Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Canadian Customs? (Part I)

Due to the transitory nature of VFX, I’ve both traveled a fair bit for work, and hired a lot of people from other countries. By now, I have a pretty good idea of how the process of applying for a work visa goes in about 99.99% of western countries.

It’s normally a simple, if bureaucratic, process. Company X wants to hire Person Y, so they apply to the immigration department for a work visa, explaining why can’t find someone locally. Person Y then sends through some supporting documents – anything from educational certificates to x-rays of their lungs – while Company X pays an exorbitant amount of money to an immigration lawyer. Then, sometime between one week and six months later, the immigration department grants a work visa; Person Y gets on a plane and heads to country X, where they wander in through immigration, catch a cab to the office, and normally get put straight to work.

A straightforward process, if somewhat hard on the poor trees.

Not so Canada.

Oh no. There, Company X applies for what is called a “Labour Market Opinion”; a finding from the immigration department as to whether Person Y’s skill set already exists in Canada. If they get a negative Labour Market Opinion, it means it does, and you can’t hire a foreigner. If they get a positive Labour Market Opinion, it means it doesn’t and you can.

Confused yet? Yeah, me too.

Then comes the fun part. Person Y – in this case, me – gets to take the LMO, the job offer, and every single other document that might possibly help my visa application, and hop on a rather long flight to the other side of the world. Upon arrival – sleep deprived and smelling a little bit funky after 17 hours in coach – I then apply for the visa at the border.

I can’t figure out if this is because the Canadians aren’t really that fussy about who comes into the country, or if – and this is my bet, because any visa applicant that gets declined has to hop on the next flight home – the Canadian Immigration Department has something going with the airlines.

Either way, it makes for a nerve-wracking 17 hour trip.

When I did finally stagger off the plane, punch drunk and bleary from spending almost an entire day in the armpit of the person sitting next to me, the process didn’t get any clearer.

First there was a sign saying “Work visas”. That seemed fairly straight forward, so I headed in that direction. Unfortunately once I got there, I was turned around and told by the information desk to collect my baggage first.

Fair enough; I trundled off to the baggage carousel where I stood for a very long time, watching the conveyer belt go around, and revisiting my fifth form French class.

“Ou est ma baggage? Je n’ai pas ma baggage. L’avion a perdu ma baggage.”*

Finally, when it was down to me and just one other woman (who had managed to not only misplace her baggage, but also her husband), I saw the beautiful appearance of my oversized suitcase thumping down the conveyer belt.

I picked it up and headed back to the sign that said “work visas”.

Where I was told at the same information desk that I was supposed to leave my bag there.

In countless years and numerous countries, this is the first time I’ve been told to leave baggage unattended at an airport.

It felt strange and wrong.

Those 23kgs represented the end result of decades culling my belongings to ship them between countries. They had survived dozens of relocations, and scores of moving companies. I really didn’t want the bomb disposal squad to blow them up while I was getting my visa.

But, the luggage trolley wouldn’t fit between the metal bollards guarding the entrance to the work visa area, and the information assistant was starting to glare at me, so I parked the it next to the desk, gave it one last, fond look farewell, and headed through to the work visa processing room.

Yikes. If the devil ever wanted to branch out into bureaucracy, Vancouver Immigration could consult. Except they’d probably need three months notice and even then could only spare one worker between the hours of 10.30am and 11am, Mondays, Wednesdays and every second Friday.

A queue of people zigzagged back from the application counter; two people were processing applications, while a row of empty desks stretched out on either side.

By now it was 1.30, and according to my poor tummy, breakfast had been served in another year. Sighing, I put my laptop down. This was going to be a long wait.

Stay tuned for Part II, where I face a truly testing immigration interrogation.

*Since Vancouver is in British Columbia – obviously an English-speaking province with a name like that – it wasn’t really something I needed to do, but since all the baggage signs were in both languages, I felt it only fair I declare the loss of such in kind.

Canada, Ho!

In about half an hour, I’m due to leave for the airport where I have a flight booked to Canada. Unfortunately – due to my somewhat obsessive nature – I was ready to go hours ago. My bags are packed, my e-ticket printed, and I’m all caught up on email, Facebook & linkedIn. I’m too nervous to just sit and relax, read a book, or gnaw away on my fingernails like a normal person. I did try sitting on the couch and staring at the clock, but that didn’t help time go much faster like I’d hoped.

Instead I decided to finally start this blog. I planned to do this weeks ago, but then I got distracted with little things like “packing” and “finding travel insurance”. Crazy, I know.

So hi! Welcome to the blog. Please, make yourself at home, have a look around, have a cup of tea. I can’t promise there’ll be a lot to see at first, but it’ll get there slowly.

I work in visual effects for film. We do all the CGI stuff you see in films, which can be anything from adding a digital Gollum to a shot, to removing the camera guy who accidentally wandered into frame.

Mostly it’s the latter.

But there is no job quite like VFX.

Every day, I go into an office filled with interesting, creative people, and work with them to make films.

It’s hard, it’s interesting and it’s incredibly rewarding.

Once the show is wrapped, the crew t-shirts distributed, and the wrap party hang-over subsided, we even get to go sit in a cinema and see our work up on screen for everyone to enjoy.*

There’s not that many industries that have that kind of payoff at the end of the project.

Unfortunately, there is a down side.

Visual effects facilities (also known as “houses” – possibly since we often eat, sleep, and shower there) don’t make a lot of money. It sounds unbelievable when you hear about some of the budgets being spent on Hollywood blockbusters, but (for various reasons), very little of that ends up in the VFX facility’s savings account. It’s very common for facilities – even well established ones – to go out of business.

In the last year, two of the four large feature film VFX houses in Australia have either gone bankrupt, or into voluntary administration, while another was bought by a large film conglomerate. The VFX houses in the US aren’t doing much better, with a lot of smaller ones falling by the wayside, and one of the largest – the facility that did Benjamin Button and Titanic – filing for bankruptcy in early September.

One way facilities try to mitigate this is by setting up in a place with strong tax incentives.

Right now, that place is Canada.

So now, like many of my colleagues before me, I’ve packed up as much of my life that I can fit into 23kg of baggage allowance, and I am Canada-bound, for a six month project to work on a feature film. I am also really hoping there’s no change to the tax incentives in the next half a year.

This is our lifestyle in VFX; moving around the world, following the VFX houses that pop up and down like a game of whack’a’mole.

We’re like seasonal fruit pickers, only with much better accommodation.

And while it is great to be paid to wander around the world, there are definitely drawbacks. Not least that that I’m in my mid-thirties, and all my worldly possessions fit into a few boxes stacked in the corner of my parent’s garage. Most of my friends my age are dreaming of having children. I’m dreaming about buying my own couch.

Sadly, however, airlines don’t allow couches as carry-on baggage, so that dream is on hold until at least April 2013. After that, I guess I’ll just have to see where the industry takes me.

*Except for Speed Racer. Then we just stopped with the wrap party.

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