Earlier this year, MR. X and Mill Film announced a merger that would bring together the best of two of Technicolor’s visual effects studios under one major force. Under MR. X, the studio has since been working to navigate the visual effects industry in the shadow of covid-19.
Laura Fitzpatrick, managing director for MR. X, spoke to The Focus about opportunities for the studio and how they are charting a path post-pandemic. We also got to know more about her career trajectory, starting out as a receptionist and moving up the ranks to executive producer and to managing director. She also offers advice for anyone wanting to work at MR. X.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background? What did you do before you joined Mr. X?
I’m from the UK, I started in VFX in 2006 in London at a studio called Peerless Camera Company. This was a small outfit with a maximum team size of 70 artists working on feature projects. One of the founders and owners was Terry Gilliam, so we worked on all of his projects and he was often around the studio working very closely with the artists. As a small company it was an amazing place to learn, I began on reception and was able to observe, shadow and quickly move up. There were a lot of generalists who took shots from start to finish, which I found very inspiring. It was there that I decided I wanted to become a producer and began the journey towards that role. At that time, the industry in London was in a period of growth and rapid expansion and there were a lot of opportunities to move on to larger companies. I worked at Cinesite, Pixomondo and finally landed at MPC in 2012. I moved to Montreal with MPC in 2014, became executive producer and when I returned from maternity leave in 2020, I moved across to MR.X as MD.
MR. X recently merged with Mill Film. Can you tell us more about that and the reasons that led to the decision to join forces?
It’s really a response to the global pandemic. An acknowledgement that our workload had reduced and therefore we’ve had to review all levels of operations and make sure we’re building the best business to safeguard our future and help us emerge in a stronger position on the other side. This has meant merging the two brands that were directly competing in the same markets: episodic and features in Montreal. It’s also led to us making the decision to consolidate our physical space in Montreal and move into the Wellington building floors previously occupied by MPC.
Can you describe what your goals are for the new MR. X brand and how you are working together to achieve those?
We have what we believe is a very strong three-year plan which involves a full review of company processes. With the merging of two brands come many differences, both operationally and culturally. We’re currently in the process of assessing how things have worked historically at both MR. X and Mill Film and deciding what we want to move forward with. It’s really an exciting time to be part of the new company as we can really affect change and challenge ourselves to improve. We are enlisting the help of many of the crew to help identify what makes us MR. Xers now. The success of the merger really depends upon our abilities to work together and embrace the new. Dennis Berardi, Creative Director at MR. X, and I have forged a very strong working relationship and we back each other 100%. Coming into this it was super important to me that Dennis and I get along and that we’re aligned and fortunately, so far so good!
What challenges do you foresee and how are you planning to tackle them?
Change is the main thing. In this period of ongoing social and economic uncertainty, it’s hard to swallow yet another change. Everybody has been through so much, both professionally and personally, and it’s important to acknowledge that. But I truly believe in what we’re doing and fortunately, our global management teams are on board and working towards common goals to transform the business for the better. By working together, we can overcome any difficulty. We’re not doing this because it’s easy!
The ground is shifting in the film industry globally post-Covid-19. What opportunities do you see for visual effects companies in the new normal?
Fortunately, we are seeing many of our projects returning to the camera, Dennis himself being out on set at the moment on Guillermo Del Toro’s latest project, Nightmare Alley. We are recovering and the pandemic means adapting to a new way of filmmaking, for the foreseeable future, with a lot of physical restrictions. We are currently in the middle of our trial phase of having some of our crew work permanently at home and others back in the studio, so we expect that a portion of the workforce remaining home will be a permanent part of our business strategy going forward. We’ll obviously benefit from the majority of the team being back in the office but we would also like to explore a certain amount of flexibility in future. We will learn a lot from this trial. 2020 should also be remembered as the year we all realised that we need to do more for each other, reach out to those in need and generally be more aware and considerate. I hope we can influence real change for the better with our DEI initiatives. Our clients are keen to hear more from us in this regard and it’s so positive that we’re all talking about this.
MR. X now also has a studio in Adelaide. What are your thoughts on the current state of production in Australia?
Australia offers the most competitive pricing for our clients with access to national and regional incentive schemes. We’re partnering with AusFilm to help get the message out to our clients and are hoping to announce some exciting new projects for Adelaide for 2021 very soon. Right now, the studio is focusing on the delivery of Mortal Kombat, which is slated to wrap around the end of the year. This month sees the release of Love & Monsters, which Adelaide delivered last year. We’re all looking forward to this and the team recently wrapped work on Bios and Candyman, both slated for release in 2021.
You can look back at a very impressive list of credits. What was one of the most memorable projects you've worked on over the last couple of years?
For me, I would say that Bladerunner 2049 was a great project to be involved in. I love Denis Villeneuve’s films and the work that MPC did was absolutely exquisite. I was exec producer on the show, it was a small one by MPC standards but the work was the hugely complex Rachel digi double sequence. A beloved character brought back to life in all her 1980s glory. All of the VFX for the movie were completed in Montreal, a great one for the industry there.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a career with MR. X?
With a full recovery from the pandemic just around the corner and changes to the industry being accelerated in terms of a shift towards more streaming and episodic content, MR. X is perfectly poised to continue on their upward trajectory. This will mean more opportunities to join MR. X and greater emphasis internally for learning, growth, and development. I’m very excited to see what the next couple of years will hold for us. And for anybody looking to begin their VFX journey, we’ll be launching more academies next year, probably with more of a focus on e-learning, and definitely keep in regular contact with The Focus as we’ll be recruiting through 2021 in all locations. – thefocus.com