Tuesday, June 26, 2007

JMH and Whining Execs

Got a call today from a reporter who asked me if things were as awful as Disney Animation as Jim Hill and his Media make out.

Since I'm not a regular customer over at JMH, I answered the gent's questions and then took a cyber-stroll over to Big Jim's place to see how bad the awfulness at Disney Animation actually was:

Here's the official party line for the Walt Disney Company nowadays : That everyone who works in Burbank is just thrilled that John Lasseter & Ed Catmull now exert so much control over the corporation. More importantly, that all Mouse House employees have been eager to embrace Pixar's "Quality is a great business plan" aesthetic.

Okay. Now do you want to know what's really going on? Take a gander at this excerpt from an e-mail that I received late last week from a Disney executive:

There are a lot of people here who are now actively hoping for a Pixar backlash. The transition has not been handled well, due mostly to the great care & attention that's being lavished on Pixar....

Many of us here feel that Disney's own executives (Who in some cases have decades of working experience) are needlessly being forced to take a backseat to the crew from Emeryville. Meanwhile the people from Pixar are afforded stronger creative control, get superior treatment, receive more credit and have their asses kissed regularly by Iger & associates.

The good news is that all of this may all change once "Ratatouille" 's box office receipts get counted. Though Brad Bird has made a great little movie, it won't hit the B.O. numbers that Wall Street wants and that will get a lot of attention...

Wow. Pretty bad, all right. (Jim and Sharon Morrill -- one of those Disney execs with "decades of experience" -- appear to be exchanging e-mails.)

Me, I'm just your garden-variety union thug. Certainly not the all-seeing, all-knowing JMH, with spies and tentacles everywhere. All I've got is my pair of size-twelve feet to carry me around the various halls and rooms and cubicles at Disney Animation and talk to people. So I'm at a big disadvantage, and fully understand how, next to JMH, I'm an ignorant moron.

But here's the deal. Disney Animation has endured two sets of management changes in its recent past: Eisner replaced by Iger, then Stainton replaced by Catmull/Lasseter. And let's face it: any time there's a single management change let alone two, transitions can get choppy and brutal. Status quos get upended. People who the incoming management decides are less than wonderful get tossed out. Often this is, from an objective point-of-view, unfair.

But this is Hollywood, where unfair is a way of life.

And here's also the deal. There've been a lot of layoffs at Disney Animation, and a lot of semi-forced departures of long-time executives. So naturally there is a lot of disgruntlement (I've heard much of it.)

And whattayaknow? There are a lot of folks out there wanting the people who pushed them out of the high seat to be brought down several pegs. (In the jolly 1980s, when I was slipped the axe by Disney management, one of those people was moi.)

In any studio, there are always three groups of citizens: 1) the contented and happy, 2) the "Oh, things are okay, but..." crowd, and 3) the discontented and unhappy.

No matter how wonderfully well the studio is running, you have these three groups.

And no matter how hellish and Guantanomo-like a studio is, you have these three groups.

The difference between good studio and bad is the size of each group. At the good studio, the happy crowd predominates. At the bad place, misery reigns supreme. But you always have a few employees in categories 1) through 3).

At Disney Animation right now, there are employees in production who are edgy and wondering what's going to happen. They're not "contented and happy." They haven't been thrilled with some of the recent happenings at DAS. But up on the third floor in the story department, story artists seem to be whistling while they work. The hovering execs of earlier regimes have disappeared, and the artists create their storyboards without some MBA offering his generous opinion every fifteen minutes. They like the idea of animation story people having the opinions that count. They like what's happening at Disney now.

So you can list these folks under category 1): happy and contented. And they want to see the studio to succeed. As do, truth to tell, a lot of the less happy employees on other floors. (Go figure.)

Are there people around and about hoping the new management team falls on its face? No doubt. But most of them aren't currently working for Disney Animation.


t said...

Most spreading the doom and gloom news to the public, and web, are probably loads of administrative/MBA/"creative executive" types who ruled the studio for far too long.
And we all know how that turned out...

Some folks are upset creative visionaries are now in charge.

Some are upset that artists, storytellers, and directors are getting their freedom and power back.

It all makes sense...now. =) And I like it.

Anonymous said...

As far as I could see, there is no legitimate complaint in the excerpt. Sounds like Disney folks that have been cruising for years are unnerved by the new regime, regardless of how much better the end result may be. Hoping for someone's failure because their drive for quality contrasts with your contentedness with the status quo is not a legitimate gripe.

skep41 said...

They still haven't figured out that the problem is the sameness of all these 3D movies. In fact Jim Hill's quotations of Disney Execs weeping about how the Pixar geniuses are getting their butts kissed by Iger on a more regular basis gave me more delight than the last three dreary 3d features I forced myself to sit through. For a Disney Exec to invoke the years of experience that Disney Execs have in grinding out tedious product while they maneuver for brownie points in their Borgia-like corporate culture is hysterically funny.

Anonymous said...

"The good news is that all of this may all change once "Ratatouille" 's box office receipts get counted. Though Brad Bird has made a great little movie, it won't hit the B.O. numbers that Wall Street wants and that will get a lot of attention..."

wow,this guy is just confident it will do bad. It's unbelievable there are negative people like this.

Let's all jump up and cheer this good news! sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Jim Hill falls under the catagory: "the discontented and unhappy," though he doesn't work there.

Maybe he knows something we don't, and saw something in the previouse execs and MBA's that others missed.

Anonymous said...

Jim Hill loves the sound of Jim Hill speaking/being spoken about. His riff on how bad Ratatouille will theoretically do and how it could sink Pixar is essentially the same thing he said last year about Cars, just with the names replaced.

He's an arrogant blowhard.

Anonymous said...

Jim Hill, angry that his sources from the artist rank-and-file at Disney have dried up (now that the Pixar folks have instilled a sense of pride and comraderie), is lashing out in his usual petulant way. Folks on my floor (not the 3rd) are quite happy.

Consider his remaining source--a disgrunted executive who is unhappy that good management has finally landed at Disney, and pushing the incompetent deadwood like him aside. If he's feeling shunted aside, and his worthless opinions no longer able to infect the stories being developed, I say GOOD. Every decision Lasseter and Catmull have made so far has been right on the money, and long overdue at Disney.

It's true that the layoffs in December were difficult, but I think most realize they were the consequence of bad greenlighting decisions made by the previous regime.

Finally, having seen 'Ratatouille', it is a truly awesome movie. I value Jim Hill's predictive powers about as much as I value my used Charmin.

Anonymous said...


Rot in hell, useless executives... I hope you all find yourselves washing dishes on the graveyard shift at 'Dennys' this time next year.

You are getting what you richly, richly deserve.

I just wet myself.

Pete Emslie said...

I'm going to assume that the Sorcerer Mickey hat pictured in this post is the official headgear of Eisner-era Disney execs. It looks like it would fit quite snuggly in the hole in their heads...

Anonymous said...

it is pretty amazing that the 7.5 Billion dollar purchase was not only to get Pixar but then let them run Disney and try to get that train wreck back on its feet.

i saw Pixar's movie a couple of weeks ago and it may not hit the insane numbers needed now a days but it should, because it is - hands down the best movie of the summer to date.

Floyd Norman said...

Apple Computer was in meltdown when Steve Jobs returned to save the company.

A few years later, by selling Pixar to Disney he's saving Walt's glorious animation division from disaster.

High price? That 7.5 billion was a bargain.

Anonymous said...

How much in Disney Stock did Jobs get in the deal? I thought he received a huge chunk along with the buy.

If thats true then I would be inclined to believe it's more like Pixar owning Disney, isn't it?

Steve Hulett said...

How much in Disney Stock did Jobs get in the deal? I thought he received a huge chunk along with the buy.

Mr. Jobs is now the Disney Co.'s single largest shareholder.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so then technically isn't it Pixar that owns Disney?

Anonymous said...

In some ways it is Pixar that owns Disney and thats what the animation division needed. A deep rooted change from the the worst leadership at the top and trickling down.

its painful and still far from done but for certain it will be better than the last 5 years have been!

Anonymous said...

Why would a respected site like TAG even stoop to discuss the scum that is jim hill? He's a hack, a TERRIBLE "writer," and most probably still lives in his mommie's basement. He's got about as much credibility as g.w. bush.

Anonymous said...

Because Jim Hill, despite the critics is on the money more times than not.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that's simply not true. If you mean by "on the money" that he's reporting news already well known and previously reported (by more reputable and reliable sources...without CREDIT by that scum jim hill), then you might have a leg to stand on.

But he never brings anything to the table that's true. And it's horribly written.

Thankfully, everyone knows he's the scum of the gutter.

Anonymous said...

Ah come on why does JH get so much flack. does he strike a nerve with the news he reports?


Anonymous said...

he doesn't report "news." He gossips and tells and spreads lies. Very uninformed scumbag.

He's a liar.

Anonymous said...

> Ok, so then technically isn't
> it Pixar that owns Disney?

The Walt Disney Company owns Pixar, and the Pixar leadership have in turn been placed in charge of animation.

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