Friday, March 31, 2006

"The Simpsons" Feature

Today, a trailer for "The Simpsons" upcoming feature is being released with "Ice Age 2"... This pup is now in production at IDT for a summer 2007 release. It's been rumored about for years. It's been an open secret around the studio for weeks...since everyone and his brother has been working on the flick, but "secret" it has been. Fox had another animation studio do the trailer, the better to keep the whole thing under wraps. Employees have been required to sign confidentiality agreements. (We wouldn't want to reveal any deep dark secrets about Bart, Marge et famille, now would we?) I've known about the project for awhile, but didn't want to spoil the party by blogging about it. Good to know that there's another hand-drawn feature being produced (at least partly) here in town. Click here to read entire post

Disney In the Seventies & Eighties -- Pete Young

Pete Young was, at the start of the seventies, a young effects animation assistant trying to break into the Disney story department... (That's Pete on the left there, circa 1985, in Disney's Flower Street Building. Not the greatest picture, but what I've got.) Pete managed to get a 'try out' with the story department. He took a book the studio owned entitled The Small One, and worked nights drawing it up. The powers-that-be decided the board had possibilities and gave Pete a shot at developing it further -- mentored by Vance Gerry, one of the seasoned vets of the Disney story department. The Small One was greenlit for production, assigned to a director, and left Pete's and Vance's hands. Pete wasn't happy about the direction the story later took, but he was in the story department and finally off and running. Over the next several years, Pete worked on The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, and The Great Mouse Dtective (original and better title: Basil of Baker Street). On Fox, Pete boarded some of the most effective 'relationship' sequences: a sorrowful widow Tweed dropping her small pet fox off in the forest so the hunter wouldn't kill it, also the young hound dog Copper being introduced to the older hunting dog Chief near the start of the picture (This was put in late in the story cycle. Pete thought there needed to be more character development up front in F & H and he was right. But he was cunning about putting it in. As he once related to me: "You can never introduce a new story element into your boards before the director's ready for it. Otherwise, it's probably going to get rejected." He was right about that, too.) Pete, along with Ron Clements, pushed Basil of Baker Street as an animated project; Ron Miller greenlit it and Jeffrey Katzenberg okayed its continuation in production. At the first 'Gong Show' -- a big pitch meeting presided over by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner -- Pete brought up the idea of doing Oliver Twist in New York City with dogs and a cat. Eisner and Katzenberg immediately took to it, and gave it a nod for further development. (At the same meeting, Ron Clements pitched The Little Mermaid and Treasure Island set in space. Fairly productive pitch meeting, wasn't it?) In a half dozen years, Pete climbed from the bottom of Disney Feature Animation's story department to the top. But you won't read much about him, or see his name featured in Disney histories. He died suddenly in the Fall of 1985, at the age of 37. I think about him a lot. Click here to read entire post

Pixar Flashes Yellow Light for Disney Visits....

Word reaches us that numerous Disney Feature Animation people have been journeying up to Emeryville to check out goings on at Pixar... ...word also reaches us that Pixar employees are complaining about not getting work done because of all the looky-loos from D.F.A. who're interrupting that work. So John Lasseter has put a freeze on junkets from Burbank to the Bay Area. At least, that's how the story goes... UPDATE: (April 3, 2006) The issue, it appears, was too many requests coming in for visits to Pixar from Disney Feature. Pixar said (in effect): "Whoaa. Let's talk about this. A few people, fine. The numbers you're talking about, could be excessive." Click here to read entire post

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mark Dindal and Randy Fullmer Kiss the Mouse Goodbye

Mark and Randy now ankle Disney after leading the creation of one of the last hand-drawn Disney features -- "The Emperor's New Groove" -- and the first CGI offering (not counting "Dinosaur")... Mark D. began his directing career (he had earlier been a Disney animator) with the creative and quirky "Cats Don't Dance," produced by Turner Feature Animation. Thereafter, he and Randy teamed up as director/producer of "The Emperor's New Groove," for my money one of the most entertaining of later Disney features. The buzz around DFA at the time of the flick's release was that Eisner disliked "Groove" and the studio didn't put a whole lot of advertising muscle behind it. But the picture increased its box office take by 50% in its second week or release, something generally unheard of in filmland. For an insider's look at the gestation of "The Emperor's New Groove," try and get hold of the documentary "The Sweat Box" by Trudie Styler (Sting's wife.) It's an eye opener. And for a linked article on Dindal and Fullmer's departure, click on the title up above. Click here to read entire post

Inside the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan

And now we do some narrow-casting -- a post of interest to participants in the entertainment industry's largest pension and health plan - The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan...and less interest to others... Top Plan Administrator Tom Zimmerman rolled out facts and figures about the Pension Plan at Tuesday night's panel discussion. The nuts and bolts: * The Plan has $4.6 billion in total assets, with 29 investment managers to oversee them. * There are 36 Trustees on the Plan, half from the major studios and half from the unions covered by the Plan. * $2.3 billion is in the Defined Benefit Plan part of the Pension (this is the "old style" pension plan that pays participants a monthly retirement check when they retire.) There was a 15% increase in the payouts to participants who retired after August 1, 2003. An additional 10% increase is penciled in to take effect in 2009, and it will be retroactive to 2006. (Total pension plan increases since '96: a whopping 84%.) * The Individual Account Plan (IAP) -- which is the newer part of the pension plan, holds $1.7 billion in assets. The Plan investments in the IAP are more heavily weighted toward bonds than the Defined Benefit Plan, since there's a need to have enough cash on hand to pay participants rolling into retirement, and many of the accounts are large. Despite the need for conservative investing, the IAP has averaged 9% per annum returns (compounded, of course) over the last 20 years, and 5.5% over the last five years. As noted in previous posts, our IAP will get healthy bump ups in contributions from the studios in our new contract. * Residuals: The Plan received $350 million in residual payments last year. This is the secret to why our health plan is so good, without payroll deductions, and without bankrupting signator studios. These residuals go into the health plan and, when that plan is adequately funded, into the IAP. In the past five years, residuals have provided around 50% of the cash flow coming into the plan and are -- obviously -- important. One example: 50% of the work done on The Titanic was "union work," that is, work performed under a union contract. Residuals that have flowed in from The Titanic have totaled $9 million to date. If all of the work had been done under contract, the residuals would have totalled $18 million. * Last year the Plan's cash inflow totaled $700 million (half from residuals, half from hourly and IAP contributions.) Cash outflow was just under $600 million. * The are 42,000 eligible participants in the plan. 72 million contribution hours came into the plan in the last reported year, which is an increase from hours in the previous year. The message here: it's crucial that participants work under a union contract, otherwise the plan, and your pension, doesn't keep growing. The Health Plan There have been plan changes to contain costs -- 1) Doctor visit co-pays will rise from the current $10 per visit to $25 (remember, no copays for visits to the Motion Picture Television Fund clinics). 2) Participants who go to a hospitals outside the Blue Cross PPO network will have to pay 30% of hospital and doctor costs (up from 15% currently. This is designed to "encourage" participants to stay inside the network.) 3) Drug costs will go up somewhat. Generic brands will not rise, but brand costs will jump from $15 to $20 per prescription. 4) There will now be a $50 co-pay for emergency room visits. Currently this is $0, but the $50 fee will be waived if the participant is admitted to the hospital. This, in a nutshell, were the highlights of Mr. Zimmerman's presentation. He related that the pension benefits are absolutely rock solid (funded at 102% currently) but that health care costs continue to rise. Rising health care costs are the number one issue nationwide, and it's the same for our health plan. Nationwide, health care premiums last year rose 15%. Because of our relationship with the MPTF Clinics, our health care costs rose 8% last year. As an example of how severe uncontrolled health care costs can be, SAG's plan recently "hit the wall" and eligibility requirements had to be significantly increased, so that about one third of SAG members no longer qualify for health coverage. Because of the way we make use of residuals, we are aren't in danger of such an event, but we do need to be vigilant about controlling health care costs. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Happenings At Studios NOT Disney...

While most eyes have been focussed on the Mouse House's animation studio and what its new leaders are up to, other things have been percolating at L.A. studios that don't have "Disney" in their names... At DreamWorks, we hear that Jerry Seinfeld remains deeply involved with the animated feature he developed and wrote as the project moves into production. Staffers say he looks at models and designs giving input, and that he's in the studio every few weeks looking at animation. He's also video teleconferencing from New York to stay fully involved. The picture is reputed to be shaping up nicely... At IDT/DPS/Film Roman, staff continues to expand inside the new Hollywood Way facility. In addition to all the television and direct-to-video product, a crew for one of the studio's upcoming theatrical features will soon be headquartered on the building's first floor. (At present, most of the artistic staff is on the third floor, with administration occupying floor #2.) Click here to read entire post

Meanwhile On the Labor Front...

The morning trade papers tell us: SAG gets animated with deal Guild draws tentative cable animation pact By DAVE MCNARY (Variety) A day after receiving strike authorization from members on its live-action basic cable contract, SAG reached a tentative deal on its animation cable contract. SAG said Tuesday that the new 2 ½-year animation pact represents a 20% hike in residuals, based on the typical pattern for animated basic cable episodes of an initial run followed by an average of 25 repeats.... What this means, of course, is that animation staffs won't be forced into layoffs because no voice recording happens due to a strike. (OTOH, SAG has gone after strike authorization for its live action cable agreement. On that one, the Screen Actors Guild hasn't struck a deal.) I've been told that IATSE Prez Tom Short and Directors Guild of America topkick Jay Roth have been working behind the scenes to avoid job actions by other unions in the next few years. They're both acutely aware that if SAG or the WGA strike for lengthy periods of time, nobody else will be working either... Click here to read entire post

At the General Membership Meeting

Despite the rain, a healthy quorum of Animation Guild members showed up at the General Membership meeting last night to hear about changed elements of the health and pension plan (some better, some...ahm...different), and to learn about the Guild's new contract and building... Re the contract: Copies of the Memorandum of Agreement and ballots should be in their mailboxes by the middle of next week. New provisions include:
  • increases in employer health plan contributions, the pension plans, and the retired employees fund;
  • increases in wage minimums in each of the next three years ($.75/hr; 3%, 3% -- which mirrors the IA Basic Agreement);
  • a 50% increase in benefit contributions for freelance writers.
The Negotiation Committee, which unanimously recommended the contract deal, has touted it as the best new contract we've had in at least the last twenty years. Ratification ballots will be due back by April 24, to be counted the next day. Important note: The American Arbitration Association does the ballot mailing, counting, and certifcation for the Guild's contracts and officer elections. The ballots will arrive in an envelope with their return address, and must be returned to their PO box and not to the Guild. All active members will be mailed balllots, but only those who are "in good standing" (that is, paid up through the 2nd quarter) will have their ballots counted. Re the new building: The membership overwhelmingingly approved the acquisition of a new building, located at 1150 N. Hollywood Way, closer to the studios, in Burbank. Kevin has discussed the new building in previous blog posts (here, here and here), and in the March Peg-Board. Re the state of our benefits: Tom Zimmerman, the director of the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plans, spent the first hour discussing the state of our health insurance and pension, which remain the best in the entertainment industry. (Kevin has previously posted about the "defined benefit" pension, the Individual Account Plan and the 401(k) Plan, and there will be more in future blogposts and in the April Peg-Board.) (Interesting sidelight: Local 44 -- where the guild's membership meetings have been held the last several years -- was holding an emergency Executive Board meeting downstairs and 44's parking lot was jammed. Apparently they have brought their executive director up on internal charges and they've been pretty busy around there lately.)
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Brief History of Hollywood Residuals

Residuals. They represent money that every entertainment union in Hollywood collects, one way or the other. For SAG, the DGA, and WGAw residuals mean money from broadcast, cable, and home video that flows directly into individual guild members' pockets. For the IATSE and its various Hollywood unions and guilds, it means money that goes from the same sources into the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans... For better or worse, that was the way the residual pie was divvied up back in the late fifties. The collective wisdom then was: the "above the line" guilds represent fewer people in their crafts, so they'll cut residuals on an individual basis; the IA and teamsters rep big film crews, therefore they'll get residuals via their health and pension plans. This is the way it's been ever since, and the formula has caused unhappiness, particularly among animation writers working under TAG contracts. They see their live-action counterparts collecting extra checks, and want the same. They see the animation writers working on Fox's prime-time shows ("The Simpsons," "Family Guy," and "American Dad") getting residuals, and believe -- non unreasonably -- that they deserve them too. Money -- especially in Tinsel Town -- is how everyone keeps score. And writers want (as everyone wants) more cash showing up on their scoreboard. The Animation Guild has made runs at an "above-the-line" residual structure on lots of occasions. In 1943, the Screen Cartoonists Guild (our predecessor) proposed residuals and got shot down. The writers and actors had residuals on the table numerous times before Ronald Reagan finally got a residual deal in 1960. The guilds have struck for residuals, or better residuals, repeatedly over the years. What about TAG? In 1994, TAG President Tom Sito worked to rally support for a residual proposal on behalf of animators, board artists, animation directors and writers. Because key players were reluctant to stick their necks out publicly, the proposal died. The Animation Guild's negotiating committee in 2000. Earl Kress, TAG Vice-President, is second from the left in the second row. Earl, a veteran animation writer, has been one of TAG's strongest advocates for animation writers In 2000, animation writers made up a majority of The Animation Guild's negotiation committee and spent months crafting residual proposals. They (and I) spent nine months negotiating with animation producers over the issue. It was like negotiating with a cinder block wall. In the end, they got substantial improvement on freelance health and pension benefits...but no WGA-style residuals. The negotiating committee recommended a "no" vote to TAG's membership, but the contract was approved by a wide margin (83%-17%). Members sometimes ask me: "Why don't we have SAG/WGA/DGA type residuals?" I tell them, because we don't now have the leverage. And I go further than that: Nobody now has the leverage. Not the DGA, not SAG, not the WGA east or west. If they did, SAG and every other union would now be getting residuals on 100% of DVDs, not the 20% they currently endure with gritted teeth. At the time TAG was negotiating for a different residual structure, WGAw President John Wells was drawing a bright line in the sand for his members. He declared that getting improvements in the DVD residuals was a do-or-die issue, a reason for hitting the bricks. But in the end, there were no residual improvements and no strike. When push came to shove, the WGA looked at cold, hard reality and blinked. Like every other union blinks in this cruel, corporatist age. The playing field was more or less level in 1960, but now it's closer to a steep cliff. The conglomerates against which Hollywood labor negotiates every three years can take multiple punches without showing a bruise, and everyone knows it. While a six or nine-month strike would gut labor's pension and health plans, it would put little more than small dents in the bottom lines of News Corp., Viacom, Time-Warner or Disney. If NO union or guild now had residuals, it would be difficult to get them at all in today's climate. It's not a fact that brings me joy, but fact it is. You only get big improvements in collective bargaining agreements when you have big leverage. Without it, you settle for small, incremental improvements. Sadly, "incremental" is the watchword in 2006. Click here to read entire post

General Membership Meeting tonight!

Just a reminder that our general membership meeting is tonight at the local 44 meeting hall. It should be an eventful meeting, so we hope you'll brave the rain and come by for some pizza, sodas, and a discussion of our benefits plan, our new building, our new CBA, and the usual round-up of what's happening around town . . . As always, the food and socializing starts at 6:30, and the meeting itself at 7:00. Tonight will be a little different, as the panel discussion will be first on the agenda, and the meeting proper will begin around 8:00. We should have you out of there by 9:00. In case it's not handy, the address is 12021 Riverside Drive, just off Laurel Canyon. Click here to read entire post

Monday, March 27, 2006

Larry C.'s Hollywood Tales (Yet Again)

On Hope and Crosby: Writing for Bing on his radio show all those years, sometimes I did more than just write. Bing went on Bob Hope's program a lot and Bob went on Bing's. They went back and forth all the time... One week Bob was on Bing's show, and we were doing a remote broadcast out at March Air base in Riverside. Big crowd of military guys. Bob and Bing were up on stage in front of the radio microphone, reading the script we had written. Now Bob's a good ad libber, but people forget that Bing was really quick on his feet. And that particular day, when Bob threw out a zinger, Crosby would come back and top him. Now Bob isn't real happy he's getting topped. And finally it gets to the point where Bob has had enough of Bing's witty comebacks, so he says "Lemme see that script," and grabs all the pages out of Bing's hands. "Where does it say that? Where? Where is it?" The soldiers and airmen are eating it up. Howling. And Bob snorts, "That's not written here anywhere. You don't need this!" And he flings all the pages out into the audience. The other writer and I scramble down into the crowd. We're down on our hands and knees, scooping up pages between the chairs, wondering how we're going to repair the damage. But Bing keeps right on, keeping up with Bob, never missing a beat. And he didn't have a script. Click here to read entire post

"Simpsons" Re-Upped for Two More Years

In case you missed it, "The Simpsons" was extended for two more seasons, which will run it out until 2008... Fox knows a lucrative tent-pole when it sees one. Little did anyone suspect, back when artists began working on the show at Klasky-Csupo back in '90-'91, that many of them would be making a career on a single show. We should all be so lucky. Congratulations to all who have brought Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa to this point in their illustrious careers... Click here to read entire post

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Meeting About Maximizing Your Health and Pension Plans

There are ways to get MORE from your pension plans when you retire, and SAVE on health costs* with the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan now. Tom Zimmerman and Greg Mason, top dogs at the MPIPHP (our pension and health plans) will be in attendance at Tuesday night's General Membership meeting to answer any and all questions on how to make those things happen... The Health Plan benefit structure will be changing a bit over the next three years, and the Pension Plans will be offering higher payouts to new retirees. If you want to know details (and knowledge is power) you should be there for the panel. The festivities start at 7:00 p.m. (Pizza and drinks 6:30), after which we'll be holding our regular membership meeting. I plan to hold a discussion about the TAG 401(k) Plan afterward for anyone who's interested. Meeting will be held at: IATSE Local 44 Meeting Hal (second floor). 12021 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood. (Across from Gelson's near Laurel Canyon Drive and Riverside). * One way to hold down health care costs: Use the Motion Picture and Television Fund clinics. Kevin and I both use them, and find their services to be high quality. Click here to read entire post

The No-Strike Clause

People frequently ask about the 'no-strike clause' in our contract with the producers, usually wondering "How can we have any real clout if we've given up the right to strike?" There it is in Article 51, part J. of our contract: The Union agrees during the existence of this Agreement, unless the Producer fails to comply with an arbitration award, not to strike against, picket or boycott the Producer . . . The Producers agrees not to engage in any lockout . . . And there's the rub -- during the existence of this Agreement. A 'no-strike, no-lockout clause' is in every union contract, including those of SAG and the WGA. Strikes happen (as our last ones did in 1979 and 1982) when a contract is expired, and negotiations are deadlocked. So the question becomes, "If we have the same ability to strike, why don't we at least threaten it when we're in negotiations, the way a couple of other Hollywood unions regularly do?" As I write this, SAG's Basic Cable Agreement is expired, and they're voting to authorize a strike.* I look at strikes as labor's nuclear option. If you engage in nuclear war with a well-prepared opponent, you know both sides will take terrible casualties -- you just hope the other guy will get hurt worse, or will yield to your threat to go nuclear. The problem is that, in today's entertainment world, the 'other guys' (the studios) are small parts of huge conglomerates, and they can weather an entertainment strike far, far more easily than even the most powerful guild can. Hence the IATSE's choice to eschew brinkmanship and strike threats, and to negotiate early. The idea is that the early bird gets the worm, because the producers want to set the pattern that early, cooperative negotiations are more productive. And, frankly, when we look at how little has been accomplished by the recent strikes and threatened strikes in Hollywood, I think that's clearly been the case. *Fortunately, SAG has a separate cable animation contract, which is reportedly "far closer to resolution that the basic cable deal." Addendum (4/28/06): Per the LATimes, SAG's membership has indeed voted for the strike authorization. Stay tuned for further developments. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Disney Walkabout

Lugging my bags of 401(k) books up and down the stairs at Disney Feature I keep running into staffers in the building who fret about new feature animation's new exec VP of production, Andrew Millstein: "Jeeze, Andrew was in charge of DreamQuest when it closed, in charge of The Secret Lab when that closed, then it was Disney Animation Florida and Circle Seven. And now both of those are gone. Should we be worried?" Personally, I know Andrew Millstein somewhat, and he's always seemed like an okay guy to me. Not his fault if the company keeps shooting horses out from under him. He's got to be doing a job they like, because he's still there. On an unrelated Disney topic, I ran into Ron Clements and John Musker a few days back, up on DFA's third floor, diving into new projects. I congratulated them on their six-month sabbatical from the Mouse House and said, "Didn't they just throw you a big going away party?" John said: "Yeah, they did. I hope the company doesn't want all the money they spent on it back." I don't think John (or Ron) have to worry. Click here to read entire post

Animated Features Released In March

You wouldn't think that March was the greatest time to launch a movie. The Wisdom of the Hollywood Suits dictates that November-December or June-July are the golden windows of opportunity, but take a gander at the animated flicks that have been unspooled during March's madness... Wizards (1977) -- directed by Ralph Bakshi, this modestly-budgeted feature made some coin. (I've put in box office figures where I've found them...) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) -- directed by Woolie Reitherman and John Louunsberry. A compilation of the earlier "Pooh" featurettes, with a few minutes of new animation. (Who would have guessed that A.A. Milne, who made a ton of money cranking out mystery novels, would today be remembered for his "Winnie the Pooh" books, and that most of his other tomes are forgotten?) Secret of the Sword (1985)-- A He-Man and She-ra epic -- directed by Ed Friedman and other Filmation regulars. Thumbelina (1994) -- Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Animator and director Don Bluth is one of the most prolific creators of animated product outside of Disney. All Dogs Go To Heaven 2 (1996) -- directed by Larry Leker and Paul Sabella. The sequel to Don Bluth's late eighties feature. (Back then, Don was giving the Mouse House a run for its money...) Cats Don't Dance (1997) -- directed by Mark Dindall. Mr. Dindall's and Turner Feature Animation's first full-length toon. Mark has gone on to direct The Emperor's New Groove and Chicken Little. Turner, on the other hand, disappeared after Ted Turner sold out to Warner Bros. The King and I (1999) -- directed by Richard Rich. Rick RIch started as an assistant director at Disney Feature and went on to co-direct The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron before forming his own animation company. Doug's First Movie (1999)-- directed by Maurice Joyce. One of Disney Television Animation's theatrical releases, of which they've had several. They're usually modest box office performers, but platforming them at the neighborhood Bijou sets them up nicely for home video sales. The Road to El Dorado (2000) -- directed by Eric Bergeron and Don Paul. This hand-drawn production grossed $50 million at the box office. Two more hand-drawn films followed before Shrek reoriented the studio's direction. Ice Age (2002) -- directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha -- Fox's earlier, hand-drawn features met with, ahem, mixed success. But this Blue Sky Studios offering out of White Plains, New York hit a home-run, grossing $175,676,099 before trekking to video. Piglet's Big Movie (2003) directed by Francis Glebas. Decade by decade, the "Pooh" product keeps coming. This one took in $23,073,611 before going to DVD. Robots (2005) -- directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. Blue Sky's follow up to Ice Age, and doing slightly less well at the turnstiles. About thirty-seven million dollars less well. And now comes Ice Age: The Meltdown this coming Friday, which will likely quickly become the biggest hit of the year so far (until the summer blockbuster season begins in May). Click here to read entire post

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where to Invest Your 401(k) Money

The past week I've been doing TAG's quarterly 401(k) enrollment meetings, and the question I always get is: "Hey, I'm thrilled to be finally starting a 401(k), but where do I put my money?..." I'm not a financial planner, but I've had to read a ton of books (out of self defense) and talk to a load of experts, and here -- in a nutshell -- is what I've gleaned: 1) Diversify. Stocks, foreign and domestic. Stocks, large, small and middle size companies. Bonds. Real estate. (okay, I know TAG's Plan doesn't offer a real estate option, but you can invest in this elsewhere.) 2) Asset allocate. A chunk of dough in each of the above categories. Rebalance every six or twelve months (in other words, bring you allocations back to their original percentages: 25% foreign, 25% domestic large cap, 25% doomestic small cap, 25% bonds.) 3) Learn about investing. As you gain knowledge, you'll discover that the "experts" don't do any better than the average, in-the-know investor. (I had a "financial advisor for years and years who took 2% off the top. I finally dropped him when I realized that the INDEX FUND into which I'd put money without his help outperformed his complicated, computerized stock models. When he took his 2% cut, he couldn't compete with a low-cost S & P 500 Index Fund. The point spread was just too much.) Here are a few web suggestions for growing your investment savvy: -- scroll down this site and click on "Reading List." You'll get great tips on books that can teach you what investing is all about. (The website is operated by Dr. William Bernstein, an Oregon neurologist who also is a full time financial consultant.) -- financial analyst Barry Ritholtz with one of the most entertaining financial blogs around. -- this site rates stocks and mutual funds. Morningstar also has a series of great books on Stock, Eschange Traded Funds and Mutual Funds -- available at fine bookstores everywhere. Click here to read entire post

Financial Core and the '82 Strike

"Financial Core." Those two words are not loved by labor organizations. They represent a status some members occasionally take to remove themselves from the embracing arms of a guild or union but allows them to continue to work under that union or guild's jurisdiction... The status was invented by the Supreme Court years ago as a way-station for individuals who felt they were forced to join a union against their will. It enabled them to work under the union's jurisdiction without being a member. Though they have to pay union dues and fees, they can't vote or participate in union activities. They also aren't subject to a union's disciplinary rules. If they cross the union's picket line, they can't be punished. If they work a "non-union job," no reprisals by the union can be taken against them. Now, I'm simplifying a bit, but this is essentially the way "Financial Core" works. Most Hollywood guilds and unions don't have huge difficulties with it because the vast majority of their members opt for full membership. Why? Because even in this age of rampant corporatism, there is a culture within the Hollywood labor movement that works against members opting for "financial core" status. (This is one of the big reasons, I think, that unions in the movie business are still relatively strong. And wages are still relatively high.) For a long time, The Animation Guild had a number of individuals who had taken "financial core" status -- more than any West Coast IATSE local. This happened because of a long, debilitating strike that the Animation Guild inhitiated against every animation studio in 1982. The central issue was...runaway production (sound familiar?). Vance Gerry -- one of the greatest story artists ever to work at Walt Disney Feature Animation -- and Laughing Boy (moi), in the first hour of the first day of a ten-week strike. (We're at the front gate of Disney's, on Buena Vista Street.) We weren't so jolly ten weeks later, but we both stayed out until the bitter end... A short job action (two weeks long) in '79 had secured a guarantee of employment for employed studio artists and technicians before work could be sent offshore; in '82, the studios were bound and determined to roll back that guarantee. A ten-week strike resulted -- the longest in West Coast Animation's history. Day after day, week after week, we plodded up and down the summer sidewalks in blistering heat while guild negotiators fought with the studios over the "runaway" clause. In the ninth week, a large number of Disney strikers, tired of no paychecks and little progress in contract talks, took "financial core" status, crossed the picket line and returned to work. Days later, the President of the IATSE ordered the Guild to call off the strike and tell the people still on the line to go back to their jobs. The contract was settled, minus the guarantee for jobs before work could be sent out of the country. So it ended badly. Bitterness against the guild, between members who stayed out and members who resigned and went back in, lingered for a long time. But twenty-three years have now passed, and most of the scars have faded. And a funny thing has happened: Over the decades, lots of people who took financial core status in '82 have returned to full membership. And many who are still resigned but continue working, think of themselves as full members. (I know because I've talked to a lot of them). They've pretty much forgotten about the resignation letter that sits in their files in the union office. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Animation Moves & News

The article linked to the title above says Disney Feature Animation might be moving to the Grand Central Industrial Park in Glendale... There might be something to the story. It's almost touted as Gospel fact that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull don't care for the "hat building", but that's not the only buzz about animation studios changing location. For instance, other gossip says that: Warners Animation -- now housed in a large building at the Sherman Oaks Galleria -- will move back to either A) some new building on the "Warner Ranch" in Burbank, or B) the new office building next to NBC. Cartoon Network Studios -- now tucked inside a three-story building next to the Burbank Fire/Police Departments on Third Street in Burbank, will move to the same facility that will soon house Warner Animation. DPS-Film Roman will have to find additional space for its relocated staff as that staff continues to grow...and grow. But to return to Disney Feature Animation: When I was an elementary school kid, the Disney lot was a place of sound stages, graceful low-slung buildings and green ball-fields. My old man played touch football on the wide grass field that is now filled with the Team Disney/Michael Eisner building (you know, that big square structure with the seven dwarfs holding up the roof?). Today the Disney lot has all the charm of Warner Bros. or Paramount, little more than a cramped chunk of real estate with mismatched buildings and sound stages that hold all the charm of the garment district in South-Central L.A. What a hoot if Disney Animation abandons the "hat building" and moves to Glendale...with a ball field out the back door. Click here to read entire post

Larry C's Hollywood Tales (Again)

On Working for Bing Crosby: I left Disney around the time of the '41 strike, and wrote copy for technical manuals in a defense plant. Near the end of the War, a friend of mine helped me get a job as a writer on Bing Crosby's radio show. I got on staff after I wrote a few bits the show's head writer liked.... I know that Bing's son Gary wrote a book about what a bad father he was, but he was great to work for. Never got angry or screamed, stayed mellow. Once in a while, a little sardonic. But he did give not great Christmas presents to the staff. Usually we got a cheap wallet with his caricature embossed on it. One Christmas, a writer who was temporarily on staff to help us write the holiday show got one of Bing's cheap wallets. He was standing there looking at it when Bing strolled across the studio, and he waved it over his head and called out: "Hey! Bing! I got your form letter!" Bing doubled over with laughter. Which shows, if nothing else, that he had a sense of humor about the cheesy wallets. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What I Told a Nick Veep

Had a nice conversation with a Nickelodeon executive today. Kind of a "Hi, howdy" thing, an introductory sit-down... After pleasantries, the vice-president asked if there were any issues I wanted to share. I said the only ones that came to mind were the hours of uncompensated overtime that most tv animation houses -- including Nick -- often have their employees do. I said I didn't know how many grievances would result from uncompensated o.t., since most employees don't like to stick their heads up above the parapet too high. But I made clear it was an ongoing issue. The veep thanked me for being frank and open. Click here to read entire post

Eric Goldberg knows where J. Hoffa is

Click here to read entire post

The Rising Militancy of Hollywood Labor

Yesterday's VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER had front-page articles (click on title above) regarding how SAG is going after a strike authorization vote... ...and how the producers are taken aback and miffed at this unseemly bristling by the Screean Actors Guild. The AMPTP topkick Nick Counter said in VARIETY: "SAG's reaction is surprising. The offer that's on the table should close the deal..." But apparently the offer didn't slam the lid shut. This isn't surprising. The guilds have been working to get a bigger piece of the residual cake for years; the producers and the AMPTP have made it clear they don't want to cut more generous slices for SAG, the WGA or anybody else. The studios digging in their heels the last ten or fifteen years is -- no doubt -- at least part of the reason SAG and the WGA have now elected more militant officers. We live in a corparatist age of huge multi-national conglomerates, and the conglomerates don't want to give an inch. A few millimeters, maybe. But not an inch. So Hollywood labor today is divided into two camps: the pragmatists -- exemplified by the Directors Guild of America and the IATSE (our mother international) who believe in early, focused negotations and focused results -- and the militants who negotiate to deadline and work to leverage better deals by threatening to strike. The writers and actors are over in this camp. When the playing field was more level, the "strike" strategy worked pretty well. Studios couldn't afford long halts in production, so they gave more. (That's how the unions and guild got residuals in the first place). Today, studios CAN afford to take a strike (or at least, certainly say they can.) I tend to believe them. They are, after all, no longer stand-alone companies, but small fly wheels in the massive clockworks that are Viacom, Disney-ABC, General Electric and Time-Warner. Not like the good old days, eh? This is a drawing of Pluto that was drawn on the Disney picket line in '41. A striker was making drawings and selling them for the Screen Cartoonists' strike fund.

Different times.

Pluto image: (c) Walt Disney Co.

Addendum: At lunch today with other IA reps, the buzz was that the producers intend to take a strike from SAG, in order to "teach the militants a lesson." The companies' thinking is (and we'll see if it pans out) that it's better to "send a message" now, over the basic cable agreement, than wait until the larger, master agreements are up for negotiation in a year or two and more jobs are at stake.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Life at the SPA

Open Season, Sony Pictures Animation's first cgi animated feature, is pretty well completed.... ...and Sony Pictures Imageworks -- a different Sony Company -- did the production work. A SPA employee told me: "Sony Imageworks animated the feature pretty fast without a lot of retakes because SPI's deal with SPA was to do it for a price. And that meant that SPI tried to minimize redos. Otherwise SPI wouldn't make much money on the deal. But the picture looks good." The picture is also reputed to be quite entertaining. Surf's Up, an epic about surfing penquins, is the next feature on SPA's schedule. Hotel Transylvania, another feature, has recently been put into development and is percolating along. The project with a question mark next to it is Cloudy with Meatballs. The last story pass was, apparently, less than totally successful with SPA execs, and now the picture's story crew is working on other things as a new Meatballs script is being readied. Story people tell me they were...ahm...downhearted when the second pair of Meatballs directors were let go a few months back, as the directors were well- liked. Staffers speculate that Transylvania might end up being moved up in the rotation ahead of Meatballs. Time will tell. Click here to read entire post

Disney Employees in the Seventh Circle...

of waiting...while the Mouse House sorts out job assignments for "Toy Story 3" staffers. The "TS" sequel might have officially been shut down, but some employees over at Circle Seven in Glendale are still up in the air about where they will finally land in the company. Or whether they will land anywhere at all. Around a dozen cgi artists and programmers were brought over from Europe by Disney in the past few months. As one one of them told me: "I just sold everything at home and settled my family here, and now I don't know if there'll be any work after the end of my contract. They're trying to work something out, but nobody is making any promises." A lot of employees on the project -- and this includes the artists here on immigration visas -- have six-month work agreements. Most of those agreements end in the next few months. Some tense folks at Circle Seven these past few days. Click here to read entire post

Our new home

Here's a photo of our new home at 1105 N. Hollywood Way, in Burbank. We won't be ready to move in for probably 8-12 months, but we thought you'd want an early look.

We're currently in the inspection phase, so it's not a completely done deal yet, but it's looking good. We'll be engaging an architect to make over the exterior of the building (it's pretty blah now, as well as to build out a portion of the building that is currently warehouse space.

And the best part? See that parking lot on left? That entire parking lot (along with 10 more spaces in the front of the building) will be ours!
Click here to read entire post

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Steve Jobs Mosaic

Disney's soon-to-be largest shareholder (up there with his close, personal friend Michael Eisner)... ...on a whole bunch of magazine covers (just click on title above.) I can identify with Steve's changing hair color and hair line. Time doth march on. Click here to read entire post

Adios Gnomio and Juliet?

Disney's animated feature "Gnomio and Juliet," which has been in and out of development for some years, is allegedly out again... The flick, with a garden gnome as a central character, is now cancelled. Insiders say a well-known Pixar executive asked last week at a meeting: "Why are we making this?" After a long silence (SFX: crickets), the exec said "Well, we're not." So, farewell for the second time to G & J. It was fun while it lasted. Click here to read entire post

Mike Polvani speaks at TAG computer lab tonight

Tonight at 8:00 pm animator Mike Polvani will be a featured guest at the union's computer lab. Mike has worked at Disney, Sony, Rhythm & Hues, Renegade, and other studios. He'll be showing his CG animation reel, and will be give a demo of his traditional animation techniques. This is the computer lab's second anniversary, so lab administrator Ken Roskos will also have some snacks and refreshments for tonight. The lab is already open today, so come early, and have a good time! The lab is at the union office at 4729 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood. Click here to read entire post


This is the fourth in a set of posts about our pension plans. Here are links to the overview, the Defined Benefit Plan, and the Individual Account Plan. Steve also gave some of the 401(k) backstory here. The first question that always comes up with the 401(k): Is there a matching contribution from the employer?" The answer is no, simply because the employers are already making substantial contributions to the DBP and IAP. With our pensions we have the best of both worlds -- substantial and automatic employer contributions to a couple of retirement plans, and a 401(k) that allows us to maximize our retirement savings in a flexible way. Here are the specifics of our 401(k): - You're eligible to sign up after 90 days at any union studio. - Sign-ups happen quarterly -- the next deadline is April 1. - You can contribute between 2% to 40% of your weekly paycheck. - The current max contribution is $15,000 per year, or $20,000 if you're 50 or older. - There are 29 different funds in our 401(k) for you to chose from. The trustees meet regularly to "weed out" and replace underperforming funds. We just met last week and targeted two weak funds that will be replaced. Remember that 401(k) contributions are pre-tax. That means that if you contribute $100 per week, you paycheck will only drop by $65-80, depending on your tax bracket. And the earnings on the 401(k) grow tax free. Also remember that with compounded interest working for you, the earlier you start your 401(k), the more dramatically it will grow by retirement. You can also borrow from your own 401(k). This is potentially dangerous, since if you're late on a single payment the loan will be considered an early withdrawal, with interest and penalties due. And if you lose your job while the loan is out, you have to repay the entire loan immediately, which is obviously a bad time for such a contingency. So start your 401(k) now, or increase your percentage contribution if it's low. You'll be glad you did come retirement. On Matching 401(k)s Because the issue of matching vs. non-matching in the 401(k) comes up fairly often, and because this is the only retirement vehicle at some nonunion studios, I wanted to write more about it. A few years ago, during the tech-stock boom, one of our members asked why we were stuck with "your father's pension" (i.e., the DBP) instead of a modern plan like a matching 401(k). He was sure that he could invest his retirement savings far more effectively than the professionals who run the DBP and the IAP, and he was thrilled with the rapid growth he'd seen in his aggressive 401(k) investments. A couple of years later, after the tech crash swept away much of those huge "profits," I asked him if he still felt that way. He sheepishly expressed his gratitude for our old fashioned IAP and DBP. Not long ago I compared the maximum employer contribution for a matching 401(k) to the combined employer contributions to our IAP and DBP. I used Sony Imageworks' plan as a relevant example of a matching 401(k). It was eye opening. I used the "best case" for the Imageworks example -- someone who stayed there until they were fully vested, and who maxed out their 401(k) so they got every bit of the employer match. The union plans were the clear winner. Many people don't realize several things about matching 401(k)s. First, if you don't maximize your employee contribution, you don't get all the employer's match. Studies show that only 70% of people who are eligible for a matching 401(k) bother to even sign up! So they get zero pension benefits from their boss. And of that 70% who do sign up, only about 70% of them make the maximum contribution, and get the full employer match (70% of 70% is 49%, so slightly less than half of eligible employees get the full employer contribution). No wonder employers prefer matching 401(k) plans to Defined Benefit plans -- most employees leave some, or all, of the employer's contribution on the table! Second, most matches are not dollar-for-dollar matches of your contributions. Some match as little as 20%, so that you must get up to $10,000 in personal contributions to get the employer's $2,000. And most matches are capped, so they are at most a few thousand dollars a year. Third, people fail to realize that most matching 401(k) plans have a 6-year vesting. That means you get no match for the first year, then 20% of the potential match each subsequent year, until you get to the full match. Leave the company before the sixth year, and you leave behind a chunk of your pension. And fourth, many matches are in company stock. It's well known that it's a bad idea to have significant investments in the company you work for. If they hit hard times, not only is your job in jeopardy, but your investments may be, too. So if you're ever going to work for a company that touts its matching 401(k), look closely. Yes, a matching 401(k) is absolutely better than no retirement plan at all, but I have yet to see a matching 401(k) that comes close to our combined pension plans. Click here to read entire post

The Broom Sweeps at Disney

Informed sources tell me of some of the changes that are now, this minute, sweeping through Disney Feature Animation... John Lasseter is meeting with the Wilbur Robinson crew to give his notes on the story reels for "Wilbur" that he saw last week... Bob Bacon, executive vice president of production at Feature Animation, has been released by incoming prez Ed Catmull from further duties... Around one hundred forty-five Circle Seven employees (these are the folks who were working on "Toy Story III") have been reassigned, thirty-seven will be laid off. Disney staff that we talk to expect more major alterations in the division as the week and month roll on... Stay tuned. UPDATE: Welcome back from our commercial break. It now appears that Andrew Millstein, formerly the head of Disney Florida and -- before that -- The Secret Lab, will replace Mr. Bacon as exec veep for Disney Feature Animation. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Disasters" That Weren't, 1

"You're freaking script is no freaking good..." This has been said, I'm sure, thousands of times in movieland. The above refers to a specific director in a specific time and place, which I'll get back to. But right now I'd like to expand on an earlier post and recount some animated opuses that supposedly had "big troubles"... "Snow White" was widely thought to be the production that would finish Disney. Huge cost overruns. Sequences thrown out. Crew had to work long hours for no money. "SW" ended up breaking box office records. "Bambi" was the first feature in work after "Snow White," but didn't get released until five years later. Long, painful story development. Barely enough money to finish it. Didn't make much in its first release. Sixty-three years later its STILL generating big bucks, with a sequel that has sold millions of DVDs. "Lion King" changed directors, reworked story, was generally considered to be "in trouble" by lots of the staff. "King" went on to break box office records, spawn a musical, DVD sequels, etc., etc. "Shrek." Ooh boy. Big problems, the board artists told me early on. The story didn't gel. Gags in, gags out, gags in again. Chris Farley, voice of Shrek, up and dies. So what happens? The picture is a triumph, and now one of DreamWorks' major tent poles. Ooh boy. Are we detecting a trend here? However "troubled" a production might be, the end result is often not troubled at all, but a major box office smasheroonie. Which leads us back to the quote up above... Click here to read entire post

"Disasters" That Weren't, 2

"You're freaking script is no freaking good..." Okay, back to this sentence (which I've cleaned up. The original speaker used a word different than freaking, but it also starts with an "f.") It was uttered by a veteran of the movie business who was dead-bang sure he'd been hired to work on the biggest disaster of all time... The film this man was hired to work on? It had already been in production and pre-production for two-and-a-half years. The first director had been fired.... A dozen writers had come and gone (the board artists remained)... Production, which had started, ground to a halt while the script was reworked yet again... Two months after production started back up, the director (speaker of the above quote), walked off in disgust and exhaustion, said he wasn't coming back and went home. The producer, slightly stressed and already taking handfuls of dexedrine, hired another director (#3) and kept things rolling. The second director was persuaded to come back, but things were so far behind that the third director was kept on to help the flick stay on some kind of a schedule. The script was rewritten on a daily basis. The money ran out. The producer ran to The Bank of America, screened some completed footage, finagled another loan to finish the movie. The production went grinding on. Near the end of the whole thing, the second director -- the one who ultimately got screen credit -- told a friend: "This thing is going to be one of the biggest turkeys of all time..." What movie was this? (Click on "Disasters" That Weren't -- above -- to find out...) Click here to read entire post

The Resurrection of Prime Time Toons

VARIETY has a think piece on the revival of animated prime-time half hours that have died, yet are now coming back to life (like Lazarus)... This is a development in televisionland that, so far, only applies to cartoons. Family Guy was over, then was brought back. Futurama, gone these many years, now is poised to make a comeback. The animation crew of King of the Hill was laid off the end of last year, and now DPS-Film Roman is scrounging for office space to house the artists that now are needed for twenty new episodes. It's easier to bring back hand-drawn actors who never age than it is the flesh-and-blood type who age, become more expensive, and move on to new lucrative gigs. VARIETY notes (you can peruse the article by clicking on the title above) that all the new delivery systems -- DVDs, cell phones, ipods -- have made old franchises lucrative enough to bring back (Comedy Central and Cartoon Networks' "adult swim" have something to do with this.) But cartoons have always had a long shelf life. Walk into any Toys-R-Us, and you'll discover bins of cheap DVDs. These bins don't hold ancient public-domain live-action films, but cartoons that have fallen out of copyright. Old Popeyes, old Looney Toons that Warners let slip away, they're all available to enrich inquiring young three and four bucks a throw. Toons, as Fox has discovered, are ever green. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Larry C.'s Hollywood Tales

Larry C. Remembers On Writing For Walt: I wrote a lot of Walt Disney's spoken intros for the Disneyland TV show. I'd known him a long time, and I tried to write in the way that he spoke. Not exactly, of course, but to use words that I knew he used.... One week an outside writer did Walt's intro, and he used the word "modicum." We were in a story meeting going over the draft, and I said: "Walt, I don't think you'd use the word 'modicum.'" Wrong thing for me to say. Walt lifted his eyebrow, glared at me and said: "What do you mean I wouldn't use the word 'modicum?! I use it all the time! modicum...MODICUM...MODICUM!!" Click here to read entire post

Retooling Animated Features

Ever since animated features began, story reworks have been de riguer. The Fox and the Hound, the first feature I worked on, went through wrenching continuity permutations. Should the old dog Chief die or live? Do we keep the crazy crane sequence in, or cut it out? Glen Keane reboarded the climax of the picture well along into production, punching the end up considerably. Story guru Ed Gombert told me about the massive story changes that took place on Aladdin, and how the middle of the picture was gutted and re-worked well into production. Shrek had gags put in and gags pulled out all the way through production. On Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron the animation crew was sent home for several months while the story was completely reworked. The massive struggles to make The Lion King work are well known thoughtout the industry. And word now reaches us that the Aardman/DreamWorks production Flushed Away is in story retooling after early screenings, and some of the picture's animators are taking a short break while changes are made. Is this unusual? Not if you know anything about how animated features get constructed. It happens far more often than it doesn't. Click here to read entire post

Friday, March 17, 2006

Individual Account Plan

The Individual Account Plan (IAP) is the second part of the union's three part pension plan. It's an account into which money is deposited for you, and which earns interest. I like talking about the IAP for a couple of reasons: it vests in a single year, so everybody gets it, and it accumulates as a lump sum, so it's easy to understand. The IAP didn't exist until 1979, and only started as 25 cents per hour worked, which was paid by the employer into an individual account. This bumped up to 30.5 cents/hr in 1982, and stayed there until Tom Short became IATSE president. He immediately made beefing up the IAP a priority, and starting in 1997 the employers began contributing 1% of our minimum weekly scale into the IAP. That percentage has steadily increased to 5% now, and will go to 5.5% in Aug. 2007 and 6% in Aug. 2008. Let's do an example. Say your minimum scale in your job class is $1414.56, and you work 50 weeks (at 40 hours per week) this year. (For this example, ignore that the minimums will bump up in August.) Your IAP will receive $610 for your hours worked (2000 hours x 30.5 cents), plus 0.05 x 50 x $1414.56 (5% of 50 weeks of your minimum scale), or another $3541.40, for a total of $4151.40. Not bad. In the last year of our new contract, with the increases to the minimums, and the increase to 6% of the minimums, that same example would come to $5214 for the year. Now we're getting somewhere! In addition, the IAP receives residuals and supplementary market money that overflows from the health plan. When the health plan has sufficient reserves, the residual and supplementary market money goes into the IAPs of union members working that year. Due to escalating health care costs, that hasn't happened in several years, but for the first five years of my animation career money from these sources was the biggest contribution into my IAP. Also, if you have unclaimed vacation and holiday pay, it will go into the IAP. Finally, the IAP is conservatively but actively invested, and has averaged a healthy 8-10% per annum growth since its inception. So even if you only work a few union years early in your career, by the time you retire you will likely have a nice chunk o' change awaiting you. So, briefly, the highlights: - One year vest. As before, a qualified year is only 400 or more hours worked in a calendar year. - Account total based on hours worked, minimum salary, unclaimed vac. and holiday pay, residuals and supplementary markets, and compounded interest. - Claim as lump sum or annuity. - Don't forget to claim it when you retire! Click here to read entire post

What you and your compadres are making

Finally. Our new industry wage survey data, at your disposal. Now you'll know what people here in Toon Town are making. This year's survey had the highest return rate in several years (33.5%), and the additional submissions allow us to break out several categories for which we previously didn't have enough good numbers. The new wage survey will be published in next week's Peg-Board and sent to Animation Guild members via snail mail, but you can see a quick-and-dirty version here. Click here to read entire post

Disney Animation in the SEVENTIES (part the fifth)

Larry Clemmons by Ward Kimball. He wrote on the show, but I never saw Larry wear a Mouseketeer hat... Larry C.'s Showbiz Tales Larry Clemmons, the grand old man of Disney Feature Animation's story department, left me with numerous reminiscences. Here's one: On Bob Newhart Bob Newhart was in for a recording session on "The Rescuers," and Woolie wasn't happy with some of his line deliveries. He wanted Newhart to get more emotion and expressiveness into the dialogue, so I got out on the stage to coach him, prod him a little. Bob put up with it for a couple of minutes, then told Woolie and me: "Guys? This is the way I do it." Woolie said, "Well, we'd like a little more oomph." Bob said, "Let me show you something," and led us out to the parking spaces next to the recording stage. He pointed at a large, expensive Mercedes and murmured: "See that car there? I got that car putting the amount of oomph into it that I'm putting into it." Click here to read entire post

"Is Pixar Going Union?"

The above is a question I've gotten a LOT in the past few weeks (ever since the announcement of Pixar's merger with Disney.) Putting aside that Pixar won't be officially merged with the Mouse House until Pixar's stockholders have approved the deal, I always answer that particular inquiry promptly and fully. I say, "I don't know." The reason I don't know? Pixar is (or will be) a subsidiary of Disney up in Emeryville, and there may not be any legal requirement for them to, all of a sudden, sign a labor agreement. Of course, there could be compelling strategic reasons for Disney to want its new animation company under a collective bargaining agreement, but that's something for Disney to decide. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Defined Benefit Plan

This is the classic pension, the one that pays you a monthly annuity once you hit retirement age. The DBP was formed in 1953 and began payouts in 1960. Prior to 1990, part of the DBP was funded through payroll deductions. Since that time, the DBP is completely funded by employer contributions ($1.0165 per hour worked, increasing to $1.2665 this August), so nothing comes out of your paycheck. In the past this was the primary type of pension that large companies provided their workers. Because DBPs can be relatively expensive for employers, virtually no new companies in the last 10-12 years have offered them. Put simply, employers love 'modern' retirement plans like the matching 401(k) -- because it saves them money, and because it transfers much of the burden for building a retirement nest egg onto individual workers. Recently you may have heard about a crisis in Defined Benefit Plans around the country. Many such plans are underfunded, and depend on a steady stream of contributions made on behalf of current employees to pay for the benefits of retirees. When such a company runs into trouble, it defaults on its pension obligations, and the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) steps in to pay at least part of the pensions due. There are worries that the PBGC itself will fail. Fortunately, when our DBP was formed, the usual accounting games weren't allowed. It was structured very conservatively (i.e., it has to be fully funded), so it's going to be there when we need it. Because the specifics of the DBP are complicated, I encourage everyone to come to the next General Membership meeting, where we will have a representative of the Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans (MPIPHP) to answer questions. Till then, here are some of the DBP highlights: - 5 year vest. In order to collect from the DBP at retirement, you must work a minimum of five qualified years at union shops (a qualified year is 400 or more hours of work in one calendar year). - Payout is based on hours worked. For your first 10 qualified years, the formula for the monthly annuity is hours worked x .0295. Hours in subsequent years are multiplied by .0393. So 15 qualified years, with 1500 hours worked each year, would yield a monthly annuity of $737.25.* - Claim it or lose it. You won't automatically start receiving your monthly annuity at retirement. You must claim it. If you forget to claim it for a few years after retirement, you will forfeit the money you missed. So don't do that. Every time you move, send a change of address from to the MPIPHP. And when you retire, call them up. - Early Retirement and Survivor Death Benefits are available. These parts are complex, so I'll do no more than mention them here. There's lots more info at the MPIPHP site, or come ask questions at the membership meeting on March 28. *Addendum (4/29/06): I just learned that the payout formula has improved significantly. Retroactive to 2003, those multiplier numbers are increased by 15%. They increase a further 10% (or 26.5% total) beginning this year. So for those retiring from 2006 on, you multiply your hours worked by 0.0373 for your first ten years, and by 0.0497 thereafter. To use the above example again, someone who worked 15 qualified years with 1500 hours in each year, and retired in 2006 or later, would now end up with a monthly annuity of 932.25. That's a healthy increase! I understand that the MPIPHP is working on an on-line calculator function that will allow us to not only see where our pensions stand, but to make estimates going forward. We'll of course let you know when that's available. In the meantime, we should all be getting our annual pension statements by early June, which will let us know where we stand through the end of 2005. Click here to read entire post

New building news

Since my March 5 posting on the wish list for a possible new union building, the executive board has been moving with lightning speed. We found a building in Burbank that met all of our needs and wants, and we're already in the process of going after it. Frankly, it's pretty exciting, and we think our members will be thrilled when all is said and done. The deal isn't done yet, but it's looking good. As we've talked with members about it, some common questions have come up, and I wanted to address those here. Will this raise our dues? No. TAG has significant cash reserves, so we're in the enviable position of being able to pay cash. Do we have to sell our current building first? No. When we're close to occupying the new building, we'll put our Lankershim building on the market. We're financially strong enough that we don't need to make buying a new building contingent on selling the current one. Why are things moving so fast? When you consider how long we've been kicking this idea around, we really aren't rushing. Over the last few years we've kept our eyes open for buildings that are both close to the studios and that meet our space needs, and we've come to realize that they're pretty rare. So when we saw that this one was available, we acted. We'll have more info as things develop. I encourage everyone to come to the General Membership meeting the last Tuesday of this month (at Local 44), where we'll have lots more to tell. Click here to read entire post

Disney In the Seventies (Part Fore!)

LARRY CLEMMONS Larry Clemmons and Woolie Reitherman spending their last evening together. March, 1985 (TAG'S "Golden Award" Banquet.) Larry Clemmons, in the second half of the sixties and the seventies, was the principal scribe for Disney animated features. He wrote on "Jungle Book," "The Aristocats," "Robin Hood," "The Rescuers," and "Fox and the Hound." He was the guy who crafted a large chunk of the dialogue for these flicks, and his sequence scripts were what a lot of the other story persons (i.e. storyboarders) started with when boarding sequences. Larry graduated with an arhitecture degree in the early thirties, but times being what they were, he soon came to Disney as an inbetweener and assistant. (You got the jobs you could get, you know?) He was in Ward Kimball's unit for a time, and he and Ward became friends. Always interested in story, Larry worked his way into Disney story development by the early forties. He departed the studio at the time of the strike in 1941. By 1945 Larry had found work as a writer on Bing Crosby's network radio show, and stayed with it until it left the air in 1954. Then he found himself back at Disney writing segments of "Disneyland" (Walt Disney's hour network show on ABC) and "The Mickey Mouse Club." Larry's specialty was writing Walt's spoken intros -- about which there will be more further up the blog... In the early sixties, the Writers Guild of America was on strike, and Walt asked Larry -- just before the job-action started -- if he wanted to write animation and go under The Animation Guild (we were then called The Motion Picture Screen Carttonists.) As Larry said to me, "When Walt asked you whether you wanted to do something, if you wanted to stay employed, you did it." So Larry found himself back in animation for the first time in over twenty years, and he made the most of it. Starting with "Jungle Book," he teamed with Woolie Reitherman as principal writer on a half-dozen features, finally retiring in '79 and moving to Friday Harbor in the Puget Sound. I spent a lot of afternoons with Larry in his third-floor office. Larry wasn't overly interested in living in the past, but he did have interesting tales to tell. One day, after some other employee had rhapsodized about the "Golden Age" of animation in the thirties, Larry snorted: "Golden Age? Hell, those days weren't MY 'Golden Age'! You slaved away Monday through Friday drawing Goofy or Pluto or one of the other characters, then Friday afternoon the production manager would come in and shout 'who wants to work tomorrow?!' Back then, you worked Saturdays for free and they gave you a sack lunch, but it was the damn Depression and if you wanted to hang on to your job you jumped out of your chair waving your hand saying 'Oh! I do!' Some of these kids around here think it was some damn wonder age, but I can tell you it wasn't." Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Your pension plans

Okay, will everyone who really understands how TAG's pension plans work please raise your hands? Hmmm, that's what I thought -- not too many of you. I know I personally didn't have a clue until I had to help explain them, repeatedly, at new member lunches with Steve. Problem is it's confusing, and it's something most people don't pay attention to because retirement usually seems so far off. So in the next few days I wanted to highlight how our plans work. Notice how I keep using the plural. That's because there are three different plans. Two of them are automatic -- we all get them. Those are the Defined Benefit Plan (DBP) and the Individual Account Plan (IAP). Money flows into both of these pension plans from the first hour you work at a union studio. And to answer some common questions: - no, you don't have to choose. You get both the IAP and the DBP. - yes, even foreign nationals will get the retirement benefits they earn, even if they retire to their home country. - no, nothing is deducted from your paycheck to fund either of these plans. The contributions come from your employer, from residual payments (yes, I said residuals), and money from supplemental markets. The third retirement plan you get through the union is the optional 401(k). Because of the substantial contributions the studios make to the IAP and DBP, the 401(k) does not have an employer match. But it's still a great idea. And all of that is on top of the Social Security benefits you're earning. In the next few days I'll go into a little detail on each of the different pension plans. I know it's not the sexiest topic, but good info to have. Tomorrow . . . the IAP. Click here to read entire post

"King" Returning to Film Roman's Old Digs?

The scuttlebutt is that DPS-Film Roman's new episodes of "King of the Hill" will be headquartered at the company's old building on Chandler Blvd. in North Hollywood, as there is no room at the company's new Burbank facility. Click here to read entire post

Disney In the 70s (part 3)

WARD KIMBALL Left: Ward Kimball by Ward Kimball, from the collection of Bob Foster (Ward actually could draw Mickey Mouse) Ward Kimball -- probably the most well-known of Walt Disney's original group of animators -- left the studio in the early 70s. I'm told the reason for his departure was a simmering feud with Disney's Chairman of the Board Card Walker. Mr. Walker thought a portrait of Walt Disney -- carved in granite and prominently displayed on the first floor of the Animation Building -- was a fine piece of art work. Kimball circulated a memo making it clear he thought the portrait was a piece of something else. At any rate, soon thereafter Ward K. departed, taking his talent, stock options and Academy Award with him. Over the next thirty years, he came back to the studio often, but never as a long-term staff employee. He came back to lecture, and he came back for well-paying short-term gigs. In the late seventies, he signed up to work at WED on the EPCOT Transportation pavilion at Disney World. That's when I got to know him. In 1980 I interviewed him for an article on Disneyland's opening in 1955. I had talked to various old-timers about their memories of the park's early days, and I talked to Ward about what he recalled of the first day that Disneyland was open, with all the big shots, all the television cameras, and everything else. It turned out he had a terrific story about it. I liked his tale so much I used it to end my article. Ward told it like this:
I was playing with my jazz band the Firehouse Five in one of the Disneyland show areas, in front of several television cameras. It was hot, it was crowded, but somehow we staggered through to the end our segment of the tv show. After that, we went over to the court house on Main Street to entertain the hordes of people. I happened to see Walt's wife Lillian, and asked her what she thought of Walt's new toy. She was tired and hot and a little bewildered by all the pandemonium. She just looked at me and sighed: "Well, at least he isn't running around chasing other women."
The above quote came out in an advertising supplement in the Los Angeles Times that trumpeted Disneyland's 25th anniversary. I was then a staff animation writer at Disney, wrote the piece because I was asked, and didn't think much about it. But a couple of days after it appeared, I got a phone call from one of Walt Disney's former secretaries, and she was livid: "That article is horrible. I talked to Mrs. Disney about what you wrote, and she never said that 'chasing other women' thing." I said "Oh," hung up the phone, and figured my four-year career at Disney would soon be coming to an abrupt end. I recall a sour column of bile rising into the back of my throat. Ultimately, my time as a Disney employee did end, but it happened six years later. Beyond the angry phone call, there turned out to be no repercussions over Ward's quote or my publishing of it. To this day, I don't know if Lillian Disney misremembered talking to Ward, or Ward was embroidering a story, or what. But I like to think...I want to think..that Ward Kimball was telling me the unvarnished truth.
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Disney Toons is doing -- has been doing -- a "Peter Pan" sequel centered on Peter's small and comely sidekick Tinkerbell. I think it's a good springboard for a "Neverland" story, and the designs I've seen up on various walls the past couple of years look damn good. But I hear strange rumblings out there around the second star to the right. Artists have groused that Tink talks (not a good sign). Some don't like it's being done in 3-D. And a few weeks back, some production people on the project allowed as how they didn't think the flick -- in its present state -- would go over real well with new animation chief Lasseter. Yikes. Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Failing upwards

We all know of people on the artistic and technical side of animation who have, shall we say, made careers not based on what they can actually do, but on who they know, or where they've been, or whatever. Fortunately, those who can't actually create anything useful usually get found out soon enough. Word gets around, and they disappear. And the famous Peter Principle (getting successive promotions until you reach your level of incompetency) tends to be balanced out by the general meritocracy of animation. In a nutshell, you can only fake it as an artist, writer, or TD for so long. For producers, however, dealing as they do in so many intangibles, even the Peter Principle doesn't work. On the production side, if you're associated with successful projects, you can keep moving up the food chain, even when you don't bring a single thing to the table. I'm reminded of this from reading a news item on AWN about a new feature studio being formed on the other side of the pond, one that will be headed up by a producer of one of the films I animated on. Now, I hate to say this producer was weak, but from where I sat every single decision and comment he made was 180 degrees wrong. It was uncanny. If he said a character should move faster, you knew you needed to slow things down. If he said a door should open inwards, you knew for certain that it needed to open outwards. Fortunately, the other producer on this film was an excellent one. That second producer acted as a 'solvent.' That is, when he was around, the first guy just kind of dissolved. When they were both in the room, the first guy became invisible. And now he's heading his own studio? My head is spinning. Click here to read entire post

My Favorite Wage Survey Form...

We ended up with a 30% return of Animation Industry Wage Survey Forms. (You know, those double-sided yellow sheets we sent to members in the mail?) My personal favorite is from an artist I used to see in-studio all the time, but not so much recently. Under, "In what job category have you been most recently employed?" he wrote "Operations Officer." Under regular workweek he wrote "168 hours." You see, most recently he's been an Army officer in Iraq. So his job demands have changed a little. (We'll post preliminary results of the wage survey in the next few days, and link to the full report when we have it up on our website.) Click here to read entire post

CBAs from the good ol' days

I think we've probably overwhelmed everyone with the history jag Steve and I have been on, but I can't resist one most posting from the material I got via Tom Sito from Judy Levitow. Today's goodies come from the Screen Cartoonists, Local 852 agreements with Warner Bros. (Feb. 1947 - Feb. 1948) and Loew's Incorporated (Dec. 1948 - Dec. 1949). Scanning those CBAs, I'm amazed at how similar they are to our current CBA. I shouldn't be, I guess, since I've seen first hand how both sides in these agreements are loath to make radical changes when they negotiate. Of course, some things are similar but with a retro twist, like sexist job titles. Here are some classifications, with their minimums (I'll only show the journey minimums): Animator Class I -- $125.00 Assistant Animator - $81.25 Inbetweeners ------- $54.69 Layout Man -------- $125.00 Background Artist - $112.50 Tracer -------------- $53.13 Senior Checker ----- $75.00 Storyman ---------- $125.00 Cue Sheet Girl ----- $62.50 Ink and Paint, Asst. Supervisor --- $68.75 Inkers -------------- $54.69 Painters ------------ $51.25 Final Checkers ----- $53.13 Color Model Designer $62.50 Paint Laboratory, Mix and Match ------- $46.88 Cell Washing -------- $45.00 There's also a 1947 contract with George Pal Production, Inc. that has job categories that remind me of current CG classifications. Here are some: Production Technician, Story & Script ------- $125.00 Drafting Animator ---- $100.00 Production Technician, Staging & Animation -- $125.00 Operating Animator --- $100.00 Production Technician, BG, Props & Painting - $125.00 Set Maker ------------ $100.00 Production Technician, Set Up & Lighting ---- $125.00 Set Up Men ----------- $100.00 Film Technician ------ $ 82.50 Production Technician, Puppets & Models ----- $125.00 Puppet Maker --------- $100.00 Painter, Decorator --- $ 85.00 Painter, Painter ------ $ 55.00 Substitute Production Technician for Technical Director and it's pretty similar to what we have now. Though I think Production Technician might be the more apt phrase in either case. Some things, however, have changed a lot. To wit: Female employees shall not be required to work in excess of fifty hours per week. All male employees shall be entitled to not more than five days sick leave with pay per year ... All female employees shall be entitled to not more than ten days sick leave ... Hey, that doesn't sound fair! There were also provisions to protect the jobs of those who were drafted or who volunteered for military or civilian service, which does seem fair, given the realities of that time. And there was an Equal Treatment Clause: There shall be no discrimination with regard to pay, benefit or emolument under this contract on account of sex, color or creed of the employee. Which sounds like window dressing, considering that some of those job titles are sex-based, and that there was virtually no one of color working in those days ... Click here to read entire post

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Chicken Little 2" Staffers Reassigned

After the cancellation of Chicken Little 2 (noted below) the crew expected rapid termination.  But Disney informed us earlier today that it had found new assignments for  17 artists from the project.
A nice change from the bloodlettings which are the usual practice at most studios today.  Still no word on the fate of the cgi artists working on the recently deceased Toy Story III.
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Disney in the Seventies (Part II)

Woolie Reitherman Left: Woolie Reitherman and Steve Hulett, March 1985 Woolie Reitherman was my boss for the first two and a half years I was at Disney. But Woolie was everyone's boss, from inbetweeners to animators to background artists to story men. He was the Captain of the department. And Woolie looked every inch the Captain. Six feet two inches tall, a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, leading man profile. By the time I came to know him the profile had gotten craggy in a Mt. Rushmore kind of way. Woolie was fond of running shoes, white pants and Hawaiian shirts. (The Hawaiian shirt fashion taste pre-dated John Lasseter's by a couple of decades.) Woolie came to Disney in the early thirties, a half decade older than most of the other animators, and worked on all the early features. He was the guy who animated the Magic Mirror in Snow White ("I worked like hell on that damn character," he told me, "folding the paper in half to get the face and head proportions right, sweating out the facial expressions. Then Walt went and put a damn distortion glass over the animation...") Woolie left the studio at the start of World War II to enlist in the Air Corps. He was Vice Commander of the Burmese airlift and flew airlines after the conflict ended. Walt persuaded him to come back to the studio during a short visit, and after that Woolie's rise was rapid. By the late fifties, he was a sequence director on Sleeping Beauty. When I met him he was finishing work on The Rescuers, one of the studio's better post-Walt animated features. I started working for him on The Fox and the Hound (my fellow writers were Larry Clemmons, another old-timer, and Earl Kress) and found myself involved in long, Reitherman story sessions. Woolie thought nothing of having a couple of animators -- usually Frank and Ollie -- and the writers in a semi-circle around his big director's desk -- where we would beat a half-dozen pages of a sequence script to bloody pulp working and re-working it. Woolie would chomp on his unlit cigar, peering at someone's deathless prose. Then he'd say he had an idea to change the deathless prose with his deadly: "This isn't any good, but what if we..." and he would launch in to some new approach. He used the "This isn't any good..." so often that Mel Shaw, another of the Hyperion veterans, finally said in exasperation: "If it isn't any good, why are you bothering us with it?" Woolie, of course, ignored the comment and plunged right on. Woolie was relentless in pounding an animated sequence "into shape." He was a keen editor of an animator's work, paring it down, focusing it. He would sweat box rough animation relentlessly. He thought nothing of holding eight-hour story sessions. At the end of them, the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings around his desk would be exhausted. Seventy-something Reitherman would hop up from the desk as if he'd spent a couple of minutes day-dreaming and stroll out the door for home as fresh as a new-cut rose. Woolie also didn't beat around the bush. If he liked something you knew it, and if he didn't you knew that, too. Once, when I had brought down the fruits of several days labor, he flipped through my script pages and announced to a room full of people: "Well, I don't know what anyone else thinks of Hulett's stuff, but it sure leaves me cold!" Click here to read entire post

Cartoon Network Hiatuses (Hiati?)

Cartoon Network now has some of its crews on short-term layoffs as it gears up for new seasons on selected returning shows. CN has been roaring of late, with their building on Third Street fully occupied and office suites on two floors in the skyscraper next door filled with production overflow. Click here to read entire post

More old school union cartoons

I scanned in the rest of the old Screen Cartoonists Guild's negotiating committee's cartoons from 1950. I've cleaned a couple up in photoshop, since what I have are second generation photocopies of old mimeographs, and some I left as is. I think these are a great slice of animation union history. My favorite. I want to see this animated. Definitely a food theme. I love the graphic simplicity of the last two. Now we veer into political incorrectness! But it does make the point. Wow, I have no idea what kind of creature that is sitting on the giant bag of money! I have a feeling this one was never used, especially since the original paper appears to have been a scrap. More of a classic political cartoon this time. Appears to be a preliminary sketch. Click here to read entire post

Contract negotiations, 1950 style

With all the recent posts about our current CBA negotiations, I thought it'd be fun to take a look back at how things went 56 years ago. Today's cartoon is from the Exposure Sheet handout by the Screen Cartoons Guild negotiating committee to the membership.

The SCG (local 852) was the precursor to The Animation Guild (a long story in itself there). The last line of type says "This action is the beginning of the fight to secure a wage increase on the new contract, now that negotiations have bogged down." Below that are the slogans "KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR UNION FOR LATEST DEVELOPMENTS" and "WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT."

This cartoon came via Tom Sito from Abe Levitow's daughter Judy. Abe was one of the committee members. Tom passed on copies of 7 other cartoons from that time, as well as the negotiating committee's notes, and copies of contracts from those days. From the notes it's clear the producers were taking a very hard line, and the negotiations weren't going well. Hence the SCG committee starting printing up these cartoons to get the membership involved.

Thanks to Judy Levitow for preserving this material and bringing it to us.
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