Monday, April 30, 2012

Disney TVA's Sci Fi Entrant

Tron. (Based on the movies of the same name.)

A stylish-looking show, which will hopefully perform in a more robust way than its live-action forbears. (It looks like Bruce Timm was involved with the piece. But I'm betting not. But Diz Co. does have have Bruce Boxleitner supplying the voice of the title character.)
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Fox Sweeps Up Princes

From the Reporter:
... Fox Animation has acquired the movie rights to children’s book "The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom" by first-time author Christopher Healy.

Chernin Entertainment, which produced Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is attached to produce. ...

Where will this get produced? My first hunch would have been Fox-owned Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut, but with Chernin Entertainment -- a company owned by former Fox topkick Peter Chernin -- producing, maybe it goes to Weta Digital in New Zealand, maybe to a shop in Canada, maybe to some production house in Southern California.

(Chernin Entertainment has been involved in various types of animation. Rise of Planet of the Apes, most obviously, but also in television cartoons. Allen Gregory, a not overly successful prime-time animated half-hour, was in Chernin Entertainment's wheelhouse.)
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The Ron Clements Interview -- Part I

Sioux City in Iowa would seem a less than ideal launching pad for a long and successful animation career, but Ron Clements made that starting point work for him ...

TAG Interview with Ron Clements

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Working as the resident artist at a local Sioux City television station, teenaged Ron created his own animated short and got it on the Iowa airwaves. Soon after, a broadcast executive from Los Angeles saw his work, and told Mr. Clements that he could put him in touch with Hanna-Barbera. (Ron had communicated that he wanted to move into animation full-time.)

And Mr. Clements flew to Southern California, and what turned out to be the start of a new life.

After a four-month stint at H-B, Ron found his way into the animation training program at Walt Disney Productions. Disney veteran Frank Thomas became Ron's mentor, and Mr. Clements' advancement was rapid. A character animator on The Rescuers and Pete's Dragon, Ron was promoted to supervising animator for The Fox and the Hound ...
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

End-of-April Foreign Derby

Super heroes rule the roost:
... [T]he summer tentpole season opened offshore with a blast on the weekend as Marvel’s The Avengers opened in 39 territories on the foreign theatrical circuit, grossing a jaw droppingly robust $178.4 million. ...

On the animated front, Pirates! Band of Misfits collected $63.6 million. Globally, it's taken in $75 million. Meanwhile Dr. Seuss' the Lorax has a worldwide total of $296.2 million, thirty percent of which comes from abroad.
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Focus on the "Okay." Forget About "Perfect."

The lament of New York Times columnist Joe Nocera is one I hear a lot:
" "... "The bull market ended with the bursting of that bubble in 2000. My tech-laden portfolio was cut in half. A half-dozen years later, I got divorced, cutting my 401(k) in half again. A few years after that, I bought a house that needed some costly renovations. Since my retirement account was now hopelessly inadequate for actual retirement, I reasoned that I might as well get some use out of the money while I could. So I threw another chunk of my 401(k) at the renovation. That's where I stand today." ...

Everybody has their own sob story. Twenty-four years ago, mine was: $350 a week job. No benefits. Fifty-hour weeks.

A year later I landed a union gig under a TAG contract that almost tripled my salary. Nine months later, the studio went out of business and I was unemployed again. Nine months after that, I ran for union business representative (over my wife's bitter opposition) and finally started to save a bit of money.

I was forty years old.

The Mrs. and I have been saving ever since. We've made good moves and bad moves, but the one thing we've learned as we've grown older is to avoid concentrating bets (no stocks, but lots diversified mutual funds), and to keep things conservative (lots of bonds.) When you're on the cusp of geezerhood and have built up a stash, it's a good idea to preserve capital.

The biggest mistakes investors make is A) chasing hot investments, and B) freaking out and bailing when investments go south. As Tim McAleenan at Seeking Alpha observes:

Nocera's certainly not the only person who owned too many tech stocks in the late 1990s and got burned, ... But what caught my attention was this: Since my retirement account was now hopelessly inadequate for actual retirement, I reasoned that I might as well get some use out of the money while I could. So I threw another chunk of my 401(k) at the renovation. That is the kind of logic that I want to go to great lengths to avoid....

Not being the smartest investor west of the Mississippi isn't what will bring you down. It's making stupid moves, over and over again. If you can avoid the dumb mistakes, and stick to a sensible investment plan, you'll end up fine.

And if you don't start putting money away? Then Dr. William J. Bernstein has a think-piece for you. It's called "A Nation of Wal-Mart Greeters." Yeowch.
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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Organizing

Last week, TAG and the IA held another meet in Culver City with visual effects artists. I didn't attend but I'm informed it went well ...

But I had occasion to talk to a visual effects staffer who told me:

Sony's working to move more animators and lighters to Vancouver. They've been offering cg techs and artists the same wages on a fifty-hour week in Canada. This was all going on before the IA's organizing drive.

Vancouver's a pricey city and people who're going up there are being asked to take a pay cut. Which, I'm sorry, is what the fifty-hour week at the same L.A. weekly rate is. There's talk between artists about going union. Unionization isn't viewed by most as a bad thing, like it was before the union election years ago. Now people are looking at it, fewer employees are dismissing it, like before. Some supervisors are against, but the overall atmosphere is different this time.

Salaries are going up in China and India, especially for people who know what they're doing. Here, wages have been flat or declining. So the gap is narrowing between artists in foreign studios who are good at what they do and artists here in California. ...

As we've noted before: It's not enough to be a lower cost foreign animation studio. You also need to be a low cost facility with a crew that knows what it's doing. This is often harder to do than many execs imagine.
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Hand Drawn

Last week I had a lengthy sit-down with director/animator/writer Ron Clements. (The interview gets posted next week. Consider it a companion piece to the John Musker interview.) ...

Ron talks about his start in animation in Sioux City, Iowa, his brief flirtation with the School of Visual Arts in New York, his decision to come out to California and try to break in to the animation business, starting at the bottom.

And it was "the bottom," as defined in the early 1970s. Ron's first job was as an in-betweener for Hanna-Barbera. (Seasonal work. Thirty-nine years later, it's non-existent work.)

Mr. Clements goes into detail about his early years at the House of Mouse, developing (and executing) the various features that he and John directed, and he talks about the state of animation today.

He laments that hand-drawn animation is in decline, since he really loves the art form. He says that he and Mr. Musker are working on a new project with hand-drawn animation in it. When it gets made, he doesn't know, since he reveals it's in early development.

He lists his two favorite Disney animated features as Pinocchio and 101 Dalmations.
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Fifth Place Pirates

Not the ball club, mates and comrades. The movie.

The weekend derby saw box-office holdovers at the head of the pack, and new-comers -- including Aardman's new entry -- back several lengths ...

1. Think Like A Man (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [2,015 Theaters] PG13
Friday $5.5M (-55%), Weekend $17.5M, Cume $60.7M

2. The Lucky One (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,175 Theaters] PG13
Friday $3.9M (-57%), Weekend $12.0M, Cume $40.6M

3. The Five-Year Engagement (Universal) NEW [2,936 Theaters] R
Friday $3.5M, Weekend $10.5M

4. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Week 6 [3,572 Theaters] PG13
Friday $2.9M, Weekend $10.6M, Cume $372.0M

5. Pirates! Band of Misfits (Sony) NEW [3,358 Theaters] PG
Friday $2.7M, Weekend $10.9M

6. Safe (Lionsgate) NEW [2,266 Theaters] R
Friday $2.6M, Weekend $6.9M,

7. The Raven (Intrepid/Relativity) NEW [2,203 Theaters] R
Friday $2.5M, Weekend $6.8M,

8. Chimpanzee (Disney) Week 2 [1,567 Theaters] G
Friday $1.6M, Weekend $5.2M, Cume $18.6M

9. Cabin In The Woods (Lionsgate) Week 3 [2,639 Theaters] R
Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $34.6M

10. The Three Stooges (Fox) Week 3 [3,105 Theaters] PG
Friday $1.3M, Weekend $5.4M, Cume $37.5M

The speculation that Pirates would hit $15 million opening weekend doesn't appear to be panning out.

Add On: Box Office Mojo has Pirates coming in #2 for the weekend, but loser to the Nikkster's earlier totals -- $11.4 million. (Mojo compares Pirates to other stop motion epics here.)

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Fifteen Million

It appears that the Brit stop-motion studio can't catch a break.
[Aardman's] films hit mild degrees of performance the whole way through, and Pirates! isn't going to be the movie to break that lackluster stride. ... The widest new release title won't help it much, either. At just over 3300 screens, Pirates! has roughly the same count as 2011's Arthur Christmas, a film that opened to $12m. ...

Weekend Projection: $15.6m (#3 on The Chart)

AC was well-reviewed but badly attended. Thus far, Pirates! is collecting equally strong reviews. Why this doesn't translate into higher box office, God only knows.

Maybe the globe just doesn't glom onto Brit humor.
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Investigation Time?

The Securities and Exchange Commission, it asks questions.
U.S. regulators are investigating major U.S. movie studios' dealings with China as the entertainment companies try to get a greater foothold in one of the fastest-growing movie markets in the world.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has sent letters of inquiry to at least five movie studios in the past two months, including News Corp's 20th Century Fox, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation, a person familiar with the matter said.

The letters ask for information about potential inappropriate payments and how the companies dealt with certain government officials in China, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the letters.

Could there be ... palms being greased? I get the vapors just thinking about it. How could our fine Entertainment companies even think of doing such a thing?

I'm sick.
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hand Drawn?

Ain't It Cool Nooz quotes Diz Co.'s animation research library:
... Ron [Clements] and John [Musker] are currently working to develop the next hand-drawn feature at Disney Animation. (Sorry, we can’t tell you what that is.) ...

Hand-drawn? The way Princess and the Frog is hand-drawn?

Uuuhhhhhh ....
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Fred Moore's Reluctant Dragon

Mega Collector gifts us with some Fred Moore animation poses from Disney's 1941 release. You can judge the work with your own eyes, but Ward Kimball told me long ago ...

... [On Reluctant Dragon] Fred’s work began to look crude.

Now that’s a hell of a thing to say, but I’m talking relatively speaking. I noticed it on Dragon. Fred was given the knight with the little boy, and what had been the acceptable way on The Three Little Pigs and in some cases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there were parts, even though they were drawn well, that were crude, timing-wise.

Fred would hit a pose and just freeze there and while we were already loosening those things up and putting in the subtle things that would keep [the animation] alive a long time. That’s what I meant, that at that time Fred was drinking heavily, and I was secretly going in with his exposure sheets and adding these other little drawings that would make them work with the rest of the animation that was being done on the picture. ...
Anyway, that's Mr. Kimball's take. Feel free to make your own assessment.

First half of RD:

And the second half:

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Jim Hiltz, 1927-2012

Jim Hiltz (left) and Paul Driessen, 2001.

Eddy Houchins writes us:
I just got word from a friend in Montreal that Jim Hiltz has just passed away. He would have been about 85, as he is approximately the same age as my own Dad. Jim was a great director, animator and teacher. Jim worked at Terrytoons, animating "Heckle and Jekyll" and went on to various commercial and tv houses including Film Fair and Bill Melendez Studios.

He was probably best known for his work on much of the Jay Ward product, including directing some of the "Fractured Fairy Tales" and "Super Chicken" and "Tom Slick." Sometime in the 1970's Jim emigrated to Canada where he worked as the lead animator and director at Michael Mills Studios helping create animated commercials and award winning short films, including the 1980 Oscar nominated "History of the World in Three Minutes Flat."

As a young animator I got my first "real" job at Michael Mills' place in 1980 and immediately met Jim who took me and all the other young animators under his wing. In those days we had not just respect, but downright AWE for the older guys who had "been there." We hung on his every word and studied his pencil tests frame by frame, soaking up his drawing skills and timing finesse. At night, after he'd go home, we'd slip into his office and sit and flip his drawings on a light table just to study "the real thing." I learned more about animation from my three years working under Jim as my director than I ever learned in school or on any other job.

After his stint at Mills, he freelanced and taught at Concordia University for awhile, and I suppose eventually retired. After I left Canada in 1991 I lost touch with him, but got the word today from my old friend, Normand Rompre, a former cameraman from Mills' studio that Jim had passed.

I remember I was at the Ottawa Festival with him in 1983 and June Foray and Bill Scott were there and performed a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" script live to our delight. Afterwards, I was standing with Jim in the lobby and when June walked out, he said to me, "hang on, I have to say hello to an old friend." He walked up to June, said, "Remember me?" and she screamed, "JIM!!!" and practically jumped into his arms. Maybe you guys can break the news to her. I sure can't.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Long(er) Trailer

The animation for HT will be wrapped by summer. ...

The movie comes out in early Fall, so it has to be tied up with a bow by June or July.

One of the staffers told me that Genddy is bringing a lot of visual flair to the picture (obvious from the trailer) and that the animation crew is doing superior work.

Whether or not that translates into big box office remains to be seen. (It also needs to be fresh and funny, no?) But Hotel Transylvania will be the first animated feature out of the gate during autumn time, so it could well attract solid box office.

(Some critics are skeptical, but first weekend grosses will either reinforce the naysayers ... or silence them.)
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How Strong Is The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan?

Completing our trifecta regarding TAG pension and health plans ...

Animation Guild veterans often ask us:
"So ... Will I ever get a pension? Will the pension plan even be around when I'm ready to hang it up? ...

For the fretful, here are some answers, courtesy of the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan.
The Plan must report how well it is funded by using a measure called the "funded percentage. This percentage is determined by dividing the Plan's assets by its liabilities. ... [T]he higher the percentage, the better funded the plan.

Funded percentage (2011) -- 83.2%

Value of assets -- $3,088,722,000

Value of liabilities -- $3,714,500,000

Total Participants -- 71,742

Plan Investments

Cash - 2%

Government bonds -- 17%

Corporate bonds -- 14%

Equities -- 17%

Real estate -- 6%

Interest bearing accounts -- 42%

Other -- 2%

What I've done here is truncate a longer document. (No point in having eyes glaze over.)

It's important to note that federal law requires retirement plans to be above 80% for the funding of liabilities to be in what's called "the green zone." The MPIPP has been in that zone for the past two years. (There are other, less desirable zones in the federal color chart. These usually spell T.R.O.U.B.L.E.)
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Health plans: comparing apples to apples

Here's an interesting chart breaking down the differences among the health plans offered under the AFTRA, DGA, SAG and WGAw contracts, versus the IATSE's proposed benefits for the contract effective August 1, 2012 (listed as the MPI Health Plan).

Mike Miller, the IA's Hollywood vice-president, notes:

It is important to note that the only changes in this summary related to the MPIPHP benefits from the current MPIPHP benefits is the inclusion of the premiums for dependents of members which will be effective January 1, 2013. All of the other benefits remain unchanged.

All in all, this gives a bit of perspective ...

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Socking it Away

The older I get, the more I believe that keeping things simple is almost always the best way to go. Here's a few simple economic things:

1) You don't live below your means and put money away for later, you'll live to regret it.

2) When you're working, you should fund every jam and jelly jar that federal and state governments offer. This means funding ROTH IRAs, 401(k) Plans, SEP IRAs (where applicable) and anything else that gives you a tax or economic break.

3) When you're funding these things, you should stay away from high-cost, actively managed funds that charge you up the ying-yang. Over time, most of them under-perform index funds and stick you with the bill.

4) In the TAG 401(k) Plan, we have lots of investment options, almost all of them good. But here are the best options: ...

The Vanguard Target Retirement (TR) Funds are lifecycle offerings, providing investors with a variety of highly diversified all-in-one portfolios. The products are structured as funds-of-funds, charging only weighted averages of the expense ratios associated with the underlying holdings, which are primarily indexed.

While the Funds are ostensibly designed for investors retiring in a given year (approximately), they may be used for other goals or for markedly different retirement dates, depending on a particular shareholder's objectives and risk tolerance. ...

Each of the Funds, except the Vanguard Target Retirement Income Fund (TR "Income"), has a date specified in its name. They become more conservative over time, shifting their asset allocations from equities toward fixed income.

The Funds' prospectus indicates that within seven years of the stated date, a given offering's asset allocation will come to resemble TR Income's. Vanguard's TR Income Fund has a static allocation, intended primarily for the needs of retired persons. As of 2/2011, the twelve Target Retirement funds hold a total of about $120 billion in assets; (for comparison, Vanguard 500 index holds $105 billion).
Why the personal investing post? You can guess, can't you? It's time again for 401(k) enrollment meetings:

* Walt Disney Animation Studios (Southside Building) -- Wednesday, April 25th, 2p.m. Room 1300

* Warner Bros. Animation -- Thursday, April 26th, 2 p.m. Building 34R -- Main Conference Room

* Disney Television Animation (Sonora Building) -- Tuesday, May 1st, 2 p.m., Room 1172

* Disney Television Animation (Empire Center) -- Thursday May 3rd, 2 p.m. Room 5223

* Fox TV Animation -- Wednesday, May 9th 2 p.m., Main Conference Room

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Interesting Day

Did a 401(k) meeting and walk-through at a signator studio today, like I've done a jillion times before.

I finish the meeting, then go to offices and cubicles to see if there's someone who might have missed the Hulett financial tutorial and wants to fill out paperwork. ...

And a production person comes up to me in a hallway and says:

"X [a company exec] is happy to give you a place for the meeting, but doesn't want you to be wandering through the studio afterward."

I smile and say I hear what she's saying, but I always wander around afterward and I'm not going to stop now. I tell the production person I'm happy to talk to the exec, but there's a clause in the contract that gives me the right to be in the studio. The production person replies that the exec is out for the day, and she's relaying the message.

I tell her I'm not leaving until I finish my walk about. The production person nods and goes away, (no frowning disapproval ... or attitude ... at all.) And I continue going cubicle to office, handing out my handy 401(k) enrollment books and answering the usual questions.

I found the whole thing odd. But then, we live in odd times.
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Animation Expansion

While other broadcast networks shrink from the task, one corporate entity has decided it knows where the gold is.
Fox found its first property for its Saturday night animation block.

The network announced Tuesday that it will adapt Axe Cop, a web comic created by a then-5-year-old and his 29-year-old brother.

Fox earlier this year announced that it would launch a 90-minute late-night animation block on Saturdays, tapping former Adult Swim executives Nick Weidenfeld and Hend Baghdady to oversee the effort. ...

Rupert and his minions are (I think) going after some of the Saturday Night Live and Cartoon Network crowds with new animation. Not a stupid thing to do, if the price is right.

And if some of the product is a little more expensive that they'd like, so what? Animated hits have a long shelf life. So, for that matter, do semi-hits. Know any other fifty-year-old situation comedies making as much money in the 21st century as The Flintstone?

Why only Fox has figured this "half hour cartoon on the teevee" thing out, I have no idea. But they've made a lot of money with it.
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Monday, April 23, 2012

Cloudy With a Chance of Legos

The industry media tells us:
Warner Bros. announced today that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) are in production on an untitled, 3-D computer animated LEGO movie, set for release on Feb. 28, 2014. Based on the LEGO Construction Toys, Lord and Miller also penned the script, with Dan and Kevin Hageman, writers on the Cartoon Network’s LEGO series Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, getting “story by” credit.

When Miller and Lord took over Cloudy at Sony Pictures Animation, they grabbed the reins from a long procession of directors who had preceded them.

I remember at the time, a lot of the veteran story artists at SPA, conditioned to revolving managers and less than optimum executive decisions, were a wee bit skeptical whether two comedy writers who'd never directed animation would make a credible feature when so many others had failed.

At the time, the expectation was that the two would perform a matched set of face plants ... and still other directors would replace them. The directors' own assessment?

Lord: ... On Cloudy, there was a cut that was like-

Miller: It was like Airplane.

Lord: Every 20 minutes was like the funniest 20 minutes you’d ever seen, and the entire movie was incredibly boring. People fell asleep.

Miller: That was in the animatic stage. And so then we were like, oh, all right, we’ll have to make you care, I guess. ...

And whattayaknow? They did.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller created Sony's first animated hit, and the team then moved on to direct a live-action moneymaker. And now they're back with a feature that will be produced by Animal Logic in Australia.
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Cameron Jumps In

... to the Middle Kingdom?

“Avatar” and “Titanic” film director James Cameron said on Sunday that he was looking at co-production of films in China, but would have to weigh issues like censorship and other restrictions before making any decisions.

So of course the inevitable questions: "Will Cameron start doing visual effects in China?" "Will Cameron shift production to China?"

The gossip I heard from visual effects artists on Friday was that Mr. Cameron wanted to do visual effects for Avatar 2 in Southern California. (Of course, I've also heard that everything is going to Canada, what with their spiffy tax rebates and all. And James C. is Canadian, so maybe that makes sense?)

But rebates come and rebates go, and it's still necessary to have pipelines that work and pools of talent who can get the jobs done. China must first ramp up the domestic CG workforce to where it can handle the quantity and quality of outside productions. It kind of defeats the purpose of "cost savings" to have shots that are created in Shanghai then shipped back to Los Angeles for repairs.
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Bye Bye Anonymous

New Rule.

As of now, you want to post a comment, you register. ...

You want to be anonymous, you're now out of luck.

Probably should have done this awhile ago, but better late than never. Have a fabulous day.
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Sunday, April 22, 2012


"Story Basics," via President Emeritus Sito, from story artist Emma Coats:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different. ...

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there. ...

I've always thought that stories were organic rather than mechanistic. Emma's right. You have to work your way through the tale, write it to the end, to see what you've got. And what works and doesn't work.

Laying stories out on paper changes them. You discover that things you thought were terrific at initial creation don't fit, and that you have to kill some sweet, lovable ideas because the road you ended up traveling didn't allow them to live.

Everybody gets the "beginning, middle, end" thing. Everybody understands "rising action" and "character arcs" and making lead characters active rather than passive. (As we say, "acting" instead of "acted upon.") But there are no rigid rules for good stories. They grow naturally, a little bit at a time. Kind of like life.
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Animated Foreign Box Office

Long-form cartoons appear to be pulling in dollars in lands beyond our shores.

Pirates! Band of Misfits, which opens Friday (April 27) in the U.S. and Canada, hoisted its foreign gross total to $55.9 million thanks to a $7.8 million weekend. ...

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax elevated its foreign gross total to $83.3 million after a $5.1 million weekend ...

Puss In Boots, $404.5 million ...

If we're toting up grosses on a global basis, our totals would be:

Puss in Boots -- $553,800,000

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax -- $290,255,000

Pirates: Band of Misfits -- ditto from above
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Shifting Tides

Fifteen-plus years ago, when cgi work began coming into the Animation Guild's wheelhouse, there were a lot of cg artists who were fiercely independent and not used to being members of a labor organization. I heard from many, "We don't need no union! We make our OWN deals!" But now, close to two decades later, hearts and minds are changing:
... I am fearful of the time when I am told "goodbye and thanks!", even when I know it's coming... and even when I have work lined up elsewhere.

Living with the fear of not having my family covered by insurance is perhaps the toughest thing affecting my life right now. It's not burn-out. I am a cg stud. I know the drill. If we had universal health care, my life would be sooo much different.

That's why I am no longer scoffing at the idea of a union. Storing insurance hours I am not nuts about, but at least I wouldn't have to face COBRA costs at layoff time, which for my family are upwards of $1,700 per month (to maintain PPO level insurance). Two months of COBRA almost kills any savings one has saved up with all the overtime taken in. ...

There are, it seems, only so many cow-flop sandwiches that people are willing to eat. When a management exec says "Long hours? No overtime? That's the way the industry is. It's standard practice," the song-and-dance begins to get old.

"Standard practice" isn't immutable. When editors, make-up artists, grips and other on-set employees had no unions, they came into work and moved sets and pushed cameras "until they fell down." (The words of an old-timer who was there to witness the unending hours and total exhaustion.)

Standard practice. Then film-workers got unionized and the conditions of employment got better. When somebody tells me that "This is just the way things are," I always smile and nod and think to myself: "Until they're not." Slavery used to be a constitutionally-protected right for slave owners. Women didn't have the right to vote. Booze was legal to drink, then it wasn't, then it was again. It's always useful to remember that most everything is arbitrary and everything is temporary. It not only helps keep you sane, but it motivates you to push for making things a bit more bearable in the here and now.

Because nothing is forever. So why not work to make the next thirty-six months an improvement over the last thirty-xis months?
Click here to read entire post

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Home Team Ticked

Apparently the folks in the highlands are a wee bit agitated:

SCOTS film-maker Tessa Hartmann has slammed Alex Salmond’s Scottish Government, accusing them of ignoring her animated feature in favour of Disney Pixar movie Brave. Sir Billi, which has been in production for six years, premiered at the Sonoma International Film Festival in California last weekend.

But American-made Brave has been picked out as a highlight of the Edinburgh Film Festival later this year and is being promoted heavily by Visit Scotland. Tessa, who openly backs the Tories, said: “The Scottish Government have put £7million of above-the-line advertising and promotions into Brave. ...

The problem with the Scottish locals' CG movie is ... well, the bits and pieces I have seen didn't knock me out. (And the critics have not been kind.)

The clips floating around the intertubes come off like Jimmy Neutron episodes. The art form has moved waaay past Jimmy. Click here to read entire post

Your Springtime Box Office

With cartoons absent from the Top Ten:

1. Think Like A Man (Screen Gems/Sony) NEW [2,015 Theaters] PG13
Friday $12.0M, Weekend $30.0M

2. The Lucky One (Warner Bros) NEW [3,155 Theaters] PG13
Friday $9.0M, Weekend $25M

3. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Week 5 [3,752 Theaters] PG13
Friday $3.8M, Weekend $13.1M, Cume $355.6M

4. Chimpanzee (DisneyNature) NEW [1,563 Theaters]
Friday $3.4M, Weekend $10.5M

5. The Three Stooges (Fox) Week 2 [3,482 Theater] PG
Friday $2.4M (-56%), Weekend $8.4M, Cume $28.5M

6. The Cabin In The Woods (Lionsgate) Week 2 [2,811 Theaters] R
Friday $2.3M (-56%), Weekend $7.4M, Cume $26.5M

7. American Reunion (Universal) Week 3 [3,033 Theaters] R
Friday $1.6M, Weekend $6.2M, Cume $48.2M

8. Titanic 3D (Paramount/Fox) Week 3 [2,515 Theaters] PG13
Friday $1.3M, Weekend $4.8M, Cume $52.6M

9. 21 Jump Street (Sony) Week 6 [2,427 Theaters] R
Friday $1.2M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $126.8M

10. Mirror Mirror (Relativity) Week 4 [2,938 Theaters] PG
Friday $1.0M, Weekend $3.5M, Cume $54.0M ...

Lorax finally fell from the Golden Ten near the end of the week. Through Friday (or thereabouts) it had collected $205,253,265.

Add On: Final weekend box office over-performs.

... After ruling the domestic box office for four consecutive weekends -- the most since Avatar -- Lionsgate's Hunger Games fell to No. 3, grossing $14.5 million for a domestic total of $357 million. Overseas, the tentpole has now grossed $215.8 million for a whopping global total of $572.8 million. ...
Click here to read entire post

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Culver City Gathering

04/21: Add-On's at the bottom ..

Steve Kaplan and I spent a large part of the afternoon in Culver City with IA reps Peter Marley and Vanessa Holtgrewe, hosting an "informal" meeting of visual effects artists in the lobby of the Culver City Hotel ...

Driving down from the Valley, we made cryptic jokes about nobody showing up, that it might morph into a drab little lunch with the four of us staring at each other. And no takers.

We got to the Culver City Hotel a bit before noon. The lobby was empty. I grabbed some sandwiches from across the street, and when I got back there were twenty-five or thirty artists clustered around Peter, Vanessa and Mr. Kaplan, asking for rep cards, asking questions about health care, pension plans, and how this union thing would benefit them.

We explained that the goal was to get the visual effects community under a cloak of benefits so they could add to their pensions and keep their health coverage no matter what visual effects project they worked on in Southern Cal. The crowd was receptive, and we handed out a lot of representation cards (and got a bunch handed back, signed.)

By the end of the afternoon, seventy-five visual effects crew members came through the lobby. One veteran told me:

"There's got to be a better way to do these things. The studios putting their big visual effects pictures out for bid and the vfx houses cutting each others' throats underpricing each other doesn't work well for anybody. Directors need to be in the post-production phase, looking at the shots as they come together, looking at the artists working at terminals and watching what they're doing, same as on a live-action set. There's no need to do a shot over and over, especially if the director of the picture is there.

"Things have to change."

This meeting marks only the first few steps of a long hike, but we're going to do whatever it takes to reach out and get visual effects artists and technical directors under the big union tent.

Dave McNary of Variety writes of the meeting here.

Kaplan here ..

The turnout yesterday was truly inspiring. As Hulett mentioned, we estimated around 70-80 people from all over Southern Cal who took the time to wade through Friday traffic to show up at the Culver. Hat Tip to Dave Rand and Scott Squires for showing up and continuing to participate in this important discussion.

The energy was high and the questions flowed as all IATSE representatives had the opportunity to form their own groups and address the attendees in small groups. As Steve mentioned above, the questions weren't new or shocking, but I feel the impact of having reps available and "in the flesh" made a big difference.

Peter and Vanessa echoed those sentiments to me as we departed lovely Culver City. We agreed that it would be a huge mistake not to continue meetings like that .. not only for Imageworks employees, but for the Los Angeles visual effects community as a whole.

Click here to read entire post

What Took the Mouse So Long?

Now WHO would have thought?

Rich Ross was forced out as chairman of Walt Disney Studios on Friday, ending a two-and-a-half year tenure that was more notable for continued misses than hits.

His departure marks a rare misstep by Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive. After firing Disney’s previous movie chairman in September 2009, Mr. Iger stunned Hollywood by handing the job of a studio turnaround to Mr. Ross, whose career until then was spent entirely in TV. ...

So Richard R. writes his minions, "I no longer believe the chairman role is the right professional fit for me ..."

No shit, Sherlock. You can't louse up as operatically as you've managed to do, and continue to hold your exalted position. Doesn't happen in conglomerate land.

Bad results almost always have bad consequences, sooner or later.

(The Nikkster's take.)
Click here to read entire post

The "Informal" Imageworks Meeting

What was supposed to be an "informal meeting" with artists of Imageworks, has apparently been transformed into a newsworthy event.
Richard Verrier of the LA Times shared the story

Jonathan Handel of THR brought it to their readers

Dominic Patten picked it up for Deadline Hollywood
(with some slight errors, Peter Marley is an IATSE Representative not a TAG employee)

Also noteworthy is Mr. Verrier's piece that headed the LA Times Business section this morning on the on-going struggle of visual effects artists in Los Angeles.

VFX Soldier has called this the VFX Spring, relating this to the rebirth of awareness and the unionization effort. While its our belief the organization drive for visual effects was never withdrawn, we are certainly happy to see public awareness of the issues at hand, as well as the option of unionization, raised by the media.

We hope to meet all interested parties at the Culver Hotel today.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TAG Negotiations

TAG's negotiation committee has been in talks with animation producers for the past three days for a new three-year deal ...

This morning we broke off the negotiations, as we are far apart with the producers and there didn't appear to be any simple way to bridge the yawning chasm.

Just so you know.
Click here to read entire post

Wage Kings

Wages for your favorite execs:

Rupert Murdoch ... made $33.3 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011, up 46 percent from the year before. ... Leslie Moonves, who got $69.9 million, up 21 percent. ... Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman's $84.5 million in cash and stock made him the highest-paid CEO in America ...

It's still good to be the king. ...

All these fine folks are clearly worth every penny. Mel Brooks is right. Boy, is he right.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Meeting with Imageworks artists

This time last week, we commented on Cartoon Brew's interview with artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks who have taken up the cause of forming a union at the studio. I commented at the bottom of the post how proud I was of these artists for proactively initiating the organization drive. It shows great courage and indicates how times and sentiments in visual effects have changed over the last few years.

We were approached after the artists started their campaign and have aided in any way we were able. That's included suggesting ways to reach out to their colleagues, provided content for their website as well as reached out to the NLRB regarding their concerns over signing Representation Cards.

This week we're going to start taking a more active role. We've agreed to hold meetings for the Imageworks artists starting this week. IATSE Representative Vanessa Holtgrewe and I will be available to meet with artists on Friday at the Culver Hotel between 12-3.

The Culver Hotel is located at 9400 Culver Blvd in Culver City. The artists of the SPIUnion collective have asked that all vfx artists interested in asking questions feel free to attend the meeting. We'll have some information about the health and pension plans as well as some representation cards and return, stamped envelopes. We hope any and all vfx artist interested in learning about unionization and the organization process are able to attend. You'll be able to recognize me by my tell-tale TAG hat:

Location of the hotel:

View Larger Map
Click here to read entire post

The Next From Portland

The stop-motion studio of the Northwest plans to stay in the animation game.

Laika, the Portland-based animation company behind 2009's Coraline, has optioned Goblins, an upcoming children's book by Philip Reeve, and has attached Mark Gustafson, the animation director of Fantastic Mr. Fox, to helm the adaptation.

Gustafson, as reports go, didn't have an easy time of it on Fantastic Mr. Fox with the first-time stop motion director:

"[Wes Anderson was] keeping his distance from the set and directing via e-mail, sending in his favorite DVDs to give an impression of what he'd like to see."

Directing by e-mail? Kind of a new way to goose performances. FF grossed something around $46 million, so I doubt the method will be used again.

My bet is that Mr. Gustafson won't be at his computer during Goblins, reading electronic messages. My bet is he's through with that, since Wes Anderson won't be involved with the production.

Click here to read entire post

The Russ Edmonds Interview -- Part II

Mr. Edmonds' first assignment at the Mouse House was animating on Oliver and Dodger, the leads in Oliver & Co. Management was so pleased with the work that he found himself working on more four-legged characters ...

TAG Interview with Russ Edmonds

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Through most of the nineties, Russ was one of Disney's quadriped specialists. He supervised the sheepdog Max in The Little Mermaid, the lioness Sarabi in Lion King, the ape Kala in Tarzan, and an abundance of horses in Home on the Range.

Which isn't to say that Russ hasn't done a lot of two-legged characters (Phoebus in Hunchback of Notre Dame) and even no-legged characters (the Genie in the John-and-Ron picture). It's just that Russ likes and owns horses, and his outside hobby has run over into his professional work.

But it's good when all your interests conjoin, yes?

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


While we were consumed with negotiations, this story broke:

... Disney has feature film plans for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, one of its longest-running theme park rides. The studio has set iconic commercials and video director Pete Candeland to develop a live-action/CGI mix feature that will bring to life a theme park ride that originated in Disneyland on its opening in 1955. The twisting, turning ride was also popular at Walt Disney World in Florida ... Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is based on Disney’s adaptation of The Wind In The Willows. ...

Disney's original '49 release, a half-hour featurette paired with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was originally conceived as a feature. But that was before World War II, before the studio fell on tough times. Long-form animation was put on a back burner in favor of "package films" through much of the 1940s, and Mr. Toad found his way to the big screen paired with Ichabod Crane in the final months of the decade. The picture was entitled The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

Jack Kinney, usually a shorts director, was tasked with the job of remolding The Wind in the Willows feature material into a briskly-paced half-hour. This meant taking the footage that had already been done, whittling it down, and creating new bridges to telescope and complete the story.

Kinney's handiwork was successful enough to merit multiple re-issues, theme park rides, and now a big-budget hybrid feature that will likely cost a few dollars more than the original. Not bad for a picture that didn't seem good enough to make into a full-blown feature back during the Golden Age of animation.

(And the book on which all the above enterprises are based? One of the great kid novels of all time.)

Click here to read entire post

The Russ Edmonds Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Russ Edmonds

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Russ Edmonds was working as an engineer at the Three-Mile Island nuclear plant when an urge to work at another job overcame him ...

A self-taught artist, he wrote Disney Feature Animation inquiring about work in Cartoonland. Disney suggested that he knock on California Institute of the Arts door, which he did. And a few, short years later, he was animating on Brad Bird's "Family Dog" and getting himself hired at Disney Feature ...

Click here to read entire post

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hat Building Hallway

I keep forgetting to mention the hall display near the entrance inside Disney's Hat Building ....

They've got thirty or forty feet of Wreck-It Ralph artwork and videos, also character designs from the movie. As evidenced from the poster above, the feature has some witty graphics. You know, "Donkey Kong" kind of stuff, all those low-rez, eight-bit visuals that dominated mall arcades and pizza joints in the 1970s and early 1980s, embedded in glowing cathode ray tubes.

Which the poster above emphasizes. (But it's a lot more than that.)

Disney's been hiring more crew to work on the feature, what with its compressed schedule and all, and the buzz around the shop is good. Everyone (at least, everyone I talk to) think it's a winner.

Best part for me is, the place has a lot of shows in development, lots of directors assigned to stuff, and projects are getting go-aheads for further work. At last. This is in contrast to a couple of years ago when development was a lot thinner.

It's going to be interesting to see whether it's Wreck-It Ralph or Brave that gets the loudest critical hossanahs (and biggest box-office) when they're released in summer and fall.

Click here to read entire post

TAG Negotiations

As usual, the Animation Guild is the last IA local into contract negotiations. (Having been exiled from the bargaining unit in 1982, it's kind of inevitable.)

I've gotten questions about the health and pension deal just negotiated by the IA and will end up, if past is harbinger for the future, part of our deal. Here's some of the bullet points: ...

The Motion Picture Industry Health Plan will charge

* No premiums premiums for members without dependents ...

* $25 a month for one dependent ...

* $50 a month for members with two or more dependents.

The health coverage (aside from the new premiums) will remain the same over the next three years.

The IATSE agreed to a 2% bump in wages in each of the next three years. The 2% has been the "pattern" for wage increases with the IA, SAG, the WGA and everybody else over the past three years.

Click here to read entire post

Television Cartoons

The Fox block rebounds:

... After three weeks of repeats, The Simpsons returned with a 2.2 adults 18-49 rating, down 8% vs. a 2.4 rating in its last new episode. After one repeat week, Bob's Burgers drew a 1.8 adults 18-49 rating, up 6% vs. a 1.7 rating two weeks ago. And moving to 9:30, The Cleveland Show had a 2.0 adults 18-49 rating, up 67% vs. a 1.3 rating at 7:30 two weeks ago. ...

Overall, the night was a second place finish for the animated brigade. ABC's Titanic mini-series pretty much sank without a trace shortly after launch.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Foreign B.O. in April

The Lorax and Pirates add to their lucre.

... Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax elevated its foreign gross total to $74.3 million ... after a $8.6 million weekend at 3,753 situations in 51 territories.

... The Pirates! Band of Misfits opened in Venezuela and held nicely in the U.K. (No. 4 with $2.5 million drawn from 8990 sites for a market cume of $20.7 million). Weekend overall delivered $8.4 million from 4,200 venues in 34 markets. Overseas cume stands at $44.4 million. ...

Lorax is now up to $278.8 million in worldwide grosses, with 26.7% of the total coming from foreign movie palaces.

Click here to read entire post

The Big Boat

... in genuine fake 3-D beats the 3-D lion.

Titanic 3D's global cume of $190.9 million eclipses the $178.2 milllion earned worldwide by Disney's 3D release of The Lion King last year. ...

So 3-d will be with us for awhile longer, yes?

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Directors Come ...

... and sometimes directors go, as Pixar producer Katherine Sarafian tells us:

At Pixar, every decision that is made is about what the film needs and I think Mark [Andrews] and I have both been surprised at how much has been made of it [Brenda Chapman's departure], because really it happens to much in the industry and particularly in animation. Director changes happen all of the time, it’s kind of part of the creative process much like the loss of… It’s definitely a higher stakes issue, but I can’t quite compare it to the loss of snow or loss of a story sequence, but the idea that we are constantly changing the process and evolving it, but these changes do happen and creative differences do arise and it was no different here.

When company management wants to go west, and the director wants to go east, management finds a different employee who's willing to go west.

Which is the way it's always been, to a greater or lesser degree. What I've found a wee bit annoying is the older Disney/Pixar meme: "We support the director's vision."

It might be pretty to think so, except it's never been the full reality. (Happily, the company is moving away from that mantra, as evidenced above.) But Brenda's exit wasn't a huge surprise. Joe Ranft was the driving force in getting Ms. Chapman up to Pixar in the first place, and when Joe died she lost a major ally and champion. As Brenda related at a TAG forum five-plus years ago:

Pixar is something of a "boy's club", and little thought seems to have been given to female characters, even when it would have fit naturally. For example, why couldn't the Slinky or the T-Rex in Toy Story have been women?...

Brenda's business card at the time read: "Token female Pixar story person".

You want women animation directors, try DreamWorks Animation. Everywhere else? Not so much.

Click here to read entire post

Mid April Derby

The Lorax continues to cling to a rung of the Top Ten:

1. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Week 4 [3,916 Theaters] PG-13 Friday $6.5M, Weekend $20.0M, Cume $335.6M

2. The Three Stooges (Fox) NEW [3,477 Theaters] PG Friday $5.6M, Weekend $17.5M

3. The Cabin In The Woods (Lionsgate) NEW [2,811 Theaters] R Friday $5.5M, Weekend $13M

4. American Reunion (Universal) Week 2 [3,203 Theaters] R Friday $3.4M (-64%), Weekend $10M, Cume $39.0M

5. Titanic 3D (Paramount/Fox) Week 2 [2,697 Theaters] PG-13 Friday $3.3M (-54%), Weekend $10.5M, Cume $43.3M

6. Lockout (FilmDistrict) NEW [2,308 Theaters] PG-13 Friday $2.2M, Weekend $6.5M

7. Mirror Mirror (Relativity) Week 3 [3,206 Theaters] PG Friday $2.0M, Weekend $6.2M, Cume $49.0M

8. 21 Jump Street (Sony) Week 5 [2,735 Theaters] R Friday $2.0M, Weekend $6.3M, Cume $120.0M

9. Wrath Of The Titans 3D (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,102 Theaters] PG-13 Friday $1.9M, Weekend $6.0M, Cume $70.0M

10. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax 3D (Universal) Week 7 [2,112 Theaters] PG Friday $880K, Weekend $3.5M, Cume $204.8M

Lorax has made $59 million abroad. This is a little over 22% of its total gross, but ... since Dr. Seuss's titles don't usually clean up overseas ... the usual 60% of the take coming from foreign venues might not apply to the latest Illumination Entertainment title.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, April 13, 2012

Stone Age Delay

This production was on the brink of getting itself staffed with artists:

Fox has put its planned reboot of The Flintstones on hold.

The animated project will be delayed, with no word on when production will resume ...

With new Mid-Wilshire offices for Fox's animation unit, where the production is in the midst of staffing up and hiring writers and producers, the project has been put on hold to accommodate multhyphenate MacFarlane's busy schedule. ...

A bit more than a week ago, staffers receiving pink slips from American Dad (since the show hasn't yet moved forward with new episodes) found solace in the thought that they could hop over to The Flintsones if the worst happened.

Oh well. ...

(I should have gotten to this yesterday. But sitting in the caucus rooms of negotiations gets distracting.)

Click here to read entire post

Finally ... a Solution

Sheila Bair, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has come up with a way out of all our woes.

Are you concerned about growing income inequality in America? Are you resentful of all that wealth concentrated in the 1 percent? I’ve got the perfect solution, a modest proposal that involves just a small adjustment in the Federal Reserve’s easy monetary policy. Best of all, it will mean that none of us have to work for a living anymore.

For several years now, the Fed has been making money available to the financial sector at near-zero interest rates. Big banks and hedge funds, among others, have taken this cheap money and invested it in securities with high yields. This type of profit-making, called the “carry trade,” has been enormously profitable for them.

So why not let everyone participate?

Under my plan, each American household could borrow $10 million from the Fed at zero interest ...

I like Sheila's plan.

A lot.

See, for a long time, I was resentful that only big banks, Goldman Sachs, and a few hedge fund managers could get free money. It just didn't seem ... I donno ... fair*.

But with this new plan, all my resentment washes away. I'll get my $10 million loan, put it in a conservative mix of stocks and bonds, and retire from the union repping business. (There won't be labor unions much longer under Sheila's plan, anyway. Just like the Wall Streeters, all of us wage slaves will have our very own supply of cash, and no need to worry about icky things like salary minimums and health coverage any more. I'll be a little sad, but I'll get over it.)

I'll be circulating a petition soon to bring Sheila's brain-wave to reality. Be sure and sign when I circulate it.

* As many of you know, I don't believe in fair. But for purposes of this post, I believe. I BELIEVE!

Click here to read entire post

IA Basic Negotiations Concluded

From the Prez:

... Our goals going into these negotiations have been met. We were successful in maintaining the pensions of our retirees. We achieved wage increases in each year of the agreement of 2%. The health and pension benefits that we have worked so hard for over the years have been protected and will not be reduced. As you are aware, our benefit plans faced a staggering shortfall that threatened the stability of our pension and health plans. We have closed that shortfall with an impact on the participants that is as minimal as possible. The MPIPHP will continue to provide the best health benefits in the industry with no premium for you, the member. For participants with one dependent the premium will be $25 per month and for those participants with 2 or more dependents in the MPIPHP the premium will be $50 per month, payable quarterly. The employers have agreed to a $1 per hour increase to the Health Plan contribution which is a 20% increase over the current hourly contribution rate of $5 per hour.

In exchange for closing the deficit of over $400 million and annual wage increases of 2% in each year, we agreed to an expansion of the Studio Zone consistent with other industry unions and guilds. Productions made for home video will be budget based and we agreed to confirm our long standing practice of promoting basic cable TV production in Los Angeles. We also agreed to re-allocate thirty and one-half cents per hour from the Individual Account Plan to the Active Health Plan in order to help stabilize that plan during this national health care crisis. Moneys have been moved from health to IAP in the past and it was necessary to do this to rebalance contributions since the health plan is now suffering.

These negotiations lasted over three weeks and broke off once, due to disagreement on the premium structure. The second round of negotiations has resulted in a fair deal that will provide employment stability, protect our health and pension plans and provide for wage increases in a fragile economy. The Bargaining Committee consisted of the committees of each of the West Coast Studio Local Unions, Officers and Representatives of the IA, attorneys, and pension and healthcare experts. The committee was unanimous in its support for this tentative agreement. I would like to thank each of them for their commitment to act on your behalf in participating in these negotiations.

More specific details of the agreement will be forthcoming and as soon as specific contract language is drafted this agreement will be sent to the members for ratification. ...

What I took away from these negotiations is the number of BIG changes the employers wanted from the local unions in the bargaining unit*. The talks over health and pension didn't get rolling until the end of the week they were supposed to have happened.

There were a number of late-night sessions, and the talks weren't easy. But then, they never are. As always, the issue at the bottom (and middle, and top) of the proposals was money.

I talked to a studio rep today who said "work would be going away" on the live-action side because the unions didn't give the employers more "flexibility." I guess we'll have to wait a year or three to see if work actually does vanish, and the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan takes in fewer hourly contributions. Could happen, but I've heard the "work will leave!" complaint for decades, so put me in the "trust but check it out" column.

* TAG is an observer at these talks, not a participant. We were tossed out of the bargaining unit thirty years ago ... for being uppity.

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Times In Which We Live

The California Supreme Court speaketh:

In a case that affects thousands of businesses and millions of workers, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that employers are under no obligation to ensure that workers take legally mandated lunch breaks.

The unanimous opinion came after workers' attorneys argued that abuses are routine and widespread when companies aren't required to issue direct orders to take the breaks. They claimed employers take advantage of workers who don't want to leave colleagues during busy times. ...

You can see where this goes. The same place that "overtime pay" disappears to.

How this plays out over time: subtle little hints about how now is not a good time to go eat, glares from supervisors when people get up from their desks, things like that. And suddenly, "workers don't want to leave colleagues during busy times."

In the go-go nineties, I argued with a Disney suit about how a "working lunch" around a conference table wasn't really lunch. I kept saying that the company was obligated to let people exit the premises to eat, and that a sandwich at a meeting didn't qualify.

Stupid me.

Click here to read entire post

An Appeal to the Membership

In last weeks post regarding the IA/AMPTP negotiations, a commenter noted the recent health struggles of TAG member Nicholas Hoppe. We've since been contacted by those close to Nicholas and his family who asked that we share the following message with the membership and readers of this blog:

Hello Fellow Animators and Artists,

Nicholas Hoppe is a TAG member and currently an employee at Dreamworks. He has been with DWA since 2007 and has contributed to many features there, including "Kung Fu Panda," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "How to Train your Dragon" and "Megamind." He has worked in visual effects for approximately 20 years, including stints at Disney, Digital Domain, House of Moves and Square, LA.

Approximately three weeks ago, Nicholas wasn't quite feeling himself and colleagues encouraged him to see DWA's on-site doctor, Dr. Kim, who sent him to the ER. He was checked into St. Joseph's after a CT scan uncovered a brain tumor. A biopsy performed a few days later found cancer--lesions, including a deadly Glioblastoma Grade 4. After receiving a bleak prognosis, Nicholas's family sought a second opinion. They decided to go out-of-network to the renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Keith L. Black at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Black performed a successful neurosurgery on Nicholas on March 30. Nicholas's prognosis is dramatically better, though he has suffered complications since then. Overall the family is happy with Dr. Black, however, the surgery itself was not covered by their insurance.

Nicholas's family has put together a website to request donations to help offset the cost of surgery. If you can donate and/or help us spread the word, all assistance is greatly appreciated! Together we hope to help Nicholas and his family overcome the financial strain of this life-saving surgery.

Thank you for all you do.
The Hoppe Family and Friends

While we understand the Hoppe family made the difficult decision to use an out-of-network physician for Nicholas' treatment, we are happy the decision resulted in a successful surgery and that he is now recuperating at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. We encourage everyone to visit the website the family has set up and keep Nicholas in your thoughts and prayers.
Click here to read entire post

VES on the DD Business Plan

The Visual Effects Society speaks.

As a professional honorary society, VES has become aware of some unsettling comments from Digital Domain's CEO regarding its employment practices. We were shocked to hear how DD hopes to utilize interns to accomplish professional visual effects work. If the reality matches the remarks of DD's CEO, then we believe DD is not only denigrating the value of artists who do incredible work under trying conditions, but are also unfairly taking advantage of a difficult job market and will ultimately harm the ability of visual effects artists to survive in the future if such an imprudent business model became the norm.

However, and equally important to note, if DD's internship program is merely the same as those that exist in many schools across the country, and they're only guilty of having their CEO use ill-advised, self-boasting rhetoric that happened to be caught on tape, then we hope the recent loud reaction and unified voice of visual effects artists around the globe has caused DD to be more sensitive and appreciative of the plight of those artists who struggle to endure in an industry that is constantly redefining itself yet always seeks to maximize the ways it uses their art and magic to produce record profits for the entire industry.

Our understanding is Mr. Textor has confessed to using "ill-advised, self-boasting rhetoric" when soft-soaping potential investors about what a really great plan it is to have visual effects students pay to do the grunt work on higher end visual effects extravaganzas.

However, also per our understanding, Brother Textor isn't backing off his swell plan. While he's performed the required mea culpas for inartful language, he hasn't budged a millimeter from the deal outlined in his spiffy video:

Students enrolled in the aforementioned visual effects college program will be doing work on projects in the third and fourth years of that program. He's been kind enough to clarify that the internships are voluntary. But really, which student isn't going to try to work on what he called "a major motion picture"?

Now, is Textor a booger for doing this? No, he's a businessman, trying to pump Digital Domain up into something bigger and better.

For Digital Domain investors.

This isn't about "doing right" by DD employees. This is about building a business model that turns a profit. And if Florida law allows Mr. Textor to use students in the making of visual effects, thereby increasing profit margins, that is exactly what Mr. Textor will do.

Making the staff that does the actual work happy and contented is way down Mr. T.'s "To Do" list. And the VES Society, which represents visual effects artists but also the studios employing them, ain't going to condemn him for the order of his priorities.

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Back at Negotiations

Today I'm back at the AMPTP, at the festivities known as "contract negotiations." ...

The issues as are before: Health, pension, wages, conditions of employment.

When we left off some weeks ago, we were kind of close, but there is still much arm wrestling to be done. We might be here late.

Telegram to follow.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pay Cuts and the Fickle Marketplace

Down south, there's discussion about animators' pay rates, and how they're not what they used to be:

Quality animators in c.g. command good salaries. So maybe the marketplace is telling us that quality matters.

Have animators salaries drop over the past decade?

They've dropped from the nineties, no question. But here's the last two years of data (3D animators):

(2010) low: $1018 -- median: $1,565.82 -- max: $2,836.36

(2011) low: $1,366.45 -- median: $1,808.41 -- high: $4,388.00

Minimum scale is $1628.56

It seems to me that the middle class of animator - the intermediate level are the ones getting the squeeze from below.

Same was true in the 2D heyday (both of them).

And so on ...

But as creatives take wage reductions, so do others:

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg's compensation dropped more than 40 percent last year, down to $4 million from $6.7 million, according to the company's proxy filing. ...

(Also, too, there was a bit of money Jeffrey invested with Bernie Madoff, which turned out to be not a good move. Ah well. Seemed like an inspired idea among many folks prior to Bernie's arrest.)

Last thought about animation wages: They're never consistent over long stretches of time, for supply and demand are ever changing. There was a sense in the middle nineties, when Disney was rolling out hit after hit and television animation was booming, that the good times would go on forever

But that was a dangerous idea. The high water mark for hand-drawn animation -- Lion King -- was released on June 24, 1994, and rolled up huge box office. And mothers were telling their sons: "Go get into animation! It's better than a government job!"

Seventeen months after the lion picture, Toy Story made its debut. And though nobody knew it at the time, traditional animated features were on their way out.

All thing pass. (Hell. Many times they slide by without anybody knowing that they're slipping away.)

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Brew talks to Sony Imageworks employees pushing for the union label. They tell it:

... People need to ask why are the directors, producers, actors, cameramen, grips, best boys, are all union, but not us? We certainly don’t dare stand up and say anything for fear of angering the mothership right? ...

To catch people up: Several years ago, Sony Imageworks held a vote to see if the employees there wanted to "go union."

There were discussions, there were presentations of health and pension plans by IA officials and the administrator of the Motoin Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan. There was also major pushback from Sony Pimageworks' staff employees, who were reasonably certain that their fine benefits would remain in place.

Turned out they were wrong, but the IATSE went down to defeat in the election anyway.

Most of the Imageworks staff employees are now gone from the Imageworks premises, and the profit-sharing and high-end health benefits have also exited. In my travels, I occasionally encounter "buyers' remorse" from ex-Imageworks employees. I tell them the vote was then ... and this is now ... and there's always opportunities for do-overs.

This might be one of those opportunities.

Kaplan here ..

What's really inspiring about this drive, is the fact that the artists inside took it upon themselves to start it. While we support them as much as we can, they were the ones who created the site, talked to their peers, passed out repcards and are making the decision to have their voice heard over at Imageworks.

For all the nay-sayers and FUD mongers that are out there, its incredibly motivating to see artists coming to the realization that the only way the industry will change, is if they make it happen. With the help of the union, these artists are making a stand just as their predecessors in animation did years before. Not just the SPA employees, but the Disney and Warner Bros artists we fondly remember. I am honored to be a part of their movement and look forward to being a part of their success.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Per the Nikkster:

[According to SNL Kagan,] average revenues for the decade’s 101 animated films ran 108.4% ahead of costs. DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 led the category with a 462% margin. The 71 sci-fi/fantasy films had a margin of 108.1%. Fox’s Avatar is the winner here with revenues 554% ahead of costs. ...

Sort of explains why fantasy and sci fi features, heavy with CG effects, get made so often. And why CG animated features are being produced by every major conglomerate. They are just too large a profit center to ignore.

But if you've been awake and paying attention during the past, oh, twenty years, you undoubtedly know this. We're a loong way from the sleepy days of Fox and the Hound, Pagemaster and Once Upon a Forest. And we're a long way from Saturday morning kiddie cartoons.

Computers and their spawn have turned the industry upside down and inside out, and made animation a high margin* part of moviedom.

* We're speaking here in relative terms.

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First in T.V. Land

The latest ratings:

Cartoon Network was television’s #1 network on Monday night for all kids & boys, while also the #1 network for boys on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (7-9 p.m.). Each weeknight posted mostly double-digit delivery gains across key kids and boys demos.

... Monday night Season 4 Premiere of Adventure Time (7:30 p.m.) was the #1 telecast of the day among all key kids, and #1 in its time period among kids and boys. The half-hour premiere scored considerable double-digit gains among all kids and boys, ranging between 47% and 94% vs. last year’s time period.

Immediately following, Regular Show (8 p.m.) earned the #1 telecast of the week among boys 9-14, the #1 telecast of the day among all boys and #1 in its time period among kids 2-11, 9-14 and all boys. ...

Adventure Time is a droll series. There are a few geezers who are put off with the drawing and design style, but the half-hour contains considerable wit.

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Twenty Years Ago ...

President Emeritus Tom Sito reminds us that, twenty years ago today, a hand-drawn feature that's had some remarkable echoes in filmdom was released by Twentieth Century Fox ....

Fern Gully was produced in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. In a former brewery. It was among the first of the non-Disney hand-drawn features and had a remarkable crew of old Disney hands and various up-and-comers (Pixar icon Ralph Eggleston was FG's Art Director.)

The feature turned a profit, but not a large one. It was one of Fox's first animated releases, but far from the last. Fox Animation (Phoenix) and a Blue Sky Studios followed shortly after. Today, Rupert's minions are major players in the cartoon biz, with "Animation Domination" Sunday nights on the Fox network, with The Simpsons and the Seth M. shows making the company billions. (The Simpsons Movie was among the last hand-drawn animated features to earn big bucks.)

Fern Gully was a fine little film in its time. Besides Mr. Eggleston, it offered Robin Williams voicing his first cartoon feature. (Aladdin came out in the Fall of the same year.)

(The "Avatar/"Fern Gully" mashup comes via Bronwen Barry.)

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Matt Groening comes clean:

One of the best-kept secrets in television history has been revealed, with "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening pointing to Springfield, Ore., as the inspiration for the animated hometown of Homer and his dysfunctional family.

Groening told Smithsonian magazine, published online Tuesday, that he was inspired by the television show "Father Knows Best," which took place in a place called Springfield. Springfield, Ore., is 100 miles south of Groening's hometown of Portland ...

Was this really a mysterious unknown? I thought the dark secret was revealed a while ago.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Cartoon Data Points

The live-action prequel to the animated feature Sleeping Beauty comes out the same day and date ...

As the animated feature based on the animated short on the animated television show Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Furthermore ...

The Broadway blockbuster based on the animated hit about lions has become the highest grossing musical/play/whatever on the Great White Way.

In recorded history.

Amazing, no? The Side Show of my youth has become the Main Event of my later adulthood. Who would have imagined?

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The media says:

Fox's fall tally [has] nine returning programs in all. Rounding out the list are "Bones," "The Simpsons" "Family Guy" "American Dad" "The Cleveland Show" and "The X Factor." ...

Funny thing. All the shows above have episodes in various stages of preparation.

All except the one in bold face. American Dad is now laying off artists who've been with the show for seasons and seasons because (it's reported to me) there is no official pickup for newer half-hours.

Today I talked to an artist working on the show; he told me:

"They were supposed to let us know last week whether American Dad would be doing new episodes. But no word. So we're all just finishing up our assignments and getting laid off. I've got three more weeks. Management has said that they'll start hiring for The Flintstones in late May, so people will be trying to swing over to that ..."

Another AD artist, recently laid off, informed me that there's a new Fox development exec who doesn't get any money for keeping the show on the air, so he's real motivated in trying to find a replacement for Dad. (No luck yet.)

Plus Seth M. doesn't want to do Stan Smith's voice anymore, plus AD isn't his show in the way Family Guy and Cleveland are. [I have no idea if the foregoing is true. I just report what ex-staffers say ...]

And there are a lot of episodes stockpiled, almost enough for a full new season.

So. Will American Dad be coming back beyond its current allotment of completed and nearly-completed episodes? I can tell you with total certainty that I don't know. Click here to read entire post

Marvel Animated Feature at Disney?

Speculation, always speculation.

When it was announced in 2009 that Disney had purchased Marvel, many wondered if the mouse house would adapt any of the superhero stories into animated features. When the deal was announced, CEO Bob Iger mentioned that they “talked about this internally” and that Pixar head John Lasseter had already “talked to the Marvel guys” about possibilities ...

[quoting Blue Sky:] The projects competing for 2014/2015 are the uber-secret film from Don Hall, which will be a marvelously unexpected project if it ever gets the green light, and Nathan Greno and Byron Howard’s films which are deep in development. ...

There are multiple fairy tales in development at Diz, and a person told me that Hall is developing some action thingie. But tied to a Marvel property? If memory serves, no. (But maybe this is later news. I get around so little.)

I know the fan-person crowd is always chomping to know every little bit of news that comes out of Disney, but honest to God, it isn't that exciting.


The reason it's not? Because at any given point in time, directors and story artists are developing projects. And a lot of those projects never get past the early gestation stage. (King of the Elves has been up and down the May pole multiple times. Frozen has been in and out of work four or five years at least. It was killed as a hand-drawn project, then resurrected as a c.g. fairy tale after Tangled's success. Plus, J.L. liked one of Frozen's later scripts so it moved up in line.)

The way development of animated features works: Creators dream up multiple projects and storylines. Mr. Lasseter looks at same, selects one of the projects/storylines for further development, and off everyone goes. Writers come aboard, scripts are written, and table reads of those scripts (with Mr. Lasseter in attendance) take place. Then, if Mr. Lasseter's reaction is "thumbs up," further development happens (sequence boards, story reels, more character designs, etc.) And the reels either lead to a production greenlight or not.

Before that, most everything is a candidate for a quick death. (And possible later resurrection.)

None of the above is news. The process has been pretty much the same since Hyperion/Snow White days. One difference now is that outside writers get hired on for script work, which was mostly done with in-house staff prior to the middle 1980s.

If I were more energetic, I could probably nose around and find out who's doing what and which projects are "looking good" and which not. But it's not something that is, at the end of the day, all that interesting. Projects fall on and off the tote board all the freaking time. (Tangled was in development for over a decade, with all kinds of different approaches. The only one that actually counts, when all the storyboards and script drafts and box office grosses are tallied up, is the approach that gets made.)

Disney now has more projects in different phases of development than previously. This is a good thing. But many of the incubating features won't be made anytime soon because that's the nature of development work. There are always many ideas. But only so many features can get onto a release slate.

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