Having spent many years working in the VFX business in Australia, South Africa and around the SE Asian region, being involved as a compositor, a VFX supervisor and also in the management of some large projects and companies, I thought this forum was a good place to give my perspective on the state of the regional business – and particularly the opportunities for the Philippines as a major regional force in media and visual effects.
As we all know the state of mainstream feature film VFX is pretty bad – at least as far as the studio-controlled business going to the usual list of major established companies. We’ve seen several high-profile collapses and outrage in the industry because of current pricing models, the push for lower costs and the lack of a strong and cohesive body to help manage the contractual issues and employment conditions. Certainly in Australia, the USA, NZ, Canada and the UK – there is a high level of competitive paranoia, meaning that people and companies will bid against each other to the point of loss, simply to be able to maintain their business as long as possible, whether that’s viable or not. The pay-off supposedly is in credentials and the benefit of having great shots to show for the next pitch.
However, this region is different, both because of the types of markets involved and because of the diversity of languages and cultural specifics. Traditionally individual countries have been pretty closed in terms of looking at opportunities in different markets across the region and fairly low-key in exposing themselves to those outside markets. Having spent many years looking at getting regional work completed in different countries – depending on the technical and creative standards available, I’ve seen many facilities develop and improve their technical capabilities – but in general regional businesses seldom look outward to other markets nor do they think about extending their presence.
Thailand and Malaysia have probably been the most pro-active in terms of providing government support for developing regional collaborative business opportunities in the production of creative content, with an emphasis on legislative support for the development of their domestic creative industries – including large-scale investment in terms of tax incentives, administrative support and educational programs for business owners. The Philippines has not really seen a similar program for creative business but there has been support for the IT and BPO sector, and so the government is clearly open to looking at ways to provide an environment conducive to developing international business in the Philippines.
Right now I’m working with 3 companies in Manila on a large project for an Australian TV series. It was clear that companies in Australia could not provide the quality and volume of services based on the budget and time-frame requirements. Initially 5 Australian companies were asked to bid on this project, and none could comply with the creative conditions for the money and time available. One of those companies presented a Chinese option, which was not really well managed and not a comfortable fit for the producers.
As I was known to the producers and also because of my extensive connections and history in the region, I was asked to find an alternative solution. I approached several companies in Manila to work as a cohesive, managed group, based on their specific capabilities and preferred creative options. This project is now well under way, contracts have been signed and work ongoing. The process is established, managed and files flowing back and forth – CG elements, complete CGI scenes, compositing into live action plates, matte painting, retouch, clean-up. This project is giving both the companies and the creative people an opportunity to work at a different level and to push their skills and future potential to new heights – and for the Philippine VFX industry as a whole to be seen as a viable alternative in different markets.
There are several reasons why this project is moving forward and will be successful for those involved. Firstly there’s a strong level of trust because of the way the project is managed locally with a single point of contact on the ground. Secondly, the Philippines has an incredibly strong creative basis, great talent and innovative ideas – there are many well-trained people in the industry here and there is a strong and ethical business structure to manage the legal relationships required. Next is the fact that people here see that being collaborative is not an impediment when sharing in a large project – each company benefits from the work of the others as it reflects on the finished product. Another advantage is that the business environment in the Philippines is conducive to dealing with overseas business entities in terms of legal and payment structures. And lastly the fact that English is so widely spoken and understood, which makes the sharing and management of creative requirements a key element for companies outside of the country.
The bottom line is that the Philippines is well placed to take advantage of regional work and has fantastic options in terms of creative talent, technical facilities, business attitudes and organizational structures. This project is a great example of what is possible for the Philippine VFX industry with appropriate vision, energy, business attitudes and management processes. Developing trust, providing creative solutions and being responsive with feedback and direction are the key elements which give the Philippines a solid platform to move successfully into other markets. The Philippines is pretty stable politically and economically, and with the right support from the local industry is an attractive and competitive solution for many of the media producers in the Asia-Pacific region.