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Saturday, Jun 10, 2023

Effects House Encounters Cruel Realities of Industry

Mohammad Davoudian, president and CEO of Van Nuys-based Brain Zoo Studios, is ambitious. Doubling his company’s staff to accommodate an increasing work load from video game publishers was only the beginning. Now, he wants his digital visual effects house to make a full-fledged animated feature film. How does he fund it? “We could either fund it ourselves and once it’s completed then we could (shop) it to studios,” Davoudian said. And to help him in his quest, Davoudian recently turned to the state government where he quickly got a reality check. He hoped that the California Film Commission’s executive director, Amy Lemisch, a Gov. Schwarzenegger appointee, would help him get tax cuts and incentives to enable his company to keep its business in California. Davoudian said he didn’t want his company to outsource “themselves out of business.” But, according to Lemisch, there’s little she and her office can do to help and that’s because of problems that they cannot control. “I don’t think other states have the budget issues that we have with the deficit,” Lemisch said. Further, if anything was to be implemented, “the other hurdle we have is convincing the lawmakers here that this sort of program isn’t tailored to benefit (big) studios or producers.” The Film Commission’s ability to keep film production in California its mission has been hampered by budget cuts over the last several years. Plus, Gov. Schwarzenegger virtually eliminated any possibility of tax cuts and incentives through the agency by asking that it “develop no-cost ways to promote film production in California,” according to www.joinarnold.com, the governor’s official Web site. As far as Brain Zoo, Lemisch said there is just simply nothing that can be done, because market forces are unfavorable to smaller visual effects companies. If there are workers who would do the same work for 80 percent less in India or Singapore, neither her office nor the state could counter that. Lemisch’s office, based in Hollywood, is responsible for issuing permits and helping streamline productions throughout the state. Its role is similar to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which issues permits in the city of Los Angeles. Congressional action If any help should arrive, it would be from the federal government, Lemisch said. Congress is looking into legislative measures that would aid film production by providing tax cuts or incentives. Among the 300 provisions in the JOBS Act, two versions of which are being resolved in a House-Senate joint conference, are ones addressing offshore outsourcing and runaway production. “There’s a huge coalition working” to support it, she said, that includes the Motion Picture Association of America, writers’ and actors’ guilds and unions. And although it’s uncertain whether the government will help Brain Zoo, it appears the studio is not alone in its goals to make a feature film. “Some of the larger studios have cut down their budgets for animated features,” said Sarah Baisley, editor in chief of the Animation World Network, an industry Web site. “Some people are displaced by big studios and are starting to start their own.” In fact, she’s observing a “whole change in the industry,” she said, towards smaller studios becoming responsible for big film projects. The greater amount of cable TV and direct-to-DVD features has spurred the need for more animated programming, and Baisley said “I’m hearing of three to four companies forming a week” to respond to the demand. “That has become an easy avenue to do things by and it does make money,” she said. More competition Video game publishers have also entered the animation feature market. Many have been “staffing and competing for talent” with animation studios, and are projected to add 1,000 new staff by the end of the year, Baisley said. As far as government help, Baisley simply said “everyone now has to find European or Canadian sponsors.” “Most people are working with overseas studios or finding partners overseas,” she said, and U.S. animators usually typically agree to distribute in those countries. “They get funding, tax benefits. A lot of Americans do co-productions.” Brain Zoo, however, appears poised to make a run at the U.S. government to get help in the form of tax subsidies and other incentives, because it would like to keep all of its business in California. “We’re sort of trying to spearhead this thing for the whole animation industry,” Davoudian said.

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