Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Always Look on the Bright Side of Subsidies

Part 3 of a series.

When Brian was nailed to the cross in the 1st century Roman province of Judea, a thief is alleged to have told him to cheer up, and remember to "always look on the bright side of life".

With that thought in mind, lets review some of the effects, or affects as it may be, of international subsidies and tax exemptions on the industry of visual effects and try to find our silver lining. Sure, the American industry has been crushed and there is massive unemployment in this country and misery. But its not all bad. Here are a few ideas I have come up with and submit for your consideration why this might have some "socially positive" aspects.

1. The tax exemptions and subsidies may result in better films.

It is possible that many of these movies that are made under this system are better because of these subsidies and tax exemptions. Often movies want more visual effects than they can afford. With subsidies, which result in a lower price for the effects, it is possible that producers choose to spend the same amount of money as before but get more work for their money. In the rare case where visual effects actually contribute to the quality of the film instead of being merely stupid, this could result in a better film. To the extent that you believe that the cinema has a role to play in our culture and civilization, then certainly having better films is good for all of us.

2. The tax exemptions and subsidies may result in more films.

The same argument as above but elaborated to include that some films which may not be completely financed and would not ordinarily be made, but under this system do get made either because the discount given to effects encourages the investors to believe that the film is less of a risk, or maybe just lowers the cost of the effects element sufficiently to make the entire budget achievable. In any case, under this scenario, we would get some films that otherwise we would not see at all under the free market, and if the films are good, then we all, theoretically, benefit.

3.Through adversity, character and moral fiber is enhanced.

How lucky are the poor for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven!   Of course they will be dead by then, as I understand the way this works, but still its something to look forward to.  They will have an opportunity before that to learn new skills and work in new industries!  This is America so anything could happen.  They could learn to clean out old sewage lines while their wife and children work in under-regulated garment production, showing great initiative by working 12 hours a day 7 days a week for less than minimum wage.  You know, like minority groups in this country have to do.  Their children could drop out of school and help support their parents by programming stupid web pages for the Internet.  Anything could happen because this is America and both initiative and hard work are ALWAYS rewarded, I hear.

4. Relentlessly competitive, they live by the sword and die by the sword

The companies that went under were not always the nicest companies, made up of decent human beings, or anything like that.  These are/were fairly vicious competitors in a field that shows or showed no mercy.  So they got outmaneuvered and destroyed by structural elements beyond their control, but some of that is their responsibility for failing to deal with the political issues.  We should not weep bitter tears for them.  These companies were for the most part not centers of idealism, good will or progressive anything.     Most of them were snake pits of politics to say the least.    

5. The government subsidies may lead to a more stable industry.

Everyone knows that visual effects companies are (or were) flaky.  The studios would brag about how they put their subcontractors out of business.  So why not just use companies that are supported by other people's tax dollars or supported by large corporations?   These companies are likely to be more reliable and they will complain less than the whiny locals.

6. Failure to organize was a strategic mistake and you lost.

The failure of the digital artists to organize and stand up for their rights,  to get the government to pay attention to them the way their British, N. Zealand and Canadian comrades were able to, led inevitably to the doom of the American worker in this industry. See what "not making waves" gets you. To this day the American worker, the so-called "digital artist", still have not organized.  Of course, at this point getting organized probably would not help, but it couldn't hurt.  Compromised, confused,  and unwilling to do the right thing, so now they suffer what the "free market", quote end quote, under Mercantilism (I mean Globalization, excuse me, I must have forgotten), buys them: a one way trip to the unemployment line. (1)

7. Why not emigrate ?

Why not apply for a junior position in England? Sell your house, leave your kids, or uproot them from school, live in a shared, shitty apartment in London.  After spending 20 years of your life working your way up in the field, you are now unemployed and unemployable in an industry that arguably you helped invent.   Why not apply?  What do you have to lose?  You might get the job. Maybe. Probably not, though.

So what is the problem here? Maybe no problem at all. The "free market" (wink wink) just has winners and losers and overall maybe the industry is stronger and the films are better. After all, the government of those three countries are pouring big money into it, putting their wallets where their mouth is so to speak. So if the US of A fails to respond and it screws the little guy, who cares? The big film companies still make money, more money than ever in fact, and if it is at the expense of the worker or of the people who invented the field, well in America that is just too bad.

In Hearts of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, our narrator says to himself, "He wanted no more than justice. No more than justice!"

Grow up, you're in Hollywood now, and this is what we call justice in this town.

The Roman Province of Judea

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life



1. A corollary to this is the failure of "magical thinking".  I have had 20 year professionals in the field tell me with a straight face that studios were going to start giving points of their films to visual effects studios "just because".   Thats just crazy, completely disconnected from reality.  Thats my point, the so called digital artists here, who along with the local production companies are now unemployed, are guilty of the worst kind of magical thinking.

Revised 1/12/2014

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