Friday, February 27, 2015

Tweet This

A factoid for Twitter fans:

"Networked Insights" says the average box-office value of a tweet is $560, but animated films are higher than that

If you want to have a significant effect on the box-office take of a movie, tweet about how you want to see an animated family film five weeks prior to its release.

That tweet will be worth an extra $1,390 at the box office, according to a study released on Friday by "Networked Insights".

A tweet about a comedy made the week of release, on the other hand, will only give the movie an extra $90. ...

DreamWorks Animation needs to get on the stick with this, and start Tweeting about Home. Click here to read entire post

Big Screen Time

... for the series Nick let slip through its fingers.

Adventure Time, one of the most popular shows on Cartoon Network, is being developed at Warner Bros. for the big screen as an animated feature. Created by Pendleton Ward at Cartoon Networks Studios, Adventure Time follows the escapades of 12-year-old boy Finn and best friend dog Jake. .... The project will be produced by the winning combo of Chris McKay and Roy Lee.

McKay (one of the exec producers of The Lego Movie) was recently hired to direct The Lego Batman Movie at Warner Bros. and also was the genius behind Robot Chicken. Lee is producing The Lego Batman Movie and also produced Warner Bros.’ groundbreaking animated The Lego Movie along with Dan Lin. ...

Deadline has it the teensiest bit wrong.

Adventure Time was launched as a short at Nickelodeon under producer Fred Seibert's deal with the Viacom company, not at Cartoon Network.

Nick had the project in its corporate hands, but elected not to expand the short into a series. (And even though at least one Nick exec pushed to turn it into a full-blown half-hour, thicker heads prevailed.)

Nickelodeon then put the short into turn-around, and Seibert took it to Cartoon Network, where it was polished to a high gleam and became a ratings winner. The rest, as they say in Hollywood, is cartoon history.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hand Drawn Animation

... receding in the rear view mirror.

I keep reading articles saying how hand-drawn cartoons are on the cusp of a comeback. Maybe in Europe, where hand-drawn features continue to be produced, but not in Southern California. A Disney animation veteran recently clued me in as to why: ...

I've worked on CG features and I've worked on hand-drawn features. And hand-drawn features are harder to make. Hand-drawn cartoons take a year to produce. Once you've produced sequences, it's hard to change the work. You have to go back and do everything over.

But with CG, you can animate the movie in three or four months, change things close to the release date. You can't do that in hand-drawn animation. If you find out the story doesn't work when you're two-thirds done, you're stuck. With CG, we change the story and rework sequences until late in the process.

It's close to live-action in that way. You can rework until late in the production. With hand-drawn animation, the plot, action and dialogue has to be locked down way earlier, or the picture won't get done in time for its release.

From a production standpoint, hand-drawn animated features are clunkier and take more production time. But from the executive suite, the superiority of CG animation over hand-drawn is glaringly obvious.

It makes a hell of a more money than traditional animation. The faster production time for CG long-forms is simply icing on the cake. Hand-drawn features have small-company disciples in Europe and elsewhere that create them, but the big entertainment conglomerates are done with the old style.

Sad, but the way it is.

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Robert Osher Departs

... from Sony subsidiaries.

Sony Pictures Digital president Bob Osher, who oversaw Sony Animation and Imageworks for the past seven years, has been fired, according to knowledgeable sources.

Thursday’s firing comes amid an ongoing shakeup at the studio. On Tuesday, Tom Rothman was named chairman of its motion picture group in a surprise move that followed the Feb. 5 ouster of Amy Pascal as co-chair of the Culver City-based studio. ...

After Ms. Pascal lost her job, Mr. Osher's exit was pretty much baked into the corporate cake. As a Sony Picture Animation employee told me a year ago:

"Osher's focused on catering to Amy Pascal. He doesn't have any decent creative ideas. He's a survivor more than anything." ...

So now he's "decided to leave the studio to pursue other interests," which, when found in a company e-mail or press release, is often code for "we tossed him over the side. Hope he can swim."

But of course, that's not the case here. We wish Mr. Osher the best, and the very best of luck chasing other interests.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another Studio Chief Bites Dust

First Amy Pascal, now ...

Adam Goodman is preparing to exit as president of the [Paramount Pictures] film group. ... Goodman's recent successes include The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which has reinvigorated the family franchise with box office earnings of $203.8 million to date, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which exceeded expectations last year when grossing $438.8 million globally. ...

Goodman oversaw successful pictures, but displeased his superiors by failing to control production costs.

It's always something to do with money (or the lack thereof) that brings a Big Hollywood Dog down. Even the all-powerful Michael Eisner was put out to pasture when Disney's profits sagged. (And Roy Disney nipping at his heels didn't help either.)

Click here to read entire post

Netflix Cartoons

Netflix isn't slowing its acquisitions of cartoons.

Netflix is adding five children’s shows [four of them animated] over the next year — including new versions of “Danger Mouse” and “Inspector Gadget." ... [The other animated shows are] “Bottersnikes & Gumbles,” based on the Australian book series of the same name; and “Super 4,” a CGI-animated series inspired by Playmobil toys. ... Kidvids are an important part of the Netflix SVOD puzzle, appealing to parents because there aren’t any ads. ...

From the 1950s through the 1970s, TV animation was a Saturday and Sunday phenomenon, controlled by ABC, NBC, and CBS. Then in the '80s that tightly-knit universe unraveled a bit as syndication became a new vehicle for the distribution of animated product. Filmation pioneered it with He-Man and She-Ra; Disney capitalized on it with DuckTales and the "Disney Afternoon."

A quarter century on, television networks are out of the weekend cartoon business, and broadcast syndication doesn't pay the production bills anymore. Now it's cable networks and on-line distributors that propel small-screen animation down the tracks.

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The Rebooted Series

The press release is out. Everything old is new again.

... Marc Buhaj — Senior Vice President, Programming and General Manager, Disney XD — announced, “DuckTales has a special place in Disney’s TV animation history, it drew its inspiration from Disney Legend Carl Barks’ comic books and through its storytelling and artistic showmanship, set an enduring standard for animated entertainment that connects with both kids and adults. Our new series will bring that same energy and adventurous spirit to a new generation.” ...

The original series, launched back there in the 1980s, had an interesting history.

It was among the first Disney TVA shows developed for syndication, and the company (as Wikipedia notes) spent a LOT of money on it. What isn't noted is that the main lot was ticked off with Disney TVAs sizable budget overruns, and as one veteran of the series told me:

The series was way expensive, like by millions. And rumors were circulating that upper management would do some serious firings of TVA execs if the thing tanked. But when DuckTales premiered, the ratings were higher than projections, the company ended up making a fortune, and Disney TVA managers became heroes. ...

DuckTales went on to be the cornerstone of the nineties syndicated block known to millenials as "The Disney Afternoon", and for a few years syndicated packages on broadcast TV was a major cash generator before fees were cut and it wasn't so lucrative anymore.

Time marches on.

Today, of course, cable and multi-platform viewing is where it's at, and DuckTales, the series that really put Diz TVA on the map, will be dusted off and reconstructed. (They're doing it with old animated feature titles, so why not television?)

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The New Director

The trades tell us:

Director Rob Schrab, who on the TV side has helmed Community, Parks And Recreation and The Mindy Project, will make his feature directorial debut on Warner Bros’ The LEGO Movie Sequel. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who directed the first pic, are writing and will produce the sequel together with Dan Lin and Roy Lee. ....

Hey, animation directors (Frank Tashlin, Brad Bird, Rob Minkoff) swing over to live action. So it's only fair and right that live action directors return the favor in the opposite direction.

(And maybe LEGO Movie II will get an Oscar nomination.)

Click here to read entire post

... And a Second Director on KFP 3

No solo helmer for the third chapter:

Jennifer Yuh will not be helming the latest installment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise by herself, I’ve learned. DreamWorks Animation has brought in Alessandro Carloni to co-direct Kung Fu Panda 3 with Yuh, the first woman to direct an animated feature solo at a Hollywood studio when she helmed 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2. Sources tell me that Yuh requested Carloni join her as a director on the pic and DWA execs signed off quickly. ...

I think that, times being what they are, DreamWorks Animation doesn't want to take chances of slippage with the release date of major franchise.

The second movie might have under-performed domestically, but it did gangbuster business everywhere else, and took in more money than the first. DreamWorks needs all the hits it can muster, and the fat panda franchise fills the company's screaming need for a high grosser.

Click here to read entire post

The Bad News

Now with Add On.

DreamWorks Animation is not in a happy, peaceful place.

The studio had already told the Street to expect bad news including a big writedown. It included a $57.1 million impairment charge tied to Penguins Of Madagascar and Mr. Peabody And Sherman. In addition DreamWorks Animation wrote off $54.6 million for layoffs, and $155.5 million from unreleased projects including B.O.O. and Monkeys Of Mumbai.

All together, DWA had a Q4 net loss of $$263.2 million, down from a $17.2 million profit at the end of 2013, on revenues of $234.2 million, +14.7%.Aanalysts expected revenues of $246.2 million. The net loss at $3.08 a share was lower than predictions for a $3.01 loss.

“Although 2014 was a challenging year for our Company, I am confident that our recent announcement to restructure our feature film business will enable us to deliver great films and better box office results, while improving the overall financial performance of our business,” CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says. ...

It has certainly been challenging for Dreamworks in the recent past. However, Jeffrey K. and his studio are following a well-worn path of peaks and troughs that mark the history of the biggest companies in the entertainment business. None of our fine conglomerates has a perfect streak and each has had to endure its own "challenging times".

DreamWorks has addressed their stumbles, girded their loins and now forges ahead with renewed conviction. We look forward to seeing them succeed and grow as their peers did after facing the same tribulations.

Add On>: And the company announces new moves as DWA's stock falls in after-hours trading:

DreamWorks Animation added $10 million to its debt with a new $215 million revolving credit facility. Total debt now comes to $515 million while DWA’s cash balance fell 30% to $34.2 million. But execs said they will see a jolt of cash from a $185 million deal to sell and then lease back DWA’s studio in Glendale. ,,,

Jeffrey K.'s high-wire act, thrilling the general public for years now, looks increasingly wobbly.

Add On: At least some stock analysts are positive about DreamWorks Animation's future.

... “They [DWA] needed to get things back on the right path,” B. Riley analyst Eric Wold told TheWrap. “Major layoffs. Switch out of creative staff. The future is still unknown but much brighter than it was a few months ago. We upgraded the stock from neutral to buy the Monday after the restructuring.” ...

Here's hoping the restructuring is a major success.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, February 23, 2015

Color Mickey

On this date, eighty years ago, the first full color Mickey Mouse cartoon was released. Titled The Band Concert, it also featured an early, longer-beaked incarnation of one D. Duck.

Walt Disney started making full-color cartoons in 1932 with the Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees (remade from black-and-white). Starting in '32 and extending to '35, Walt Disney Productions had the exclusive use of Technicolor's three-strip system which provided full-spectrum color.

The first three-color, live-action feature was Pioneer Pictures' Becky Sharp (1935), followed by Trail of the Lonesome Pine, A Star is Born, The Garden of Allah, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, and the eternally popular Gone With the Wind.

Walt Disney Productions, unlike other movie studios, never made a black-and-white cartoon after The Band Concert. (It made some black-and-white live-action features and TV shows during the 1950s, but that was about it for non-color films.)

Since 1935, Disney movies have been mostly rainbows.

H/t Tom (who else?) Sito.

Click here to read entire post


Because it's a small world after all.

Tens of millions of shekels in computer-animation work is heading for Jerusalem after The Operating Room, a Los Angeles-based animation firm part-owned by Israelis, signed a deal to produce a TV series for the children’s entertainment company Nelvana.

About 30% of the $10 million of production work for the first season of the show, which has not yet been named, will be handled by scores of animators working in the capital. If the show moves into a second season, the budget will grow considerably. ...

Los Angeles. Canada. Jerusalem. For once the work isn't going to India, the Philippines and/or China.

Click here to read entire post

Hasbro's Ups and Downs

Hasbro had a studio in Burbank called "The Hub". But things have changed a bit.

Hasbro makes not just toys but also hugely popular intellectual property, which for decades has been key to its bottom line. But as kids' consumption patterns change radically with the advent of new technologies, the company has struggled to find a balance between its core business and its entertainment properties.

Over the last few years, the company has poured billions of dollars into (and received billions of dollars from) big-budget movies and triple-A video games, plus a joint-venture cable network called The Hub (a costly misstep), which since was rebranded and partially sold back to partner Discovery, [now called Discover Family]. ...

Projects like The Hub and disappointing films like Battleship might not have worked the way Hasbro wanted, but the company is, if anything, even more committed to TV and film today. ... Where are Hasbro's proprietary TV shows now? Well, everywhere.

Old shows from The Hub still run on Discovery Family, and several, including My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, will continue to premiere on the network for another season. Transformers: Robots in Disguise is upcoming on Cartoon [Network], which has turned into one of the last strongholds of boys programming on cable. ...

The toy company's large ambitions for its own kids' cable network didn't really pan out. (Or rather, didn't pan out ... and produce enough gold ... fast enough.) But Hasbro is still in the intellectual property game. And it's still got the Burbank studio, turning out family entertainment.

My bet is it will make new moves in the marketplace. The DreamWorks Animation deal might have fallen through, but you can't keep a good toy company/cartoon studio/content provider down for long.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On Academy Voting

A long time ago, a veteran screenwriter (who had his flirtation with Oscar at the 1938 banquet) told me:

I was nominated for In Old Chicago, didn't win. The Academy Awards event was smaller in those days, but you were expected to show up for the ceremony, and you were expected to vote for your employer's pictures, because that's what good company employees did. ...

-- Niven Busch

"Because that's what good company employees did."

It's been written that Clark Gable lost the Oscar for Gone With The Wind because Louis B. Mayer instructed M-G-M's minions to vote for Robert Donat, the lead in the company picture Goodbye Mr. Chips. (Gable was on loan to Selznick International for that other one.)

Based on Mr. Busch's observations, and based on some of the movies, writers, directors and actors that have won gold statues over the years, it's pretty clear that "best" doesn't always end up "winner."

Academy members cast their votes for all kinds of reasons. On occasion it's quality, but other times it's because the nominee has been an also-ran five times before and so wouldn't it be great to give him a boost into the winner's circle, quality be damned.

And sometimes it's whim. The three glasses of wine and broiled halibut went down painlessly, and the ballot is sitting there on the dining room table, so the Academy member marks the first name that catches his eye, whether he watched the screeners all the way through or not. (Who's going to know, anyway?)

And sometimes it's willful prejudice. The member didn't like war movies, or comedies, or features with dogs in them, and so voted for something else.

Lastly, votes are cast from, as Cartoon Brew notes, "cluelessness." But is clueless worse than drunkenness, pity, bigotry or the company line?

In the end, every vote is subjective. Giving out Oscars isn't rocket science, or any science. And you're well advised not to take the results of the balloting too seriously because you will be A) ticked off, B) heartbroken, and C) believing the voters have no taste or idea what they're doing*.

And you would be at least partially right. But all these things about the Academy Awards have always been true, right from the beginning. The Oscars aren't a meritocracy, and really can't be. They're a political event, a popularity contest, and a demonstration of corporate muscle. They're also a reflection of the mood of the people who qualify for membership, and that mood is constantly shifting, driven by demographics and the hot topic of the moment. And it's why I look on the Oscar telecast as a pleasant background diversion while cruising the internet on a rainy Sunday evening, and nothing more.

To think of it as anything beyond that will only invite heartache and despair.

* This is doubly true for the Golden Globes, which are handed out based on the exquisite judgements of a few dozen foreign correspondents and stringers. But, year after year, Tinsel Town turns out for the Globes anyway. Go figure.

Click here to read entire post

And This Year's Little Gold Man Goes To ...

Best Animated Short:

Feast -- (Disney) Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed

Best Animated Feature:

Big Hero 6 -- (Disney) Don Hall, Chris Williams, Roy Conli

And as Mr. Sito says ...

Regardless who wins the Oscar, and all the bellyaching about Lego aside, lets take a minute and salute what a great year this was for animated features! Five really good, really original animated films. Two hand drawn, two CG, and a stop motion. Animated films nominated for best screenplay and best song.

A few years ago we were fighting to even have a features category! Now everyone is talking about it. Give all the people who make animation a big hand for an extraordinary year!

Click here to read entire post

Your Global Box Office

... with animation doing pretty well throughout.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World-Wide Totals)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $21,900,000 -- ($201,171,834)

Jupiter Ascending -- $8,900,000 -- ($114,516,979)

Big Hero 6 -- $11,000,000 -- ($546,224,880)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $5,200,000 -- ($359,208,569)

Shaun the Sheep -- $4,500,000 -- ($17,500,000)

Paddington -- $1,000,000 -- ($227,660,766)

Paddington, now near the end of its run, has made a tidy profit forStudio Canal and the Weinstein Company. There is now buzz of the (inevitable) sequel.

Viacom's Sponge Out of Water gathered in in another $21 million from 44 markets for a foreign total of $76 million and global box office of $191.2 million.

And the "disappointing" Penguins of Madagascar now bumps against $360 million in world grosses. This compares unfavorably with the very successful (and Academy Award winning) Rango, which took in $245,724,603.

Perceptions and media memes are sometimes at odds with reality. Ten weeks ago, we were hearing

... Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil says he expects DWA to book a $14 million loss for Penguins in Q4. He cut his domestic box office and home-video sales estimates by more than 25% and notes that the film “has limited consumer products expectations.” ...

It's true that Penguins under-performed in the U.S. of A., but grosses beyond our shores have been steady. Probably there won't be a loss taken on a movie that collects more than $360 million.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Disney Family Tree

A veteran artist, formerly of Disney's feature animation department, recently pointed out to me an interesting through line:

Thirty-plus years ago, we were doing a Disney World Show called Cranium Command. And we drew inspiration from an old Disney short, Reason and Emotion ...

Which is, if you don't know, this:

You will note the different visual representations of emotion/reason working on the characters? Look familiar to you at all? The son of this Disney short, per a Disney artist from the early eighties, would be ...

A presentation that was a staple inside EPCOT for decades.

Good old Cranium Command, an entertaining stop inside the "Wonders of Life" pavillion. It was created by Disney artists back in Burbank, one of whom was a talented young guy named Pete Docter.

So now, another thirty-five years along the Great Highway of life, Pete Docter is directing this Pixar feature:

Quite a lot of connecting wires between each of these Disney projects, don't you think?

Click here to read entire post

The American Box Office

... has a couple of cartoons embedded inside it.


1). Fifty Shades Of Grey (UNI/Focus), 3,655 theaters (+9) / $8.4M Fri. (-72%)/ 3-Day: $25.1M (-71%)/Total Cume: $132.5M/ Wk 2

2). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 3,266 theaters (+62) / $5.16M Fri. (-50%)/ 3-Day: $16.1M (-54%)/ Total Cume: $66M/ Wk 2

3). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 3,680 theaters (+26) / $3.85M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-Day: $16.3M (-48%)/Total Cume: $125.2M/ Wk 3

4). The Duff (CBS/LGF), 2,575 theaters / $4.1M Fri.*/ 3-Day: $11.2M/Wk 1

5). McFarland USA (DIS), 2,755 theaters / $3.6M Fri. / 3-Day: $11.1M/ Wk 1

6). American Sniper (WB), 3,235 theaters (-201)/ $2.6M Fri. (-30%) /3-Day: $9M (-45%)/ Total cume: $318.2M/ Wk 9

7). Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (PAR), 2,880 theaters / $2.5M Fri.*/ 3-Day: $7M/Wk 1

8). Jupiter Ascending (WB), 2,503 theaters (-678) / $1.08M Fri. (-46%) / 3-Day: $3.67M (-60%)/Total Cume: $39.5M/ Wk 3

9). Paddington (TWC), 1,837 theaters (-407) / $622K Fri. (-23%) / 3-Day: $2.7M (-32%) /Total cume: $68.1M /Wk 6

10). The Imitation Game (TWC), 1,408 theaters (-143) / $701K Fri. (-13%) / 3-Day: $2.5M (-27%)/ Total cume: $83.8M / Wk 13 ...

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 isn't doing well for Viacom. (Did Hot Tub Uno set the turnstiles afire? Not that I remember.)

SpongeBob, on the other hand, has held better than any older release in the Top Five. It appears it will collect $16+ million in its third weekend, good for more than $125 million when the weekend concludes.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Gaumont Acquires

... rights to a comic duo.

Gaumont Animation, the LA-based animation unit of the French mini-major, has picked up the exclusive worldwide option to develop and produce an animated 2D series based on the iconic comic duo Laurel & Hardy. Rights were acquired from Larry Harmon Pictures Corporation. ...

I never got doing animated versions of live-action comedies. How do you replicate this*?

It's like doing live-action versions of classic animated features.

Oh wait. ...

* Apologies for the colorization.

Click here to read entire post

Sito Recalls

The President Emeritus sends birthday greetings.

Happy 90th birthday! Feb 20, 1925- Willis O’Brien’s silent movieThe Lost World premiered. Based on Conan-Doyles 1912 novel. The stop motion animation of dinosaurs and exploding volcanoes issued in a new era of special effects films. O'Brien later did King Kong and trained kids like Ray Harryhausen.

Dinosaurs have always enthralled the elementary school set, particularly boys.

The flick directly above was a staple around our house when I was young. Blackhawk Films (now long gone) sold an 8mm print; the Hulett household had an 8mm projector. The result? My younger brother and I sat mesmerized watching the movie over and over again. (This was long before the internet began mesmerizing people.)

The Lost World is really the granddaddy of 3D/CGI features. Everything that came after it, from King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1948) to Jurassic Park, Avatar,, the Ray Harryhausen pictures and the latest incarnations of Planet of the Apes owe something to this movie. Because this is where live-action/3D animation hybrids got their actual, big-time, commercial start.

There was nothing much before. There was lots and lots in the nine decades that followed.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

At the Network of Cartoons

Cartoon Network had a bunch of announcements about series old and new today. They were as follows ...

We Bare Bears -- Each episode follows three bear siblings' awkward attempts at assimilating into human society, whether they’re looking for food, trying to make human friends, or scheming to become internet famous.

Powerpuff Girls -- Reboot. Adventure Time's Nick Jennings exec produces.

Magic Magiswords -- A brother and sister team of “Warriors for Hire,” on hilarious adventures and crazy quests to collect magical swords.

Long Live the Royals -- The royal family celebrates the yearly Yule Hare Festival (in four rib-tickling episodes).

Steven Universe/Uncle Grandpa -- Crossover Special: “Say Uncle”.

Adventure Time -- Special Miniseries (above and beyond the Regular Show's regular shows).

In addition to the above, Uncle Grandpa has been picked up for additional episodes. (I'm told the number is 13.)

Clarence has gotten picked up for a new season.

The Amazing World of Gumball, out of CN's European branch, will continue, as will Teen Titans, Go! from sister studio Warner Bros. Animation.

Regular Show, Uncle Grandpa and Steven Universe, all in-house series, have also gotten renewals. And Mixels a joint production of Cartoon Network and Lego, is coming back for a second season.

I've been trhough the studio a couple of times over the past week. Clarence, the half-hour created by Skyler Paige, has had a lot of creative personnel changes the last six months, and continues to have changes. Whether it impacts the quality of the show remains to be seen, but CN had enough confidence in the production to give it one more green light.

And why there isn't more coordination and synergy between Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network continues to be a mystery. ...

Click here to read entire post

Falling Wages, Falling Marriage Rates

And now, because this is (occasionally) a labor blog:

The Death of American Unions Is Killing American Marriage

For all the mawkish, maudlin conservative hand-wringing about the state of marriage among the working class—recall Republican Mitt Romney, among others, recently claiming marriage as the solution to poverty—a post-mortem on marriage among the less materially fortunate turns up fascinating results. Poverty itself, it seems, is the chief agent of marital decline among the poor. This is especially true of falling wages among working class men, who have borne the brunt of the right-wing war on labor unions. ...

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell pointed it out in the New York Times:

Forty years ago, about nine of 10 American men between the ages of 30 and 50 were married, and the most highly paid men were just slightly more likely to wed than those paid least. Since then, earnings for men in the top tenth of the income distribution have risen and their marriage rates have fallen slightly, from 95 percent in 1970 to 83 percent today. […] [M]en in the bottom quartile of earnings have had a wage cut of 60 percent, and a contemporaneous drop in marriage rates to about 50 percent, from 86 percent.

... [Columnist Nicholas] Kristof cites a study conducted by professors at Harvard and the University of Washington that concludes “the decline of the U.S. labor movement has added as much to men’s wage inequality as has the relative increase in pay for college graduates.” The authors continue:

[U]nions helped shape the allocation of wages not just for their members, but across the labor market. The decline of U.S. labor and the associated increase in wage inequality signaled the deterioration of the labor market as a political institution. Workers became less connected to each other in their organizational lives and less connected in their economic fortunes.

In other words, the decline of labor unions not only reduced workers’ control of their economic destinies by decoupling them from the fates of their fellow workers, but also allowed for rapid wage decreases that put lower-income laborers at a financial distance from more privileged employees within highly unionized industries and outside them. ...

In 1973, about the time I separated from active duty with the U.S. Navy, the American labor movement began its long decline. It's been declining ever since, and as it's lost power, the Republican Party has become more anti-labor. (It's not the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower anymore, but the willing accomplice of the Big Dogs among us.)

And funny thing. As the percentage of unionized households has cratered, the middle class's share of national income has gone down with it:

Weird, huh? I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

The only thing weirder is how so much of the population chooses to vote against its own economic self-interest, buying into peripheral flap-doodle (Ebola! ISIS! Benghazi! Gay marriage! Kenyan Socialist!) even as it's beaten, robbed and left with little more than a worn pair of sneakers.

But in politics and labor battles (as the cliche goes), there are no permanent victories, or permanent defeats. And I wouldn't hazard a guess as to where the population will be in ten ... fifteen ... thirty years. I only hope it's not some 21st Century version of the Middle Ages.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

So What About the Anthem Security Breach?

Mr. Kaplan and I have continued our tour of studios this week. A question keeps coming up: "What about Anthem?! What about the security breach? Are my bank accounts in jeopardy?

Here's what the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan says:

... Anthem states it will be sending letters via US Mail to impacted participants by the end of February. The letters will contain additional information regarding Credit Monitoring services that Anthem will pay for and make available for one (1) year to those who were impacted. Please note, you will NOT be automatically enrolled in these services. Impacted participants MUST enroll for the services upon receipt of the letter.

There have been reports of fraudulent email activity offering credit monitoring services that appear to be from Anthem. Anthem will NOT use e-mail for this correspondence. Notification from Anthem will be via US Mail. ...

We've been telling members that if they're uncomfortable with waiting, if they want to be proactive with credit cards and bank accounts, then they should do that. No reason to wait if it causes you sleepless nights. In the meantime, here's what Anthem says it's doing now ...

From the Anthem website:

Anthem is working with AllClear ID, a leading and trusted identity protection provider, to offer 24 months of identity theft repair and credit monitoring services to current or former members of an affected Anthem plan dating back to 2004.

This includes customers of Anthem, Inc. companies Amerigroup, Anthem and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, Caremore, and Unicare. Additionally customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies who used their Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance in one of fourteen states where Anthem, Inc. operates may be impacted and are also eligible: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

AllClear ID is ready and standing by to assist you if you need identity repair assistance. This service is automatically available to you with no enrollment required. If a problem arises, simply call 877-263-7995 and a dedicated investigator will do the work to recover financial losses, restore your credit, and make sure your identity is returned to its proper condition. ...

A crappy situation all around, but it can be dealt with. Just take a few minutes and read the Anthem site.

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Niceness ... and Not

Sayeth Ms. Pascal:

"We all live in this weird thing called Hollywood. If we all actually were nice, it wouldn't work."

I don't know if Amy Pascal's quote is candor ... or rationalization.

What I do know is that when you're one of the troops toiling in the trenches, you'll get the fake patina of "nice," but it's only there as thin sugar-coating covering the excrement. You learn ... sometimes slowly ... that top executives talk one way among themselves (with brutal candor), and another way to everyone else.

A former TAG officer told me how he found himself in a creative meeting with one of the Top Dogs of production. A supervisor complained (mildly) about the attitude of a veteran artist on the show. The exec shrugged and said "Fire him!" There was no empathy or weighing of pros and cons, just a quick solution to the supe's off-hand complaint. But this is because with top executives

Niceness is an impediment to efficiency, and anyway, no one [up in the Golden Circle] believes it. Sometimes profanity and meanness come with the candor, but to those on the inside, it's never shocking. It's actually a dog whistle to signal membership in a common culture of wealth, fame and narcissism. ...

I joke to artists laboring in various studios: "If the suits come downstairs to tell you that everything is fine, that nobody has to worry about losing their jobs, start looking for other work, because the layoffs will start soon."

Because everybody not in the Winners Club gets covered with thick, rich manure that the executives tell the rabble is really fine, rich chocolate. Lies to underlings are considered to be a necessary part of running the business, so lies are often plentiful. A couple of years ago, the management of a large studio told staff that everybody's work week would be boosted from forty to forty-five hours, "but nobody's wages are being cut."

When asked about it, I pointed out that everybody's pay was being cut because people were working more hours for the same money as before.

And everybody got it. They were (again) being lied to.

But of course, none of this will come as a surprise to anybody who's been in the biz for ... oh ... six months. If you're one of the worker bees, misinformation is the coin of the realm. And b.s. is the chief nutrient in the studio soil.

Veteran artists and tech directors understand this ... and practice what an Army Air Corps navigator learned in a long-ago war:

"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."

"I won't punish you," Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.

"He says he won't punish me," said Clevinger.

"He'll castrate you," said Yossarian.

-- Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Unsurprisingly, Amy Pascal is now the former head of Sony Pictures. But it was fun while it lasted.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

From Live Action to Animation

... Instead of the other way around. But some oversensitive types refuse to see the value in it.

... In June we reported that the BBC was planning to reboot Teletubbies with computer-generated animation, so that it could be more relevant to the computer-generated children of today. Now, the co-creator of Teletubbies — Anne Wood — has spoken up about the new version of her colorful little baby people, and she is “fucking pissed.” ...

Wood says that the idea to remake old shows instead of creating new ones is all about trends in TV production: “People feel safer remaking hits of the past rather than investing in something new.” ... She won’t be watching the remake. “How could I watch it?” she said, “All my programs are like my children. It’s like seeing a child remade in somebody else’s image. So good luck to them.” ...

What Ms. Wood doesn't understand is that she should be honored. And grateful. Usually it's animated properties that get plundered for newer live-action versions. The fact that Teletubbies is a property going in the opposite direction means that Ms. Wood is a trend setter.

Annie should look on the bright side. At least nobody is saying the new version of TT is "gay."

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Hero Follow-Up

Penn Zero, PTH, which premiered over the weekend, enjoyed solid results for its initial outing.

Premiering with a Disney Channel and Disney XD simulcast, the new animated comedy series "Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero" (Friday, February 13, 9:45 p.m., ET/PT) delivered solid ratings in Total Viewers (2.9 million), Kids 2-11 (1.7 million/4.4 rating), Kids 6-11 (1.4 million/5.9 rating) and Tweens 9-14 (965,000/4.0 rating) across the two platforms.

Three additional new episodes aired on Disney XD on Saturday, February 14 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT), Sunday, February 15 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT) and Monday, February 16 (9:15 p.m., ET/PT). ...

After three decades, Disney TVA has become a well-oiled machine.

Gone are the days of hit or miss franchises, where for every Gummi Bears that hit big, there was a Wuzzles that didn't.

In the 21st Century, Television Animation game-plans for multiple seasons of every show it put on the air. Because two or three or four seasons are easier to market than a single order of shows that went nowhere.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Evening Factoid

Third highest grossing:

... Big Hero 6 has now grossed $219.3M at the domestic box office, which pushed it past Beauty and the Beast. That puts the film in third place among Disney animated films, behind The Lion King ($422.7M) and Frozen ($400.7M). ...

The Disney flick that's right behind?

Aladdin, which has a North American gross of $217,350,219. Which is 43.1% of its ultimate, worldwide total from 22-plus years ago.

Of course, adjusted for inflation, the big blue Genie and his friends are (at this point) comfortably ahead, but who wants to adjust? Especially when it interferes with bragging rights?

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Lawsuit City

Not against the Big Boys this time, but a well-loved VFX and animation studio that went bankrupt just as it won an Academy Award.

... On Friday, two years after Rhythm & Hues filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Trustee in the case brought a new complaint against the company's former officers and directors, including John Patrick Hughes, Pauline Ts’o and Keith Goldfarb. The suit presents a different take on what led R&H to go bust.

"While claiming to promote a caring and artistic corporate culture that enhanced R&H’s value, Hughes, Ts’o and Goldfarb breached their duties of loyalty, due care, and good faith by directing R&H to engage in risky transactions with entities they or their family members owned or controlled," states the complaint. ...

The suit alleges Hughes transferred millions of dollars to CCCD Diagnostics, a biotech startup company founded by his father-in-law, in return for unsecured notes that were eventually sold to him for one dollar. This biotech company is said to have had no revenues and a business "wholly unrelated to R&H's business." ...

That corporate chieftans are known to lie and plunder is not exactly world-shaking news. But for years Rhythm and Hues was held up as a shining model of employee-management relations.

When I was at a meeting of employees in the final days of Dream Quest Images, a visual effects studio that had been purchase by Disney and was being merged into Disney Feature Animation (and also becoming part of a Disney-IATSE contract), a Dream Questor stood up in the back of the hall and said

"I hope this merger will be good for us, but I'm not sure it will be. A bunch of us have worked for Rhythm and Hues, and they really know how to treat employees right, how to look out for them. I'm nervous if becoming part of Disney Feature is going to do that for people here". ...

Rhythm and Hues was held up as the gold standard for pay, working conditions and benefits in the VFX industry for a long time. To find out that things might not have been as employees thought they were is a chronic down trip.

But then, there have been lots of chronic down trips in the VFX world of late. What's one more?

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

At Disney TVA

This past week, Steve Kaplan and I toured part of Disney TVA/Yahoo. And what they hey is Disney TVA/Yahoo? It's part of Television Animation that is not headquartered n Glendale but located near the Burbank-Bob Hope Airport. One of the shows there is getting rolled out this weekend:

This weekend marks the official debut of Disney's latest animated comedy adventure series Penn Zero Part Time Hero - about a regular boy who inherits the not-so-regular job of dimension-hopping part-time hero. ...

The things you need to know about Disney TVA is, it long ago stopped being under Disney Feature's wing and now exists inside the protective aura of Disney Channel.

And no Disney animated series gets on cable these days until it's been focus-grouped, animaticked and tested to a fare-thee-well. The Channel hierarchy wants to be sure the show (whatever it is) will succeed with its targeted demographic.

So any new candidate will have been analyzed, massaged, and massaged again before it flies with its (hoped-for) audience. The Channel wants winners that will roll beyond a Season One order, that will last through three or four cycles and become and "evergreen" that makes money for Diz Co. over the long haul.

Testing, coupled with generous prep time, is the way Disney Channel has worked on product for a long time. Sofia the First, in work for a year, started life as a special that scored big numbers with the moppet set. The 7D, now launched on its second season, had a long gestation period with lots of testing (and producer Tom Ruegger told me how challenging ... and nerve-wracking ... that was.)

Sam Levine, Penn Zero's co-creator (along with Jared Bush) described some of the development twists and turns taken by their series:

Originally the show was one story per 22-minute episode, and it was changed to two 11-minute stories. It doubled our design load and the amount of work we had to do. But it ended up becoming double the fun. Our directors have to think about each story as a separate genre, our composer Ryan Shore has to create music for each world. First it’s a Zombie world, now it’s a Clown world, then it’s a Western. ...

Whenever you see a Diz TVA series roll off the development pipeline, it's worth knowing that the route it takes to get out to the wider world is long and involved.

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Your World-Wide B.O.

Time once again for a look at animation and VFX foreign box office.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Spongebob Squarepants -- $13,500,000 -- ($139,972,561)

Jupiter Ascending -- $15,600,000 -- ($91,451,146)

Big Hero 6 -- $9,200,000 -- ($521,085,680)

Night At The Museum 3 -- $6,700,000 -- ($334,005,972)

Paddington -- $1,000,000 -- ($219,298,308)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $4,100,000 -- ($349,159,425)

Hobbit 3 -- $3,900,000 -- ($950,161,689)

Boonie Bears Movie 2 -- $3,800,000 -- ($37,000,000)

The trade papers summarize the overseas story:

... Jupiter Ascending dropped about 54% in its 2nd frame, grossing an estimated $15.6M from 8,195 screens in 65 markets. ....

The 3rd frame for The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water logged $13.5M from 4,206 locations in 29 territories. ...

Big Hero 6 was welcomed in France, Belgium and the Netherlands this frame and has only China to go on February 28. ...Across all markets, Baymax and Hiro earned $9.2M, taking the international above the $300M mark to $301.8M. The global cume on the Disney Animation title is now $521.1M. ...

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb awakened $6.7M on 1,985 screens in 23 markets. ... The international cume is $223.3M with February school holidays beginning to roll out across many European markets.

Fox and DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins Of Madagascar stealthily picked up $4.2M from 1,259 screens in 21 markets with excellent openings in Venezuela ($1.54M) and Taiwan ($471K). The overseas total is now $267M.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

WGA Animation Awards

The WGA passed out awards tonight. This was the animated show that received one.

Best Animated TV Show

(WINNER) “Brick Like Me” (The Simpsons), Written by Brian Kelley; Fox

“Bob and Deliver” (Bob’s Burgers), Written by Greg Thompson; Fox

“Covercraft” (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Fox

“Pay Pal” (The Simpsons), Written by David Steinberg; Fox

“Steal This Episode” (The Simpsons), Written by J. Stewart Burns; Fox

“Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl” (Bob’s Burgers), Written by Nora Smith; Fox

Looking at the list of nominees, it came down to Bob's Burgers or The Yellow Family.
So no big surprise abot the half-hour that took the honor.

As I understand it, the WGA limits nominations to work performed under Writers Guild jurisdiction.

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Biz Rep Questionnaire

TAG organizer/Peg-Board editor/utility infielder Steve Kaplan has been running profiles of Animation Guild Executive Board members in the monthly newsletter. Here's mine ...


What brought you to the industry?

I needed a job. I also wanted to write for a living. So I applied for work in the Disney Feature Animation story department. I didn’t have much professional background, but I got into their training program in the middle seventies, and wrote on a number of features over the next decade.

I was laid off from Disney in the middle eighties. I would tell you it was due to “management change.” Management would tell you it was because the new guys running the studio weren’t jazzed by my work.

After layoff, I worked for Filmation (long since defunct) and WB Animation, and also taught high school English (as many unemployed writers tend to do.)

I ran for the elected post of Animation Guild business representative in 1989, won the job, and have been doing the biz rep thing ever since. I’ll be retiring from the position at the end of 2016.

It’s understood that you’ve held this position for quite some time. How many years have you been the Guild’s Business Representative?

Twenty-five years. But if feels like thirty.

Why do you think you’ve held the position for so long?

I’ve come to work every day and focused on business. I’ve gone out to studios and talked to members on a daily basis. (Business agents who don’t do interactions with the rank and file tend to be gone sooner instead of later).

I’ve worked to be responsive to members’ needs/complaints/
frustrations. (Sadly, sometimes you can be more responsive – and effective -- than others.)

The reasons for my longevity?

A) I made sure I returned phone calls and did face time with guild members.

B) I worked to be cooperative with other elected TAG officers, also to be transparent and available to members.

C) Few other people wanted this job.

What does the Business Representative do? What inspired you to run for the position?

I ran for the position in ’89 because I had served on the guild board for six years, served as Vice-President, and thought I could make the organization more “user friendly.” I did a lot of outreach in the early years, phoning members at home and doing studio visits. The companies I dealt with in those earlier times were a lot less corporate and bureaucratic than they are now.

As to the job itself, you file grievances, supervise the guild office staff, negotiate contracts. But that’s the bare bones description of the position. A big part of business repping is being an ombudsman, helping members navigate the health and pension plans, assisting with people finding work and securing job training, and providing Dutch Uncle type advice to employees who are embroiled in disputes at work and don’t know how to handle an unhappy supervisor or ticked off co-worker.

I tell people that jobs in the animation business are three parts talent/hard work, and two parts politics/luck. If you don’t play well with others, you narrow the strike zone for achieving success. (I’ve learned this the hard way.)

Is this where you imagined you would have ended up in the industry?

No. I imagined I would be doing John Lasseter’s gig. It turns out I was delusional.

What would you like to accomplish this term as the Guild’s Business Rep?

Negotiate a good contract. Organize more studios. End my time here at a sprint.

Do you have any words for the subscribers of the Pegboard?

Never stop pursuing your dreams and ultimate goals, but recognize that you also have to make a living in the meantime. Savor and enjoy every day you’re in the business. (You’re making cartoons! One of the highest callings known to humankind!)

Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re all on a journey down a bright tunnel, and we’re all going to the same place.​

I should add that a sizable chunk of my job over the past seventeen years has been serving as point person on the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan. It's been a valuable experience for me because I've learned many facets of the investing game. (The BIGGEST facet? Investing is simple; it's stocks-bonds-WIDE diversification. The hard part is sticking to your plan.)

Members now hold a total of $230 million in assets in the TAG 401(k); this is on top of the money they hold in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan. The guild's added benefit has really become an integral part of members' pension benefits

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American Box Office

SpongeBob falls from #1 as the racy movie takes over.


1). Fifty Shades of Grey (UNI), 3,646 theaters / $31M Fri.* / 3-Day: $83M/4-Day: $91M/ Wk 1

2). Kingsman: The Secret Service (FOX), 3,204 theaters / $10.5M Fri.* / 3-Day: $35M/ 4-Day: $39.4M/ Wk 1

3). The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PAR), 3,654 theaters (+13) / $6.6M Fri. (-56%)/ 3-Day: $26.6M (-52%)/4-Day: $36.1M/Total Cume: $99.2M/ Wk 2

4). American Sniper (WB), 3,436 theaters (-449)/ $3.79M Fri. (-39%) /3-Day: $16.4M (-29%)/4-Day: $19.2M/Total cume: $307M/ Wk 8

5). Jupiter Ascending* (WB), 3,181 theaters (0) / $2M Fri. (-68%) / 3-Day: $7.1M (-61%)/ 4-Day: $9.1M/Total Cume: $31.7M/ Wk 2

6). Paddington (TWC), 2,244 theaters (-644) / $869 Fri. (-22%) / 3-Day: $3.9M (-25%) / 4-Day: $5M/Total cume: $63.2M /Wk 5

7/8). Seventh Son (UNI), 2,874 theaters (-1) / $915K Fri. (-60%)/ 3-Day: $3.3M (-54%)/4-Day: $3.8M/Total Cume: $13.1M/ Wk 2

The Imitation Game (TWC), 1,551 theaters (-412) / $790K Fri. (-38%) / 3-Day: $3.3M (-29%)/4-Day: $3.9M/Total cume: $80M / Wk 12

9). The Wedding Ringer (Sony), 1,456 theaters (-682)/ $617K Fri. (-53%) / 3-Day: $2.3M (-50%)/4-Day: $3.1M/ Total cume: $59.2M /Wk 5

10). Black or White (REL), 1,591 theaters (-232) / $602K Fri. (-53%)/ 3-Day: $2.3M (-49%) / 4-Day: $2.69M/Total cume: $17.4M/Wk 3

The SpongeBob Movie: SOW will hit $100 million early next week. The Sponge and Paddington the bear will both be money spinners because they weren't exorbitnatly expensive to produce.

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