getting taken advantage of for your talents by people who’s main interest is getting quality work for as cheap as possible. This is experience you’ll get otherwise, believe me.
    Welcome to the industry students! Say goodbye to finding creative and new ways to do things. Say hello to the world of tight deadlines, sleepless nights, and minimum wage income that makes you question your career path and how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to follow your path.

    I’ve got an idea… Why don’t these savvy businessmen start giving studios more incentive to hire locally, instead of trying to find ways around paying professionals what they’re actually worth.

    “Fresh student” or Experienced industry professional… quality work is still quality work, and there’s no faking it.

    If someone’s good at what they do, they should be compensated fairly.

    Again, NOT inspired by this idea.

    -r

    #47744
    • Rebecca David

      Man, hopefully no one with any moral compass is inspired by this idea!
      I wrote an editorial about 2 weeks ago about how bad an idea I think this.

      Tables were flipped. The internet was incredibly mad. As it should have been. However, the initial backlash was very blind in it’s rage (I know I had my own little freak-out), so we’re now just trying to provide as much information about the situation as possible. If people hate the idea as much as we do, they can respond appropriately.

      Anyone who does a decent bit of work deserves to be compensated for it. And people who are willing (or taught to be willing) to not be paid for their work are slowly ruining it for the rest of us.

      #47749
  4. Rob the Animator

    BTW, thanks for doing and posting this interview. It’s definitely something that’s not talked about while INSIDE a studio environment.

    #47745
  5. chasn

    This is the doc you might be looking for:

    (from the US Dept of Labor website)

    http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm

    Specifically points 3 & 4. What Mr. Textor said in this interview with you flies right in the face of those two points.

    #47861

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