||[Dec. 6th, 2010|06:29 pm]
Visual effects studios are notoriously low-margin operations. We're a lot like contractors for Las Vegas casinos. We build these big gorgeous palaces and leave. We collect the same paycheck whether the movie makes a billion or loses millions. (Studios like Pixar and Dreamworks retain ownership and distribution of their own content and are in a much better position, unfortunately not true for the rest of us.)
Chasing subsidies is a good strategy for cash-strapped companies trying to make ends meet. Advocates say production subsidies boost local economies. Detractors say that the subsidies cost more than the benefits they produce, distort the market, and decrease long term stability. Productive or not, the subsidies are real and significant. The UK is offering 20%, New Mexico 25%, Canada 35%, Michigan 42%. Vancouver actually pays 50% of some artists' salaries. Cash-strapped California is in no position to offer anything. Asylum VFX recently closed, citing the inability to compete. "We couldn’t compete with the tax incentives from other countries. The work I’ve seen coming from around the world, the U.K. especially, is stellar."
On one hand, I think the industry would be better without subsidies. Studios could set up wherever costs were actually cheaper, not artificially cheaper. Taxpayers wouldn't be burdened by costs with uncertain gains. Artists wouldn't worry about work drying up when budgets get tight and subsidies are cut.
On the other hand, the world is what it is. Subsidies are real and significant. Work flows to them, and so do I. After seven years at Sony Pictures Imageworks I've given notice and accepted an offer of employment at Double Negative in Soho, London. I've admired their work for years, I've been impressed by their presentations at VES and Siggraph events, and I'm looking forward to being a member of their team and new resident of Europe. If you're visiting or passing through, please ping me and say hi.