visual effects industry bill of rights?

43 of the top 50 films of all time are visual effects driven. Today, visual effects are the “Movie Stars” of studio tentpole pictures – that is, visual effects make contemporary movies box office hits in the same way that big name actors ensured the success of films in the past… <read the full bill of rights here>

I find this read incredibly interesting…  It directly relates to everything we stand for and all the reasons we’ve started up VisPop.

It’s well documented, the state of the union in vfx…  You can read about vfx becoming a commodity here and here.  Hard work, unfair conditions, pressure from clients in an industry with very few buyers, vendors undercutting each other and on and on…  We at VisPop spent many years on the front lines, in all roles on the vfx vendor side.  We fought and scrapped just like everyone else to make ends meet in a low margin ball game.  Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we weren’t… Just like everyone else. But we learned from our mistakes, we implemented processes, we got better, and we eaked out our living.

I like these descriptions of the  vfx industry in the VES’s bill of rights:

  • a central role in today’s feature films
  • visual effects are the “Movie Stars” of studio tentpole pictures
  • Visual effects drive the entertainment marketplace  which entertains billions of people across the globe, and earns billions of net profit dollars each year.

If those aren’t signs of potential I don’t know what are. So the question of the day then becomes, with all this potential where’s the leverage? With all this potential, where is the leverage? Repeat it a third time… With all this potential, where is the leverage. That is the question we asked when we started VisPop! I mean shit, this is the question that made us leave our good jobs in vfx, jump off the ledge, and risk everything we have on a new company.

The vfx industry is the most broadly creative department in filmmaking. When I say the word creative here, I mean true “creativity” – combining technology, problem solving, pragmatism, and heart. Some of the best artists of our age are working on vfx concept art, we have the understanding of storytelling through camera-work in previs, color theory and composition in digital lighting, performance through animation, programmers with PHD’s coding bleeding edge scientific tools… the industry creates ANYTHING imaginable, any scenario, any character – every single day! if we can create anything imaginable, we can tell any story imaginable… that’s a phenomenal concept! BUT if you ask studio filmmakers about vfx, they’ll tell you “oh yeah, they’re the guys with the chrome balls running around on set”. (To be fair, it is extremely hard to credit what you don’t understand, and vfx is a black box that very few outside the industry are able to invest the time needed to truly understand). Soooo, perception (chrome balls) isn’t matching reality (creative filmmakers).

Let’s go back to vfx being creative, techie, problem solving, pragmatic, and having ticker. Guess what folks, that’s a pretty good definition of Innovation. That’s right, we’re incredibly innovative people in an industry driven by innovation. BUT where the hell is our innovation in business models? In negotiations? In being the entrepreneurs of our projects? In management? Where are the industry’s “chrome balls” (this time I’m not talking about the ones on set). Hopefully you see where I’m going here… Where are our Film Producer skills as an industry? We have some very competent, excellent individuals in the industry that would/could/will make excellent feature film producers, but as a whole the industry is too overwhelmed with the business of innovating creativity and technology to be bothered with innovating business.

So, here we are managing %25 to in some cases %50 of a feature film’s budget and we’re not producers on the film??? Sometimes we’re credited as producers, but if %33 percent of the budget is vfx, where is the %33 percent of decision making across all the departments… casting, location, financing, distribution, production?

So what is VisPop doing about all this? We’re broadening our scope in the filmmaking process… we’re teaming with independent filmmakers to push the innovation of the entire filmmaking process. Through that we’ll change the perception of where vfx/spectacle fits into the filmmaking industry, and parlay that into leverage into more filmmaking negotiations. “We’re filmmakers not shot makers.” Scream it from the roofs!

So can a couple of dudes from VisPop make a difference? Can a couple of long-timers from the vfx industry change the way films are financed, made, distributed?? Hopefully we can help get things rolling. Hopefully we can get more people from the industry involved in the entire filmmaking process. Hopefully we can start the movement. So just ask yourself: “With all this potential, where is the leverage?”

Next time I’ll write about the difference between what VisPop is doing about it, and the many salvation cries throughout the industry of “create your own content”.
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