Courtesy Pixar
Pixar shines a light on innovative production methods.

The film and construction industries have a common production model. Both work on projects that have an overall vision from the owner (or executive producer) and onboard highly experienced contractors to complete a difficult project in a short amount of time. Both are increasingly dependent on technology and people skilled in using it.

After the crew finishes, it scatters and may not work together again for years. 

Pixar changed this model for the film industry and with its most recent release Inside Out making 15 box-office hits in a row, maybe construction should consider imitating the production model. 

Pixar, under the leadership of the late Steve Jobs’, took a new tack for film and brought all parts of the production cycle under one roof. Its films come from the minds of Pixar’s internal creative team and are brought to life through the work of animators and publicized by its marketing team—cradle-to-grave film production.  

In contrast, other film production companies take pitches from freelance screenwriters until they find the story they want and then put together the crew—producer, director, actors, distribution company and the rest. 

Recreating this model for construction would be a step beyond design-build delivery. Here’s how it could work: the entity that bids a contract would perform every aspect, from design through construction and building lifecycle management. The architect and engineers would all come along with the umbrella company, and have set wages, so bidding would be more accurate and communication would be down to a science because all parts of the team having worked together for many projects. There is no chance of getting a ‘bad apple’ contractor because they’ve been vetted and hired. 

I think the model could work for a company that specializes in very specific construction projects, like only high-rise buildings or only stadiums, so that all employees would be needed on every project. Some employees with niche skills could be part time, and brought aboard for specific projects. But they would be the exception rather than the rule.

I know there are serious differences between movies and construction projects, and especially between movies and buildings with tiers of subcontractors. Still, there is something to be learned from the Pixar model.

Especially when it comes to building cohesion that maximizes communication and minimizes disputes and communication breakdowns.

And when a construction project comes together as perfectly as a good movie, someone should figure out a way to give every company who worked on it some public record of their involvement. Just like when the credits roll at the end of a show.

Luke Abaffy works for ENR as multimedia editor, where he writes weekly technology stories as well as feature articles, and produces video content about the construction industry.