One-Man Studios Thrive Post-Recession

by Lance Turner  on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 12:00 am  

In 2013, George Production Studios moved to west Little Rock.

Following the Great Recession, the decentralization of the state’s film studio industry has resulted in smaller studios thriving.

The recession saw the state’s larger studios fall on hard times. Dempsey Film Group, in particular, at one time had about 30 employees but in 2011 closed its doors for good.

Another of the state’s larger studios, Jones Film & Video, survived thanks to its being purchased by Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, the state’s largest ad firm, in 2006.

Surviving intact through the economic wildfire were studios led by one or two filmmakers who alone were capable of carrying out a shoot from concept to completion.

One example of this is George Creative Productions. The studio started in 2007, and founder Shane George credited the studio’s perseverance through the recession entirely to lower overhead thanks to fewer employees. To carry out an average shoot George needs only himself, his wife, Sharon, and a handful of freelancers.

“The people that survived were lean and mean,” he said. “What helps also is I shoot, I edit, I do 3-D animation, I can do audio recording. Instead of hiring people to do a job, I can do it myself.”

This self-reliance helped the studio to grow, rather than shrink, through the recession. In 2013, George moved the business to a 3,000-SF space in west Little Rock with a 1,200-SF studio equipped with green screens, two editing suites and a portable “whisper room” recording studio. George was also recently able to purchase a Red Epic camera, a model used in Hollywood productions like “Transformers” and “House of Cards.”

He’s been able to net clients both locally and out of state.

“We do lots of local commercials,” George said. “We did Sissy’s Log Cabin and Cleo’s Furniture — those are monthly — and we do a lot of car commercials. Those are what keep our lights on, for sure.”

In 2010, Ravenswood Winery of Sonoma, Calif., paid $5,000 for a commercial George made for its No Wimpy Wines contest.

The studio specializes in visual effects, George said.

“We did a Tropical Smoothie Cafe commercial where they wanted to shoot a father-daughter on a beach,” he said. “As they stir their Tropical Smoothie, the stars would change into different fruits. They didn’t have the budget to fly us to Florida or a beach, so we went out to a volleyball court at Murray Park with a green screen. We shot them sitting in the sand with tiki torches and then composited the ocean and palm trees into the background, and then we had it.”

Competition Remains Fierce

There’s still stiff competition for larger projects, George said, and they come “few and far between.”

The studio beats that competition when it can keep costs down by having a smaller crew, George said.

Difficulty also comes from finding freelancers with the right skill sets. A typical commercial production needs two or three freelancers, George said.

“What happens is you get college students who don’t want to do TV; they want to be filmmakers,” he said.

Studios needs freelancers who are skilled in several areas, he said, and sometimes these students are skilled in only one.

So smaller studios tend to find a few professionals they can trust and “stick with what they know,” George said. “And that’s good and bad.”

George said that even though the economy is swinging back around, he thinks the smaller studio model is here to stay.

“Here’s how the economy changed everything: People used to be specialized in their own field. One guy did animation, one guy edited, and that’s all he did. But the economy forced us to be jacks-of-all-trades,” he said. “If you are the jack-of-all-trades, you survive. If you’re not, you perish.”

 

 

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