Spotlight : September 1997

Boss Calls It Quits: The Industry Reacts
By Todd Vaziri

Many people within the visual effects industry were stunned to hear that the 14-year veteran effects house, Boss Film Studios announced they are closing their doors forever (8-26-97). Sustaining an independent effects house within today's competitive environment took its toll on the company. Today's risks involving feature film production, with rising salaries, always-changing technologies, and the skyrocketing costs of purchasing and maintaining technology, coupled with the uncertainty of the pending workload (not to mention the studios' belt-tightening) make this an uncertain time for the industry.

With Boss Film out of the way, the further stratification of the industry continues. The absence of Boss means there is one less heavyweight company that can handle an entire film's visual effects. The mid-sized effects company is dying, while the big boys and the specialty shops continue to thrive in this current climate.

Founder Richard Edlund told the L.A. Times, "We're averaging about $20 million [in revenue] a year, and it's not enough to pay the lease, pay the staff and still make a profit."

Effects companies typically enjoy very small profit margins, due to the many uncertainties of the industry. In addition to the massive amounts of money houses shell out to artists, software licenses, hardware upgrades and in-house research and development, houses cannot realistically depend on a steady stream of profitable projects to fund these expensive undertakings.

One effects artist who helped found a small, boutique shop told me, "I think that it shows that overhead kills; BOSS had made a very substantial investment in equipment and software, and those costs made it impossible to ride the roller coaster of the industry."

Some people within the industry think its unfair to blame the overhead costs for the demise of effects houses; one supervisor told me, "this is a business first and foremost, yet people continue to bid projects without enough money or time in the budget to get the work done right and make a profit... The business as a whole had better wake up and figure out the true costs of doing business (people, overhead, hardware and software upgrades, sliding deadlines) and start charging accordingly, or we will be seeing a lot more of this."

Boss Film will be sorely missed; they created wonderful images for many years, and developed a respect unparalleled in the industry. Most of that respect is earned by Boss' founder, four-time Oscar winner Richard Edlund. An effects artist told me, "He has such a tremendous background of experience in film that most companies don't have."

Indeed, the legacy of Boss Film Studios will irrevocably linked to Edlund. Another artist who once worked at Boss remarked, "Boss was Richard Edlund. He is an amazing artist and engineer. A true renaissance man."

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