It’s been a bad week for post-production in Los Angeles. First came word that the 11-year-old Asylum VFX house was closing its doors. Next, word came that Digital Domain had purchased stereo-3D specialist In-Three and was moving its operations to Florida. And finally, Variety reported that Technicolor was going to quit striking 35mm release prints in the U.S., consolidating its North Hollywood operations into a facility in Canada. I spoke this afternoon to the head of Asylum VFX, Nathan McGuinness, to ask what went wrong for his company.
StudioDaily: When we spoke last Thursday [for Film & Video‘s story about Unstoppable], did you have an idea what was coming this week?
Nathan McGuinness: We’ve fought pretty hard for the last eight months. I didn’t exactly know that it was going to happen because I was looking at other options for people to help Asylum. I just couldn’t fathom the idea of having to basically disassemble the culture of Asylum. Anything I had as an offer was never going to preserve the way Asylum has done things for the last 11 years. It was too sad for me to do this, and at the end of the day I’d rather just give the artists the decision to go wherever they need to go.
So what happened?
What happened was we couldn’t compete with the rest of the world. We couldn’t compete with the tax incentives from other countries. The work I’ve seen coming from around the world, the U.K. especially, is stellar. Amazing. We could do the same, but we weren’t given the same playing field. The last days of Asylum, we were on the back foot trying to get forward. We were at capacity, with so much commercial work going on, movies prepping and movies running. It really confused the staff. “Why is Nathan saying we’ll shut the doors today?” It didn’t make any sense to people. But the problem for us is, being an independently run and funded company, I couldn’t — I just couldn’t keep up any longer.
In order to keep the work coming through, and to be competitive, did you feel you had to undercut yourself?
We weren’t necessarily undercutting. We couldn’t afford to. The business is a business, and there is only so far we can compete until we lose money. It was a combination of many elements — competing with the overseas markets, not being able to get work we were hoping we could get. I don’t feel the governor or the U.S. government was doing enough to make us feel like we were on an equal playing field with the rest of the world.
Of course, the corporations can survive through the times when movies finish and then the downtime. But we just couldn’t do it. My wife and I ran this company for 11 years, job by job. We had no outside help when it came to financial backing. Emma and myself had everything on the line, personally. And we lost everything.
But I wouldn’t do it any differently. I think that we treated our people well. We felt that we were doing the best we could for the visual-effects community as we know it. We were very proud of our independence, we were very proud of the way we treated our staff, and we were very proud of our work.
How many did you have on staff?
Somewhere around 100. We tried to downsize a little bit. We tried to do everything we could without hurting artists, and without hurting the environment we’ve created over the last 11 years. But not in my wildest dreams did I think this was going to happen to us.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?
No, I don’t. Obviously, right now, I’m trying to deal with the legalities of doing what we’ve had to do. I’m a visionary and a dreamer. I love films, and I love visual effects, and I love what I’ve done for these 13 years since I came to Hollywood from Australia. I need to keep going forward with my dreams. I need to work on great movies and create great effects. Is that working for a company or working for myself? Is that rising like a phoenix from the ashes? I don’t know right now. I’m worn out. I just hope people can embrace me and realize I’ve tried to care for people’s work and care for the directors and care for the quality of what’s come out of here. That’s what I do best.
Walking through these hallways right now with no one in them is just unbelievable for me. I’m weak at the knees.
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