Toxic Labor Practices At Mill Film Led A VFX Worker To Suicide, Co-Workers Allege
Readers of this site don’t have to be reminded that the vfx industry’s toxic labor practices are a very real and very troubling concern, but rarely do we hear the personal stories that remind us of the human toll involved in creating content for the entertainment industry.
The Canadian Press, the country’s national news agency, published a piece today, via CTV News, that alleges vfx worker Malcolm Angell committed suicide a few months ago, in large part because of the suffering he endured at Montreal’s Mill Film, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Technicolor, which also owns companies like MPC and Mikros Animation. A “deeply disturbing” contract made it impossible for him to quit the job without owing tens of thousands of dollars to Technicolor.
A few details from their story:
Angell’s former colleagues allege the work environment at Mill Film was toxic. They say 80-hour workweeks were common, and that Angell was regularly humiliated by his bosses. Ivan says he’s certain his brother would have quit — were it not for a clause in Angell’s contract requiring he pay a $35,000 penalty.
“Work kinda sucks,” Angell wrote in an email to a friend in New York City in early September 2019. By November, in an email to the same friend, he said he was doing the work of two people. A planned trip to New Zealand for a wedding in February, 2020, was cancelled, his brother Ivan said in a recent interview, because Angell couldn’t get the time off work.
Ivan Angell said friends noticed a change in his brother by December. The man who was described in an obituary as a “superfriend” who was always smiling, had become a “shadow of himself,” he said.
Another element that tied Angell to his employer was his contract, a copy of which The Canadian Press viewed. The contract included a clause stating he was liable to pay Mill Film a $35,000 indemnity should he leave in the middle of a project.
The indemnity clause identified Angell as a “key member” of the team and indicated that the company would be contractually committing Angell’s services to its client. The contract said that for “certain very exceptional and serious” reasons the company could decide to waive the indemnification clause.
Adelle Blackett, a law professor at McGill University and labour law expert, said that clause “is deeply disturbing.” Quebec’s labour standards require employers to provide working conditions that “safeguard employees’ dignity, health and well-being,” she wrote in an email. “An employee working in conditions of freedom must be able to terminate an employment contract with only minimally necessary restrictions.”
An in-depth obituary about Angell’s life and work can be read here.