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July 2014

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Page 43 of 51 42 POST JULY 2014 POST POSITIONS very day we get to create images and artistry that millions of peo- ple around the world enjoy. It is a dream come true and it fills our days with stress, passion, frustration and ultimately, joy. As much as we love what we do, we especially love paying our team mem- bers every two weeks without fail and making sure our artists have the right gear and software to excel. In an industry where more companies close then open, and margins steadily decrease while creative expectations increase, we feel fortunate to be here and have found successes along the way. With that said, we decided to share some of the basic principles we follow that help us thrive in an extremely com- petitive industry. Consider them lessons that can be useful whether you're think- ing about starting your own company or at the beginning of your freelance career. TWO IS ONE, AND ONE IS NONE Don't plan to depend on just one client, one client type or one specialty. Our plan was always to be 50/50 between feature films and commercial work, but we real- ized that that alone is not enough. To go with the ebbs and flows, as well as give our team a wide range of challenges to keep them interested and agile, we discovered that a diverse client base was vital. When first starting out, we were awarded a few small jobs for a big advertising agency and were ecstatic. This one client allowed us to move out of Sean's basement and into real office space. As time went on, this one client allowed us to double the size of our team and even move again into bigger offices. Obviously this is a great thing, but be- cause we only had one client, we rode the waves of work that they dictated. We never missed a payroll for our team, but we went months without being paid ourselves. There is a better way and it's called hustling. When we're busy we aggressively seek new clients. When we're slow, we aggres- sively seek new clients. We put aside a portion of our day, everyday, to develop new relationships and expand our call list. We dedicate real resources to growing diversity and trying new things. Maybe it's not features and commer- cials for you. Maybe it's Web design and company logos or video production and editing. Whatever you choose, make sure it's at least two specialties and ideally ones that complement each other. NO MONEY, NO HONEY Loans, lines of credit, debt and most types of outside investment can ham- string you as you start out. Cash flow is hard enough to predict at the beginning without having to answer to other inter- ests month in and month out. We made a decision very early that we would not allow ourselves to go into debt to pay basic bills or expand our services — these must be grown organically. This can certainly cause some short- term pain, but it also pushes you to come up with creative solutions and invent new techniques. For example, instead of buying a render farm, we built software tools to render in the cloud. We only did this initially because we didn't have enough cash to buy or even rent a render farm large enough for our needs. As a result, we can move locations more easily, devote physical space to people, not things, have off-site redundant and secure storage, and pay for it when we are busy and not carrying huge debt while between projects. Having to pay down debt is one very basic reason VFX shops and freelanc- ers are in the position to undercut bids to get work in the door. No work in the facility equals death. Don't get caught paying for the job you just wrapped with your next award. Then there is the creative side that gets hurt as well. If you have to take every job you're offered just to survive, eventually you will lose your passion and your artistic voice that makes you unique. PACE YOURSELF, IT'S A LONG HAUL If your costs are under control, you will provide a better experience for yourself, your team members and your clients. You won't have to nickel and dime them on every little change. We don't like living in a line-itemed world and although it's important to be very clear with scope and agreed upon work, it's absolutely necessary to make exceptions, and make exceptions as often as you can. Tell the director you can make some birds fly in the sky even though it wasn't bid. Tell the studio to not worry about the three extra driving shots, it's on the house. This isn't to say we encourage free work, we love the Benjamins as much as the next guy, but if your margins are so tight that you are constantly worried about risk and changes, you will never be able to keep your team or your clients happy and eventually they will both go away. BE SAFE, BE CREATIVE Try new things, challenge your crew and co-workers to make suggestions and brainstorm. Don't fall back onto the way you did things before, because if it was something from a couple of years ago, there are probably better ways to do them now. Most importantly, you must create an environment where everyone feels free, welcome and safe to express themselves and share their ideas. Swal- low your ego and listen to an intern or production assistant when they have a note, sometimes they'll be right and other times you will have discovered a teachable moment which helps them develop as a future artist. You can't grow a studio without future artists. We aren't perfect by any stretch — the ideals above are just that, ideals. And they are refined each time we find a new way to break them, so it's our mistakes, not successes, that guide us. ONES AND ZEROS FOR DOLLARS AND CENTS BY BRIAN DREWES CO-OWNER/ PRESIDENT & SEAN DEVEREAUX CO-OWNER/ VFX SUPERVISOR/ CREATIVE DIRECTOR ZERO VFX BOSTON, MA ZEROVFX.COM THE ART AND COMMERCE OF VISUAL EFFECTS E

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