Monday, May 25, 2015

Females Rising

The L.A. Times tells us:

Maija Burnett scanned her California Institute of the Arts classroom as nearly 60 new students filtered in, empty notebooks in hand. It was the start of the 2014-15 school year, and Burnett, director of CalArts' character animation program, was meeting this crop of freshmen for the first time in her largest classroom, nicknamed "the palace."

Surrounded by walls painted entirely black — more conducive to drawing — the students stood up, one by one, to introduce themselves. That's when it hit Burnett that almost all of them were women.

"Where are all the guys?" she recalls thinking. ...

UCLA's master's program in animation is estimated to be 68% women, and Florida's Ringling College of Art and Design's computer animation program is nearly 70% women.

That swell of young women studying the craft is generally not mirrored in the workforce. Women make up 21% of the artists, writers and technicians employed under an Animation Guild contract this year, according to the organization, which tracks hiring records for guild animation studios in Los Angeles County. ...

Animation Guild representative Steve Hulett believes that it's just a matter of time — and gumption — before things even out in the industry among men and women.

"With so many women coming out of these schools, a lot of these graduates, if they've got the skill sets, will find their way into the business," he says. "More of those women need to pitch shows and get them on the air, which is slowly happening. That will create an appetite among audiences, which affects ratings, and more of an atmosphere internally for more women to pitch their own shows. It's cyclical."

When I started in the animation biz (during the Ulysses S. Grant Administration), most of the women working inside it occupied ink-and-paint and checking positions. There were a few assistant animators, a few animators starting to climb the profession's slippery ladder, a handful of designers and background artists. But for the most part, the cartoon industry was testosterone driven.

Thirty-five years on, the man/woman numbers, along with animation's subject matter, are shifting. I see more female board artists; there are more women creating shows. Jeffrey Katzenberg at DreamWorks Animation has been hiring female directors for years, and now Disney is starting to do it. Females aren't just working as production coordinators or executives, they are in artistic positions as never before.

And I think over the next decade, you will see at least half the animated features and television shows that we watch created or steered by women.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Paper Profits

Rising stock prices lift many fortunes.

George Lucas had made an extra $2.2 billion from the rocketing value of Disney stock he received in 2012 when he sold Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company.

And Isaac Perlmutter, the largest stockholder of Marvel Entertainment when Disney took control, has seen his original $694 million worth of Disney shares grow to a tidy $2.4 billion. (Mr. Lucas's $1.9 billion in stock has doubled in value.)

Lastly. Steve Jobs' widow, who inherited $7.4 billion in Disney stock from her husband, now owns Disney stock worth $14.3 billion.

My reaction to this is "Wow."

Sometimes stocks-in-exchange-for-companies deals pay off like Fort Knox.

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Worldwide Box Office

Tomorrowland is off to a start that is medium simmer, and Home comes nearer the $400 million marker, even as it slows down.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Avengers -- %45,800,000 -- ($1,263,865,479)

Mad Max -- $38,200,000 -- ($211,615,279)

Tomorrowland -- $26,700,000 -- ($58,859,000)

Home -- $4,400,000 -- ($360,594,929)

Furious 7 -- $3,000,000 -- ($1,499,013,290)

The trades tell us:

... For Mad Max: Fury Road, Warner Bros reported $38.2M on 14,172 screens — a solid holdover with a drop of only -37%. Offshore cume for George Miller’s franchise starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy comes to $124.3M ...

DreamWorks/Fox’s animated Home tallied an additional $4.4M from 4,413 screens in 26 markets bringing its foreign cume to $192.63M. ...

Disney/Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, meanwhile, took in an estimated $45.8M in its fifth weekend from 91 territories representing approximately 95% of the international market. The film opens in Japan on July 4. That brings the foreign total to $859.8M including $210M in China. ...

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Succession

One of our fine, entertainment conglomerates might soon receive new leadership becaause ...

Sumner Redstone, the media mogul who controls both CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc., is slated to turn 92 next week. Before that event arrives, however, he is already getting a few things he may not want: heightened scrutiny of his health and questions over the ultimate direction of the media companies guided by his hand.

A flurry of press reports have surfaced in recent weeks suggesting Redstone’s physical health is not robust and raising questions about his relationship with members of his family, who are slated to inherit much of his wealth. He has developed trouble speaking in recent months, and is no longer a vocal presence on the quarterly calls with investors CBS and Viacom regularly hold. In the past, Redstone would take to the phone to introduce CBS CEO Leslie Moonves or Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman with glowing adjectives.

“Despite all the ink and bits expended over the last few weeks, there has been no change in Sumner’s health,” said Carl Folta, a spokesman for Viacom who has often served as a central figure in Redstone’s public outreach. Earlier this month, Redstone issued a statement saying he continued to guide his stakes in both media companies. ...

"No change in Sumner's health." Meaning what, exactly?

That it's shitty? Or that he's ruddy, robust, and swimming daily laps in the backyard pool?

From everything I've read, the man is not in good shape. Some reports have him attached to a feeding tube, others say he can't form a sentence that's decipherable to human ears. Almost all reports speculate on who succeeds Sumner Redstone at the levers of power.

What this means to Viacom's feature and TV animation units is unknowable, but there will likely be changes. Paramount Animation (on the Hollywood lot) has multiple features in development, and the first effort, an eighty-six minute amusement built around a cartoon character who lives at the bottom of the sea, did well at the box office.

Nickelodeon Cartoons, the studio headquartered in Burbank, is creating an array of hand-drawn and CG series for the cable outlet of the same name. A five-story office building is being built next door, and the prospects are good for more animated product and more synergy. But the prospects are also good that when Sumner rolls on to his reward, there will be new directions taken.

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Your American Box Office

Now with Add On.

Brad Bird's latest is in a dead heat at the top of the List; DreamWorks Animation's Home nears $170 million at the bottom.

WEEKEND DOMESTIC BOX OFFICE

1/2). Tomorrowland (DIS), 3,970 theaters / $9.7M Fri. (includes $725K previews) / 3-day cume: $32.8M / 4-day cume: $39.7M to $41.5M / Wk 1

Pitch Perfect 2 (UNI), 3,560 theaters (+87) / $9.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $32.8M (-52%) / 4-day cume: $40.9M to $41.1M / Total cume: $128.5M / Wk 2

3). Mad Max: Fury Road (WB), 3,722 theaters (+20) / $6.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $25M+ (-44%) / 4-day cume: $$30.9M to $32.4M / Total cume: $95M+ / Wk 2

4). Poltergeist (Fox/MGM), 3,240 theaters / $9.3M Fri. (includes $1.4M previews) / 3-day cume: $24M+ / 4-day cume: $29M to $3o.2M / Wk 1

5). Avengers: Age of Ultron (DIS), 3,727 theaters (-549) / $5.3M to $5.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $22M+ / 4-day cume: $28M+ / Total cume: $411.5M to $412.1M / Wk 4

6). Hot Pursuit (WB/MGM/NL), 2,577 theaters (-460) / $938K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.2M to $3.4M / 4-day cume: $3.8M to $4.2M / Total cume: $29.4M to $29.6M / Wk 3

7). Far From The Madding Crowd (FSL), 865 theaters (+576) / $607K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.3M to $2.5M / 4-day cume: $3.2M / Total cume: $6.2M to $6.4M / Wk 4

8). Furious 7 (UNI), 1,653 theaters (-585) / $545K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.1M to $2.2M / 4-day cume: $2.7M / Total cume: $347.6M/ Wk 8

9/10). Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (SONY), 1,878 theaters (-754) / $413K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.85M / 4-day cume: $2.5M / Total cume: $66.25M / Wk 6

Home (FOX/DW), 1,444 theaters (-562) / $370K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.7M to $1.9M / 4-day cume: $2.45M to $2.6M / Total cume: $168M to $169M / Wk 9 ...

To date, 52% of Home's worldwide take comes from overseas, so we can (maybe) expect a grand total of $380 million to $420 million when all the box office receipts are in.

Add On: Errk. Tomorrowland, on top of less-than-enthusiastic reviews, has a weak first weekend?

From Forbes:

... The power of positive thinking could not save Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland. Walt Disney's DIS -0.12% $190 million sci-fi adventure earned $32.159 million on its opening Fri-Sun weekend and an estimated $41m over the long holiday. Long-story short, that’s not a great number, just a bit above the $25m-$30m debuts of mega-budget whiffs like John Carter, Prince of Persia, Jack the Giant Slayer, and Battleship. ...

So Incredibles II, maybe that's a good next step.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Newer Media

So Warner Bros. puts out a press release:

... Warner Bros. Consumer Products (WBCP) and DC Entertainment, announced today the launch of the all-new ScoobyDoo.com, LooneyTunes.com and DCKids.com, three new entertainment destinations for kids that will engage fans with all their favorite Warner Bros. characters and DC Comics Super Heroes in a dynamic immersive experience, featuring original new content. ...

Developed for kids aged 4-11, the discoverable digital ecosystem offers relatable entertainment for kids through these immersive worlds that feature components such as original content, videos, downloadable activities, games, quizzes and contests. Additionally, an international market rollout in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the UK is planned for the coming months. ...

A rep from SAG-AFTRA called and asked me if I knew where these semi-cartoons were being done. Actually I'd never heard of them, but after phoning around to my spies and stoolies, the information I came up with is: they were "motion comics" (or somesuch) being done in New Zealand.

When I relayed this information to the SAG-AFTRA rep, he seemed to lose a wee bit of interest. (Apparently SAG-AFTRA's jurisdiction doesn't extend to New Zealand. Who knew?)

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Remembering Woolie

On this date thirty years ago, Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman was killed in a car accident on Olive Avenue, on his way home from a Burbank restaurant. He was a month shy of his 76th birthday.

Woolie in a scene from "The Reluctant Dragon" (1941), one of Disney's early "compilation features", containing live-action and cartoon shorts.

Woolie was a tireless workhorse, straight into his seventies. As a director, he would have all-day story meetings with the story crew, and long sessions at the Moviola with animators. He was tenacious about building a feature sequence by sequence, drawing by drawing. He kept at it until sequences were in color, and sometimes beyond that. Vance Gerry once joked: "Woolie would keep changing and improving things until the film was being packed into shipping boxes for the trip to movie theaters."

In earlier days, he was equally tenacious with his own animation. Ward Kimball related:

... Woolie was a good animator, but I think he suffered with a little inferiority complex. He didn't think he was a good artist, even though he was. Basically I think underneath, he compared himself to Fred (Moore) or some of the others, which made him work harder.

But yet, because of this extra drive Woolie had, it reminds me of Pete Rose, the drive Pete had playing baseball. The guy, who is probably older than the others, but he's a student, and wants to be better and consequently he is. Woolie's stuff in "The Rite of Spring" in Fantasia [the battle of the dinosaurs] has a great monumental weight to it, because Woolie in his own way just kept after it. ...



The last time I saw Woolie, he was enjoying himself at an Animation Guild affair at the Castaways Restaurant, high in the Verdugo Hills above Burbank. We sat talking at his table a long time.

I would have talked to him even longer, had I known that a month later he would be gone.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ms. Bell

Yet another live-action iteration of an animated feature.

[Reese Witherspoon] is attached to star in and produce Disney's Tink, a live-action take on the classic Peter Pan character Tinker Bell.

Witherspoon will produce with Bruna Papandrea, her partner at the duo’s production banner, Pacific Standard.

Victoria Strouse, who wrote the script for Pixar’s upcoming Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, is penning the script for the project, which does not have a director on board and is still in development. ...

Some people like the live-action versions of old hand-drawn features, and others have no use for them, but Diz Co. has had solid, consistent success making spin-offs and sequels of their library. As Seeking Alpha notes:

These films get less media coverage than the Marvel/Star Wars films do, yet their earnings power is no less impressive.

There films and their characters may very well do more for the DIS brand overall with many of the park attractions and rides based upon them.

A re-vitalization of these classic characters helps to refresh the Walt Disney Company and lessens the pressure to create new beloved characters with original content. ...

It isn't a question of high art or deep significance, since that's not the corporate goal here. Remaking the classics have turned into a profitable business for the studio, so more them will be produced.

My question is: Will Witherspoon's Tinker Bell talk?

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Biases

The Reporter tells us:

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on people in Hollywood, via an email on Thursday, to sign a petition urging the government to investigate and monitor the industry's "biased hiring practices."

The ACLU is also hoping that key industry organizations will join them in circulating information about the petition, which is posted online.

"By signing it, industry professionals will tell three government civil rights agencies (1) that gender bias against women directors in film and television is real and has gone on for far too long and (2) investigation and oversight from civil rights enforcement agencies to foster reform of the industry’s biased hiring practices would be a welcome step." ...

"We believe that the failure to hire women directors and give them a fair opportunity to succeed in the field is a civil rights issue. This is why the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Southern California have a campaign demanding that our government launch an investigation into the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and TV industry ​in violation of state and federal civil rights laws."

Age and sex discrimination are not new issues in the Town of Tinsel. A dozen years ago, a rep of the Cinematographers Guild told me how directors of photography died their hair and got face-lifts to remain employable. These folks, unsurprisingly, were men.

But the lack of women in key artistic positions? That issue was covered here Monday. Apologists will say that women just don't want creative jobs, but it's hard to square that with more women working in key artistic positions during the teens and twenties of the last century than in 2015.

There might be some rhyme to it. But it's hard to discern any coherent reasons.

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Hotel T 2 -- The Next Press Kit

Sony Pictures Animation releases its second video about the making of a teaser trailer (when little production animation was done) for Hotel Transylvania II. (Eight days ago, the first one arrived, covering design work.)



Just so you know, the first HT was mainly produced in Culver City; the second mostly happened in Vancouver, where all the free money resides.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Unending Lure of FREE Money

Animal Logic bellies up to the feeding trough.

... Australian visual effects and animation studio Animal Logic is expanding its long-established animation production relationship with Warner Bros. Pictures (Happy Feet, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The LEGO Movie), signing a three-picture deal that will see the Sydney and LA-based company set up a second animation studio in Vancouver, Canada.

The newly established Animal Logic Vancouver will initially be launched as an exclusive partnership to produce three animated features, the first of which will be none other than The LEGO Movie Sequel, with a view to producing subsequent projects in an ongoing collaboration with Warner Bros. Pictures.

Planning is well advanced for the new studio, which is expected to open its doors in September of this year. ...

Taxpayer money is hard to resist when you're a hungry company sniffing after free loot. And the millisecond the money gets cut off, AL will trundle off in search of the next subsidy.

Long live free enterprise.

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Previews From the Crest of the Wave

Disney wows 'em at Cannes:

With Inside Out one of the most warmly received films here in Cannes, Disney and Pixar rode the wave of good will this morning during a two-hour presentation of upcoming titles from both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

In contrast to Disney’s 25-minute CinemaCon showcase which was followed by a screening of Inside Out last month, there was much emphasis placed on the upcoming toons for an audience that lapped up every second. Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and WDAS, John Lasseter, highlighted art and scenes from Thanksgiving release The Good Dinosaur; followed by 2016 sequel Finding Dory; animal tale Zootopia and Polynesia-set musical Moana. ...

Once he was done with the Pixar slate, which also includes Toy Story 4 in a “brand new chapter that’s very personal,” Lasseter switched gears to Walt Disney Animation Studios. He marveled that it had been 10 years since he and partner Ed Catmull had taken over WDAS. “When we came in, we realized there was tremendous talent.” So they “redefined the culture to make it filmmaker driven.” Now, he says, after such mega-hits as Frozen and Big Hero 6, “Walt Disney Animation Studios is back. Ed and I always believed what would heal this studio — because it was quite broken when we came in, the morale was really low — what would really heal it is if we can make a movie to be a really big hit. These guys are on fire now.” ...

Kudos should be given here to Robert Iger, Disney's CEO, who set this era of good feeling (and big profits) in motion when he took the reins from Michael Eisner.

Ten years ago, Mr. Iger commenced making a lot of big corporate decisions that were questioned at the time: He mended half-destroyed fences with Pixar, and had Diz Co. purchase the company for what financial experts characterized as a tall premium ($7.2 billion). He brought an alienated Roy Disney back into the corporate fold. And I remember well the excitement at that first Disney/Iger stockholder meeting at the Anaheim POND, when John Lasseter mounted the hall's stage to make his first presentation regarding Disney Animation's future.

Time passed. The company's wheels kept turning. And by and by Mr. Iger "paid too much" for Marvel and Lucasfilm, as analysts' eyebrows (again) lifted.

But that was then and this is now. And the old adage "Based on results, how are you doing?" comes to mind. Based on Diz Co.'s corporate ledger sheets, the company is doing just fine. Profit margins, stock prices, and corporate net worth don't lie.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Flatness of Wages

Earlier this week, I got a call from a veteran board artist who's looking for more work and asked about the salary range for storyboarders. I steered him to last August's Wage Survey at the website, and got this:

Artist: Hey, I know people who are getting more than the rates in here.

Me: Probably so. Not everybody responds. I've been to big studios and asked the high earners to supply wage data. they tell me, "Not on your life. We don't want people finding out what we make." So what do you do? ...

The artist is convinced that studios are colluding and suppressing wages. "I go from one studio to another, and the rates are exactly the same. Can't be a coincidence," he says.

"Probably not," I reply. "But we haven't proved it. We've aided and abetted different law firms with their cases, but those lawyers haven't proved it. Not to the satisfaction of a judge."

"They were time-barred. Didn't mean collusion's not going on."


My take: Studios are working hard to hold the line. If that means using newbies that cost less in wages but lots more in production time and production blowups, they go with the newbies. Even though it's often a dumb thing to do.

I also think there's a measure of salary coordination that's happening. The fact that a lot of people get paid within a tight band of rates when, at the same time, studios complain "We can't find qualified people!" is a curious, curious phenomenon, one that didn't happen in the nineties.

But it's one thing to think collusion/suppression, another to prove it in court.

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Month In Unionism

Tom Sito once again gifts us with important dates in animation and other corners of show biz. May seems to be a particularly good month for union activism, as you will read.

May 1st, 1941 - Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane debuts at the Paramount theater in Hollywood (now the El Capitan). At the last minute William Randolph Hearst's friend Louis B. Mayer of MGM tries to buy and destroy every print of the film, and the Hearst press goes crazy attacking it.

Hearst’s spokesperson Louella Parsons threatens "A Beautiful Lawsuit" if the film is not pulled. Despite winning some Oscars the film doesn’t do well in its initial release, but is considered one of the greatest American films of all time.

May 1st, 1989 - Walt Disney Feature Animation in Orlando Florida opens.

[Mr. Sito, while TAG President, had much to do with making WDFA Orlando a union shop. He flew down and personally persuaded the FLorida artists that joining an animation union was a good thing. -- Steve Hulett.)

May 1st, 1993 - The Florida Animation Union, IATSE Local 843, is chartered.

May 1, 1999 - Spongebob Squarepants debuts on Nickelodeon.

May 2, 1964 - Disney’s audio-animatronic Abe Lincoln exhibit opens at the NY World’s Fair. The animatronic technology forms the basis of modern motion capture technique.

May 3, 1948 - THE PARAMOUNT DECISION - In 1938, the independent theater chains bring a lawsuit in Federal court against the major Hollywood Studios over their monopolistic practices. Ten years later the Supreme Court ruled the Motion Picture Studios do constitute a monopoly and under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act orders them to sell their theater chains. One casualty of this rule was the short cartoon. Because theater managers are no longer were forced to run a cartoon, newsreel and short with a feature (aka. block-booking), they choose to run more showings of the main feature.

May 3, 1969 - Groundbreaking begins in Valencia for the California Institute of the Arts.

May 4, 1927 - The Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences is formed. Studio heads Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer originally conceived the Academy as an arbiter where studio artists could air grievances without fear of retaliation, thereby sidetracking the call for unions. It didn't work, because of the nature of its founding by studio heads. Writer Dorothy Parker commented: "Going to the Academy with your problems is like trying to get laid in your mother's house, someone's always peeking through the curtains"

May 5th, 1945 - Happy Birthday Yosemite Sam! “Hare Trigger”, the first cartoon to feature the red mustachioed desperado, premiers.

May 6, 1937 - THE FLEISCHER STRIKE - Cartoonists vote to strike Max Fleischer’s Studio after Max fires 13 animators for union activity and complaining about the 6 day work week. The strike settles several weeks later when parent company Paramount forces Max to recognize their union.

[Max Fleischer and his brother Dave soon moved their studio to Miami Florida to get away from the awful union. The maneuver back-fired, because in order to lure artists to the swampy wetlands of Florida, they had to offer premium wages. The studio foundered in the early forties when "Mr. Bug Goes to Town" under-performed and the brothers Fleischer commenced fighting. After the release of several "Superman" shorts, Paramount closed the studio. -- Steve Hulett]

May 8, 1874 - Massachusetts adopts a 10-hour workday for women, down from 14 hours.

May 8, 1943 - Tex Avery's cartoon, "Red Hot Riding Hood", premieres.

May 9, 1937 - Burne Hogarth starts drawing the Tarzan comic strip. ...

May 9, 1955 - A Washington D.C. station puts on a young Univ. of Maryland grad named Jim Henson as filler before the TODAY Show. His antics with his green frog, Kermit, fashioned from fabric from one of his mothers old green coats are the birth of The Muppets.

May 10, 1929 - Skeleton Dance, the first Disney Silly Symphony, premiers. Its tight sync animation by Ub Iwerks inspires a generation of animators.

May 17, 1941 – THE LOONY TOON LOCKOUT. Producer Leon Schlesinger tries to forestall the unionization of his Bugs Bunny cartoonists by locking them out. After a week he relents and recognizes the cartoonist guild. Chuck Jones called it “our own little six-day war.”

May 18, 2001 – Dreamworks’ Shrek opens.

May 18, 2003 - Pixar’s Finding Nemo opens.

May 20, 1937 - Bob Clampett is promoted to director at Leon Schlesinger’s Looney Tunes Studio. After leaving Looney Tunes, Clampett created the Beany & Cecil Show for television.

May 20, 1975 - In a small warehouse in Van Nuys, California, George Lucas assembles an effects crew to create the film Star Wars. It is the birth of Industrial Light & Magic, or ILM.

May 20, 2003 - In 1977, when Walt Disney's The Rescuers was being completed, the artists for a joke added a Playboy picture into a pan shot. Going by at 1/24th a second, they were confident nobody would ever spot it. Later in the 1990s, when Rescuers went to VHS video, they edited out the controversial frame. But when it was time in 2003 to rerelease on DVD, the Studio apparatchniks went back to the original 1977 negative, without ever bothering to consult any of us artists. We could have warned them. but no. So on May 20, 2003, nine million copies of the Rescuers DVD hit the stores, with the ensuing public outcry, and embarrassed apologies one might imagine.

May 22, 1985 - Disney animation director Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman, who directed The Jungle Book among other films, dies in a car crash following lunch at the Smoke House in Burbank.

May 25, 1977 - Star Wars opens in theaters

May 25, 1979 - Ridley Scott’s film Alien premiers, with sets by H.R. Giger.

May 27, 1933 - Walt Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs” premieres. The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” featured in the film becomes a national anthem of recovery from the Depression.

May 29, 1941 -THE WALT DISNEY CARTOONISTS STRIKE. Animators go on strike after Walt refuses to recognize their union and fires Art Babbit and several others for union activity. The picket line and campsite went up across the street where St. Joseph's Hospital is today. Chef's from nearby Toluca Lake restaurants would cook for the strikers on their off time and the aircraft mechanics of Lockheed promised muscle if any ruffstuff was threatened. 

Picketers included Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace), Walt Kelly and Margaret Selby Kelly (Pogo), Bill Melendez (A Charlie Brown Christmas), Steve Bosustow and John Hubley (Mr. Magoo), Maurice Noble and Chuck Jones (What's Opera Doc?), George Baker (Sad Sack), Dick Swift ("the Parent Trap") Frank Tashlin (Cinderfella) and four hundred others.

Animators from Warner Bros. MGM and Walter Lantz marched with their Disney brothers and sisters because they knew this was where the fate of their entire industry would be settled. Celebrities like Dorothy Parker, Frank Morgan and John Garfield gave speeches. The studio claimed no one of importance was on strike. 

The strike eventually settles through Federal arbitration and a little arm-twisting by the Bank of America. Walt recognizes our union and most base salaries are doubled. Many of the artists who leave the studio afterwards set up U.P.A. and pioneer the 1950's animation style.


May 31, 2000 - The first Survivor show premiers in the US, shepherding in a new era of TV reality shows.

Birthdays: Maurice Noble, Fyodor Khytruk, John Woo, Wes Anderson, Eric Goldberg. Alice Liddel 1852- the inspiration of Alice in Wonderland, Floyd Gottfredson, Andriana Caselotti- the voice of Snow White, Orson Welles, Don Rickles, Bob Clampett, James L. Brooks, Tom Sito, Margaret Kerry, Joe Grant, Homer Simpson, George Carlin, Bernie Mattinson, Steven Colbert, Robert Zemeckis, Howard Ashman, George Lucas, Tina Fey, Leon Schlesinger, John Hubley, Paul Winchell, John C. Reilly, Ian McKellen, Matt Stone, Danny Elfman, Milt Neill, Clint Eastwood, Mel Blanc.



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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Sh*t

From a new blog:

"For girls, it goes beyond getting your foot in the door. If you want to make it in this industry, you need to get a boob job."

-- Advice from another female animation director ...

Fortune Magazine had a piece about The Shit People Say to Women Directors (And Other Women In Film), which noted ...

... “Sexism is one of the most socially accepted forms of discrimination and a pervasive disease in the film and television business,” the founders of Shit People Say to Women Directors said in an email to Fortune. “The former president of the [Directors Guild of America] has acknowledged that gender inequality is a systemic problem that there is no easy solution to. There isn’t just a major gap in opportunity and earnings — it’s an enormous chasm. In fact, there were more opportunities for women in the silent era than there are in 2015.” ...

Brenda Chapman, an animation writer-director ... said she thinks “S—t People Say to Women Directors” will be a force for good in the entertainment business.

“The more people realize the stupidity of some of this stuff … they’ll be more careful because they don’t want to get quoted in there." ...

As we've noted previously, more women are finding their way into animation in 2015. There are far more women in art/animation schools today than twenty years ago, and women's steady march from entry level positions to director, storyboard and journey animators' slots continues to happen (17% of employees working inside unionized L.A. animation studios four years ago to 21% today.)

The cartoon business is still, by and large, a boys' club, with an abundance of boys in charge, but (happily) the landscape morphs day by day.

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Fresh


Like, as I write this, 100%.

And Eric Kohn points out:

Cannes premiered a big animated feature and an abstract Thai drama that have more in common than meets the eye.

Film festivals often provide focal points for discovering connections between various movies that might otherwise never land side by side. There may be no greater instance of such happenstance than at the Cannes Film Festival, a global showcase for cinema of all stripes. In a single day, this year's program included two projects clearly pitched at separate sensibilities.

But when viewed side by side, they sing the same tune: "Inside Out," the latest venture from Pixar, offers a lively take on the way emotional impulses form human identity. That fairly abstract idea takes on more cryptic dimensions in "Cemetery of Splendour," from Thailand's master of lyrical encounters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Seen together, however, these enormously satisfying projects form a complimentary package for exploring the hidden forces governing everyday existence. ...

There are similarities to Disney's earlier Cranium Command and Reason and Emotion, but so what? There is nothing 100% fresh and original under the sun, and if earlier shows (one of which Mr. Docter worked on, offered a nudge of inspiration, that's a good thing, isn't it?

The larger issue is, does IO satisfy audiences? The answer seems to be resounding yes.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Negotiations, Past and Future


The Sherman Oaks Galleria, also the former home of the May Co.; former home of Warner Bros. Animation. Current residence of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, where TAG contract talks will take place the tail end of June.

Come summertime, the Animation Guild will sit down with the major animation studios and negotiate a new three-year contract. The guild’s negotiation committee will meet in early June to go over proposals, but it’s important to know what the IA (our mother international) negotiated for other West Coast production locals last month. ...

In a nutshell:

Wage minimums will increase 3% in each year of the Agreement. The increases shall compound.

MPI Pension Plan:

For those who retired prior to August 1, 2009, they shall receive a 13th and 14th check on or about November 1 in each year of the Agreement, provided there are 8 months of reserves in both the Active and Retiree Health Plan and the Pension Plan is certified to be in the Green Zone.

In each year of the Agreement, the hourly contribution into the Pension Plan shall increase by an additional $.18 per hour.

The Defined Benefit Pension Plan benefit accrual formula will increase by 10% for Active Participants effective 1/1/17, retroactive to 8/1/2015.

MPI Health Plan:

Prescription drug co-payments will not increase

There will be no increased costs to the primary participants nor to their dependents for health care coverage.

There will be no cuts to health care benefits.

Current members with at least one qualifying year into the MPI shall continue to be eligible for retiree health coverage after 15 qualifying years in the MPI. For new members who do not have a qualifying year into the MPIPHP as of 1/1/16, such new employees will need 20 qualifying years in the MPI to qualify for retiree health coverage. ...

The New Media Sideletter under the Basic Agreement saw major improvements, and TAG will be looking to make ours more “member friendly” as well.

The thing of it is, contract negotiations are often elongated rituals. They're also like watching weird Kabuki theater while sitting on low-voltage electric spikes. The union has its proposals, the producers have their proposals. Management let's you know, via various signals, that any push to better terms and conditions in the contract are counter-productive and never going to fly.

Steve Kaplan and I were present at the IA Basic negotiations. There was a lot of performance art and haggling over smaller contract points during the first four days, then a 20-plus hour bargaining session on the final day. The finish line was reached with a satisfactory conclusion, but getting there was a wee bit like the Bataan death march.

I have been informed that we won't have to go until the wee small hours this time around. I guess we'll see.

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The Ever-Changing TV

Forbes highlights the way it ain't NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox the way it used to be.

Four Ways YouTube And Netflix Will Transform Television

... Internet-native “over-the-top” video services are poised to transform television. TV and online video experts at a panel discussion this week in Qualcomm's Silicon Valley office, sponsored by the business and technology forum Churchill Club, outlined several ways that’s going to happen in coming years. ...

AwesomenessTV viewers ... often have a much more personal relationship with video creators, or at least they feel like they do. “That’s one of the fundamental differences between what linear television used to be and today’s networks,” said Day, ... “There’s a sentiment that they helped create these actors. They can’t imagine not talking to celebrities [on social media]. You’re going to see that more and more [in regular movies and broadcast TV].”

The ability of YouTube, which after all is something of a social network for video, to attract large numbers of people around the world means that these audiences self-select and build up close-knit communities. For instance, Tom Pickett, CEO of Crunchyroll, an over-the-top Japanese anime-focused video provider, said anime fans are very passionate and love to talk to each other about it, sometimes in real-world conventions. “We bring together as much anime content as we can, which brings together community,” he says. “That brand is created by the community.” ...

What Netflix, Amazon and other distributor/creators recognize is that cartoons cross lots of various demographics, have high viewer interest and loyalty, and have a long shelf life (witness Scooby, Bugs, and Daffy as three prime examples).

These things, as much as anything else, are why internet services have thrown money at creating animation content. It's a high profit center, and will likely continue to be one. Flesh and blood actors get old and fall from favor, but cartoon characters are young and popular forever. Entire families love them, which why the providers of Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) love them even more.

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International Ticket Tally

The weekend grosses beyond our shores:

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Avengers 2 -- $185,000,000 -- ($1,142,507,808)

Mad Max -- $65,000,000 -- ($109,400,000)

Home -- $4,500,000 -- ($351,146,942)

Cinderella -- $3,300,000 -- ($521,027,551)

The trade press tells us:

... Mad Max grossed an estimated $65M in 68 overseas markets for a global total of $109.4M; it performed especially well in action-loving bases. ... After blasting off in China last Tuesday, Avengers: Age Of Ultron packed houses to a six-day estimate of $156.3M. It’s the best Middle Kingdom debut ever for Disney/Marvel. ...

Furious 7 reached the checkered flag in China on Tuesday after racing to an historic $390.5M cume. ... Home landed the No. 2 slot in Venezuela at $1.5M on 91 screens. In total, the DreamWorks Animation release from Fox added $4.6M bringing the offshore haul to $185.6M. ...

Disney’s Cinderella continues to clean up in Japan where it was off just 2% for a local cume of $33.7M. ... [It takes] the offshore total to $323.8M and the overall box office to $521.03M. ...

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Meanwhile, Out Of Paris ...

Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment presents a side road of the Despicable series.



A little further along the movie release trail, Inside Out arrives in mid-June, and Minions hits your local multiplex the middle of July.

Walt Disney Animation Studios (aka Disney Feature) has no productions rolling out this year, nor does DreamWorks Animation. But come fourth quarter The Good Dinosaur, Hotel Transylvania 2 and The Peanuts Movie will bright the brisk Fall days.

But it isn't just three of the Big American CG Studios that will be launching cartoons. There will also be a plethora of international offerings for those with the gumption to sniff them out. (We doubt many will be getting any kind of wide release across the fruited plain.)

So far in '15, DWA's Home has done remarkably well at the domestic box office. In short order, we'll see what other features grab heavy coin.

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Your American Box Office

Another weekend, and the little alien clings to the Top Ten.

U.S. Weekend Box Office

1). Pitch Perfect 2 (UNI), 3,473 theaters / $27.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $62M+ to $64M / Wk 1

2). Mad Max: Fury Road (WB), 3,702 theaters / $16.68M Fri. / 3-day cume: $41M+ to $43.6M / Wk 1

3). Avengers: Age of Ultron (DIS), 4,276 theaters (0) / $10.17M Fri. / 3-day cume: $37M / Total cume: $370.2M / Wk 3

4). Hot Pursuit (WB/MGM/NL), 3,037 theaters (+34) / $1.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.6M to $5.9M (-59%) / Total cume: $23.4M / Wk 2

5/6/7). Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 (SONY), 2,632 theaters (-569) / $855K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.39M / Total cume: $62.7M / Wk 5

Furious 7 (UNI), 2,238 theaters (-301) / $965K to $990K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.34M to $3.5M / Total cume: $343M+/ Wk 7

The Age of Adaline (LGF), 2,623 theaters (-447) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.34M / Total cume: $37.15M / Wk 4

8). Home (FOX/DW), 2,006 theaters (-489) / $500K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.25M / Total cume: $165.2M / Wk 8

9). Ex Machina (A24), 1,718 theaters (-286) / $584K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2M / Total cume: $19.5M / Wk 6

10). Far From The Madding Crowd (FSL), 289 theaters (+190) / $350K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.3M / Total cume: $2.64M ...

Home is doing a 50/50 split between domestic and foreign box office. Today, it's run up $345 million globally, and continues to unspool in international markets.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Profits

Top to bottom, really no surprises.

... Disney's film entertainment segment netted $1.7 billion on revenues of $7.2 billion. ...

NBCUniversal notched $711 million in profit on $5 billion in revenue – the second best ratio in Hollywood. ...

21st Century Fox earned $1.5 billion on revenue of $10.3 billion. ...

Warner Bros. pocketed $1.2 billion in profit from $12.5 billion in revenue. ...

Maybe the fat profits explain why entertainment labor unions eked out 2 1/2% and 3% wage increases this time around, an improvement over the 2% bumps from three years ago.

Or maybe it was some kind of religious conversion, a spasm of conscience, some desire to see economic justice done.

Naaaw.

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Even MORE Free Money!

Courtesy of the Province of Nova Scotia.

Tax benefits sweeter for animation than live-action.

Are live-action actors worth less than animated creations? It would appear so, under the new provincial funding regime for digital animation finalized last week.

A media production company such as DHX Media Ltd., worth $1.2 billion on the Toronto Stock Exchange, would receive refundable tax credits worth about 70 per cent of animation labour costs under the funding stream that will take effect July 1.

A bonus of 17.5 per cent for labour costs directly tied to animation will now be stacked on top of the existing digital media tax credit to create an animation tax credit, with a ceiling on eligible salaries.

A scenario provided by the Finance Department shows an animated digital production with a total budget of $1.3 million, including $600,000 in animation costs, would receive a refundable tax credit of $430,000 for the animated component of labour costs. ....

There's just not enough that governments north of the U.S.-Canadian border can do for their struggling, $1.2 billion corporations.

I don't know why the tax payers of Nova Scotia are being so shy and retiring about this. If they really wanted to support cartoons, they'd offer a tax credit that covers 120 percent of labor costs. Because frankly, 70 percent seems pretty damn paltry.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Steady Growth

Steve Kaplan and I have been visiting cartoon studios in Glendale and Burbank; what strikes us how our fine, entertainment conglomerates is adding shows and expanding studios, to wit:

* Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios (on Olive Avenue in Burbank) has at last broken ground on its "new state-of-the-art five-story glass structure" on the former site of United Rentals.

* Warner Bros. Animation has expanded staff into a cluster of trailers on the Warner (formerly Columbia) Ranch, where new, yet-to-be-announced shows are in development.

* Disney TVA has newer series*, also not yet announced, in work. ...

* Dreamworks Animation continues to grow animation staff to meet production deadlines for its Netflix series. And DreamWorks Animation Feature unit is under-staffed inv various departments after its latest round of layoffs.

* Disney Toons is not extinct, but continues to occupy a corner of the Disney Toons building on Sonora in Glendale. (The majority of the interior space is filled with refugees from the W.D.A.S. hat building on Riverside Drive in Burbank.)

* Marvel Animation has two super hero series going -- one at its Glendale studio and one at Prospect Avenue studio owned by Diz Co. in Hollywood. (Spiderman, a third Marvel property, is being produced by Film Roman on hollywood Way in Burbank.

* To let you know, we won't be breaking the titles or subject matter of the shows here.

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Out of Vancouver

Rainmaker Entertainment (from north of the border) and Blockade Entertainment are bring forth

... Ratchet & Clank, a CG-animated feature film based on the popular PlayStation video game. The release date has been set for April 29, 2016.

... Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Sylvester Stallone and Rosario Dawson will voice star in the film. ...

This will be one of the lower-budget CG features released next year, designed to capitalize on the video game of the same name.

With luck, it will scoop up similar money to Rainmaker's Escape from Planet Earth. No doubt Rainmaker and Blockade are hoping for better, but there will be a bunch of high-profile animated releases around it, so how the picture does is anyone's guess.

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SO It Wasn't Everybody

Now with later breaking Add On.

There was scuttlebutt about this from different sources, but now it's official.

The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean just issued a statement confirming that original voice cast member Harry Shearer is leaving the show. “Harry Shearer was offered the same deal the rest of the cast accepted, and passed,” Jean said in a statement released by series producer 20th Century Fox TV. “The show will go on and we wish him well. Maggie took it hard.” He indicated that the characters voiced by Shearer, including Burns and Flanders, won’t be killed off, but the roles will be recast. ...

Studio insiders told me that Shearer was the last voice actor to be resigned, that he had reached an agreement just before the first Simpsons table read, but that information was in error.

One of the gossip sites (TMZ) had subsequently reported that Hearer had NOT signed, and it's now clear that information was correct. Harry, per the article, wouldn't agree to a pre-determined schedule, and so ... adios.

He's a talented, talented man, and has many creative fires burning at different locations on the globe, and I'm confident he'll get along splendidly without the Simpsons gig.

Add On: The Shearer Saga continues:

... "(W)e're still hoping he might come back," said Al Jean to Dan Snierson of EW.com. "Nothing's done 'til it's done." ...

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

CG Effects' Virtual Un-Reality

Amusing.

6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy

... Why do a bunch of us find the photorealistic carnage of the Genisys and Jurassic World trailers so woefully unappealing? The answer isn't dumb nostalgia (well, not just dumb nostalgia) but rather that the best CGI in the world might as well be The Scorpion King if the filmmakers fail to realize a handful of fundamental things about special effects. ...

#6. Lack Of Visual Restraint Makes Gravity Act Like A Cartoon

#5. Color Grading Makes Everything Look Like A Fantasy

#4. CGI Was Originally Used As A Last Resort

#3. Most Films Forget That A Camera Needs To Physically Exist

#2. Modern Movies Forget We Can Tell When Something Looks Fake

#1. Big Effects Sequences Are Supposed To Be Treated With Awe ...

The cartoony overtones of much live-action CGI today? I actually enjoy them. (They're not making any new Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, after all.)

Years ago, my wife (and disapproving kids) were horrified when I laughed uproariously at the tense action sequence near the front of Jurassic Park III. "Stop that! You're embarrassing all of us!" But the action and effects were over the top, and I slouched helplessly in my theater seat, honking laughter and holding my sides.

If you treat the big CG spectaculars as elaborate cartoon shorts, the entertainment factor goes up geometrically.

But I understand the complaints made up above. There was a time when I found the explosions and big chunks of metal whirling past the CGI "camera" pretty artificial. And samey. But (as always), it isn't about what holds and entertains me, but what entrances a big, general audience.

And the big effects films clearly entertain. They all seem to make $500 million and up.

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Transylvanian Press Kit

Sony Style.




SPA sends out its release of production designer Mike Kurinsky's explanation of various wonders in HT2. (There will be two more, released on a weekly basis.)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

VFX on a Shoestring

The big L.A. visual effects studios -- Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues -- are history now, and the big ticket action features now get their effects created someplace else. But what's often overlooked is a lot of vfx is now done in Los Angeles County on small budgets and tight schedules. For example:

...[ TV's] “The Flash” has depicted a particle accelerator exploding, a tornado, a nuclear blast, a freeze ray, a human fireball, a train wreck and the villainous Gorilla Grodd, not to mention the Flash himself, a man (Gustin) who can run faster than sound. The mastermind behind these spectacles is visual effects supervisor Armen V. Kevorkian, whose credits include “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” “Alias” and “The Tomorrow People.” ...

Kevorkian: {we created a gorilla] early in the show. ... Normally you get a TV script, you get seven or eight days of prep, you shoot for seven or eight days, and two weeks later you get the footage. We did have a heads up of, there’s something big coming, so start thinking about it. ...

There’s a lot of ... invisible effects that go into the show. Because of the nature of the show, everything is pretty much an effect. Our villains have effects, Flash has effects, some of the things that happen, even if it’s with real plates, like him running water, is a combination of shooting footage and adding our effects on top of it. ...

Over the past few years, smaller effects houses in Burbank, Santa Monica, and other municipalities have scaled up to do visual effects on an array of cable broadcast television shows. They haven't replaced the giants that have gone away, but they've kept some of the Los Angeles talent pool employed.

As state subsidies for visual effects work kick in, the expectation is that these smaller outposts will grow in size, and California will reclaim some of its former glory. In a year or two we should know.


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The Cable Thing

From the usual brag sheet.

... Cartoon Network charted year-over-year double-digit delivery gains among all key kids between 13%-19%.

Cartoon Network was television's #1 destination for all key kids and boys on Thursday Night. All Thursday Night premieres – Clarence (5 pm), Steven Universe (5:30 pm), Teen Titans Go! (6p) and Adventure Time (7:30p) – grew by double and triple digits across all key demos, and most ranked #1 in their respective timeslots across kids 2-11, 6-11 and all key boys. ...

I visited Cartoon Network's Burbank animation studio today and its humming right along. Shows are being picked up for new seasons (mostly), and there is product in development.

It's the same across L.A.'s TV animation landscape. There are new series on cable and the web, from DreamWorks to Nickelodeon to Disney TVA. Just last week I was in the Mouse's television facility and noted TVA was deep into development of a show I had no clue was being made and has yet to be announced. As a board artist/director remarked to me this morning:

... I had a long dry spell a few years back, I didn't think the industry was ever going to recover. But now I don't have to freelance so much because I've got a staff job, and in eight weeks my Motion Picture Industry Health Coverage kicks in. Wages aren't as high as they were in the nineties, but I'm back working full time. Things could be worse. ...

There's a bigger talent pool now because every college in the country are pushing out animation majors, there rumors and lawsuits about wage collusion. On the other hand, there are a lot more jobs.

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