This weekend saw the premiere of the film Skyline which was produced and directed by Colin and Greg Strause who are VFX Supervisors and owners of the Los Angeles vfx company Hydraulx. The film was made with a budget of $10 million and and debuted with $11.6 million this weekend. I have some good things to say about this film… and some bad and ugly things to say too.
You have to give the Strause brothers credit since they were able to shoot a film in Los Angeles with a budget of $10 million and still pay a decent rate for LA vfx artists. That’s a great thing and we should all celebrate in the success of that. The idea that you have to go outside of Los Angeles to get low cost vfx is not necessarily true. Battle For Terra was another low budget film that was made all in LA with LA vfx artists that were paid decently.
The Strause Brothers are hard workers and have incredibly good technical knowledge about shooting films for vfx so they were able to be efficient with their budget. Much of the exploding costs for vfx are made by hastily made decisions on the set that lead to unreasonable demands on vfx facilities.
One of the possible solutions for vfx facilities to become profitable was to start producing their own films and focus less on servicing the vfx of the big studios. The Strause Brothers have walked the walk by producing and directing their own film that is probably going to generate a nice chunk of change for them.
For all the credit the Strause Brothers deserve, this was a terrible film. In fact, many of the critics are choosing this to be the worst film of the year. The most scathing review came from aintitcool.com:
SKYLINE is what happens when someone shows up with a $10 million check and never lets these two geniuses sober up enough to realize just how fucking asinine their idea really is.
The Brothers Strauss are perhaps the single most inept filmmaking duo working in the studio system today.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this film was green lit while the brothers were out doing a few drinks with Brett Ratner.
Is it a good thing for our industry that mediocre films like these are used as the roadmap to profitability for vfx facilities?
This is the second film the Strause brothers have directed and it seems there hasn’t been much improvement from their first film: Aliens vs. Predator Requiem.
I couldn’t get past the first scene in that movie because it was so laughably bad. A father and son are having a good old outing in the forest and BAM! FUCKING ALIEN OWNAGE! I mean really? I could’ve swore I came up something similar when I was six years old!
But who cares about the quality of the film as the Strause brothers will be the first to brag that AVP2 was the second biggest Tuesday opening for a film in December, EVER! Seriously. Who brags about that? Should they time the release of their next film so it can be declared as the Biggest Yom Kippur Opening During A Leap Year?
Look, it’s known amongst the vfx community that many people who have worked at Hydraulx have had serious problems as alluded to in this post on fxguide:
However, it should be noted that Hydraulx engages in dubious, if not outright illegal, business practices – specifically: misclassification of employees as independent contractors, violation of state overtime time pay laws, and tax fraud stemming from the deliberate avoidance of paying employer mandated taxes.
I’ve heard many similar stories of former Hydraulx artists who are incorrectly classified to work as independent contractors where they are responsible for the employer’s taxes. Many of them are not paid overtime appropriately and receive payment for their work long after the 30 days mandated by the employer. It’s nasty stuff but artists need to work and are afraid to report such violations.
How much more expensive would a film like Skyline be if they appropriately paid OT and correctly classified workers as employees? I seriously doubt the Strause brothers would just pick up shop and move elsewhere if they had to follow the law.
I think it’s unfair that while artists are working unpaid OT and potentially putting themselves in a situation where they may be audited, the Strause brothers are driving Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, flying private jets, wearing $25,000 watches, and drinking shots of Dom Perignon at Las Vegas clubs with Paris Hilton.
However the moral of the story is something that Steve Hulett mentions on his blog about the Hollywood industry all the time:
There is no right or wrong, good or evil, fair or unfair in this industry. There is just leverage. You either got it or you don’t. If you have it, use it. If you don’t, find out how to get it.