Editor's Note: With full recognition of the general implications of a pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives, destroyed global economies and closed international borders, Deadline & # 39; s Dealing with the COVID-19 Crisis The series is a forum for those in the entertainment space who are dealing with the myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech stop. Hope is an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how companies and individuals can overcome a crisis that does not seem to go away any time soon. If you have a story, email [email protected] News Info.com.
Oscar-winning Base FX, formed in 2003 by filmmaker and visual effects expert Chris Bremble, has become one of the leading visual effects and animation companies in Asia, with recent credits including The Mandalorian Y Aquaman.
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Like the rest of the entertainment business, the coronavirus has taken its toll on post-production, but the long-term impact in that sector will take months to fully realize, with movie and TV production now halted worldwide. .
Base was launched in association with Beijing VFX Training School to create visual effects for Hollywood, and has grown into a global business with offices in Beijing, Wuxi, Xiamen and Dachang of China, as well as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Los Angeles. . He has more than 500 employees on his books and has worked on more than 200 projects, including major productions in both China and Hollywood. The company has a strategic alliance with Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic, through which it has won two Oscars for its work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens Y Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He also has three Emmys in his name for Boardwalk Empire, The Pacific Y Black candles.
In addition to VFX, Base operates an animation studio that is currently making feature films. Wish Dragon for Sony Pictures with Jackie Chan and Constance Wu.
In January 2020, the main Chinese culture of Sunac made a strategic investment in Base, with a majority participation. Bremble tells us that this money will help the company survive these turbulent times and that the situation is now improving in China, although the impact of COVID-19 is just beginning to be felt.
DEADLINE: What has been your personal experience of the pandemic?
CHRIS BREMBLE: I flew to London just as the running of the bulls began in Wuhan, and it was a bit surreal; Upon leaving, I had five temporary checks at Xiamen airport, one in Hong Kong in transit and none in London on arrival. No one wore masks on the flight to London; they all had them four days later on the flight back to China. The world changed in three days.
Xiamen was one of the least affected cities in China (it had the fewest arrivals from Wuhan), so while there was a closure, there was only slight anxiety in the city. I spent a lot of time assuring friends, family, partners and clients that things would be fine. I also had time to catch up on some of our long-term plans. It seemed so obvious that he would be contained and life would go on normally …
But just when things returned to normal in Xiamen, we were working through the closure of Malaysia with our team in Kuala Lumpur, and then we were working with our team in Los Angeles when California closed. So after a first week of initial silence, everything has been logistics and planning for six weeks. That trip to London feels like a lifetime.
DEADLINE: How much has your business impacted? Has work slowed down?
BREMBLE Our initial assessment was that we might lose a few weeks; The reality is that it has been, for the Chinese market and from a commercial perspective, like being kicked while we were already down. The market has not fully recovered from the June 2018 slowdown (after the Chinese entertainment industry tax scandal) and this has strongly affected the local industry. We are fortunate to have a mix of clients and projects: live action and animation, features and television, Hollywood and China. So while some work slowed down, we were able to pivot resources to accomplish the work that was available to us. That has been a great help.
We also have a great management team, which focused on our staff, their health, and getting everyone back to work safely. I use the pronoun "we" because it was a team effort, 24/7, to keep things moving. Much courage and kindness in uncertain times.
The big fear is that for the Chinese market, production has already dropped significantly, perhaps 70% yoy. There will now be almost zero movies starting in China for six months or so. From a post-production perspective, the worst is yet to come as current productions end in the spring / summer. Then the real effects of the virus will arrive in a few months.
We have been very lucky to have a good partner at Sunac Culture, and we are working with them to plan the rest of 2020 and 2021, maintain our capacity and move forward. They were supported with resources, advice and navigation as the government's response to the crisis adjusted daily to combat the spread of the virus.
DEADLINE: Have your employees been able to work from home? I guess you have something high-tech in your studies that may not be transportable …
BREMBLE We did a little remote work in China, but not much. We were able to get people back to the office, with health and safety a priority, pretty quickly. Security agreements prevented us from managing some projects with remote work, so we took people to the office who needed to be there, and the rest worked from home.
Technology, at least for us, was not a challenge, we are used to working with partners in the United States and we have systems configured to allow it. And for the China team, the combination of Zoom and WeChat enabled constant communication.
DEADLINE: Have you been forced to fire someone, cut wages, or take similar steps?
BREMBLE Our plan for 2020 was growth; With the support of Sunac Culture, we had a somewhat aggressive plan to build the visual effects and animation teams for some ambitious projects in 2021. We will make some changes in the business, but they are more related to the balance of talent and business units between live action and animation. The slowdown in 2018 hit us pretty hard, so we already put ourselves on a defensive footprint before the outbreak. We may grow a little slower or take a pace before increasing, but we are still looking to have a growth mindset as we prepare for the opportunities we see in the market.
DEADLINE: How has the impact been on the visual effects industry in general? What do you hear from other visual effects companies around the world?
BREMBLE The visual effects business is a tough business at best, so while this has been a challenge, I guess the visual effects studios will recover. The arrival of the virus in India, where many people have been sending work, is still a mystery, and I hope it will be kept under control. The global transition to television as the dominant medium, and our animation studio preparing for its first release, is a more important part of our planning than the effects of the coronavirus. That may change depending on how the virus is controlled outside of China, but within China it is more likely to be part of our past than our future.
We have been in contact with other studios and, like us, they are adapting, planning, working remotely and outsourcing jobs that are critical over time. The industry is quite resilient and is used to this type of interruption or slowdown. We are not a big studio, but we are in five cities in three countries, so we can all adapt, and our peers even more. I'm sure people will still want quality content, demand seems strong, so once the virus is in the back window, things should normalize, which in our world means well-managed chaos.
DEADLINE: You work on projects around the world: how much of your business is in China and how much is international?
BREMBLE We have a unique balance between film and television, live action and animation, China and Hollywood. On a typical day, I am watching newspapers in a US broadcast series. A movie from China, a movie from the USA. USA, a European animated film and something developed in our studio. We have teams in Los Angeles, Beijing, Xiamen, Wuxi, and Kuala Lumpur. Tracking and managing everything isn't the easiest task, and we'll work to rebalance teams a bit, but we're very agile when it comes to getting the job done.
DEADLINE: It seems that the virus situation is improving in China, do you hope that production will resume soon?
BREMBLE I am hopeful that the Chinese market will rebound, but it will honestly be a year before we see a real appearance of demand, and those first opportunities will be aggressively offered by very cash-hungry studios.
DEADLINE: How are you adapting your business to the situation? Is there anything creative I can do to support the future of your company?
BREMBLE We started adapting in 2012, when we formed our Strategic Alliance with ILM and Lucasfilm. I certainly didn't see this moment, but my instincts told me that we needed to diversify and be smart about our business initiatives. We have had some failures, generally due to lack of sufficient capital, but the animation studio has been and will be a success with (Sony Pictures animation project) Wish Dragon, and with Sunac Culture we see that the visual effects business will revive in the next 18 months as we finish our rebalancing. The combination of our relationships in China, our KL office with healthy reimbursement for clients there, and our animation team serving our clients and ourselves should keep us well positioned.
We are also doing all the usual pivots on a day-to-day basis, picking up work that maybe we did not think would take a while, but that is also part of the rebalance for the study: being more agile and creative in our approach to client work.
DEADLINE: Has there been any state support in China for struggling companies?
BREMBLE We have not seen anything in Beijing yet; We have good relations with the municipal governments in Xiamen and Wuxi, but there are limits to what can be done. The people of FINAS in Malaysia (the country's National Film Development Corporation) have been supportive, but then again, I think everyone is dealing with this in real time, so it will take a moment for the government to organize and get closer to the industry.
Let's be honest, there are bigger priorities right now, so we are constantly evaluating the situation to stay strong, trying to find that balance between the health and safety of our team and our community, serving our partners and customers, and working to support the approximately 500 families who seek us for their income and well-employed opportunities.
Stay healthy, safe, and for now … stay away!