Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 317: Life After Pi

In what used to be the real world, studios made movies and the television programming that they sold to theatre chains and networks. If enough people bought tickets to see the movies or kept TV advertisers happy by staying tuned, they made money.

And the artists working on those films and TV shows kept working.

In what used to be the real world, artists who wanted to make films and television programs migrated to Los Angeles and New York (or in the case of Canada, to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver).

Those artists put down roots, raised families, cross-pollinated creatively, essentially creating the critical mass of personal life satisfaction, artistic innovation and economic stability that allowed the system to flourish.

But that world of filmmaking doesn’t exist anymore and the one moving in to replace it threatens to destroy whatever lifestyles and careers artists once thought they could sustain.

Things began to change about 25 years ago when Toronto and Vancouver began attracting “Runaway” production from Hollywood and New York.

Originally, the studios came because production costs were cheaper and the Canadian dollar was weaker. But they still depended on Box Office returns and good TV ratings to make money.

Other parts of the country soon discovered they could attract production by offering various incentives. And then other American states and foreign countries realized they could do the same.

Politicians realized that these incentives increased local employment numbers while bringing some of the glamor of Hollywood to their communities.

And the studios realized their bottom line could be further served by forcing all of these places to come up with better and better deals to garner their production presence.

Meanwhile, other networks and studios realized that they could use those political needs to encourage more money from government and the services government regulated coming their way, even if they didn’t make films that attracted people to the Box Office or to tune in in such numbers that advertisers saw satisfactory ratings.

And that’s when the rest of what used to be the real world went away.

What passes for our industry reality now (especially in Canada) is that without government regulated financial support and various regional tax credits, there would be virtually nothing made here.

Program financing is garnered from the tax-payer and cable companies “taxing” their subscribers to the point that we have some of the highest cable rates in the world.

And in order to survive, Canadian creatives, even those living in a once flourishing production center, have to keep hop-scotching the country to earn a living. And the companies who employ them have to keep moving too, recreating “state of the art” work spaces in diverse locations to keep winning studio contracts.

And it’s killing them.

And that’s killing us.

I can’t count the number of Post studios, effects houses, even casting agencies which were once thriving and have subsequently gone down for a dirt nap.

I can’t count the number of talented people who used to work in those places who now work twice as hard for half the salaries they used to earn, while the studios and networks reap record profits.

As an actor, I remembering crunching the numbers on one out of town job and realizing the costs I would incur would end up costing me more money than I would earn. My agent’s pained response, “You gotta save up for jobs like this”!

These days we all have to help pay to support what work might come our way.

I also can’t count the number of projects I’ve been part of that died because while the tax credits dictated the location, the extra cost of per diems and travel and accommodation to shoot there all but erased whatever benefits were supposedly to be had.

Add networks factoring your tax credits into your initial financing and its no wonder so many production companies have also been rolling over to take the big sleep.

This is of little consequence to governments, studios or networks. There are always people willing to work cheaper either in the belief that they are building a career or a trusted business relationship.

And there are invariably those who believe doing exceptional work or making the most effective use of burgeoning technologies will keep them afloat.

Life of Pi

Tell that to the people who used to work for legendary FX house “Rhythm & Hues”.

In 2013, the company won an Academy Award for its VFX work on “Life of Pi”. Eleven days earlier it had filed for bankruptcy after 25 years of exceptional contribution to the film industry.

What follows is a documentary on what happened to “Rhythm & Hues” and why it happened. Pay attention.

Because the story of these artists could just as easily be your own. And likely will be unless we begin to bring real world economics back to our industry.

There is no free ride. Keeping people busy does not necessarily mean you are building something that can eventually sustain itself.

Politicians need votes, so they will keep trying to outdo other politicians to bring jobs and movie glamor to their jurisdictions. Studios and networks want bigger profits and think nothing of playing artists off against one another to get those profits.

The change, if it is to come, needs to come from us. Maybe by just demanding that some of what used to be the real world be returned to the phoney economy that now typifies our business.

Because if it doesn’t –- well…

Enjoy Your Sunday. 


And if what’s here isn’t concerning enough, here are a couple of links I was just sent claiming Canadian tax credits are being used to sub-contract offshore.

1 comment:

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