Scott Ross interview extract – movieScope
In light of the article written by Mike Figgis for The Observer on 24/6/13, which also appeared on The Guardian website, berating the current state of the British film industry, we thought it would be timely and appropriate to run a preview extract from an interview we did last week with Scott Ross, which is to appear in the forthcoming issue of our magazine. Scott Ross is an outspoken advocate for the visual effects industry. In the 1980s he was General Manager of Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). In 1993 he founded Digital Domain, Inc., with James Cameron and Stan Winston, one of the largest digital production studios in the motion picture and advertising industries.
movieScope: Could tax-breaks and incentives be a way of helping the industry?
Scott Ross: The offering of tax incentives is one of the main causes of turmoil in the industry, and could be the ultimate ruination of the industry. It’s like trying to treat heroin addiction with methadone. If you’re in the locale that gets the subsidies and tax breaks for a short period of time, it looks great and rosy for that time, then someone else a thousand miles away offers tax breaks, it doesn’t look so good any more. We’ve seen that happen time and time again. It’s shocking to me that your government is funding major multi-billion dollar American global corporations that are making tons of money, and your government is hell-bent on writing them cheques, or allowing them incredible tax subsidies to come and work within the UK. As soon as the subsidies end, Sir William Sargent [Founder of Framestore] said he would lose seventy per cent of the business. I don’t understand how that’s fair. I can understand, in the short run, if a government says, “We think there is a great opportunity for this clean business. We want to feed it, so we’re going to give tax subsidies for two or three years to build an industry, and then see if they stand on their own”. The visual effects industry in the UK and London has been sucking off the teat of your government for 15 years.
MS: So it gives the impression that the industry here is healthy because so many of the credits on major films go to London effects houses.
SR: It looks like the industry is healthy. I guarantee, if you gave kids hormones and incredible food, have them work out and give them massages every day they would be able to compete in sports better than other children, but as soon as you cut them off, they’re just like everybody else. They’re not going to compete, they’re not going to win. If London’s work is as good as everyone believes it is, and I frankly believe it is because London has built an incredible visual effects group of artists, then let those artists compete on the worldwide stage like everyone else competes on it. Let’s take the tax subsidies away and have the tax subsidies go towards school teachers and firemen and your highways, because they need repairs too. I’m not sure why the citizenry of the UK continues to give billions of dollars to US film companies. If you’re looking to build a film industry in the UK, why not give that money to film people there? Give it to London and British filmmakers to make British films. Why are they continuing to shovel money back into the United States to multibillion dollar corporations that are wealthier than any other corporations in the world today? Take the money they give to Warner Bros and give it to Aardman.
MS: Or any of the hundreds of independent filmmakers with great ideas they can’t get funded.
SR: Basically what the government is saying is, “We don’t believe the UK and people in London are actually creative because we are not prepared to give it to the London filmmakers to make British films, and we’d rather give it to American filmmakers to make American films”.
MS: When the money does get given to British filmmakers it is usually to a club of an established elite rather than to foster new talent.
SR: If they have all of this money that is available to companies like Warner Bros, why don’t they make the money available to British filmmakers and make British films. And it’s not like they are getting any upside. It’s not like it’s an investment in Harry Potter. It’s like the British government doesn’t say, “Hey, I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you half a billion pounds to make your series of films and then, as a result, if you do well, we want our half billion pounds back, plus an additional amount of money on the upside. At least when the American government bailed out the auto industry, they demanded their money back.
You can read the whole interview in the July/August 2013 issue of movieScope.