Sunday, July 31, 2011

Motion Picture and Television Fund Comes to TAG

MPTF President Bob Beitcher

If you work in Southern California's entertainment industry, the Motion Picture and Television Fund is one of the lynch pins that make day-to-day life more livable.

The MPTF has been around since 1921, when Mary Pickford (and assorted girlfriends) set out donation boxes inside shops on Hollywood Boulevard so that movie people "could take care of their own." Ninety years on, it provides health care, insures dignified retirements, and helps out with finances for people who have few resources.

Last Tuesday, Animation Guild members received a presentation about what the Fund is doing in 2011, and how our guild intersects with it ...

Motion Picture and Television Fund President Bob Beitcher gave a lengthy presentation, detailing the changes and expansions now going on at the MPTF’s retirement campus in Woodland Hills, also at its far-flung medical clinics used by over 60,000 industry employees per year.

Woodland Hills Campus -- The Long-Term Care Unit.

The biggest recent news regards the MPTF’s long-term care facility. The unit, slated for dismantlement late last year, will now be kept open, offering more services to a wider community. The thirty-bed dementia unit won’t be going away, and the Plan’s campus hospital will be repurposed for more elder-care. Providence Tarzana Medical Center will offer skilled nursing, palliative care and other specialized services at the long-term care facility. UCLA Health Systems will also create a neurological rehab unit on the site.

Bridge to Health

Mr. Beitcher told the membership that the MPTF has created a new program called “Bridge to Health” which enables members who are losing their Motion Picture Industry Health coverage because of unemployment or an inability to meet the new 400 hour eligibility requirement. The Motion Picture and Television Fund clinics will cover clinic doctor visits, lab tests, and x-rays for a $25 fee. And member will be able to purchase “pay forward" clinic cards for medical coverage.

There was a lively discussion about the stresses that come from being in and out of work, and the solutions that the Motion Picture and Television Fund can offer. Andrea Dzuris, director of the Annual Giving Foundation inside the fund, discusssed the MPTF’s current drive for donations and volunteers on the Woodland Hills campus, the details for which you will find here.

Just a few more words from your friendly Organizer on the Every Member Campaign ..

There are precious few organizations in our country today that were designed to benefit the industry they serve the way the Motion Picture Television Fund does. What started out as a few coin boxes on the set has become a charitable organization that offers a wide selection of support services to members of the entertainment industry. For anyone who has utilized the MPTF Health Centers, you've experienced one way in which the fund strives to take care of our own.

The Fund is sustained through the charitable donations from the community. The IATSE is reaching out to all its members to participate in the Every Member Campaign. TAG supports this effort and asks that all our members visit the webpage we've set up describing the campaign and the participation options.

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Cartoons Beyond the Seas

The usual suspects sit atop the international box office: the Boy Wizard, Cap'n America, and the Giant Robots. As for animation, it looks like this:

... Fourth on the weekend was Pixar’s Cars 2, which bagged $30 million from 39 offshore territories representing about 88% of the 3D animation’s foreign run potential, as per distributor Disney. Overseas b.o. cume stands at $217.6 million accumulated over six rounds. ...

Cars 2 now has a global total of $399.7 million.

... DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 came in with $4.5 million on the weekend collected from 3,304 venues in 59 territories. Foreign cume for the Paramount release totals $447.5 million ...

The pudgy bear has a worldwide cume of $609.2 million, a sadness for Jeffrey but quite handsome for most studio moguls.

Then there are the small, blue people:

... The Smurfs ... opened offshore at 836 venues in seven markets for a weekend tally of $4.4 million -- thanks to a No. 1 Spain debut drawing an estimated $3.96 million from 634 locations. Openings in France, Germany, Belgium, Mexico and Brazil are on tap this week. ...

Animation still seems to have a hold on the global imagination, yes?

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thumbs Up for A.G.

(I'm late to the intertubes with this, but it's been a busy week ...)

... If you ask Cinema/T.V. Blend.

... Jonah Hill's new show Allen Gregory ... follows, as Hill puts it, "the most pretentious seven-year-old on the planet" as he endures his first days in public school. ... The 10 minutes introduced the "high-society/New Yorker" aspect of the show before AG's first day of public school, when all his pre-conceived notions of himself and the world come crashing to reality, opening up the first hint of vulnerability: "Will the other kids like me?" ...

Allen Gregory debuts on Fox at 8:30 p.m. ET on October 30, right after The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" episode...not a bad lead-in for a new animated comedy.

I've watched Allen Gregory taking shape at Bento Box in Burbank and North Hollywood (BB has two studio locations: one on Magnolia (the Burbank location), the other in North Hollywood (on Lankershim.)

There's a good crew working on the project, and artists I've talked to are positive about the quality of the show. Certainly Fox* is upbeat, since the network has ordered scripts for additional episodes beyond the original seven.

* Fox Animation on Wilshire isn't involved in the production. At present, FA is a full-time studio for all of Seth McFarlane's projects.

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Last July Weekend Derby

And the Nikkster says it all:

... What's more humiliating than Hollywood execs overestimating opening day for Cowboys & Aliens and having it fall short? Having the well-pedigreed motion picture with big Hollywood writers (Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman), stars (Daniel Craig & Harrison Ford), director (Jon Favreau), and producers (Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, & Brian Grazer) beaten at the box office by The Smurfs. Talk about humiliation! Especially with Smurfs playing in 355 fewer North American theaters than Cowboys but charging higher 3D ticket prices. ...

Do you feel the despair? The angst? The abject humiliation? Neither do I. Nobody in Hollywood feels these emotions for more than ... oh ... seventeen minutes.

I think the thing we can take away from all this is, everybody likes a good animated hybrid feature that is peopled with lovable, blue non-humans. But until Avatar II comes out, we have The Smurfs!

The Friday Tote Board

The Smurfs -- $13.3 million

Cowboys and Aliens -- $13 million

Cap'n America -- $7.86 million

Harry Potter -- $6.625 million

Crazy, Stupid Love -- $6.6 million

Friends WIth Benefits -- $3.2 million

Horrible Bosses -- $2.2 million

Transformers -- $1.75 million

ZooKeeper -- $1.36 million

Cars 2 -- $679,000

Winnie the Pooh -- $532,000

Add On: The finals show that Cars and Winnie dropped 59% and 66%, respectively. Not spiffy.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Early Signs for Sony Pictures Animation

This is upbeat:

... [A]t the [weekend] box office, Sony's new 3D kids pic The Smurfs was doing strong business, and could gross as much $30 million or more for the weekend. ...

So maybe the staff at SPA will breathe a litte easier.

Because the last time I was over there, which was last week, a few of the employees related that studio scuttlebutt was that SPA might be in jeopardy if Smurfs failed to perform. (Just a rumor, you understand.)

But it's always more pleasant to draw checks from an employer who is having a good run at the box office, rather than a bad one. You tend to make the assumption that the paydays will continue for awhile. And your neck and shoulder muscles aren't as tense.

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Blue Sky's Release Date

From the Reporter:

Fox has scheduled its next big animated film, Leafmen, for a May 17, 2013 wide release. The 3D feature is being directed by Chris Wedge ...

And of course, Blue Sky Studios, now the apple of Fox's eye, was a prime candidate for unloading by the conglomerate prior to the first Ice Age's release. Execs were showing it to any number of potential successor companies when the memory of Fox Animation, Phoenix was still fresh in their brain-pans.

Happily, Ice Age was a big performer, and no sale was consummated. And Fox is now the proud owner of one of the steadier hit-makers in Animationland.

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No New Marriage?

Per the L.A. Times, DreamWorks Animation could be stuck with its original spouse for awhile.

It's looking unlikely that Shrek will share a home with Bugs Bunny. ... Top film executives at Warner Bros. ... feel that releasing future DreamWorks Animation movies would not be a good use of the studio's distribution and marketing resources for anything close to the 8% of revenues that Paramount has collected for the service. ...

As I've said before, Jeffrey has kept the high-wire act of running an indi cartoon studio spinning along for a lot longer than many industry cynics ever expected. It produced credible though not wildly successful hand-drawn features, shifted to c.g.i. and 3-D features. After a string of high-performers, it's fallen into the ignominy of making under-performing movies that only gross half a billion instead of the more socially acceptable $700+ million.

Oh, the shame.

My guess is that Paramount is running something of a bluff regarding its own new animation division, and will be happy to keep DreamWorks Animation on board if the Glendale studio is agreeable to maintaining the present relationship with the mother conglomerate, percentage-wise.

I mean, $500 million might not be optimum, but it's quite presentable in many industry circles. And in the cartoon department, Paramount's done a lot better with Mr. Katzenberg than it ever did with the Fleischer brothers. It is, in the final calculation, all relative, yest?

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The little man in Walt Peregoy's head

Starting August 5 at Gallery 839, from 7 to 10 pm.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011


Since we're on the subject of the Big Mouse, we offer this:

... Walt Disney Co. plans to take full control of India's UTV Software Communications Ltd. and delist the company, as the U.S. entertainment giant seeks to expand in the South Asian nation's fast-growing media industry. ...

... The deal, potentially valued at 20.14 billion rupees ($454.62 million), is one of the largest in the Indian media industry, say analysts. ... India is the world's third-largest TV market--after China and the U.S.--with almost 138 million TV households. ...

Now that Rupert and his minions are in a modicum of confusion and retreat, there are openings for America's other fine, entertainment conglomerates to increase their empires in other parts of the globe..

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Owners Rule

The Times reminds us (if any reminders were needed) just who rules the national roost.

... The heirs of comic book artist Jack Kirby sought to assert their rights to [Kirby's] iconic characters in 2009 ... Marvel argued that Kirby's work constituted "work for hire" -- that it was done by a freelance artist, under the direction and control of a company, which therefore retained the rights for such creative works.

"This case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real 'creator' of Marvel characters ... It is about whether Kirby's work qualifies as work for hire under the Copyright Act of 1909." ...

McMahon found the Kirby works qualified as works for hire.

See, here's the way it works: A century ago Congress, then as now a fully-owned subsidiary of our fine corporate owners, enacted legislation declaring that companies, just like people, could own copyrights and patents. And that "work for hire" was the vehicle by which they could gain ownership.

No silly-ass "moral rights" for the citizenry of the good old U.S. of A. They might create scripts and cartoon characters, but the conglomerates own them.

And it won't be changing anytime soon. So learn to love it, because the way things are going, there are minimal alternatives.

Update: The Nikkster's take on the suit:

Intellectual property lawyer Marc Toberoff has a winning track record when he goes after Hollywood studios on behalf of rightsholders. But not today. ...

See? Even a high-powered lawyer with a winning track record comes up with zip.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


"Snow White's" 1938 ad campaign (part of it, anyway ...)

New York Magazine's Reassessment of "The Little Mermaid" (wherein the author is wrong about multiple facts and issues. And also "Mermaid.")

Paramount moves Bird's "Mission Impossible" (even though it's the "best MI yet"?)

Different animated platforms keep running together: (Such as the animated featurette for the "Assassins Creed" video game.)

Story director Mark Kennedy examines the formation and justification of a villain (as he recounts the development of Mother Gothel in "Tangled.")

And Warner Bros. rolls out another teaser for the second installment of its animated penguins.

Enjoy the balance of your week.

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A Talk With Tad Stones -- Part III

Tad Stones today. (Ignore Hulett's eccentric lighting.)

In Part III of this week's podcast, Tad discusses the challenges of working on direct-to-video features ...

TAG Interview with Tad Stones

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Also the challenges of a long career in the different disciplines inside animation, as well as how Dark Wing Duck has had a resurgence of popularity in the last few years.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Out of the Trough

The Reporter gives good news for DreamWorks A. and Jeffrey K.:

... Shares of DreamWorks Animation were up as much as 9 percent in after-hours trading as investors were treated to an impressive second-quarter earnings report.

... Revenue was up 38 percent to $218.3 million, which was way above the $192 million analysts expected.

I still think that DWA gets absorbed by one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates at some point, I just don't know which one.

Fox and Disney are obviously out, since they have their own animation studios. And Universal is doing well with Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment. Sony is still sputtering along with Sony Pictures Animation.

That leaves Viacom and Time-Warner as candidates, and I'm not sure either is ready to step up and plunk down the kind of cash that Mr. Katzenberg would likely want. So maybe Jeffrey's best long-term option is to grow DreamWorks Animation into its own conglomerate, with theme parks, a distribution company, and live-action properties.

I understand it's been done before, by another cartoon factory. Headed by some guy with a moustache.

Add On: In the wake of upbeat corporate results, Mr. Katzenberg had things to say with analysts:

Jeffrey Katzenberg punted questions about DreamWorks Animation's uncertain future with distributor Paramount Pictures and pending deal with Netflix, focusing instead on the soft domestic performance of "Kung Fu Panda 2" and the future of 3-D.

"A terrible, terrible calamity," is how Katenzberg described the domestic performance of "Kung Fu Panda 2."

But you can't always slam a homerun every time at the plate. Sometimes you must settle for a two-bagger.

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A Talk with Tad Stones -- Part II

Tad Stones was one of "DarkWing Ducks" godfathers ....

TAG Interview with Tad Stones

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Tad spent almost a quarter century writing, producing and supervising cartoons at Disney Television Animation, which he talks about here in Part II of the TAG podcast. But he also talks about working at Disney Imagineering (then called WED) and his time working with the legendary Ward Kimball.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Jury Decides for DWA

The lawsuit against a DreamWorks Animation franchise gets overturned::

A Los Angeles jury has sided with DreamWorks Animation in a big lawsuit claiming the idea for the hit Kung Fu Panda movies was stolen from a man who pitched the studio months before it began developing the project without him. ...

The jury took about three days to reach a verdict in favor of the studio. The jurors decided that DWA and its executives did enter into an implied-in-fact contract, but the panel found that the studio didn't use Dunn's ideas, so the question of damages was moot ...

Once in a very long while an outside creator successfully sues a large Hollywood studio for the theft of a story or idea. (Art Buchwald did it against Paramount for Coming to America.) But for the most part, it's a steep mountain that the vast majority of plaintiffs fail to climb to the summit.

This thing will get appealed, and then appealed once more. And three to five years from now we'll discover where it all comes out.

(Probably for the studio. Probably.)

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A Talk With Tad Stones -- Part I

Tad Stones has worked in almost all parts of the animation business for over three decades. Theatrical features, direct-to-video features, syndicated series, network prime time series, even Disney World EPCOT exhibits. Tad has been there and created that. ...

TAG Interview with Tad Stones

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

In the 1970s, Mr. Stones began his career as an animation trainee at Walt Disney Feature Animation, then moved into the Disney story department. And after that, he became part of the team that developed rides and exhibits and Disney World's EPCT.

In Part One of this TAG podcast interview, Tad details the Disney Company as it existed for an ambitious young guy (seen above) in the 1970s ...

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Everybody Has Their Issue(s)

Oh my. One more offensive animated feature.

An organization that calls itself Forum for the Hindu Awakening protested [the planned July 21st screening of Sita Sings the Blues.] The emails called the film denigrating and insulting, and said freedom of expression cannot be absolute. A worried Pastor Mathew John, who owns the pavilion, decided to cancel the screening. ...

And so it goes. Another religion protests a film about it. Bob Iger is uncomfortable with Song of the South. So I guess the Forum for Hindu Awakening cam be bent out of shape about Sita.

I think that Christians should be protesting the Jeffrey Hunter version of , but that's me.

Here's what the brouhaha is about:

And what rankles Bob Iger:

So now a confession: In the long ago 1950s, when Dwight Eisenhower ruled the country with a kind and grandfatherly hand, my old man was allowed to check a 16 mm print of Song of the South out of Walt Disney Productions' film library and show the film in our living room on one of the company's really bad 16 mm projectors.

I don't know what the company was thinking.

Though the film broke a couple of times (did I mention the projector was really bad?) my young eyes got to take in the entire feature -- 100 minutes of live-action and animation. Though I only fainted once, I have been scarred ever since.

Like I say, everybody has their issues.

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Also, a Cash Stream

As the Reporter tells us:

... DreamWorks Animation and Netflix have been putting the finishing touches on a streaming rights deal for DWA films that could be announced in the coming days. ...

It's always good to find new income sources, yes? I expect an announcement on the groundbreaking for DreamWorksLand in the relatively near future. Rides of all descriptions ... and balloons for the kids.

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The Foreign Steeple Chase

Unlike here, all across the fruited plain, the boy wizard retains his crown elsewhere:

... Weekend take for Deathly Hallows – Part 2 came to $121.3 million from some 19,200 screens in 59 territories compared to the record $312.3 million opening the weekend before ... The worldwide box office gross total for all eight titles in the Harry Potter franchise now stands at more than $7.2 billion. ...

Meantime, the entertainment conglomerates' animated fare continued to rack up grosses.

... Third on the weekend was Pixar/Disney’s Cars 2, which registered $17.7 million in its fifth round on the foreign theatrical circuit, hoisting is overseas cume to $173.7 million and its worldwide take to $350.1 million ...

... DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 drew $8.3 million on the weekend. ... hoisting its overseas cume to $437.2 million. The 3D animation distributed by Paramount opened at 42 sites in Hong Kong for debut tally of $1.6 million or more than a $37,000 average per screen. ...

KFP 2 now has a worldwide total of $598 million. So, even though Wall Street views the feature as a disappointment, it's likely to match #1's worldwide total of $631,744,560. Or certainly come close.

However, it's unlikely that Cars 2 will be considered a massive theatrical triumph for Pixar. ...

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

TV Animation

USA Today reports from the Con::

... Futurama's season finale will feature three different cartoon formats ...

... Simpsons' executive producer Al Jean said the show's writers have no specific concept for a finale episode. ...

In Family Guy's season opener, "lottery fever hits Quahog and the Griffins strike it rich," creator Seth MacFarlane said. He [also] said there will be a Family Guy movie

What I can tell you about T.V. animation is, there's a lot of squeezing of schedules, and much pressure put on the artists working in it.

The standard mantra (more or less) is: "We don't have money in the budget for overtime."

It's assumed that employees will hit their deadlines come hell or high water, and not bother production managers' beautiful minds with icky things like authorization requests for extra hours. If more time is needed, the expectation is that everybody will do it on their own hook.

And many fulfill that expectation.

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Late July Derby

Another weekend, another round of new releases. And the latest super-hero movie shoves the boy wizard down to second place:

... Captain America: The First Avenger opened to an estimated $25.8 million. That number includes the $4 million from the midnight screenings where the movie initially staked its claim. And it puts Captain America's opening in the same neighborhood as May’s Thor, the last Marvel supermovie to hit theaters. ...

The tally sheet:

1) Cap'n American: First Avenger -- $25.7 million

2) Harry Poter, the Ending -- $14.6 million

3) Friends with Bennie -- $6.8 million

4) Horrible Bosses -- $3.7 million

5) Transformers -- $3.5 million

6) Zookeper -- $2.85 million

7) Cars 2 -- $1.7 million

8) Winnie the Pooh -- $1.6 million

The Disney/Pixar offerings have declined to the bottom of the Top Ten list, and will probably depart altogether within a short while.

Add On: So Cars 2 and Winnie the Pooh end up in the 7th and 8th positions, while Kung Fu Panda 2 ($160.8 million) and Rio ($142.6 million) are paired at 21 and 22. Couples!

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Friday, July 22, 2011


What with DreamWorks Animation laying people off for the first time in several years, I get questions from DWA staffers about what's out there ....

On the theatrical front, Disney is into the production of Wreck-It Ralph, and in development with King of the Elves, Snow Queen, and a hand-drawn picture from Ron-John. (I think I'm forgetting a property or two. Oh well.)

Sony continues to develop Hotel Transylvania (even as it waits to see how The Smurfs will do), and Fox hs revealed this:

... [Twentieth-Century Fox's] animation division has hired Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell and his brother Robert McDonnell to write the script for a feature-length animated film. ... The Mutts project was brought in by Fox Animation executive Ralph Millero. ...

Then there's the new Digital Domain animated feature starting to take shape at Port St. Lucie, Florida, the Pixar Princess movie, and various projects in the South Bay striving to get funding.

I know I've left stuff out, but it's late, I'm tired and the omitted subjects can always become fodder for another blog post.

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Number Four

In the way of sequels, you can never get enough dinosaurs.

... “We have a story,” Spielberg said in front of nearly 6000 fans. “We have a writer who is writing the treatment and hopefully we are going to make Jurassic Park 4 in all of our foreseeable futures, hopefully in the next two or three years.” Also confirmed is that the movie will be shot in 3-D. ...

The Jurassic of twenty years ago was the first big dinosaur picture that got away from the rubber and claymation versions.

Imagine. C.G. dinos. And way before Toy Story came out.

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Squeaking past the deadline

Thanks to a last-minute push by Steve Hulett with the assistance of E-Board members and shop stewards, the percentage of returned forms has gone past last year's 22.9% tally just as we reach the official (but not final) deadline for the wage survey questionnaires. As of today we have reached 23.2% returns.

On Monday I will begin the tally of the survey results, which typically takes anywhere from a week-and-a-half to two weeks. Until the tally is complete, any returned surveys will be added to the mix, so the final total will probably be a little higher. So, it's not too late to download the survey and mail or fax it in (ignore the July 22 deadline), or scan it and send it to me in an e-mail. Please do so in the next few days.

We have found that incomplete tallies can be confusing and deceptive given the small sampling, so we will not post or publicize any survey results until the tally is completed and chedcked. When the survey results are ready they will be posted on this blog, on our website, the e-mail list and in the Peg-Board.

On behalf of the Guild, thank you to everyone who filled out a questionnaire and helped propagate them. I hope we can continue to work to make the wage survey a comprehensive and useful tool for ourselves and our careers.

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Wage Surveys

They're still coming in at a regular clip.

Later today, Jeff Massie will give us the totals, and allow me to say we now have a pretty good number. ...

But the numbers could be better. So again. If you haven't filled one out, please do so now. We begin tabulating surveys next week and we will put the numbers up here, and on the website.

If you don't think this is important, consider that studios often make a regular habit of discouraging employees from broadcasting wage information. And Disney used to have a prohibition about revealing wage info written into personal service contracts, despite the following:

Section 232 of the State of California Labor Code 232. No employer may do any of the following:

(a) Require, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from disclosing the amount of his or her wages.

(b) Require an employee to sign a waiver or other document that purports to deny the employee the right to disclose the amount of his or her wages.

(c) Discharge, formally discipline, or otherwise discriminate against an employee who discloses the amount of his or her wages.

Section 232.5: No employer may do any of the following:

(a) Require, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from disclosing information about the employer's working conditions.

(b) Require an employee to sign a waiver or other document that purports to deny the employee the right to disclose information about the employer's working conditions.

(c) Discharge, formally discipline, or otherwise discriminate against an employee who discloses information about the employer's working conditions.

(d) This section is not intended to permit an employee to disclose proprietary information, trade secret information, or information that is otherwise subject to a legal privilege without the consent of his or her employer.

In the past, I have taken grief for disclosing working conditions. And I have been in arguments with managers who insisted they had the right to prohibit employees from sharing wage info. (Laws didn't seem to mean much to them. Go figure.)

If you haven't yet scribbled your pay and job classification on a survey, please take the three minutes the task requires and do it now. If nothing else, you'll be striking a blow for freedom and transparency. Wages are NOT proprietary information.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

In and Around Comic-Con

TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito is down in San Diego, clearly having a merry time:

Even with pre-registered bar code in hand, still had to wait in a line half a mile long to register! ...

Meantime, in the halls, the rollout of newer product trundles along ...

[Aardman Animation's] The Pirates! Band of Misfits ... kicked off with the recently released trailer shown in 3D. The trailer is, quite simply, hilarious and if you’re wondering how stop-motion animation looks in 3D the answer is gorgeous.

Peter Lord talks about still working in stop-motion animation. He says everyone always talks about how slow it is, but he says it’s more fun to do than computer animation. Inspiration for the story was looking back to classic pirate movies, after which they focused on having ridiculous fun...

But of course, Aardman collaborates with Sony Imageworks on Arthur Christmas, a distinctly non-stop motion project, so it's making sure that all the bets are covered. And it's clear that there will be a generous dollop of animated projects out in the marketplace in the next couple of years, with more coming into the pipeline all the time.

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To Melt-Down .... Or Not to Melt-Down

That is the question.

Two hours ago one of my closest friends, an economist outside of Philly, called to ask me what I thought the odds of the nation defaulting were. I told him I thought about 40%. (Like I know?)

He thought it was higher than that. He's kind of worried. Make that real worried.

But it's not hard to see why.

Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined

WASHINGTON—Members of the U.S. Congress reported Wednesday they were continuing to carefully debate the issue of whether or not they should allow the country to descend into a roiling economic meltdown of historically dire proportions. "It is a question that, I think, is worthy of serious consideration: Should we take steps to avoid a crippling, decades-long depression that would lead to disastrous consequences on a worldwide scale? Or should we not do that?" asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), adding that arguments could be made for both sides ...

When the Onion and Ronald Reagan make the most compelling arguments in favor of a debt-ceiling hike, you know the "debate" has gone several clicks past ludicrous.

Why bring this up on an animation/labor blog? Because if the U.S. defaults on its bond obligations, we're all screwed. No matter what cartoon studio we are working at.

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Anonymous Vs. Anonymous

In the comment thread below ("So ... It's Going to Canada?") there is some back-and-forth that centers on whether unions -- specifically TAG -- have value. Some highlights:

... What people in this thread want is for the union leaders to do something they don't have the power or authority to do -- unilaterally change the contract that the membership voted for, publically attack signator studios where members work, and somehow evoke change while the membership sits on the sidelines. Actually, that's too specific. Some of the posters here don't know what they want our leaders to do, they just want them to come up with a solution, without having any inkling what that solution might be, and then they promise to support that solution, even though they can't be bothered to come to a meeting or figure out how their own union operates. ...

Then a tart rejoinder:

What people in this thread want is for the union leaders to do something they don't have the power or authority to do ...

In that case I take back my statement. Instead I'll say it's even worse than I thought and unions are a waste of time. And that's not being defeatest. I literally mean that if it takes all the members to organize and come to a consensus and jump through hoops just to enact a tiny bit of change, then it is literally a waste of time. I'd rather work my way up through my studio and enact change from within: because it's my studio that I care about anyway ...

And finally this capper:

Instead I'll say it's even worse than I thought and unions are a waste of time.

Prove you mean that, and give your union pensions back. Prove you believe that, and pay for your health care out of pocket, like most people at non-union studios do. Prove you mean it and don't cash that severance check the union studio is required to send you after they lay you off. Prove you mean that by working for wages below the union minimum.

You're guilty of black and white thinking. If the union can't magically do everything I want it to do, without any sacrifice from you, then it's totally, completely worthless. And you ignore the fact that your lazy, childish attitude is part of the problem you hate.

Of course, you don't think that way about "your studio." You ignore that fact that they're eagerly trying to outsource your work, grateful to have a job while others don't. And so you keep quiet, and look for others to do the heavy lifting.

And that's not being defeatest.

Yes, actually it is.

I literally mean that if it takes all the members to organize and come to a consensus and jump through hoops just to enact a tiny bit of change, then it is literally a waste of time.

What you want to call a "tiny bit of change" is an issue that TAG went on strike over twice. What you call a tiny bit of change is a change that no union studio would willingly allow to happen. Your cognitive dissonance probably comes from the need to sleep at night, but it doesn't make your warped perceptions correct. ...

Here's the reality of the U.S. labor movement: It's as good (or bad) as the 1) Leadership, 2) Membership, and 3) The political and cultural environment in which it operates.

At present, large companies -- the Fortune 500 Darlings -- are the Top Dogs inside E. Pluribus Unum. We have the most expensive health care system, the costliest political system, and the richest corporate chieftans that exist on the planet. We have a greater concentration of wealth than any other large, industrialized state. And workers have less power, say or influence.

In short, we have come a loooong way from the days of Republican President Dwight David Eisenhower, who explicitly supported unions. Today, of course, any Republican worth his or her salt equates a labor union with the anti-Christ. And Democrats have become like Ike: they support unions, but tepidly.

But let's stop whining about the anti-union culture in which labor now swims and ratchet the field of vision down to good old 839. Are we weak? Yeah, we're weaker than unions were in, say, 1969, and weaker than some of the above-the-line guilds. But we're certainly stronger and more pro-active than many of our sister locals in the IATSE. We have filed larger and more aggressive grievances than most of the I.A. locals on the West Coast. We have struck twice to keep work inside Los Angeles animation studios.

Of course, what have we done lately? Just this week, we secured additional checks for board artists who'd received no screen credit on a production. And we continue to expand the size and reach of TAG's 401(k) Plan, which supplements the two pensions inside the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan.

Could we do more? Quite possibly. But labor unions, unlike corporations, rot from the bottom up instead of the other way around. If members don't participate and pay attention, then fewer good things get accomplished. I once said to a complaining member at a meeting:

"You don't like the way things are being run, show up here with a dozen of your friends. You can take the guild over."

He thought I was joking, but I meant it. Any member with fire in the belly, energy, and some discipline can become a power here. It isn't always fun and easy, but it's considerably better than chanting: "The union is weak ... the union is weak ..."

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lima in Mumbai

An old Disney hand travels to DreamWorks Animation:

Kevin Lima, who directed Disney’s animated Tarzan before transitioning to the live-action hits 102 Dalmations and Enchanted, is returning to his roots. Lima has signed on to helm DreamWorks Animation’s Monkeys of Mumbai, which is assembling a highly pedigreed creative team. ...

Earlier today I talked to a wise old animation veteran (and feature director) who said:

"Most animation directors who go over to live-action never come back. Frank Tashling didn't. I don't think Brad [Bird] will. And I'd be surprised if Stanton goes back after John Carter of Mars" ...

I brought up the name of Tim Burton, who still keeps a hand in the animation business, but the Wise Old Vet said "Tim's just producing now." Right, sure, I thought to myself. Alice In Wonderland has no animation at all.

Because, face it. Animation in 2011 isn't the sleepy little ghetto it was a couple of decades ago. In the 21st century, animated features are Big Box Office, and any number of high-profile filmmakers are in them up to their eyebrows, one way or the other.

Michael Bay directs giant robots that most definitely aren't live action. Spielberg has jumped into mo-cap animation with Tin-tin. And Jim Cameron made a high-grossing movie that had a poop-load of animation. So the question is, where do the animation directors end and the live-action directors start? And what, exactly, is a live-action feature, anyway? Or an animated feature? Seems as though the genres have long-since blended together.

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3-D Impermanence?

The Nikkster tells us:

Jeffrey Katzenberg -- the leading cheerleader for 3D -- says that "the bloom is off the rose" for the technology for a while "driven by a singular and unique characteristic that only exists in Hollywood, greed." ...

Here's the problem: People will go to see certain 3-D movies that they're interested in ... but not if they cost an extra three or five or seven bucks.

It's kind of like the recording industry a decade ago. Those folks couldn't go on demanding premium prices when there were alternatives. Nobody was going to pay sixteen or eighteen bucks for a little silver disk when they could download the songs for way less. Same with the 3-D now. When the product that movie studios are pushing gives audiences headaches and dim, barely watchable images and are bad movies into the bargain, the game is kind of over.

3-D is like sound movies back in 1928: Then, people would go and sit through anything for the joy of hearing actors talk ... for about two years. Then they started getting picky, and started avoiding the crappy stuff that all-of-a-sudden had the allure of a five-day-old turd.

So here we are in glorious 2011, and the issue isn't sound anymore but stereo viewing. And it's not enough that the screen images are in Moving View-Master (c). They must also be good, and price competitive.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Standard CBA minimums going up on July 31

At the end of this month the Animation Guild’s standard collective bargaining agreement enters its third year, and the minimum rates of pay will be going up by two percent. In addition, the minimum required hours needed per six-month period to retain health coverage will increase from 300 hours to 400.

With an increasing number of people working at the CBA minimums, members need to be aware of the minimum rate of pay for their category. These are minimums; studios are not required to raise overscale pay unless the new minimum is greater than your pay rate. For all the CBA minimums, go to our website.

Studios are required to automatically raise the pay of any employee whose rate falls below the numbers listed below and in our collective bargaining agreement. Any below-scale payments must be promptly reported to the Guild, since there is a one-year statute of limitations on wage complaints.

Here’s a summary of some of the journey minimums, effective July 31, 2011:


Production Board [staff] : $1,872.84 per 40-hour week

Animator, Background, Layout, Model Designer, Animation Writer, Visual Development, CGI Animator/Modeler, Production Technical Director [I]: $40.714 per hour; $1,628.56 per 40-hour week

Key Assistant Animator, Key Assistant CGI Animator/Modeler [II], Production Technical Director [II]: $39.018 per hour; $1,560 per 40-hour week

Assistant Animator, Assistant Background, Assistant Layout, Assistant Model Designer, Animation Checker, Color Key, Assistant CGI Animator/Modeler [III], Production Technical Director [III], Digital Check: $34.843 per hour; $1,393.72 per 40-hour week


IMPORTANT: Minimum health and pension contribution hours for unit-rate scripts and storyboards will also increase effective July 31, to the amounts listed below.

7-15 minutes:

  • Synopsis and Outline: $894.21; 47 health and pension hours

  • Storyboard Only: $1,488.15; 51 health and pension hours

  • Teleplay or Screenplay: $2.916.62; 153 health and pension hours

  • Full Script* (outline plus screenplay): $3,810.83; 200 health and pension hours

Half-hour subjects:

  • Synopsis and Outline: $1,590.76; 91 health and pension hours

  • Storyboard Only: $2,825.93; 100 health and pension hours

  • Teleplay or Screenplay: $5,590.08; 309 health and pension hours

  • Full Script* (outline plus screenplay): $7,180.84; 400 health and pension hours

One hour or more:

  • Synopsis and Outline: $2,367.35; 93 health and pension hours

  • Storyboard Only: $4,215.08; 151 health and pension hours

  • Teleplay or Screenplay: $8,409.12; 307 health and pension hours

  • Full Script* (outline plus screenplay): $10,776.47; 400 health and pension hours

* reflects the Synopsis and Outline minimum plus the Teleplay or Screenplay minimum.

This summary only reflects the rates in our standard CBA, and it is not inclusive of all job categories or non-journey levels. Nor does it necessarily reflect the minimums in contracts covering Guild members at with Disney/TTL, Sony Pictures Animation or Nickelodeon.

Finally: If, like many members, you're paid over these minimums, that is at least in part due to knowing not only the minimum rates of pay but also the "going rates". Please help you fellow animation workers know those rates b7y filling out our wage survey questionnaire. Information on the survey, and links to the questionnaire form, are here.

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A Talk With Martha Sigall -- Part II

On July 13th, Ms. Sigall celebrated the 75th anniversary of her entry into the animation biz ...

TAG Interview with Martha Sigall

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link
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Monday, July 18, 2011

So ... It's Going to Canada?

There's a new hire at Arc Productions.

... Stephanie Denton, former president of film sales for Lionsgate Films International, has been tapped by Toronto 3D animation studio Arc Productions to head up its Los Angeles office.

... Denton’s role will be enticing more Hollywood studios to bring their projects to the Canadian cartoon factory to exploit up-front cost savings from local film and digital tax credits.

Enticement is the name of the game. Plus tax credits and low-ball bids. Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment has had success outsourcing animation to Paris, France (Despicable Me). Disney Toon Studios has done okay with studios in India for its features on little silver disks. (Tinkerbells I, II, III, etc.) But the sub-continent hasn't yet produced any big, profitable theatrical features.

(On the other hand, sequences of DreamWorks Animation's Puss N Boots have been done in India, so we'll see what develops there.)

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A Talk with Martha Sigall -- Part I

Standing on right: Martha Goldman Sigall

May 1941: "Our own little Six-Day War" -- Chuck Jones (who took the picture), quoted from Duck Amuck. Responding to pressure to sign with the Screen Cartoonists Guild, Leon Schlesinger locks out his artists for six days before capitulating. Sitting outside the locked front door, left to right: animator Ben Washam (later president of Local 839), cameraman Roy Laupenberger, animator Rudy Larriva, painter Sue Gee, background artist Paul Marin, and inker Martha Goldman Sigall (standing), then in the fifth year of her career. From the Animation Guild AFL-CIO Collection, Urban Archives Center, Oviatt Library, California State University Northridge.

During the depths of the Depression, Martha Sigall was a neighborhood kid who ran errands for artists at a small animation shop who worked at light boards. Little did she know that it would lead to a half-century career creating cartoons ...

TAG Interview with Martha Sigall

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

The studio was in some small buildings in Hollywood and owned by a man named Leon Schlesinger. Martha painted her first cels before she was in high school, and took a full-time job in the business when she turned nineteen.

By then, Schlesinger and his staff were headquartered in a larger building that came to be known as "Termite Terrace."

Grinning in center: Clark Gable
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Almost there, in time

Thanks to a concerted effort last week by shop stewards and Executive Board members (thank you, Film Roman!), we are within one percentage point of beating last year's percentage return of wage survey questionnaires, ahead of this Friday's extended deadline.

It remains to be seen whether we will beat last year's 22.9% return. Tomorrow, Monday July 18, is the deadline to contact us by e-mail or phone and ask to have the survey and the postpaid return envelope mailed to you.

You can also download the form and mail, fax or e-mail it back to the attention of Jeff Massie. We will take the form and mix it with the ones we’ve received to guarantee your anonymity.

The deadline for questionnaires to be returned to us if Friday, July 22. After that, it will take approximately two weeks to tally the questionnaires and confirm the results, which will be be posted here, on the e-mail list and website, and in the August Peg-Board. It's not too late to help your fellow animation artists, writers and workers with an accurate appraisal of wage conditions in the industry.

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The Foreign Steeple Chases Of Summer

At the top of the lists, the record-setting boy wizard and giant robots are sucking up much of the oxygen, but further down there are cartoons.

... No. 3, Pixar/Disney’s Cars 2, grossed $12.4 million in its fourth weekend on the foreign circuit, down 52% from the prior round. Director John Lassiter’s animation comedy has registered a total overseas tally of $146.6 million thus far with openings in the U.K. and South Korea due this week.

Fourth was DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D, which grossed $422 million so far overseas thanks to a $9.5 million weekend at 5,192 locations in 57 territories. ...

It's good to remember that these Dreamworks and Disney disappointments have taken in $582 million and $311.9 million on a worldwide basis.

Many live-action filmmakers would sell their close relatives into slavery for disappointments like that.

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The Production Arc

Because we're all about helping our fine entertainment conglomerates sell product (although we're on the downward curve in this case), and because it's a sloow Sunday, yet always fun to show the production process, here's this:

(Sorry about the stoopid ad.)

Of course, what these videos don't show you are the sweaty-palmed story pitches, the production crunches, the studio politics and brown-nosing, and everything else that goes into the making of a big budget, animated motion picture.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Normalcy and Investing

A couple of days ago, I got one of the usual phone calls from a member about how to invest 401(k) money. In a nutshell, I told him that investing was simple, and all he had to do was:

1) Keep investing costs low with index funds.

2) Set a broadly-diversified asset allocation that includes foreign and domestic stocks, also bonds.

3) Determine your tolerance for risk, and allocate assets accordingly. (Investing die-hards = 60-70% stocks; investing cowards = 60-70% bonds

Simple, no? But if investing is simple, why do so many investors suck at it so bad? ...

Nine days ago, investment guru Larry Swedroe gave a talk in San Francisco that pretty much explained why. (You can see Larry's lecture and Q & A here: When Will Things Get Back to Normal?)

What Mr. Swedroe says is well worth hearing and absorbing, because he's been at the game a long time and he's good at it. Some of his bullet points:

* Nobody can predict where the economy (and stock market) is going.

* There were 32 years (1926-2010) when stock returns were above 20 percent.

* There were 23 years (almost 30 percent) when returns exceeded 25 percent.

* People end up bad investors because they try to predict where the economy (and stock market) is headed via market timing. But it can't be done.

* Only a tiny percentage of stock-fund managers out-perform the market over time. And investors can only know who those few, brilliant stock-fund managers are after the fact.

* Warren Buffett and most every other gifted stock-picker who's honest says that average investors should have their money in low-cost index funds.

When stocks are going up, most everybody kids themselves that they have "a high tolerance for risk" (i.e.; owning mostly stocks.) But when the market drops 25-50%, everybody finds out that "No, they don't." And then they scurry into bonds right at the bottom of the stock slide.

Boxer Mike Tyson once put it another way: "Every fighter, when he gets into the ring, has a plan. Then he gets hit ..." This is what makes long-term investing difficult for many folks. They think they can stick with their investment strategy (whatever it is), but the first time heavy-gloved reality punches them in the face, they panic and decide otherwise.

Mr. Swedroe discusses all these things and more, including esoteric items like bond duration and diversfication into commodities and real estate. If you've got the time, I highly recommend giving it a look-see.

Click here to read entire post

Hot Summer Derby

Now with tasty Add On.

The good news is, there are two animated features in the Top Ten!

The bad news is, they're in the middle of the pack and could be making more money! The Nikkster, as per usual, has early tallies ...

1. Harry Potter/Hallows, Pt 2 - 3D (Warner Bros) NEW [4,375 Theaters] Friday $95m, Estimated Weekend $180M

2. Transformers 3 - 3D (Paramount) Week 3 [3,917 Theaters] Friday $6.8M, Estimated Weekend $21M, Estimated Cume $303M

3. Horrible Bosses (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,134 Theaters] Friday $5M (-49%), Estimated Weekend $15M, Estimated Cume $57.4M

4. Zookeeper (Sony) Week 2 [3,482 Theaters] Friday $3.6M (-51%), Estimated Weekend $11M, Estimated Cume $41M

5. Cars 2 - 3D (Disney) Week 4 [3,249 Theaters] Friday $2.7M, Estimated Weekend $8.5M, Estimated Cume $165.5M

6. Winnie The Pooh (Disney) NEW [2,405 Theaters] Friday $2.6M, Estimated Weekend $8M

7. Bad Teacher (Sony) Week 4 [2,659 Theaters] Friday $1.5M, Estimated Weekend $4.5M, Estimated Cume $87.8M

8. Larry Crowne (Vendome/Universal) Week 3 [2,287 Theaters] Friday $825K, Estimated Weekend $2.5M, Estimated Cume $31.6M

9. Super 8 (Paramount) Week 6 [1,459 Theaters] Friday $550K, Estimated Cume $1.7M, Estimated Cume $122M

10. Midnight In Paris (Sony Classics) Week 10 [819 Theaters] Friday 450K, Estimated Weekend $1.5M, Estimated Cume $41.4M

Add On: I note, sadly, that the cartoons have now shifted, and have lower estimates on Ms. Finke's site than they did when I first posted them. Not good.

Add On: B.O. Mojo tells us that that the Milne bear ended up with $8 million, while John Lasseter's return to the director's chair fetched $8,344,000. (On a per-theater average, Winnie the Pooh had the edge, but the talking cars had lots more screens.)

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Proof's On The 'Toys-R-Us' Shelves

Heey now. Who needs big theatrical grosses?

'Cars 2' Toys Drive Higher Second-Quarter Results at Mattel

Mattel's second-quarter profit jumped 56 percent as toys tied to the Disney/Pixar movie Cars 2 helped drive the toy maker's latest financials. Quarterly profit of $80.5 million compared with $51.6 million in the year-ago period as revenue rose 14 percent to $1.16 billion. The results exceeded Wall Street expectations.

So even as the talking autos fade at the nation's AMCs, the toy versions are flying out the door of kiddie retailers. And the Mouse (also Mattel) get to open their own mints.

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The Unforced Error

Hard as it is to believe, from time to time mistakes are made by our fine conglomerates' far-seeing execs. For instance:

... Frederator Studios pitched an Adventure Time series to Nickelodeon, but the network passed on it twice. ...

The show is now into its third season at CN, and doing quite nicely in the ratings.

I bring this up because I happened to be visiting the crew today up at Cartoon Network. And a few years back I also attended the screening where the Adventure Time pilot debuted. At Nick. It was inside the studio's makeshift theatre in the main building that doubles as a basketball court. The development slate for "Random Cartoons" was being unveiled, and the pilot called Adventure Time got a big reaction. And favorable buzz thereafter. As a staffer told me:

"It was the short that got the most "Who hoo!" from the audience. Everybody knew it was different, fresh. And most people liked it."

This, as I recall, was pretty much my reaction. The short wasn't like anything else in that batch of Frederator cartoon. For that matter, it wasn't like most other television cartoons on the air.

So what happened? Nick passed. But Fred Seibert, the top-kick whose company developed the shorts, went off and sold the show to Cartoon Network. And lo!

... Regularly winning Monday nights among all boys demos, Cartoon Network has now added key kids demos to its #1 TV destination claim for the night in early evening (7-9 p.m.). Regularly winning Monday nights among all boys demos, Cartoon Network has now added key kids demos to its #1 TV destination claim for the night in early evening (7-9 p.m.). ... Armed with a solid line-up of original animated shows, Cartoon Network ranked #1 for the night among kids 2-11, kids 6-11, boys 2-11, boys 6-11 and boys 9-14.

Original animated comedy series punctuated Monday night—The Amazing World of Gumball (7:30 p.m.), Adventure Time (8 p.m.), Regular Show (8:15 p.m.), and MAD (8:30 p.m.)—ALL ranked #1 in their timeslots among kids 2-11, boys 6-11, boys 2-11 and boys 9-14. ...

How did this come about? It wasn't too many years ago that I would listen to Cartoon Network managers complain about the net getting crappy ratings, how the live-action shows they were trying didn't get traction, how everything seemed to be circling the drain. Which maybe goes a ways to explaining why CN was open to making AT a series in the first place. They were a bit desperate, so they were in a receptive mood for something "different." As one of the artists who's been with the show from the beginning says:

Adventure Time doesn't follow the normal cartoon story arcs. It doesn't usually go where you expect it to go, it's more like improv. The characters do things you don't expect ...

This was all pretty evident when I was watching the pilot, there on the hard wood bleachers on Nick's basketball court. Maybe it's why Nick decided it wasn't for them. The piece was just a little too odd-ball, a little too weird.

Whatever the reason, I think we can stipulate that Viacom committed an unforced error when it passed off to Time-Warner, and so one monster conglom's loss became another monster's gain. But maybe in the end, given their girth and reach, all it amounts to for these behemoths is a rounding error anyway. And Nick can maintain a stiff upper lip and move on.

After all, it will always have SpongeBob Squarepants and Fairly Odd Parents. How many cash cows does it need?

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gentle Bear to the Savage Blade

... called Harry Potter?

... Winnie the Pooh debuts at 2,405 locations, seemingly like a lamb to the slaughter. In Box Office Mojo's polling, though, the traditionally animated movie has logged a solid 6.3 percent "opening weekend" score, similar to Mr. Popper's Penguins and slightly better than Zookeeper. ...

The Mojo isn't overly optimistic about the silly old bear's chances, predicting $11.5 million for the weekend box office.

Not great.

On the other hand, Rotten Tomatoes gives the hour-long film an 89% score, so hey. It could be worse.

The optimistic TAG blog will predict a $16.5 million WtP opening.

Click here to read entire post

Is the Glorious Soviet Cartoon

It is not, after all, just about America.

... The history of Soviet animation changed dramatically in the summer of 1933, when Moscow hosted the first-ever festival of American cartoons. Walt Disney cartoons produced an enormous impression on Soviet people; even Joseph Stalin was not left indifferent to Disney's animated art. ...

The legendary Soyuzmultfilm studio was established three years later ... organized as a copy of the US-based Disney's studio, with the use of the conveyor production technology. ...

The best Soviet cartoons of the "Disney period" such as "The Golden Antelope" (1954) or "The Snow Queen" (1957) can undoubtedly be referred to as masterpieces of international animated art. ...

And sixty years on, Disney returns the compliment with the development of its own SQ. But we should always remember how Uncle Joe took Soviet animation in its own unique direction.

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Ten Years

A decade ago I was .... doing this. Also a decade ago:

... While working as editorial director for Wizard, [Matthew] Senreich interviewed [actor Seth] Green, a fan of the magazine.

"He wanted to do a little animated short using his and Conan O'Brien's action figures. He didn't know how to do that," Senreich says.

He did, and the two men hit it off and began putting together sketch-comedy shorts under the title "Sweet J Presents."

"It was on this amazing website, but that was in the early days of Internet videos, and no one could watch them because dial-up took forever," he says. "It took an hour to watch a four-minute video." ...

The younger kid thinks that Robot Chicken is one of our national treasures, as does a large segment of a key television demographic which the younger kid inhabits. This is excellent news for Mr. Green and Mr. Senreich, as it means their show will continue thriving, even as it gives them additional fame and riches. Also kudos.

... This morning, much of the applause and plaudits went to “Robot Chicken,” which was nominated for both Outstanding Animated Program and Outstanding Short-Form Animated Program. The Cartoon Network show also received an Outstanding Voice-Over Performance nom for Seth Green.

Makes you reflect on what you've done with your own sad and empty life over the last 3,650 days.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mid July Linkages

A few animation-related reading bits.

Winnie the Pooh Rescuing WDAS? ...

Our Fine Entertainment Conglomerates Chasing the BOY Demographic.

Restoring Winsor McCay's "The Flying House" (1921-2011)

Perusing Alfred Hitchcock's Animated Cookbook

Watching a Day in the Life of John Lasseter (in only 25 minutes!)

Knowing The Five Best "Batman" Episodes

Disney owes Russia Taxes.

And so on and so forth.

Click here to read entire post

Markets Prevail

... Unless you're a megabank that can get the government to give you free money when you louse up. The rest of the time markets .... soon or later ... call the tune. Witness this from the Times of New York:

... The U.A.W. tried to persuade the Ford Motor Company to build the Fiesta subcompact in the United States. But Ford chose a plant in Mexico, where the combined wages and benefits of a production worker total less than $10 an hour. By contrast, a full-wage union member in the United States costs G.M. close to $60 an hour. Even an entry-level wage employee costs about $30 an hour in wages and benefits.

While it is not the only factor in producing a profitable subcompact, lower employment costs were critical to the decision to build [General Motor's new sub-compact] Sonic in Michigan. In a groundbreaking labor agreement, the union allowed G.M. to pay 40 percent of its union workers at Orion Township an “entry-level” wage that sharply reduces overall production costs.

“The entry-level wage structure was an important enabler, because obviously the smaller the car the less the margin,” said Diana D. Tremblay, G.M.’s head of labor relations. ...

Call this the flip-side of the recent BMW warehoue closing.

In the present case, the union and the car company were motivated to reach an accord for making the Sonic plant happen, so the deal got done.

Unions, like most corporations and normal human beings, have to deal with the realities they find in the actual world. Sometimes reality can be held off for a while (see "Sachs, Goldman") but most times, the cold hands of hard facts drag the borderline delusional back from positions that no longer hold up, much as they would like those positions to prevail.

I recall, two decades ago, the angry debate inside meetings at the IATSE. The IA would present a new, albeit "concessionary" contract to the assembled business agents, many would angrily denounce the "lousy rates," the "lousy conditions" and vote the deal down.

But over time, as more work went non-union, this attitude changed. More contracts that were less than Basic Agreement ideal were approved and came into existence. As a high-placed IA official said to the assembled multitude of union reps (which included me):

"The work's out there. The cable movies are getting done, the cable shows being made. And your members are doing them. They're just doing them without getting any benefits. The question is, you want the work done under a contract, or done non-union?"

It would be nice if everybody could get maximum wages with maximum bennies. But markets, as we say, have heavy influence. Yet unlike BMW in California, here General Motors and the UAW compromised with each other (and the forces of buy and sell) to keep employees working. Kudos to them.

Click here to read entire post

Questions about the wage survey

There have been enough questions asked about the wage survey in the comments from this post to justify starting a new post to answer them.

Q: Along with the regular survey results, how about including a supplemental page that lists every individuals salary amount and perhaps even where they are employed. Now that would be interesting and helpful. Why are you saving the employment information for internal use only?

A: The #1 objection I've heard from members to filling out the wage survey is the fear of other people finding out what you make. Openly publishing the survey results in the individual format you suggest would be counter-productive at best, not to mention a de facto betrayal of the promise of anonymity we've given to the membership as a condition of their sharing he data with us.

As we've made clear every time we publish the survey results, any member can call me to ask about results broken down by employer, category and/or media. Hundreds of members over the years have called to get a better idea of wage conditions in the specific department with which they're negotiating.

Q: All I was suggesting, Jeff, is that union members have the same access to wage information as you have. I don't see how anonymity is compromised when all submissions are anonymous and members have a choice whether or not to list where they work. Maybe the apathy would diminish if we could garnish more useful info from the survey rather than what the top, bottom and middle wage earners are making and wondering if it's based on a 40, 45 or 50 hour week.

A: As I thought I made clear, the membership has the same access to survey results as we do, they just have to call me to get it.

In one of the first years of the survey, there was a seven-person department at a studio -- a well-known artist (call her June K.) and six others working under her supervision. The survey tabulation showed three results for that department, two being paid about $100 over scale and another being paid $700 over scale. The staff member looked at the spreadsheet and noted: "Now I know what June K. makes." Since then, the percentage of survey participation has declined and the number of employers has increased, making it that much easier to make these kinds of informed presumptions.

To be honest, anyone applying for a job in that department could have called me and gotten the data. But that's a lot different than publicly publishing data from which anonymity could be so easily compromised. Again, that would violate our promise of anonymity in reporting the survey results, which is the precondition of many members for giving us their information.

Q: Plus I think it would be helpful if you guys simply asked "How much do you make in a normal work week?" instead of trying to explain the differences between people who are on 40, 45, and 50 hour contracts. I think a lot of people either don't pay attention to that at all or simply miscalculate because they misunderstand the wording. So because of that, I question the accuracy of the results, which leads to apathy on my part. Just a suggestion.

A: We have to ask the question about the set length of the on-call workweek, because without that specific information the salary data is meaningless for purposes of direct comparison.

Many if not most of our members are being paid on an "on-call" basis, meaning their standard weekly salary is computed based on a week that is longer than forty hours. So for example, if you're paid on a forty-five-hour week, your salary is based on forty hours straight-time and five hours of overtime per week. That means you get five hours of OT per week even if you didn't work past forty hours, but it also means you won't get additional pay unless you work more than five hours of OT.

The length of your standard workweek affects the computation of your salary:

  • A person being paid $2,500 for a 40-hour week is taking home $62.50 per hour.
  • A person being paid $2,500 for a 45-hour week is taking home $52.63 per hour (40 hours straight time plus 5 hours OT, equivalent to $2,105.20 for a forty-hour week).
  • A person being paid $2,500 for a 50-hour week is taking home $45.45 per hour (40 hours straight time plus 10 hours OT, $1,818.00 for a forty-hour week).

Since the Guild contract minimums are based on a forty-hour week, we use a forty-hour standard to compare the questionnaire results in computing the survey.

Anyone who doesn't know the length of their standard workweek should read the paperwork they signed when they were hired, or ask their H. R. department. Let us know if you have any questions.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

At the Diz

I spent a good part of the afternoon at the Disney Company's hat building, where there's more production happening ...

Wreck-It Ralph is well underway, with 100 staffers (if my informants have their numbers right) now working on the picture. A Chris Buck feature and King of the Elves are also moving briskly along.

Animators practicing the hand-drawn version of the craft are now doing test footage of characters in 2-D versions, although the characters will ultimately be rendered and executed as C.G. when the films are in production. An animator related:

"This is a way for directors to see how the characters move and act before the c.g. versions are built. We can get footage out faster for test purposes. ..."

I got to look at some tests. It will be interesting to see the same characters in their computer graphic mode.

And there is early work on a possible hand-drawn feature taking place, although staff said it's too early to say if it will ultimately get made or not. The most recent example of the craft gets released this weekend.

... "Winnie the Pooh" is the Walt Disney Animation Studios' first journey into the Hundred Acre Wood in more than three decades.

... "We are going to take down 'Harry Potter,' no question," said [producer Peter] Del Vecho ...

I'm sure it will be a horse race over the weekend.

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The Don Jurwich Interview -- Part II

When Don began producing television animation, he had to learn to work with the voice talent at recording sessions. His very first day in the director's booth proved interesting ....

TAG Interview with Don Jurwich

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Right out of the box, he found himself directing voice legen Mel Blanc. Mel didn't have an overly positive response when Don brought up all hte iconic voices Mr. Blanc created at Warner Bros. in the glory days of Looney Tunes ...

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Nepali Animation

Several firsts.

Alarmed by Bollywood training its lenses on the Buddha, Tulsi Ghimire is now making the first Buddha film from the Himalayan republic to bolster its claim to the founder of Buddhism. ...

“Gautam Buddha”, to be dubbed in English, Hindi, Sinhalese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and German, is going to be an animated film and the first animated feature film from Nepal.

“It would have cost far less had I chosen people to play the roles,” he says ruefully. “But I found that impossible. ..."

There haven't been a lot of animated features centering on the founders of major world religions. Christianity has Veggie Tales, but the Life of Christ mostly gets the live-action treatment.

The founder of Islam is off-limits, and has been for some time. (Who wants to go on a hit list?)

And India, where most Hindus live, hasn't taken much to animation of any stripe, religious or otherwise.

So we'll see how a long animated movie about the Buddha performs, box-office wise.

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Help level the playing field

Over this past weekend the return rate for the 2011 wage survey questionnaires topped twenty percent. We are guardedly optimistic that we can at the very least beat last year's return of 22.9%.

There are eleven days left to submit your wage survey questionnaire in advance of the July 22 extended deadline.

Remember that the information you give us is critical to an accurate view of the state of the industry, wage-wise. This is information that our employers already have, and we seek to make sure we have that information as well. It's about leveling the playing field.

If you didn't receive a questionnaire or have misplaced it, you have two simple alternatives:

  1. Contact me by e-mail and ask to have the survey and the postpaid return envelope mailed to you, or
  2. Download the form and mail, fax or e-mail it back to the attention of Jeff Massie. We will take the form and mix it with the ones we’ve received to guarantee your anonymity.

The wage survey results will be posted on this blog, on the e-mail list and website, and in the August Peg-Board. Don't leave yourself out of the process -- take two minutes to fill out and return your questionnaire, and do your part to help level the playing field.

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The Don Jurwich Interview -- Part I

Don Jurwich commenced his career in animation as a layout and background artist, but soon developed a yen for boarding and directing ...

TAG Interview with Don Jurwich

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

When Don graduated from art school, one of his teachers suggested that he call Disney, but Mr. Jurwich never applied to the studio for a job. After listening to the interview posted here, you'll understand why. (And kudos for the Mouse House for its honesty.)

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sour Chronicle

Oh my. posted a link to ReelGirl's gallery of girls gone missing pics of 2011 movie posters. ... Curious George, Nemo, Toy Story 3, Tangled, Gnomeo and Juliet, Up, Kung Fu Panda and Horton. The only girl front and center, out of 9 movie posters is Rapunzel (typical rescue story- can you see why girls are obsessed with princesses? ...)

There's not a single poster that features multiple girls and no boys in this particular montage.

... If women were running these animation studios, you'd never hear a quote like "unpredictable" to describe the slew of Pixar/ Disney movies where girls are continually relegated to the role of sidekick or princess. Instead of a G Rating, too many Pixar/ Disney movies should get a Triple S for major stereotyping ...

Blogger/columnist Margot MaGowan goes on to belittle the top kicks at Pixar/Disney for their reactionary policies regarding women in animated features.

Frankly, this is unfair. Pixar (and/or Walt Disney Animation Studios) only seem like boys' clubs. The fact that no women have ever headed up a feature from start to finish in Burbank or Emeryville is because everyone knows that women have minimal interest in animation, are mainly interested in cooking and child-rearing, and clearly don't have the imagination or pizazz to towel-snap with the story crews of a major, Class-A animation facility.

We ask you: What is Ms. MaGowan thinking? (And if somebody brings up the name "Katzenberg," they will be immediately beaten about the shoulders and head with words like "fart jokes," "low brow humor" and "lousy sequels." Pixar never stoops to the lame sequelitis thing.

Oh wait! ...)

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