Monday, February 25, 2013

Bleeding the Creatives

The theme of the Oscars (first, last, and always) is "celebrate the winners." And the losers?

Ignore them.

The visual effects community sees red in the wake of Oscar protest and on-air snub

Is Hollywood paying attention? Because real trouble is on the horizon

... [T]he time to deal fairly with independent FX houses seems to have passed. With Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm and ILM with it, they've brought the two largest talent pools of state-of-the-art computer animation under one roof. Pixar and ILM aren't just part of the big leagues… they are the big leagues. And now they are all part of one brand, and I can guarantee when ILM is picking who works on what movies, the A-team, the absolute cream of the crop, will always be working on Disney projects first. That's great news for Marvel Studios. It's great news for anyone making a Disney film.

I think the 21st century is going to belong to companies that follow a model along the lines of what Hydraulx is doing. You don't have to like "Skyline" to admire what they're up to, or to see how canny it is as a template for how to make movies in this modern economy. They don't have an FX department… they are an FX company that also has a creative branch. They are developing material in-house, and they own their own cameras, their own post-production facility… they can go start to finish on whatever they want, and all they need is a few hits to make this really start to pay off. They can make movies for 1/10th of the budget of something and make it look the same. In many cases, passion on these smaller projects pushes people to work even harder than they do for the giant impersonal blockbuster stuff. "District 9" was a great example of a movie that felt like it was made by people with something to prove working outside the system.

I didn't watch the Oscars yesterday, but enough people were instantly outraged by the way the orchestra played off Bill Westenhofer, who won for "Life Of Pi," a movie that was impossible to make without the active participation of a team of FX artists working at the absolute peak of their craft. It's particularly galling that the FX guy, speaking about a protest that was happening outside that directly addresses the financial realities that are starting to damage the FX community in a way they may not be able to fully recover from, was cut short at a ceremony where they actually had a computer-animated character give away an award on live television. Ted was so successful an effect last night that my mother called me after the awards to ask me how they fit the midget into the suit. ...

But really, it's no big whoop that Mr. Westenhofer got the bum's rush from the Academy. It's been this way since that fine institution's beginning. Nobody who counts, you see, wants to talk about unseemly things like destroyed jobs and careers on Hollywood's Holy Night. It's all about designer gowns, artfully applied makeup and the Little Gold Man.

When Hollywood felt threatened during the black list era, it destroyed the careers of the commies and lefties to keep the power elites happy. And all the unions, from the IATSE to the WGA to the Directors Guild, went along cheerfully. As did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Because it's about the folks at the top getting (and keeping) theirs. If a few innocent, hard-working bystanders get trampled, that's a price corporate chieftans are thrilled and happy to pay.

And what was the Academy doing during the bottom of the Depressions? In 1932 and 1933? It was cutting workers' salaries and defanging labor unions. For awhile there, the Academy tried to represent all the working stiffs in Hollywood as if it were a big, clubby, company union, but it was quickly obvious the Academy served other masters and the plan to keep everybody on a short leash under the Big Tent fell apart.

So the drowning out of bad news with the theme song from Jaws? Right in line with seventy years of Tinsel Town history.


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