Last week I saw a link to a podcast by two screenwriters, John August and Craig Mazin, who were discussing where all the money goes in the production of a movie and how even the biggest blockbusters don’t make much of a profit on paper. I’d heard some of the ideas before but it is a really interesting discussion and I think everyone working in the industry should listen.
I’ll embed the podcast here but you should follow this link to the page it was originally from for a transcript and some diagrams.
Sometimes, when I’ve been asked to paint out a cable or key a badly lit greenscreen, I find myself thinking, “It would have taken them 15 minutes to fix this on set, instead it’s taken me two days to fix it”. But then I have to remind myself that with hundreds of crew and expensive stars, 15 minutes on set would probably have cost more than six months of my salary. It’s a humbling thought but it makes it easier to understand why things are done the way they are.
When I was working at smaller companies I found it much easier to be happy working on a soulless corporate video if I knew we were making a good profit on it. That’s not to say I’d want to do it all the time, but I could justify it to myself. Conversely, I’d be happy working on a really cool project that didn’t have big profit margins. It was the lame low budget projects with directors who had unrealistic expectations that made me want to scream.
When you spend weeks poring over one or two shots, it’s easy to forget that your work as a compositor is only part of the much bigger picture. We usually think of our clients as the directors and the VFX supervisors, but they are hired by the producers who are in turn hired by the studios. Being so far down the chain makes it easy to forget that it’s ultimately all about the money.