It has been over three years since the news of how the VFX industry was in dire straights. It all came to a boiling point when company Rhythm and Hues was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy and less than 2 weeks later won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. For a time there was an outcry in the film community about how such a large facet of filmmaking could be so unstable. Of course in the proceeding years no news outlets followed the story and people forgot. Has anything changed? Let’s take a look and see what’s what now.
-How Things Went South: Part I-
No matter what you see every year of how movie studios are making billions of dollars in box office returns they’re still in the business of making money. That means if they’ll find a deal to get some form of production done cheaper they will take advantage of it. Many times we’ll see how foreign countries will begin to offer government rebates if projects are awarded to them. Take for instance our neighbor to the north, Canada. While a company in the U.S. can bid a project at 10 million dollars a Canadian company can bid the same project for the same amount, but the government will pay back a percentage of that money to the studios. This means their dollar goes further in other countries than it does in the U.S. And it would take a foolish (or brave depending on how you look at it) person to say let’s make a movie that’ll cost more money if work is kept it stateside.
-How Things Went South: Part II-
With competition being extremely stiff this means that companies have to enter into deals that are often unfair in order to keep work flowing. So let’s say that one company underbids another and gets the contract that’s good right? Not entirely, if a company is hired to create 600 effects shots that means they have to get them done in time for the movie’s release. If you bid seven million dollars for a project that’s ultimately all you’re going to get. So as a deadline gets closer you have to keep working, even if all seven million has already been spent creating 500 of those shots. Now you’re working to finish a project with your company’s own money. It’s a very rare case when a studio is willing to inject more money to complete a films effects.
-What’s The Big Deal?-
With VFX becoming an increasingly important cog in the film machine you’d think studios would want to make sure they can depend on these people always being there. Because no matter what you may think almost every film has some form of CGI in it. Whether you’re creating entire creatures in the computer or digitally erasing a minor item out of the background of a shot these people work their magic to make sure a director’s vision makes it to the big (or small) screen as intended. And believe me, it’s hard to continue working tirelessly in a profession that seems to consider you expendable once you’ve finished one part of a job.
-Have Things Improved?-
Honestly, I don’t think it has. Last year alone the company Double Negative announced their plans to expand their staff in Vancouver while cutting jobs in Singapore and England. What can be gathered is that even though these people were doing fantastic work it just got cheaper once again to work in Canada. So Double Negative is taking part in the shell game of shuffling their workload around to get the most they can for every dollar they spend. Again, I can’t blame companies for wanting to save money, it’s how business works. But what happens when less people decide to work in visual effects in the coming years due to such shabby treatment? Consider this the moment where studios have to decide if you want to actually invest in the future or just keep riding the gravy train until it careens off the tracks.
As usual, what are your thoughts? Do you think it’ll take huge surge of support from others working in the industry (i.e. actors, directors, stunt people) for VFX companies to get a fair shake? Would a studio be willing to offer profit participation so these companies might get a backend deal for their work? Or is it going to continue on this vicious cycle?