Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Non-Recurring Phenomena

David Nethery makes a fine point in comments immediately below, to wit:

[If the Simpsons Movie had flopped...] they would have been saying: "See? No one wants to see 2D animation anymore. Not even a pre-sold property like The Simpsons can bring them in to a hand-drawn cartoon".

How many financial flops (Everyone's Hero , The Wild, Valiant, Meet The Robinsons, Surf's Up, Flushed Away, Happily N'Ever After) have to happen before CG's teflon shield wears thin and the conventional wisdom starts "blaming" CG animation for the flops like they tried to blame hand-drawn animation for the financial failure of Treasure Planet, Titan A.E. , Quest For Camelot, Home On the Range, instead of maybe figuring out that , as Steve rightly noted, "if you make a movie people want to see, then they'll go see it. Whether it's hand-drawn, cg, or live-action."

What continually irks me is the lazy conventional wisdom that always breaks out when some film or other flops: "Oh, nobody wants to see...a Western...another high schooler comedy...a new hand-drawn animated feature..."

It's all nonsense. What nobody wants to see is the same film for the third time, especially when the film is witless. The animated Broadway musical (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King) wowed audiences, and ticket buyers couldn't get enough.

Up to a point. Then the fresh, inspired razzmatazz became less fresh and way less inspired, and the grosses fell off. Anybody surprised that Quest for Camelot -- the Warner Bros. version of the animated Broadway musical -- didn't burn up the wickets?

If you're the first in your neighborhood with a product that is new and entertaining, you're gold. And when you're not first? It's like a wise old Disney story artist told me at lunch yesterday:

"Too bad about Sony Pictures Animation and 'Surf's Up.' They really ate it being the fourth penguin picture out there."

The story artist has a point. Timing is everything. And quality is everything else. And if you don't have both of those things in abundance, you are often in trouble, box office wise.

When I was much younger, a chunk of conventional wisdom regarding live action was "Westerns don't make money." Then Dance With Wolves came along, made a whole lot of money, and the wise industry sages said: "Welll. That was a non-recurring phenomenon."

Which is, of course, the category that The Simpson Movie will land in. "Good movie, great grosses, and yeah it's hand-drawn, but it's a non-recurring pheonomenon."

Which will be the absolute, gospel truth.

Until it's not.

15 comments:

Steven E. Gordon said...

"Nobody knows anything" - Goldman

"And those that claim to are morons" - me

ScissorHands said...

Oh Please!!!!!!!!!!
Meet the Robinsons wasn't a hit but it wasn' a flop...
It almost reached 100 milion...
Please....

Anonymous said...

Hey Scissorhands...wake-up!!! If MTR had cost 25 mill than you might be right, but I'm guessing it cost at least half of Ratatoullie's budget of 150 mill which would make MTR a huge financial loss -- come to think of it that would also make Rat a huge financial loss too. Hmmm...barely make back only your production costs isn't what most companies want in a film.

Anonymous said...

Right now I hoping the guys at Laika can make a good go of it with their 50 mil. budgets. I have my fingers crossed for them.

Are there TAG members in their ranks?

David Nethery said...

"Oh Please!!!!!!!!!!
Meet the Robinsons wasn't a hit but it wasn' a flop...
It almost reached 100 milion..."


Scissorhands,

It's all about ratio of cost vs. box office take.

Here's an example from the recent past:

The last movie I worked on at Disney was "Brother Bear" . It cost $80 million to make. It's worldwide box-office gross was $250,397,277, which sounds pretty decent (it did much better in Europe and Asia than in the U.S.) I was told later on by someone still working at the company that BB was considered a flop or at least an "underperforming" film. ( then they made Brother Bear 2 , so I guess there's a good market out there for flops ? ).

Meet The Robinsons worldwide box-office gross totalled $151,608,084, $99 million less than Brother Bear. MTR cost at least $110 million to make, but there was that matter of an extra 8 months of production being tacked on to the then almost completed Robinsons after John Lasseter asked for story revisions.. that couldn't have been cheap, so I imagine $110 million is a low-estimate. Is Robinson's still in release somewhere in the world ? Then figure it might squeak by with another $3 million , tops , before it closes out it's theatrical run . Maybe it ends up with $154,000,000 worldwide box-office gross.

We're always told that a movie has to make back twice it's negative cost before it breaks even . For Robinson's that would be $220 million (at least) .
Brother Bear's cost of $80 million needed $160 million to break even. It made $250 million , so it would seem that perhaps a modest profit was made , but again, I was told that the company considered it a flop and was one of the reasons used to justify shutting down the hand-drawn animation dept. under the old regime . ("2D is dead. People don't want to see hand-drawn animation anymore. That's the past , we're moving into the future... blah, blah, blah...." )

So , unless there's a double-standard operating here I would regretfully have to say that Robinsons was a financial flop . I have every reason to wish it were more successful. I have many good friends who worked on it and I'm proud of their fine work on that movie. I wanted it to succeed. Same with Surf's Up , which I loved and am very sad that it never found an audience.

If it makes you feel better I'll withdraw Meet The Robinsons from my list of CG "flops" and replace it with The Ant Bully .

I think the point still stands. It's silly to blame the tools used (pencil or computer) for the box-office failure of a film, but for some reason that is what happened with hand-drawn (the medium is blamed as in the "2D is dead" talk) but not so much , at least not yet, with CG . Why is that ?

Anonymous said...

Could it be that there's nothing around to compare 3D to? The "2D is dead" argument was made in light of the comparative successes of 3D animation at the same time. Several 3D movies have underperformed or outright flopped, true, but there are no "4D" or "SuperSpectraAwesomMation" or, whatever, movies with which to compare the flops. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

MTR was a flop.
And it sucked.

Although the animation on Bowler hat guy was amazing.

Still, I see no reason for Disney to go back to 2d.

Or dou really did not get enough singing princesses and happy pretty people?

Pretty Rufus, out!

Anonymous said...

The results are always skewed to benefit whatever particular stance the studio is taking. I.e. The "flop" of Brother Bear was to help get 2D out. The "success" of MTR is to keep CG in.

Rules are bent constantly. No biggy. That is just the way it is.


BTW. Despite MTR having a lower box office to negative cost ratio, it will still come out fine. The idea in theater release is to break even or better (negative + P&A). The gravy comes in home video, ppv, and network licensing.

Anonymous said...

Here's how it works:

A film comes along that makes a huge megahit--say, a teen movie with songs. It's well done and quirky, with an appealing lead and a good script(somehow).

Every exec in town says "we need to have one of those hits". So they commission and greenlight one. And noooo, they DON'T say "But let's make THIS one different from that other, recent HUGE boxoffice bonanza". Why in god's name would they? What they want is what they think the audience wants, which is more of the same(well-made, mind you). And you know what?

They're right. Usually. More than 55% of the time. And they know it. History bears it out. Sorry, guys, but it's true. Hence the god awful sequels to much much better films this summer that are smash hits.
The ONE, single jobs of these folks is NOT to make wonderful, unique films. It's to make as much profit as possible for the company and stockholders(and yes, we are PAID with those profits).

And they know from experience that they have a very short window to milk that damn cow-the musical, western, effects film, etc-until the public does get tired of the same old teen movie or animated musical with a furry small animal or western resurgence or whatever. Then they'll move on to another template: a proven star vehicle that may or may not be a hit but at least has a better than 50% chance of being one.

I don't agree with this. And contrary to popular belief I know that many execs would much prefer to make their profits with a quality film-it reflects on themselves, their pride and their cachet, so they DO care about that stuff. There's a lot to be said in the exec offices for those quality/unique films come Oscar time or over dinner at the Ivy. No one wants to be known for greenlighting crap.

The point is that it's simply not as simple as the old "if only!" cry of "WHY won't these fools just REALIZE like I do that what they need is a DIFFERENT sort of quirky movie. DUH!" Actually, many of them do realize it and those scripts a)occasionally get made, and b)occasionally are much admired but don't get made as they aren't worth the investment and risk (and it is a large risk) involved.

This is the reality of the Major Motion Picture Industry, and while I don't particularly like it, the better thing is to at least be in the mix and try one's damndest to make one's project as good as it can be-while realizing one's own risks in pushing things as far as is possible without losing your job-or in fact going ahead and quitting it if that's what it takes for oneself. But sometimes it helps to have built a personal rep and find a backer like Steve Jobs-which happens, oh, once in a lifetime. Still-one can hope.

Anonymous said...

I bet in a few years from now everyone is bitching about how Jobs ruined Pixar and started cranking out i-films with i-stories with the sole intent that they can be played on his i-phones while everyone sits on their i-toilets.

s.r. hulett said...

And it's always worked this way, more or less.

You hear people say, "welll, in the Golden Age of Motion Pictures (1930s, 1940s), they didn't make all these stupid sequels."

That's half right, half wrong.

They didn't make sequel sequels, but they made "Clark Gable movies." "Shirley Temple movies." "Errol Flynn movies."

And by that I mean, Clark Gable was in film after film, behaving in a Clark Gablish way in a specific kind of story arc. (See "Wind, Gone With The" for specifics.)

Shirley Temple tap-danced and had a crying scene and dimpled prettily. James Cagney was a feisty bantam rooster who talked fast and didn't take lip from anyone. Errol Flynn was in a military costume or cape, swinging a sword.

These films weren't sequels in the way we have sequels now, but they fit a specific mold. Were made to a specific mold.

Because the studios wanted to make money. Just like now.

Nothing much has changed. Except production budgets are bigger.

Anonymous said...

"... but for some reason that is what happened with hand-drawn (the medium is blamed as in the "2D is dead" talk) but not so much , at least not yet, with CG . Why is that ?"

The reason is that 3D is still rolling in safeloads of dough.

The "2D is dead" talk was asinine, of course. I have to say that so that folks here will listen to what I have to say. I'll speak shibboleth and say that 2D was blamed for bad stories.

But remember that NO 2D movies were performing outsized box office back in the "2D is dead" days. And 3D was.


The reason nobody's saying "3D is dead" right now is that 3D is rolling in truckloads of dough. We're talking Cars and the merchandise from that to the tune of billions. We're talking Shrek3, which has raked in over 718 million worldwide.

Nobody will say 3D is dead when it's making tons of dough for someone. Nope, it's not WDAS, or Sony. But it is Pixar and Dreamworks.

Steven E. Gordon said...

Actually there were plenty of sequels in the 'good ol' days'...anyone remember the Thin Man series or Topper and the Road to...films and Lassie to name just a few...

Anonymous said...

Quite true.

But the sequels in the 1930s were low-budget pictures. "Andy Hardy Falls in Love," "Maisie Gets A Hickey," "Charlie Chan Hits Hong Kong," etc.

The super productions were non-sequels.

Today the super-productions are ... sequels. Series, in other words.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #6 articulated an awful truth.
But, it's good to know this.

As long as good movies are still made, then I guess this won't bother me as a viewer.

Some people complain that the common denominator is constantly being lowered. But as I recall, crappy movies have been made since day one!!

Rufus.

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