An interesting morning spent at Sony Pictures Animation, which is intermingled with Sony Pictures Imageworks in sun-drenched Culver City. The first thing that greeted me as I walked into SPA's elegant building were stand-up posters for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, out in a cineplex near you the middle of September. A couple of artists who worked on it said:
"It's really funny. We worked on it a long time, but it ended up being an entertaining, funny picture."
Which could sound self-serving (Movie crews are sometimes the best judges of how well the movie they've been part of works ... and sometimes not.) Sony has made some credible animated features; its problem, I think, has been timing. Open Season came later in the funny animal cycle, and Surf's Up arrived late in the penguin era.
How Cloudy fares at the box office is anyone's guess (I won't venture one.) Sony Picture Animation/ImageWorks has gone through hard times lately. SPA is on its third wave of execs, and SPI has recently bid adieu to long-time honchos Tim Sarnoff and Barry Weiss.
Happily, various projects are in development. Hotel Transylvania is moving forward again, and Open Season 3 is also in work (OS 2 -- a direct-to-video offering -- was animated in Texas; I'm told that the third installment will also be done in Texas.)
There is also the Smurfs live-action/animation project, and I'm delighted to say that the Blue Crew look a lot like the H-B Smurfs of yore, and won't be morphing into Gollumesque live-action characters. (They've got a little muscle tone, but hey. That's the price of c.g.i.)
But on a less happy note, one of the SPA artists whispered to me:
"The Sony Imageworks staffers are regretting they didn't vote for that union contract when they got the chance. A lot of them have come up to me and said what a big mistake they made ..."
For those of you just tuning in, Sony ImageWorks was voted on a union contract five years ago. The permanent employees, then blessed with profit-sharing, a lush 401(k), dandy health coverage, and they decided if they voted in favor of the union package (Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health benefits, wage minimums, overtime requirements) some of the benefits they liked would go away.
Well, they voted against the deal, and all the spiffy benefits departed anyway. Funny how that happens. (President Kevin Koch and I talked to a number of SPI employees about this unfortunate possibility at the time. I remember telling a couple of skeptical animators: "The company could take all this stuff back at any time. There's no guarantees." I don't think I swayed anybody. Then.)
Now, of course, some SPI survivors have their regrets. So do I. I wish the IATSE and TAG had run the organizing campaign better, I wish we'd answered questions better, I wish we'd countered some of the hostility from the permanent staff more gracefully. Wouldn't have changed the electoral result, I don't think, but the final tally wouldn't have been quite as lopsided.
Ah well. Life is a learning experience.