TV, film production houses feel effects of economy

In a sure sign of summer, effects-driven tentpoles are crowding the multiplexes. But as the studios try to outdo each other with eye-popping visuals, race to meet tight release schedules and fight to hold down costs, their effects suppliers are feeling the pain of overwork and underpayment — a disturbing trend chronicled by Variety’s David Cohen (Variety, May 25).

Effects houses whose clients include TV series also face issues of compressed workloads, but the ebb and flow of their business is different. While TV has pitfalls of its own — shows going on hiatus or being suddenly cancelled — it also brings steady work that, on a successful series, can last for years.

Entity FX created effects for CW’s “Smallville” for nine seasons and was prepared for the series’ end date of May 13. “We’ve been doing several other projects while working on ‘Smallville,’ ” said Entity producer Trent Smith. TV shows that have filled the pipeline include CW’s “Vampire Diaries” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”

Smith said Entity, like other houses, has structured itself for peaks and valleys, relying on a freelance pool to expand its workforce from a core dozen to as many as 90.

Effects house Zoic Studios, which built much of its business around episodics, lost the recently canceled ABC sci-fi skein “V.” The company had sunk lots of R&D coin into the series, said vfx supervisor Andrew Orloff. “We developed new technology for it. It’s a risk you take, and you have to look at it as investing in a product rather than in a single show. When ‘V’ got cancelled our system became available for other shows. One of them came over and said, ‘Hey, we have a different application for it. Come do that for us.’ ”

Just as they can experience the heartbreak of cancellation, execs and artists working on TV effects sometimes savor the satisfaction of a spinoff.

Look Effects had done vfx on six seasons of Fox’s “Bones” when the network ordered 13 episodes of a new series, “The Finder,” based on a “Bones” character introduced in season six. Look is handling effects for that show as well, which is slated for the 2011-12 season.

“The great thing about television is that it can allow a constant level of income to come in throughout the year,” said Look vfx supervisor Christian Cardona.

Like Entity and Zoic, Look remains flexible to quickly staff up or down depending on work volume. “We run a week-to-week type of operation,” Cardona said. “With a feature you know upfront the magnitude of the work and can staff accordingly. In TV, every episode can present a different amount of work.”

But even in television, the difficulties are similar to those of houses working mainly on features, Smith said. “Everyone always wants to get the most that they can, and in TV there’s even less time than on a feature to get stuff done.”

“It’s always been a challenge to get effects done on a TV schedule when everyone is asking for movie-size effects,” said “Smallville” showrunner Kelly Souders, who collaborated with Entity for nine seasons. “At Entity they had 10 pots of coffee going all the time.”

Bookings & Signings

Paradigm booked producers Charlie Goldstein on HBO pilot “More as the Story Develops,” Henry Lange (returning) on Fox’s “Raising Hope,” Margot Lulick on CBS’ “Person of Interest,” Jimmy Simons on NBC’s “Free Agents” and Craig Wyrick-Solari on Disney Channel’s “Austin & Ally”; d.p.’s Mark Doering-Powell on ABC Family’s “Jane by Design,” Mark Irwin on Nicholas Kalikow’s “Concrete Blondes,” Crescenzo Notarile and Christian Sebaldt (returning) on CBS’ “CSI,” Cynthia Pusheck on ABC’s “Revenge” and Giovani Lampassi on “Free Agents.”

Agency booked editors Craig Herring on Judd Apatow’s “This Is Forty,” Scott Gamzon on ABC’s “Good Christian Belles,” Elena Maganini on NBC’s “The Playboy Club,” Kevin Ross on NBC’s “Up All Night” and Mark Conte on “Persons of Interest”; production designers Kitty Doris-Bates on “Up All Night,” Maher Ahmad on Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad,” Seth Reed on Josh Schwartz’s “Fun Size” and John Hansen on “Revenge”; and costume designers Jenny Gering on Daryl Wein’s “Lola Versus” and Robert Blackman on “Good Christian Belles.”

iTalent booked production designers Mark Freeborn on Fox’s “Alcatraz” and Michael Gallenberg on NBC’s “The Office”; costume designer Claire Breaux on Ryuhie Kitamura’s “No One Lives”; and editors Lance Anderson on CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” Jamie Gross on David Wain’s “Wanderlust” and Peter Frank on CBS’ “Blue Bloods.”

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