Harsh Realities of VFX Business
We all know that our favorite Vulcan wasn’t really lowered into a volcano in Star Trek Into Darkness. We know it was a visual special effect – VFX. If you’ve seen a movie in the last 20 years, you know that VFX have played an increasing role in movies. What you may not know is that the business model in VFX and in studios has driven an appalling number of VFX companies out of business.
One of the most bizarre examples is the brilliant company Rhythm & Hues, creator of VFX since 1987, including such beloved movies as Babe and Life of Pi. As Life of Pi was winning an Oscar, Rhythm & Hues was entering bankruptcy. How could this happen??
This video, Life After Pi, talks about what happened: http://youtu.be/9lcB9u-9mVE
If you’ve ever run a business, you know that being held to a fixed price while the scope grows will give you nightmares. Early in my training career, I made my mark as a project manager by refusing to expand scope without more pay. Too often people feel they can’t do that, especially if their client is the “only game in town” or can blackball them.
Adding to the problem is that in spite of the long time it takes to develop VFX, directors hesitate to define what they need until the last minute. If some new effect captures the public’s attention, they want to be able to include it in their movie.
As the video mentioned, no longer do directors do the detailed planning up front that used to be required. I’ve found that many people in the business recoil in horror if I suggest project planning – “Oh my god, it would stifle our creativity!!” Hmm, research scientists in weapons and pharmaceutical organizations have said the same thing when their unlimited expenditures were curtailed. Instead they got more creative AND learned to plan their work. But right now we have enormous amounts being spent on studio tentpoles – and their suppliers being forced out of business. Hmm.
While we’re on the subject of strange business practices, I asked a Hollywood contact about accountability – wouldn’t the studio be held accountable if they used deceptive business practices on a movie? No!! Each movie is done as its own corporation – which is disbanded at the end of the movie project. Sure you could sue, but by the time anything happens in the judicial system, the work is done and that company no longer exists. Good luck on getting any judgment that has teeth, no matter how flagrant the violation!
Seems change is overdue and inevitable.