(Photo 1 above: Jeff Varga on the set of “Dead End City,” a TV pilot he created that won an award for Best Director in 2008. Photo courtesy of videographer Jack Foster.)
(Photo 2 above: Jeff Varga watching actors from “Dead End City.” Photo courtesy of videographer Jack Foster.)
Some people think Jeff has tasted the good life. He’s worked in the Hollywood motion picture and television industry for 25 years and has a strong background in visual effects. One of the highlights of his career was the Academy Award that he shared in for helping to create the riveting molten steel pour scenes and nuclear blast in James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” The visual effects team constructed a wooden “ladle” (bucket) and “tundish” (receiver) with thick Plexiglass bottoms that were lit from underneath to make the hot steel (made from methocel, a food additive) look as if it were glowing.
Jeff’s impressive visual effects resume includes blockbuster films like “The Last Samurai,” “I, Robot,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Bruce Almighty,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Blade: Trinity,” “The Abyss,” “Ghostbusters” (and 30 others). He’s also worked on popular TV programs like “Star Trek: Enterprise, “Gilmore Girls,” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” etc. (www.movierich.com)
Jeff has also worked as a director. He’s been at the helm of “Dead End City” (a TV pilot he created that won an award for Best Director in 2008), “Time Warp News Report” (a comedy available on home video), a full-length feature film called “Bottom Feeder’s Inc.” (it won an award for Best Cinematography in 2002), and national television commercials for major advertisers. He’s also directed numerous short films and produced and directed numerous other “packages.”
In addition, Jeff is skilled at making stars look more appealing on the screen than they do in real life. He’s performed many digital touchups, including “acne fixes” and even a digital tummy tuck.
All of this sounds very glamorous and fulfilling, if not a nice way to earn a paycheck. Also, entertainment industry insiders are privy to juicy tidbits about movie stars that their fans seldom hear about. Bruce Willis supposedly wanted to join the U.S. military after the 9/11 attack. Clint Eastwood is everyone’s favorite movie director: He only asks for two takes. Raven-haired, blue-eyed beauty, Megan Fox, was invited to director Michael Bay’s house to audition for the first “Transformers” film – and was allegedly asked to “wash his car while wearing cutoffs.”
With so much fascinating intrigue occurring behind the scenes as well as on camera, what’s not to like about working in the entertainment industry? Well, as another veteran Hollywood insider recently confided to this writer, it’s a very “tightly-knit community” and “you have to be careful what you say.”
Jeff Varga violated that rule. As he puts it, he was hired as a VFX (visual effects) supervisor for a television program last year and, as a veteran of the industry who wanted to bring the production in on time and on budget, became aware of “hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary overages on almost every episode.” He made telephone calls to a higher-up. Although he says the Production Manager was grateful for the information, a few days later Jeff was fired by a third party. Twenty-one producers and at least four executive producers were involved in the creation of that family drama. (It has since been cancelled.)
Jeff says unions, nepotism, and high taxes have “ruined Hollywood.” He believes “the unions are driving up the costs but aren’t concerned about quality.” He says family members and friends of high-placed studio employees who have never attended film schools or worked on movie sets are being hired and placed in important positions. He says many industry executives “can’t tell the difference between a good script and a bad script.” (He named a leading director whom he believes is depending on the novelty of 3-D films to compensate for substandard screenplays.)
He also talks about the industry executives who are demanding increasingly spectacular visual and special effects to attract audiences. Millions of dollars are being spent on new technology and sensational “eye candy” while the hallmarks of memorable films — well-developed characters and insightful dialogue — are going by the wayside.
Jeff has another complaint, one that affected him personally. It’s not unusual for anti-American, anti-military, anti-Jew, anti-Christian, and anti-conservative diatribes to dominate the entertainment industry workplaces. In fact, at one particular company he was exposed “eight hours a day” to these kinds of rants in a room containing approximately twelve employees.
“You can only listen to talk radio and ‘Battlestar Galactica Producer’s Podcast’ on your headphones for so long [to block out offensive comments],” shares Jeff, who was spending long hours working as a digital compositor on a new film. (Digital compositing is the process of integrating images from multiple sources into a single image via computers.) One time he took off the headphones and heard a fellow employee “going off” again about conservatives.
“Which ones?” Jeff finally asked.
“A whole bunch,” the other employee answered, incredulous that he was being asked to defend his position.
When Jeff pressed him for an answer, he shouted, “I don’t have to listen to this!” and in great rage banged his fist on a table.
“I thought I was going to get a fist in the back of my head,” Jeff remarks. “The guy went from 0 to 60 emotionally in just a few seconds when I asked him some simple questions. I’d been listening to these kinds of tirades for years and had never said a word.”
The project Jeff was working on was completed in approximately 2006. Productions “gear up and gear down” according to the availability of films and Jeff had worked for this company for four years. Since that unpleasant episode, Jeff, who had formed his own production companies since the late 1980s, moved on to other venues and wasn’t asked to return.
An eye-popping validation of Jeff’s experiences occurred recently from the venerable Hollywood Reporter, a weekly magazine that describes itself as being “read by the most powerful people in the entertainment industry and the most influential consumers who follow it.” On June 1, an article written by Paul Bond was published: “TV Executives Admit in Taped Interviews That Hollywood Pushes a Liberal Agenda (Exclusive Video)” (read article).
Bond was referring to Ben Shapiro’s new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. Shapiro used direct quotes from thirty-nine video interviews with TV executives, most of whom openly bragged about their bias against conservatives. Producer-director Nicholas Meyer, when asked if conservatives are discriminated against in Hollywood, answered, “Well, I hope so.” (His lofty position enabled him to direct an ABC TV movie that he hoped would prevent the re-election of President Reagan; it was seen by one hundred million people in 1983.) Executive producer Leonard Goldberg said there’s a [liberal] “social and political” agenda in the industry that is “100 percent dominant, and anyone who denies it is kidding, or not telling the truth.” When asked if people with different viewpoints might be barred from “entry,” he responded “Absolutely.”
Book author Ben Shapiro believes that “television has been perhaps the most impressive weapon in the left’s political arsenal” and even cites the popular children’s program, “Sesame Street,” as a tool that was used by liberals. One of his video interviews includes the president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group describing that company’s sway over young people as “superpowers.”
So how does the entertainment industry receive money for its productions? Explaining this in the simplest of terms, and relating it to movies, everything is driven by executive producers, who, contrary to what many outsiders believe, normally seek out financial investors rather than use their own money. They can be American or foreign investors, even a “guy sitting in Dubai,” as Jeff describes it. “The Blind Side” (Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2010) was made by Alcon Entertainment which was heavily financed by FedEx founder, Frederick W. Smith. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (a film starring Angelina Jolie that was released in 2001) was made by Mutual Films Co. and was financed through a German tax shelter and the copyright was eventually sold to a British investment group.
Some U.S. states offer grants to film makers. Bank loans, hedge funds, and tax rebates are examples of other incentives.
In the early 2000s, a church in Georgia decided to enter the risky world of film making. Alex and Stephen Kendrick, two associate pastors of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, had read the startling results of a poll that indicated that “movies influenced Americans more than the church.” Along with senior pastor, Michael Catt, and executive pastor, Jim McBride, they formed Sherwood Pictures and raised $20,000 above and beyond normal church tithing to produce a movie with an evangelistic message: “Flywheel.” The Kendrick brothers wrote the screenplay, Alex worked as the director, and they used a crew made up almost exclusively of volunteers from their church.
A second film was produced by Sherwood Pictures, “Facing the Giants,” with a very modest budget of $100,000 that nonetheless garnered “staggering worldwide success” in 2003. The third film, “Fireproof,” a story about a fireman with a deteriorating marriage that was produced with a budget of $500,000, was the highest grossing independent film of 2008. (Actor Kirk Cameron starred without pay.). Among other services, volunteers from Sherwood Baptist Church offered their homes and businesses for location shoots and even catered the food during filming.
Sherwood Pictures plans to release a fourth film to theaters on September 30, 2011. The synopsis of “Courageous” reads: “Protecting the streets is second nature to these law enforcement officers. Raising their children? That will take courage.” (trailer)
After “Fireproof” had been released, the pastor of a 10,000-member church in the greater Los Angeles area challenged the people in his congregation who work in the entertainment industry to produce Christian films. However, realistically speaking, the average person doesn’t have the funds necessary for this kind of venture. Should mega churches feel obligated to copy Sherwood Baptist Church and start their own film companies or, at the least, help finance worthy projects created by industry insiders like Jeff Varga that are sitting on the shelves waiting for backers?
In 2009, Jeff decided to officially “come out” as both a conservative and as a Christian in Hollywood. He wrote an article that was published on Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” website in which he compared President Obama’s administration to the seemingly benevolent but duplicitous aliens in the American science fiction TV series, “V” (since cancelled). People may draw their own conclusions, but Jeff wonders if this article negatively impacted his employment (read article).
About the same time, Jeff made guest appearances on Pat Dollard’s controversial Blog Talk Radio program. Dollard, a former successful Hollywood talent scout, gave up the allure of the entertainment industry along with a four-story house after filming a documentary with Marines in Iraq, and started a news blog. Like entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, he’s a liberal-turned-conservative with libertarian leanings who’s now considered a pariah in Hollywood.
Jeff, who has worked as an adjunct to Hollywood-based film schools, is being considered as a potential staff member for the film school at Dixie State University. He formed a company called Paratrooper Movieworx LLC that segued this year (with the help of Tony Katz from Pajama TV and All Patriots Media) into political ads and service announcements. They utilize cost-effective, award-winning techniques and industry tricks of the trade that enable them to “put anyone in any kind of scene.” (www.movierich.com)
Jeff is currently seeking funding for a children’s animated adventure film called “Prayer Warrior” (see the trailer). He can be contacted by phone at 1-818-642-5849.