The curse of the digital tiger!

When Life of Pi won the best visual effects Oscar back in 2013, it was a bittersweet victory.  Shortly after the win, the industry saw the collapse of the VFX studio, Rhythm and Hues.  Lots of people lost their jobs.

The following 30 minute documentary explains what happened, and why.

I was checking Twitter yesterday and came across the following tweets:

followed by:

.. which is incredibly disturbing if true. The tweets come from the VFX chapter of BECTU (which is the media & entertainment union here in the UK). I have no reason to disbelieve them as a result.  More information can be found here.

MPC have been fighting unionisation over the past couple of years, but it is nevertheless one of the few companies where employees are members of a union (via BECTU). The VFX sector is one area of the film industry where unionisation has been extremely difficult. Given the costs of VFX which is a highly labour intensive industry, many VFX companies operate to extremely small profit margins. Unionisation is highly unattractive to these companies, and to their clients.

I’ve been talking to a few VFX companies over the past couple of years and my view is that the picture remains bleak, with limited technical resources and staffing costs being a big concern. The smaller boutique companies have had to combine resources to be able to survive (Cinesite & Image Engine springs to mind). For those going alone, you’ll find one member of staff doing one or more jobs. Even the bigger companies have merged (Double Negative with India’s Prime Focus), or bought out (Framestore with China’s Cultural Investment Holdings Co.). And VFX continues to produce significant losses – whether through expansion/R&D (Digital Domain (now owned by a Hong Kong firm) losses double at $64 million) or other means.

Meanwhile, the big corporations that run the film studios continue to get free taxpayer money through the use of film credits for filming or utilising resources in a particular country. Both Britain and Canada are currently the winners in the tax credits game – the US, not so much. It seems the US is not able or willing to financially support its own industry for whatever reason. Just bizarre.

I love film & TV, but bloody hell, the whole industry is a mess. Heavily reliant on state handouts, if this continues we’ll likely to see massive redundancies across the creative industries as film companies go bust. What cost to the UK taxpayer to keep our film industry alive and well?

I am very disappointed with my former employers if the redundancies/replacing with less experienced workers issue is true. It’s bad for the client, bad for the taxpayer, and more so – super bad for those who are being replaced – who took the company an Oscar and BAFTA victory.

It seems to me that any VFX company that provides a CG tiger (Life of Pi & The Jungle Book) and wins a major award is likely to let people go afterwards – for whatever reason. The Walking Dead recently featured a CG tiger – let’s hope it doesn’t win award. If it does, pray for the VFX people on that show. Perhaps the bad luck has to be balanced out by creating two CG magpies? Or better yet – sort out the tax credits issues which is leading the industry to this sorry state, and start making these companies profitable again.

All this has lead to another documentary being made, “Hollywood’s Greatest Trick” in which artists tell of their experience within the VFX industry.

Flim Flam Film Spam

I am convinced somebody out there is putting themselves out there as a spammer-for-hire for a number of UK film distributors.  It’s all exceptionally dodgy because the spammer is utilising a number of domains (far too many) and super cheap web hosting outside the UK where dedicated servers are super cheap – the bandwidth doubly so.

There appears to be absolutely no logic to the spammers mailing list of spamees – it feels completely random.  You’d think they’d use a list of known investors with money to burn, but this feels like it’s targeting individuals, promising them many riches and rewards for investing in the UK film industry.

The latest spam originates from a Spanish server.  The Spanish web host/ISP doesn’t offer an abuse@ email address (which they should under the relevant published RFCs), plus the unsubscription URL is invalid – it doesn’t resolve.

I’ve been in contact with the distribution company mentioned in the spam, asking them if they’re aware of the email (it could be they not, and the whole spam thing is a massive scam – in which case, the distribution company had better be informed so they can take action against the spammers themselves).  I doubt I’ll hear back, but it’s better to let them know than not.

If you do want to invest in British film – ignore random spam.  Look towards the BFI whom I’m sure can advise accordingly.  And remember – there have been a number of high profile court cases filed by the HMRC about tax schemes regarding alleged tax avoidance.  So it’s vital to get the correct advice.

Stay safe.

Forget the Nintendo Switch, I’m having fun & games with a different kind of switch..

My electricity & gas supplier recently announced an average increase of £82 based on my existing usage.  While I have been a loyal customer for many years, I’m happy to jump ship if I’m able to find a better deal elsewhere.   Especially when the same company recently made news headlines when their smart energy meters started registering silly figures.

So I used uSwitch to look at better offers.  I found one in Green Star Energy, and put in the order to switch.

ALAS!

I attempted to register an account at Green Star Energy’s web site, and was immediately foiled by their password rules.  As this guy says, password rules are bullshit (well worth a read, BTW).  I have been using a very well respected password manager for many years, along with sensible ways of generating unique and strong passwords for individual web sites.  But to be foiled right at the first hurdle makes my blood boil.

So I cancelled my switch/order with Green Star Energy.  I have just placed an order with another firm for whom I had no problems generating a password.

So remember people – password rules are bullshit.

Fixing iTunes/Apple TV’s Breaking Bad Deluxe Edition audio commentary issue

While Apple did not directly get me there, they pushed me in the right direction. It turn out that if you go to Settings -> Audio and Video and set Surround Sound to Stereo, you’ll be able to hear the audio commentary tracks on the episodes of iTunes Breaking Bad Deluxe Edition. 

Why it doesn’t work when set to Best Quality Available or Dolby Digital I don’t know, but it sounds (haha) like a bug.  While you can swipe down during playback of video, to change some audio options – whatever you select doesn’t affect the audio track at all – you must select Stereo from the Settings menu.

When I told Apple about this, they wanted me to do a complete wipe and reset of the Apple TV.  I politely told them no.  Apple can go away and do their own tests – unless Apple want to pay me £500/hour to test their kit for them. That’s my professional fee.

This is with tvOS 10.11, the latest publicly released “stable” version.

I also just want to say that the online chat support from Apple is nearly useless. In the end I had to wait for a phone call, which failed, then I was put through – then finally figured out the issue – then received a further 4-5 automated calls at random intervals.

More bad Breaking Bad distribution foul-ups

Update: I’ve found the workaround.

A while back I mentioned how flawed the Blu-Ray edition of the Breaking Bad: Complete Series was in how it used cardboard cases that scratch the Blu-Ray discs, providing a horrible experience to people who have paid a lot of money for it.

Well, I thought I had a way around all that when I spotted Breaking Bad Deluxe series 1-6 (series 5 is split into 2 in order to bring in more profit) on iTunes.  It contains all the same features of the Blu-Ray, but none of the potential scratchiness of terrible packaging – plus the ability to play across all Apple devices.  So it includes lots of audio commentaries, extra features, documentaries and so on.

ALAS!

The audio commentaries, which are presented as separate titles, do not play on the Apple TV.  You only get the original episode audio for some reason.  I examined the info while playing the commentary episodes – there’s just one audio stream.  There’s no ability to switch to any other audio stream/track.  So where is the Apple TV getting the audio from if the commentary episodes are self-contained?  Or are the commentary episodes just containers pointing to a separate audio file that the Apple TV can’t parse?

The audio commentaries play absolutely fine under MacBook Pro iTunes, the iPad and the iPhone 7 Plus.  No problems at all.  But the one method I want to play it on – the Apple TV (and the latest 4th generation at that) – doesn’t work.

Fan-bloody-tastic.

As an experiment, I tried to stream an audio commentary episode from the MacBook Pro to Apple TV – nope – the original episode audio played.

Sigh.

I’ve dropped Apple quite a few reports about this, and I’m waiting for them to get back to me.   All I will says is: God help Apple if they tell me that I need to take this up with the content provider.  There will blood – probably mine as I bash my forehead repeatedly against the desk.

And film/TV studios wonder why people turn to piracy…