Saturday, March 18, 2006

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.


Anonymous said...

I have something very serious to say here.

You've written both here and in the Pegboard several times about your choice not to mention certain studios by name, when the subject of a past grievance or problem has come up; personally I've been bugged by this as it seems to me to send a message that "we daren't annoy the Studio!"--even if it's a matter of union record, whatever the deal was. Then there's a discussion about NOT naming a non-union studio owner, because, well, I'm still not clear on that one. But in those cases, it seemed to me to be what the union is all about.

Then there's the discussion a while back in this blog about "what's happening at the studios"; there it was explained by you that it's better NOT to IDENTIFY films that are in story, PRE-animation, because(this is another one that boggles my mind)IF and WHEN the project is abandoned, it would be embarrassing to the studio and they'd prefer we not openly discuss films in story--even if they're hiring in story(potentially).
Yet now, here's an entirely open forum, open to anyone anywhere in the world, and you, the union leadership, are publishing potentially damaging and entirely private information about a production that people ar eworking on--why? What possible good can come of this gossip--because that's what it is, at this point. It affects NO ONE except the core group on the film, for pity's sake! What potential job openings for union members are there because of a film reworking story? And I can assure you, not everyone in the studio knows what's going on on other films. I guess they'll know now--they'll have your take on it. Think the "studio"--in this case, I'm thinkin gof my fellow union members who have their jobs as a result of this production--appreciate that?

This film is going to make its release date. It's very good, and it's going to be much better, and funnier--just like. no doubt, Ratatouille. By the way--that info about Bird taking it over--that was news to a few insiders months ago. I knew it. I didn't "spread it around". I didn't see it printed anywhere. I guess no one felt it was appropriate to discuss it in public.
I really think you've got to decide what is right to post across the blogging universe. Negative stuff(like the earlier "trouble" for "Flushed Away"?), in case you were wondering, isn't doing any artists any favors. I was abou to write "you don't have to be a cheerleader"--but you know, you DO--exactly that: the union membership should be cheerleaders for each other, for work, for fair pay and good employment.

Kevin Koch said...

Anon, I think you've twisted and spun quite a few things Steve and I have written.

Regarding grievance situations -- these are frankly confidential situations. Would you like to know that when you file a grievance the specific information would be spread far and wide? When Steve does write about grievances and problems, he must do so in a way that assures the individual member(s) anonymity, while still notifying the rest of the membership in case they're having similar problems.

Regarding naming (with the intent to embarass) non-union studio owners -- when Tom Sito first became president of local 839, he 'called out' Phil Roman (then running Film Roman), Don Bluth, and Gabor Csupo (Klasky Csupo) in various Pegboard columns. He pointed out that both Roman and Bluth had been happy union members, and had long enjoyed union benefits, but that neither wanted their own workers to enjoy those benefits. He wanted to publicize what he saw as hipocrisy and greed. The actual result was the people at those studios rallied behind their leaders, and were turned off to the "bad ol' union." It was counterproductive. Tom Sito learned from those lessons, as have Steve and I.

Regarding the information in the 'What's happening around town' pieces -- I think we acknowledged very clearly that we were remiss in not making more reference to films in preproduction. As I wrote then, this was often due to lack of information (I assume from now on you will let Steve and Jeff know of every film in some phase of preproduction happening where you work?). It was also because every studio has many projects in preproduction, and trying to cite all of them when we know that only a fraction of those films will go on to further development (and further hiring) probably isn't useful, to either the studios or to our members. That's not some massive conspiracy, it's just how we all know the business works. But for the future we've already stated we will try to get more information on films in the pre-animation stages in those articles.

Regarding my earlier post, Trouble for Flushed Away? -- did you really read that I was revealing insider, privileged information? Please. I, like many people in the industry, was surprised that W&G:CotWR did so poorly despite glowing reviews. I thought the conversation I overheard might be emblematic of the reactions of a wide swath of the movie-going public, and I thought the attitudes I described might reflect on potential box office for Flushed Away. You apparently misread my post as an attack on the film, or an attempt to undermine it, or whatever. No, it was simply an observation and a possible insight.

Regarding today's post, about the news of story retooling on Flushed, I find it hard to believe it's damaging information. John Lasseter, in a speech at the DGA a couple of years ago, corrected the moderator (who wanted to indicate that Pixar's story process was nearly flawless), saying that every single Pixar film had been stopped midproduction so the story could be tweaked. This was now been widely reported to have happened on Ratatouille, going so far as to require a directorial change. Yet I haven't heard anyone jump to the conclusion that Ratatouille is troubled, just that it's going though what almost every animated film goes through.

Which is exactly the point Steve very clearly made in this posting, with numerous examples -- it's par for the course, and no big deal.

Frankly, I would expect that news of what's happening on Flushed to show up at other outlets even if Steve had never written anything. Except in those cases it wouldn't have the supportive context that Steve provided.

Steve Hulett said...

To beat the ailing horse yet again:

1) Re non-union studio owners: I don't give two sh*ts about annoying non-union studios. But I care very much about not revealing the identity -- explicitly or implicitly -- of the person who made a personal observation to me, which was in any event, the side-point of the earlier post to which you refer.

There are currently a handful of non-union studios in town: Rough Draft (an off-shoot of the Korean Studio of the same name) and Renegade (founded by Darrel Van Citters), both in Glendale; Mike Young Prods in the West Valley; a studio in Burbank run by Dana Booten, and a few others I'm too tired to remember. So there, I've named current non-union studios that I know about (Klasky-Csupo, having pretty much imploded, doesn't count) and now they're all probably annoyed.

For the record (again): I don't care.

2) Re "What's Happening at the Studios": these items first appear in the union newsletter and we list projects with input from the studios. If a studio specifically doesn't want some project named (usually because it doesn't want a flood of inquiries about jobs on the show) we don't list it. This has been policy, more or less, for fifteen years. (Sometimes the policy is broken: if a studio is non-responsive to our phone calls and inquiries -- as occasionally happens -- we go ahead and list what we list.)

3) On the blog, we're posting lots of different things: History, press items, box office, pension and health plan items. Also scuttlebutt from the studios.

Noting that "Flushed Away" is being reworked is hardly hurtful. It's fact. It's also fact that lots of animated features go through story-development twists and turns.

You really think that any of this stuff is secret? Or should be? I wander the halls of a lot of different studios and lots of people shoot their mouths off. The same folks are free to post in the comments section here and nobody stops them.

Anonymous said...

I'll just say one more thing, and that's it(I'm sure mercifully):
Re: the earlier "Trouble for Flushed Away?"--do you think that that title, based on overhearing a small group of movie buffs at the next table(!) disliking the trailer, was not perhaps reaching a HUGE amount, and that putting a spin of "possible trouble" for the film based on a totally spurious extrapolation was irresponsible for the union president? I do. Perhaps in your own blog, that's fine, but as a representative of the union, I'm not sure. Or maybe I am way off base, but here's what I can easily imagine as a result: NY times or LA times happens across this blog, the "official" animation guild horn. They see that you, as president, are speculating about whether a yet-unreleased Dreamworks film has an audience. Further down the line, the Business manager writes of story retooling, etc.; do YOU think that the press/media always reports these things responsibly from there? Do they understand how production works? Or is it your experience, as it is mine in all the many years I've lived and worked in the movie industry, that they often love a story if it has an "uh-oh" angle they can use and exploit?
How many times have your words been taken out of context to make things sound 180 from what they in fact are? You misunderstand me if you think I feel you can't write as you please or should keep things "secrets" from your coworkers or colleagues; what I am saying is that this is an open forum at present, for the entire world--some of whom don't have a terrific understanding of how animated movies work, and won't read all your posts to get a context. And it's those outsiders that I worry about.
No one's come to the conclusion that Rat is troubled, btw, because back when it changed hands it wasn't blogged about or otherwise openly discussed, out of (my opinion) affection and respect for the people involved: the original director, the one who was asked to take it over, and the various artists. But it didn't change hands because everything was going just great. As you & I both know, this is common, but again, the stockholders were told the end story: this wonderful guy is doing Rat as his next project! NOT the whole story--why should they have been? Because one version sounds negative, the other is positive.

Kevin Koch said...

Anon, the folks at the table next to me had likely never heard of Flushed Away. They were ripping up Wallance & Gromit. Go read that post again please. Then go read the book Blink. It talks about having a sudden, global insight based on seemingly tiny bits of trivial information. That morning at Cindy's felt like a 'blink' moment. It made me think in a new way about any animated film that is distinctly "foreign," even one simply with British accents and British settings. My comments clearly were about American audience perceptions and attitudes, not the quality of Flushed.

Do I think for a second that such a posting could damage a film. Not in a million years. Seriously. This blog is read by a couple hundred insiders. And even if it was picked up far and wide, and quoted completely out of context, would it make a difference? Did people rush out to see W&G or Iron Giant or Spirited Away when EVERY reviewer in the country sang their praises, and when every animation blog and website fell all over themselves to talk about how fantastic they were? Conversely, if I started an internet campaign to discredit Cars, do you honestly think I could dissuade a single potential audience member from buying a ticket? I think the answer is no. Hey, remember Sharktale? There were tons of industry insiders slagging that film all over the internet. Everyone knew that was a troubled production. And it really tanked, didn't it?

Our ability to affect the financial prospects of these films is miniscule. For good or ill, that is a fact.

Oh, by the way, did you miss the masthead of this blog, where it says, "This weblog reflects their personal opinions and does not necessarily represent the official position of the Animation Guild." When a writer for the NY Times or the LA Times wants my official union opinion, they call me!

Kevin Koch said...

A couple of last thoughts on the topic. Regarding material being taken out of context -- as I've posted here before, I have been interviewed by reporters and had sentences taken somewhat out of context. It does happen. That's one of the reasons I like giving my opinions here -- because I control the context. Now, if someone wants to take a snippet of a post out of context, they can, but if they're a legit news outlet they will reference this site, and their readers will be able to come here and see what I really meant. And if I see something on the internet that takes material from here in a way that isn't appropriate, copyright law gives me the right to demand they take it down or correct it.

Regarding the general pitfalls of saying things in public, you do realize that everything we write in The Pegboard is equally public? Steve and I have never been shy about saying what we think. I believe our union is best served by not operating in secret, but by being as transparent as possible. That's always been my attitude in writing Pegboard columns, as it has been when I've posted union-related items on

And you know what's funny? In those cases I've never had a problem with a media outlet twisting what I wrote. But on a couple of occasions I have had union members do exactly that -- twist something I wrote to make a point. It's been rare, and it's been annoying, but it's the cost of candor and openness.

Anonymous said...

How did this guy become the president? Recount is in order. I see dangling chads.

As president, your main objective is to support the careers of your members....not try to spread gossip about the lastest scoop. Join the staff of entertainment tonight and leave the post to someone who gives a damn.

Site Meter