Monday, June 30, 2014

Kate Mantillini Memorabilia

Many readers may wonder why anyone would care that Kate Mantillini's closed suddenly after many years of service.    Kate's became a standard for many of us who had the misfortune of living and working in Los Angeles for the last three decades.   It was close enough to the West Side and to Hollywood to make it possible to meet people there for lunch without driving all day.  It was right next door to the Academy La Peer screening room where the VFX bake off was held and became the traditional meeting place for our VFX clan to meet before or after the screenings. I must have had 100 meetings at Kate's over the years, if not more. There was almost always legal parking on side streets if you knew where to look and if all else failed there was reasonably priced valet parking.  You could tell someone to meet you at Kate Mantillini's later that night and know for certain that it would be open and that you would get a table.

But its gone.

I was able to pass by Kate Mantillini's about two weeks before it was closed and managed to take a few photographs and two (jerky) walkthrough's of the restaurant.  It seems silly, even to me, but I guess I am a sentimental guy.

In chatting with the employees there I learned that Kate's was owned by the family who runs Hamburger Hamlet, and this was, I guess, their more high-end, themed restaurant.

Many of the employees I talked to had been there for years and were then thinking about looking for new jobs in about two weeks when the restaurant closed (about June 15).

If you listen to the dialogue track at the end of the B walkthrough, you will hear me talking to the manager of the restaurant who wanted to know what I thought I was doing. I told him that I had been told that the manager had approved it.... he replied that he was the manager.


I apologize for the jerkiness of the two walkthroughs below.  It was all very ad hoc and spontaneous. I had my cheap digital camera with me and so I just held the camera about chest high, tried to be discreet, and walked purposefully towards the bathrooms thanking everyone I came across.  You can see me in my dissolute and degenerate form reflected in the mirror at the end of take A.   Yes, that is me whistling in the background, trying to be nonchalant.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Underbidding in Visual Effects: Conclusions and Recommendations

In three previous posts we discussed the practice and mythology of underbidding a project in visual effects, something that is alleged to happen quite often and is commonly believed to be a major cause of instability in the visual effects industry.   You can read these posts herehere and here, or you can just read the next paragraph.

In these posts I argue that (a) there are some legitimate reasons for underbidding,  (b) it rarely happens by mistake except in the case of a new production company,  that (c) sometimes when a project is underbid it was done so because of politics or because a grave misunderstanding or breach of trust between the client and the visual effects facility occurred, and finally (d) when we hear retroactively that a project was underbid, it is often just spin on the part of the client to pin the blame for whatever occurred on the visual effects company and cover their own ass.

In fact, very few people realize that the origins of the word "underbid" contains this meaning of "under appreciated".  "To underbid" comes from the German compound verb unterbitte: unter meaning under- or sub- and bitte meaning "please".  Thus "under please" which we might say in English as "under appreciated" or "no good deed goes unpunished".   

If a production company were to stupidly give a client a deal and got screwed for it, then we might say that they have unterbitte the project.

If you are a potential worker, artist, supervisor, or facility owner in visual effects, I think you should keep the following in mind:

1. Do not throw your pearls before swine.

2. Be sure to charge a lot of money.   In Hollywood, getting paid is the most important sign of respect.  If they pay you a lot of money, they respect you.    Its the only way you can tell what they think.   So charge the studios a lot of money and at the end of the day, you will probably say to yourself that you still did not charge enough for the work given what your time is really worth and how stupid the project really is and unpleasant the people really are.

Otherwise you may become the next victim of the unterbitte.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

All Will be Well in the Garden: Summer 2014 Edition

These are my notes from my ongoing container garden experiment for the summer of 2014.

The goals of the experiment has been to understand a bit more about what it takes to grow your own food and to perhaps improve the quality of my life (or food) just a little bit by having higher quality ingredients around (e.g. fresh string beans, herbs, peas, etc).

The result has been mostly positive and enlightening if uneven. To recap: there is a constant war between the garden and pests, the startup and operating costs are rather high unless you can exploit economies of scale, and finally, gardening is fun but farming is work. I would hate to have to make a living this way.

I could not feed myself at this scale of effort. I can at times have a better fresh salad, or tastier food, with the garden and that is entertaining. I can see where strategies of having citizens owning “victory gardens”, e.g. USSR in WW2, would have been value added.

This is the 5th or so planting and there are two plantings per year. I have focused this summer on my past successes: beans, peas, cucumbers and the ongoing herbs and peppers. The basil was renewed. There has been a constant war with the aphids. No tomatoes this time. Experimenting with arrugula and green onions.

Because the container garden here is somewhat mature, the startup costs are pretty much over. Now what is involved are expendables (making my own potting mix, fungicides, insecticides, seeds) and an occasional refresh of the infrastructure.

Recent observations:

1. Aphids are astounding in their geometric increase. Similar to the breeding rate of Tribbles and for the same reason: they are all females and born pregnant. The current methodology is water spray to knock them down and professional (not homemade) “organic” insecticidal soap bought in quantify (brand Safer) and sprayed with higher quality sprayers. Consistently observed: if three days go by without an aphid inspection, they will have multiplied insanely in that time and become a major problem. The little ants that service the aphids are an excellent clue to the presence of the aphid menace.

2. The higher quality sprayers (at roughly $15-$20 per sprayer) seem to do a much better job than the cheap $5 versions.

3. The $25 water control hose head timer has caused a huge improvement in the garden. The system is set to water twice a day outside of the time of bright sunlight for 4 minutes a pop.

4. I destroyed one of my industrial strength hoses by walking on it to and from the kitchen. Now I have raised the replacement hose above the floor and along the cabinetry so it will not be stepped on.

5. I briefly experimented with Dacomil, a non-organic fungicide and pesticide, but did not see any particular good results so I have stopped using it.   I am continuing with the organic insecticidal soap, copper (bordeaux solution) spray, and Neem oil, all bought in quantity.

To repeat myself: gardening is fun but farming is work. I could not feed myself at this scale but would have to expand many times and I only have to feed one person. I would hate to have to make a living this way.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Homeless in the Morning

Sweating it out for the date to change, and my prescription to become active, it is only luck that I did not drive the 30 miles last night after midnight to my 24 hour Rite Aid, as I would have found it closed. Yes, they changed the hours of the pharmacy from 24 hours to 10 AM to 6 PM but neglected to change the hours on the Internet.  “What's that you say? InterWhat? Dont blame us, we dont know what you talkin bout. We's simple country folk.“

So I get up at 6 AM after having been awake all night scratchin something fierce at the annual no-see-ums or whatever they are out here in Rancho Rincon del Diablo (the Devils Place) and go to my other local pharmacy but they don't open until 10 AM either.  

But all is not wasted.

I got to watch some of the homeless of my local community gather in the morning. There was the guy collecting recyclables at the Von's. There was the old guy with the bad limp who needs a haircut over by Rite Aid. There were three other guys (two with shopping carts, one with backpack) each independent of each other. Then there were the two guys with the skateboards and the coffee.... homeless? They looked it, but no shopping carts.

All of them well-behaved. All of them needing a bath and a clean set of clothes and a haircut.  No hassling people like me for spare change. No begging at all so far as I can tell.  About 50-50 white-black. None of them obviously Hispanic which is a little odd given the demographics of our community.

But all of them bad people.

Every last one.

Because in America, if you are poor, you are bad.  Thats all there is to it.  Or maybe if not bad, then lazy.  I suppose you could be both bad and lazy. Thats what I hear. Thats what they tell me. Dont want no social services, neither, to help those people because that might raise taxes.  It might encourage other homeless to come here.   And besides it would do no good because those people are bad.

They gather in the beautiful cool morning here in Escondido, CA.

Its going to be a very hot day.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Animators Without Passports Turned Back from Border, Blame Education

As a result of last week's announcements from two major players in the visual effects business, (1) animators have been attempting to cross the borders into Canada and flying into the UK at Heathrow Airport, only to be turned back or put into immigration holding areas due to a lack of passport or work visa. Apparently the would-be immigrants, nearly all of them 3D animators and graduates from art school, were completely unaware that Canada and the United Kingdom were separate countries and required the appropriate paperwork for entry.

“I am completely gobflapped,” said one animator, “art school taught me how to stab colleagues in the back, to take credit for their work, to slander competitors whenever possible, and to point & click at moronic 2D and 3D packages but nothing about being a migrant animation worker. Now what am I going to do? “

When explained that Canada had its own government, constitution, military, courts, education and health systems separate from the US of A, several of the animators became violent and demanded their mothers. They were quickly brought to heel by being told to take their afternoon nap.

Quite a few were upset to hear that Canada and the UK had “socialized medicine”.

Arrangements are being made to ship the illegal immigrants home to their parents.


1. Sony Imageworks announced that they would move the headquarters for their visual effects operation from Culver City to Vancouver, Canada and Industrial Light & Magic announced they were opening permanent offices in Vancouver and London, England. In both cases, the announced reason was to take advantage of government subsidies for filmmakers of the two countries.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Guidelines for Reader

At least three different people have outed themselves as readers of my blog in recent weeks. I am flattered and astounded that they have the time to read what I write, even if only occasionally.

Perhaps this is a time to remind everyone some not-so-obvious 'guidelines for reader' for Global Wahrman.

1. The first goal of this blog is to be entertaining. I may not always succeed, for example this post you are reading now may not be entertaining, but entertainment is the primary goal here. There are also some secondary goals such as creating writing samples, pointing out something I think is interesting, test chapters for a book I might write, relating an anecdote or even expressing an opinion, but that is not always the case. I am certainly writing about the history of computer animation in Los Angeles in the 1980s. On the other hand, I do not really believe that Nazi War Criminals founded my prep school in Virginia or that accepting the Metric system is a step to the end of our civilization although I may have my doubts.

2. Posts marked “draft”, “in progress” or “being rewritten” indicate the post is not done, in ascending order of possible revision. In other words, it might change direction 180 degrees, for all I know. I have noticed that after about a week it seems to settle down. Most posts settle down in a few days. A few days after that I normally remove the “draft”, etc, label.

3. Some posts may just be taking an outre debating position or I may think I am being funny.

4. I will attempt to occasionally tag my posts with such modifiers as “humor” or “sarcasm”, but this is not guaranteed.

5. I could be accused of having an odd sense of humor from time to time.

6. Even when I am being deadly serious, or deadly sarcastic, I do not expect everyone to agree with me. I have extreme positions on many topics because of my life experiences. I think that most people who do not relate do so because they have had an easier time of it, frankly.

7. I do like comments. Sometimes people comment to me by email, and that is ok, but by adding to the blog your ideas and thoughts you improve the quality of this effort and I appreciate it. In pretty much all cases but the not-so-occasional spam, the comments are certainly value added.

7. So what is the point? What makes you think that there is a point? Maybe it is just meaningless, like our lives.

Thank you for reading, I hope I continue to be interesting. As far as the content that I started this blog explicitly to write, I am about 10% through my topic list, if that. My current impression is that an average of 1 in 5 posts are actually pretty good, and worth reading, another 1 in 5 are OK and the rest are what they are.

But we will see.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Writing for Wikipedia Part 1

I have wanted to learn how to contribute to Wikipedia for some time now.   This means adding new articles and editing mistakes in existing ones.   So I started reading the online documentation and ran into some surprises, mostly pleasant ones, but surprises nevertheless.

But maybe they should not be surprises, maybe it should have been obvious.

1. There is a rather large culture around writing Wikipedia. They have their own language and their own jargon. It is extensive. Just reading the tutorials takes hours and to read all the documentation would take days. So, considerable and laudable attention has been spent on making it possible for new people to come in and contribute.

2. The technology is very text based, and assumes you can handle basic non-WYSIWYG editing. It feels like solid, old-school geek.

3. A great deal of the documentation involves conflict resolution between authors and a reminder to everyone to be civil.

4. The emphasis on the anonymity of authors and editors and the ability to contribute anonymously at all surprised me.

5. They have the concept of group ownership of any article, an emphasis on “not one single author”, e.g. when you write something you have no more control over the text than any other person.

6. There is an extensive audit system that keeps any change forever and gives one the ability to roll back and forth between edits.  This makes it easy for an "editor" to return an article to a previous state.

8. There are extensive prohibitions on “original research” and "conflict of interest", which includes writing about someone or something you know, because of the likelihood that this will result in bias. Thus for example, I would, at first glance, be discouraged from writing about the history of computer animation because of my knowledge (and hence bias) on the topic.

So the first thing I notice is that my friend and serial-entrepreneur Marc Canter's (1) web page has a pretty amazing, and frankly somewhat offensive if you check the citations, discussion of his alleged politics in the overview/introductory paragraph. This surprised me because I have known Marc for a long time and I certainly knew none of this, nor do I think it is all that relevant to what it is he has done, e.g. to what makes him notable for a Wikipedia entry. At the very least it ought to be in its own section, but by Wikipedia rules it actually ought to be removed because it is not verified by citation.

But since I know Marc, and that is considered conflict of interest, I resisted the temptation to make the edit myself but followed what I read is “procedure”. I went to the “talk” page and made a comment.

This is what I said.
I am new to Wikipedia and I am feeling my way around. Also, I have a COI here, as I have been friends of Marc Canter off and on for 30 years. We are not terribly close (I havent seen him for 15 years) but I know of his work and do admire the man. So my request here is that someone read this and, if they agree, make the simple edits to fix one issue that just slaps you in the face when you read this article. I have read a lot of biographies on Wikipedia and Marc's is the only one that finds it necessary to discuss what may or may not be his political beliefs and the unverified beliefs of his relatives in the summary paragraph. (At least I should say, the only biography of a technical person, maybe there are biographies of Marxist revolutionaries that do so, but Marc is hardly that. ) Furthermore, this discussion of Marc's supposed politics and of the politics of his relatives is unverified ... if you look at the citations you will see that one is to Marc's blog (which should not count for verification) and is no longer an active page, and the other is a semi-pornographic picture of Marc Canter's head put on top of a so-called red diaper baby. I hardly think that this counts as verified, and at the very least is rude and in bad taste, if not actually libel. So the simplest request I could make to improve this page is to remove any mention of Marc's relatives and his politics and delete these two non-citations. Please contact me if you have any questions and I will check back to this talk page from time to time. I have a lot to learn and I hope this is a legitimate use of the talk page. Thank you. Michaelw newyork (talk) 02:05, 11 June 2014 (UTC)

We will see what happens.


1. Marc was founder of Macromind in 1982 and is one of the most important influences in the creation of interactive multimedia, imho.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Foresight Needed to Create Viable Future Tourist Industry for Failed American Civilization

Recent improvements in building technology have made it necessary for America to start planning for its decline now, if it is not to wake up in a few hundred years unable to compete as a tourist attraction for visitors from China and other emerging powers. That is the harsh message that is coming out of the recent International Conference on Planning for Urban Decay and Tourism (ICPUDT) held this week in Detroit, MI.

Although buildings made of stone have a good chance of surviving the time scales required to create a good future tourist industry, even that is in doubt because of the use of substandard, standard concrete in modern America.   But now the Japanese have invented ways to create concrete, essentially a form of liquid stone if you will, that lasts almost half as long as the classic Roman concrete.  "We are still not as good as the ancient Romans, damn them, but this is good enough for us to build structures that will last long enough to be viable tourist attractions.  I call on the patriotism of all true American construction firms to start using this new concrete in their work so that we can leave a legacy for our impoverished descendants."

The conference attendees were inspired by this announcements and also the breakthrough ideas in monument protection technologies and designs for future ruins that have the potential of enhancing tourist appeal.  The conference attendees also voted to approve and issue a report describing the threat to future tourism dominance in a collapsing civilization and to propose possible countermeasures that have the promise of creating an important tourism industry for the failed and otherwise shamed former superpower.

To see the danger most clearly, the conference report discussed the situation in Egypt and Rome, both of which have extremely important tourism industries which live off the extensive remnants of their glorious past. In both cases, what tourists see are not actually the ancient buildings and tombs, but what is left of them after their greedy and lazy descendants demolished  those buildings in the search for cheap building materials.

Was the passage of time the cause of this decay or was the building stripped for parts?

Although there was no consensus on what techniques should be used to protect our future tourist investments, there was general agreement that we have to start now. “It takes time and its hideously expensive to build these buildings that will represent us to future tourists. We have to start now and build in the protective techniques that will keep our children's children from destroying these buildings in order to make a fast dollar, or yuan, as the case may be”.

Three experimental techniques proposed in the final report of the conference include:

-- developing new materials that bond the facade with the underlying concrete so one can not remove one without removing the other,

-- making the windows out of transparent and incorruptable metal,

-- long-lasting explosive designs that kill anyone who tries to loot the building by dropping a wall or a roof on them (this is a revision of the classic booby-traps designed by ancient Egyptian architects to stop the looting of their ancient tombs), 

-- micro-encapsulated poison gas incorporated into the building materials that shatter and instantly kill the looters.

The conference report concluded that if America was going to fail to show the slightest planning in their economy, infrastructure and foreign affairs, but always go for the most stupid policies that make the fastest buck for the rich, then it is all the more important that we take care today to create a viable tourist industry for our impoverished and degraded descendants or the people who conquer them and live here now.

Already abandoned in Detroit, does this building have what it takes to survive 500 years and become a tourist attraction?

Article on recent work on reverse engineering Roman concrete

Wikipedia page on Roman concrete

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The End of the VFX Community in Los Angeles?

As all historians know, when the final knife goes in and the body slumps to the ground in a pool of blood, the murder victim has in fact been threatened and dying for a very long time.   The final event, the slugs of hot metal that rip through the body, so to speak, are just the final acts of a much more involved process.

For example, the nominal date of the end of the Roman Empire in the west, 476 CE, was in no way the end of the Roman Empire, east or west.  It is just a convenient date used by historians who need to pick a date for the history books and chose one when the city was occupied briefly by a Germanic warlord for failing to pay a ransom.   The empire had certainly ceased to be very effective in the west  long before this, and the senate continued to meet for long after.

So when we review the end of the Los Angeles visual effects community, we may as well pick an arbitrary date, but one that is at least symbolic, just as with the nominal date of the end of the Western Roman Empire.

I propose that this date is last week when Sony Imageworks announced that it was moving its headquarters to Vancouver, Canada.  In fact, there is still going to be some people working at Imageworks in Los Angeles, including Ken Ralston, ASC.  And there are other visual effects companies such as Digital Domain that seem to linger on as well as many of the smaller shops.

In fact, the Sony's announcement, which can be read here in the Hollywood Reporter, is confusing.  Are they moving people from LA to Vancouver? Or are they just not hiring more people in LA and hiring in Vancouver?  It isn't clear.  What I hear indirectly is that they are moving people up north, however, or maybe perhaps they are just expecting people to move up north on their own.   Like I say, it isnt altogether clear.

But we can certainly say that the Los Angeles visual effects community which used to be several thousands of people, is a remnant of itself, never again to be the avant garde of a form of filmmaking that it helped to invent.

Rest in Peace.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Janie Fitzgerald in the LimeLight

It happens, now and then, that someone I know and like, keeps coming into my life, but only briefly, and then disappears. But as time goes by the person, who I think the world of, with hard work and talent, becomes a successful working artist. I am just in awe of this, to do this in this changing economy and with the wild technology changes is completely exceptional.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I met a woman named Janie Fitzgerald. I don't remember the first time we met, but it might have been at Limelight. Ah, LimeLight. One of the most glamourous and successful of the music video production companies, with headquarters in London, and an office in LA.

The year must have been 1988 and Brad and I were just starting deGraf/Wahrman and had been invited to present our reel to them. They were casting for a music video, were thinking of using computer animation, which was a completely new and somewhat trendy art form, and somehow we had been recommended to them. So Brad and I showed up and sat in the most amazing waiting room in the world. No adolescent male in his wildest dreams could have imagined the situation. We were surrounded, literally surrounded, by an uncountable number of some of the most beautiful young women in Los Angeles. I would guess that they were all roughly 18-24 in age, dressed to kill, and that there were not less than 20 of them packed into this little room while Brad and I sat and waited for our turn and tried not to notice the potent pheremones that surrounded us. Packed like sardines in a can, literally sitting on a bench squeezed between not less than 10 or 15 of these archetypal objects of teenage lust, candidates no doubt for some insanely exploitative music video, we were completely immune to any distraction from our devotion to 3D animation.

And lording over it all was the receptionist, Janie Fitzgerald, who seemed to think that Brad and I waiting in this room with these actresses was very entertaining.

She seemed familiar somehow. Had I met her at a party recently? Maybe.

The next thing I knew, Janie was working at Homer and Associates, a semi-competitor of ours and owned by our good friend Peter Conn. Now Peter at the time was married to Coco Conn, who was acting social director for the huge computer animation community in Los Angeles which must have numbered at least 50 people, if not more. For those who do not know my sarcastic style, the point is the community was tiny and a few years later there would be a tsunami of people, 2,000 at least, which essentially crushed and destroyed our little community the way an elephant crushes a bug. This was before that tsunami, when we all liked or at least knew each other and would go to parties at Coco Conn's house, or Jeff and Diana Kleiser's house, or at Chris Casady's place with Lynda Weinman, or at Gorky's downtown. (1)

This was in the days when computer animation was considered unproven and risky and before it was accepted by the entertainment industry.  This was back when an experimental computer artist could stand shoulder to shoulder with an animator for a Budweiser commercial and discuss the semiotics of digital production or the failure of the cultural myth.  This was before the fall from grace.   Janie was part of our community. I would see her now and then at these parties and it was always a pleasure.

Janie was working at becoming a professional still photographer. And so after about 5 years with Homer, perhaps 1994 or so, Janie went independent as a photographer, one of the most difficult fields that I know of to succeed in and yet Janie has been successful. She has never had a normal job since she left Homer and has been able to buy a house in Burbank, in other words she is a working professional photographer.

For some reason the Limelight incident, and Janie, was always in my mind. I am not sure why exactly, but she was.

Many, many years later when I was living in New York and had an office at the NYU Media Research Lab, perhaps the year was 2000, one night, perhaps 9 pm or so, I came to the lab and was walking down the hall, when I saw a woman walking towards me who looked amazingly like Janie. Not possible I thought. But yes, the lattice of causality that underlies the apparent coincidences of the material world was acting up again, and it was Janie, attending some special event as part of an Apple conference ongoing in Manhattan, I think.

Sill later, I found her on Facebook, and I have found Facebook to be very useful to keep in touch and see the progress of some of my friends.

So there it is, a successful professional photographer, and a really lovely person, working in this down economy and doing what she loves.

Yes, of course, it is obvious. I have had a crush on her since I first saw her at Limelight. In a room literally packed with actresses, starlets and ingenues I only noticed Janie, and it is only Janie that I remember.

But none of that matters.

Janie's personal web site is
Her professional web site is


1. Gorky's completely disappeared when I was in NY in some sort of hideous scandal. But by that time the scene that I knew in computer animation had been destroyed by its success and so it really did not matter.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gary Goddard and Succes de Scandale

This post may not be suitable for children of any age.

I have met a number of interesting people during the course of my so-called career. And many of them are in the news now and then. But recently someone I know has been in the news in a very awkward way and I have been debating what to say, if anything, about it.

A long time ago, deGraf/Wahrman did two very long, involved theme park productions for Harper Films and Landmark Entertainment. Landmark was founded by two partners, Tony Christopher and Gary Goddard and we worked mostly with Gary.   These two 70mm, stereo ridefilms for Harper and Landmark were among the last projects we did at deGraf/Wahrman.  It wasn't a happy time for anyone, the client or us.  By no means did these projects put us out of business, but it was certainly part of the bad feelings that seemed to be everywhere.   The projects got done, they are beautiful.  I do not have copies of either of them.   But in spite of the awkwardness I can tell you that I enjoyed working with Landmark and Gary.

Gary is a complete character. He is larger than life and filled with that sort of self esteem that can be measured by the ton. He directed Masters of the Universe (1987) which was arguably ahead of its time and plunged into creating a mammoth company called Landmark Entertainment to provide design and production services to the themed entertainment boom of the 1980s and 1990s. I know that something happened such that Gary was no longer associated but the company still seems to be there and doing well, at least as far as you can tell from an internet web page. I had and have confidence that Gary would transcend whatever problems he might be experiencing and be back on the scene.

He has, he believes, the common touch. The ability to conceive of and design and to understand what the average man and woman, boy and girl, expects and needs to see and experience in a themed environment. 

Anyway, Gary seems to be in the news these days in a big way. Unfortunately, it is not the best news. There seems to be some accusations about sleeping with ... well I dont know. It makes no sense to me. I just hope that none of it is true, and that he goes on to use this unplanned publicity to his advantage and achieve his creative destiny, whatever that may be.

Gary Godard (left) and Bryan Singer out on the town

Doctors and Pharmacies, Please Hold Hands and Share

Everyone who reads this blog knows I see a variety of doctors and do a variety of interesting medications. I continue to maintain that I am lucky because the problems I have are mostly addressed by the medications and this is more than a lot of people can say.

The new policy is that I keep a good sense of humor no matter what happens.  I do the same thing when I am flying on airplanes, which is to cultivate a state of Zen-like calmness.  I just look puzzled and smile and try to get what I want.  No stamping of feet.  No snarling permitted. Absolutely no heads are to be ripped off no matter how much they may deserve it and no matter how much they might benefit from having their heads ripped off because it would build character.

But what amazes me, simply amazes me, is that the doctors and the pharmacies are on completely different pages as to what the DEA says the rules are.   Everyone has a different idea of what the rules are and anyone who has not dealt with the pharmacies seems to not realize what is going on.  Its not crazy exactly but it is at best annoying and can have results that waste a lot of time and often results in patients who do not get their medication for 72 hours or so if ever.

Do you think they could bother to learn what the rules are so that the patient does not have to always appear to be correcting their doctor and be in the middle between the doctor and the pharmacy?

But it will never get better.

It is my karma to deal with this for the rest of my so-called life.

Curse you, Drug Enforcement Administration, you have truly succeeded in your goal to make my life more miserable!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Underbidding in Visual Effects: Coercion, Communication and Trust

In our previous two discussions of “underbidding in visual effects” (here and here) we discussed the reasons why a facility might intentionally underbid (for example, to drive a competitor out of business) and we discussed why a facility might underbid by mistake. But we have only scratched the surface of what the glamourous and rewarding motion picture industry means by underbidding in visual effects.

The first thing to realize is that most of the time the label of underbidding is applied retrospectively to a job. Oh, something went wrong, it must have been underbid. For example, suppose the client turns out to be an asshole who says one thing but wants another but doesn't want to pay for it. Then if you are in a big fight with this client, it can be said that you underbid the project, because frankly it wasnt worth the trouble to deal with that asshole at the rate you are charging. In that circumstance, you may say that you underbid the project, it is a judgment by the facility after the fact.

But lets take another scenario. Lets say that the client is being unreasonable, doesn't know what they want, change their mind constantly, yet wants more and more but doesnt want to pay for it and wants you to pay for it. Then the client will want to pin the blame on the facility and will say that ha, you were incompetent, you underbid the project and therefore it is your responsibility to bend over and do whatever the client wants.

There are also a number of types of underbidding by coercion.

Here are two case studies from the 1990s in which the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In scenario #1, a large motion picture studio has built a very expensive visual effects studio on their lot in order to keep all that big money spent on visual effects internally. A large special effects project is scheduled and the director, who is known to be insanely difficult, wants a deal on the visual effects in order to use the on-lot facility. He refuses to do the picture unless he gets a deal, and the facility, therefore does make a deal, they agree to do a certain number of shots for a fixed amount. That was a big mistake because the director had every intention of packing as much into that limited number of shots as he could in order to ream the effects studio a new asshole and basically help finance his film by making the vfx studio lose money. And thats what happened, after a lot of screaming, the vfx studio did as they were told and lost their shirt on it. But since it was a part of this larger studio, that financed the film, it was really the studio that got fucked but blamed the vfx studio. This project was “underbid”.

Keep in mind, the last thing a producer or director wants to do is to use an in-house effects facility.  As long as the vfx is outside the studio, then the director and producer have complete control.  But when it is in-house, then studio politics come into play, on both sides.   You get to complain if the facility is too expensive or too slow or not doing the quality of work that you want, but they get to complain too.  That you change your mind, that you want them to work for free and so forth.  They are inside the kimono, inside the sacred square, they know where some of the skeletons are buried and they can fight back.  So you would much prefer to work with an established reliable off-lot facility that you have relations with, that you have worked with before.   And from the facility point of view, working with an in-house film means that they have to navigate all the forces that are applied to them from the studio to lower prices, etc, that is outside of your judgment of how much time and money it should cost.  In other words, you are being coerced. 

In scenario #2, a director has a limited amount of money for their film, and awards it to a very competent smaller effects studio, very little money very little time. This was basically a favor by the vfx studio for the director, but they also wanted to do this movie, so it was mutual.  In other words, the director did not have enough money but the vfx studio offered to do what they could for the money available and the director promised to work with them to get it all done.  But the director had every intention of demanding the most expensive work no matter how long it took, and fucked the effects facility as hard as he could. Then the studio pulled the job and gave it to ILM, forcing ILM to manage the director because they, the studio, did not have the balls to do so. The movie did come out and was a big success. The original vfx studio was no doubt damaged by this bullshit, none of which was their fault. When ILM did the work, they charged an arm and a leg, why not? And the studio that made a huge amount of money on the film, it was a big hit, had not forgiven ILM 10 years later. 10 years later they were still complaining that ILM had charged them real money for a movie that was in trouble because of the choices that the director and the studio had made. Oh yes, it goes without saying, that when ILM was involved, the studio found the time and the money needed, the time and money that was not available when the little vfx studio was involved.

So what is the real problem here? Is it underbidding by the VFX studio? No, I dont think so. Sure thats part of the problem. But maybe the real problem is incredibly difficult clients who want the world for nothing combined with asshole visual effects studios who are always trying to undercut each other and put each other out of business, in a business that is fundamentally a work-for-hire production service one the facility can not be profitable most of the time anyway.

And why can't visual effects be profitable? That is a topic for another time.