LOS ANGELES — Even as new filmmaking centers help spread Hollywood’s wealth around the world, the boost to local economies comes at a personal cost to the specialists who must follow the work. As movie production migrates from place to place, friendships get left behind and raising a family can be difficult.
But the life can be exciting for a highly skilled class of adventurers —those not averse to expenses-paid hotel rooms, restaurants and living abroad. Just ask Hiroshi Mori, a 49-year-old pre-visualization artist whose digital scene-setting work has been used in movies such as “The Avengers” and “Men in Black: 3.” In the last several years, the Hawaii native has worked in Sydney, New York and Albuquerque, N.M., not to mention Los Angeles, home of the company he co-owns, The Third Floor.
“If you’re single, it can be a great lifestyle. You’re put up in a hotel. Production pays for it. It’s fun, it’s great,” he says. “Some people love to travel and some people don’t because of very practical reasons. But that is the reality of the business now.”
Still, the inherent uncertainty of filmmaking is compounded by globe-spanning moves every few months or years.
“One day, you might be told to travel to London or Hawaii or somewhere, and all of a sudden, a week later, everything has changed,” says Raffael Dickreuter, a 32-year-old freelance pre-visualization artist who was born in Switzerland but lives in West Hollywood, Calif. “You cannot believe anything until it happens.”
The blog VFX Soldier has become a conduit for film workers frustrations about the chaos caused as locales around the globe compete through tax incentives. “We’re tired of the cycle of displacement,” says Daniel Lay, the 33-year-old hair and cloth special effects director who runs the blog. “The idea that it’s creating a sustainable industry is not true.”
Exacerbating the strain is a contract system that rewards low fixed-price bids. That can force effects houses to absorb the cost of last-minute change requests and push workers hard. High-profile bankruptcies, including that of “Life of Pi” house Rhythm & Hues Studios Inc. in February, point to a system gone awry.
Jeffrey Okun, chair of the Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based professional group, Visual Effects Society, says his goal is to help members “live at home, and have gainful employment and a thriving career,” he says. “But some of these factors are just outside our control.”
Globetrotting or quitting was the choice Tim Bowman faced. The 42-year-old compositor’s work matching live footage with computer-generated backgrounds appears in films like “The Hunger Games” and “Gravity.”
He moved from Philadelphia to Adelaide, Australia, two years ago to ride the shifting tide of tax credits. But work dried up in May as a capricious Aussie dollar made tax breaks less appealing.
Bowman could have sought work in nearby New Zealand — likely on “The Hobbit” — or taken his wife and 15-month-old son to Singapore or Vancouver.
Instead, he moved to Charlotte, N.C., close to his wife’s parents.
“The work is awesome and I’ve met a lot of great people doing it. But the way the industry is going, it’s brutal. I don’t know how anyone can make an actual life out of it,” he says.