NPR had a good report this morning on an issue that was discussed earlier (see here and here) that looked the dire straits that the visual special effects (VFX) industry is in, even though the films that they make possible make a ton of money. For example, Life of Pi has made $600 million dollars worldwide while Rhythm & Hues, the company that made it possible by producing the stunning effects and for which it won an Academy Award, has filed for bankruptcy.
The report confirms what reader Gordon (who works in the industry) told me in an email and is the familiar story of business people taking advantage of the naivete of creative artists who are so eager to work on challenging projects that they get themselves locked into fixed fee contracts where they end up having to work much longer and harder than originally anticipated, with no extra money, because of repeated requests for changes and improvements by the filmmakers.
Creative artists in any field, unless they are so well-established that they can call the shots, are always at a disadvantage. The trouble with creative people is that they are, well, creative. What they passionately want to do is create work that they are proud of and if you dangle an interesting and challenging project in front of them, they will be strongly tempted to accept. This makes them lousy at getting even a reasonable deal, let alone driving a hard bargain. As a result they can end up working for far less than their labor and skills warrant. They are also usually perfectionists who cannot bear to let substandard work go out with their names on it, even though the imperfections may be so slight that only they or their peers will even notice them, the vast majority of the rest of us being completely oblivious.
It is this combination of factors that seem to be at play with the decline of the US VFX industry and that is really too bad.