Variety’s David S. Cohen reports that the VFX crunch for studios on films like Green Lantern are having a costly effect:
Whispers about problems on the production grew louder after schedule concerns early in the new year triggered high-level meetings to get the project back on track. The cost of its roughly 1,400 visual effects is more than $9 million over the $45 million original f/x budget.
I’ve posted at length about similar issues like this. In the quest by studios to make VFX faster, cheaper, and better the exact opposite occurs: Deadlines get missed, the costs go up, and the quality goes down.
But as TAG organizer Steve Kaplan and many of us have realized time and time again:
When push comes to shove, the studios pay to get the films done.
The stress at times has hit a level that I’ve rarely seen. On one occasion I witnessed a VFX Supervisor choke up in tears at how frustratingly close they’ve come to a deadline’s razor thin edge.
Variety had a similar article almost 4 years ago where that famous quote was seared into our minds:
One producer, according to a story making the rounds of vfx shops, is reported to have said, “If I don’t put a visual effects shop out of business (on my movie), I’m not doing my job.”
And so we subscribed to the fear that was a part of a larger narrative presented by some in the industry that went kinda like this: VFX labor in California is too expensive. VFX labor is cheaper elsewhere and other countries. VFX facilities don’t make money. Therefore, if you unionized, it will drive up the costs and the studios will take their work elsewhere.
Yet I make little discoveries that are quite the contrary:
Union benefits could actually be cheaper for facilities that pay for fringe benefits. Some facility owners have been bold enough to say that the VFX industry is a “terrific business to be in” and that the bad years were just “paper losses“. While states that offer subsidies are cutting them, other countries that offer them are at full capacity and turning work away. The profitable companies get caught engaging in collusion to keep wages down even though it’s cheaper elsewhere. Yet the studios keep coming here to get work done, even if the costs go over budget by 20%.
Now consider the situation for Sony artists 4 years ago. You had India and New Mexico. Artists were being told that work would leave Culver City altogether and only a small production crew would remain. If you were WB Producer Chris Defaria, you thought VFX would mimic the gypsy-like model of physical production and all the work could be done in New Mexico.
Fast forward today and you had a huge need in So Cal for vfx artists to finish Green Lantern. The vfx went over-budget by 20% but you got it done and it will look good. Unfortunately, for the New Mexico artists that are potentially facing 4 months of no work where do they go? For the artists in Culver City many of them will also be let go but at least you are situated in a dynamic market that has other vfx work going on.
For example many small and mid-sized facilities are hiring. Disney Animation is ramping up. Hell, you don’t even need to mail them your resume and reel. They’ll come to Culver City to pick it up. Of course it would have been advantageous to you if Sony was unionized as your benefits would have just transfered over when you are at Disney.
For the studios the game will start all over again, but the Variety article has a warning for them.
Should a tentpole be forced to change dates, the ripple effects on a studio, its rivals, exhibitors and tie-ins will be widespread and injurious to bottom lines.
“I think the day (the system) breaks is the day everyone will revise their thinking,” said Marvel exec VP of visual effects Victoria Alonso. “Until that day comes, filmmakers are going to push it to the limit. I think it’s sad that we will have to watch one of us fail to learn our lesson.”
Perhaps it’s time for VFX artists to start making some waves.