The Life of Pi was 2012’s pet film. Critically acclaimed, it won a 2013 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama and for Best Director. The Ang Lee-directed film, which was driven by visual effects, received eleven Academy Award nominations, winning four: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects.
Visual effects house Rhythm and Hues was behind the astounding VFX which made Life of Pi possible; yet two weeks before the Oscar ceremony, the company declared bankruptcy, firing hundreds of employees. While accepting their Academy Award, the team tried to explain how their situation reflects a growing reality in Hollywood – the orchestra played them off. Ang Lee did not thank them in his acceptance speech.
Tonight’s film, Life After Pi reveals the behind-the-scenes factors leading to this sad and unforgettable moment in the history of Hollywood, and carries the story further to show how this incident was not an isolated event, but a reflection of greater problems.
Our guests tonight, Life After Pi’s Director Scott Leberecht and Producer Christina Lee Storm, both worked at Rhythm and Hues and began filming this when the bankruptcy was declared. Life After Pi is part of a larger Hollywood Ending documentary which explores the erosion of Hollywood as the center of U.S. film production.
VFX houses are awarded work based on their bids. But directors may suddenly change shots–an ocean wave bid to roll from left to right will be changed by the director once he has seen it, and that reworking must be absorbed by the VFX house. VFX companies and artists are treated as mere cogs in the machine, with little regard to creating a sustainable, collaborative working relationship.
And while filmmaking in California receives tax subsidies, VFX houses do not. The Southern California Association of Governments recommends offering subsidies to keep VFX in-state, a good move since California, once the movie capital of the world, has slipped to number four in film production in the U.S.
The loss of film and television production jobs in California filters down to all sectors of the state’s economy. With California the 12th largest economy in world (as of 2012), it’s vital for the United States that California and the film business stay strong.