Tuesday, July 31, 2012

And Among Other Income Reports ...

DreamWorks Animation apparently missed the analysts' mark:

DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. said Tuesday that its second-quarter net income fell 63 percent, to a level below analysts’ expectations. The company blamed the delayed release of “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” in several overseas markets as well as higher distribution costs for some of the miss. ...

Net income in the three months ended June 30 was $12.8 million, or 15 cents per share, compared with $34.1 million, or 40 cents per share, a year ago.

Revenue fell 25 percent from a year ago to $162.8 million. ...

DreamWorks continues its high-wire act of being a stand-alone animation company. As Jeffrey K. related in today's conference call:

All DreamWorks Animation sequels have surpassed $600 million at the worldwide box office and Madagascar 3 is on-track to do the same. It was the number one movie in the U.S. during its first two weekends of release and continues to break records in many territories around the globe. ...

(You can read the phone conference transcript here.)
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Lower Earnings, And Worse

Some vid-game companies aren't exactly in high clover:

Electronic Arts, publisher of the "Battlefield" and "Star Wars" games, reported lower net income than a year ago while its rival Take-Two Interactive Software posted a net loss due to weak sales of a key new video game. ...

For the three months ended June 30, EA posted overall revenue of $491 million, compared with $524 million a year ago. Net income dropped to $201 million, or 63 cents per share, compared with $221 million, or 66 cents per share a year ago. ...

Publishers are struggling to sustain revenue growth as gamers migrate steadily to casual and social games online or on mobile devices. On Tuesday, EA announced it would offer a free-to-play option of its "Star Wars: The Old Republic" game, hoping to staunch gamer losses. ...

[Take Two] reported a net loss of $110.8 million, or $1.30 a share

Like every other entertainment/media company, gaming businesses aren't selling as many of the little silver disks as before. Players are clambering onto internet platforms where many things are free! Free!! FREE!!

The new business model: Get the teenaged eyeballs to look at your product; find a way to monetize your product, even if that means ads and links and other lower revenue things.

What's the mantra? Adapt or perish.

Add On: But maybe EA is catching on to the "adapt" thing.

... Electronic Arts on Tuesday announced that it will offer up substantial portions of its "Star Wars: The Old Republic" multi-player online game to players for free starting this fall. A premium version with unlimited access to all levels, plus any new content, will still be available for $14.99 a month.

The move by the Redwood City, Calif., game publisher is an acknowledgment that the current economic climate makes it virtually impossible for a subscription business model to thrive on the Web, where thousands of free games now compete aggressively for attention. ...

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New Member Presentation Updated

For the past decade or so), TAG has gathered its newest initiates in local restaurants to introduce them to the existence and inner workings of the Health and Pension plans. We do this to promote the best use of the plans so members can make better choices regarding their health care and retirement savings.

We have created a video of the material we present at these presentations for review of the material by the membership. Since the recent negotiations included changes in the health and pension plans, we've updated the video to reflect those changes.


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Yes, you can reveal your wages!

Have you ever heard this from a supervisor or HR rep? Has an employer (union or non-union) ever made you sign a contract saying you agree not to reveal your salary, or made any comments related to keeping your salary a secret?

Every year since we started conducting our annual wage survey, we hear from a few people who say they can't fill it out because they agreed to keep their salaries secret.

Did you know that this is illegal?

Yes, section 232 of the California Labor Code prohibits employers from:

  • requiring as a condition of employment that any employee refrain from disclosing the amount of their wages [§232(a)];
  • requiring an employee to sign a waiver of their right to disclose their wages (such as a personal service contract) [§232(b)]; or
  • discharging, formally disciplining, or otherwise discriminating against an employee who discloses the amount of their wages [§232(c)].

The language of the state code can be found here, along with complaint forms to be filed with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement.

In short, the law is clear -- you have the right to disclose and discuss your wages with anybody, or to choose of your own free will not to disclose. And no, they're not allowed to "drop hints" or other subtle coercion. ("Gee, it'd be swell if you didn't ...")

If you want to stand up for your right to share wage information with others, including the Guild or other employees, report any such threats to the Guild office at once.
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Monday, July 30, 2012

Differing Tales?

One news outlet on the sub-continent says:

"India's animation industry has immense potential to grow and it is estimated to grow to USD 2.9 billion by 2015 from the present USD 1.8 billion," St. Angelo's Computer Education CMD Agnelorajesh Athaide said ...

On the other hand ...

The Indian animation industry is expected to touch $470 million by 2015, according to the FICCI-KPMG Report 2011. ...

So somebody is maybe wrong? (Or doesn't have his story straight?)

But one thing is certain sure: animated movies do have an audience in India:

... Ice Age 4: Continental Drift 3D has garnered the largest ever opening for an animation film in India. ... In fact in some markets like Bangalore and in the South, the 3D flick has opened even bigger than Kya Super Kool Hain Hum and Hollywood’s much hyped The Dark Knight Rises, with the local dubbed versions doing phenomenally well. ...

Oh no. NOT bigger than Kya Super Kool Hain Hum! (What the hell's happening here?)

So we know that U.S.-made animation goes over. But stuff produced in India we're still not sure about.

Click here to read entire post

The wage survey keeps rolling in

As of this morning we've received 405 wage surveys -- 302 paper and 103 online, representing 11.6% of the total sent.

Now that we have the online survey on a secure server, there's really no reason not to return it.

That being said, to ensure anonymity you should a) use your home computer to fill it out online, or b) fill out on paper and send it in by mail.

In any event, please send it in.
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Latest MPI Newsletter is available!

The Motion Picture Industry Health Plan publishes an infrequent and generally quarterly update newsletter named For Your Benefit. The latest edition, pictured above, is now available online through the plan's website.

This newsletter highlights upcoming important dates in the plan, acts as a reminder of certain plan caveats and regulations as well as announces any changes that have taken place since the last issue was published. Since the recent negotiations included some changes to the plan, this issue addresses those changes and more.

If you're not receiving this publication, or any mail from MPI, it is imperative that you notify the plan of your current address. MPI will only send communications to its participants through US Post and takes no steps to finding you if you change your address. Download a copy of the plan's Change of Address Form for your records. Please keep them up to date as this is the best way for you to stay informed! Click here to read entire post

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The OTHER Animated Features

Laika's CEO Travis Knight informs us:

... "People have been declaring stop-motion dead for a generation," says Mr. Knight. "But living in the digital age, people appreciate the art of craft, or working with your hands." ...

You could replace the words "stop-motion" with "hand-drawn" and have the above quote track equally well.

But of course, hand-drawn has been an underachiever at the world box office during the last few years, so it doesn't get a mention. But Laika has found success with its first stop motion feature (Caroline). And Tim Burton, Henry Selick and some of the Mouse's corporate hierarchy -- visions of the box office for The Nightmare Before Christmas dancing in their eyes -- want to make more stop motion entertainments.

But maybe the fact that hand-drawn animation has gone into a commercial swoon in recent years is the major reason stop-motion is now the favored sub-genre in feature animation. Added to which, it has a passing resemblance to high-grossing CGI.
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The Foreign Derby

With animation continuing to flower.

... Passing the half-billion foreign gross mark ($514.1 million) was the weekend’s No. 2 title, Ice Age: Continental Drift, which grossed $49.4 million at 15,924 venues in 69 markets. ... Continental Drift opened No. 1 in China, registering $15.7 million at some 3,500 locations ...

Pixar’s Brave continues to chug along on a measured release pattern overseas, playing in 24 territories -- which distributor Disney describes as about 38% of the international market. Weekend tally for the animation title was $9.6 million, elevating the film’s foreign gross total to $92 million. (Domestic cume stands at $217.3 million.) Brave is the weekend’s No. 5 title. ...

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a solid No. 3 opening in the U.K. – generated $3 million at 502 locations. A China bow came up with $1.1 million at 1,060 sites. Weekend overall delivered $5.7 million at 2,600 playdates in 13 markets for a foreign cume of $110.3 million ...

And Seth MacFarlane's Ted has so far collected $44.1 million. Also, too, Madagascar 3 has rung up sales of $291.5 million, for a world wide total north of $501 million

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Job Actions

Regulars here know that I prattle on about leverage every month or so. I don't believe in "fair" and "unfair." They are lovely words defining wonderful concepts, but they exist only in heaven. Here are on earth it's a wee bit different.

Two examples of what I mean, the happier story first:

... Key members of the cast of the hit comedy "Modern Family" have signed new deals with 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that produces the show for ABC said Friday.

The agreements come just days after six cast members -- Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell and Ed O'Neill -- filed a suit against the studio in an effort to break their current contracts.

Although terms of the pact were not disclosed, Vergara, Ferguson, Stonestreet, Bowen and Burrell were seeking raises from their current salary of about $65,000 to a payday of $200,000 per episode next season, with significant annual increases in return for agreeing to extend their contracts. The studio had initially offered them $150,000 per episode next season along with annual increases.

People close to the situation said the final figure for next season for Vergara, Ferguson, Stonestreet, Bowen and Burrell will be in the neighborhood of $160,000 per episode. Also, each will get a bonus that will bring the average pay to more than $175,000. The cast agreed to extend their deals by one more season to eight total, and in that last season their salaries would top $300,000 per episode.

Old story, right? Actors on a hit show the network (and studio) believe they absolutely need get militant ... and end up getting raises.


But then there's the other end of the fuzzy popsicle stick:

... Few places better illustrate the uneven recovery than Joliet, Illinois, where nearly 800 factory workers are locked in a bitter, three-months-and-counting strike against their employer. Caterpillar, famous maker of yellow bulldozers, has demanded its employees accept a six-year freeze on wages and pensions; the machinists' union says its members had no choice but to walk out. ...

The company says it wants cuts now to be better positioned for future downturns, although these rainy day scenarios are "intentionally vague," says Frank Larkin of the machinists' union, and "seem to apply to anything from an increase in raw material costs to Armageddon." ...

Caterpillar's corporate culture may be more predisposed than most to punishing uppity workers. But for it to do so without even the flimsiest appeal to economic necessity is truly a milestone. And in today's atomised America, it isn't just good business. It's good politics.

We live, as the Chinese might say, in interesting times.

Unions are pretty much on the ropes. (Entertainment unions, because of their relative strength in the movie and television industry, are the exceptions that prove the rule.) Where once slightly less than half the population was repped by labor unions, it's now under 10%. And where once police officers, fire fighters and school teachers were admired, they are now resented for luxuries like retirement pensions and full medical coverage.

As we become a nation of angry $15 per hour laborers, rage is directed at workers making $25 or $30 an hour, fringe benefits included. The billionaires and multi-millionaires? They're the job creators who must be respected as their taxes are lowered, otherwise they'll take their money and move to Singapore and/or Switzerland, leaving the rest of us wage slaves in the lurch.

Salary hikes began falling behind the cost of living in the middle '70s, around the time unions were shrinking in numbers and strength. (Coincidence?) Tax rates got skewed toward the high rollers in the 1980s, and the good times have continued for the top brackets --- with a few brief setbacks -- ever since. Today, the moneyed few have convinced a large percentage of the struggling many that this is the natural order of things, and if Social Security has to be dialed back and Medicare gutted, it's the patriotic thing to do.

So learn to just ... suck it up. The Caterpillar employees' leverage went missing years ago, and there is no downside for their steely-eyed employer sticking it to them; flat wages and crappy health coverage are in all their futures.

America, 2012. It might not be "fair," but it's the way it is.

Click here to read entire post

Olympics Weekend Derby

So who goes to the cinema when there's a lot of sporting events on television? Apparently not as many since Batman has a lot less movie-watchers this time around. (Who, after all, wants to get shot?)

1. The Dark Knight Rises (Legendary/Warner Bros) Week 2 [4,404 Runs] PG13 Friday $18.0M (-76%), Weekend $55.0M, Cume $278.0M

2. Step Up Revolution 3D (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [2,567 Runs) PG13 Friday $5.0M, Weekend $12.0M

3. The Watch (Fox) NEW 3,168 Runs) R Friday $4.5M, Weekend $14.0M

4. Ice Age 4 3D (Fox) Week 3 [3,869 Runs) PG Friday $4.1M, Weekend $12.8M, Cume $114.0M

5. Ted (Universal) Week 5 [3,129 Runs) R Friday $2.1M, Weekend $6.4M, Cume $192.5M

6. The Amazing Spider-Man 3D (Col/Sony) Week 4 [3,160 Run] Friday $1.8M, Weekend $6.2M, Cume $241.1M

7. Brave 3D (Pixar/Disney) Week 6 [2,551 Runs] PG Friday $1.2M, Weekend $3.7M, Cume $216.7M

8. Magic Mike (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,075 Runs] R Friday $800K, Weekend $2.2M, Cume $107.2M

9. Savages (Universal) Week 4 [1,414 Runs] R Friday $480K, Weekend $1.5M, Cume $43.6M

10. Madea’s Witness Protection (TPerry/Lionsgate) Week 5 [1,111 Runs] PG13 Friday $400K, Weekend $1.2M, Cume $62.6M

Madagascar 3 has dropped out of the Top Ten, buts still rakes in coin. It's domestically total should be in the $210 million to $214 million by Sunday. Click here to read entire post

Friday, July 27, 2012

DreamWorks Animation Profit Guesstimates

The analysts' guesswork:

Comparing the upcoming quarter to the prior-year quarter, average analyst estimates predict DreamWorks Animation's revenue will contract 15.0% and EPS will contract 37.5%.

The average estimate for revenue is $185.4 million. On the bottom line, the average EPS estimate is $0.25.

(EPS, if you don't know, is "Earnings Per Share.")

As we noted earlier, DreamWorks has been riding a string of hit films, and looking to expand out of its core businesses into apps, amusement parks, and television production.

So why not hybrid live-action/animated features? If Chris Meladandri and Sony can do it, Jeffrey K. can do it.
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The John Kimball Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with John Kimball

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

John Kimball returned to the Disney Company in 1987, during the formative years of a new corporate division called "Disney Television Animation." ...

Over the next decade and a half, Mr. Kimball worked on a string of TV Animation projects, everything from episodics to direct-to-video features. (He worked, for example, on the first sequel to the theatrical feature Aladdin.)

Over time, John grew more and more frustrated with his work at Disney TVA, because the division limited the responsibilities of directors. His last gig before retirement, directing episodes of Nickelodeon's Chalk Zone.

"Nick let us actually direct."

Mr, Kimball now divides his time between music and writing.
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ollie's Golden Award

From time to time, the Animation Guild honors animation veterans with the "Golden Award," which celebrates an honoree's fiftieth anniversary in the business of cartoons ...

In March 1986, Ollie Johnston was honored with a trophy for his half-century in animation. Mr. Johnston had retired from Disney, but he and Frank Thomas were busy writing books celebrating the art, and consulting on animated projects in California and elsewhere.

It all seems a long time ago, but then again, perhaps not. Because Ollie's handiwork is still out there enjoyed by millions, and his treatises on animation still widely read.

But in a few years, who's going to know that the statue atop the trophy is a peg-board?

Ollie Johnston's trophy: courtesy of director Robert Alvarez.)
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Tomorrow @ Gallery 839 ...

... from 6 to 9 pm, the closing reception for the Us And Them group exhibition.

Gallery 839 is at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank.
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General membership meeting: Tuesday, July 31

1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

(Between Chandler and Magnolia)

Pizza & refreshments, 6:30 pm

Meeting, 7 pm


Discussion of proposed collective bargaining agreement

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The John Kimball Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with John Kimball

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

John Kimball grew up the middle child of Ward and Betty Kimball ...

He had a younger and an older sister (Chloe and Kelly). Of Kelly (the first-born) he says:

"She let me know that I was going to be behind her in artistic pursuits. 'I started two-and-a-half years ahead of you, John, and I'm going to stay two-and-a-half years ahead of you.'"

(Kelly is an accomplished costume designer, working principally in live-action.)

Both Kelly and John attended Chouinard Art Institute. Kelly went into costume design early on, but John followed his father's path to Disney's. He talks about those things and more here in the second installment of the TAG interview.
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012


SNL Kagan gives us the good news:

... The research firm says that DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted should lead the pack with projected total revenues (at $783.3M) coming in 2.31 times higher than total costs (of $339.4M). ...

DreamWorks Animation has been on a roll of late. Madgascar 3 is a sizable hit, and the feature before that, Puss in Boots, collected over half a billion at the box office.

Looking at DWA's box office over the last couple of years, the only weak performer was Megamind, which still earned a worldwide total of $321.9 million after all the receipts were counted.

By coincidence, I spent most of my morning at DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus. Most of the conversations I had centered around TAG's recent contract negotiations, and the Motion Picture Industry's Pension and Health Plans. (People wanted to know about the health insurance premiums they will have to pay.)

But one staffer talked about current and future box office:

I'm happy that Mad 3 did so well, but I always get nervous when pictures are about to be released. You never know how they're going to do. I'm excieted about The Guardians [DWA's Fall feature}, but I've trained myself not to get too excited. Because you never know how well they're going to do. And it's always a little nerve-racking. ...

Me, I've always been a little awed at DreamWorks Animation's high-wire act. But they have been at it a long time, and the pictures (mostly) make good money. So maybe they're on to something.
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Wage Survey Update

The paper version of the TAG wage survey began coming in four days ago. To date, we have received 218 surveys back in the mail, about twice as many as we've received digitally. ...

Last year we had a 23% survey return rate. As I write, we are just under 10% total returns, which we take as a good omen for our final numbers.

If you haven't sent in your survey form, we urge you to do so. Don't let it get buried in the jumple of mail sitting on the side board. Take four minutes and fill it out now.

The more information we compile, the more useful the numbers will be when we publish them.
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Negotiating Committee statements: #3 of 3

Is this a perfect contract? No … in fact, hell no.

Is it a bad contract? Not really.

When we polled them after the May 30 meeting, the economic package was the members’ most important demand. And after quite a bit of struggling, we got exactly what the IATSE Hollywood live-action unions got for wage increases and health and pension adjustments.

Under the previous contract, the producers paid $5.00 per hour into the health plan … under the proposed contract they’ll pay $6.00 per hour — a twenty percent increase. There will be health insurance premiums for members with dependents, but they’re a small fraction of what those working non-union are paying (assuming they have a job with health benefits, period.)

There’s no guarantee that going back to the table will get us a better deal. In fact, to guarantee that we won’t end up with either the same or a worse deal, we’ll likely have to take a strike vote. And no one wants to strike over this contract.

Yes, this is not a perfect contract. But it’s more than good enough for me to recommend a yes vote, as does the Negotiating Committee and the Executive Board.

— Jeff Massie
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The John Kimball Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with John Kimball

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

John Kimball is a second-generation animator, director, and designer in the L.A. animation industry ...

Born in 1941, John was surrounded by jam sessions and art classes from an early age. His father, you see, was Ward Kimball, and something of a Renaissance man, being a professional musician and illustrator above and beyond his day job as a directing animator on a string of Disney animated features.

There also aren't too many people with full-size trains in their backyards.

John talks about growing up in San Gabriel and having Walt Disney drop in for visits in Part I of the newest TAG Interview. ...
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Spin-Offs Keep Expanding

As regards Universal's animation franchise, Deadline noted yesterday:

... In devoting a full feature to The Minions [of Despicable Me], Universal and Illumination are taking on a challenge. Fox Animation has reserved its signature sidekick character Scrat for duty in small doses in the Ice Age films and DreamWorks Animation has done the same with its commando penguin team from Madagascar, though the latter did get an animated TV series. And The Minions don’t exactly speak English, but rather a dialogue understandable mostly to their goggle-eyed cohorts. I understand that Universal and Illumination feel they found a way around this with a story that Meledandri hatched with Coffin, Balda and Renaud. ...

Let's not be coy. In Hollywood land, sequels and spin-offs are the coin of the realm, producing heavy coin in the process.

The Batman trilogy is part of, what? Seven or eight movies since Tim Burton revitalized the franchise that already had a previous incarnation as a campy, mid-sixties television show? Sequelitis on steroids.

Then there are multiple Superman movies and t.v. episodes. And Marvel has opened its own mint with Iron Man, Spiderman, The Avengers and all the rest of its comic book menagerie.

While Scrat stays on his cartoon reservation and DreamWorks Animation sees fit to put the penguins in their own hit television series, Puss in Boots, supporting player in Shrek movies, gets his own big-budget platform and rakes in a half billion in grosses.

There's a lot of rea$on$ Hollywood makes spin-offs, sequels and television shows. And they all have pictures of Presidents on them.

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DWA Diversifies

The company moves to expand beyond its core business:

Jeffrey Katzenberg, with deals that give him new characters, a theme park and a footprint in China, is signaling DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. (DWA) (DWA) plans to expand beyond 3-D movies and home video. ...

“Five years from now, we will be a much more diversified company,” Katzenberg ... said yesterday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “The animated movies will still be our heart and soul but I think we will see revenue from a lot of different areas.” ...

Mr. Katzenberg's business moves sort of mirror the expansion of Walt Disney Productions in the early fifties, when the House of Mouse expanded beyond animated shorts and animated features to get into live-action, television, and amusement parks.

Is that kind of expansion easier or harder to do, sixty years on?

It's an incredibly difficult hat trick during any era, but with the state of the world and existing economy in 2012, I really don't have a clue whether DWA will pull it off or not. When DreamWorks started back in the age of Bill Clinton, I would have told you that the live-action part of the business was going to thrive, and the animated features would struggle.

Shows what I know.
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Negotiating Committee statements: #2 of 3

This contract negotiation was among one of 839’s toughest. The disdain by the companies across the negotiating table was palpable. And every TAG proposal that the conglomerates thought would kick up their costs was dead on arrival.

We had proposals for new job classifications. Proposals for shorter board tests, new writers’ rates, and extended schedules around holidays. We got stone-walled on all of them. And we had to fight to stay even with the IATSE Basic Agreement. We were offered a low-ball wage package, rejected it, and walked out. All of us had bile in our throats.

A month and a half later, we came back And finally, FINALLY we won the package that other IA locals received in March.

Despite the above, I urge members to vote “yes” on the new contract. Why?

1) Because there are big gains in the producers’ payments that go into our health and pension plans. The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.) Studios were paying $5 per hour under the old agreement. They’ll pay $6 per hour with the new one. This is almost a 20% bump in contributions, and for the first time in half a dozen years, TAG and the IA will get ahead of the galloping deficits that have hounded every union health and pension plan in Hollywood through contract after contract.

2) Because after a lot of sweat and sleepless nights, the committee achieved the top priority for the membership: 2%, 2%, 2% for wage increases, and parity with the Basic Agreement. (This sounds like “no big deal,” but three years ago, we were forced to take less. Wage increases are NOT automatic.)

I credit the dedication of the TAG negotiation committee and the support of the membership for making the “2% solution” happen this time. If this contract gets rejected, there is no guarantee that we’ll return to the bargaining table and achieve better, but a fair chance that we’ll get worse. After all the work people have put in, I don’t want that to happen.

So, again, I ask you to vote “yes” on the 2012-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

— Steve Hulett
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Frank Andrina, 1929-2012

Animator and director Frank Andrina slipped away on July 16 at the age of eighty-three.

From 1954 until his retirement in 2005 he worked for Disney, Sutherland, Patin, UPA, TV Spots, Snowball, Eagle, Hanna-Barbera, Ed Graham, Cannawest, Filmation, DePatie-Freleng, Playhouse, Krantz, Roy Campbell, Sanrio, Marvel, Warner Bros., MGM, Box Office Originals, Universal, Adelaide and Warner Bros.

There will be no services. Suggestions for charitable contributions to be made in lieu of flowers will be made at a later date.
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Negotiating Committee statements: #1 of 3

The Executive Board has voted that members of the Negotiating Committee may submit statements about the negotiations.

Three members of the committee have submitted statements, which were published in the July
Peg-Board and will run over the next three days.

Ratification ballots will be mailed by the American Arbitration Association by July 30.

The contract negotiations were hard fought and I firmly believe that our side got about the best possible deal it could in that room, at that time. I know, because I was there.

Having said that, you should vote against ratification. Here is why.

To begin with, it’s a crappy deal. We got nothing we asked for. No end to abusive board tests. No new job classifications. No pay parity with live action writers. The studios wouldn’t even agree to extend production schedules to allow for holidays. All we got were the same scraps they threw to our parent union IATSE; 2% wage increases (on the minimum rates that most of us are already above) and a slightly crappier, but still intact health plan.

Why did we get a crappy deal? Two reasons. First, the National IATSE contract vote was still pending. IATSE VP Mike Miller told us they were never going to give us anything more than the national union got for fear of sinking that vote.

Second, they don’t respect us. We warned them our members were sick of abusive tests, impossible schedules and second class treatment compared to live action productions. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that their response to each issue was basically “so what?”

Why your “No” vote can get us a better contract-

The National IATSE vote is now in and they accepted their crappy deal. So the first barrier to our getting a good deal is gone. Taking down that second barrier is up to us.

Vote “No.” Send us back to the table with a mandate from a pissed-off union to do better. Our contract expires at the end of August. This time the studios will be facing an aggressive union, and a ticking clock to prevent their biggest fear, a production disruption. For once, we will have the power.

I know most members would prefer to never have to deal with the business side. But we need to lose this mentality that we “are lucky to get paid to do something we love.” You aren’t in this union because you are lucky. You are here because you are talented. Because you can do things that very few people on earth can do. You deserve respect. You deserve good working conditions. You deserve fair pay. But you have to be willing to stand up for these things. VOTE NO and send us back to the table to get them.

— Jack Thomas
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Finalized Acquisition

DreamWorks Animation's purchase of Classic Media is now an accomplished fact:

DreamWorks Animation announced the all-cash deal early Monday morning.

The deal marks the first acquisition for the studio since it went public in 2004.

Our congratulations to the winning bidder. Our condolences to the losers. Click here to read entire post

http:// -> https://

In a recent discussion over the wage survey and its new online component, DreamWorks' shop steward, Brock Stearn, expressed his concern over the survey pages not transmitting securely. He suggested that the Guild should make those pages available over a SSL connection. So, we did.

After the installation of the certificate and some wrestling with our service provider, all pages that ask for user input will be viewed through our newly acquired SSL certificate. This includes the 2012 Wage Survey as well as the Email List Request page.

There is currently an error that is being shown when visiting the pages. This error indicates that some of the page elements we load through the standard page template are still being drawn outside the certificate. We are working on fixing that now. However, be assured that the email list and wage survey submissions are secured.

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The Outsource Finger-Point

Andrew Breitbart, political bomb-thrower extraordinaire, has gone to his reward, but his minions march on, to wit:

The left wants to point fingers at Romney as an outsourcing pioneer when, in fact, their own side is just as guilty of the practice. Let's look at DreamWorks Animation CEO and Obama bundler Jeffrey Katzenberg. When Katzenberg had a $125 million flop, he changed direction:

After DreamWorks Animation suffered a $125 million loss on the tradionally-animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, the studio switched to all computer-generated animation. Since then, DreamWorks' animated films have consistently been successful.

That change included outsourcing all of the animation jobs overseas to India. I guess they didn't have enough talent in the USA to haul halfway around the world to Bangalore, India:

Paprikaas, which formed a partnership with DreamWorks Animation, of Glendale, Calif., last year, is in the animated business, performing tasks like character modeling, set design, animation, and color correction on TV shows, video games, and movies for client studios worldwide. ...

A few small points: Mr. Katzenberg isn't running for the office of President of the United States and won't be making policy.

Mr. Katzenberg runs two large studios in California, one of them under contract to TAG. More than three thousand artists, technicians and production support staff draw paychecks in Redwood City and Glendale, California creating animated features.

That sound like "all of the animation jobs" to you? (Guess it does to the math-impaired reporters at Breitbart.com.)

And since Breitbart asks, we would be delighted if every last job at DreamWorks Animation were done under a Guild contract in sunny Glendale. But outsourcing of animation has gone on in Hollywood since the 1960s, when Jay Ward shipped Rocky and Bullwinkle to a studio in Mexico City.

Just a wild hunch, but the outsourcing probably isn't going to stop anytime soon.

We are realists and classical cynics, and long ago gave up on perfection from our captains of industry and political leaders. But since Jeffrey K. supports the political party and President pushing to eliminate tax breaks for companies that outsource to foreign lands, and Breitbart.com doesn't, we'll take Mr. Katzenberg.
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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Overseas Box Office

No surprise that the final Batman is doing gangbusters, but animation is performing well too ...

... Ice Age: Continental Drift ... drew $58.8 million on the weekend at 13,825 locations in 67 markets. Cume for the fourth title in the Ice Age animation franchise stands at $442.7 million ...

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which has been playing overseas since June 6, has grossed an offshore total of $282.5 million ...

Box Office Mojo does a comparison of the big animated features of 2012. Brave, Mad 3, and The Lorax have all gone over the $200 million domestic gross marker, while Ice Age 4 has torn up the track overseas and performed in an okay but not boffo fashion domestically.

To date, Brave has made most of its money in the U.S. and Canada, with around $50 million coming from abroad. ($47 million through the start of last week; as I write, this weekend's box office is nowhere to be found. At least, nowhere to be found by me.)

But assuming the red-headed lass does as well in foreign venues as she's done domestically, the picture should take in somewhere in the vicinity of $400-$600 million.
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Virginia "Ginny" Tyler, RIP

One more artist with ties back to Disney In the Time of Walt passes from the scene:

... In Disney films, [Ginny Tyler] played the two amorous female squirrels in"The Sword in the Stone"(1963) and sang the parts of several barnyard animals in the "Jolly Holiday" sequence of "Mary Poppins" (1964).

Among many other roles, she voiced "Casper the Friendly Ghost" in 1963; Jan, the damsel in distress in "Space Ghost" cartoons in 1966, and many female characters in early episodes of the 1960s television series "Davey and Goliath." ...

At Disneyland, she hosted daily 15-minute segments for "The Mickey Mouse Club" that required a demanding production schedule. She often told stories on the air, signed autographs at the park — and considered the job the highlight of her career.

Her voice had long been featured in the chorus of birds outside the park's Tiki Room. ...

Tyler died July 13 of natural causes at a nursing home in Issaquah, Wash., said her son, Ty Fenton. She was 86. ...

The 1960s was a long time ago. And the thing that strikes me is how the ranks of people who worked with Walt Disney grow thinner year by year.

It's good to remember them, I think, just as we remember departing veterans of our long-ago wars. They shared times and places that were significant in our national consciousness.
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Ten Investing Mistakes

This comes from Barry Ritholtz, who runs an investing firm, but knows stupidity when he sees it. And Mr. R.'s Top Ten Stupidities are: ...

1. High fees are a drag on returns: Fees are an enormous drag on long-term performance, according to every study that has ever looked at this issue.

2. Reaching for yield: There are few mistakes more costly than “chasing yield.” — just ask the folks who loaded up on subprime-mortgage-backed securities for the extra yield how that worked out ...

3. You (and your behavior) are your own worst enemy: Your emotional reactions to events are yet another detriment to your results.

4 Mutual funds vs exchange-traded funds: The average mutual fund charges far more than the average ETF. Whenever possible, I recommend substituting a low-cost ETF over a more expensive mutual fund.

5. Asset allocation matters more than stock picking: The decisions you make about the mix of your assets have a far greater impact on your success than your stock picking or market timing.

6. Passive vs. active management: Active fund management — when managers try to outperform their benchmarks through superior stock picking and/or market timing — is exceedingly difficult. It has been shown repeatedly that 80 percent of active managers underperform their benchmarks each year.

7. Not understanding the long cycle: Societies, economies and markets all move in long — or secular — eras. Sometimes these periods are positive (1946 to 1966 and 1982 to 2000, for example) and are called secular bull markets. Sometimes they are negative (1966 to 1982; 2000 to ?) and are called secular bear markets.

8. Cognitive errors: Beyond those emotional foibles, many investors suffer from cognitive foibles. These are the errors inherent in your wetware — namely, the way your brain has evolved over the millennia.

9. Confusing past performance with future potential: We’ve all seen the boilerplate disclaimer that comes with anything investment-related: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Despite its ubiquity, this warning is routinely ignored by investors.

10. When paying fees, get what you pay for: It always surprises me how much money some people are willing to throw at others to manage their financial affairs when it is not necessary.

There is only one item above with which I have a small issue, and that is 7: "bear cycles" and "bull cycles." These cycles do exist, but you can only know what they are and when the occur after the fact. (Which is not, sad to say, particularly useful.)

As I've said here previously, investing is really, really simple ... but difficult to execute, because all us upright mammals (with opposable thumbs) are emotional, flighty creatures. We chase good news and run from bad news -- another way of saying we tend to buy high and sell low, exactly the reverse of what we should be doing.

Which is why we need to set up an allocation plan for stocks, bonds and real estate and stick to it.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Walt Vs. the Musicians

Kudos to President Emeritus Sito for showing us the Babbit blog. Wherein is found this:

Organized Labor vs Steamboat Willie

... Efforts to make the first-ever synchronized recording went up in smoke. Screening the completed film [Steamboat Willie] before Edouarde and his Orchestra was more distracting than helpful. Not only that, the musicians seemed to have their own issues with their recorded instrumentation. In a letter dated September 20, 1928, Walt writes to partner Ub Iwerks in California,

"Boy, the unions are sure tough on movie recording. They are doing all they can to discourage the “Sound Film” craze." ...

Kind of clear why theater musicians (via the American Federation of Musicians) were against recorded music in films. In one fell swoop, several thousand re-wired movie theaters would have no need for house musicians.

Similar dynamics continue eighty-five years further on: digital stunt men replace flesh and blood stunt men. Digital environments supplant wood and plaster sets. And of course there are actors and dress extras created inside a computer. Sort of crimps the style of real actors and extras, don't you think?

Technology constantly drives change, and labor is wise to change with it. (Because it's hard to stop the tide from coming in.)
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Box Office Numbers

Multiple animated features continue to frolic in your Top Ten:

1. The Dark Knight Rises (Legendary/Warner Bros) NEW [4,404 Theaters] Friday $77.2M, Weekend $170M

2. Ice Age 4 (Blue Sky/Fox) Week 2 [3,886 Theaters] Friday $6.8M (-51%), Weekend $21.6M, Cume $90.1M

3. The Amazing Spider-Man (Columbia/Sony) Week 3 [3,753 Theaters] Friday $3.3M, Weekend $11.4M, Cume $229.1M

4. Ted (MRC/Universal) Week 4 [3,214 Theaters] Friday $3.1M, Weekend $10.2M, Cume $180.7M

5. Brave (Pixar/Disney) Week 5 [2,899 Theaters] Friday $1.9M, Weekend $6.5M, Cume $209.3M

6. Magic Mike (Warner Bros) Week 4 [2,606 Theaters] Friday $1.6M, Weekend $4.3M, Cume $102.1M

7. Savages (Universal) Week 3 [2,336 Theaters] Friday $986K, Weekend $3.3M, Cume $40.0M

8. Madea’s Witness Protection (TPerry/Lionsgate) Week 4 [1,540 Theaters] Friday $744K, Weekend $2.2M, Cume $60.3M

9. Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features) Week 9 [895 Theaters] Friday $551K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $36.2M

10. Madagascar 3 (DreamWorks Anim/Par) Week 7 [1,261 Theaters] Friday $447K, Weekend $1.5M, Cume $207.8M

Gunfire won't prevent the last installment of Batman from opening large. Ice Age 4 drops 50+% but will still crack a hundred mill next week.

Brave will nose past Mad 3 by the back of the weekend, but both movies will be over the $200 million mark so it's all good.
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Say What?

Wow. A new pretender to the animation throne:

Pixar and DreamWorks Animation have dominated the kid-friendly world of animated films for more than a decade, but thanks to hits like “Ice Age,” Fox has emerged as a major force in one of the film industry’s fastest growing fields.

Over the next two years, the studio could solidify its place alongside those two pioneers with the release of "Epic," an original story with Beyonce voicing the lead, and "Rio 2," its second potential blockbuster franchise ...

Solidify? Blue Sky Studios released Ice Age more than a decade ago, and it was a home run. Right out of the box.

So this idea that Blue Sky is finally, just now, after years of struggle, finally getting somewhere? Only now joining the big leagues? Where the hell does that come from?

What planet do these people breathe air on?

The only (slight) under-performer that BS has launched in the last decade is Robots, and the picture made over $260 million on a $75 million budget.

What the hell do you have to do to get considered a "major performer?" Release the animated equivalent of Gone With the Wind?
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New Facility

DreamWorks Animation/Pacific Data Images is in construction mode:

DreamWorks Animation is bulking up its Northern California studio.

The Glendale-based company ... on Thursday unveiled a new 200,000-square-foot headquarters for its PDI animation facility in Redwood City.

The new campus overlooking San Francisco Bay is one-third larger than the previous one (at the same location) and has an on-site clinic for a doctor's office and nutritionist, a larger cafe and more outdoor space with gas heaters "to permit hanging outside year-round." It also has a giant topiary of the company's Moonboy, just like in Glendale. ...

It also has, per DWA staff that I've talked to, lower wages for production staff than on the Glendale campus, but higher salaries for Research and Development/corporate employees.

The Classic Cynics among us might say that the union contract for production employees in Glendale could be the reason for the differences in pay. But that would be wrong ... and cynical. Wouldn't it?

(Must be the lower living costs in the Bay Area. ...)
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Animation Springboard

Short Animated Film = Long Live-Action Feature:

Fox is in negotiations to pre-emptively pick up the movie rights to Ruin, an eight-minute animated short by Wes Ball, as well a pitch to turn it into a live-action movie. ...

While light on story, it’s a showcase for Ball’s ability to stage exciting chase sequences. ...

(Looking at the short on the other end of the link, it yells "Live action thriller!" at the top of its lungs. Good luck to Mr. Ball. May he be the next Jim Cameron.) Click here to read entire post

At Fox Animation

My morning was spent at the Fox Animation studio on Wilshire ... on a sunny, hot day ...

The unit that is going full speed right now is Family Guy, with a spate of shows in various phases of work.

American Dad has gotten a renewal (and an Emmy nomination!), but most of the crew is off. I'm told that the first table read of a new script happens next week, and that designers will be coming back in the near future. But a lot of cubicles are without artists, and the ramp up we'll take awhile. One staffer told me:

Some people will be off for a few weeks, others for several months. Depends on where they are in the production cycle ...

There are also a lot of empty spaces in the Cleveland Show unit. A lot of the storyboard artists are gone, others will exit in the next month or two. Nobody I talked to expect the series to get a new-season pickup, but nobody has been informed that the show is "officially" off the schedule.

I'm informed that there are projects in development but nothing new ready to launch into series (and nothing I'm going to babble about.)
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Stupid Question

The question is asked:

"Is Pixar Going Sequel Crazy?" ...

And the answer -- in question form -- is:

What the hell are these people talking about?

Hollywood (the generic Hollywood) makes sequels. Always has, always will.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. made sequels. Charlie Chaplin made sequels. (The Little Tramp over and over again. Those were SEQUELS.)

Walt Disney said he didn't like to do sequels, and then did sequels. Cartoon sequels (The Three Little Wolves.) Live-action sequels. (The Son of Flubber.) Amusement park sequels (The Magic Kingdom, Florida.)

And in the modern age, Jeffrey Katzenberg, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and John Lasseter have done sequels. In case these fools haven't noticed, sequels make lots and lots of money. And that's what Tinsel Town is about.

Money. Profits. The Long Green.

The writers of stupid questions really need to grow the f*ck up.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Seth Domination

It isn't just in movie theaters that Mr. MacFarlane is doing well. ...

Double doses of Family Guy were number one and number one in their Sunday time slots with the primo 18-49 demographic ... against all the competition.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 18-49 Rating -- Viewers (millions)
FOX Family Guy -R 1.7 -- 3.670
ABC Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (9-11) 1.4 -- 4.130
NBC America's Got Talent - R (9-11PM) 1.0 -- 3.960
CBS The Good Wife -R 0.5 -- 3.940

9:30 PM
FOX Family Guy -R -- 1.8 -- 3.910
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Retirement Strategies

A TAG Member sends along a video link about retirement with this factoid attached:

... Half of America's private sector workforce are not covered by any retirement savings plan; their retirement will be anchored only by Social Security and whatever they have managed to save on their own.

The other 50 percent have one of the two main employer-sponsored retirement savings strategies: a traditional lifetime pension or a 401(k)-style investment plan. Today, twice as many workers have 401(k)s than have lifetime pensions, a complete reversal from 25 years ago, according to David Wray of the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America. ...

But no worries. Everybody is tucking greenbacks away for their sunset years, right? Just to be on the safe side?

Actually, no.

... About 49% of Americans say they aren't contributing to any retirement plan, according to a new survey conducted by LIMRA, a trade association for the financial services industry. ...

But even for those who are putting money away, there is the question: How much do you put away? And what investments do you place the money into? The writer calling himself "Nisiprius" outlines the challenge succinctly:

1) You must save enough to fund your retirement "needs," however that is defined.

2) The amount you need to save is the same no matter what your asset allocation is. To say "it's very hard to save enough to retire just using Treasury bonds and TIPs" is just to say that it's very hard to save enough. If you aren't saving enough to retire just using Treasury bonds and TIPs, you aren't saving enough if you add stocks. You're counting on luck, and luck is not a strategy.

3) Because in the past adding stocks almost never impaired final outcomes much, and often improved them a lot, everyone should hold some stocks.

4) Everyone has a limited risk tolerance, and it is usually lower than people think. When one's risk tolerance is exceeded, one does foolish things that really do impair your final outcome. Therefore, one should not add more stocks than one's risk tolerance allows.

5) The above imply that savings rate is determined by financial considerations alone, independent of allocation choice; and that allocation choice is determined by risk tolerance alone, independent of financial situations. Notice that this is exactly what Adrian Nenu used to post in his rule of thumb, "Equity allocation = twice maximum tolerable risk, but never more than 50%." Incidentally, Charles Jaffe had a throwaway in one of his columns, and I'd love to know the source. He said that a study showed that the average investor sold when his total portfolio had dropped by about 20%. That would imply that stock allocation should not exceed about 40%. ...

For artists, technicians and writers who work under the Animation Guild's jurisdiction for a lengthy period of time, the problem becomes a bit simpler because they have three pension plans at their disposal.

1) Their employer will be putting money into the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan's Individual Account Plan.

2) Their employer will be making contributions into a Defined Benefit Plan.

3) They (the employee) will have the option of deferring part of their weekly salary into TAG's 401(k) Plan.

All these retirement accounts makes it easier for an Animation Guild member to wade into retirement, but it doesn't make her (or his) sunset years free of challenges. I can say from personal experience that even with retirement accounts, it's a good idea to live below your means and continue to save as much as possible.

Because the future is always unknowable, and so it's wise to build a sizable cushion to protect against hard falls.
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Wage Survey Progress

We mailed the paper version of the wage survey on Friday, and have started to get a stream of the forms back ...

To date, we have twice as many returned digital forms (they went out earlier), but both surveys have been climbing in numbers. Right now we have a 4.5% return rate, and we're looking (hoping? praying?) for a 40% rate.

Last year, the total percentage was 23.2%, so maybe it's a steep hill to climb, but we're ever hopeful. (Keep in mind that different categories have historically owned different response percentages. Some have been as high as 40%, but others have been -- sadly -- close to zero.)

Our intention is to keep pushing for returns; to that end we are having shop stewards help out. Beyond that, I will be wandering through studios chatting people up, urging them to fill out the survey. (I will even have the forms and pre-paid envelopes with me, such a deal.)

When the survey wraps up, we will publish the results here and on the website, also get it out to media outlets. The bigger distribution the better, we say.

(You can look at the 2011 and 2010 survey results right here.)
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Media!

The next big thing!

... Tom Hanks' Electric City launched Tuesday on Yahoo Screen, which is likely the problem. [It’s] an Internet series. Once thought of as the future of visual storytelling -- another example of a new technology crushing an older one (television) -- web series are now met with shrug from viewers.

[T]here’s no money in it. As Hanks told The New York Times: “Although no one else has, we gave up long ago the idea that you could make money doing this.” ...

Four years ago, the WGA, DGA, SAG and IATSE negotiated "New Media" clauses into their contracts. New Media, of course, is a synonym for live-action and television shows on the internet.

The trouble is, how does anybody make money from shows on the internet? To date, nobody has much of a clue. There's a bit of a cash trickle, but nothing that approximates the healthy flow broadcast and cable networks provide.

This constitutes an on-going problem, because under "New Media" contracts, animators, designers and writers can get paid almost anything, since there are no contract minimums. And there aren't full health and pension benefits.

TAG recently had a New Media show under contract. When it got done, producers made an announcement that Hi ho! The New Media animation was going to be on DVDs ... and then, later, maybe on mainstream television.

In other words, the stuff got made under lesser terms and conditions, and then migrated to other platforms. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future. (And also the present.)

Of course, for Electric City, none of this is a problem, since the show was done under NO union contract. But bank on Electric City migrating to larger, more lucrative media, and in short order.

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Riding the Studio Circuit

At the Walt Disney Animation Studio, I had occasion to talk to a number of different animators who are hard at work on Wreck-It Ralph (The "Roger Rabbit" for video gamers?) ...

They are hard at work on the last three weeks of animation for the feature (obviously there is lighting and other fine things still to come. We're talking animation.) A number of them will be laid off from Diz in the middle of August.

Yesterday at Nick, I found SpongeBob Squarepants crew busily working on newer episodes and preparing to work on a new long-form SB, production of which is slated to start in the next month.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Glorious Five-Year Plan

As capitalist roaders stumble through the darkness, the Middle Kingdom draws a roadmap ...

Deemed as one of the rising industries that will improve China’s soft power and help guarantee sustainable economic development, the country’s animation industry has received greater attention and support from the Chinese government. Recently, China’s Ministry of Culture (the MOC) released the “National Development Plan for the Animation Industry under the 12th Five-Year Plan (hereinafter referred as the ‘Plan’)” to facilitate the healthy development of the industry.

The Plan points out the current situation of the industry, as well as sets up the development objectives for the 12th Five-Year Plan period. Moreover, it lays out the main tasks for the industry and puts forward safeguarding measures to facilitate the development of the animation industry. ...

The Chinese, stupid they are not. You want to be in the movie business in a major way (and China does), why not be in the most profitable part of the movie business? To that end, they plan to be:

* Building three to five leading animation industrial parks to serve as industry models

* Producing 5,000 hours of animated content and 30 animated films annually

* Cultivating 5 to 10 domestic animation brands and enterprises with international influence

* Establishing three to five well-known exhibition brands for animation industry

You have to admit, the Chinese government is thinking big. (We'll see how it all shakes out over the next three to five years.)
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DreamWorks Animation in Acquiring Mode

Apparently there's some buying going on:

DreamWorks Animation is leading the bidding for Classic Media, the closely held owner of characters like Casper the Friendly Ghost and the Lone Ranger, according to a person briefed on the matter.

DreamWorks Animation has offered more than $150 million, far outpacing what others had offered ...

Disney grabbed Marvel with its hundreds of super heroes for billions. DreamWorks Animation believes it also needs a storehouse of characters, and so is going after Classic Media. However ...

Classic Media has a number of prominent characters in its portfolio, the company does not control all of the rights associated with those properties. That limits the value of the company, since it may not receive lucrative licensing fees for some of its more coveted holdings. ...

So we'll see how this shakes out, yes?
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

At Marvel Animation

On Friday, I rambled through Marvel Animation's Glendale Studio. My timing was great, since half the crew was at Comic-Con, but be that as it may ...

One of the staffers who WAS there told me: We hope to have three series rolling by the end of the year, and then maybe a fourth after that. ...

I watched work being done on Hulk and also a new Avengers, which they announced in a coastal community to the south:

... Marvel announced they are going to transition “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” into a new animated series called “Avengers Assemble.” The new cartoon will be based on the universe from the Marvel Studios movie franchise. ...

Modeling animation franchises after their block-buster cousins sheathed in visual effects and live-action seems like a smart move to me. Synergy!

And the Marvel Animation Studio, recently created, continues to fill up with artists. (Industry-wide, more unionized animation artists, writers and technicians are working than at any time since the nineties.)
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Summer Derbies in Foreign Lands

So lookee here. It opened a wee bit soft stateside, but the Ice Age menagerie is robust overseas:

Reclaiming the No. 1 foreign box office perch it relinquished last round to The Amazing Spider-Man, 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift logged its biggest overseas weekend to date, grossing $95.2 million from 14,131 venues in 64 markets. ...

Brave, released by Disney, is playing in 17 foreign markets, and drew $6.5 million on the weekend. Pixar’s latest animation title has grossed $46.8 million offshore compared with its $195.6 million domestic cume.

Meantime, Seth M.'s Ted has collected $31.5 million to rank #3 on the weekend.

And our worldwide totals?

Brave -- $242,396,000

Ice Age: Continental Drift -- $385,000,000

Madagascar 3 -- $473,832,000

Ted -- $190,293,000

Not a flop among them, although some are bigger hits than others.
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Saturday, July 14, 2012

ParaNorman at Comicon

Directors Fell and Butler explain the challenges of stop-motion.

Fell: ... You have to start with a blueprint. You have to make the film once with drawings and temporary sounds. You’ll spend a year doing that together.

Butler: You have to do it that way because the process is so slow and expensive. You have to know every show before you start it.

Fell: Yeah, if those 300 people arrive and you’re not certain, and you’re saying let’s move the camera here or there. They’ll kill you and the producers will kill you.

(The Examiner details the panel on ParaNorman here.)

On a semi-related note, DreamWorks Animation has finally admitted to a future production:

During their panel at San Diego Comic-Con, the studio’s CCO, Bill Damaschke, confirmed that Kung Fu Panda 3 was indeed on the way, though it wasn’t announced when we might see the trilogy-maker. The 2008 original made $631.7 million worldwide, while its sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, made $665.6 million, making the decision to roll again quite easy. ...

Like, was this a surprise? To anyone?
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Ted 2?

"Open to it," says Seth. ...

Of course he's open to it. Why the hell not? Universal is probably salivating to get going on a new one (even as Fox gnashes its pointed teeth over letting the flick slip away.)

Seth M. is now master of most of the different branches of media. Quite a long ascent for an animation who started out as part of Cartoon Network's staff, working on Johnny Bravo and other CN staples.
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Summertime Derby

Three (count 'em) animated features in the Top Ten:

1. Ice Age 4 3D (Blue Sky/Fox) NEW [3,879 Theaters] PG
Friday $15.3M, Weekend $42M

2. Amazing Spider-Man 3D (Col/Sony) Week 2 [4,318 Theaters] PG13
Friday $9.8M, Weekend $32M, Cume $197M

3. Ted (Universal) Week 3 [3,303 Theaters] R
Friday $6.6M, Weekend $20.3M, Cume $156.3M

4. Brave 3D (Pixar/Disney) Week 4 [3,392 Theaters] PG
Friday $3.4M, Weekend $11.2M, Cume $195.4M

5. Magic Mike (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,090 Theaters] R
Friday $3.1M, Weekend $8.5M, Cume $91.5M

6. Savages (Universal) Week 2 [2,635 Theaters] R
Friday $2.6M (-53%), Weekend $8.2M, Cume $30.5M

7. Madea’s Witness Protection (TPerry/Lgate) Week 3 [2,004 Theaters]
Friday $1.8M, Weekend $5.4M, Cume $55.4M

8. Katy Perry 3D (Insurge/Paramount) Week 2 [2,732 Theaters] PG
Friday $1.4M (-48%), Weekend $4.0M, Cume $18.8M

9. Madasgascar 3 3D (DWA/Par) Week 6 [2,285 Theaters] PG
Friday $1.0M, Weekend $3.4M, Cume $203.6M

10. Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features) Week 7 [924 Theaters] PG13
Friday $965KM, Weekend $3.2M, Cume $32.0M

Although the latest Ice Age is under-performing relative to the other two summer animation blockbusters, it will still be an easy Numero Uno.

And consider: Pure animation sits at the top, followed by a feature with lots of animated visual effects (Spidey), followed by a hybrid animated feature (Ted.)

Then there's another pure animated feature at #4 ... and another at #9. When you think about it, that is pretty up-and-walking astounding.

Add On: Regarding Ice Age, perhaps one reason its opening box office is less than top drawer is the cool critical reception.

"The characters are manic and idiotic, the dialogue is rat-a-tat chatter, the action is entirely at the service of the 3-D, and the movie depends on bright colors, lots of noise and a few songs in between the whiplash moments," Roger Ebert writes.

Among those left with an iced over heart was USA Today's Claudia Puig, who implied viewers should come for the "The Simpsons" animated short that proceeds "Ice Age" and skip the main feature. ...

We'll see how the feature holds up in its second weekend. I've seen a couple of the pictures, and enjoyed them. The trouble with these things is at some point, the characters and repetitive plots wear out their welcome.
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Friday, July 13, 2012

To Sony?

The local paper says that DreamWorks Animation is teaming with the studio in Culver City.

DreamWorks Animation has decided not to distribute its own films after its longtime deal with Paramount Pictures expires this fall, and it may strike a new pact with Sony Pictures, according to people close to the negotiations not authorized to speak publicly.

The Glendale-based studio behind the “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda” movies must find a new distribution partner quickly. Its last film under the Paramount deal, “Rise of the Guardians," hits theaters on Nov. 12.

The publicly held DreamWorks does not yet have a distributor for “The Croods,” set to come out in March, and for "Turbo," scheduled for next July. It typically takes many months to coordinate the release of an animated film, because the genre attracts a variety of promotional and merchandise partners. ...

Disney has two theatrical animation studios that it distributes. So (I guess) why not Sony?

Of course, this raises the question about where the Sony Pictures Animation/Imageworks product is going to end up on the release schedule. Hotel Transylvania will roll out while DWA is still releasing through Paramount. But what about Popeye? And all the animated features to come?
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Wage survey: It's in the mail

I just signed off on the post office bulk mail form, and the wage survey questionnaires will be going out in the mail this afternoon.

The wage survey is our annual look at the "going rates" -- what Guild members are actually making.

This year, for the first time, you have the option to return the survey either in paper form or online. Just go to animationguild.org/wage-survey-2012. Sixty-four people have used the online form so far.

Filling out the survey online will require your name, home e-mail address and the last four digits of your SSN. If you'd rather not enter this info, just wait for the survey in the mail (you should get it by Wednesday July 18 at the very latest), fill it out on paper and return it in the prepaid envelope.

Either way, this will take less than five minutes of your time, and the information will help you and your fellow Guild members negotiate on a more equal footing. Please get it back to us by August 31. Thanks!
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First Look at Oz

Disney released the first trailer for The Great and Powerful Oz through their Walt Disney Studios UK YouTube channel. An interesting comment on where ticket sales are higher, in this blogger's opinion.

While the film is listed as being shot in Michigan, the post vfx work also done in the US through Luma Pictures and With A Twist Studios (although I was told Imageworks, was doing the Lion's share of the work), as well as the release dates spread evenly among the worlds larger cities, Disney UK released the first look at the hopeful blockbuster.

It's probably in no small part because ticket sales have largely been weighted heavily on the Non-US side. If one is to take Box Office Mojo's numbers to heart, half of the Top-10 films of the year have seen a majority of their revenue stem from overseas (highlighted in red):
(click for larger image)

Although, none of those films have finished their runs. A better example may be the results from last year:
(click for larger image)

I don't blame any studio trying to get as many foreign dollars as they can.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Around the Diz Toon Studio

Wandering through the Disney Toon facility on Sonora Street in Glendale is always enjoyable (although it's usually seems as quiet as a church library. Maybe it's the high ceilings, sound-absorbing cubicles and carpet.) ...

The next Tinkerbell feature gets released this October, and the following year the first Planes feature rolls into Disney's distribution channels. Staffers tell me that the picture will get theatrical releases in some foreign markets.

The studio is in the process of developing shorts for both franchises which will (presumably) go on the little silver disks. The thing that I didn't know but was happy to find out? Planes has a small animation crew inside Sonora that is animating key scenes for the first movie.

(There was a Disney Toon crew on Sharon Morril's version of Tinkerbell as well. It too was animating key scenes, also doing repair work on animation that came back from India. This group was housed on the main lot in Burbank. Sadly, the animators were laid off when the picture -- 60% animated and in color -- was viewed by Lasseter and Iger and deep-sixed.)

A couple of people asked me how much animation work is happening around town; I told them quite a lot. It's always nice to be riding an industry updraft. Hopefully it continues for awhile.
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The foot soldier of Visual Effects says:

... Kim Masters interviewed Battleship director Peter Berg on why his $200+ million film isn’t doing so well. During his explanation he mentions how expensive tentpole films are.

And the reason for this expense? Visual Effects!...:

Berg: $200 million dollars is the going rate for these films. That’s what they cost.

Masters: if not 3 ($300 million).

Berg: Yeah, I mean that's a reasonable number.

Masters: Shocking though it is, yes.

Berg: But the money is all going to … the business to be in is ILM. That’s whose making all the money..

Masters: The effects houses.

Berg: Yeah in particular ILM. I mean and they do great work but its what these films cost because you’ve got these giant visual effects components and they dictate the prices on them.

Ah, yes. In Hollywood, the buck-passing never stops.

But here's a news flash: Effects houses go belly up all the time, and it's not because they are rolling in huge profits. It's because they are money losers.

So why do the big, tent-pole effects exstravaganzas cost so damn much? VFX veteran Dave Rand has an idea:

... If directors actually directed the visual effects instead of being spoon fed their dailies from the VFX black box by a redundant hierarchy [over] the visual effects artist we’d stop getting to version 300 before the director even sees our work. It’s all a matter of taste and we should be answering to one source not a ladder of sources. ...

(Shorter Dave: Doing a shot over and over tends to drive up costs.)

Animated features, of course, are one big visual effect, and use the same hardware, software and skill sets as their live-action cousins. CG animated features are also hugely expensive, as was the case with their ancestors back near the dawn of time. (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cost $2,00,000 when two million greenbacks were really worth something. The next Disney feature Pinocchio cost well over $3,000,000 and was, dollar to minute, the most expensive movie of its time. Gone With tthe Wind cost $4,000,000 but was three hours and forty-five minutes against Pinoke's hour and twenty-five ... and so a bargain!)

Today's cartoon features, though hardly cheap, vary widely in cost. If Box Office Mojo is to be believed, Pixar's latest opus Brave carries a $185 million price tag, while DWA's Madagascar 3 comes in at $145 million, and Ice Age carries a $90 million sticker. The least expensive of the class are the off-shored candidates from Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, Lorax, Despicable Me Deux etc.) which cost somewhere within hailing distance of $70 million.

I submit that the bulk of cost variations result from the different approaches to creation. When you make a feature twenty or more times (Tangled comes to mind), you're going to get a large price tag. When you make a long-form cartoon with a story done once, and created through a well-planned but simplified pipeline (the Chris Meladandri model), you get lower budgets.

But even free-spending producers can learn new tricks. Take Depression-era Disney: After breaking the bank on the little wooden boy, Walt came back with a lower-budgeted production entitled Dumbo. Despite the low cost, people liked it. And went to see it. And seventy-one years later, most animation artists I know consider it one of the best films of its kind.

The take-away? Big budgets don't equal memorable movies. Never have, never will.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

At Starz Media

I've been up at Starz-Film Roman a couple of times in the last week, talking to crew about this and that. Some tid bits:

"Fox has worked to cut the costs of The Simpsons. The writers took an eleven percent cut and they've cut the animation crew budget went down by thirty percent. ..."

"They wanted to get rid of layout, but people convinced upper management that it would be a different show if it was board driven, so we've still got layout artists, just fewer of them. ..."

"What's happened is there's fewer positions on staff. The directors have two weeks less to complete shows, and a second director picks up simpler shots to cut down on workload and speed things up. We've got more computer programs and systems. Lots of steamlining. Next season's schedule will be a duplicate of this one. ..."

"I've got the feeling that newer Fox management would love to get rid of The Simpsons because they didn't launch it. (Thos people are gone.) But management here would be happy if it went on for five, six more years. I think Al Jean (Simpsons' mucky muck) would love to do more total episodes than Gunsmoke. ..."

Elsewhere at Starz, Spiderman is into its second season. As I've mentioned before, Marvel intends to keep it at FR and not move it to Marvel Animation. (At least, that's what they've told me.)
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Genndy Ascendant

My good friends at Sony tell me:

Sony Pictures Animation continues to expand its stable of talented filmmakers with the signing of three-time Emmy Award winner Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars) to an overall agreement that extends beyond his current directorial film debut of Hotel Transylvania to include development and direction of his own projects, as well as an all-new take on Popeye. The deal was announced today by Bob Osher, President of Sony Pictures Digital Productions, and Michelle Raimo-Kouyate, President of Production, Sony Pictures Animation.

“Sony Pictures Animation is committed to attracting – and keeping – industry visionaries with the creative instincts to craft the style of vibrant storytelling that has been our trademark for 10 memorable years,” says Osher. “I have known Genndy since his Hanna-Barbera days and am thrilled we are continuing the relationship with him. This is a very exciting collaboration, one that should yield wonderful animated stories in the years to come.”

"Genndy's unique style and vision are evident through his fantastic direction of Hotel Transylvania," adds Raimo-Kouyate. "We are excited to have him as part of the family at Sony Pictures Animation and look forward to supporting his extraordinary talents as they expand and take us in new, innovative directions."

“I grew up watching the works of great animators, such as Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, who knew that animation had no limits.” Tartakovsky explains. “At Sony Pictures Animation, I’ve found a new home where I’ve been given the opportunity to create new stories, characters and perhaps, even push the boundaries of animation".

Hotel Transylvania, which arrives in theatres on September 28, 2012, represents Tartakovsky’s theatrical directorial debut. Tartakovsky’s new overall deal includes development of his original concepts, as well as an all-new take on Popeye, based on the popular Hearst-owned King Features property and produced by Avi & Ari Arad, which Tartakovsky is also attached to direct.

Tartakovsky will lead a special presentation of Hotel Transylvania at Comic-Con in San Diego on Thursday, July 12 at 3:00 p.m. in the Indigo Ballroom of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. Fans in attendance will be the first to see all-new Comic-Con exclusive footage from the film, and have the opportunity to ask direct questions of Tartakovsky. Following the panel, Tartakovsky will be signing a Hotel Transylvania poster created specifically for Comic-Con fans at the Sony booth #4229.

A 20-year veteran of the art, Tartakovsky has received an impressive 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations – winning three times -- for work on the series Star Wars: Clone Wars and Samurai Jack, both for Cartoon Network. A recipient of the prestigious Winsor McCay Award, Tartakovsky’s creative leadership helped shape the direction and the rise to national prominence of the Cartoon Network, where he developed four hit animated series between 1994 and 2010: Dexter’s Laboratory; Samurai Jack; Star Wars: Clone Wars; and Sym-Biotic Titan.

Additionally, Tartakovsky served as a producer and director on Cartoon Network’s Emmy Award-winning series The Powerpuff Girls and as an animation director for The Powerpuff Girls: The Movie. He is also co-creator of the Network’s Dial M for Monkey and Justice Friends.

The Moscow-born, CalArts-educated Tartakovsky has been honored across the globe for his film festival entries (Ottawa, Annecy and Cartoons on the Bay). He started Orphanage Animation Studios in 2005, where he directed numerous well-known commercial spots and was instrumental in conceptualizing and storyboarding the final action sequence on Paramount Pictures’ summer 2010 blockbuster film Iron Man 2 ....

It seems that Sony likes what Genndy has created, and wants to keep him on the premises.

Here and there, Sony makes smart moves. (Added to which, I hear from staff that Transylvania is a good picture.)
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More Like the Mouse Each Day ...

Disney builds an amusement park, and now DreamWorks?

The Hollywood studio DreamWorks Animation has struck a deal to bring Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and other animated movie characters to a planned amusement park as part of a revived entertainment and retail mall in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

It would be the first theme park based on the studio’s animated movies since DreamWorks’s earlier plans for parks in China, Abu Dhabi and Dubai failed to work out. ...

In the late fifties, in the same area, a big amusement park named Freedomland was built. Shaped like the original 48 United States, it had dark rides, a choo-choo train, paddle boats and other entertainments.

It died a rapid death.

My thought on FL's demise? The climate in the greater New York area wasn't conducive to year-round fun and frivolity on outdoor amusements. (And still isn't. Anaheim or Orlando is one thing, but sleet, and snow? Even Diz Co. discovered the problems with frigid weather when it launched Paris Disneyland. The French, unlike say, the Japanese, are not necessarily jazzed by freezing their derrieres while waiting in long lines during December, January and February.)

But DreamWorks building an amusement facility someplace? Seems like a natural fit to me. And it is, after all, the way Uncle Walt catapulted himself into higher economic orbit in the middle 1950s, taking the first steps away from small, Hollywood studio to the giant, international conglomerate we know and worship today.

If it worked for Walt, it can certainly work for Jeffrey.
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At Diz

This morning I ambled about the hat building. The entry hall is festooned with Wreck-It Ralph displays: "Making of," in the case in the long hall, a big cardboard lobby display by the main desk. (I asked the guard sitting behind it how he could stand the same trailer sound track over and over. He said: "Not easy.")

Inside, the lighting department is into working Saturdays as the days before release dwindle away.

"We're down to just getting the picture done. I don't think there will be too many changes. There's no time. ..."

Meantime, some animators have gotten their lay-off dates. One of the lighters related: "There's going to be a four-month gap between Wreck-It and Frozen, and I don't think they'll hang onto anyone they don't need to keep."

More's the pity, but studios don't keep people they don't have an immediate assignment for. That mainly happened in the 1990s.
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