Friday, December 12, 2014



Sony Emails Reveal Failed Efforts to Recruit ‘Lego’ Directors to Run Animation Unit

Stolen emails from Sony Pictures reveal the studio tried and failed last summer to recruit Phil Lord and Chris Miller to take over its animation division.

The emails from the hacked documents, obtained by Variety, show studio toppers Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton looking to animation “to turn the studio around.” They hoped to install a Pixar-style “brain trust” of filmmakers at the top of Sony Pictures Animation. Lord and Miller were being courted to head that group; other names being floated included Brad Bird. ...

Michael Lynton wrote to Pascal and pointed a finger at Sony Pictures Digital president Bob Osher, who oversees Sony Animation and Imageworks. Lynton implied that Osher would have to be fired. Pascal responded that Osher’s “cost savings stuff” at Imageworks was “amazing.”

I've been going through Sony Pictures Animation and parts of Imageworks (non-union though it is) for the past decade. And I've been listening to the complaints of artists for almost as long as the studio has existed. Regarding Bob Osher:

"He's clueless." ... "Osher is not really interested in taking the division anywhere creatively, he just wants to suck up to Amy [Pascal]. ..." "We were set to have a screening on a [developing] project, and he cancelled the screening at the last minute because he hadn't gotten an e-mail he thought he should have gotten and was ticked off about it." ...

To be fair to Mr. Osher, management persons before him haven't gotten rave reviews from story artists or designers either. Bob Osher is just the latest top-kick about whom artists complained when I walked through the doors. Some of it you can chalk up to the general belly-aching that always ricochets around cartoon studios, but a lot of it was more than that.

Sony Pictures Animation started off semi-promisingly with Open Season, but things slid downhill after that. The division used to have a director on board named Chris Buck (Frozen), but he's long gone. It used to employ one of the best story persons in the business, a man named Ed Gombert, who story-directed the features Aladdin and The Croods, but SPA cut him loose. Many other talented animation veterans have also departed over the course of time.

I chatted to Lord and Miller when they were developing Cloudy With Meatballs, and immediately picked up that they were bright, funny, upbeat guys. New to animation, they were brought in to work on Cloudy after other development efforts had fallen flat. Amy Pascal (I was told) believed in the project, and thought there was a way to "lick it"; Lord and Miller found the correct route. (Pascal isn't a stranger to animation; she headed up Turner Feature Animation in the long-ago nineties.)

Talking to Lord and Miller, it was pretty clear they were iffy about hanging around after the picture was done. Other employees told me neither of them cared much for management.

More recently (and happily) Sony has brought in Genndy Tartakovsky, but is Genndy alone going to turn Sony around? Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks used to occupy the same Culver City campus; now Imageworks is a wee bit farther away in Vancouver. How that helps Sony's animated features to be better, I don't know. Certainly it will make them less expensive to produce, for the Canadians are throwing around lots of free money. But will that help them to be hits?

What amazes me most about the Variety article above is: I've been going into Sony Pictures Animation like forever, and the complaints and morale issues have smacked me in the face year in and year out. (Note the smacking here, here, here and here. And I was being diplomatic in these blog posts.)

If a union thug like me, ambling through the Spa/Imageworks campus every few months, can pick up on the general unhappiness, what drugs was management taking to miss it?

(And so you don't think I'm just a dour Sony basher, note this.)


Nathan said...

They'll hear the complaints from far-away Vancouver a lot less.

Alan Krows said...

From The LEGO Movie: "...all the way up on the infinitieth floor, guarded by a robot army, and security measures of every kind imaginable: lasers, sharks, laser sharks, overbearing assistants..."

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