#2.131 – Take Note, VFXers

#2.131 - Take Note, VFXers
#2.131 - back
sent from: Esher, Surrey, UK. destination: Roanoke, Virginia, USA

At Rhythm and Hues, the company where I started my VFX career, they had a company meeting every Friday. This meeting was run, without fail, by the President of the company, John Hughes. He would go into detail about the company financials and cash flow in a way that I’ve never seen before or since. He’d take the opportunity to explain the low, low profit margins, how to pay off debts, what depreciation of equipment meant. He showed you exactly how close to going under we were constantly and in a good year you got 2-5% profits. When I told my father about this he said that surely John must have had other motives than mere education and besides, no good business can run on such low profits, surely the real numbers are different. I was too young at the time to counter him but 16 years later I can say confidently that John was (and remains) a unique and wonderfully unusual company president, truly concerned with his employees, and his numbers were correct. So, when the inevitable layoffs would occur from time to time, it was all well understood.
Framestore in London is about to get rid of somewhere between 100-200 people. A big project they had this year has delayed. Even as they open a studio in Montreal, they cannot keep their staff in London. Profits and margins are simply too low to keep anyone, even if you know when the work will return. It caught everyone there by surprise. People whose visas depend on this job are already booking tickets home.
This is the world all VFX artists live in – take note.

 I didn’t have space on the card to say that I don’t think this is Framestore’s fault – they’re a good company. The incredible work they did on ‘Gravity’ should get them an Oscar nomination next year, and I’d love to think that they earned a bunch from that work to carry them through this rough time – but that’s not the world we’re in. The business model doesn’t allow for downtime. 

update (5th February 2013)
In a strange, sad postscript to this card, news came out yesterday that Rhythm and Hues is having cash flow troubles requiring intervention. The sad thing is that as an industry this is nothing new, but it’s happening more and more. R&H did the incredible, ground-breaking work on Life of Pi last year.

5 thoughts on “#2.131 – Take Note, VFXers

  1. I was reading this article about a news conference in London yesterday (and hearing about it on the radio later). The Quebec Premier was in town for a speaking engagement at the UK Chamber of Commerce in between Davos and a meeting with the SNP, and when I saw the mention of Framestore coming to Montreal, I thought “Ooer! Framestore!” and then not much else. It was just a political win for Marois to bring home. It's different, now, reading about the same announcement from the other side.

    I'm sorry to hear that you and your colleagues/friends are now in this crappy position and hope that the VFX economy lands you somewhere agreeable.

  2. Hi Jess, thanks for the good thoughts.
    I've kept out of the subsidy question and what's currently happening in Canada, in part because I can't quite figure out where I stand on it. You only need to read a comment thread like this one:
    to see that the vfx community is tearing itself apart trying to figure out what response to take, if any, that'll have a material difference on the lives of the people working in it.
    Tax breaks (and 10 years of Harry Potter which followed) gave London the ability to build a world-class VFX hub. However, work has been steadily going to Vancouver for the last 5-6 years in increasing numbers, and now Montreal is making an aggressive bid by offering higher subsidies than anyone has ever seen, and there's a 'SaveBCFilm' campaign trying to get the government to increase BC subsidies to match.
    I don't think you can regulate subsidies worldwide, but we'd be fools not to recognise the damage this is causing us as an industry.
    At the end of the day, however, I can't figure out exactly what the sequence of events was here with Framestore and I don't want to conflate the news of the layoffs with the opening of the studio in Montreal. I think it's more a case of some bad timing and Hollywood production schedules shifting, with no backup in place.

  3. Those were great meetings. It gave every employee in the company the chance to ask the president any thing at all. But best of all it gave everybody the chance to see the work in progress that was going on throughout the building. I miss those days. I'm really looking forward to this card. Thanks, JL.

  4. VFX Soldier's post was an interesting read, as the subsidy/credit question seems to be represented differently in (English-language) Canadian media: “Quebec will give the firm an interest-free loan of $900,000 over five years and although Marois said it would get no tax credits, company CEO William Sargent said tax credits were one of the reasons Framestone decided to set up in Montreal.” (Haven't looked at how French-language media is discussing it.)

    How many projects/films is a company the size of Framestore usually handling at a given time?

  5. the weekly meetings in the early days of pdi were much the same. they'd be quite forthcoming what the budget on a commercial was. nowadays that information would be verboten.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *