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Ed Driscoll

Hollywood’s Special Effects Industry is in Crisis

March 19th, 2013 - 8:55 pm

Creative Cow, the video how-to Website, has a lengthy article titled “VFX Crossroads: Causes and Effects of an Industry Crisis:”

The VFX industry is in a crisis. As Life of Pi won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, the venerable facility that created those effects – Rhythm & Hues – declared bankruptcy, and they’re hardly the first to close their doors due to financial problems. Debra Kaufman pulls from her 25 years of experience covering the industry to take a close look at how the creators of some of cinema’s indelible images are falling prey to dysfunctional business models. Their deep historical roots have also led to visual effects becoming one of the least-profitable areas of film and TV production. How did we get here?

It’s a fascinating article, and I feel badly for the companies who are tanking.

I’d feel even more badly, if Hollywood hadn’t spent the last 45 years telling me how evil businesses and capitalism itself was*. As leftwing author/JournoList member Rick Perlstein told Reason magazine back in 2008, while promoting his book Nixonland:

My theory is that [the 1967 movie] Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left, much more important than anything written by Paul Goodman or C. Wright Mills or Regis Debray. It made an argument about vitality and virtue vs. staidness and morality that was completely new, that resonated with young people in a way that made no sense to old people. Just the idea that the outlaws were the good guys and the bourgeois householders were the bad guys—you cannot underestimate [sic] how strange and fresh that was.

If you think “bourgeois householders” are “the bad guys,” chances are, you think bourgeois small business owners are the bad guys as well:

Similarly, the same people who rely on these boutique special effects houses to make their movies look so spectacular have an odd streak of telling their customers not buy their wares. In 2010, James Cameron told the Washington Post that “DVDs are wasteful:”

It’s a consumer product like any consumer product. I think ultimately we’re going to bypass a physical medium and go directly to a download model and then it’s just bits moving in the system. And then the only impact to the environment is the power it takes to run the computers, run the devices. I think that we’re not there yet, but we’re moving that direction. Twentieth Century Fox has made a commitment to be carbon neutral by the end of 2010. Because of some of these practices that can’t be changed, the only way to do that is to buy carbon offsets. You know, which again, these are interim solutions. But at least it shows that there’s a consciousness that we have to be dealing with carbon pollution and sustainability. …

But Cameron is the guy “behind the three separate Avatar DVD releases in the first freakin’ place,” the late, lamented Deceiver.com Website noted at time:

There was one released on Earth Day, there’s another coming out for Christmas (in his words, “the all-singing, all-dancing, all-bells-and-whistles DVD”), and the 3D version set for release next year to give people enough time to get rid of their rinky-dink hamster-powered televisions and upgrade to an energy-sucking 3D-enabled plasma screen and the accompanying 3D Blu-Ray DVD player.

Plus those 3D glasses produced en masse for theater-goers? Yup, plastic.

And don’t forget the Avatar-themed toys and lunchboxes and Halloween costumes and sheet sets available at Wal-Mart.

But he’s not the one buying all that crap. You are, so you’re the wasteful one, see. He’s just giving you what you want, and preaching about plastic bottles and energy consumption in the meantime.

I think what he really means is: Die, Earth! Die!

Not to mention, being quite a bourgeois householder himself:

In Commentary this month, Sonny Bunch explores “Hollywood’s New Finger-Waggers:”

Hollywood’s critics are in high dudgeon. The motion-picture industry has sunk into a moral morass, they say, one that threatens our national self-understanding and traduces simple decency. Only this time, those critics are not religious conservatives bemoaning the cinema’s handling of sex and violence. Rather, movie studios and the creative class find themselves under assault from their left flank for producing art deemed to be unacceptable for mass consumption and rife with politically offensive messages. The hackles of these new moralists have been raised by three successful and popular films of 2012, all of which were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

* * * * * *

It is particularly ironic that “ambiguity” has become a bad word to Froomkin and his cohort. Traditionally, liberals tend to elevate themselves above conservatives because they think they are able to view the world with far more complexity than those on the right. In a provocatively headlined 2008 essay for Psychology Today asking, “Is political conservatism a form of mild insanity?” Dr. William Todd Schultz once warned his pupils against adopting the worldview of conservatives: “I always tell my students that tolerance of ambiguity is one especially excellent mark of psychological maturity. It isn’t a black-and-white world.”

That essay was cited with joy by many liberal outlets, but the nature of the attacks on Zero Dark Thirty suggests that there is more than an element of projection at work here. Liberals don’t embrace ambiguity; rather, they do not like the moral certainties of conservatives while seeing nothing wrong with their own. When one lives in a bubble of one’s own making—when one resides in the echo chamber, hearing nothing but agreeable arguments and haughtily dismissing opponents as either stupid or evil (or stupidly evil)—art that pierces that bubble provokes a reaction that is not always logical.

The critics of these films want popular art to reflect a society of their choosing—one in which the Iranian people weren’t chanting “Death to America!” as our embassy burned and our nationals were forced to play Russian roulette; one in which the efforts of white males to end slavery were slight; and one in which harsh interrogation techniques played no role in the capture of Osama bin Laden.

These critics have a contingent in the artistic community. Martin Sheen and Ed Asner have attached their names to a letter circulating among Academy Award voters, begging them to shut Zero Dark Thirty out of the Oscar race. In a masterpiece of concern-trolling—an Internet neologism that roughly translates to disingenuously criticizing someone by pretending to be looking out for their own good—Sheen and his fellow signatories hope to keep the film from taking home Oscar gold because “one of the brightest female directors in the business is in danger of becoming part of the system.” Not to worry, though; for her crimes against the liberal consensus, Bigelow was denied an Oscar nomination for best director, as was Ben Affleck, who helmed Argo.

The ascent of this new breed of popular-culture finger-waggers does not necessarily portend the death of criticism on the left. But the closing of the left-wing mind must not be discounted as an aberration and should be fiercely countered, if for no other reason than that assenting to it ensures the annihilation of what little ideological diversity there is to be found in the arts.

In the 1990s, with Bill Clinton in office, Hollywood seemed happy to churn out crowd-pleasing effects-laden films every summer, with perhaps the last gasp of reliably bankable stars still in their prime, Harrison and Tom and Clint and Sean and Bruce and Mel. Their films kept the effects houses we mentioned at the beginning of this post employed. After the shock of 9/11, Hollywood worked very hard at alienating much of that same audience. If “Hollywood’s New Finger-Waggers,” as Bunch calls them, wants to drag the industry even further to left, causing it lose additional audience, they shouldn’t be all that surprised when more support services fail as a result.

* When it wasn’t telling audiences how pointless life itself was.

(Bumped to top.)

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