Skip navigation

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.

BD52JuZCYAINpSO.jpg-large

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.

And the Academy Award for Biggest Douchebag goes to…

Whether this was scripted or off the cuff, the utter contempt on display for visual effects artists was in very poor taste.

(Update: The Vimeo link stopped working, so I substituted it with this lower quality link. Still gives you the gist)

It was seven years ago that our little visual effects team for The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers won the Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special. As a special bonus, the award was presented to us by Battlestar Galactica stars James Callis and Trisha Helfer!

What a great film and what a great team!

  • Joe Pavlo, VFX Supervisor
  • Barrie Hemsley, VFX Producer
  • Paul Tuersley, Lead Visual Effects Compositor
  • Andy McLeod, Lead Visual Effects Animator
  • Andrew Fowler, Visual Effects Producer
  • Camille Cellucci, Visual Effects Producer
  • Mark Intravartola, Lead Visual Effects Compositor
  • Robin Huffer, Lead CGI Artist
  • Neil Culley, Lead Visual Effects Compositor

A spot I finished in May of this year for the Disney Channel to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris is up online for all to see!

It was a small, but perfectly formed team on this job. The spot was conceived and directed by Matthew White of SuperGrizzly and edited by Genevieve Webb. I supervised the visual effects for the shoot, designed the motion graphics, particle effects and composited the whole thing – with some welcome assistance on the tracking, roto and keying from my good friend and longtime collaborator Duncan Kinnaird.

It was a lot of work with a dizzying number of concepts developed, tossed out and reworked before we got to the final look, but I think it’s come out pretty good in the end and I’m pleased with it. Disney were happy with it too. Indeed, so happy that they’ve got me working on a new one for them with the same team. I’ll post that one too when it goes live.

 

I really love making music videos!

I’ve just finished shooting and editing a music video for my very talented friend Andy Ross. I shot it on my Canon EOS 550D with Andy in a day out and about around Finchley and Hampstead (my famous “one man crew” strikes again!). This is my first project using Apple’s latest editing software, Final Cut Pro X. The edit, effects, grade and finish was all done in FCP X with the exception of a bit of extra tricky stabilisation work which I took to After Effects CS6. The stabilisation in FCPX is not too shabby, but it wasn’t up to the job on all the shots.

I have to say, I’m really impressed with Final Cut Pro X. It took some getting used to and I had a couple of false starts but now that I’m up to speed, I really like the new methodology FCPX brings to editing. After doing this video, I went back to an ongoing project I have set up in the previous version of Final Cut and I was really missing a lot of stuff from FCPX.

Anyway, I’m pretty happy with the way this video has come out. Andy is also happy which is what’s most important! If you like his stuff, go check out his website at www.andyrossmusic.co.uk.

I’ve just updated my showreel

This years showreel includes some of my work from the following:

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers
Solomon Kane
X-men: First Class
Band Of Brothers
Rome
Batman Begins
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones
My House In Umbria
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Mutant Chronicles
Corpse Bride
Clash Of The Titans
Salt
Tsunami: The Aftermath
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Little Dorrit

It’s nice when your favourite things converge on each other.

Here’s why Andrew Stanton dedicated ‘John Carter’ to Steve Jobs

Director Andrew Stanton:

It was kind of eerie because on the set I would get asked all the time, from all these people, ‘What Pixar was like?’ ?… And it would be such a long explanation to them about, trying to tell them why it ran differently and why the movie came out the way they did, that I ended up just simplifying my answer down to ‘Steve. Steve’s why.’

20120229-113343.jpg

Back in April 2005, David Schendel and I decided to make a short film out of a script for a one act play by writer and  friend, Howard Meehan called “Inside David Mamet’s Computer”. We shot it in studios and on location around San Francisco over three days with the help of a lot of talented and generous people.

The film is about two characters trapped in an unfinished screenplay by David Mamet. The two people in the story – Girl and Guy – are played by Florentina Mocanu and Chris Meehan.

In retrospect, preproduction and production were a relative breeze and there was much celebrating when we wrapped but it would be another four years before the film would be finished!

Independent films can often take longer than you anticipated, anybody else ever notice that? What with working to pay the bills and family and life and stuff getting in the way while at the same time begging favours from friends and colleagues with their own bills and family and life and stuff getting in the way, the post production process tends to drag out a bit.

Still, we got there in the end – even premiered it at the London Raindance Film Festival 2009 – So here it is, in all it’s glory for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy the film!

(Boring Obligatory Warning: NSFW language – Shit!)

Inside David Mamet’s Computer on IMDB

This is just great!

Related post: 2011: My Year In Stereo

Expecto Patronum! After a streak of eight vfx nominations in a row, the Harry Potter visual effects team finally turn that nomination in to a win on the final film of the series. Justice is done. Than you, Academy members!

Otherwise, it was a phenomenal night for The Artist – and deservedly so. OK, maybe a teensy bit too much so – but what a great film! Tinker Tailor did well too and although i agree that the film was stylish and well crafted, it still left me a bit cold. Good on them anyways.

My disappointments for the night was that no bling was flung at Midnight in Paris, my Week With Marylin or We Need To Talk About Kevin. Tyrannosaur, of course, got the outstanding debut award, but should have been nominated for more.

But… mustn’t grumble! All in all a great night for BAFTA and film in general. Stephen Fry was in his element as host and the show was filled with genuinely entertaining, moving and hilarious moments!

Bring on the Oscars!

Full list of the winners for the 2012 BAFTA’s here.