Can you give us a brief introduction to Stargate Studios Malta?
Stargate Studios was founded in 1989 by American filmmaker Sam Nicholson as a high-tech production company offering both visual effects and digital production services to the film and television industries. With a footprint in North America, Malta and China, Stargate Studios is noted for its photorealistic effects on films and television series such as Grey's Anatomy, The Orville, American Gods and The Walking Dead, to name but a few.
Stargate Studios Malta is the only Europe-based studio. It was established in 2012 when Nicholson teamed up with a Maltese company, formerly known as The Bigger Picture, headed by Matthew Pullicino and David Serge. Stargate Studios Malta now has an exceptional team of 30 people working in production and visual effects. We have supplied high-end visual effects to successful shows like Medici: Masters of Florence, Pietro Mennea: La freccia Del Sud, El Principe, You Me and the Apocalypse, and many more.
What kind of support does the Stargate Studios group offer the Maltese company?
It’s a very dynamic relationship. We have acquired vast experience and knowledge from Stargate Studios in North America and geared ourselves to bring an effective and successful American workflow and techniques to European markets. In addition, we get constant technical support from our partner company.
Stargate Studios Malta at the Mosta Technopark
What would you say are the main selling points of Malta as a visual effects (VFX) destination?
We offer the quality generally found in high-end American television projects at a competitive European price point. This, coupled with recently revised cash rebate incentives by the Malta Film Commission, which will see productions earning a cash rebate of up to 40%, make the country a viable option for quality post-production and VFX. This certainly facilitates for local companies to bring in work from productions overseas.
What can be done to grow the film industry in Malta?
In the long run, Malta needs more home-grown film projects and a film school to be able to provide training and further education for people who want to make a career out of it. We are proud, as a company working in the film industry, to be operational all year round, employing talented people and artists on a full-time basis. We believe that more local companies like ours are needed for growth, offering security whilst developing a healthy ecosystem instrumental to the formation of a sustainable industry.
At Stargate Studios Malta, we are actually looking into establishing an academy, which will help bridge the gap between education and the industry.
What are the biggest challenges for Stargate Studio Malta at the moment?
In the past decades, the international film industry has grown in the volume and quality of visual effects, so as a visual effects house, we have to stay on top of new technologies and constantly invest in new hardware. Post-production work is also extremely labour-intensive, and as the industry is getting bigger and more complex, smaller studios like ours need to scale up. The fact is our staff is very specialised with a complex mix of digital skills and artistic flair. This makes it difficult to source and recruit. Another challenge is that there are not enough people with the right skills on the island.
Currently, we employ people primarily from Malta and other EU countries as contract and permanent staff. But a growing part of our talent pool is coming from outside of the EU, including countries such as Russia, Turkey and Egypt, which affects their flexibility to come and work in Malta on shorter- or longer-term projects as they need working visas. High rental fees also drive certain salary expectations for qualified and experienced staff coming from abroad. All this whilst focusing on cost efficiency to stay ahead of the competition.
VFX artists at Stargate Studios Malta
What are the current industry trends?
Netflix, HBO GO, Disney+, Amazon Prime and other video on demand streaming services have revolutionised television and changed the way we consume it. Producers are now broadening their reach by creating material that can be seen by millions of people with just an internet connection. They are now creating content which is of feature film quality — they can create longer stories that sustain audience's attention over a number of episodes, without the limits of traditional television broadcasting. That’s why the need for content has increased and, with it, the popularity and demand for visual effects. Producers are willing to scout the world to get high quality and good prices from a smaller studio, so it’s no longer limited to the big studios that offer post-production services. But at the same time, it has also led to a huge influx of smaller and medium-sized companies willing to offer lower prices, and for us, it means increased competition — and that’s where we have a great advantage due to the incentives offered by the Malta Film Commission.
What lies ahead for Stargate Studios Malta?
We want to expand the team and grow our portfolio. We don’t want to be a big enterprise with hundreds of employees, it’s not who we are. As the only Europe-based studio within the group, Stargate Studios Malta mostly services select markets — we want to grow sustainably rather than rushing into new markets. We are also looking at co-production as part of our expansion strategy.
Joining forces with other film production companies opens up opportunities in new markets. This way we would not only work on creating visual effects but also help in adding more content to the market, which is fantastic.