|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.