Saturday, November 10, 2012

Some Modest Suggestions in Light of the Disney Acquisition of ILM

I have hesitated to comment on the Lucasarts / ILM acquisition and what it may imply for the future of ILM because, oddly, I did not want to annoy people. Besides, how would I know, or what would I know that could possibly contribute? Other than the history of the field, and the history of various studios when it comes to visual effects facilities and how the studios think about such things, that is.

In a future post I will review some of the structural reasons why it is so hard to have a facility like ILM at a studio like Disney, but first, I am going to review some ideas that may be useful. I am pretty sure that my friends at ILM know these already, but there are others who are interested who may not. And it doesn't hurt to discuss these things a little bit, as far as I know.

Suggestion #1. Do not lose money.

Of course it is better to make a lot of money, but if you do not lose money then you are not obviously a perceived drag on the profits of the company. Its more complicated than that, a lot more complicated, but making a dollar is a much better position to be in than losing a dollar. But whatever you do, do not lose a million dollars on some project and expect them to want to pick it up.

Suggestion #2. Be low maintenance.

Manage yourself so well, that keeping you around seems effortless to Disney management. No big horrible scandals, no personnel disputes that become newsworthy, only positive modest press releases that help you get more work but does not interfere with anything that Disney is doing. Fly low, avoid enemy fighters. Avoid controversy.

Suggestion #3. Find a way to deal with Disney producers.

The standard problem in this situation is that a company like Disney Studios which makes movies, will encourage their producers to use an in-house facility, which ILM now is. But the producers are interested in saving money, and will want ILM to give them a deal. This always happens, that is the good side of the situation. The bad side is what happens when people don't love each other anymore, when they do not like the deal, when they do not like being charged for adding a billion shots at the last minute, when they do not like being charged because they went to the lowest bidder they could find then call on ILM to save their stupid ass at the last minute. Then people get unhappy and they take their unhappiness out on ILM.  You see, the producers have access to the top management at Disney and they are not shy about complaining about being charged for the work.

Suggestion #4. Find a way to deal with the fact that you work with the competition.

ILM makes its money by doing excellent visual effects as a work-for-hire production service facility for a fee.  The point is, ILM does work for whatever studio is willing to hire them. But the Walt Disney Company competes with these other studios and they may have a film coming out that competes with a film you worked on for another studio, and the producers and executives at Disney may not like that. I have no idea what you do about this situation, it is not reasonable to expect the producers at Disney to be mature on this topic. I suppose that one thing you can do is to be low profile and not try to get the normal publicity that a successful visual effects film often generates.

I predict that if you are able to do these things, that you will be able to continue the remarkable track record that ILM has generated thus far. There are major institutional reasons why a company like Disney does not normally have a facility like ILM as part of their company and those reasons are all still operative (the subject of a later post). But I am hopeful that you can find a path through this jungle and that the (somewhat obvious) ideas above may be of modest use.

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