The Hollywood Blame Game

There have been some recent articles that I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of very soon.

Warner Bros. according to the LA Times is delaying the release of a Green Lantern trailer because so much of the VFX work isn’t done:

But beyond an early trailer released last November that studio executives acknowledged was poorly received by fans, there hasn’t been any promotional material yet for “Green Lantern,” which stars Ryan Reynolds. The reason: The movie’s intricate 3-D visual effects, including numerous scenes set in space and featuring aliens, are taking longer than anticipated.

Hop director Tim Hill also complained to the LA Times about how those pesky visual effects almost prevented his film from being released:

that’s when we got into the “Oh [crap], are we going to make it?” And they [animation and effects studio Rhythm & Hues] finally said, “We’re not going to be able to deliver your movie.”

Along the same lines, Variety reports that the quality of VFX work is taking a hit because of compressed schedules:

Ray Feeney of RFX, one of Hollywood’s leading technologists, said, “I believe the quality of what has been delivered to the motion picture screen has gone down over the last few years

I’ve been hearing murmurs of some of the VFX coming out for a few films this summer. While there will be films with spectacular high quality vfx, there will be many films with some very very bad vfx. I’m talking about so bad that it will make you wonder why couldn’t they just have hooked up an xbox and take screen shots from a bad video game instead.

But for studio executives who cares? If people are foolish enough to pay for low quality 3D why wouldn’t they pay for bad quality vfx?

Has VFX Become The Fouth Letter?

The recent articles blaming vfx for some potential failures reminds me of a joke probably many of you heard in the Hollywood industry.

A newly appointed studio executive sits at his new desk to find a note left by the previously fired studio executive. It says:

In the drawer to your left are three letters labeled 1, 2, and 3. Open each one sequentially whenever you find yourself in trouble.

A month passes and a big film flops at the box office. He opens letter 1 which says:

Blame your predecessor.

A couple of months later he realizes all their summer releases were failures. The studio executive opens letter 2:

Blame your marketing department.

At the end of the year things are still really bad and he finally resorts to opening letter 3 which says:

Write 3 letters.

Perhaps in this case it’s time to add “blame the VFX company” to the letters studio executives write when things go wrong. To tell you the truth I’m pretty happy to see facilities stand their ground. It’s about damn time. It’s an improvement to the situation we had almost 4 years ago when a producer gloated in Variety:

If I don’t put a visual effects shop out of business (on my movie), I’m not doing my job.

The VFX Relationship Is Changing But Not Going Away

For Hop director Tim Hill there seemed to be plenty of warnings from R+H about the ability to finish the film:

Our visual effects producer said he thought we were really going to be cutting it close, but he said it early on and I think he may have said it too many times, because we stopped listening to him. [Laughs.]

The production got to the point where Tim Hill wasn’t even allowed to give notes:

We were at a point in the movie where I’d get maybe one or two chances to comment because we were so far behind. Usually you have eight or 10. There were a couple of times where they said, “This is it; this is your shot.” Just so they could meet their deadlines.

Look if studios want iterative control over the quality of vfx and eliminate executive overhead then crew vfx artists to work for the studio directly. Companies like Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar do this. In the Huffington Post, post production was listed as one of the 10 dying industries. However if you read the details you’ll find the reason why post production facilities are dying:

Technological advances, particularly involving the widespread adoption of digital media have adversely affected the industry’s range of services, from editing and animation to archiving and format transfer. While the use of this technology is becoming widespread, it is undercutting the industry’s services since production companies can now do much of the work in-house.

Variety reported on the success of Universal’s in house Studio Operations:

“This suite is the new playbox for post-production,” Jenkins says. “It used to be that color timing was all done in a lab with chemicals, but now it’s all done on computer. It saves time and money — and provides instant gratification, because once they are done here they can just walk over to the next department and get started on that next phase of post.”

Soldier On.

14 Responses to The Hollywood Blame Game

  1. n says:

    Beats the hell out of me why the industry works this way. I worked with a VFX company recently, and we never once discussed terms for changes. They just took notes and took notes at their own expense until they cried uncle and said they couldn’t do any more. Not even once did the issue of paying for changes even come up. Bizarre.

    • Rob N says:

      That’s a terribly produced job. The producer should be sacked.

      However, it’s true that getting the time needed is difficult for sure. Even if the money was perfect, the time is the biggest problem to what we do. Now, we as supervisors need to be very very clever of hold em and fold em. We also need to work smarter and use techniques that allow for massive scaling. This shit is not easy but it works.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Back in the day I once asked a manager for a raise that would bring me in line with what others in my department were making. I thought it was fair.

      The manager was new and eager to prove himself as a cost-cutter by saying no. I ended up leaving for a company that was going to pay alot more even if he agreed.

      What I found out was that they had to pay my replacement even more money to finish the job.

  2. Iyad H says:

    Here is a recent experience i had. I long ago quitted working for companies, while i was doing pretty good in terms of “Title” and “Credit” wise, the overtime, attitude and income was getting worse and worse. even though the studio was doing great (from time to time i would glance on the taboo quotations and invoices) and everyone seemed to be able to afford stuff except us mere employees (I was a Technical Director). so after years of freelancing, i decided to even quit this whole business all together, because it’s bad inside and outside. Surprisingly though, production houses and some VFX shops keeps asking me to execute work for them. We’re talking 30 sec animation of full 3D and compositing work, by my self.

    So in a recent project, the client and agency had a board which needed to be executed in full 3D. 6 characters (photorealistic) all fluid simulation splattering and dripping on their bodies. I was asked to make a very special price because the client doesn’t have the budget (As usual) and that’s why he opted for 3D because he doesn’t have the budget for live shoot. So i quoted the whole thing 35K a two guys team. The next day, the production house calls and tells me the budget is way too much, and thus they have contacted two local director who each came out with a solution that involves live action shooting and some post work. knowing that local directors and a one day shoot in any place is no less than 40K without the post work. So as surreal and accustomed to this kind of bullying i decided to compromise and offer a drastic 8K budget for only fluid simulation (got to put food on the table at the end of the day). So everyone was happy of course since im the only one who got screwed by this deal obviously, but things went quiet until the client gives a go ahead. Now the testament to how rotten this business is truly is, it when i received an email last night from the production house, it was another brief for the same board. Apparently the client with no budget, has decided to go to france (well it was the agency decision, maybe the freaking producer wanted a vacation or the art director wants to sight see France), the commercial will be directed by a french director (that’s 30K to 45K fee immediately) with a 3 to 5 days of shooting (talk about a 150K) but they still require doing the VFX with me, but they need to cut the budget down because the client doesn’t have a budget!!!!

    Moral of the story, things will never change, i have been fighting head to head with agencies, production houses and post production houses for years now with no result. We are at the bottom of the food chain, yes VFX quality have decreased allot over the past few years, but to be honest that’s not my concern any more. it’s the producers fault, youtube directors fault and blood sucking studio executives fault. I know there are some good studios and VFX shops still out there, but honestly they are getting extinct every day.

  3. Dave Rand says:

    A friend of mine very close to the Green Lantern VFX told me that outsourcing was the general theme for the fx work on that film. Doe anyone else know the level of outsourcing done on this film and if it relates to any of the delays?

  4. Paddy says:

    A responsible vfx co will schedule a job, including approval milestones for shots and sequences. Modelling sign off. Animation block. Final animation. Lighting. Comp. The contract will outline these. It will also outline how many iterations are provided for. The progress of the job against the schedule will be shared knowledge between the facility producer and the client-side producer. It will be their shared responsibility to make sure the job stays on schedule and budget. Actual creative changes to the agreed brief should be flagged, and if necessary, additional charges and time allocated.

    This is how jobs SHOULD be run. But aggressive competitive bidding between desperate facilities and clients who refuse to sign contracts and who go to the lowest bidder mean that the vfx business is a war zone. Unsustainable! If studios end up with crappy vfx in their movies, then they really only have themselves to blame.

  5. Pepito says:

    I blame myself for the late delivery of Hop.

  6. Dave says:

    Fundamentally the market has been changing over the last 15 years and that change is accelerating. The influx of young cheap talent and the drop in price of technology for VFX has created a super competitive environment for jobs in the remaining post houses and gigs for freelancers. People who buy these services know it, and are taking advantage.
    These jobs are usually a labor of love, its fun/cool to work in a post house instead of say an accounting firm. Consequently, people stay and put up with the long hours, abusive clients and dwindling pay to keep the job they loved for so long, but now are starting to sour on.
    The question for all of us is do we stay and grumble, fight back or leave and find a nice job at say a nice accounting firm?

    So the question for all of us working in and around the post industry is

  7. Harry says:

     — how about studio producers taking the blame? Over worked & underpaid Vfx crews and schedules that are not realistic to complete quality work without working way too much OT (a friend of mine on Thor just did 110 hour week!). Studios seem to take months and months developing films, syphon more of the production time shooting and expect all the hard and technical work to be done on a shoe string with temps crews that are over worked. Too many changes and management heavy. Producers should be held responsible for poor management. All this and rarely a thank you, film credit or any residuals! My 2 cents. 

  8. Iyad H says:

    I don’t know if we should hold studio producers accountable, don’t get me wrong, i have a great deal of despise for studio producers, well those that i worked with, which means all of them. But objectively speaking, producers are only doing what they’ve been told to do, they are relentless and merciless, but that’s what their “Boss” is expecting them to be. Producers don’t get paid all that much, unless they are dealing under the table, which all of them do. So while the “Boss” put on a happy face and an understanding one, he pushes the producer to do the dirty work for him.
    There is one company i worked for, the studio producer was the worst person you could ever work with or be around, so one time while speaking with the owner and telling him what i think about him and his company, sort of like heart to heart from one side only, he actually said in plain english, that whenever he wants something done to the crew or employees he “unleashes” the producer on them like a dog, that was his words, problem is he was proud of that.
    So should we hold the VFX crew accountable? or the producers? no i think we should hold the studio owners, film executives and Directors accountable. They are back there letting it happen because they have sanctioned it, they allow it because they believe and support this way of dealing with the crew, and no matter how understanding they might seem, they all have an easy life and an easy time sleeping.

    • Ted says:

      “Producers don’t get paid all that much, unless they are dealing under the table, which all of them do.”

      Can you elaborate?
      Very interesting…

  9. […] alluded to this recently on how convoluted quality control measures and mistaken attempts to go the cheap route have led to vfx that looks like an in game cut […]

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