10 Ways to Look at the Oscar Nominations

I say there are two kinds of people in this world — people who believe that the Oscars are a reliable indicator of quality filmmaking, and people who regard them as a congratulatory and vaguely embarrassing act of naked self-promotion on the part of Hollywood. OK, there's a fairly broad spectrum of opinion in the middle, but mostly I'm betting that you lean one way or another. And either way, if you find yourself nominated for one, or even seriously in the running, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to stay blasé about the prospect. No matter how you feel about them, the Oscars offer a fascinating look at how Hollywood feels about itself. It's like a long-running series of journal entries that records for posterity what Academy members found most impressive about filmmaking in any given year—not to mention what kind of campaign tactics might be used to influence their votes in years to come. So what do today's Oscar nominations tell us?

Michael Keaton and Naomi Watts in Birdman

Hollywood Loves a Mirror
If you're looking for Oscars, you could do a lot worse than making your movie about movies, music, or the theater. The backstage intrigue of Birdman and Whiplash follows in the footsteps of other contemporary Best Picture winners that look at the art of performance — ArgoThe Artist, and Shakespeare in Love all mined similar territory.
 

Steve Carell in <i>Foxcatcher</i>

When In Doubt, Wow ’Em with a Prosthetic
Oscar loves a transformation. So it's no wonder that Steve Carell won a nomination for a role in Foxcatcher that required him to spend two hours in make-up every day and wear a fake nose. Of course, the part also represents a departure from his usual role as a comic, which can only help his chances. Nicole Kidman won her one and only Oscar to date for The Hours, in which she donned her own fake schnozz to play Virginia Woolf. Carell has a good shot at following in those, uh, nose-steps.
 

Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, and Tony Revolori in The Grand Budapest Hotel

December Is a Wasteful Prestige-Movie Pile-Up
The end-of-year Oscar-qualifying run is a ritual for award hopefuls, and this year no fewer than nine Oscar-contending movies opened between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. But Oscar nominations were led by The Grand Budapest Hotel, which hit theaters back in March, and Birdman, which made its film festival debuts in August on the way to an October theatrical release. Both films earned nine nominations. With eight nominations, The Imitation Game was close behind. That film opened in November, but benefited (like Birdman) from a long, buzz-building festival run in the fall. American Sniper did well, but other Christmas releases like Big Eyes, Selma, Unbroken, and Into the Woods came up short. Oscars aside, is it really healthy for the industry to shoehorn so many movies aimed at thoughtful, quality-seeking audiences into December?
 

David Oyelowe and ensemble in Selma

Screeners Matter
One of the most critically acclaimed and even topical movies of the year, Selma, was nearly shut out of the Oscars — an odd situation, especially when you consider that one of the only two nominations it earned was for the top award of Best Picture. (The other was Best Original Song.) Selma, an intense, well-acted, and moving biopic of a beloved American figure, is exactly the kind of movie you'd expect the Academy to go for. So what happened? It's true that Selma's chances were hurt by a controversy over the film's treatment of President Johnson, whom it portrays as reluctant to push for voting-rights legislation in the immediate aftermath of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it may have been more severely damaged by Paramount's failure to get screeners in the hands of the Guild members who help drive voting in categories like Best Actor and Best Director. According to Variety, DVDs of the film weren't ready until December 18, too late for SAG voting in any case, and were only sent to AMPAS and BAFTA members. If studios want Oscars, they need to have their movies ready to screen early and often.
 

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Marvel Movies Are Driving Innovative VFX Work
In the one Oscar category that tends to recognize blockbuster motion pictures, Visual Effects, the results are dominated by superhero movies. And not just any superhero movies. Three out of five of the VFX nominees — Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past — are Marvel movies. And they earned recognition in a tough field, crowding out big-ticket contenders including Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In fact, of director Peter Jackson's six J.R.R. Tolkien movies, this is the first and only one to fail to pick up a nomination for its VFX work. With Avengers: Age of UltronAnt Man, and The Fantastic Four on tap for 2015, it seems like Marvel movies are positioned to shoot for at least another two nominations next year. After that? Ball's in your court, Batman v Superman.
 

Roger Deakins with Angelina Jolie on the set of Unbroken

We Love Roger Deakins. Just Not Quite Enough.
Amazingly, Unbroken has earned Roger Deakins his 12th Academy Award nomination. More unbelievably, he has never won. That's right — according to Oscar, Deakins is the most consistently excellent living cinematographer never to have done the best shooting in a given year. Actually, the best explanation is probably that the nominees for this category are actually selected by the Academy's cinematography branch, while the winners are selected by a full Academy vote, and it's cinematographers who are most likely to gravitate to Deakins' work. He has three ASC Awards under his belt, after all, compared to his zero Oscars. By the way, Deakins is not the most-nominated cinematographer to never get an Oscar. That dubious honor goes to the late George J. Folsey, who earned 13 nominations between the years of 1932/1933 (when he was nominated for Reunion in Vienna) and 1963 (The Balcony). What about the title of most Oscar-nominated cinematographer ever? That one is shared by Leon Shamroy and Charles B. Lang Jr., both of whom earned 18 nominations. Shamroy translated all that recognition into four wins, while Lang won the Oscar only once, for A Farewell to Arms (1932).
 

Jennifer Aniston in <i>Cake</i>

You Can't Force a Nomination
Many observers thought Jennifer Aniston had locked up an Oscar nomination for her role in Cake, following an unusually aggressive awards-season campaign that drew the attention of boosters and detractors alike. But Aniston was left off the Oscars shortlist this morning — conventional wisdom has it that she lost her spot to Marion Cotillard, who got a mostly unexpected nomination for her lead role in Two Days, One Night, a Belgian film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. No offense to Aniston, but recognizing Cotillard's performance proves that the Academy is, at least at times, well capable of ignoring the pundits and looking beyond the U.S. movie industry.
 

Chadwick Boseman in <i>Get On Up</i>

Maybe It Was a Bad Year for Black Actors … and Maybe It Wasn't
2015 is only the third time in the last 20 years that all 20 nominees in performance categories have been white. This seems worth remarking on partly because it illustrates how fragile the idea of diversity in Hollywood filmmaking really is—recognition for just one or two films can really tip the balance. Imagine that Selma had been finished a month earlier, so that Paramount could have promoted it more strongly to SAG members and gotten a nomination for David Oyelowo's performance as Martin Luther King. Or that director Tate Taylor's unconventional James Brown biopic Get On Up (his follow-up to Best Picture nominee The Help) had earned enough critical praise to make Chadwick Boseman and Nelsan Ellis (and perhaps Viola Davis) contenders in the acting categories. You can't trust the Academy to tell the whole story.
 

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in <i>Interstellar</i>

Yeah, We Can Hear Matthew McConaughey Just Fine, Thank You Very Much
2015's biggest controversy in theatrical exhibition turned out not to be the decision to open Interstellar early in theaters that could stay play film prints. Instead, it was the film's sound that had some viewers complaining that dialogue had been rendered inaudible in the thunderous mix. It was never clear how much the griping online translated to dissatisfaction among the larger moviegoing audience, but at least one movie theater actually posted a sign in the lobby insisting that "all of our sound equipment is functioning properly" and that "This is how [Interstellar] is supposed to sound," an apparent response to complaints. Movie sound professionals, however, don't hear a problem. The film's Academy Award nominations for sound editing and sound mixing will serve as a historical record of the cinema sound community's feelings about Interstellar's sound mix.
 

Ben Affleck and David Fincher shooting <i>Gone Girl</i>

Being the World's Most Tech-Savvy, Detail-Oriented, Envelope-Pushing Perfectionist Director in Hollywood Won't Necessarily Get You an Oscar Nomination, Even When Your Film Makes $350 Million Worldwide and Has an 88 Percent Approval Rating at RottenTomatoes.com, Plus a Best Actress Nomination
Sorry, man. #teamfincher

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For the First Time, All of the Oscar Nominees Will Be Announced Live on TV, Webcast

Good news for cinematographers, film editors, VFX artists and other behind-the-scenes, below-the-line creative talent — for the first time ever, the traditional early-morning announcement of Oscar nominees will include all categories.

That's right. When the program begins at 5:30 a.m. PT / 8:30 a.m. ET this Thursday, presenters Alfonso Cuarón and J.J. Abrams will start by announcing nominees in 11 categories including film editing, sound, and VFX. Eight minutes later, Chris Pine and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs will announce nominees in the remaining 13 categories, including cinematography alongside the awards for performance, direction, screenwriting and Best Picture.

Roger Deakins with Angelina Jolie on the set of Unbroken

So you won't need to go online immediately just to figure out whether Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, CBE, (pictured, above, with director Angelina Jolie) earned an astonishing twelfth Oscar nomination for his work on Unbroken. The world will know if William Goldenberg is competing with himself once again, this time for editing both Unbroken and The Imitation Game. And the move should give a well-deserved boost to the Oscars' "technical categories," including increased visibilty for popular titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 that aren't likely to compete for acting, direction, or screenplay honors.

More than 400 members of the press are expected to cover the nomination announcement in person, and both segments will reportedly be carried live on ABC's Good Morning America. If you're nowhere near a TV, the Academy said the announcement will also be carred at its website: www.oscars.org/live.

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CES 2015: Top 10 Tech Takeaways

CES may be a consumer technology show, but there's a lot going on this year that's helping put consumer gear on the cutting edge of the market. In case you didn't make it out to Vegas for the annual confab, here's a summary of some of the major developments this year. We'll steer clear of the powered rollerskates, the connected toothbrush, and the bizarre smart belt that loosens or tightens depending on how much you had for dinner. Instead, we'll concentrate on video screens, computer hardware, and other developments that may have the biggest ramifications for production, post-production, and, yes, consumption of movies, TV, and more.

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OLED is squaring off against quantum-dot LCD.
For a while, it looked like OLED was going to be the next big thing in consumer TVs. Now, it's far from a sure thing — within the last year or so, Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung have all abandoned plans to push into OLED production in a big way. That leaves LG as the single biggest marketer of OLED screens, which are best-known for achieving much deeper black levels and wider viewing angles than their LCD counterparts. At CES, LG introduced seven different 4K OLED TVs, ranging in sice from 55 to 77 inches. But the mood was a little tense, with CNet reporting that LG took public swipes at the quantum-dot LCD backlighting technology favored by Samsung. And Samsung, in turn, is said to have cast doubt on LG's ability to deliver the quantum-dot sets that it has promised in March. That's a problem because OLED panels still command too high a price to be a truly mass-market item — the new sets haven't been priced yet, but LG's previously announced 77-inch 4K curved OLED screen, the 77EG9700, has an MSRP of $25,000. (Compare that to Samsung's HU9000 series 78-inch 4K TV that lists for $9,000.) Further Reading: War of the words at CES over what's best for TV [CNet]

4K is set to be the new mainstream.
Ultra High Definition officially became A Thing in Hollywood with the formation of the UHD Alliance. The coalition of companies — including studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, and others — plans to set standards for 4K and higher resolution, HDR, expanded color gamuts, and "immersive 3D audio." Presumably the UHDA will also be looking at delivery mechanisms for all those improvements in picture and sound, and that's why UHDA member company Panasonic brought what it described as the world's first 4K Blu-ray player to CES. Panasonic's prototype Ultra HD Blu-ray player features support for UHD video at up to 10-bit and 60p, HDR, BT.2020 color, and H.265 compression peaking at 100 Mbps. But it's anybody's guess as to whether Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will ever see the light of day. Much more attention was paid at the show to 4K support from companies like Netflix, Roku, and Vimeo. With options for 4K LCD TVs expanding, prices dropping, and at least a steady trickle of content being made available, 4K is becoming the new HD. Not to be outdone, Samsung had an 8K TV prototype on hand that included glasses-free 3D, which makes the most of the available resolution. Further Reading: Hollywood Studios, Consumer Electronics Brands, Content Distributors, Post-Production and Technology Companies Announce UHD Alliance [Press Release] | Panasonic shows off first 4K Blu-ray player, but can discs survive another standard transition? [ExtremeTech] | Samsung's 110-inch 8K glassesless 3DTV is beautiful and awful [Gizmodo]

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Virtual reality is still not a reality.
2015 is widely expected to be the year of VR gear like the hotly anticipated Oculus Rift 3D headset, but reporters at CES have been underwhelmed. "Gadget makers, having promised for years to bring a truly fantastic VR game to market, appear not to be there yet," griped the New York Post. Engadget called the Oculus Rift's still unannounced ship date "the elephant in the room" and complained that "to date, we've seen zero input solutions for VR that are worth anything." More and more content creators are getting busy creating virtual worlds for the emerging VR platform—but it's hard to tell whether a consumer version will be released in time for the next holiday selling season. Further Reading: Virtual reality headsets still a virtual disappointment [New York Post] | The challenges ahead for Oculus VR as it creates the consumer rift [Engadget]

Drones: the next generation.
The new darling of adventurous airborne cinematographers everywhere is also a compelling consumer product, given the enduring popular fascination with remote-control vehicles. Drones weren't anything like the hottest product on the CES show floor, but they had their moments in the spotlight. GoPro founder and CEO Nick Woodman spoke at a CES dinner event last night and came this close to confirming that his company was working on its own camera drone. Instead, he sounded a cautionary note regarding efforts to regulate drone flight. "There needs to be some regulation to keep it safe, but we need room to allow the industry to blossom," he said, according to a Forbes.com report. "It's easy to focus on how things can go wrong, but we need to make sure we allow things to go right. A drone with a GoPro is much safer than a helicopter with a crew and a large, heavy camera." Meanwhile, DJI showcased some of the applications that have been created using the SDK it released last year, including one from Pix4D that turns a drone into a measuring tool for mapping purposes and another from PixiePath that allows multiple drones to be controlled simultaneously. Further Reading: GoPro CEO talks drones, innovation and the future at CES [Forbes] | DJI wants you to develop software for their drones [Popular Science]

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Type-C may finally be USB done right.
One of the more innocuous standards that emerged at CES is the USB Type-C connector, which improves on previous generations of USB in important ways. First, it's reversible, which means you no longer have to check the alignment of your cable every single time you plug in a USB device to make sure you're not sticking it in upside-down. Second, it's part of the USB 3.1 spec, which doubles the maximum transfer rate to 10 Gbps. And finally, it can deliver up to 100 watts of power. It's starting to show up on components like motherboards and tablet computers, according to PCWorld — and it's the only data connectivity on those rumored redesigned MacBook Airs. Further Reading: The reversible USB Type-C connector is turning heads at CES [PCWorld]

The camera car of the future may be driverless.
It was the year of the driverless car at CES, even though self-piloting automotive technology still looks to be about five years out. Luxury brands like Mercedes Benz and Tesla Motors will likely be among the first to bring autonomous cars to market, while Ford CEO Mark Fields told The Wall Street Journal he's more interested in making an affordable version of what will initially be very high-end technology. Stunt performers probably don't like the technology any more than heli pilots like camera drones, but the potential benefits on a movie shoot are pretty compelling — imagine a camera vehicle that could keep in perfect speed-sync with the hero car, or get ridiculously close to the action without putting a human driver in peril. Further Reading: Ford chief says mass-market autonomous vehicle is priority [The Wall Street Journal]

Intel Compute Stick

Computers get smaller.
Dell got a lot of press for its new XPS 13 laptop, which uses a new thin-bezel design that maximizes the space available for a 13-inch screen in a form factor that's more typical of an 11-inch computer. It's an Ultrabook, not a full-on PC workstation, but for everyday PC tasks, it offers a bigger screen in a smaller form factor than before. And if you want a computer you can carry around in your pocket, check out the new Intel Compute Stick. For $149, you get an HDMI stick with an Atom Z3735F Bay Trail processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 32 GB of flash storage running Windows 8.1 For $89, the Linux version has 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of built-in storage. Depending on how much video-crunching power it actually has, this might just be workable as a cheap, universal playback solution. You'll have to bring your own input device, but with the Metro interface on Windows 8.1, a Bluetooth mouse should work well. Big drawback? You need to power it via MicroUSB. It's supposed to show up in March. Further Reading: Dell blows us away with their near bezel-less XPS 13 Ultrabook [Windows Central] | Intel introduces Compute Stick with Atom quad-core CPU [ZDNet]

Solid-state storage gets speedier.
The big evolutionary change in SSDs is the move from the SATA interface to PCIe, which allows new drives like the just-announced Samsung SM951 drive to reach read speeds of more than 2,000 MB/sec and write speeds of more than 1,500 MB/sec on PCIe 3.0 — around four times faster than SATA-based SSDs. That will pay dividends inside laptop cases, where the smaller eSATA-based SSDs leave more space for other components, like the always-important battery. On the desktop side, Kingston introduced the HyperX Predator PCIe SSD, which is bootable via standard AHCI drivers and boasts read speeds of up to 1,400 MB/sec and write speeds of up to 1,000 MB/sec on PCIe 2.0. Further Reading: Samsung's ludicrously fast PCIe SSD uses almost no power in standby mode [PCWorld] | Kingston unleashes its first PCIe SSD with 1.4 Gbps speed [ComputerWorld]

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Sports fans finally get a viable cord-cutting option.
It's long been a fact of life: if you want ESPN, you've got to get cable TV. Until now. This week, Dish announced that it's new Sling TV web service will allow subscribers to watch ESPN and ESPN 2, along with a handful of other cable channels, online for $20/month. Another one of cable TV's biggest guns, HBO, recently announced that it will soon be available as an a la carte service that will be especially attractive to viewers who crave Game of Thrones and Girls but not much else their local provider has on offer. Are these two offerings harbingers of the future of television? Almost certainly, yes. But don't expect the transition to be painless—subscribers to online streaming services will still have to buy their bandwidth somewhere, and the relationship between bandwidth-hungry content providers like Netflix and the nation's ISPs (which are often the cable companies themselves) hasn't always been completely friendly. HBO, in particular, will have a lot of infrastructure to build out as it starts serving customers directly, rather than through the traditional industry middleman. These are early days, but it's hard to see this particular trend reversing. Further Reading: Dish's new Sling TV Internet TV service starts at $20, features ESPN, Disney Channel, CNN, TNT, and other channels [CNet]

Wait a minute—Apple wasn't even at CES!
Apple has a way of becoming part of any consumer electronics conversation, especially given the dominance of its iOS devices and the sci-fi appeal of the upcoming Apple Watch. But despite the company's absence from Vegas and the lack of any product announcements, Apple was still the talk of the town, thanks to widely reported rumors this week about a new, single-port USB Type-C redesign for the MacBook Air and a possible March launch for the company's aforementioned timepiece. No wonder Apple doesn't have a booth at either CES or NAB, given that everyone's speculating about what they're up to, regardless. Further Reading: Apple's next major Mac revealed [9to5Mac] | Apple Watch launch expected in March [9to5Mac]

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Read Oscar-Contending Screenplays from 2014 Films

Ah, December. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, and Hollywood screenplays on the Internet. It's that time of year when the scripts that served as blueprints for the season's prestige films are placed online so that Academy voters, guild members, and critics groups can have a look as they wrestle with the question of which titles are awards-worthy. It's a generous gesture that makes it easier for scriptwriters at all levels of the industry to study the work of the writers they admire. Enjoy the reading material, and check back through Oscar season — we'll update the page with any last-minute contenders that make it online.

Belle

Belle
Written by Misan Sagay

Big Eyes
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

Birdman
Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls
Written By Irena Brignull and Adam Pava
Based on the book Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow

Boyhood
Written by Richard Linklater

Calvary
Written by John Michael McDonagh

Dear White People
Written by Justin Simien

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Based on the novel by John Green

Get On Up
Story by Steven Baigelman and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth
Screenplay by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth

Gone Girl
Screenplay by Gillian Flynn
Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Screenplay by Wes Anderson
Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
By Dean DeBlois
Inspired by the novels by Cressida Cowell

The Imitation Game
Written by Graham Moore
Based on Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Into the Woods
Screenplay by James Lapine
Music and Lyrucs by Stephen Sondheim
Based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine

Kill the Messenger
By Peter Landesman

Locke

Locke
By Steven Knight

A Most Violent Year
By J.C. Chandor

St. Vincent (de Van Nuys)
By Theodore Melfi

The Theory of Everything
Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

Unbroken
Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen and Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson
Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand

Wild

Wild
Screenplay by Nick Hornby

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Stay Employable: A Primer for Established VFX Artists

Staying employed in the same place is really tough these days. I'm not sure how much the California tax incentives are going to help. They won't make a dent at Sony Imageworks, because Sony doesn't pay state taxes anyway. Others, it will help—but not like the massive incentives elsewhere.

Staying employable in the same city involves several factors. First, if you can stay where you are, that is likely your best bet, but only key people can do that. So become a key person. Second, the game industry in L.A. and other cities is, for the most part, reasonably stable. You might get hired for a single game development, but it can take years and if you're a good, desirable employee, you're going to be kept on for the next project. If your game catches on, you could be employed on it for years. It's expensive for companies to develop new people. So make yourself desirable. I talk about how to do these things, so read on.

Motion graphics is a booming field and can offer reasonable stable work. It may lack the glamor of working on a big picture, but hey…maybe you'll see your work on the next Super Bowl.

Because of the high number of transferable skills among visual media industries, you can, with a little tweaking, make yourself employable across genres.

There are a few things that you don't have much control over, and these are the natural talent areas. Do you have an eye for design? An artist's sense of proportion? A feel for technology? And lots more. So, first off, and most difficult/least fun: you have to do an honest inventory of your personal skills. Where do your talents lie?

Know yourself
Few of us are really good at accurate self assessment. Our egos get involved with our passions, and that can distort our perceptions. It is also almost impossible to get a good assessment from external sources. Friends are often the worst source of honest critique. So it's up to you. If you find honest criticism too painful and it puts you in defensive mode, you have a serious problem.

Learning what you're good at is key to survival. Nobody is to work in areas of weakness.

I am often asked to give my honest critique of animation and VFX work. If it's not positive, I get one of two responses: anger or thanks. The ones who are appreciative, and understand that I'm not trying to hurt them, usually do exceedingly well. The ones who get angry or hurt, and feel attacked, rarely go very far at all. Learning what you're good at is key to survival. When I ran a multinational company several years ago, I had a rule: nobody is to work in areas of weakness. As employees discovered what they were not good at, often due to supervisor feedback, they were given learning opportunities to improve, but it was not made a condition of employment. This approach was very successful. Perhaps you find ways to refine your skills through honest self-assessment. 

A major mistake many of us make is trying to work in the more glamorous parts of the industry, where our talents do not lie. Armed with a reasonably accurate self-assessment, you will be in a better position to judge where you would be most wise to invest learning time to expand your repertory of skills. Put aside your need to work on the cool stuff unless you truly have talent in those areas. Perhaps you can develop skills you need to capture the glamor. 

Know how to sell yourself across genres
I often teach a seminar on "how to get a job in animation or VFX." Some of those essential points will help you, even if you have a lot of experience under your belt. Some of the most poorly prepared demo reels I've seen were from talented, veteran VFX people out on the market again. I saw one today in fact. 

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Only show your best work…ever.
  2. Keep it simple and short.
  3. Clearly identify your specific contribution to shots, if not originally yours.
  4. Do not assume that whoever is seeing your reel can figure out what you did. They won't make the effort. (Trust me. I know.)
  5. Never imply you did work that you did not. You will get found out. 
  6. Target your demo reels to the job you're looking for.

Target your Reels
Yes, in this market you may need two or three demo reels targeted to specific areas within our industry. You have to decide where your crossover skills lie and where you are developing. For example, three areas that can strongly overlap are VFX animator, motion graphics designer and game animator. These are just examples. There are many more overlaps that you can look for, and some of the employment groups like Zerply can help you work these things out. 

If these three areas interest you, it would be wise of you to lay out a spreadsheet, identifying crossover skills that fit you. Next, lay out skills that interest you and that you know you can handle. For this latter area, you should start building professional skills. For example, if you mostly work in 3D and know those tools well, but work is scarce, you might want to consider learning After Effects for motion graphics work. After Effects is now a full-bore 3D application with plugins like Video Copilot's excellent Element, and C4D Lite is actually included with AE. Conversely, if you know AE, you might want to learn Nuke or Avid. More crossover.

thousands

Immerse yourself in online learning from places like Video Copilot, Digital Tutors and Lynda.com. Bring all your creative wisdom into the new application. With your professional experience, you should be able to create a killer targeted demo reel specific to the motion graphics industry. Read that again. Pay attention to the “killer” part.

There are thousands of mundane motion graphics demo reels online. Don't let yours be one of them. In my experience, you could go to YouTube and learn all about what you don't want out there. There is so much boring motion-graphic crap online that it could rot your mind. So much of it all looks the same. Watch some of it and don't do it.

But every once in a while you come across a motion graphic gem that is in a class by itself. "Ascension" by Chris Lavelle is an abstract music video I came across. A beautiful, lyrical, personal project in AE, it shows that Chris has talent. Just watching it, you may even be inspired. 

Learn what the different genres are looking for, and what skills you'll need. Here's a great web reference from Rendaa Studios that will help you prepare to switch to motion graphics.

Tip: Avoid copying Video Copilot Andrew Kramer's brilliant work. Thousands of people have already done that. Also, never put the results of a Kramer tutorial into your demo reel. They're all well-known. Put your own Ideas to work. Take the time and effort to be creative. Be different, make it difficult, and do it well. Difficult will be noticed. Make them wonder how it was done.

Want to be creative? Get inspired! If you've been in the industry for a while, you may well be stale and not realize it. As implied earlier, Google gives us many opportunities to be inspired by brilliant work amid the dregs. They may open up new channels of creative thought in you.

Be a great employee
Let's say you have, or just landed, an interesting job. Be a good employee. In talking recently with HR people in games, animation and VFX, I discovered that there are a fair number of toxic employees out there who have a lot of talent and manage to keep getting employed, but they don't stay long. You may be one of them and not know it.

Toxic employees depend on their often-exceptional skills to keep them employed. But that only goes so far.

I honestly believe that most of these people have no idea what a rotten apple they really are. They cause problems, especially when they get into a position of supervising others. What are their characteristics? They are usually charming to your face and smack-talk you behind your back. If you do that to people, you'll get discovered and dumped. Toxics tend to use social media to bad-talk people at work as well as the studio or house or game company itself. They tend to gossip a lot on the job, especially talking trash about other employees and the supervisors. They often do it anonymously … but you can sort of tell who's doing it. They depend on their often-exceptional skills to keep them employed, but that only goes so far. They are often self-righteous and moan about being underappreciated. Last but not least, some Toxics tend to find ways to avoid actually doing their job and take credit for others' work. They are great at putting on a show of how valuable they think they are.

It can take a year for a company to discover a clever Toxic employee but, when they do, they will take steps to eliminate you. So if you are this kind of person, either make some serious changes to your personality or get used to frequent job changes and eventual blackballing. It won't be official, but word passes between studios and houses on this kind of person. I mentioned that I knew two toxic VFX supes and, seriously, I had dozens of people text me with their names. 

What's a desirable employee? It's someone who is a team player, who identifies with the local corporate culture. This person gets along with colleagues and avoids bad mouthing anyone. They do their work skillfully and in a timely manner. If they really like their job, they might send an email…okay, maybe a little kiss-ass…to their supervisors. Iif you're really ballsy, send one to the owners—even if they're overseas.

It's your job to make sure you're paid appropriately. This is regular business and is not bad behavior.

It's relatively easy to be a desirable employee. Show enthusiasm, participate in company teams and events, volunteer to help with company parties. Make an effort to really get to know your co-employees without being annoying about it. Be proud, wear the studio “brag-rags” at parties, avoid talking with others about problems at work. (There are always problems; keep them in-house.) In fact, avoid all gossip about the company it is purely poor form.

It's your job to make sure you're paid appropriately. Good employers should be okay with you discussing your need for an increase. Be reasonable. When you're given a job offer out of house, go to your supervisor and mention the offer. If you'd like to stay, say that and ask them to match it. This is regular business and is not bad behavior. 

Use common sense about being a good employee and you will get noticed. Perhaps it won't be in a big way, but when reduction-in-force time comes, you may just find yourself elevated to core staff. We all strive for that coveted designation. All studios strive to find those best, most valuable employees. It means we are valued and finally have regular employment—at least for a significant time.

If you find yourself walking the streets looking for work, remember this stuff. Make yourself valuable. Bring your skills to a new venue. If you've done major effects on blockbusters, you may think that motion graphics won't be very interesting. Not true. It can be just as exciting and engrossing as crashing alien space vehicles in a Marvel movie.

Wrap
This is a great soapbox for me and for you. If you have ideas about how your colleagues can stay employed in the same city, please share them here. We really all do need to work together to save the film industry in L.A. and to keep ourselves in a stable living situation. Hell, you might even find yourself in a workable relationship!

I wish you all the best of the Holiday Season. I'm taking a break until mid-January to visit with family and friends. However, I'll be looking at situations, software and new creative platforms that we can use to build a better career. Remember, please share your ideas below. You will be appreciated.

-P-

P.S. This just in: for any readers who are just getting started in their careers, here is some wisdom from artists at The Mill.

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