Oscars 2014: Why Are Special Effects Wizards Planning to Protest at the Ceremony?

The visual-effects industry wants to keep jobs in the U.S.

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Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Oscar statuettes are displayed on Jan. 23, 2004, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois

If you catch a glimpse of something not quite normal on the red carpet outside Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, here’s what you’re likely to be looking at: the March in March, a protest by members of Hollywood’s visual effects industry.

That’s because — even though a hefty portion of today’s movies rely on the on-screen magic they can make — America’s effects industry is in big trouble.

As The Wrap reported when planning got underway about a month ago, their dissatisfaction stems from a perception that tax subsidies offered by other countries are encouraging filmmakers to get their visual effects work done overseas, harming the U.S. effects industry. A similar protest took place last year, inspired by a bankruptcy filing from one of the sector’s best-known companies.

(MORE: What Makes an Oscar Winner)

Now, it seems, the real hope for the VFX industry won’t come from something you might see on the news.

Yesterday, a comprehensive story at PandoDaily explained a legal technicality that’s offering them something to grab onto. As David Sirota reports, a VFX blogger named Daniel Lay hired lawyers to investigate any opportunities that might be available for VFX wizards in court. Those lawyers discovered that this winter, the MPAA clarified their position that digital products should count as trade goods — in other words, that a digital file made in another country and brought to the U.S. should be subject to all the same laws that apply to physical imports. The MPAA took this stance to curb digital piracy, but Lay and his team believe that the same rules would apply to components of a movie (like the effects) as the whole movie, which means the import taxes might cancel out the subsidies, making it more cost-effective for VFX to be completed domestically.

And as for the bankruptcy that inspired last year’s protest?

It’s now the subject of a new half-hour documentary, the entirety of which was just posted on YouTube. You can watch the whole thing here: