On February 24th the world witnessed the most anticipated event in the film industry of the year: the Annual Academy Awards, largely known as the Oscars. Each year the filmmaking elite of the world gather to celebrate the best work of their peers, and this year was no different. Although the list of the winners is slightly predictable, this is not what differentiates one annual Oscar ceremony from another. What does distinguish one show from another, however, are the unexpected moments that reveal the spontaneity of the celebrities, filmmakers and film industry.
Among these will qualify Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way to collect her statuette, Ben Affleck’s speedy acceptance speech, Seth MacFarlane’s eccentric and sometimes inappropriate jokes, and the protest that hit the red carpet that same evening.
The basis for the protest at the night of the Oscars was the poor condition of the visual effects industry. Several hundred protesters gathered outside the Dolby theatre as the stars were walking up the red carpet, insisting on better treatment for the specialists who work on films and make the spectacular blockbusters spectacular. Despite the slow deterioration of VFX companies in the US, what triggered the protests was when the company Rhythm and Hues filed for bankruptcy. Ironically, this same company has created the stunning visuals for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which incidentally won the award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects that night. The LA-based company was established in 1987 and was one of the first to open facilities in India in order to control costs.
Previously, Rhythm and Hues has worked on X-Men: First Class, The Chronicles of Narnia, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hunger Games, Moneyball, The Golden Compass and The Cabin in the Woods, which are all films known for their stunning visuals. The reasons for the bankruptcy are the low fees paid for the work the studio has been creating, including the other five films for three different studios that has yet to be completed. As a result of the bankruptcy the company had to let approximately 250 employees go, and was not the only company to do so.
However, the company that created the stunning Bengali tiger of Ang Lee’s film is not the only victim of the crisis of the VFX industry. Digital Domain filed for bankruptcy in September 2012 and was later acquired by Reliance MediaWorks and Galloping Horse- neither of which is a US company. Meanwhile, Digital Domain’s work features films like The Watch, Rock of Ages, Thor, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Real Steel, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Transformers, just to name a few.
Lately US-based VFX houses have been facing strong competition from foreign companies surviving on less than 5% of the profits of the market. This seems to be what has triggered the initial insecurities, which then escalated to the protest on February 24th. The ongoing issue of the visual effects niche in Hollywood filmmaking may grow to be a real crisis since more and more films rely on digital effects to not only enhance their visuals but also to narrate their stories.
During the Oscars ceremony, there was no commentary of what was happening outside. The only hint at the protests may have been the music cutting off Bill Westenhofer’s speech as he was about to run over the time limit and maybe allude to what was happening. Meanwhile, in the streets visual pros carried signs reading ‘Respect for VFX’ and ‘We Want a piece of the Pi’.