“…There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me.”
Variety reports that Richard Edlund, VFX industry pioneer, will be involved in the creation of duMonde, a new VFX facility in New Orleans. Unfortunately for me, Richard wasn’t my particular “Jedi Master” – at the time, I was toiling away in front of someone else’s expensive, purple computer. However, I would like to thank him for a candid interview he gave in 1997, shortly after shutting down his vfx facility, Boss Film Studios. In that article, Richard states:
“We [Boss] were ready to sign a contract and another big local effects house underbid us by $1 million, just to get the show. I know they were going to lose money on that show, but it didn’t matter. It can be a vicious arena because everyone’s bidding for the same projects. And there’s not a lot of loyalty between visual effects houses, and film producers and directors [who usually decide which group] gets the contract. All the producers care about is finding some new effect, something they’ve never seen before, and to keep it under budget.”
Fourteen years later – not much has changed and we are STILL facing the same challenges plus a host of new ones.
VFX artists are an expensive group to employ. Most of the cash that studios funnel into a vfx facility walks right out the door as artist wages… I must admit that even on a day rate, I pull down what I consider to be an impressive amount for what I do. Although we work on cheaper versions of those purple boxes these days, the constant need to upgrade, update and stay current is a nightmare of amortization and rapid obsolescence for the vfx houses. We, as artists, are aware of how close to the wire the entire vfx industry is operating.
We must not loose sight of that fact that VFX Industry reform or organization, MUST be a negotiation between the studios, the vfx houses and the vfx labor pool.
Production tax Incentives and rebates are the tides which determine the ebb and flow of today’s motion picture production. Louisiana has even gone the extra step to subsidize the development of ‘indigenous’ talent, productions and labor with the goal of creating a permanent and self-sustaining base of talent in the region. Already, a few shops already opened or announced their intentions in the area, including Worldwide FX and Bayou Fx. We can be sure that more will follow – that is, of course, as long as the state money keeps flowing.
At the end of the day, we’re the ones that staff these facilities – and this includes the kids that will ‘cut their teeth’ under Richard’s expert tutelage.
I would personally love to work with Richard. New Orleans would be an interesting and colorful place to live and create some art.
It would be even better if I knew that in making that move, I’d be able to port my benefits and have continuity of healthcare for my family and career.
I would bet that more than a few of us would be willing to make an ‘investment’ in Louisiana VFX production – but I personally can’t afford to subsidize it with more risk and potential upheaval to my family. For sure I can’t do it, knowing that most work is temporary and project based.
These first facilities setting up shop in ‘non-traditional’ vfx cities, are presented with an opportunity to build a foundation for industry reform – even in states with ‘Right To Work’ legislation on the books.
We’ve proven that we’re more than willing to be digital nomads – I’d just like to be a nomad with a tribe and know that when I get where I’m going – there actually will be some water in the oasis pool. If we build that tribe, if and when that particular well runs dry, we can move elsewhere with the same resources and basic protections that other film craft-nomads enjoy.
The work is going where the money is and if we want to work, we need to follow it. I would make an investment and relocate to a place that wanted to build a healthy, robust freelancer culture and viable, local artist pool. To pull a quote and paraphrase a slightly different movie genre – “If you build it [right], they will come.”
I urge all vfx artists, the studios, IATSE and the investors creating these vfx ‘boom towns,’ to work together – rather than accelerate a mercenary march to the bottom.
“There it is Artoo. Dagobah…. I’m not picking up any cities or technology. Massive life-form readings, though. There’s something alive down there…”
VFX in New Orleans sounds like fun…but lets do it right and build for what we and the state of Louisiana would like to be a long run. Best of luck, Richard – I hope we heed your past warnings and learn from your experience.