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The Jungle Book has won the Visual Effects Oscar!

During my 22 years in the film vfx business, I have worked on over 75 feature films and this is the first time one of those films has won a visual effects Oscar – that should tell you how rare and special something like this is!

I’m very proud to have been a part of creating The Jungle Book for a year and a half and privileged to have worked with such an insanely talented team of people. Congratulations to all of us!

Stars: Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal

cinequest_logo

Downsizer has been selected for the 2016 Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California! There are going to be three screenings…

Hammer Theatre Center – Sat, Mar 5 9:30 PM

California Theatre – Sun, Mar 6 9:30 PM

Camera 12 – Screen 7 – Thu, Mar 10 2:00 PM

Full details are on the Cinequest Festival site

  
Ed Coleman as Charlie and Dan March as Mr Gruber

One more very cool thing… each of the screenings of Downsizer is paired with my lifelong buddy and frequent collaborator David Schendel’s feature length documentary: The Comedy Club – how fantastic is that?!

  
Claire Garvey as Maxine

Myself and Downsizer Producer Nicola Petrides will both be going to Cinequest representing our little masterpiece! Cinequest is a terrific film festival, we are honoured to be a part of it and it will no doubt be great fun!

  

Kate Sandison as Mrs Ashcroft

See you there!

-Joe

I was honoured and privileged to be asked to edit a video last weekend for the charity Help Refugees who have been doing some great work with the many people escaping war who are having to live in the camps in Calais. It’s a simple idea, but I think it has an emotional impact. I’m really happy with the piece and I hope it helps raise awareness of the work Help Refugees is doing and maybe help with some donations as well.

It has been covered on Huffington Post and it’s already getting a lot of hits.

 

In November, Downsizer premiered at the Edinburgh Short Film Festival to a packed audience. The man behind the ESFF, Paul Bruce sat down with me for a chat after the screening…

Downsizer – a short tale of weaponised office equipment

If you’re wondering why I’ve been so quiet… I’ve directed a short film called Downsizer and we’re in the last few hours of our fund raising campaign on Kickstarter.

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Our film looks amazing and we need your help to finish it and get it out to the world. Please visit www.downsizerfilm.co.uk view the awesome trailer and help out by pledging or even just spreading the word. We’re grateful for any and all help!

See you on the Red Carpet!

Joe.

PS there’s also a FaceBook page

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It’s very interesting to see how mainstream the visual effects crisis has become. It seems like everybody’s talking about it. Below are just a few of the stories that caught my eye over the last week.

 

Visual effects firms face talent shortage and struggle despite recent success
The Star Online
“I went to a conference recently and a lot of the American visual effects supervisors were excited to talk about their collaboration with Malaysian partners as well as the quality of work we can deliver,” he said here yesterday, adding that it was also 

Ang Lee: VFX biz ‘very hard to make money’
Variety
Lee, who incurred the ire of vfx artists by not mentioning the Oscar-winning vfx on the pic during his acceptance speech, had an opportunity to expand on his opinions of the vfx biz but didn’t bite. He didn’t have a lot to say about the travails of the 

Is the Visual Effects Industry Dying?
PolicyMic
What was more intriguing than the Oscars or my self-pedicure was not happening inside the Kodak, or I mean, Dolby Theatre, it was actually occurring a few miles east on Hollywood and Vine: a protest arranged by members of the visual effectscommunity.


PolicyMic
Even as visual effects proliferate, the industry finds itself in crisis
Globe and Mail
It’s the most important U.S. military mission in recent memory and a key sequence in the year’s most controversial film. It had to be done exactly right: no hint of sentimentality, and certainly no hint of the visual effects that were integral to Zero 

Michael Dambold: Oscars shine light on visual effects industry’s troubles
Tulsa World
At the Oscars, “Life of Pi” won multiple awards including one for visual effects. The effects for the movie were created by the studio Rhythm & Hues, whose credits also include “Django Unchained,” “The Hunger Games,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” 

Why visual effects artists are ‘going green’
Toronto Star
Eric Roth, executive president of the Los Angeles-based Visual Effects Society (VES) — which has members in 30 countries — said the industry in California is in particular danger, shedding jobs as film studios seek to lower their costs by finding 


Toronto Star
Visual effects artists struggle in demanding world of cinema
Daily Nebraskan
As “Life of Pi” raked in four major Academy Awards last Sunday, the company primarily responsible for the film’s success was sitting in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Rhythm & Hues, the largest visualeffects and CG animation studio in Los Angeles, has won 

Could Protesting Visual Effects Artists Use Cyber Attacks To Get Back At Studios?
Cinema Blend
The war of words being waged between visual effects houses (and visual effectstechnicians) and the major Hollywood studios likely is going to get worse before things start improving. Case in point: A major trade reports on “concerns” that tech-savvy 


Cinema Blend
WATCH: What TV’s most popular shows would look like without their visual effects
The Week Magazine
t Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, the visual effects team behind the stunningly beautiful Life of Pi were ushered offstage before group spokesman Bill Westenhofer could explain the central irony of their Oscar win: As they collected the award, their company, 


The Week Magazine
Tech Support: Visual Effects Society issues a ‘call to action’
HitFix (blog)
If you’ve paid any attention to the film industry the last few weeks, or maybe at least noticed green icons all over Facebook and Twitter, you’re well aware of the on-going state of frustration within the visual effects community. HitFix’s Drew McWeeny 

The Economics of Visual Effects
New York Times (blog)
Audiences got a taste of it on Sunday, when Bill Westenhofer, a visual effects winner for “Life of Pi,” was played off the Oscar stage with the “Jaws” music, just as he was talking about the bankruptcy of the film’s effects house, Rhythm & Hues. In a 


New York Times (blog)
Visual-effects protest spreads to Twitter, Facebook
Yahoo! News (blog)
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – Visual-effects workers have already taken to the streets outside the Oscars to protest the layoffs and bankruptcies roiling their industry. Now they’re taking the message to Facebook and Twitter in a series of coordinated 

Visual Effects Society Calls For New California Tax Incentives
Hollywood Reporter
The Visual Effects Society — a global honorary society of the VFX industry — sent an open letter to its membership on Tuesday in which it asked the state of California to create new tax incentives and called for a “VFX Congress” to explore other 


Hollywood Reporter
After Rhythm and Hues: Hollywood’s visual effects studios struggle for new 
89.3 KPCC
The visual effects company which did much of the work on the film “Life of Pi” filed for bankruptcy just weeks before winning an Oscar for work on the film. (A publicity still from Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.”) 


89.3 KPCC
More Than 400 ‘Life of Pi’ Visual Effects Artists Protested The Oscars
Business Insider
“It’s ironic that when visual effects are dominating the box office, visual effects are struggling,” said Westenhofer. “We’re artists, and if we don’t fix the business model we may lose something.” Earlier in the day, while the primary focus during the 


Business Insider
Visual Effects Society to Organize ‘VFX Congress’
Studio Daily
In an open letter released today, the head of the Visual Effects Society (VES), an honorary group of more than 2500 visual effects artists from 29 countries, launched a campaign urging California lawmakers to expand the state’s tax-incentive program 

Last week I talked about how the biggest Visual Effects Facilities were missing a trick by not recognising the clout they could wield with the studios by forming alliances or some sort of a trade association.

I happen to have worked with a few of the top people at some of the biggest facilities, so I thought I’d forward them the link to my article to hear their thoughts.

It wasn’t that encouraging. They didn’t seem to think it was possible or necessary. At least that was my impression. Maybe they were just playing their cards close to their chests, but I got the feeling that not a lot has changed in their perception of what’s developing in the Visual Effects world. However, let me tell you… things are moving fast, people’s perception and involvement are changing and all parties need to be proactive to stay in the game.

So let me throw this out there to the top people at the top facilities:

What if you woke up tomorrow and found the majority of vfx artists were unionised? What plan do you have for dealing with this very real possibility?

There’s a sobering thought. It might not happen overnight, but The landscape can change surprisingly fast once these things gain momentum. Maybe the facilities need to plan for this?

I personally see the facilities and the artists as allies in this but if the facilities remain on their current course and artists go ahead and unionise, they might find themselves at odds with each other. This would be a bad thing. The lack of a Visual Effects trade association amongst the major facilities would definitely put them at a disadvantage.

Worth considering?

In the meantime, here’s a letter that’s started floating around Facebook, allegedly written by Scott Ross, but I can’t confirm the source. Anyway, I agree with it whoever wrote it.

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I’ve had a thought…

Speaking of money in the film industry… Those actors and directors make a lot, don’t they?

Combining their up front fees with “back end” residuals and other royalty payments, an A list actor or director can potentially make tens of millions off a successful film. Which, I hasten to add, is just fine with me.

I do not begrudge them these stratospheric amounts of money. I say, “good for them!”. They negotiated with the studios and persuaded them they were worth it. They were able to show the studios that their involvement in the project would dramatically increase ticket sales and that’s why they get the big bucks.
tomcruise
For example, Tom Cruise gets paid millions for his movies because:

Tom Cruise = Box Office

If the studio wants Tom Cruise, they have to negotiate a price with him. If Tom Cruise says he wants X million dollars to do the film, the studio cannot go to someone else who can give them Tom Cruise for half that price.

Remember that. It’ll be important in a little bit.

Which brings us to visual effects and the current buzz rippling though the film community and yes, even spilling over in to the awareness of the general public.

To get you up to speed… visual effects facilities around the globe, great and small, where artists create the amazing spectacles you see in your favourite films are loosing their shirts and going out of business as they are squeezed by tighter production schedules and ever decreasing budgets. Meanwhile, the film industry and studios in particular have never had it so good. They are raking it in. The studios have been enjoying what is literally the most profitable era the 100+ year old film industry has ever known.

This disparity between visual effects and the rest of the film industry was brought to the fore when Life Of Pi won this years Oscar for Best Visual Effects while the primary vendor Rhythm & Hues (creator of an unbelievably fantastic tiger named Richard Parker), failed to meet payroll, filed for bankruptcy and laid off staff just a couple weeks earlier.

Here was a company creating breathtaking, award winning effects for a film which at last count has grossed over $600 million and they went broke working on it. How was this possible?

The puzzling irony of the situation was writ large for all to see and these events coming together have proven to be a flashpoint for the issues, spurring the community to voice their concerns about saving their increasingly fragile industry.

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So… visual effects aside, the film industry is doing pretty good. Don’t believe me? Look at this list of the top 20 grossing films of all time…

TOP 20 GROSSING FILMS (WORLDWIDE)

1 Avatar, 2009
$2,782.3m
2 Titanic, 1997
$2,185.4m
3 Marvel’s The Avengers, 2012
$1,511.8m
4 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, 2011
$1,328.1m
5 Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 2011
$1,123.7m
6 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003
$1,119.9m
7 Skyfall , 2012
$1,108.2m
8 The Dark Knight Rises, 2012
$1,081.0m
9 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, 2006
$1,066.2m
10 Toy Story 3, 2010
$1,063.2m
11 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011
$1,043.9m
12 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, 1999
$1,027.0m
13 Alice in Wonderland, 2010
$1,024.3m
14 The Dark Knight, 2008
$1,004.6m
15 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012
$980.6m
16 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001
$974.8m
17 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007
$963.4m
18 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, 2010
$956.4m
19 The Lion King, 1994
$951.6m
20 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2007
$939.9m

Source: http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/

If there is one thing that is immediately obvious from this list, it is this:

Visual Effects = Box Office

The top 20 grossing films of all time are all visual effects driven blockbusters. None of them would have been possible to make without a massive contribution by digital visual effects .

Say it with me:

Visual Effects = Box Office

So here’s the rub. How do we get Visual Effects facilities to have the negotiating clout of your Tom Cruise A list actor type? If one visual effects facility says it will cost X million for the job, what’s to stop the studio from finding another facility that will do the job for half that?

Think about this though, films like Avatar, Transformers, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Avengers… All these incredibly profitable humongous Visual Effects Blockbusters take a literal army of talented artists backed up with just as many producers, editors, managers, People in IT, software, systems, etc – all within a facility with an awesome infrastructure of high speed network, render farm, workstations, communications, etc…

And think about this… The A List Blockbuster Visual Effects Driven Movie will always take a huge amount of people and resources to create those amazing visual effects. No matter how fast and cheap the computers and software gets, no individual – no matter how talented – will ever be able to create the Visual Effects like we see in Life Of Pi in their bedsit on a laptop. Nor could a small 30-40 artist facility nor even a medium 100 artist facility. Every Visual Effects Blockbuster is a monumental undertaking. In fact, there are only about eight facilities in the whole world that are big enough with enough expertise and resources to accomplish the top end visual effects to this level of perfection on that sort of scale. These facilities are:

  • Industrial Light & Magic*
  • Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Rhythm & Hues
  • Digital Domain
  • The Moving Picture Company
  • Double Negative
  • Framestore
  • WETA

Do you get where I’m going with this?

If these eight companies got together and, while still remaining competitive with each other, stuck to a set of guidelines and practices to their mutual benefit**, they could be just like Tom Cruise!

Imagine the next blockbuster project for bidding that comes to one of the big eight. They bid on it as usual, but then they set the terms of residual payments (unheard of in Visual Effects!), maybe guidelines for extra charges when the studio changes stuff in post (another one we used to have but have since lost), how about some royalties on all the toys and stuff they sell of the monsters and spaceships we design? Hey, why not?!

Whatever. I’m just riffin’ here and it’s not my area of expertise, but my point is, the studio might then say “screw you… We’re going to one of the seven other huge facilities” and they get the same story!

If the big eight stick together on this, the studios will have no where else to go. They can’t go to one of the other big eight without being presented with the same standard contract on top of the bid. They can’t get the work done at smaller facilities – not only because they don’t have the capacity and supervising a job across 30 facilities would be even more expensive, but because in all likelihood, the smaller facilities will also be on board with this fab Visual Effects coalition too! Solidarity!

Look at that top 20 list again. That’s a helluva lot of money – most of it made very recently in the last few years. Visual Effects Blockbusters make too damn much money for the studios to abandon making them altogether. In the end, they will accept the big eight conditions (and fear not… they will continue to make stinking boatloads of money!)

This is a call to action, you big eight facilities. Wake up! You have all the power in this situation. You just never realised it. Make some calls. Meet up with each other. Hammer this thing out. It seems like a ridiculously easy thing to do. Start small and work from there.

Make it happen.

Oh, and us artists? We need to join a union. Now. Seriously, we are the only people in the whole of the film industry that aren’t unionised. It’s time.

That is all.

withoutrandh1

* I’m aware that ILM is now owned by Disney and Imageworks is owned by Sony. I’m hoping that they have enough autonomy, separate from their parent studios to join in. If not, that’s where unionisation of the artists comes in. Right?

** or whatever you call it. I don’t speak legalese, but you know what I mean.