Outpost VFX COO Gez Hixson provides further detail on the recent announcement on overtime pay

Recently we announced a new overtime policy at Outpost VFX. The new system will entitle all UK team members up to and including lead level to 1.5x pay on any hours worked beyond 40 per week, and any weekend hours.

I wanted to follow up this week with some more detail around why we’re doing this, why it’s important and exactly how we’re managing it. The UK places no regulations on overtime pay and it is common in visual effects and the wider creative industries for people to work extra hours for little to no remuneration. Our goal remains to introduce a fairer system that addresses a glaring discrepancy between the UK and our teams in Montreal and Los Angeles.

Ultimately, we acknowledge that overtime, in theory, shouldn’t exist. If and when it does occur, it’s usually not something that artists can control.

If you have any direct questions for me about our new initiative, please comment below – change always brings questions and I’m eager to clearly explain what we’re doing and why.

Are we doing this because we are struggling to recruit people?

The short answer is no. We are always recruiting for great people, and although it’s undoubtedly competitive out there at the moment, this policy is not in response to immediate need.

We review our overtime policy frequently, alongside all of our benefits. Prior to this we’d paid overtime beyond a certain time and on weekends but the policy we had in place no longer seems fair or fit for purpose. My hope had been to implement a policy like this before Covid, but ultimately the challenges posed by the pandemic made this impossible.

Our goal remains to not grow too much in any one site – in the UK we’re currently around 100 people, and I don’t really want us to go beyond another 50 here. We are trying to create a company where people continue to know and connect with all their colleagues so growth at all costs is not a mantra at Outpost. I will make no apologies for saying those 50 need to be the best people, and so ensuring our team members are adequately compensated for any extra hours and can benefit from other initiatives that we think are unique to the sector is a no brainer.

We want to attract the right people, treat them well and encourage them to stay for a long time.

In our latest review of overtime hours from this financial year we found that it equated to an average of 16 minutes per day per person, and this number has been skewed by acute pressures on our production, editorial and technology teams as they continue to help us adapt to a very busy marketplace and a new global reach. For this reason, it was important to me to make sure that this policy didn’t only cover artists but looked after support personnel as well.

How are we going to afford it?

Put simply it’s not unaffordable if you monitor your overtime and plan ahead. We looked at our proprietary production software and analysed overtime paid during previous financial years – what we calculated was that implementing our new policy would take our overtime spend to around 2% of global revenue. As a growing company that would be tough to stomach, but we’re in a position now where we don’t have much more growing left to do in the UK.

We have areas of the business we would like to improve such as training and development of younger artists and production teams. At the moment Outpost only has about 3% of its workforce coming straight out of education, and so we’re starting to develop homegrown schemes that bring in new talent and put them on courses run by our L&D Manager Ian Fellows alongside working on shows.

At the start of 2021 we secured PE investment from YFM Equity Partners, and installed Robin Shenfield as Chair. It’s worth highlighting that YFM share our vision for a more equitable industry and gave our new overtime policy their full support. I’m thankful to Robin and Roux from YFM for supporting our cultural vision far more than many investors would.

Why do we want other companies to match our policy?

We’ve not done this to compete with people, in fact being the only company offering paid OT puts us at a competitive disadvantage when bidding as we do not factor in free labour.

We have five core values, of which Balance stands out to us as a constant battle between creating a superb environment and the demands of film and episodic work. Balance, in the sense of avoiding challenging hours, isn’t 100% achievable all the time – not for us or any of the other VFX studios globally. We are constantly trying to find ways to reduce overtime.

I want other companies to match our policy because it’s fair and I believe it’s the right thing to do.

We can’t achieve a domino effect if we’re the only domino. I want companies with a similar ethos to ours – which I know exist in the UK – to join us in bringing UK VFX up to speed with other regions.

Tanya Combrinck
Author: Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 15 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq.