So if you hadn’t heard or were outraged over the results or Seth McFarlene’s atrocious jokes, last Sunday night was the Oscars and amidst the glitz and glamor was a certain heavy wave of tackiness that could have a serious impact on future films. What do I mean exactly? Well, I’ll cut to the chase: the visual effects (VFX) industry is having its own fair share of financial troubles, with some Oscar night antics being nothing short of a major slap to the face about how little Hollywood cares for their VFX studios. Because let’s face it — how many films came out this year that relied heavily on VFX to help get by? The Avengers, The Hobbit, Life of Pi, etc. all rely on the work of these studios to help bring their films to life — so what happened at the Oscars definitely has repercussions for the future of digital artists everywhere that’s run down by the Hollywood machine…
Here’s a rundown of what happened last weekend during the presentation for “Best Visual Effects”, which was awarded to Rhythm & Hues for their stunning work on Life of Pi. Sadly, despite the accolades and the awards, studios such as Rhythm & Hues have recently filed for bankruptcy; their acceptance speech seemed like a good opportunity to get the message across that the industry is in dire straits. Spokesperson Bill Westenhofer kept his speech brief, wanting to save time for the end before he would be “cut off” to get the message out on a grander stage that the visual effects industry was in dire straits. But just as he was about to get to the heart of his speech, he was essentially “cut off” with the “Jaws” theme (Usually there is an orchestra cue to tell winners that they went overtime), and his microphone was shut off, leaving Westenhofer to mime the rest of his speech.
The “silencing” of men like Wstenhofer who are essential to some of our favorite films that need VFX is a sad reality of the Hollywood machine, one that is happily ready to plow over studios that are now starting to provide the bulk of its movie magic — without having to pay for it.
After all, VFX is an expensive business. You need to pay for skilled artists, computer scientists, programmers, and more — as well as shell out dough for top-notch software, hardware, as well as time and effort poured into rendering, research, and development as needed. Not to mention the fact that VFX studios seem to pay for a fixed fee — with workers eventually living paycheck to paycheck. So, for a time-consuming and expensive part of the movie-making business, the people working for VFX studios are actually accepting a marginal profit from the resulting film — and it’s a situation that perhaps needs more attention as more VFX studios such as Rhythm & Hues line up for bankruptcy.
While there might not be an easy fix for these struggling studios — publicity doesn’t hurt. And while the Oscars certainly did not handle Westenhofer’s attempt at publicity with class, the Internet rose to the challenge of getting the word out that VFX studios are hurting from this televised snub.
Blogs such as Before VFX feature important behind-the-scenes footage of how some of our adored films would look like without the hard work of VFX studios; there is also an on-going “Green Screen” icon movement to demonstrate solidarity with the recent snub. But again, while it is a sad reality that a key component of movies is not treated with the respect it deserves for the effort and artistry put into it, an immediate solution — or an immediate change of Hollywood hearts — does not seem likely.
For now, perhaps the Internet backlash (And there is certainly a good amount of Internet backlash over the 85th Oscars) will provide the publicity needed to raise the issue — and perhaps open dialogue between studios and their VFK employees to create a fairer profit share to support these studios that literally bring films to life.