Hyderabad: Working in an animation, production or VFX company has often been looked at as an exciting career choice. However, according to employees, both current and past, life in such companies is nightmarish: they are underpaid and overworked in a toxic work culture.
Several of the employees who spoke to Deccan Chronicle said they had come into the industry with much interest, but were regretting their decision after being exploited for years.
Kumar (name changed) worked for a Hyderabad-based post-production firm until a couple of years ago. Though he had an MBA under his belt, Kumar was enamoured by the technological side of the film industry. He wanted to be involved in digital intermediate work, which deals in post-production work such as coloring and sound effects. The firm that he worked for, by his own assessment, “is one of the top firms in the city.”
“It took me six months to get an appointment letter from the company, even though they told me I had the job. I needed friends to refer me there. Once I got in, I was asked to work without pay. Though I was working on big-budget films, I was not making anything. After a year, I was finally made an official employee at Rs 7,000 a month,” he said.
Kumar said that the first year, when he worked without pay, was challenging for many reasons. “During that time, I had to wait for a chance to use the computer. I would be made to sit beside a senior person through the day, to learn from him. This person would barely teach me anything and he would often stay till 11 PM every night. Once he left, I was asked to practice on my own. I couldn’t leave the office for days at a stretch,” he said.
Others too had similar horror stories. An employee currently working in a city-based VFX company said he often spends all seven days of the week in office. “There is no concept of work-life balance. I often sleep in the office,” he said. He added that he had been working at the same salary for two years. “I won’t dare ask for a raise. If the management thinks you are a nuisance, it will simply fire you. There are no notice periods or severance packages,” he said.
Several employees said that there are only a few firms that care about adhering to labour laws. They said weekly offs were a luxury which only a few firms, mostly MNCs, had in place. “The normal practice is to work without offs for an entire year and take a long two or three-week vacation once,” said an employee of a fledgling 3D animation and VFX firm.
The reason seems to stem from the working practices of the Telugu and Indian film industries. Film directors are often known to be fiercely loyal to technicians they have worked with since the beginning of their career. “They are also very superstitious. They think if they work with the same guy or team, they will succeed. They don’t want to work with new people. This leaves very little room for newcomers to prove themselves,” said Kumar.
There are also cash flow issues. Even big-time producers are infamous for not paying companies on time.
Rajiv Chilaka, president of Telangana VFX, animation and gaming association and founder of Greengold Animations, said he was unaware of the problem of work-life culture in multimedia companies. “We will definitely look into this issue,” he said.
Chilaka did admit that many firms were under financial stress, which might be translating into bad working conditions for employees. “Most companies are unable to pay salaries to their employees. Eighty percent of the studios have this problem....