Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cable Cartoons

The Time-Warner family of cable networks does well with the animations.

... Across the second week of April, and with a full primetime programming scheduled (8 – 11 p.m.), Adult Swim ranked #1 in Primetime delivery of adults 18-34 among all basic cable networks. Adult Swim’s Total Day weekly averages also ranked #1 on basic cable among adults 18-34, 18-49 & 18-24 as well as men 18-34, 18-49, & 18-24. Total Day delivery also grew +3% among men 18-49 vs. the same time period last year. ...

Across the second week of April 2014, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network among boys 6-11 & 9-14 on Thursday Night (6-8 p.m.), and the #1 network among boys 9-14 on Monday Night (6-8 p.m.). ...

But there's confusing this:

For the week of April 7, 2014, Disney Channel ranked as TV’s #1 Total Day network for the 148th-consecutive week among Tweens 9-14 (379,000/1.6 rating) and for the 147th time in the previous 148 weeks in Kids 6-11 (440,000/1.9 rating) – dates back to week of 6/13/11.

Disney Channel defeated Nickelodeon by 23% in Kids 6-11 (440,000 vs. 358,000) and by 56% in Tweens 9-14 (379,000 vs. 243,000).

In Prime, Disney Channel stood as cable TV’s #1 network for the 464th-consecutive week among Kids 6-11 (735,000/3.1 rating – 8+ years) and 201st-straight week among Tweens 9-14 (659,000/2.7 rating – 3+ years).

You will note how everybody is Number One, except the demos in each press release are a teensy bit different from one conglomerate to the next. (18-34 is NOT 15-17, not even close.) On the other hand, Adult Swim is a success by any measure.

... What started nearly 15 years ago as a two-hour programming experiment has emerged as the biggest success story in late-night television: an irreverent, disruptive anti-channel that blends live action and animated original series to the delight of 18-35 year old males across the country. While the press clamored over the network talk show hosts’ game of musical chairs, culminating with David Letterman’s recent retirement announcement, Adult Swim quietly swept ratings among the covetable young male demo across 2013. ...

Adult Swim underwrites a lot of non-union animation. TAG aims to change that as time goes on. The rest of the network is Animation Guild oriented. No reason AS can't be the same.

Click here to read entire post

Maybe Write Down Time?

The Street isn't sure about the economic health of Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

... Analysts are divided over whether the MPAS will force DreamWorks Animation to take a write-down. Analyst Ben Mogil of Stifel Nicolaus predicted “Peabody” would cost DreamWorks Animation $41 million in a note Monday while Morgan Stanley forecast the company would break-even or take a modest write-down.

DreamWorks Animation will report its quarterly earnings at the end of this month, and Mogil posited, ”the question now becomes whether the company writes the film off with this quarter results, as was the case with “Rise of the Guardians” or waits to see how DVD fares, which was the case with ‘Turbo.'” “Turbo” cost DreamWorks Animation $13.5 million in its most recent quarter.

“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” has already topped “Turbo” in the United States, grossing $105 million to the $83 million “Turbo” made. “Peabody” has lagged overseas, however, grossing $143 million thus far with South Korea the only new market left.

“We estimate that the international box office will be in the $155mn range (was $255mn), triggering a loss of $41mn,” Mogil wrote. ...

I'm guessing that we won't be seeing Mr. Peabody and Sherman 2: When Time Travelers Attack anytime this century.

But I'm betting that, come summer, How to Train Your Dragon II is a major winner for the company.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Joys of Like-O-Meters

Lauren Davis writes:

How useful are animation focus groups when deciding whether to re-tool a cartoon series? According to this behind-the-scenes comic by Green Lantern: The Animated Series showrunner Giancarlo Volpe, the answer is: not very. ...

And Mr. Volpe draws. ...

I wouldn't say that testing and focus groups provide no information or guidance, but corporate entities rely on them way too much.

Disney TVA/Disney Channel (to use but one example) religiously focus group and test animated shows long before they ever make it to air. If the test scores are high enough, then the half-hour pilots/animatics/whatever get green-lit to series. If it bombs or under-performs with the tots and their "Like-O-Meters", the half-hour ends up in the ash can of failed pilots.

The tyranny of five-year-olds. It's wonderful that artists' destinies and livelihoods rest in their grimy little hands.

Click here to read entire post

Mining the Vault

Nobody likes sequels. But everybody loves remakes.

Cinderella -- This one started out as a project directed by Mark Romanek, previously responsible for One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go. He's been replaced by Kenneth Branagh, and the film will be in cinemas in March next year.

Pete's Dragon -- The 1977 live-action/animation hybrid, about an orphan boy and his big cartoon dragon, is set for a remake.

The Jungle Book -- Disney's version already has a release date pencilled in for October next year, with Jon Favreau directing the live-action/CGI hybrid. We also have some encouraging casting news, with Idris Elba having signed up to lend his dulcet tones to Shere Khan. ...

Then, of course:

Originality. It's a good thing. But not in Hollywood.

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Animation Predominates

The Fox block, it does well. Particularly the Griffins.

... Fox's "Family Guy" and ABC's "Resurrection" were Sunday night's highest-rated network shows among key young adults, though it appears that golf-boosted CBS had the best ratings overall.

"Family Guy" scored a rating of 2.1 among key 18- to 49-year-old viewers, according to early numbers from Nielsen. Though Peter Griffin et al were down 9% from last week, the animated comedy was the top nonsports program on the major networks in the advertiser-coveted age group. ...

Fox continues to cash in on prime time animation. I've got no idea why every other broadcast network avoids animation between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. The only thing that occurs to me is that they don't want to cozy up to the WGAw.

But maybe that's not it. Maybe they just don't want to rain on Rupert's parade.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The East Coast Feature Animation Studio

It's based in Connecticut, and doing well.

... More than any other U.S. filmmaking operation today, Blue Sky is demonstrating the enormous power and sway the international market can have on Hollywood. But judging by the coverage (or lack thereof) of Blue Sky’s films from most stateside media outlets, you could be forgiven for thinking of the studio as the RC Cola of feature animation, a third-tier operation without the cultural and commercial heft of Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney. (Or, for that matter, the upstart Illumination Entertainment, which has basically only the Despicable Me movies and The Lorax to its name.)

The things you need to know about Blue Sky studios is

1) Fox tried to sell Blue Sky ... before the company realized Ice Age was going to be a big hit.

2) Blue Sky pioneered the use of tax subsidies, moving from White Plains, New York to Connecticut to get money from the state.

3) Blue Sky's features cost less than Pixar's and DreamWorks's, but more than Illumination Entertainment's. A Blue Sky features costs in $95-110 million range, while Illumination Entertainment products run $75-$80 million. Blue Sky brings in temporary staffers during crunch time and puts them up in corporate apartments. The company isn't unionized but pays competitively. Chris Meledandri, a specialist in keeping budgets low, ran both Blue Sky and Illumination Entertainment at different times.

4) Blue Sky's core staff has been on board for years.

5) Blue Sky's animated features are (mostly) profitable.

Click here to read entire post

World Box Office

The Cartoons, they continue to do well around the globe.

Foreign Box Office -- (World Accumulations)

Rio 2 -- $62,300,000 -- ($164,200,000)

The Lego Movie -- $9,500,000 -- ($424,718,771)

Frozen -- $8,000,000 -- ($1,112,532,000)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $3,800,000 -- ($249,214,979)

The rundown as described by Deadline:

Warner Bros’ The Lego Movie continues building its overseas cume with an additional $9.5M this weekend on over 3,100 screens. The total international tally now stands at $173.3M. Lego clicked in Germany with a No. 1 bow – ahead of newcomer Divergent and holdovers Rio 2 and Noah. ...

Frozen, meanwhile, has glided up a notch on the all-time box office chart, now standing at No. 8 with $1,113M. Disney is confident Frozen will soon pass Ice Age 4 to become the highest grossing international animated release of all time. It added $8M this weekend. ...

Rio 2 dropped 20% in its second outing in the UK, earning $2.9M from 1,100 dates. ...

Click here to read entire post

The Jobs Boost From Free Money

This isn't much of a surprise.

British cartoons boom as industry is reanimated by tax relief deal -- Tax credits tipped the balance, says CBeebies boss who has commissioned six new series from homegrown studios ...

The creative surge comes after a helping hand from George Osborne, who has introduced a tax break for the animation industry, amounting to around 20% of production costs. Announcing the measure in his 2012 budget, Osborne said he wanted to ensure that Wallace and Gromit stayed at the top of the global animation game.

The effect has been to revive an industry that had been down in the dumps, with even the production of Thomas the Tank Engine being shifted in 2010 from Britain to Canada. Kay Benbow, head of CBeebies, said the tax credits had "tipped the balance", with more and more projects that had been pre-ordered by the channel suddenly going ahead. ...

Productions that had been outsourced overseas are being repatriated, he said, and there are signs of inward investment as foreign producers start to place work with UK animators. Blue-Zoo is adapting one animation for a Japanese client. ...

It has, of course, become a buyers' market.

Companies and conglomerates now look around for the biggest subsidies, and set up shop where the money spigot is biggest. And when the cash flow gets turned off, they move on to a new locale with a generous dole.

Robust and unfettered free enterprise is truly a wonder to behold. Now, let's get the lazy moochers off of food stamps so we can make room for bigger farm subsidies.

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Retirement Theft

The past few weeks I've talked to various fifty-something members who have a lot of years and cash in Guild retirement accounts, but aren't old enough to cash in. Some are still employed and hanging on to their long-time profession, and some are encountering longer stretches of down-time and wondering what they're going to do for the next fifteen years of their working lives. But no matter where somebody is in their career, they should be aware of this:

... A new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees — adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year — would erase $70,000 from an average worker's account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options. To compensate for the higher fees, someone would have to work an extra three years before retiring.

The study comes from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Its analysis, backed by industry and government data, suggests that U.S. workers, already struggling to save enough for retirement, are being further held back by fund costs.

"The corrosive effect of high fees in many of these retirement accounts forces many Americans to work years longer than necessary or than planned," the report, being released Friday, concludes.

Most savers have only a vague idea how much they're paying in 401(k) fees or what alternatives exist, though the information is provided in often dense and complex fund statements. High fees seldom lead to high returns. And critics say they hurt ordinary investors — much more so than, say, Wall Street's high-speed trading systems, which benefit pros and have increasingly drawn the eye of regulators.

Consider what would happen to a 25-year-old worker, earning the U.S. median income of $30,500, who puts 5 percent of his or her pay in a 401(k) account and whose employer chips in another 5 percent:

— If the plan charged 0.25 percent in annual fees, a widely available low-cost option, and the investment return averaged 6.8 percent a year, the account would equal $476,745 when the worker turned 67 (the age he or she could retire with full Social Security benefits).

— If the plan charged the typical 1 percent, the account would reach only $405,454 — a $71,000 shortfall.

— If the plan charged 1.3 percent — common for 401 (k) plans at small companies — the account would reach $380,649, a $96,000 shortfall. The worker would have to work four more years to make up the gap. (The analysis assumes the worker's pay rises 3.6 percent a year.) ...

Over the past two years, trustees of the TAG 401(k) Plan have pushed to get fees down. As of August 1st, the TAG 401(k) Plan will be administered by Vanguard Mutual Funds. Our fund selection won't change very much, but overall costs will be lower.

Long term, this will mean participants have more folding money in their wallets when they step off the work merry-go-round and spend more time on the front porch, thinking deep thoughts.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sequels for a Popular Hybrid Animated Feature

From the trades.

In a Reddit AMA this morning, Avatar director James Cameron expounded on the [Avatar] franchise’s timetable in regards to the screenplays, writing, “The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They’re essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks. There’s always pressure, whether it’s a new film or whether it’s a sequel, to entertain and amaze an audience. I’ve felt that pressure my entire career, so there’s nothing new there. The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable. There hasn’t been a problem finding new and wonderful things to include in the movie.” ...

Avatar is a lot like Gravity. Sure, it's got some live action in it, but mostly it's an animated feature, tricked up to look like a live-action, sci fi pic.

So. These days, James Cameron is a director of animated features as much as anything else. Which gives you an idea of how mainstream animated features have become.

Add On: "Why Saying Animation is for Kids is Bullshit."

(They're speaking -- mostly -- about traditional animation, but the rule applies to all kinds of animation ... even animation that passes for live-action but really isn't.)

Click here to read entire post

Box Office Animation Bookends

... with two animated features in The List.

Add On: But as Saturday gives way to Sunday, Rio fades a bit and Captain America WS regains the top spot.

U.S. - Canadian Box Office (revised)

1). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,938 theaters (0) / $11.7M Fri. / $17.8M Sat. (+49%) / $11.4M to $11.7M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $40.5M to $41.4M (-57%) / Total Cume: $157. 9M to $158.4M / Wk 2

2). Rio 2 (FOX), 3,948 theaters / $11.9M Fri. / $15.2M Sat. (+28%) / $11.6M Sun. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $37.6M to $38.7M / Wk 1

3). Oculus (REL), 2,648 theaters / $4.9M Fri. / $4.3M Sat. (-12%) / $2.8 Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $11.8M to $12M / Wk 1

4). Draft Day (LGF), 2,781 theaters / $3.57M Fri. / $3.8M Sat. (+75) / $2.4M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $9.75M / Wk 1

5). Divergent (LGF), 3,110 theaters (-521) / $2.3M Fri. / $3.26M Sat. (+41%) / $1.8M Sun. (-45%) / 3-day cume: $7.48M (-42%) / Total cume: $124.87M / Wk 4

6). Noah (PAR), 3,282 theaters (-289) / $2M Fri./ $3.18M Sat. (+55%) / $2.2M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $7.3M (-57%) / Total cume: $84.7M / Wk 3

7). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,860 theaters (+102) / $1.56M Fri. / $2.1M Sat. (+35%) / $1.79M Sun. (-15%) / 3-day cume: $5.46M (-30%) / Total cume: $40.8M / Wk 4

8). The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 1,467 theaters (+204) / $1.17M Fri. / $1.8M Sat. (+54%) / $1M Sun. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $4M (-33%) / Total cume: $39.4M / Wk 6

9). Muppets Most Wanted (DIS), 2,261 theaters (-791) / $565K Fri. / $975K Sat. (+73%) / $635K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $2.1M (-65%) / Total Cume: $45.6M / Wk 4

10). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 2,001 theaters (-930) / $445K Fri. / $790K Sat. (+76%) / $510K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $1.7M (-65%) / Total cume: $105M+ / Wk 6

As Deadline noted:

The animated family film Rio 2 from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios has soared to the top spot this weekend, besting Disney/Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is expected to drop roughly 59% in its sophomore frame. The budget for Rio 2 is said to be about $103M and internationally it has already taken in over $55M (as of last weekend).Rio-2 It will have made roughly $100M worldwide after its debut this weekend here in the states.

A huge force for the picture on social media, of course, is Bruno Mars who is on a world tour right now in Japan. “He’s feeding the Rio 2 fans across his 51 million Facebook and 18 million Twitter followers,” said RelishMix CEO Marc Karzen who also noted, “YouTube views are climbing and on par for animated (films), but fan reposted clips to owned studio trailers are soaring at a healthy 8 to 1 ratio.” The first Rio opened in 2011 to $39M so the sequel is performing about 10% better. The sequel received an A CinemaScore.

We did an interview with Rio 2's director Carlos Saldanha two years back. Find it here.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Predictions of B.O.

Rio 2 near the top.

Animated sequel Rio 2 could cruise to around $40 million this weekend, which would put it in a close race for first place against Captain America: The Winter Soldier. ...

Playing at 3,948 locations, Rio 2 could give the Captain a run for its money. The first Rio opened to $39.2 million around the same time in 2011, and ultimately closed with a solid $143.6 million. While it was well-liked enough, its reputation doesn't seem to suggest a huge bump for the sequel. ...

Regardless of how Rio 2 performs at the domestic box office, its sure to be a big hit internationally. The first one earned $341 million, and this one seems well on its way to matching that number (it has already earned over $55 million). ...

Rio 2 will likely perform ahead of the original. If not here, then in the wider world. Click here to read entire post

Nik Ranieri

A week and a half from now, we'll be running an expansive interview with veteran Disney animator Nick Ranieri. Nik talks in detail about his long career, from Roger Rabbit to Wreck-It Ralph, but I wish I had asked him about this:

On Working With Chuck Jones

I didn't like to do freelance but I couldn't pass up the chance to work with Chuck Jones [on a a Roadrunner short called "Chariots of Fur".] I remember as he was going through the scene with me in his office, I was geeking out in my mind about how amazing the experience was. "I'm getting pitched a scene by Chuck Jones, this is awesome", I thought as I nodded with professional restraint.

A bunch of us from Disney worked on the short and used aliases so as to avoid any conflicts. Eric Goldberg, Will Finn, Joe Haidar, Raul Garcia were some who freelanced. All used aliases.

I thought I'd be clever and spell my name backwards. So I submitted my credit as " Irein Arkin". Unfortunately, Chuck didn't like the spelling and changed it to Irene...the big dope! Oh well, still a great experience....

Interesting side note to the above: In the mid-nineties, Disney Feature had personal service contracts with the studio which tied them exclusively to Diz Co.

But funny thing: Chuck Jones was doing one of his last shorts, and lots of Disney animators wanted to work with him. And one day I got a phone call from Chuck Jones Producctions:

CJP: Hello, is this the union?

Hulett: It is.

CJP: Well, we have a problem over here. We've got a bunch of animators from another studio free-lancing on a short, and they have contracts that say they can't work for other companies.

Hulett: These are Disney animators, right?

CJP: Yeah. How did you know?

Hulett: Because they're the only group in town with exclusive contracts.

CJP: Yeah. So they're ... a little nervous. We want to give them screen credit, but they want to know if they can use fake names in the credits.

Hulett: If it's fine with them, it's fine with the union. Just be sure you have letters from each of them saying they want to use fake names. It wouldn't be good if they change their minds later and file grievances. ...

I was never clear on the title of the short where animators used phoney names. But I guess Chariots of Fur would be it. (Happily, the statue of limitations has long-since run out.)

Nik did an interview with Animation Podcast back in 2005. You can listen to it here.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Next Release

Which should do well.

The picture is DWA's summer release, and Scott Mendelson at Forbes is bullish:

... The original How To Train Your Dragon earned $494 million in 2010, a fine sum but less than even the likes of The Croods ($587m). Ten years ago Shrek 2, a well-liked sequel to a popular and leggy original, shocked pretty much every box office pundit and grossed $440 million in America and $916 million worldwide, or basically double the original film’s $440m gross.

Last year Universal’s Despicable Me 2 pulled the same trick, earning $970m off of the original’s $543m. Of course, it’s possible that the film will play like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 and earn just a little over the original’s worldwide gross (think $550m), which would still make it a hit compared to its $165m budget. ...

I'll go wild here and say that Dragons 2 will do way better than Meatballs 2.

Click here to read entire post

One More In The Mix

DoubleNeg goes where others -- with results both good and bad -- have gone before.

Says Matt Holben, DNeg co-founder and CEO:

'Animated Feature Films are an exciting next step in the development of Double Negative. We recognise that whilst there are synergies wtih VFX it requires a different approach. We are thrilled that Tom Jacomb has joined us to develop our new division. We are excited by the long-term potential of feature animation and are determined to build a sustainable pipeline of work.'

So Double Negative is jumping into the feature animation game, hoping to replicate Pixar, Illumination Entertainment, Dreamworks, etc. I say good luck to them.

But the thing of it is, pipelines don't matter very much. Having a team with story chops is really most of the game. If you don't own that, great surfacers, lighters, animators and a manager with a long resume but short talent for molding an entertaining story with compelling characters buys you little.

Maybe Tom Jacomb is the right guy. I hope he is, because another successful animation studio means more jobs for more cartoon people. But the field is crowded, and making second-rate product is a good way to end up in the remainder bins at Toys R Us.

Click here to read entire post


The movie might be out of theaters, but the soundtrack goes on ... and on ... and on.


DISNEY’S SOUNDTRACK TO FROZEN refuses to budge from the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200. The set spends its ninth nonconsecutive week atop the list, having sold 149,000 copies in the week ending April 6 (down 8 percent), according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The album is one week away from tying Disney’s The Lion King for the longest run at No. 1 by an animated film soundtrack.
Lion King roared for 10 nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 in 1994 and 1995.

Frozen has now sold 1.9 million units. It has been among the top three bestselling albums every week for the past 14 consecutive weeks. ...

-- Keith Caulfield, Billboard

And ... I donno ... the performance of the movie and associated products might have something to do with this:

Shares in The Walt Disney Company (DIS) have been outstanding performers in recent quarters, even when you consider how strong this five year bull market has been. The stock price of this bluest of the blue chips have been red hot, outperforming the S&P500 by nearly thirty percentage points since January 1, 2013. ...

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Ending a Productive Ten-Year Run

Twenty years further on, Kim Masters recalls the unraveling of a Diz Co. management team.

[Disney President Frank] Wells' death stunned the industry and instantly created a vacuum in the Hollywood hierarchy. Ambitions were inflamed and dominoes began to fall. By August, just weeks after The Lion King had opened as the latest and greatest in a string of hits from a revitalized animation unit, Disney's chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner, then 52, would fire his studio chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then 43.

After Katzenberg's dismissal, Spielberg publicly denounced Eisner as "Machiavellian," while Disney board member Stanley Gold -- who would later turn on Eisner and lead a shareholder revolt with Roy Disney -- said Katzenberg had been brought low by "his ego and almost pathological need to be important."

Eisner told the Los Angeles Times, "This is not a Shakespearean tragedy," but it did have its Shakespearean qualities. I had quoted a source in my Vanity Fair story describing Geffen as "the Iago" of the Disney drama -- a reference to the whispering villain in Othello. The idea was that Geffen had been behind the scenes, pushing Katzenberg to push Eisner, and the strategy had backfired spectacularly. The insult drove Geffen wild, and he set out to discover who had said it. (Among his guesses: Eisner and Diller.) He failed.

I'll tell you who said it now, but only because he's dead and left no wife or children. It was Don Simpson, who knew the players well and had watched the whole spectacle with fascination. ...

It was weird, watching all the above unfold from just outside the studios gates.

Disney animation directors told me how, in Jeffrey's last weeks at the studio, he went from being ferociously hands on to laid back and aloof. Artists said that at a story session for Hunchback of Notre Dame, Eisner and Katzenberg sat side by side, with Jeffrey scrunched as far away from Michael as possible. At the time, there were lots of gag drawings of what Jeffrey would be doing after leaving the studio: Car salesman, real estate agent in a blazer, you name it.

Nobody then could have predicted how events played out: Eisner ultimately knocked off the high perch by a vengeful Roy Disney, and Jeffrey running his own animation studio.

That helicopter crash in the snowy Sierras two decades ago started a lot of changes at Disney and the wider movie industry.

Click here to read entire post

Selling Original Property

Variety tells us:

Cyril Pedrosa, who launched his career in Disney animation, has sold movie rights to his French graphic novel “Three Shadows” to FilmNation Entertainment.

“Three Shadows,” published in 2008, centers on a father who takes his son on an epic journey in order to cheat death.

Based in France, Pedrosa began his career in animation by working on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules.”

It’s the latest high-profile book adaptation set up at FilmNation — a key player in the independent sales-financing-producing world. ...

There are a number of artists in animation who create graphic novels. Some of them do them after hours when they're working at Disney or DreamWorks. We often tell them to make sure the company doesn't claim ownership, make sure you've done a carve out of rights, say you had the project in hand BEFORE you went to work at the House of Mouse or wherever. And if possible, go out and pitch the property to other companies AFTER employment ends.

It usually isn't an issue, but you never know. Studios can be ... quirky. Of course, for Mr. Pedrosa, this wasn't a problem. He's no longer at Disney.
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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Joanna Romersa -- The TAG Interview

TAG Interview with Joanna Romersa

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Joanna Romersa has clear memories of working on the Disney lot in the first weeks of her animation career. She was training to be an inker, and the studio had Lady and the Tramp in production. But Disney's had more than its first Cinemascope cartoon feature going on back then. ...

Jack Webb's Dragnet was shooting on one of the newly-built sound stages and a mockup for "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" for some new amusement park down in Anaheim was laid out on yet another stage.

Joanna recalls the Disney studio of the mid-fifties as "enchanting," but it was only the beginning of an animation career spanning decades. Ms. Romersa is one of the few female animator/directors who has worked in almost every facet of the cartoon business. From inking on Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty, Joanna moved on to assistant work in the '60s and '70s (ultimately supervising a department of assistants at Hanna-Barbera) to animating in the '70s and '80s. She's been an animation director for three decades, and has worked on almost every kind of cartoon product, from theatrical features to direct-to-video features, from episodic series to commercials. (There aren't many Hanna-Barbera characters with which Joanna hasn't been involved.)

She today works as an animation director on Disney's upcoming The 7D. We spoke at the Animation Guild on March 28th.

Click here to read entire post

Following Previous Footsteps

Regarding Blue Sky's upcoming Peanuts feature, they follow a master.

... The Blue Sky artists hit obstacles as they tried to create each smooth-moving figure. Some of them were fresh off the animated film “Epic,” which, as Craig Schulz says, is “as close to human movement as you can get” in cartoon form. And they also wanted to make sure they were rendering feelings and emotions and facial expressions that audiences could relate to.

They had studied Charles Schulz’s line. Now they needed to study the work of a man who had been in their shoes.
“We step off of a legacy of how Bill Melendez created,” Martino says of the late Emmy-winning animator. “I go back to the Christmas special,” 1965′s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

When Melendez visually adapted the static comic strip for the screen, he had to “paint on a different canvas,” Martino says. “There’s a different way for it to work. … Our animation harks back to what Melendez had done. His style drew off of what Sparky drew.” ...

When I saw the teaser, it was clear the CG imagery was emulating what animator/director Bill Melendez had done. Whether Blue Sky Studios successfully walks that high wire for eighty-five minutes remains to be seen.

Will audiences embrace the Schulz style and approach in a CG feature? Will large doses of it turn people off? Next year's box office will let us know.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Tough Questions

Ed Catmull's book "Creativity, Inc." came out today. Dr. Catmull discusses some of Pixar's issues after the acquisition by Diz Co.:

“How, we all wondered, could we maintain Pixar’s sense of intensity and playfulness, beating back the creeping conservatism that often accompanies success while also getting leaner and more nimble?” Catmull writes.

He quotes Lasseter as saying, “There’s a lightness and a speed at Disney that I want to see more of at Pixar.”

Catmull and others in management assembled more than 1,000 employees in the atrium of its headquarters in Emeryville, California, for an event it called Notes Day in March 2013.

Employees were asked in advance to share suggestions for topics, their complaints and ways for the company to improve. Lasseter received two-and-a-half pages of criticism. Among them were concerns he was so tightly scheduled that people wasted time overpreparing for meetings and that he carried his emotions from one meeting to the next, leaving some thinking he was mad at them when he wasn’t, according to the book.

“Those two-and-a-half pages were really tough to read,” Lasseter told employees that day, according to the book. “But it was so valuable for me to hear, and I’m already working to correct those things.” ...

A few years ago, Disney tech directors were telling me different tales:

"We're noticing in the big meetings for the whole division? The ones with all the top execs up on the stage? We're noticing that anybody who stands up and asks a question is laid off two months later ..."

Call me a cynic, but I tend not to believe studio honchos who say they relish hard questions and criticisms. Reminds me of a short passage from a certain World War II novel:

"I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us." ...

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Of Caricatures and Stereotypes

Now with Putinesque Add On.

Who'd have thought? Cartoon villains are painted with broad brush strokes.

Repressed Brits, evil Mexicans, Arab villains: why are Hollywood's animated movies full of racist stereotypes?

From Chris Rock's jive-talking zebra in Madagascar to the racial hierarchy in Rio, Hollywood's animated films have been bombarding children with lazy caricatures for years. Should they come with ethnic sensitivity warnings?

... Why are [animated features'] racial politics stuck in the 1970s? Maybe parents have been too busy dozing at the multiplex, or doing the washing-up while their kids are anaesthetised in front of the TV. Maybe we've dropped our guards because talking animals are the lingua franca of innocuous cuteness, but we seem to have got to a point where these movies are teaching children the finer points of racial prejudice before they've even learned to read. ...

The racial pyramid persists through the animated realm: white-voiced characters at the top (British just below mainstream American); other ethnicities below; darkest-skinned at the bottom. Even if the differences aren't spelt out visually, they usually are in terms of accent, which means the spectre of stereotyping is never far away. Disney's long history of racism has been well documented: the lazy, African American crows and illiterate, dark-skinned labourers in Dumbo; Sebastian, the workshy Jamaican crab in The Little Mermaid; the darker-skinned "evil" Arabs in Aladdin; the hyenas in The Lion King; the Native Americans in Peter Pan; the list goes on. Not forgetting the notorious Song of The South, Disney's 1946 musical depicting happy black slaves singing with cartoon birds on a southern plantation. ...

News flash: Animated cartoons, like their live-action counterparts, are created in the context of their time. Song of the South falls into the racist category seventy years after it was made, but its racism is tame compared to Gone With the Wind, and South is off the American market while GWTW rolls merrily on. Steve Rose objects to James Baskett's shuffling, chuckling Uncle Remus, but does he also protest James Baskett's crafty, hyperkinetic Bre'r Fox?

I don't begrudge Mr. Rose his fantasy that newer live-action films are more ethnically sensitive than animated cartoons, but perhaps he's missed specimens like Borat, True Lies, the Indiana Jones series and various newer screen comedies, and so doesn't know any better. And if the black crows in Dumbo are racial stereotypes circa 2014, what must he think of the (unmentioned) Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs? Here's what director Bob Clampett thought about it:

In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called Jump For Joy while they were doing some special performances in Los Angeles.

They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in "Tin Pan Alley Cats" which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out.

All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then. ...

It's always dicey to take popular entertainments from one era and superimpose a later era's cultural values on top of them. Depictions of gay men in motion pictures during the thirties, forties, and fifties might be repugnant today, but less than a decade ago, bans on gay marriage were sweeping the country and winning voter referendums by wide margins.

Times change, as do values and social outlooks.

And as for black comedians/singers who give voice to animated zebras or owls or garden snails being part of a "racial pyramid," perhaps Mr. Rose is unfamiliar with the recent trend in animated features of casting well-known comedians and singers (who bring their fan-bases and delivery styles with them) to boost box office. If these actors aren't allowed to voice animals and mollusks (Mr. Rose would prefer someone other than James Earl Jones portraying Lion King's Mufasa?) then who, exactly, are they allowed to portray? Should British actors complain that they're forever cast as evil Romans in sandal-and-toga epics? Shouldn't an Italian actor be given a shot at those parts?

Animated cartoons, from their beginnings, have thrived and prospered through caricature. The seven dwarfs aren't seven small men suffering from dwarfism, they are cartoon caricatures reacting to the girl in their midst. Cruella De Ville doesn't succeed because her black-heartedness is underplayed, but because she is larger than life. Captain Hook's villainy is not subtle. Which is the case for most every animated character ever created. As a veteran director said to me long ago:

"Steve, audiences aren't seeing Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman up on screen putting across the character. They're watching a bunch of drawings. So we've got to push the performance or it won't sell. ..."

"Pushing the performance" (another word for caricature) leads in a straight line to ... dare I say it? ... stereotypes.

Animation is many things, but subtlety has not been one of its stronger suits. So when Steve Rose gripes about "racial stereotypes," he's really complaining about the medium itself. Because, honest to God, animated features have been no more nor less racially insensitive than their live-action cousins. They've mainly been in lock-step with them for the past eighty-plus years.

Add On: Ah. And now "Voice of Russia" recaps the article:

For campaigners such as the NAACP, Frozen represents a step backwards, says Robin Harrison, of its Hollywood Bureau. "It was just a few short years ago that we were finally introduced to the first African-American Disney Princess, Tiana, portrayed by Anika Noni Rose," she says. "We had hoped this was a turning point for the industry. Unfortunately, what has now become the most successfully animated feature of all time, Frozen, is probably the least diverse. ...

I've got a simpler idea about Frozen. It was a movie based on a Danish writer's short story about a Norwegian princess in the 19th century. Given the subject matter, it was difficult to work in many brown-skinned characters.

But it's good Russia is pointing out the horrid lack of other ethnic groups in Snow Queen/Frozen, since it's got a bit of non-diversity in its own checkered past to worry about:

... On June 5, 1959, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Universal had purchased outright the United States and Canadian rights to The Snow Queen, which had been produced in Russia in 1957. ...

Soyuzmultfilm Productions, the Russian production company, entered the film in the Vancouver Film Festival on August 3, 1959, and Universal ran the picture at the San Francisco Film Festival in November 1959. ... In Washington, D.C. in April 1960, Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church highlighted the film's appeal to Idaho's high percentage of Danish citizens by hosting an invitational screening at the Motion Picture Association headquarters, attended by the Ambassador of Denmark. Reviews widely praised the film's animation and noted its similarity to Walt Disney's methods and style. ...

I'm shocked and saddened that Senator Church, good progressive that he was, didn't point out the lack of diversity in the Russian picture. Sadly, he didn't have Steve Rose cluing him in about how over-weighted with white people the Russkis' animated feature was.

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Mickey Rooney, RIP

"Babes In Arms" (1940); Rooney was 19 when the picture was made.

From the trades.

Mickey Rooney, the famed actor and father of nine, has died at 93 years of age, TMZ reported late Sunday night.

The actor won an Emmy and an honorary Oscar in a storied career that included his own television shows and appearances in films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany's” and “It's a Mad, Mad World.”

Rooney was born Joseph Yule, Jr. in Brooklyn, N.Y. His parents, Joseph Yule and the former Nellie Carter, were vaudeville performers who working in a production of “A Gaeity Girl” when he was born on Sept. 23, 1920. He wore a specially tailored tuxedo when he began performing with his parents at the age of 17 months.

Rooney was one terrific actor. Whatever a director wanted, Mickey Rooney could give it to him.

He was in show biz almost from birth. In the late thirties and early forties, Mickey was a box office powerhouse making five or more features per year. In 1939, he was the #1 star in the U.S. Also in 1940 and 1941. (Tyrone Power and Clark Gable, take that!)

On top of the silent comedies, the feature films and large numbers of television episodes, Mr. Rooney did voice work for animated cartoons, including The Care Bears Movie and The Fox and the Hound. However many marriages he hurried through, no matter how tumultuous his personal life might have been, he was always the consummate professional.

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Pathways Into the Biz

I get asked a lot, "How do I get into animation [and/or visual effects]?"

I always say, there are as many different ways to get into the business as there are individuals working in the business. But (mostly) it's a combination of having the right skill sets, having the right timing, possessing a strong work ethic and having luck.

Visual Effects Supe Russell Earl is a case in point: ...

... During [Earl's] senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design, he was quick to respond when he spotted a flyer advertising positions available at Douglas Trumbull’s new visual effects company in Western Massachusetts. His friends applied, too. ...

Two weeks later, he was crushed when he realized two of his friends had gotten a callback and he hadn’t. “I walked into the computer room where my friends were, and they all got really quiet,” he says. “I think I wanted the job more than anyone. I went home. There still wasn’t a message on my answering machine.”

As it turned out, his roommate had listened to the message and deleted it. “He was like, ‘Some guy called about an interview…,’” Earl says.

At the end of the day, Earl was the only one who landed the job. “It was as a traditional model-maker,” he says. “At school, they had a Masters program in furniture making, but I was already a fine craftsman. My high-school shop teacher was a Harvard-educated guy who built harpsichords. ...

Russell Earl had large dollops of the pre-requisites needed to get his first job:

* He had luck (his roommate remembered to tell him about the phone call regarding the job interview).

* He had the necessary skill-sets.

* And his timing was right.

Mr. Earl also, as the article points out, owned a robust work ethic.

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The World's Box Office

Animation in foreign lands, with worldwide totals.

Foreign Box Office -- (Worldwide Accumulations)

Rio 2 -- $22,200,000 -- ($55,500,000)

Mr Peabody and Sherman -- $11,200,000 -- ($239,601,925)

The Lego Movie -- $7,300,000 -- ($410,606,303)

Frozen -- $8,200,000 -- ($1,097,312,000)

An interesting wrinkle: Frozen, even though it's been out since last Fall, and even though most of the picture's theatrical run is o-ver, in remaining foreign venues Frozen is collecting a mere three million dollars less thant Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

And there was a bit of action in the non-animated movie segment:

... Overseas, where Captain America: Winter Solcer opened ahead of its North American launch, the $170 million tentpole took in $107.1 million for the weekend from 50 markets. ... Disney crossed the $1 billion mark globally in terms of 2014 ticket sales (adding icing to the cake, Frozen surpassed The Dark Knight over the weekend to become the No. 9 top-grossing film of all time worldwide). ...

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Beginnings ...

... and later doings of movie trailers. In fifteen minutes.

The History of the Movie Trailer from FilmmakerIQ.com on Vimeo.

They (the trailers) were simple at the start. A few clips with some breathless titles superimposed a scene or three. Some closeups of the stars. And a narrator telling you how exciting the picture was.

Now they're compressed movies giving large sections of plot away, with action scenes that (more often than not) show a car, a plane, or several city blocks exploding.

We've come a long way, baby!
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Barrons' Viewpoint

... On DreamWorks Animation shorter and longer-term future:

... With Mr. Peabody & Sherman running 20%-plus behind the top 15 overseas regions for Turbo, we are lowering our ultimate global box office from $285 million to $265 million. And with a $10 million higher production cost than Turbo, we are anticipating an impairment charge of $30 million to be taken within the first-quarter results. ...

But wait, there are better times beyond! ...

We continue to believe the upcoming global mid-June release of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is likely to provide that necessary positive spark to drive shares back into the $30s.

Keep in mind the original How to Train Your Dragon in March 2010 has already been the best-performing domestic film for DreamWorks outside of the Shrek franchise with $218 million domestically and $495 million globally. With an increased level of licensing and consumer-product support, stronger knowledge among children with a TV series on Cartoon Network since 2012, greater 3-D format penetration globally as well as IMAX (IMAX) releasing the film on its screens internationally, we project the sequel's global box office should come in 50%-plus higher than the original. ...

The green eye-shade boys often provide analysis about box office performance that balances nicely with the over-heated trade paper prognoses. How to Train Your Dragon, with winged reptiles diving through layers of clouds, lends itself nicely to Moving View Master. And while 3-D features don't pack them in across the fruited plain like they used to, they are still potent draws in many foreign lands.

So Forbes is likely correct: How to Train Your Dragon II will pull in major coin. But it won't just be the IMAX theaters, or the support of the t.v. version. It's because -- if studio buzz is right -- that the picture delivers story-wise. Great visuals and wise screens are important, but a tale that's well told is what ultimately scores at the box office.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Weekend Domestic Box Office Takings

The Captain comes aboard.

1). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 3,938 theaters / $37M Fri. / $34.4M to $34.6M Sat. / 3-day cume: $95.8M to $96.2M / Wk 1

2). Noah (PAR), 3,571 theaters (+4) / $4.9M Fri./ $7.2M Sat. / 3-day cume: $16.8M to $17M (-61%) / Total cume: $72M+ / Wk 2

3). Divergent (LGF), 3,631 theaters (-305) / $4.1M Fri. / $5.8M Sat. / 3-day cume: $13M (-49%) / Total cume: $114M / Wk 3

4). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,758 theaters (+580) / $2.2M Fri. / $3M Sat. / 3-day cume: $7.3M to $7.8M (-12%) / Total cume: $32.1M to $32.6M / Wk 3

5/6). Muppets Most Wanted (DIS), 3,052 theaters (-142) / $1.5M Fri. / $2.8M Sat. / 3-day cume: $6.1M to $6.2M (-45%) / Total Cume: $42.1M to $42.3M / Wk 3

The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 1,263 theaters (+286) / $1.8M Fri. / $2.6M Sat. / 3-day cume: $6.1M to $6.3M (-27%) / Total cume: $33.2M to $33.6M / Wk 5

7). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 2,931 theaters (-368) / $1.29M Fri. / $2.3M Sat. / 3-day cume: $5M to $5.3M (-43%) / Total cume: $101.9M to $102.2M / Wk 5

8/9/10). Sabotage (OPRD), 2,486 theaters / $560K Fri. / $812K Sat. / 3-day cume: $1.89M (-65%) / Total cume: $8.6M / Wk 2

Non-Stop (UNI), 2,515 theaters (-430) / $560K Fri./ $800K Sat. / 3-day cume: $1.7M to $1.8M (-54%) / Total cume: $88.2M / Wk 6

Need for Speed (DIS), 1779 theaters (-926) / $525K Fri. / $800K Sat. / 3-day cume: $1.7M to $1.8M (-59%) / Total cume: $40.8M / WK 4 ...

And Mr. Peabody cracks $100 million.

Meantime, Captain America will have a fine weekend in the U.S. and Canada.

With a strong marketing effort, positive reviews, and virtually no competition, Captain America: The Winter Soldier will likely open to at least $90 million at the domestic box office.

The movie got an early start overseas last weekend, earning $75.2 million from 32 territories. Across its Top 10 markets, Captain America opened 17 percent lower than Thor: The Dark World, which suggests it may be tough to match that movie's $438 million total. This weekend, Captain America expands in to Russia, Australia and China. ...

U.S.-centered movies mostly do okay but are not chart busters in other parts of the world.

Add On: Scott Mendelson at Forbes tells us:

... Mr. Peabody and Sherman earned $1.3 million Friday, bringing its cume to $98.2m. It should cross $100m domestic by tomorrow. ...

The LEGO Movie earned another $0.355m, -51%, to bring its domestic total to $249.561m. It’s also mostly finished in America, with the last stop being surpassing the $251m domestic haul of Despicable Me to become the biggest non-sequel animated film outside of Pixar/Disney. ...

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Disney Cable TV (and Diz Co.) On a Roll

This happy occurrence ...

Disney Junior widens lead over rivals

Nielsen ratings show Disney Junior (DIS) opening up a wider lead over Nick Jr. and Sprout.

For the first quarter of the year, Disney Junior had 459K total viewers, compared to 326K for Nick Jr. and 155K for Sprouts. The kids network is also showing growing strength with digital channels and consumer product tie-ins. ...

... has caused Disney stock to rocket upwards.

Which, in turn, has caused Wall Stree analysts to conclude ...

... At this point, [Disney's] valuation is rich. The underlying fundamentals of the company do not support the valuation going much higher.

While Disney is forecasted to continue to grow in the mid-single digits, the underlying return generating ability of the business does not support a higher valuation. As it stands, the valuation is above the historic average levels, and industry and market benchmarks.

Given the valuation, Disney is a short sale candidate because:

1) The intrinsic value estimate is $75 per share.

2) Recent financial performance is transient.

3) The primary degree bull market is "long-in-the-tooth."

I guess you can lose for winning.

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This Month In Animation History

... presented by resident historian (and TAG President emeritus) Tom Sito:

April 1, 1996 -- Animation World Network, Toontown's virtual trade magazine, starts up.

April 2, 1943 -- Disney short Private Pluto is released. It's the first Chip and Dale cartoon. ...

April 9, 1991 -- Disney Television Animation's Darkwing Duck premieres.

April 12, 1911 -- Cartoonist Winsor McCay opens his vaudeville act with his Little Nemo animated short.

April 17, 1937 -- Porky's Duck Hunt marks the birth of Daffy Duck. One legend is that voice actor Mel Blanc designed Daffy's distinctive lisp to be an impression of Looney Tunes boss Leon Schlesinger. When they screened this cartoon, all the artists stood in dread of how Leon would take the joke. But Leon never made the connection that the Duck's voice was him: "Gee fellers, dat Duck iz pretty Ffffunny!"

A longer verion of "This Month In History" will appear in the April issue of The Animation Guild magazine "The Peg-board".

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Meanwhile, On Riverside Drive ...

Inside the hat building, production is accelerating on Big Hero 6. ....

Staff tells me that there's a lot of action unfolding in the new picture, which isn't surprising given it's Marvel origins. An artist also told me that a memo/e-mail went around on Tuesday that said, in effect: "Oh, we're adding songs to Big Hero 6." (April FOOL!)

When production ends on BH6 next Fall, I'm informed that large numbers of staff will be temporarity moved out so that building renovations -- which have been ongoing -- can be completed on all three floors of the structure's interior.

The general consensus re Hat: The building, which sits along the side of the 134 freeway, might be "whimsical" and interesting-looking" from the outside, has never been particularly functional on the inside. When new, the lobby was a slow-cook oven with tall glass windows that let the afternoon sun beat down on receptionists, with third-floor offices often toasty and first-floor offices that were usually frigid.

Under Lasseter and Catmull, lots of spaces have been opened up, lots of walls taken down. But the non-functionality of many parts of Hat are tough to overcome. Several years ago, the idea was kicked around to relocate Disney Features in a different building in Glendale, but it seems the current option of choice is to improve the interior of Hat.

Here's a piece about it from eight years ago:

... The interior space is a broken honeycomb of hallways, offices, cubicles and open areas, and the thing is a b*tch to air condition or heat properly. In the summer, if one floor is a comfortable 72 degrees, another floor is a meat locker, and ANOTHER floor is like an overheated Soviet apartment.

In the winter, people use small space heaters under their desks so they don't get frostbite (I exaggerate but slightly). The company doesn't like employees to use space heaters; people use them anyway.

Some little while back, animation head David Stainton ordered a cost study about what it would take to gut the building and make it more livable. The cost estimate came back and it was prohibitive, so a less draconian study was initiated. The costs (apparently) were still prohibitive. ...

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New Platforms, New Products

You either adapt to ... and exploit ... evolving technologies, or you fade from existence.

... We got a brief demo of the upcoming Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff mobile game from TinyCo and Fox Digital Entertainment. The game’s scheduled for release on iOS and Android on April 10.

At its core, The Quest for Stuff resembles The Simpsons: Tapped Out, another free-to-play city-builder game from Fox. Both titles have you rebuilding their respective towns after the main character accidentally destroys it. ...

Smart Hollywood companies strive to extend profitable brands into new markets and technologies to maximize cash flow. I can remember when Disney started putting its animated features on video cassettes and the purists among us thought the sky was going to fall.

"But it will kill re-releases in movie theaters! How awful!"

It did, but home video was a new profit center, and the money was too good to pass up. Then Diz Co. made inexpensive sequels (Return of Jafar, Bambi II, Lion King 1 1/2, etc. etc.) and squeezed every drop of profit from the new watch-movies-at-home platform.

Rupert's minions are doing the same thing here. If there's money to be made from mobile apps, create product and chase after every last cent. It's the American way.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The WGA Deal

... as described by the WGA: ...

Your Negotiating Committee is pleased to inform you that a tentative agreement on a new Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) has been reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Contract talks began on February 3rd and concluded last night.

The three-year deal features increases to our minimum compensation rates, increased contributions to our Pension Plan, minimums for subscription video-on-demand programs, increased residuals for ad-supported streaming, outsized increases in script minimums for one-hour basic cable writers, and a doubling of the theatrical script publication fee.

Importantly, we have now placed limits on the options and exclusivity requirements often imposed on episodic television writers. Our negotiations on these issues were complicated and protracted, but the Companies worked with us to find solutions. As a result, the endless unpaid holds that have become more and more commonplace in television have now been addressed in the MBA for the first time ever.

In addition, the AMPTP's proposed multi-million dollar rollbacks in health and pension contributions, screenwriter minimums, and TV residuals were taken off the table and are not part of this agreement.

Your Negotiating Committee has voted to send the tentative agreement to the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council for approval prior to member ratification.

Highlights of the tentative agreement include:


Annual minimum increases for most types of programs and residuals: 2.5% the first year and 3% in years two and three.

Outsized annual increases (5%/5%/5%) in script minimums for hour-long dramatic basic cable series after the first season.


A 0.5% increase in the contribution to the Pension Fund effective May 2, 2014.

Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD)

On SVOD platforms with more than 15 million subscribers (like Netflix), network primetime minimums will now apply to dramatic programming with budgets above $2 million for 30-minute programs; $3.7 million for one-hour programs; $4 million for 90- minute programs; and $4.5 million for two-hour programs. Basic cable rates will apply to programs below those budget breaks on those same platforms, or on SVOD platforms with less than 15 million subscribers as long as budgets are at least $1.3 million for half-hour programs; $2.5 million for one-hour programs; and $3 million for programs longer than one hour. This provision includes nearly the full complement of television separated rights.

Ad-Supported Streaming Residuals and Streaming Window Changes

The residual for ad-supported online streaming will increase to 4% of the applicable minimum for each six-month period during the first year of the contract, 4.5% for the second year, and 5% for the third year. For the first time, on-demand reuse of shows on a cable set-top box will be included as part of the streaming residual.

The free streaming window is reduced from 17 days (24 for new shows) to seven days for most programs after the first seven episodes of a series. Broadcast shows will be subject to an additional seven-day window for each rerun.

Theatrical Script Publication Fee

The theatrical script publication fee will double from $5,000 to $10,000.

Options and Exclusivity

Effective January 1, 2015, the MBA will place two important limits on the provisions a Company may negotiate in the personal services agreement of an episodic television writer who earns less than $200,000 per contract year: (1) the agreement may not require that the writer be exclusive to the Company except during periods when the writer is being paid for his or her writing services; and (2) the Company may not hold a writer for more than 90 days under a negotiated option agreement without paying a holding fee of at least 1/3 of the MBA minimum for the writer's services. If the Company chooses not to pay the holding fee, the Company must allow the writer to accept an offer of other series employment, or if the series has been renewed, it may exercise the option and put the writer back to work. On January 1, 2016 the threshold will increase by 5% to $210,000 per season.

Talks between the WGA and AMPTP concluded last night.

The IATSE will be negotiating with the AMPTP in about twelve months. TAG will follow shortly after. There's a likelihood that IA and Animation Guild pension, health and wage increases will follow the pattern set down by the DGA, WGA and (soon) the SAG-AFTRA.

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Fuddles and the First Lady

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when you have First Lady Michelle Obama reading your book to elementary school kids (with a photo op as part of the bargain), you are on to something.

Veteran animator (and TAG member) Frans Vischer, known to the wide public for his creative chops on movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Prince of Egypt, The Simpsons Movie and The Princess and the Frog among numerous others, has written two impressive books on the exploits of a pampered cat. It's nice to see that they're noticing the quality of Mr. Fischer's tomes in the higer reaches of Washington D.C. ...

Vrans has talked to us about his adventures is children's book publishing, so it's nice to see he's getting some well-desrved notice with his Fuddles series. Congratulations, Mr. Fischer!

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Stealth Franchise

Hollywood Reporter's magazine says* this:

... [The first four Tinker Bell movies] ... each were made for $30 million to $35 million and together have grossed $225 million in U.S. DVD sales. ... Overseas, the films play in theaters, bringing their total DVD-plus theatrical gross to north of $335 million worldwide for DIsneyToon Studios. ...

"It's been a great driver across multiple lines of business for us," [says Disney exec Andrew Millstein.] "Even though it isn't the first thing people think about when they talk about franchises at the Walt Disney company."

Funny this should be a story in THR, even as Disney employees tell me the series of Tink movies is wrapping up. (Could they be wrong?)

A few years back, Toons people were saying there was going to be nine or ten Tinker Bell features. But then studio head Richard Ross pared the number back, and the total is now up to six. Now the Tinker Bell saga is allegedly ending, and though Disney still is involved in the direct-to-video biz, overall sales are a fraction of what they were in the glory days of video cassettes:

... "The Return of Jafar," the home-video sequel to "Aladdin," began selling in supermarkets and retail stores across the country Wednesday [May 18, 1994], and copies are flying off shelves faster than a magic carpet ride. "Jafar" moved 1.5 million cassettes in the first two days, out-pacing the early video sales of two recent Disney classic releases, "The Fox and the Hound" and "Pinocchio."

Industry experts predict that "Jafar," with a suggested retail price of $22.99, will eventually sell more than 10 million units to rank among the 10 top-selling videos of all time. This is for a musical that was made for a song in Disney's TV animation division, did not have the benefit of being seen in movie theaters first and has been received coolly by critics. ...

"Aladdin," the most successful animated film in movie history, has grossed $486 million worldwide in theaters. Disney's merchandising for "Aladdin" was greater than any previous Disney film, with a record 24 million videocassettes sold, a triple-platinum soundtrack album, 20 million story and activity books in print and a Sega Genesis video game with sales pushing 1 million copies. ...

If the unoccupied spaces inside DizToon Studios are any indication, the stealth franchise is spinning to its end. And the studio is moving on.

* THR doesn't say it on-line, so there is no link.

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Empowering the Megas

SCOTUS once again strengthens the corporatist state (and it so needed to be strengthened):

A Supreme Court decision issued on Wednesday is likely to fundamentally reshape the political terrain for the 2014 elections and beyond, further increasing the influence of large donors, but also opening the door for each party’s establishment to reclaim some power from “super PACs” and other outside groups.

The decision, which flowed from a legal challenge by Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy Alabama businessman and Republican donor, erased a decades-old limit on the total amount any one person can give to federal candidates and parties in any two-year election cycle. The limit had meant that no donors, no matter how large their bank account, could make the maximum contribution to more than a handful of candidates and PACs each year.

The ruling most empowers two groups of people: those with the wherewithal to spend millions of dollars on campaign contributions, and those with access to them, including party leaders, senior lawmakers and presidents. ...

Corporatism on speed and steroids. The end game will likely be -- after the Roberts court strips away the rest of 20th century reforms -- that there are no constraints on what the Chosen Few can spend to influence elections, from county and city elections on up to federal. And we can anticipate smaller infrastructure spending, tax shifting onto wage-earners in the $30,000 to $90,000 range, smaller Social Security benefits and Medicare payments over time, less social welfare and educational spending.

I'll be interested to see what impact this has on the 2014 elections, and the Presidential contest in 2016.
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