Friday, October 31, 2008

Good Forward-Looking Indicator?

Today at lunch, a magazine editor said to me: "My kid's really anxious to see Madagascar II." So this story from MarketWatch might not be a fluke:

DreamWorks today announced that its highly anticipated sequel, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" made box office history yesterday in both Russia and the Ukraine. The continuing saga of the Central Park Zoosters bowed in Russia to the biggest opening day ever for an American film and set the record for the biggest opening day of all time in the Ukraine ...

In Russia, the film opened on 841 screens, grossing $2.81 million. This record establishes "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" as the second biggest opening of all time in the country, besting all previous animated feature releases. In the Ukraine, the film opened on 92 screens to a gross of $396,000 ...

Okay, so $2.81 million isn't going to knock anybody on their keester, and $396,000 isn't totally overwhelming. But the first and second biggest openings in history? Those rollouts bode well, don't you think?

I'm betting that Madagascar Escape 2 Africa has a solid opening here in the S.S. of A. next week. And I'm hoping that there's plenty of room for Bolt in the animation marketplace when the Disney doggie bursts forth fourteen days later.

I'm funny that way.

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Sunrise ... Sunset

... Swiftly fly the renewal and pink slips.

American Dad, one of Fox Animation's ongoing success stories, has been picked up for a fifth season.

With most scripted series down this fall, "Dad" is growing -- up 6% over last year in adults 18-49, 8% in total viewers and 19% in teens ...

Co-creators Mike Barker, Matt Weitzman and the rest of the "Dad" writing team are already working on Season 5, while closely following the presidential race.

"If (Barack) Obama wins, that would provide an interesting wrinkle to the show as Stan is such a die-hard Republican," Weitzman said. Added Barker, "If (John) McCain wins, it would be great for the show and horrible for our grandchildren ..."

Elsewhere in the Fox empire, there is bad news.

After one three-month cancellation and several nerve-wracking waits for new-season pickups, King of the Hill is -- apparently -- coming to an end after 250+ episodes.

Complete finality is never certain when it comes to Fox animation. The net actually has canceled "King of the Hill" in the past only to turn around and pick up more episodes later on. And shows like "Family Guy" and "Futurama" have also been revived after cancellation.

But for now, the show's staff was informed of the network's decision Thursday not to pick up any more episodes.

"We've been here before," said exec producer John Altschuler. "When i'ts time for 'King of the Hill' to go, it will go. But I think with the ratings this good, and with quality that doesn't seem to be diminishing, it would be very odd for 'King of the Hill' not to keep going."

No series finale had been planned for "King," but that's by design, Altschuler said. Had a series finale run when "King" previously halted production, the show might not have come back, he said. And the same is true this time, he added.

In the meantime, faces are somber at Film Roman. (I found out about the cancellation from a director on The Simpsons.)

Condolences to the KOTH crew ... and may the series be uncanceled soon. It's definitely not easy being in television animation these days.

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Studs Terkel, RIP

One of the great advocates for those who work for a living has moved on.

Studs Terkel, born in 1912, died today at 96. I note his passing here because he stood with the hard-luck cases all his life, even when it was widely unfashionable, and never, never flinched:

... McCarthyism was a potent force and Terkel was outspoken politically, with a highly liberal tone. "I was blacklisted because I took certain positions on things and never retracted," Terkel once said in an interview about those times. "I signed many petitions that were for unfashionable causes and never retracted."

He had a hard time finding work, subsisting on small speaking fees and even smaller sums for writing book reviews. His wife, Ida, made enough to keep the family afloat.

I have one more reason for writing about him here. Studs was the centerpiece of one of my favorite show biz anecdotes ....

It seems that in the middle 1950s, when the blacklist was near its crest, Studs was a writer for Pearl Bailey (later the voice of Big Mama in Disney's The Fox and the Hound) on a network radio variety show that Pearl headlined.

The usual oily little herd of blacklist enthusiasts came to Studs and said: "We need you to sign the loyalty oath we have here ..."

Studs looked at the paper and politely told them "No." Whereupon they went to Ms. Bailey, the producer and star of the network show, and told her that Studs had refused to sign their loyalty oath and would therefore have to be fired.

Pearl Bailey told them "No."

Whereupon the group crawled back under their respective rocks, and made no further mention of Studs being fired.

Mr. Terkel remained with the show, American civilization continued to survive, and Ms. Bailey went on being a star. A half-dozen years later, the blacklist was on its way out.

And half a century further on, "Islamo-fascists" have replaced commies as America's "enemy du jour." The more things change ...

So Rest in Peace, Studs Terkel. You've surely earned it.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Smaller Studio Walk Around

Today was my Universal Cartoon Studio day, high up in the Black Tower on Lankershim.

The main dish cooking at U.C.S. right now is Curious George. The series is now in its fourth season, and bopping right along. As one of the crew said:

"Our ratings are good, we've won some awards, and PBS seems to be happy. Maybe we can be like Sesame Street, and be on for twenty years ..."

In today's glorious economic environment, nobody is looking to jump from studio to studio chasing an extra $26.50 per week. Twenty years working on one series, or even seven years, is more than fine.

And Universal Cartoons is still working on the Curious George direct-to-video feature. This baby has been in work a while, and is now in the retake stage. Although the series is solid, I'm informed that the company isn't looking to greenlight another video George feature until this one rolls out and the suits see how it performs.

And yesterday at Warners Animation, I learned that storyboard work on Public Enemy (a Superman/Batman direct-to-video feature) is wrapping up, and work continues on Batman The Brave and the Bold:

"I've seen the first episode of The Brave and the Bold, and it looks really good. And the script's good. Second one's nice, too. I just wish that somebody at Time-Warner would crack Cartoon Network and Warners Animation on the head and get them to support each other. I walk around and see Warners characters everywhere, and I know T-W should be doing more with them. Makes me crazy that they're not."

The above is a long-time WA employee talking.

Warners, like Universal, doesn't have a lot of product in work just now. Both have items in development, but the low-hanging cupboards are mostly bare.

Warners does have a Scooby Doo direct-to-video feature poised to go into work (for you can never have too much Scooby Doo.)

Warners is now ginning up a raft of new projects; hopefully some of these will make it to series and video features and a new era of booming employment will happen at Warners.

In the meantime, there is Scooby Doo!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Film Roman -- NOT For Sale

The last few weeks, rumors have been rampant that Starz Media was putting Film Roman -- their animation studio -- on the sales block. When I wandered FR's halls, any of number of artists said "The company is definitely selling us" ... "There are four bidders" ... etc.

Today a highly placed Romanian told me:

"Starz took the "For Sale" sign for Film Roman down last week. Execs here plan to do some interesting new things with the studio, and it won't be going to any bidders anytime soon ..."

This is great news, I think. But it points up the fact that all that scuttlebutt I heard? About Starz selling the place?

Apparently true.

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Movies Recession Resistant?

One of the great myths of Tinsel Town is that the movie industry weathers the bad times wonderfully well. But the L.A. Times puts that old actor's tale to rest:

Studio executives note that during the Great Depression, when more than a quarter of the country was out of work, people still scraped together dimes to see the latest motion picture ...

Although cinema attendance increased during five of the last seven recessions, a closer examination of movie box office receipts during the Great Depression seems at odds with Hollywood's conventional wisdom. Attendance soared in 1929 and 1930, after the advent of "talkies," but the novelty appears to have worn off amid hard times. By 1932, ticket sales had plunged and did not recover until 1940, just before World War II.

Of course, as the L.A. Times points out, there's a lot more competition for eyeballs than there was in 1933. Video games, YouTube, five jillion blogs, you name it. Hollywood just isn't going to have an easy time this time around.

But Hollywood didn't have an easy time of it at the bottom of the Hoover Depression, either. What you might not know is that Hollywood, seventy-five years back, was energetically sticking it hourly workers.

One of its Hollywood's manuevers then was to cut everybody's salaries, top to bottom, in half. The moguls said: "We all have to sacrifice in these hard times." Unsurprisingly, some were slated to make bigger sacrifices than others. The front office executive was certainly going to take a hit when his paycheck went from $1500 to $750 per week, but $750 was a fortune in 1933.

For the electrician, grip and cel painter who was making $25 per week and suddenly faced with living on $12.50, the sacrifice was a hell of a lot steeper. Because all of a sudden it was a question of having enough money to pay the rent and buy the groceries.

At the last minute, the studios rescinded the mandate to slash everybody's wages and exempted the people at the bottom. However, they didn't do it out of the goodness of their flinty hearts. They did it because the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employes, weaker in the studios then but strong in the movie theaters across the country (it controlled the projectionists) said:

Fine and dandy, you go ahead and cut the salaries of the electricians, editors, makeup artists, and the people working on the sound stages. But hey, how are you going to get your movies projected onto all those silver screens? Because projectionists won't be doing it ...*

And as if by magic, the studios found enlightenment. "Okay," they said. "You make good sense. We won't cut the lower-tiered wages. That would be bad. Thank you for showing us the way and the light." **

And the studios acted on their own economic self-interest, and did not cut the lower wages. Big of them, don't you think?

* Paraphrased.

** Also paraphrased. And the actual sentiments were probably a trifle different.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

All Disney? All the Time?

It sometimes feels that way.

Today, because of different commitments, I found myself at Disney Toons, Disney TVA, and the Disney Animation Studio.

At Diz TVA (the Sonora Avenue branch), the last of the My Friends Tigger and Pooh staff is being laid off. The mood: bitterness and wistful resignation, mingled together. (I can hardly fault them. I felt much the same way the times I was slipped the axe.)

By contrast, the still-working Mickey's Clubhouse group are relatively happy. And pleased to be working ...

And Disney Toons upstairs is a tranquil island of soft-light stability. The managers from the North have eliminated the harsh fluorescent glow of industrial tube lighting found downstairs; on the second floor, everybody works by the illumination of floor lights and hanging bubble lamps created by George Nelson (which must be breeding, as there seems to be more and more of them, hanging from the ceiling.)

But today, the first Tinkerbell DVD was released, which explained all the champagne and cork-popping that was going on. Not. A Toons artist looked up at me startled when I mentioned it was the launch date for their first movie.

"Oh yeah, the video comes out today, doesn't it? I'm so busy on the third one I lose track. But we're going to have a little event for it here tomorrow, when they're handing out the disks.

"The plan is to make five Tinkerbells. On the other side of the building, they're getting new ideas together to be pitched. Word is they want to get going on another franchise, maybe geared toward boys this time, instead of girls ..."

At Disney Animation Studios, I learned a lot about stereo animated features as a tag along to a print interview. One take away: Disey is doing ten stereo features next year, and live-action stereo movies are a lot trickier to make than the animated variety.

Some days you learn more new stuff than others.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

IA-AMPTP Negotiations

Word reaches us that the IA-AMPTP might be restarting negotiations in November ...

Then again, it might be January ... or February. There's the SAG talks, which never seem to have closure. They could get in the way.

And sometime before next summer, TAG will have to sit down to:

1) Hold a cooperative meeting with studios to talk about pesky things like unpaid overtime and overlong tests ...

2) Hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.

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An Afternoon at the House of Mouse

I spent part of the afternoon at Disney Animation Studios (that's the hat building, if you're not quite sure.)

Some of the remaining Bolt production crew is now working on a c.g. short for the picture's DVD. As one of them said:

We're happy with the way the feature came out. It gets released near the end of November, two weeks after Madagascar, so maybe it will have a weekend sort of to itself ...

Disney artists, I think, are going to be happier and more relaxed after the new picture has a big opening weekend. The publicity machine has already cranked up, with stories in the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal:

"Pixar was the reincarnation of Disney," said Floyd Norman, a retired Disney animator who also worked on Pixar's hits "Toy Story 2" and "Monsters, Inc." "Now Disney is becoming the southern version of Pixar." ...

The film, perhaps not surprisingly, evinces a Pixar pedigree. The title character evokes "Toy Story's" Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger who believes he has super powers only to discover that he is merely a toy.

Catmull insists "Bolt" is no Pixar clone.

"There isn't any cavalry coming over the hill," he said. "They have the talent there, they just needed a philosophy that let the talent rise to the surface."

I don't think there's much dispute that the Disney Animation Studio is being remolded along Pixar lines. The point mainstream media scribes sometimes miss is that when you burrow in a little, it's clear that Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and D.A.S. are all branches of the same mighty oak Walt planted on Hyperion Avenue, seventy-plus years ago.

It's hardly an accident that the key creative minds running the three major U.S. animation studios come originally from Disney. It's simply the way God planned it.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

My 2008 Political Post

These two short films, made eight years apart, pretty much say where we've been and where we are now.

They were created by movie maker (and animator) Charles Stone, and both have pretty much gone viral, but I put them up anyway because they plug nicely into the screed below ...

My first Presidential vote was cast for Richard Nixon. It was 1972. I was a Navy Swabbie. At the time, it seemed to me like the right thing to do.

This time around, my vote will be for Barack Obama.

Now I'm sure I'll get trolls who will call me a commie sympathizer and Muslim lover, a Librul, a Socialist, etc. etc. But let me explain anyway.

When a government has loused up as throughly as this one has, it's hard to get around the fact that all the damage will probably cause the general population to become ... I don't know ... pissed off. This is currently reflected in the poll numbers you find around the web*.

If Al Gore had become President, and versions of the disasters that have taken place under G.W. Bush had occurred with him, I've little doubt that the electorate would be on the cusp of riding Democrats out of town on a rail.

However, if we were in that alternate universe and the Democrats were about to become toast, I would not be one of the cooks burning them in the oven, because I'm not the man I was thirty-six years ago.

I am now middle-aged. A father and husband. A guy who has worked for a living for thirty-plus years, swimming against a rising tide of corporatism, where the top 1% earns the lion's share of wealth, where the government exists to protect and defend blue-chip companies and nobody else.

And I would still be voting the liberal, "spread the wealth around" line because I'm painfully aware that the United States has become -- in the words of novelist Gore Vidal -- a country devoted to "Socialism for the rich, and free enterprise for the poor," and I would like the equation to be redressed, at least a little.

Now I don't think Mr. Obama is the end-all and be-all as a Presidential nominee. And I don't believe John McCain is evil personified. But pushing income inequality to greater extremes -- as McCain's policies would do -- ends up making our problems worse. And sooner rather than later, more of us will end up like Dukie and his brethren: Out of a job, out of the house, and still in Iraq, being bled white to the tune of $10 billion per month.

There's not much time left before election day. Use it to make things better. And please vote.

* It's possible these poll numbers can change and Senator McCain might pull off a triumph. I doubt it, but it's possible.

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CG Viz Effx? They're Not Just In India ...

There are of course, the fears that more and more computer generated imagery will be migrating to Mubai. But another cluster of computer animators and programmers is out there:

... Many of the 24,000 frames of special effects used in the [the Russian historical epic "Admiral"] ... were created by Dago, one of Russia's leading private studios that also has a top visual effects department.

Alexey Kublitsky, vfx exec producer ... says that although standards were high in Russia's special effects community, with only 300-400 trained CGI artists, there were "not enough" people to satisfy demand ... Despite the stellar tech skills of [Russian] vfx crews, there is no concerted effort by the Russian entertainment industry to recruit and train artists, although newer studios and facilities, such as Russian World Studios, are keen to train people. India and Hong Kong look to outpace Russia in growing their post-production businesses.

Day by day, animation in all its forms is an increasingly global enterprise. (Like we didn't know already?) Games, visual effects, animated features and the rest get made in various shops around the world. Yet even as pressure increases to turn out work that is "better, faster cheaper", Los Angeles still has a growing animation* community.

Why is that? Because of the talent residing in the Southland. At the end of the day, studios dip into the wells that give them the greatest return on investment, and the Los Angeles springs run deep and rich ... and studio execs are loath to try higher risk strategies ("Let's ship everything to Moscow!") that could blow up in their faces and cost them their high-end jobs.

And yeah, the worldwide economic meltdown is going to present new challenges to L.A., but in the three decades I've hung around the cartoon business, it's continued to grow. I've been listening to people say "It's all over!" since at least 1976.

* Defined here as artists, writers and technicians employed in Southern California in television animation, theatrical animation, visual efects, games, broadcast graphics, etc.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Your Weekend B.O.

Is as pungent as expected.

High School Musical, The Theater Version, takes off like the proverbial rocket as 'tweens shove through the turnstyles to see what they used to get on the Disney Channel for free. Friday's haul for the Mouse House totals $16.9 million.

Saw the Fifth hacks through rancid reviews and draws in the horror-pic set (who usually cause these pics to be heavily front-loaded), achieving a per-screen average only slightly below the teen-age singers and dancers.

Beverly Hills Bow Wow drops to fifth, but has now ticked over the $73 million threshhold, making Robert Iger one happy CEO.

Add On: The weekend is in, and we can safely say that musicals have resurged, big time.

High School Musical 3 drops a bit on Saturday, but still rakes in $42 million (on a purported $11 million budget.)

Saw V collects $30 million.

In fourth place, the semi-animated Beverly Hills Dhihuahua drop 39.5%, second lowest of any flick in the Top Ten, and now stands at $78.1 million.

New entry Pride and Glory lands with a dull thud, takes $6.3 million in a lacklustre frame.

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Trouble For Diz's Bollywood Dog Picture?

Uh oh.

According to some early reports, the House of Mouse's Indian animated flick seems to be running into headwinds:

Samir Karnik’s Heroes has opened to a fairly good response as compared to this week’s other release, Roadside Romeo. The Yash Raj – Walt Disney’s first joint venture, the animated film, Roadside Romeo has also been given thumbs down by the critics and its report isn’t encouraging ...

Roadside Romeo has got a very poor opening with just a 20-25% response. The reports are not encouraging and the film will find it hard to make a mark at the box office ...

Let's stipulate that I've got no clue what "just a 20-25% response" means. I'm assuming it indicates that the Mubai and Delhi cinemas showing Disney's animated offering are not ... uh ... Standing Room Only. But truth to tell, I don't know exactly what it means.

But here's my hope: I want Bolt to tear up the wickets when it debuts in the sub-continent. I want it to out-perform the Bollywood picture. I desire this for a very selfish reason: I think it's good for the Burbank-based animation studio if its product outperforms the overseas variety.

So go ahead. Call me selfish. Call me beyond the pale in wanting the home-grown product to continue to dominate worldwide box office. I'll just have to deal with it.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Bolt Pushback

The Big Mouse has sunk big bucks into its next doggie picture, and it's pulling out all the stops. Apparently some of the theatre chains in and around the fruited plain aren't happy:

... [Disney] attached a six-minute-long promotion for the 3-D family flick -- about a superhero dog -- to film prints of its box-office hit "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," numerous theater owners said Disney had gone too far.

Theater owners said the "Bolt" spot intruded on their screen time and not only made "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" run longer than it should but also cost them time that the theater owners could fill -- with other showings or their own commercials.

Some of the nation's top theater chains complained to Disney that the extended trailer violated a long-standing agreement about where trailers can be placed and how long they can run ...

The studio has a lot riding on the Pixar team's first Disney feature out of the blocks. For obvious reasons, the company wants it to be a sizable hit, and if Diz ruffles distributors' feathers in order to get it, that's a price the conglom is willing to pay.

Madagascar Too is going to be out there offering hot competition, so the Mouse House is going to use all the tools at its disposal. If AMC and Regal don't like it, tough. I'm sure Disney's attitude is: "Suck it up."

Since I'm a self-serving twerp, I want both pictures to be major, box office hits.

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Hey ho! Disney is up to its canine ears in dog pictures.

Now that I've returned to the Monday-Friday routine, we return you to the fabled Animation Link Fest.

Animation producer Don Hahn expounds on his book "Alchemy of Animation":

...the best thing you can do [in animated features] is try to keep reaching out in new directions. I think WALL-E is a good example. It's a film with no dialogue for a half-hour. Up is a film that that stars a man in his 70's. They're very unexpected. In its day, I think Lion King was probably unexpected. It was, you know, the Joseph story meets Hamlet in Africa with music by Elton John. It was a nutty concept in its time, but those risks, I think, are the kinds of movies that end up paying the biggest dividends.

Singapore rolls out its first English language animated feature:

Singapore's first English animated feature film "Sing to the Dawn" will open on October 30.

Dawn has finally come for the movie, which took over four years and S$7.5 million to make ...

The director draws inspiration from the "Jungle Book" movie, which he counts as the first movie he can remember watching and which also made a huge impression on him.

Former Mouseketeer Michael Eisner holds forth on what he's been doing -- in live action and animation -- with his new company Tornante.

WS: Tell us about the new sitcom, Glenn Martin DDS, for Nick at Nite.

EISNER: It’s pretty exciting. We had this idea—what job allows you to [pick up] and take your family on a cross-country trip? If I were a dentist I think I’d like to get away! So we have a dentist’s family traveling around America. It’s comedy. Nick at Nite’s prime-time schedule is for all of the family and not just for kids. They read the script, liked our idea. Then we shot the first act in stop-motion puppet animation. They said it was great, and we are doing 20 episodes.

We’re starting to show it internationally—Canada loved it. Hopefully we’ll deliver on the promise. The key is execution, always. You start with a very good idea, which I think it is. You put good people on it and then you have to hope that it gets executed up to the idea or better than the idea that you started with.

The Hollywood Reporter profiles John Lasseter, "Innovator of the Year."

... His voice trembling with emotion, [Lasster] spoke of how thrilling it was getting to know Johnston when he first came to Disney in 1979.

"We weren't embraced at that time by many of the people leading (Disney)," he recalled. "The Nine Old Men were starting to step away and retire. But it was the Nine Old Men who embraced us. They wanted to teach us everything that they knew. They recognized, more than anybody else, that they were handing the torch off."

Our friends to the north ramp up for World Animation Day:

The National Film Board is getting an early start on World Animation Day festivities and is turning the party out well after. From October 24 to November 12, Canadians in 13 cities will be able to enjoy free screenings of the Get Animated! series to celebrate World Animation Day (October 28).

Besides Bolt and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Disney has yet another animated dog picture that you probably haven't heard quite as much about:

... With Roadside Romeo, Indian animation films have taken a giant leap forward and kudos to Yash Raj Films and Walt Disney Studios for being the one to raise the bar up by many notches.

Bottom line is the fact that Roadside Romeo is ultimately a movie that has stemmed from the land of masala films, so expecting anything different is sheer blasphemy. The film has lovers, a villain and great humor - the ultimate essentials for a Bollywood caper. But then being animated and convincing is what whisks this film away from clutches of the inane Bollywood film monster ...

The Washington Post reviews a newer collection of Looney Toons shorts that encompasses some of Warners' lesser known eight-minute wonders:

... [T]his "Golden Collection," releasing today, definitely offers its share of standard, delightfully Looney fare ... But we also get an entire DVD devoted largely to "patriotic" cartoons from the World War II era in which, among other things, Bugs Bunny impersonates Joseph Stalin, viewers are encouraged to buy bonds and an animated Adolf Hitler invariably gets whacked on the head with a mallet.

(Regarding some of the WB wartime shorts, the company failed to copyright a large number of these short productions, an error the craftier Disney never made.)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008


Some of the things Mr. (or Ms.) Ranter puts up I agree with, other things not so much. For instance:

If Art Babbitt Were Alive Today...

...he would be "blacklisted" as a troublemaker.


it wouldn't be a blacklist by the studios.

It'd be by the animation artists.

Yes, blacklisting is around, but is it generally started by the studios when an artist rightfully complains about being taken advantage of, or is it started by their fellow artists who don't want to "rock the boat" no matter how many unpaid hours are put in to meet unreasonable schedules?

I've not talked to an artist that wasn't hired by the studios for standing up for themselves, but I've certainly met artists who don't get recommended by other artists for their loudmouths.

If Mr. Babbitt were around today, the same career arc he had in the thirties, forties and onward would be pretty much the career he'd have ... today.

Because though animation technologies evolve, human passions and behaviors don't change very much through time.

Greed, lust, jealousy, back-biting, infighting, scheming, rage, sorrow, all pretty much the same in 1938 as in 2008. Hell, the same in 1248, for that matter.

So. What would happen to 21st century Art?

Oh, he would make enemies of management at one studio or another ... just as he enraged Walt in 1941. The only difference now? Management rotates through places a lot faster. Nobody stays top dog like Walt did for forty-plus years, and institutional memories are short. So Art would not be able to work for one or another studio topkick, but chances are the topkick would be gone after a few years, and Art would be back, because today's institutional memories are short, and studios operate more than ever under the old Jack L. Warner dictum:

"Don't let that bastard in here ever again.

"Unless we need him."

So Ranter is half right. The studios now are large, robotic conglomerates that don't personalize much and don't hold long grudges. (How could they? Few mucky mucks hang around long.) But Art would no doubt have a few Captains of Industry from whom he would have to steer clear.

But would he piss off his fellow workers? Probably some, because Art was a prickly personality. (I met him once.) But because many artists respect top talent, even when attached to disagreeable personalities, Art would keep working.

How do I know? Let's take a look at the old 20th-century Art, at the end of a long career. It's 1991, and he's not the animator of old, not by a long shot. He's elderly, wizened, stooped, shrunken and his drawing is not what it used to be. But he's got a job at Bill Melendez Productions.

Why? Because Bill Melendez loves and respects Art, knew him and admired him as a young artist during the '41 Disney strike, and has the wherewithal half a century later to employ Art and help him keep going ... until Art's death in the Spring of 1992.

So here, Ranter is three quarters wrong. Yes, there are artists who are fearful, selfish and petty, who would blackball a fellow employee. But there are many artists, artists like Bill Melendez, who wouldn't. And 21st century Art would end his days pretty much as his 20th century incarnation ended it.

Because human hearts, emotions, nerve-endings, don't change.

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The SAG-AMPTP Imbroglio, Part Ten

Back momentarily to labor stuff.

SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have agreed to sit down again after a three-month recess:

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is expected to confirm as early as today that it has agreed to resume contract talks with the Screen Actors Guild with the help of a federal mediator. SAG’s national board issued the request for a mediator to step in following the guild’s board meeting last weekend.

What everybody assumes (probably correctly) is that neither side is going to budge very much, if at all. As a studio veep told me a few days back:

"SAG's leadership has painted itself into a corner. They're taking a stand on issues the AMPTP will probably never give them, and what are they going to do? Get the membership to vote to walk out? If they can't get 75% to vote for a strike, they're f*cked."

Yeah, I'd say.

I don't know enough about SAG's internal politics to know how this three-month fustercluck will shake out. 'Twere me in the SAG driver's seat, I would negotiate some fig leaf changes, proclaim victory, and go get a ratification vote.

Because the alternative is like, shutting the business down. Yikes.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Film of Roman

Interesting times at the studio by the Bob Hope Airport.

People are glad to be working, but morale is not at ... uh ... former highs.

"I don't know if they're going to keep the layout department here on The Simpsons going. They seem to be moving to just doing roughs here and do everything else in Korea." ... "Word's out that Starz Media has Film Roman up for sale, and they've got four bidders." ...

Longtime Film Roman/Simpsons producer Mike Wolf has just departed FR, and some of the employees I talk to are sorry over his departure.

"Mike wasn't perfect, but he always gave me a fair listen to when I had an issue, and he knew the show as well as anybody. It's too bad he's gone ..."

What I mostly pick up around the studio is the uncertainty of where the television series called The Simpsons is going. I hear things like: "We just don't know how much longer Fox is going to keep the show alive," and "They're squeezing the artists because they're paying so much to the voice actors, and they feel like they've got to hold the line somewhere. They figure we're an easier target."

Personally, I don't think News Corp. will be stopping episodes of the Yellow Family anytime soon (there's just too much money in those citizens of Springfield.) I ask one of the show's veterans if he believes that management is going to eliminate layouts in an attempt to cut budgets. He frowns and shakes his head.

"If they get rid of layouts, I think they destroy the character of the show. I don't know if The Simpsons could go on ..."

If the series doesn't continue for at least two more seasons, I'l eat my union card. Beyond that, there are those Simpsons animated features yet to be made. When I tell two anxious artists there is no way Fox is going to walk away from a feature franchise as lucrative as Homer's family, and more sequels are a dead-bang certainty, they don't disagree.

But how can they? If there's one thing that's bed-rock philosophy in Tinseltown, it's the love ... and continuation ... of a money-making franchise. Just ask Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Click here to read entire post

Followup on Corny Cole

Thanks to Cartoon Brew for updating us on Corny Cole, who lost his home and belongings in the Marek fire last week:

The Creative Talent Network is holding an online fundraiser. Donations can be sent to this Paypal account.

Jeff Pidgeon has informed us that if you don’t like sending money over the internet, you can make a check payable to Cornelius Cole and mail it to:

California Institute of the Arts ATT: Trish Patryla, Office of the Provost 24700 McBean Parkway Valencia, CA 91355

CalArts is providing housing for Corny, so he’s being well cared for. They’ve even stocked the place up with food for him. One of his cats has been found alive and well, and Jackie at Cal Arts is checking area animal shelters for more. So keep your fingers crossed.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Around Cartoon Network

As most people know, the television side of the business has not been as robust as in previous years, but perhaps things are looking up at least a little. At least at CN. I had recent occasion to talk to a mucky-muck at the network of 'toons and he caught me up on what strategies the Time-Warner family member is now pursuing to grow its business:

"Clone Wars is an acquisition that we're using to build on. We're programming comedy shows on Thursday nights, and making Friday night an adventure program destination. We've increased our overall ratings a bunch since last year, so things are getting better ...

"In the development area, Craig McCracken and Rob Renzetti are in charge of the shorts development program. So far they've taken hundreds of pitches, and greenlit sixteen shorts for production. We've got a lot of money devoted to the program, and we'll probably be looking at animatics for various shorts and ordering short series orders from the ones that look most promising ..."

The network still hasn't pumped things up to where it would like them to be, but Clone Wars has been doing well for the net, so it makes sense to use the show as a cornerstone.

... a cumulative total of more than 27 million people have seen the first three episodes of Lucasfilm Animation’s weekly STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS animated series, and STAR WARS has become the biggest licensed toy property of the year ... Since its Sept. 16 release, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has become the fastest-selling STAR WARS videogame in history, while the official novelization of the game rocketed to the top spot of the New York Times Best Sellers list in its first week of sales ...

With this kind of churn in the marketplace, Cartoon Network plans to ride the wave and attract more eyeballs for its other offerings. "We're going after the older demographic, nine to fourteen-year-old boys," says the mucky-muck, which sounds like a wise strategy to us. Particularly if it leads to higher ratings, more projects, and more work for animation artists.

Because higher employment is what, after the bark is stripped away, it's all about. (I mean, besides the art thing, and the "expanding people's minds" thing. We all have to eat, correct?)

Click here to read entire post

We're having Internet problems

UPDATE: It's all better now.

TAG's website at is down. (The TAG Blog is not affected).

The problem is also affecting our incoming e-mails. If you have sent an e-mail to the Guild at any time after midnight Monday, be aware that we may not have received it.

If you're a member, you should have received an e-mail blast with temporary addresses to use to contact Guild staff.

We'll post again when things are back up. Thanks for your patience and cooperation.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, October 20, 2008

Meeting panel: The Internet for Animators

The membership meeting panel "The Internet for Animators" on September 30 was zesty and informative.

Moderator Mark Farquhar hosted a free-wheeling discussion on how animators can use technology and the internet and thrive on it. The panelists were Rick DeMott, Kevin Freeman, Kevin Geiger, and Charles Zembillas ...

Farquhar, a veteran c.g. animator at various studios and now a prof at Cal State Northridge described how the internet as opened doors for independent animators.

There are more and more distribution channels for content, and its increasingly more easy to create content. Technology is more accessible. Chinese artists are now producing 3-minute shorts on-line that have captured a worldwide audience.

Kevin Freeman, proprietor of and a veteran rigger and animator, talked about how the web has made it possible for him to work with aspiring riggers and provide them with the tools they need to learn and pursue the craft:

... "I began talking to my co-workers and friends about how they would like to contribute and ultimately decided to open the site for industry professionals to contribute anything they would like: how tos, interviews, work flows, tips and tricks, and more on the topic of character rigging" ...

Rick Demott, editor of Animation World Network, described AWN's newer animation website and how it worked:

"We're distributing original content, providing an opportunity for artists to have a platform for their shorts. As for financing the site, pre-roll ads rather than banner ads provide more revenue to the site.

The internet launches people [and their creations] in different ways. There's guerrilla marketing, there's viral growth. AWN takes animation submissions from around the word. Fifty percent of our traffic is in north America ... "

Charles Zembillas, animation artist, teacher and the founder of, was delighted with the way the internet is shaking out:

"I started Animation Nation as an issue-oriented website. I think it's important to prepare students to be warriors. They can write a web log, and build a community. I had a lot of material in my files about aspects of animation, and I learned Photoshop and created a book, then created a website to promote it, and I'm now selling enough copies to recover the costs to publish it.

I don't think studios will disappear because of artists doing original content on the internet, but they'll evolve.

Kevin Geiger, a longtime c.g. supervisor who now runs his own consulting firm and will shortly be relocating to China to work on an animated feature, had this to say about the continually morphing internet:

"There's a lot of discussion now about artists' images being stolen on the internet, but Internet Opportunities puts a copyright bug on its images. You can also insert copyright data into data and jpeg image..

... There's going to be a huge market for content on the web. There's 1.5 billion cell phone owners in the world. Apple charges 99 cents for anything. For mobisodes, creators will get around 12 cents out of each 99 cents. Mobisodes could generate artists $100,000 per year. Lots of content will be distributed for free, with revenue generated by ads.

And the internet has made video conferencing very cheap. When I started at Disney, we had to go into the big conference room and conference on the big screen with lots of equipment. Now with Skype, you can now conference anywhere in the world for very little money. You can conference and work from West Los Angeles, Shanghai, the location really doesn't matter.

Members were encouraged to get started by signing up with a free bloging service (,, etc) and start sharing your work and opinions.

Here is a list of the various sites that were mentioned during the discussion:

All in all, the panel was well-attended and useful for the members who attended. But for the members who didn't show up ...

(Apologies for the delay in posting this to the blog.)

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Payneful b.o. weekend

As most prognosticators predicted, Fox's Max Payne topped the weekend theatrical box office with $18 million for Friday and Saturday, After opening in second place on Friday with a strong $3.8 million, W. slipped to fourth place for the weekend behind The Secret Life Of Bees and the ever-popular Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Deadline Hollywood Daily says that 78% of those who saw W. this weekend disapprove of its title character, and "those who disapprove of Bush felt very strongly that the movie was not as good as expected".

Last week's #2 Quarantine slipped to seventh place, and Sex Drive opened in ninth, which leaves hope for the future of Western civilization.

Click here to read entire post

SAG board will ask for strike authorization

Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily reports that the Screen Actors Guild national board of directors has passed the following resolution by a 96% majority:

In hopes of moving the Theatrical and TV negotiations forward, the national board hereby takes the following actions:

SAG will formally request a federal mediator be brought into the negotiations.

The Board adds four new members to the National Negotiating Committee, two from the Hollywood Division, one from the New York Division and one from the Regional Branch Division.

The Board authorizes a referendum and accompanying educational information be sent to the members requesting their authorization for the National Board to call a strike in the Theatrical and TV Contract, at such time as the Negotiating Committee determines in its sole discretion that the mediation process has failed.

A few observations:

  • A call for strike authorization is not the same as saying that a strike will happen.

  • However, it ain't good news for avoiding one.

  • Strike authorization requires a 75% vote of the SAG membership.
  • I find it interesting that the resolution calls on a vote to authorize SAG's national board to call a strike -- not the Negotiating Committee (which in my experience is how it's usually done).

  • SAG recently had an election which tipped the balance of SAG officers slightly towards the Unite For Strength slate (less militant) and away from the Membership First slate (more militant, including SAG president Alan Rosenberg). I don't yet know which slate is represented in the new Negotiating Committee members.

Click here to read entire post

Back Into The Maw

Now with vitamin-packed Add Ons.

For the last week and a half, I've been away from blogging, unioning and everything else work related (and kudos to Jeff M. for posting in my absence.)

Mostly I've been around a lot of retirees on a cruise ship. Care to guess what one of their chief preoccupations is? (It ain't shuffle board ...)

Response to the financial world’s meltdown runs the gamut among ... retirees or those near retirement. Some, though concerned and economizing, have held steady and continued to maintain their balanced portfolios.

Others ...restructured their holdings six months or even a year ago, anticipating problems.

Still others could not bear to see their nest egg rattled by the topsy-turvy market and cut sharply on their stockholdings. Many recall the lessons learned as children of Depression survivors ...

The first three seventy-somethings I met remarked how they were ... ah ... concerned about having enough to see them through retirement. ("We had 60% in stocks and for percent in bonds and without doing anything we now have 60% in bonds and 40% in stocks. Wow.")

But shrinking retirement portfolios are just one part of today's world. For those of us working in the entertainment industry, there's the nerve-jangling reality about what the Conglomerates that Rule Us will next do:

... Companies, many of whom had already begun trimming costs during the writers strike and earlier stages of the decline, are taking a hard look at their operations. Among the retrenchments: Paramount said it would trim its slate 20% to 20 pics a year, and 25 employees, to meet targets set by parent Viacom. Disney has put its makeover of Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida on hold, and J.P. Morgan has suspended efforts to raise DreamWorks coin for now ...

The animation sector of the business, both theatrical and television, has a long gestation period before product hits the marketplace. Balanced against the robust box office performance of theatrical animation are the long lead times and high costs. My educated guess is that there are just now lots of execs who tense up at the prospect of greenlighting projects that will cost $150 million (and more) and take three to five years start to finish, if they're lucky.

Lastly, there are upcoming and ongoing negotiations to be completed. Back east, I heard about the Screen Actors Guild negotiation committee punting to SAG's national board abot whether to authorize a strike vote of not. And this morning I read this:

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have recessed for the night without deciding on whether to ask members for a strike authorization.

SAG's national board will re-convene at 8 a.m. Sunday in Los Angeles ...

SAG's negotiating committee recommended that the national board seek a strike authorization two weeks ago.

It's not only movie execs who are tense. It can't be any walk through the daisies for a SAG officer right now ... or any union officer. Anyone think union rank and file are in a mood to hit the bricks and shut the movie industry down? In the midst of a financial tsunami? With their savings and retirement accounts melting away?

Don't think so.

In the next few days, SAG will have to make some hard decisions and deal with the studios, networks and the gale that is whipping around all of us. In the next few months, The IATSE and all its varied unions and guilds (us included) will have to sit down at the long oak conference table and hammer out new contracts that will carry us through the next few years.

Gonna be interesting. Gonna be real interesting. On every level.

Add On: What the hey. From the time I started writing this, to the time I posted it, SAG's board voted to go for the Big Enchilada.

Like people who have to work for a living aren't in enough deep crapola already. Now we might get a second strike?

Add On Too: Richard Verrier of the L.A. Times writes this piece, saying that it's Yes to a mediator, and MAYBE to a strike vote if the arbitration idea goes south:.

... the deepening recession has made the prospects of obtaining a strike authorization from members increasingly dim, and some board members fear that failing to muster the necessary votes for strike authorization would further weaken a union that has few remaining options.

You think?

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, October 18, 2008

AB 10: The roll of (dis)honor

Earlier this month, Steve Hulett blogged about AB 10, the bill passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger that strips overtime protection from high-tech workers, including many non-union CG artists and technicians.

AB 10 passed the Senate by a vote of 28 to 8, and the Assembly by a vote of 56 to 19. AB 10 was virtually unprecedented in that it was a bill affecting private-sector workers that was rammed through as part of the state budget "compromise". Along with the entire Republican delegations of both houses, a large number of Democrats voted in favor of AB 10, most of whom were motivated by the push to approved a budget quickly under the threat of the Governor's veto pen.

Below, courtesy of the California Labor Federation, is the roll call of the Assembly and Senate on AB 10.

  • The "no" votes in favor of protecting overtime are marked in blue -- these are the "good guys".

  • The "yes" votes in favor of stripping overtime provisions are marked in red -- these are the "bad guys".

  • Abstentions and absences are in grey.

To find your home district for either house, go to the Assembly home page and click on "Find My District" (the Senate home page uses the same search engine). Look at the list below to see if your rep is a "good guy" or a "bad guy". Follow the link to your representatives' website and e-mails, and respond accordingly.

We reward our friends and punish our enemies.

-- Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor


  • 1st Senate District: Dave Cox ... VOTE: Yes

  • 2nd Senate District: Pat Wiggins ... VOTE: Yes

  • 3rd Senate District: Carole Migden ... VOTE: Yes

  • 4th Senate District: Sam Aanestad ... VOTE: Yes

  • 5th Senate District: Michael Machado ... VOTE: Yes

  • 6th Senate District: Darrell Steinberg ... VOTE: Yes

  • 7th Senate District: Tom Torlakson ... VOTE: No

  • 8th Senate District: Leland Yee ... VOTE: No

  • 9th Senate District: Don Perata ... VOTE: Yes

  • 10th Senate District: Ellen M. Corbett ... VOTE: No

  • 11th Senate District: Joe Simitian ... VOTE: Yes

  • 12th Senate District: Jeff Denham ... VOTE: Yes

  • 13th Senate District: Elaine Alquist ... VOTE: Yes

  • 14th Senate District: Dave Cogdill ... VOTE: Yes

  • 15th Senate District: Abel Maldonado ... VOTE: Yes

  • 16th Senate District: Dean Florez ... VOTE: Yes

  • 17th Senate District: George Runner ... VOTE: Yes

  • 18th Senate District: Roy Ashburn ... VOTE: Yes

  • 19th Senate District: Tom McClintock ... VOTE: Yes

  • 20th Senate District: Alex Padilla ... VOTE: Yes

  • 21st Senate District: Jack Scott ... VOTE: Yes

  • 22nd Senate District: Gilbert Cedillo ... VOTE: No

  • 23rd Senate District: Sheila Kuehl ... VOTE: No

  • 24th Senate District: Gloria Romero ... VOTE: No

  • 25th Senate District: Edward Vincent ... VOTE: Yes

  • 26th Senate District: Mark Ridley-Thomas ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 27th Senate District: Alan Lowenthal ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 28th Senate District: Jenny Oropeza ... VOTE: No

  • 29th Senate District: Bob Margett ... VOTE: Yes

  • 30th Senate District: Ronald S. Calderon ... VOTE: Yes

  • 31st Senate District: Robert Dutton ... VOTE: Yes

  • 32nd Senate District: Gloria Negrete McLeod ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 33rd Senate District: Dick Ackerman ... VOTE: Yes

  • 34th Senate District: Lou Correa ... VOTE: Yes

  • 35th Senate District: Tom Harman ... VOTE: Yes

  • 36th Senate District: Dennis Hollingsworth ... VOTE: Yes

  • 37th Senate District: Jim Battin ... VOTE: Yes

  • 38th Senate District: Mark Wyland ... VOTE: Yes

  • 39th Senate District: Christine Kehoe ... VOTE: No

  • 40th Senate District: Denise Moreno Ducheny ... VOTE: Abstain


  • 1st Assembly District: Patty Berg ... VOTE: Yes

  • 2nd Assembly District: Doug La Malfa ... VOTE: Yes

  • 3rd Assembly District: Rick Keene ... VOTE: Yes

  • 4th Assembly District: Ted Gaines ... VOTE: Yes

  • 5th Assembly District: Roger Niello ... VOTE: Yes

  • 6th Assembly District: Jared Huffman ... VOTE: No

  • 7th Assembly District: Noreen Evans ... VOTE: Yes

  • 8th Assembly District: Lois Wolk ... VOTE: Yes

  • 9th Assembly District: Dave Jones ... VOTE: No

  • 10th Assembly District: Alan Nakanishi ... VOTE: Yes

  • 11th Assembly District: Mark DeSaulnier ... VOTE: No

  • 12th Assembly District: Fiona Ma ... VOTE: Yes

  • 13th Assembly District: Mark Leno ... VOTE: No

  • 14th Assembly District: Loni Hancock ... VOTE: No

  • 15th Assembly District: Guy S. Houston ... VOTE: Yes

  • 16th Assembly District: Sandre R. Swanson ... VOTE: No

  • 17th Assembly District: Cathleen Galgiani ... VOTE: Yes

  • 18th Assembly District: Mary Hayashi ... VOTE: No

  • 19th Assembly District: Gene Mullin ... VOTE: No

  • 20th Assembly District: Alberto Torrico ... VOTE: Yes

  • 21st Assembly District: Ira Ruskin ... VOTE: Yes

  • 22nd Assembly District: Sally J. Lieber ... VOTE: Yes

  • 23rd Assembly District: Joe Coto ... VOTE: Yes

  • 24th Assembly District: Jim Beall Jr. ... VOTE: No

  • 25th Assembly District: Tom Berryhill ... VOTE: Yes

  • 26th Assembly District: Greg Aghazarian ... VOTE: Yes

  • 27th Assembly District: John Laird ... VOTE: No

  • 28th Assembly District: Anna M. Caballero ... VOTE: Yes

  • 29th Assembly District: Michael N. Villines ... VOTE: Yes

  • 30th Assembly District: Nicole Parra ... VOTE: Yes

  • 31st Assembly District: Juan Arambula ... VOTE: Yes

  • 32nd Assembly District: Jean Fuller ... VOTE: Yes

  • 33rd Assembly District: Sam Blakeslee ... VOTE: Yes

  • 34th Assembly District: Bill Maze ... VOTE: Yes

  • 35th Assembly District: Pedro Nava ... VOTE: No

  • 36th Assembly District: Sharon Runner ... VOTE: Yes

  • 37th Assembly District: Audra Strickland ... VOTE: Yes

  • 38th Assembly District: Cameron Smyth ... VOTE: Yes

  • 39th Assembly District: Felipe Fuentes ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 40th Assembly District: Lloyd E. Levine ... VOTE: Yes

  • 41st Assembly District: Julia Brownley ... VOTE: No

  • 42nd Assembly District: Mike Feuer ... VOTE: No

  • 43rd Assembly District: Paul Krekorian ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 44th Assembly District: Anthony J. Portantino ... VOTE: No

  • 45th Assembly District: Kevin de Leon ... VOTE: Yes

  • 46th Assembly District: Fabian Núñez ... VOTE: Yes

  • 47th Assembly District: Karen Bass ... VOTE: Yes

  • 48th Assembly District: Mike Davis ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 49th Assembly District: Mike Eng ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 50th Assembly District: Hector De La Torre ... VOTE: Yes

  • 51st Assembly District: Curren D. Price Jr. ... VOTE: No

  • 52nd Assembly District: Mervyn M. Dymally ... VOTE: Yes

  • 53rd Assembly District: Ted W. Lieu ... VOTE: Yes

  • 54th Assembly District: Betty Karnette ... VOTE: No

  • 55th Assembly District: Warren T. Furutani ... VOTE: No

  • 56th Assembly District: Tony Mendoza ... VOTE: No

  • 57th Assembly District: Edward P. Hernandez ... VOTE: Abstain

  • 58th Assembly District: Charles M. Calderon ... VOTE: Yes

  • 59th Assembly District: Anthony Adams ... VOTE: Yes

  • 60th Assembly District: Bob Huff ... VOTE: Yes

  • 61st Assembly District: Nell Soto ... VOTE: Absent

  • 62nd Assembly District: Wilmer Amina Carter ... VOTE: Yes

  • 63rd Assembly District: Bill Emmerson ... VOTE: Yes

  • 64th Assembly District: John J. Benoit ... VOTE: Yes

  • 65th Assembly District: Paul Cook ... VOTE: Yes

  • 66th Assembly District: Kevin Jeffries ... VOTE: Yes

  • 67th Assembly District: Jim Silva ... VOTE: Yes

  • 68th Assembly District: Van Tran ... VOTE: Yes

  • 69th Assembly District: Jose Solorio ... VOTE: Yes

  • 70th Assembly District: Chuck DeVore ... VOTE: Yes

  • 71st Assembly District: Todd Spitzer ... VOTE: Yes

  • 72nd Assembly District: Michael D. Duvall ... VOTE: Yes

  • 73rd Assembly District: Mimi Walters ... VOTE: Yes

  • 74th Assembly District: Martin Garrick ... VOTE: Yes

  • 75th Assembly District: George A. Plescia ... VOTE: Yes

  • 76th Assembly District: Lori Saldaña ... VOTE: Yes

  • 77th Assembly District: Joel Anderson ... VOTE: Yes

  • 78th Assembly District: Shirley Horton ... VOTE: Yes

  • 79th Assembly District: Mary Salas ... VOTE: No

  • 80th Assembly District: Bonnie Garcia ... VOTE: Yes

Click here to read entire post

Friday, October 17, 2008

Coming up this weekend ...

Will Max Payne finally beat down the Chihuahua?

Opening today:

  • It's never a good sign when a movie like Max Payne gets only 17% from Rotten Tomatoes. And then there's this love note from the Los Angeles Times:
    It's understandable that teenagers want to wolf down this stuff, but one has to wonder about the full-grown men who commit large chunks of their lives to turning out power fantasies for 13-year-olds. There's a case that still needs solving.
    But it nevertheless seems to be most prognosticators' pick for #1 this weekend.
  • The big surprise in the reviews of Oliver Stone's W. is that it turns out to be a "surprisingly sympathetic" portrayal of 43. The question is whether movie audiences (as opposed to those of us who average an hour a day on the political blogs) are burned out on the subject at the moment.
  • A (female) friend who caught a preview of The Secret Life Of Bees dismissed it as "the latest movie in which Dakota Fanning doesn't wash her hair". A exec at Fox, which is releasing both Bees and Max Payne, tried to convince Nikki Finke that the two movies will make "a nice dovetail", whatever that means.
  • And Sex Drive gets 43% on the Tomatometer -- more than twice as much as Max Payne.

The numbers will speak -- and we will report them on Sunday.

Click here to read entire post

CTN steps up for Corny Cole

Our friends at Creative Talent Network have set up a fund to help out Corny Cole, who lost his home and all his belongings earlier this week in the Marek fire.

Here is a link to the PayPal account.

CalArts will be getting us word on an art auction to benefit the same worthy cause.

(Comments turned off ... go to the earlier post to reply.)

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Edie Adams, 1927-2008

The above is a clip from the last episode of the "Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" that aired in April 1960. It features Edie Adams, who died yesterday at the age of eighty-two.

Those of my ancient generation most likely remember Edie Adams as the voice of the Muriel Cigar commercials of the 1960s and 1970s (Great voice, awful cigars. I couldn't find a YouTube of her signature line "Why don't you pick one up and smoke it sometime?")

Old-TV buffs remember her as the partner and widow of Ernie Kovacs, the brilliant TV comedian, and a great performer and comedienne in her own right.

Golden-age Broadway fans remember her as Eileen in the original cast of Wonderful Town and as Daisy Mae in the Li'l Abner musical.

All well and good, but how does her passing merit a mention on this blog?

Edie was a member of the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892 IATSE, having designed her own costumes for much of her career. When several IA locals (including ours) founded the Hollywood Hands On computer lab in 1991, she was one of our first and most active volunteers. She became a regular at the Guild headquarters where HHO was housed on the second floor.

She helped kick off a tradition of cooperation and participation in computer skills training among the IA locals that persists to this day. And she was a wonderful and fun person to have around.

Click here to read entire post


Sometimes the animation biz is a meritocracy. But often not ....

A couple of weeks ago I ran into an artist, an old, old acquaintance, who's worked steadily for close to forty years. He's always done his job wisely and well, but he said to me:

Last month they were going to lay me off in favor of three guys that I trained, that don't have a fraction of the chops I do. But the supervisor knows them and likes them, and I'm just the guy in the cube down the hall working his ass off. They reversed the layoff at the last minute, but I'm still ticked off about it. I'm okay with getting let go for a reason, but I like to have a reason.

Oh, there was a reason. The artist had been around too long, and fell into the delusion that doing your job quietly and well is enough.

Seldom is it enough. More often that not, competency is just the beginning. You must also be young, and gregarious, and network energetically. People lose jobs because of too much incompetence or laziness. Nobody ever lost a job because of too much brown-nosing.

There are people I've met over the years who have disagreed with the above sentiment. They either lead sheltered lives or enjoy being wrong.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Corny Cole has lost his home in the Marek fire

This just in from Cartoon Brew:

Legendary animator and CalArts faculty Corny Cole has lost his home and everything in it during the recent fires in Southern California. Corny evacuated before the fire hit and is unharmed, but his home, pets, and all of his artwork, save for what he has in his office at CalArts, are gone.

KTTV has a report with video.

The legendary Corny Cole is one of the great animators -- and characters -- in our business. He has worked in the business for over fifty years and has taught at CalArts for over twenty. It's good to know that he was uninjured, but our hearts go out to him for his devastating loss.

Click here to read entire post

A post about workers' compensation ... hey, pay attention!

To many people in the animation biz, workers'-comp may seem like a remote issue. After all, we never get injured on the job ... do we?

Well, yes, we do -- maybe not as frequently or severely as in other more hazardous occupations, but enough that the issue of workers' compensation ought to be as important to us as to other working people. (If you don't believe this, we have three words for you -- carpal tunnel syndrome ...)

In 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into California state law an extensive overhaul of the state's workers'-compensation system. Under the law, your employer has the right to designate which physicians you can use under your worker's-comp claim. However, if you work for an employer that offers group health insurance (union or non-union), you can retain your choice of doctor by pre-designating in writing your choice of physician.

Here is a form that you can use to do just that. Remember, this form can be used for any employer (union or non-union) that offers group health insurance. Also remember that the form goes to your employer's H.R. department and not to the Guild.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dreamers and doubters, then and now

Mike Barrier has blogged about Phil Klein, an animator who went on strike at Disney in 1941 (he was the younger brother of I. (Izzy) Klein, storyman and New Yorker cartoonist best known as the originator of Mighty Mouse).

Canadian author and political activist Naomi Klein, had this to say in her book No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs:

My late grandfather, Philip Klein, who worked as an animator for Walt Disney, taught me a valuable lesson early in life: always look for the dirt behind the shine.

Barrier writes:

Most of the people working at Disney's—and no one more than Walt himself—cared a great deal about what wound up on the screen. When owners and employees share that kind of commitment, the inevitable sources of friction in a vast collaborative enterprise diminish in importance. The goals were less elevated at studios like Leon Schlesinger's, but there was much the same willingness to accommodate one another's needs. For leftists like Phil Klein, though, bosses of any kind were the enemy, no matter how benevolent or creative.

Most of the leaders of the 1941 strike, people like Art Babbitt and Dave Hilberman and others such as my father, were at least as motivated by their sense of betrayal of the "Disney dream" of animation as a communal art form, as they were by political class-warfare considerations.

Barrier sees a parallel with the attitudes revealed by commenters on blogs such as this one, and in the frustrations of contemporary creative animation people with their corporate bosses. In making his point he takes a swipe at Pixar and John Lasseter, but I think that studio (at least up to this point) has been an exception to his argument about contemporary animation workers feeling alienated from their bosses.

Not having lived through the the 1930s and 1940s, it's hard for me to say if animation workers are more or less political today then they were then. But I think nowadays we're more likely to separate our political leanings from our feelings about the art and industry of animation.

PS Of course, Tom Sito got to this before I did. It's been a week for that, blog-wise ...

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Weingarten is your friend

Did you know that if you're working at a Guild shop, you have the right to insist on having a Guild representative present when you're being disciplined by management?

Click on the graphic to link to a PDF of the Guild's Weingarten wallet card that we give out to new members.

Your so-called "Weingarten rights," named after the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision in NLRB vs. Weingarten, can (and should) be invoked whenever you are called in for an "investigatory interview". An investigatory interview occurs when a supervisor questions an employee to obtain information that could be used as a basis for discipline, or asks an employee to defend his or her conduct.

You should request your Weingarten rights before you answer any questions about your work performance. If (for example) management asks you why you were late to work, or calls you in to tell you the director didn't like your work, you have the right to say something like this:

If my responses to your questions could lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or adversely affect my personal working conditions, I respectfully request that you call my Guild representative. Until my representative arrives, I choose not to answer any questions.

When you request your Weingarten rights, management has three options:

  1. They can call off the interview;

  2. They can stop questioning until the representative arrives. If the Guild rep is not immediately available, management must have a compelling reason to insist on continuing the interview rather than postponing it;

  3. They can tell you that they will call off the interview unless you voluntarily give up your rights to a Guild representative (an option you should always refuse).

When the Guild rep arrives, you will have the right to speak with him before the interview. While the interview is in progress the rep cannot tell you what to say, but he may advise you on how to answer a question. During the questioning, the rep can interrupt to clarify a question or to object to confusing or intimidating tactics. At the end of the interview the Guild rep can add information to support your case.

Although you have the right to Guild representation, management does not have to inform you of it before they start the interview -- so it's up to you to request it. That being said, in our experience many (but not all) Guild shops are aware of Weingarten, and in fact it's increasingly common for Guild-shop management to give us a "heads up" so we can be present at disciplinary meetings. Just don't count on it.

And one last very important point. In 2004, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that employees of non-unionized companies do not have Weingarten rights. Something to remember the next time someone sounds off that labor unions are worthless.

Here's an interesting quiz that answers some more detailed questions about how Weingarten rights work.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Is Glen Keane "leaving" Rapunzel?

From Animation World Network:

Cartoon Brew and Ain't It Cool News are both reporting that Glen Keane is stepping down from directing Disney's upcoming animated feature Rapunzel.

Aint It Cool posted this memo from Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios:

For nearly two years, Glen Keane and Dean Wellins have been directing partners on Rapunzel. As Glen lessens his directorial responsibilities to attend to some non-life threatening health issues, their involvement on the project will shift. Glen will step back as a Director but stay attached to Rapunzel as an Executive Producer and Directing Animator. At the same time, Dean will move into development to pitch three new ideas for one of our future feature projects and focus on directing one of his CG shorts. We are happy to announce that Nathan Greno and Byron Howard have accepted to partner as directors on Rapunzel as we continue to hone the story in anticipation of our Holiday 2010 release. We want to welcome Nathan and Byron to the project and thank Glen and Dean for their great contributions to date on Rapunzel.



Keane has been involved in Disney productions like Pete's Dragon, The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin. He helped write Pocahontas and Tarzan.

According to the memo, Keane's latest health problems are moving him off the director's chair, but a source told Aint It Cool that Keane and Wellins' version of Rapunzel wasn't working. Bryan Howard stepped in on Bolt when Chris Sanders' early work led execs to believe that film was not working.

Calls made by AWN to a Disney spokesperson were not returned as of Friday morning.

Interesting that although all these reports treat the story as if Keane is "leaving" the project, Catmull's memo as quoted by AICN says he is "stepping back" but still in the loop as a producer and supervising animator.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weekend B.O. goes to the dog(s)

As we make our way through the Indian-summer lull between the end of the summer releases and the start of the Oscar/holiday season, Beverly Hills Chihuahua leads a weak b.o. field for the second week running with $17.5 million, down 42% from its first week.

The cute-doggies-with-human-voices flick, which opened last week to unexpectedly rapturous reviews and significant Oscar buzz*, beat out the premiering horror cheapie Quarantine ($14.2 mil), which may or may not make it into second place ahead of the big-budget DiCaprio/Crowe/Ridley Scott thriller Body Of Lies ($13.1 mil).

Igor, the highest ranked animated feature this weekend, has dropped six places to nineteenth, with the lowest per-screen average ($446) of the top twenty.

As always, these numbers are subject to change; we'll see how this contest lines up when the final numbers come out tomorrow.

* yeah, right

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A couple of weeks back, an animation director/producer griped to me about staff leaving one of the shows he was supervising.

"We've got shows to get out, and some of the staff are applying for work at other studios. I wish they had more commitment for the series that they're working on here."

I told him that I sympathized, as I was one of those people who usually stays at the same job until he's carried out on his shield. But here's the deal ...

Animation artists have little faith in their employer to be loyal to them when times are tough. Even when times are good, most artists get shown the door as soon as the last design or story panel has been turned in to the production manager.

The point is, everybody is so battered and bruised today, they pretty much expect betrayal. Expect to be dropped overboard by the end of the week.

Then there's this larger reality:

Job losses in September were widespread as the weakness that began in the housing market expanded to other parts of the economy. Aside from a 9,000 gain in government payrolls, all major categories dropped except education and health care.

Edelmira Clark, 53, of Chicago, said she was concerned about losing her job as a hotel housekeeper. Her company has already cut her work hours to two days a week.

"I'm trying to find a part-time job in the morning to balance, because I can't do only two days of work,'' said Clark, who immigrated to Chicago from Belize in 1997. "But a lot of people, my friends, have lost their jobs for good.''

With the general destruction that's going on in the general workplace, it's easy to see why employees offer little loyalty to employers. None is offered to them.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Demander le Représentant d'Affaires, la partie trois*

*ask the biz rep, part three

What does a union business representative DO? How do you spend your day?

A: Constitutionally speaking, I'm in charge of the Business Office, and with the approval of the Executive Board, have the power to engage and dismiss office employees.


I keep records of income and dismbursements. I represent TAG in all relations with and between members. I represent members at the studios, and enter into negotations and agreements with the studios. I get to chair negotiation committees for collective bargaining agreements. (Oh, what responsibilities I have ...).

There's a bunch of other duties (found on pages 15-18 of the TAG Constitution and By-Laws), but those are most of the main ones.

Day to day, my day rolls along in a kind of routine way.

I roll into work at 8:30 a.m., start going through e-mails, pick up phone messages, and go through whatever paperwork is hanging around. (This includes signing checks, reviewing immigration visas, doing correspondence, and endlessly talking on the phone. I plan to have carved on my tombstone: "Here lies Steve Hulett. He talked on the phone a lot, but has now mercifully stopped.")

The middle of the day -- from 10:30 to 3:00 -- I am out in the studios, chatting artists, writers and technicians up. Some days I hold 401(k) enrollment meetings, most days I just slog around with a bag of 401(k) books slung over my shoulder in case somebody wants them. Like freaking Santa Clause.

From 3:30 to a bit after 5:00 I am back in the office, returning phone calls, going through more e-mails, thumbing through incoming snail mail. Here and there I work on grievances that different members have with companies. Few grievances go all the way to full arbitration, but there is usually something percolating. Then there is the work of organizing non-signator studios. That's a job unto itself. I squeeze it in between the other stuff.

Then I go home. I lead an exciting life, no?

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