At Rhythm & Hues, We Could Be Going From the Frying Pan Into the Fire
I still remember the day that I started at Rhythm & Hues.
During our orientation, we all were told the same story about the inception of this company we were about to embark upon a journey with: The founders, including John Hughes, had been working elsewhere over 25 years ago, and things were going well as far as any of them knew. One day, though, they showed up to work to find the office doors chained shut.
The company had gone under and was not able to fulfill its financial obligations to its staff, so they closed up shop and took off. Every worker was left stranded, unemployed. It was then that the people who came to found Rhythm & Hues joined together and decided to start their own scrappy company.
This company would be one that was built with a "horizontal" management structure, where the employees would have full transparency regarding their employer's fiscal state and future.
Sitting there, bright-eyed with the enthusiasm that only a new career can bring, it was incredible to hear this. A company built upon the values of honesty and integrity, where its executives and owner were willing to discuss business in an open forum where employee-employer interactions were not only encouraged, but also expected.
I had never experienced anything close to this. The majority of my work experience consisted of my bosses telling me to jump, and I reluctantly would ask how high. I'd been laid off before with no notice, been verbally berated for the smallest of infractions, but that was about to be a thing of the past. This was a company that cared about the well being of its employees.
Fast forward almost two years later, and the atmosphere had changed. Not just in our L.A. office, either. Co-workers in Vancouver and India were starting to feel it as well. The "vibe," as one friend called it, wasn't right, and there was too much secrecy.
The last four weeks had been trying. Our weekly company meetings, the ones where finances and project bidding were discussed, had been canceled repeatedly. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces around the studio, most of them a series of suits who paraded in and out of the executive offices in hush-hush meetings with higher-ups in studio management and accounting.
There were rumors about our financial situation, but they were small brush fires between low-level employees, coordinators and assistants, like myself, in various departments. At first it was that we were looking to collect on a debt, then it was that studios were looking into our accounts before approving us a loan.
However, there was nothing concrete available for us to look into with much diligence. The speculation made for an uncomfortable work environment, and the secrecy took its toll on company morale. Employees were openly questioning what was happening and becoming disgruntled over the repeated meeting cancellations.
Rumors and blind speculation can erode faith, no matter how deep the surplus, until there's nothing left but distrust.
When I came in this morning, there was a new rumor fresh off the presses: Prime Focus, another visual-effects house, was looking to purchase our company, and it had put together a comprehensive offer. I didn't believe it. The rumors about loans and cashing in favors with studios all made sense. They were things that would be too complicated to explain to employees while the deal was still in progress.
The idea of us selling even a portion of our studio to another company, though, didn't seem possible. I still, foolishly, clung to that story I was told on my first day about John and how he built this company with a personal goal to make sure that his employees would never be left out in the cold about major company news. Something like this wouldn't seriously be on the table if he hadn't first thought to discuss it with employees after a prospective offer had been evaluated.
Apparently, 25 years can really alter your perspective and integrity.
When the article hit from TheWrap, it was almost cathartic. It was a relief to have weeks and months of muted speculation brought into the open and validated. To see Prime Focus' name in the article, mere hours after hearing it whispered to me from another employee, only confirmed the validity of the piece in my eyes.