Friday, June 30, 2006

Grim Natwick's Christmas card, early 1940s

From the collection of Harvey Deneroff; originally published in the 1993 Screen Cartoonists Annual.
Grim Natwick's Season's Greetings... at the time he worked for the Fleischers' Miami Studio (1938-1942, and we'll have more about that studio later...) Click here to read entire post

Organizing Film Roman (IDT Entertainment)

It's 1991. A new, small studio named Film Roman has recently opened for business in Toluca Lake California, run by animation veteran Phil Roman... The studio is producing episodes of "Garfield" and doing well. It also has a number of animation union members, and we collect rep cards -- postcard-size documents saying the signer wants to be represented by a union -- from about 40% of FR's staff. I have my doubts about whether we have enough cards to win an election, but the union executive board thinks otherwise. "We can win this," a board member says. "We ought to go for it!" So we do. And a month later, a Federal election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board is held. And we have our large, round butts handed to us. The ballot tally is 22 for the company, 3 for the union. Good soldier that I am, I inform the IATSE -- our mother international -- about our loss. An IA official gives me a terse and pungent response: "Jesus, Hulett. That election, that's f*cking pathetic. You lose an organizing election that bad, why do you even f*cking bother?" FADE OUT FADE IN It's summer, 2004. I am sitting in my office, dreaming my summer dreams. A Film Roman artist walks in and tells me that Film Roman employees are "really upset" how the company has cut pension and health benefits by 50%, and "want to go union." I smile and bob my head. I know about the benefit cuts. Nine months previously, some agitated Film Roman employees -- also angry about benefit cuts -- tell me the company employees are mad and "want to go union." All excited, I rush up to the sidewalk in front of the studio and hand out rep cards and flyers. And get even more excited when I collect ninety representation cards. Hot damn. But my excitement fades when a Roman director tells me "There's 230 artists in there. You're about forty cards short of a majority." Learning from our earlier mistake, we don't file for an election. So now, three-quarters of a year later, here's another disgruntled Film Roman artist, wanting me to go out and leaflet the studio. Instead, I slap a stack of rep cards into his hands and tell him: "I can only bang my head against a brick wall so many times. You go collect a bunch of signatures on these cards, and THEN I'll go up there to Film Roman. Maybe." One week later, he's back with signed cards. He asks: "Can you hold a meeting for the employees? I know I can get people there." I say sure, schedule a meeting at a hall near the studio, and think little more about it. Until the day for the meeting arrives and I'm standing in the office trying to decide where to eat lunch, and the office manager lowers the phone and says: "Are you supposed to be at an organizing meeting? There's a guy on the phone wondering where you are." My brain synapses fire at full velocity as I realize I'VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE DAMN MEETING AND I'M -- HOLY SHIT -- TWENTY FIVE MINUTES LATE! I break a half dozen traffic laws getting to the meeting hall that's a mile and a half away. I am talking and handing out three-color brochures as I sprint through the door. About sixty people are there, listening in rapt attention to my adrenaline-laced spiel. After I finish running my mouth, half of them stick around to get more information. Like a dislodged boulder lumbering downhill, events unfold at an accelerating clip. Rep cards pour in. I stand outside Film Roman two or three mornings a week, for once getting smiles and high fives instead of the stinkeye that organizers usually get from employees nervous about talking to a union stiff who lurks in front of their non-union company's doors. In a matter of weeks, 60% of Film Roman employees give us rep cards. We file a petition with the NLRB for an election, and IDT, the company that owns El Roman, begins an anti-union campaign against the Animation Guild. It's less than marginally effective because IDT's lawyers have less than a marginal knowledge of the 'toon business. Every time a generic anti-union screed comes down from the front office, a Film Roman employee hands it to me outside the front doors, and we quickly bang out a response. This goes on for weeks. At last election day arrives, and "Simpsons" staff, "King of the Hill" staff and everybody else troop down to the second floor conference room to vote. I show up late for the vote count, which has started without me. Management is there, on time and in full force -- Phil is long gone -- and they're not happy with my unprofessionalism. But they get less happy as the vote tally unfolds, for the company isn't getting many votes. I watch their faces sag as the Animation Guild piles up ballots. At the end, TAG has 166 of 186 votes, or 89 percent of the ballots in its column. The executives' defeated expressions firm up into masks of stolid resignation, and we all shake hands. On the way back to my car I think, "Amazing. This time we won by almost the same percentage we lost the last time." It only took thirteen and a half years to do it. Moral: All things come to those who wait. All it takes is critical mass, a tipping point, and enough employees who are mad enough to really want it. Click here to read entire post

Michael Eisner, by Larry Eikleberry

Here's another study by the estimable Larry Eikleberry... when Michael Eisner had hair. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, June 29, 2006

At Nick

I had one final spasm of handing out 401(k) booklets, today at the 'Odeon... The main floor of the Burbank studio was jammed with ten and eleven-year-old boys (and their mothers). Auditions for a "long-form" tv movie were happening, and the air was thick with hope and anticipation. On the 'toon front, "Avatar" board artists are on hiatus until the new season kicks in. Click here to read entire post

Studio Morale

Over the years I've developed a theory about the general morale in the studios I visit... EVERY cartoon studio has artistic staff that you can divide into three groups: 1) The happy, 2) the unhappy, and 3) those who weave between content and discontent. EVERY studio has all three sets of employees at any given moment (and subsets within those larger sets). You can tell how the studio is faring by which of the three groups is the largest...and the smallest. The most miserable staffs I can remember during my time as business rep are: The Warners Feature Animation staff in the mid nineties, when then-Warner Prez Bob Daley was looking at lots of feature pitches and could not make up his mind about which project he wanted to greenlight. Walking through the place, you could FEEL the air hissing out of the hope/optimism balloon... And Disney Feature Animation in 2001-2002. They were at the tail end of doing hand-drawn animation. Almost everyone working on "Home on the Range" had been told in meetings when their assignment was done, so they were vividly aware that their Disney feature careers were ending. When I walked through the studio, it was like going through a cancer ward. People wore grim, hollow-eyed looks. There was an abundance of cryptic humor. Five years later, the mood at DFA is 180 degrees from the mind-set of 2001. What a difference a couple of regime changes make. And Warners Feature Animation? It doesn't exist. Click here to read entire post

When MGM and Warners went union

May, 1941: locked out at Schlesinger. From left to right: Ben Washam (later president of Local 839), Roy Laupenberger, two unknowns, Paul Morin and Martha Goldman Sigall. From the Animation Guild Archive.
It was way back before Pearl Harbor. Tom Sito tells the tale in another excerpt from Drawing the Line ...
...In 1939, a National Labor Relations Board ruling awarded the Screen Cartoonists Guild jurisdiction over all levels of production of animation from writing to painting... After several years of slowly building infrastructure and goodwill, new SCG president and MGM animator Bill Littlejohn and the other leaders planned an organizing blitz on cartoon studios. By early 1941, they quickly signed contracts with Walter Lantz and George Pal. An artist himself, but no stranger to the financial pressures of production, Walter Lantz was refreshingly cooperative to signing a union contract with his artists. Littlejohn and a young inbetweener named Pepe Ruiz then went to work trying to convince MGM artists to sign with the guild. Some of the organizers the American Federation of Labor sent to help were experienced in the roughhours school of 1930s industrial actions and were not used to talking to cartoonists. Gus Arriola, who in later years created the comic strip "Gordo," was then an animation assistant at MGM. His future wife, Frances Servier, was an animation painter. He recalls: "We didn't want to join the union. Our objection was not to the union so much as to the threatening methods they used with everyone...Frances and I were among the last ones to join. We were taken for a walk out in the MGM back lot by one of the tough union guys, and he said if we didn't join the union, we weren't going to walk through that front door to work. So we did. Under protest, we joined. And the funny part of it was that by joining, I doubled my salary..."
Below: Manny Perez tries the door.
That May, Leon Schlesinger responded to the union agitation with a lockout of his Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies artists. When the first negotiations began, a Warner executive sneered at director Chuck Jones, "We're not a charity here!" Chuck was stung by the disrespectful remark from a member of management for whom he had worked with such dedication. Jones became one of the few animation directors to be wholeheartedly pro-union.... [The Warners lockout] lasted only six days; then Schlesinger surrendered. "Our own little Six-Day War," noted Jones. When Schlesinger signed the SCG contract, he smiled, looked up at the union leaders and chuckled, "Now, how about Disney's?"
Click here to read entire post

Larry Eikleberry telling the wall what's what

Here's a telling caricature of artist Larry Eikleberry (by Eikleberry). It's kind of lampooning his tendency to lecture and speechify... But Mr. Eikleberry has mellowed. He was in my office just today, and mainly listened to my bloviating. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Roy and Woolie by Larry Eikelberry (circa the '80s)

Larry Eikleberry is a crackerjack portraitist who, for a number of years, enjoyed slumming in the animation business... Larry served a term on the TAG's executive board, and also spent a decade with Disney character merchandising. These studies of Disney director Woolie Reitherman and Roy Disney were featured in TAG's '93 annual. They deserved better than to lay trapped between the moldering covers of an old book, so here they are once more, in all their glory. Click here to read entire post

Two animators and a gorilla walk into a studio ...

Ward Kimball in a gorilla suit
Right: Milt Kahl and Marc Davis react to Ward Kimball wearing a gorilla suit during the Christmas season. Drawing by Milt Kahl.
Another caricature from the archives (this also appeared in The Illusion of Life, as we recall)... TAG blog starts a cycle of drawings here, turning -- momentarily -- into a kind of poor man's "Black Wing Diaries." Artists cannot live by our deathless prose alone. Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Supremes Nix Disney/Milne Appeal

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Clare Milne (backed by the Disney Company) to wrest the copyright of the jillion-dollar "Pooh" franchise away from the Slesinger family... What makes this case interesting is that Disney sided with Milne granddaughter Clare against the Slesinger heirs. (Stephen Slesinger was a literary agent who acquired licensing rights from old A.A. himself back in 1930.) Disney hasn't been overly happy with the '83 deal that they struck, and have been bankrolling Clare in her lawsuit in hopes of getting out of the agreement. (You can see the wrangling that has gone on for effing years here. Disney "innocently" shredded some key documents in the case to which the courts, back in '03, didn't take kindly.) Anyway, unless we're missing something, the long, mud-wrestling match between Disney and the Slesingers appears to be at an end. And the Slesingers appear to have the Big Mouse in a full nelson. Click here to read entire post

Eric Larson and John Musker (circa 1983)

Eric Larson and John Musker, by John Musker. By permission of the artist.
Eric Larson, of course, was one of Disney's Nine Old Men ... ... and worked at the studio until he shuffled off the mortal coil. John Musker was an up-and-coming story artist and director at the time this caricature was done. Now, with partner Ron Clements, he's one of the most successful animated feature directors of all time. This caricature was drawn on a memo pad twenty-plus years ago. A few weeks back I came across it in a musty file, and I put it up for your enjoyment and edification. A moment in time. Click here to read entire post

The Feel-good Broadway Play of the Summer?

Ah...maybe not. "Mickey Mouse Is Dead" opens off Broadway on July 11th. I can't wait... Hollywood, 1952. Are the Communists coming? Senator McCarthy hunts Reds, the Rosenbergs are doomed to die, and Walt Disney spies for the FBI. Harris and Finch, scriptwriters at the Disney Studio, are plotting to unionize. Walt's just been called to name names. How much does he know about them? Can Grace, Finch's trust-fund girlfriend, penetrate Walt's private playground? How far will Walt go to save Mickey Mouse from becoming a Commie Yid? A searing look into friendship, national identity and the politics of paranoia, the Happiest Place on Earth will never be the same. MICKEY MOUSE IS DEAD marks the NYC premiere up-and-coming playwright Justin Sherin. Produced by Spankin’ Yanks, a new production company that draws its creative team from the graduate program at the prestigious Yale School of Drama, MICKEY MOUSE IS DEAD is a gripping piece by a young company that has already made a sensation at the Edinburgh Fringe with 2004’s Fringe First Award-winning production of Rolin Jones' The Jammer. By 1952, Walt's shop was pretty well unionized, and his days of testifying to the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee was five years in the past: Washington -- October 24, 1947 -- Producer Walt Disney today told the HUAC that Communists once took over his studio. He also called the League of Women Voters a Communist front organization... So we're not talking about historical accuracy here. Still in all, it sounds like a fun evening, doesn't it? Click here to read entire post

Tired of Stubbing Your Toe? Try Lighting a Candle

We all know the saying: It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. I think of that saying when I hear, second-hand from a friend, that "someone at work today was trashing the union..." It's not that rare that I get this hear-say complaining. This time, as the original conversation was relayed to me, it apparently started with: "I don't know if the union knows anything about this...," followed by a torrent of detail about a perceived problem. The original speaker had clearly thought about the issue, and was stewing about the issue, and was spreading the word that there was an issue. But apparently only to coworkers. My friend was suggesting I have Steve track the guy down and sort the situation out. My question to my friend was, "Did anyone ask this guy why he hadn't bothered to call Steve?" The answer was "no," as it usually is in these deals. So now "the union" becomes the bad guy in the piece, even though "the union" doesn't even know what the problem is about. Some people would rather keep stumbling around in the dark, expecting that sooner or later somebody else will light the candle. So here's my pitch. If you've got a gripe that's union related, you might consider bringing it to someone who can do something about it, rather that grousing at the water cooler. And if you, innocently trying to get a cool drink of water, become the passive recipient of the grousing, instead of stroking your chin while you pretend to listen, kindly ask the grouser if they've thought of doing anything proactive about their issue. Click here to read entire post

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Monday Studio Circuit

I get real energetic at this point in June, rushing around peddling my 401(k) enrollment booklets... (Yes, I know this is a continuing theme. And I'm aware that I'm narrow-casting here. But for Animation Guild members who haven't yet enrolled in TAG's 401(k) Plan, July 1st is the deadline. July 1st. That's like, this coming Saturday. End of the week. So give the office a call or tackle me when you see me in the hallway of your studio. I'll have materials with me...) On another subject, Disney Feature Animation employees have the opportunity to submit suggestions for the upcoming TSL contract negotiations. There's a box set up near the stairs in the Hat Building for suggestions. Shop stewards can also be contacted. Regarding the phase-out of Personal Service Contracts: I'm informed that opinions are split over the issue. Some artists think not haveing a PSC is a good thing since they won't be tied to Disney exclusively and will be able to leave if and when they want; others are worried about having less security. One Dinsey staffer told me: "There are supervisors who're terrified of having staff that aren't legally tied to their production, and there is staff that's frightened of not being guaranteed a job for the length of production." Disney Television Animation has a variety of projects; I'm told that "Mickey's Clubhouse" is good to go with a second season, that "Emperor's New School" has been picked up, and that hopes are high for "American Dragon" coming back. New series include "Tigger and Pooh" and "Fineous and Ferb." Up on the second floor of the Sonora building in Glendale, supervisors continue to make cryptic remarks to me about the future of the Toons division sequel business. Maybe these folks know something I don't, but I continue to believe that the IIs and IIIs of the various classics will go on getting made. The franchises for all those Golden Oldies are just too lucrative for the business to be halted. Click here to read entire post

Michael Eisner Keeps Moving...and Investing

Michael Eisner, former Disney topkick, isn't letting the grass grow under his feet.... In April, he threw in with Time-Warner on some venture capital investments. And now, per the Wall Street Journal, he's making another investment move: Eisner's Venture Firm to Acquire Team Baby Production Company Tornante Co., the venture-capital firm started by Walt Disney Co. former Chief Executive Office Michael Eisner, will announce today that it has acquired Team Baby Entertainment, a production company that makes college sports-themed DVDs for infants and toddlers. The investment, terms of which weren't disclosed, puts Mr. Eisner back in the family-entertainment arena he was so closely associated with until leaving Disney last year... Tornante was formed last year and invests in media and entertainment related ventures, including the Veoh Networks, Inc., a San Diego company that delivers video and television content over the internet... -- WSJ, June 26, 2006 It seems to us that Mr. Eisner is getting into internet firms in a way similar to his old boss, Barry Diller. Good to know he's putting his fortune to work in new and productive ways. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Cars" Clicks Down a Notch

Adam Sandler's High Concept movie pushes "Cars" into the Number Two position ($14,370,000 vs. $6,460,000)... and the John Lasseter film ends its reign at the top after two weekends. "Over the Hedge" moves out of the Top Ten after five weeks. (Click here for B.O. Mojo's complete Friday stats. More to follow further into the weekend.) Update: The weekend estimates confirm the Friday tally: "Cars" declines 33.2% to settle in behind Sandler's latest. Cars now totals almost $156,0000,000. "Over the Hedge" has gathered in $144,493,000. Upcoming summer animated releases: "Ant Bully," "Monster House," and "Barnyard." No doubt about it, 2006 will go down as a big year for animated features. Addendum: Kevin here to horn in on Steve's post and add a bit more info. I noted last weekend that the second weekend drop for Cars was the biggest of the recent Pixar films -- well, this third weekend shows Cars had the smallest percentage drop (assuming the estimates are about right). Cars is now tracking with Finding Nemo and ahead of Toy Story 2, though it's a little hard to compare because those latter films were both released in the holiday season and not the summer. Also take a look at the current domestic top films of 2006 -- fully animated films in 3 of the top 5 places. I think even if a few of the remaining summer animated films tank (which is very likely), this kind of success will keep the animation factories churning out films. Click here to read entire post

"Laughing Place" Seems To Have a Lot of Facts Right

We don't generally link to sites detailing recent developments at specific studios, but since Rhett Wickham has a new, long column about John Lasseter and Disney, we thought we would. If only to call it to your attention, and comment on it a bit... Point the First: Wickham says that "Rapunzel" is going to be a CGI Feature. Weeks ago we briefly posted speculation that it would be hand-drawn. We were quickly informed by a CG supervisor at Disney that we were wrong, and so hurriedly took the post down. Point the Second: The Frog Princess appears to be the feature-length candidate for the hand-drawn treatment. I've heard for a while this was the one, but I've kept my beak shut because we're not in the habit of breaking inside stuff (mostly). Kevin and I are both plugged into the animation grape-vine, but neither of us think it's useful to blather away about all manner of gossip on the World Wide Web. (Of course, when the cat -- as it were -- is already out of the bag...) Point the Third: In reference to "the Union filing a grievance for 'change of business'." A few years back, The Animation Guild filed a large and expensive grievance on behalf of Disney artists who were displaced by CG technology. Kevin and I thought then and think now that the creative staff that was given its walking papers by Disney Feature Animation deserved better treatment than they got. (Certainly the animation staff at Disney Florida was treated better than its Burbank counterpart). However, after a nine-month arbitration hearing, the grievance was lost, much to our sorrow. But in the course of that grievance, we brought up as evidence that Disney was selling animation desks. We could never pin it down with absolute certainty, and it would probably have made no difference in the outcome in the final result if we had. It's interesting to see it mentioned in Wickham's long column. Click here to read entire post

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Niven Busch Speaks -- Pitching Strategies

I'm on a Niven Busch spree this weekend. Here's his anecdote about a writing team that had a lot of success selling script ideas in the 1930s, for a wonderfully specific reason... There was a writing team called Towne and Baker. Gene Towne and Grahame Baker. I don't know if they're still around, but they had a unique, technical routine. Towne wasn't much as of a writer, but he was the idea man, and he'd start to tell the story to the producer. And pretty soon, the producer would be listening and if Towne detected any sign of approval in the producer, he's start to direct his remarks to Baker. And Baker would be very negative. So Towne would get more and more excited, and more and more dramatic, and Baker would be apathetic. And the producer would start to work on Baker. He'd say something like, "What's the matter? Don't you see the motivation?" and on and on. Baker would say, "Well, I don't know..." so the producer and Towne would both work on Baker to sell him the story, and by the time they got through selling Baker, the producer had sold himself. So Baker would say, "Well alright, I like it," so the producer would go back to his desk and write out the check. But anyway, that was one of their refinements. Next time there's a pitch session, get two story people up to do it. And have them use the Towne and Baker method. Click here to read entire post

Niven Busch on Agents, Darryl Zanuck, and Breaking Into Hollywood

Darryl Zanuck Everybody who breaks into the business does it in their own way. Some are recruited out of school, some know somebody in the biz who gives them a lead to a director or producer who looks at their portfolio, some are in a training program. Here's a story about a new hire in Old Hollywood that took place seventy-four years ago. The second of my Niven Busch posts: Niven Busch dropped out of Princeton to become a writer at then-new TIME Magazine. Bryce Hadden, the magazine's co-founder, was his cousin, and over the next decade Busch wrote and edited for TIME, THE NEW YORKER, and COLLIERS magazines among others. Busch ran into childhood friend Myron Selznick (agent-brother of David) at a theater opening in 1932, and Myron told Busch that he could secure Busch employment as a writer in Hollywood. Shortly thereafter, Selznick did exactly that. Old Myron Selznick told me how I came to be hired. He said he had my name on a list. "Niven, you were really lucky your were hired. I was in to see Zanuck one day right after I met you in New York, and Zanuck called me in and said, 'Myron, I've got a new policy on writers. I've had too many young writers strike out. I don't want anymore apprentice writers. I've wasted too much time and money on them. After this, I don't want apprentice writers, I only want experienced men who've written two or three novels, or one hit novel, or one hit play, or who have come from another studio with real experience. That's the only kind of men. I'll do whatever you ask, but I only want top people.'" David and Myron Selznick So Myron said, "I couldn't have him tell me my business, so I looked down on my list and I picked you out because you had the least qualifications of anybody on it. And I said, 'Look Darryl, that's a wrong policy. Now for instance, here's a hell of a talented guy, Niven Busch.' And I gave him a pitch about your NEW YORKER stories, and that you were working for TIME, and they both wanted you exclusive, and you had had stories in Colliers, and all that was true. So Zanuck said, 'Alright, how much you want for Busch?' I said, 'three hundred a week. I'll give you this great talent for a real low price.'" Myron said to me, "Zanuck hired you, but it was only because he was trying to tell me how to run my business that I presented you to this man. So don't you ever get cocky because you're working for Warner Brothers." And there it is. Hired because you're the least qualified. And a powerful agent has a point to make. Click here to read entire post

Friday, June 23, 2006

Futurama Resurrected

For the second time (Family Guy being the first), an animated series returns from the dead. Fox and Comedy Central have just announced that Futurama will come back for a minimum 13-episode run... The Matt Groening/David X. Cohen created series was cancelled several years ago, but there's been a vigorous campaign by the show's fans to have it revived. gives the chronology of the shows rebirth. Apparently the original voice cast has been re-signed. I assume Rough Draft will again handle the production. I recently had a conversation with a friend who worked at Rough Draft for several years on the original Futurama run. According to his estimate, by the time he finished there he'd put in a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of unpaid overtime. Any hint of unionizing the production in those days was met with claims that the studio would lose the production if Rough Draft unionized. Of course, that was before Film Roman employees made the other Fox shows union, and before Rough Draft signed a Guild contract to work on The Simpsons Movie. If those threats were ever true, they're certainly not true now. So, assuming that Rough Draft will indeed be producing the new Futurama episodes, one hopes the artists will this time see the benefits of working under the protections of a union contract (something the writers and voice actors on the show have always understood). Click here to read entire post

Ward Kimball's Anatomy Lesson

Right: A Ward Kimball self-caricature (center) inspired by Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson and Ollie Wallace's appendix removal at St. Joseph's. Circa 1950, published in the 1993 Screen Cartoonists Annual by permission of the artist.
From time to time, we like to post some actual cartoon eye candy so that people around here don't think that all we do is put up history pieces, "today in animation" rundowns, and long tracts and discussions about labor and gender issues. Hope you enjoy it. Click here to read entire post

Animation's First Picket

Another selection from Tom Sito's upcoming book, this time on the labor struggles in a 1930s New York animation studio...
Tom Sito by Hans Bacher.
...It was no surprise that animation unions first found fertile ground in New York City. The major studios in the city in the 1930s were Fleischer and Van Beuren's, with Terrytoons up in suburban New Rochelle. ...The Van Beuren studio seemed to have fallen behind all its competitors in quality and output. None of the studio's characters...had captured the public's fancy the way Mickey Mouse or Betty Boop had... Future Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin did a stint there and later was inspired to do a syndicated comic strip about the place called "Van Boring." Van Beuren changed producers and directors frequently, looking for a team to make his studio a winner, but the mismanagement of work schedules caused his shop's cartoons to fall seriously behind and way over budget. The supervisors' solution to make up the time was to demand that everyone put in long hours of overtime nights and weekends, all for free. ... When Burt Gillett, the director of "The Three Little Pigs," (1933) left Walt Disney to run Van Beuren, everyone hoped that things would improve. Gillett tried to introduce the rigorous standards of quality he learned making Silly Symphonies at Disney, but he did this while still asking for the same low-budget deadlines made up with uncompensated extra work time ... According to several sources, the hard-drinking Gillett quickly earned a reputation for emotional outbursts and instability. The artists held regular informal sessions at the Metropole Bar a few doors from the studio to complain about their situation. Numbers of artists, including Bill Carney, Lou Appet and Sadie Bodin, began to meet with representatives of the AMPWU to discuss going union. Spies in the crowd soon reported everything to Gillett. On February 14, 1935, Gillett called a staff meeting. He shocked everyone when he said he knew all about the union talk and that there had been a meeting. Bill Littlejohn, who was nineteen years old at the time, told me, "The big artists came out of Burt's office white as sheets." The staff shrank back, intimidated, but the grumbles of discontent continued.
Left: Sadie Bodin, circa 1937. Photo courtesy Harvey Deneroff.
Another snitch told Gillett that an inker named Sadie Bodin was overheard in the ladies' room encouraging her girlfriends to stand up to him and not to do the extra work. Gillett's reaction was to immediately fire her. Sadie angrily confronted Gillett. She said that since the Wagner Act had just passed in Washington, firing her for wanting a union was now against the law. Burt Gillett responded that he fired her not for organizing but merely to replace with someone "whose attitude was better." On April 17, 1935, Sadie Bodin and her husband became the first people ever to picket an animation studio. They stood during the lunch hour for several days on Seventh Avenue with signs reading, "Van Beuren Violates Sec. 7-A NRA by Firing Union Labor for Union Activity." Her coworkers shuffled mutely past her in and out of the building, eyes down. They were all too intimidated to go out and stand with her.
-- "Drawing the Line" pp. 70-74
Below: Sadin Bodin, at the time she accepted her Golden Award in 1987.
Despite legal action, Sadie wasn't rehired. The struggle to unionize Van Beuren failed, but in 1936 the studio went out of business. Burt Gillett returned to the West Coast, where he worked for Walter Lantz and his old employer Walt Disney. It was another six years before most animation studios were unionized.
Click here to read entire post

Another Take on Writers and Board Artists Working Together

A couple of times recently Steve has mentioned the rift between animation writers and board artists (here and here). The comments generated by the first of those posts, mostly from artists, tended to confirm my impression that these two groups misunderstand and mistrust each other. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard a writer minimize the contribution of board artists, or a story artist denigrate the contribution of writers, I could treat myself at Starbucks for at least a week. So it was interesting for me to find a debate from within the world of live-action writers that I think parallels this debate in animation . . . The debate I'm referring to was between "first writers" and "rewriters." Or, since many writers do both, it was about the relative importance and difficulty of writing first vs. rewriting. It's on a very interesting screenwriting blog, The Artful Writer, by Craig Mazin, with frequent input by Ted Elliot (who's done his share of animation writing). The debate lead off with this: "The 'first writer' does not necessarily do anything special or more difficult than subsequent writers on a project. Going first isn't harder. Going first isn't special. Going first doesn't earn you a halo or a special place in writer heaven for your sacrifice. Going first is just going first. The martyrous argument sounds a bit like this. 'Nothing is harder than the initial act of creation. The first writer faces a blank page, and the first writer creates a world out of nothing. Any writer brought in to revise the first writer is working from a head start. They're standing on the shoulders of the first writer. Rewriting isn't real's something lesser and derivative.' Bullshit." As I read through the ensuing debate, it struck me that if you substituted "animation writer" for "first writer," and "story artist" for "rewriter," much of the thoughtful discussion worked just as well. Right off the bat, I want to emphasize that I don't see animation writers always as "first writers" and board artists as "rewriters." Sometimes that's true that a writer will face the blank page and create a script from nothing, and story artists will then come in and visualize, modify, and flat our rewrite (though often in picture form). But I know that often a project or story starts with artist's drawings and story boards. Sometimes the first screenwriter on a project is handed a detailed premise, a package of visual development drawings, and detailed character designs. It might be just as often that it's an artist, or an artist/writer, facing that blank page as it is a writer. So, if you prefer, substitute "artist" for "first writer," and "screenwriter" as "rewriter." The point is that both groups are usually essential to the final work, and both groups tend to have chips on their shoulders. Now, one crucial difference between the live action writer/rewriter debate and the writer/story artist debate is that in our world those two groups are doing much of their work at the same time. In other words, they could collaborate. achieveould acheive synergism. They could spend some of their working time in the same room, or at least in the hallways of their adjoining rooms, bouncing ideas off each other, immediately modifying and enhancing each other's work. Wow, what a concept! Better stories at no extra cost! A few of the commenters in previous posts have already pointed out that current production schedules, being so short, don't allow this kind of interaction. Maybe there are a few shows where that would be the case. But most shows have time scheduled for rewriting, and reboarding, currently built in. Most producers already know that the current system of keeping writers separated is inefficient, and they accommodate that. And it's not like the current system evolved to be the most efficient or effective -- most producers just do things the way they see other producers doing things. If a small part of the time allotted to writers and board artists were designated to be spent together, I think each group might actually find their work a little easier, and better stories might get done in the same time frame. The idea that the most successful animated shows have often been those that were created by cartoonists is actually a special case of this concept: the greater the integration of scriptwork and visual storytelling, the better the cartoon is likely to be. When you have a writer/artist doing their own thing, the whole process in integrated in one person. The great Warner Bros. shorts didn't have scripts per se, but they were often written in a sense, and the integration between those coming up with the stories and those doing the visuals was very tight. I say there's no reason not to try going back to that model. Comments? Click here to read entire post

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Late Week Animation (News) Round-up

Nickelodeon is doing a third season of "Avatar," one of the major hits with boy 9-14. I'm glad for the "Avatar" crew; they work their tails off up on the second floor of Nick's Burbank studio, and I know they're happy the show has been picked up (another season of work!) I've mentioned this before, but some months back, I was wandering the third floor of Disney's Frank Wells Building and stopped to admire some of the artwork for the DVD feature for "Tinkerbell." I told a couple of execs there how nice the designs looked. They replied, "Yeah, but we hope Lasseter doesn't look too hard at the story," or words to that effect. Happily, looks like "Tinker Bell", weak story or not, will be unveiled to the public later this year: Few grown men get as fired up about princesses and fairies as Andy Mooney, chief of Walt Disney consumer products...[At the Licensing International Trade show in Gotham] Mooney talked up Disney Fairies, a new line to extend the juggernaut Disney Princess biz. Fairies, targeted at 4 to 8-year-old girls, skews older than Princesses." ...Mooney says Fairies could be a $1 billion business in three to five years....The Fairies line will start with CG pic "Tinker Bell" in 2007. Walt Disney Studios topper Dick Cook unveiled Brittany Murphy as the voice of Peter Pan's diminutive pal. -- Daily Variety June 21, 2006 One of the gripes from some of the "Tink" crew was about Tinker Bell talking. Ah well. There's art. And then there is commerce. Click here to read entire post

Blog Approval Rating Sky High

Jeff Massie recently sent out a brief survey to all the Animation Guild members on our email list (over 1,100 people) to see what people thought of the blog... Knowing a long survey would both inhibit responses and take a lot of time to sort out, Jeff kept it to a simple five questions, (Do you read it at least weekly?; If yes, rate the blog from 0-5; do you find the blog invasive?; have you read things on the blog you thought were inappropriate, and if yes, please elaborate?; do you use a special blog-reader program?) The responses (about 40) were overwhelmingly positive, and the average rating was 4.45 (5 being best). None of the respondents thought the blog had been invasive. A couple of people wished Steve would give even more information from his studio walk-throughs. One member wrote that he hadn't read anything inappropriate on the blog, but that "sometimes I wish they would say less about what they see here at work." On the other hand, another wrote "What some others who are more sensitive consider 'invasive' is specifically one of the reasons I like the blog's content: e.g., reports about conditions or attitudes at certain studios without specific names mentioned..." I should note here that Steve always has far more insider info than he actually posts. It can be a balancing act between giving useful information and revealing inappropriate material. So far I think we've struck a good balance, and those who responded to this survey seem to agree. Almost no one is using a blog-reader (one wag wrote: "You mean like hiring an intern to do my web surfing for me??" No, we meant something like NetNewsWire or Thunderbird or Bloglines, which were the only readers mentioned, by one person each. Those of you who didn't respond to the email, feel free to leave a comment. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"There's Never Been A Successful Animated Prime Time Show Created By a Writer..."

Or so a long-time board artist and animation director told me a couple of months back. He works at one of the larger studios... (I even think I mentioned it down below somewhere. But please don't ask me to find it.) His complete comment to me went along the lines of: "Think about it, Steve. EVERY prime time cartoon show that's been successful has been created by an ARTIST. The ones writers have come up with have tanked..." As a long-time animation writer, I was horribly offended. But I'm a politician now, not a shaper of descriptive passages and dialogue, so I smiled and looked agreeable. He rattled off some of the recent animated television shows that have died quick deaths: "God, the Devil, and Bob," "Father of the Pride," and a couple of others. I honestly don't know who created these short-lived t.v. half hours. I know board artists were involved in producing them. I also know that writers under a W.G.A.(w) contract wrote "Bob," and writers under a TAG contract wrote "Pride." As to who created what at their respective births, I haven't a clue. The director went on to cite the artist who created "Family Guy" and "American Dad" (Mr. McFarlane), "The Simpsons" (Mr. Groenig) and "King of the Hill" (Mr. Judge). I know that this is at least partially wrong, because writers were involved as co-creators. Me, I think there's room for both writers and artists in the creation of hit television shows. And I think the evidence my director-friend put forth is at least a little inconclusive. Any opinions on this? Click here to read entire post

Where's everyone working?

Okay, you've read us saying that employment is up, but here's where people are working ... This chart is broken down by signator company and contract, which might at first seem a little confusing. For example, we break out the people working under the Guild's contract with Disney (which we re-negotiated in April) from the people working at Disney under the IATSE's contract with The Secret Lab (which the IATSE will be re-negotiating next month). [Editor's note: in case that's not clear, TSL employees are Disney employees, so the total number of animation professionals at Disney is the sum of those under the local 839 contract (the 15.6% in medium purple on the pie chart) AND those under the TSL contract (the 13.8% beige slice). All are Animation Guild members, so the total Disney percentage of the Guild's union workforce is 29.4%, making them our largest employer.] Sony Pictures Animation, the unit of pre-animation artists that just finished the Open Season feature under an IATSE contract, is broken out from the small Adelaide Productions group working on "The Boondocks" TV series under the Guild's contract. Drawing Pictures, James Baxter's Pasadena unit, is paying their employees through a "payroll company" that signs the Guild contract, calculates and submits Guild benefit contributions and handles grievances and other contract-related tasks. This is becoming increasingly common for smaller "one-shots" such as the "Alien Racers" unit at Sabella-Dern. All in all, signs of a busy season in the L.A. animation biz. Click here to read entire post

Darryl Zanuck, Walt Disney and Hollywood Polo

What follows are the memories of novelist and screenwriter Niven Busch ("Duel In The Sun," "The Westerner," "The Postman Always Rings Twice" etc.) Niven played polo in 1930s Hollywood, with people like Spencer Tracy, Will Rogers, Darryl Zanuck, and Walt Disney... When I got to Hollywood in the early thirties, I found that my boss Darryl Zanuck was a polo enthusiast. Somebody had told him that polo was a game that required guts, and brains, and above all required money and indicated high status and class and this was something that Darryl wanted. Darryl was production head of Warner Brothers at that time, and he'd found several guys at Warners that played a little polo. One was director Mike Curtiz, who had this weird seat on a horse. Mike had been a Hungarian cavalry officer, and apparently in the artillery they taught officers to ride leaning forward and way up on the saddle, and he played polo like that. Now of course he couldn't get back to hit, but he'd dribble, and he was a very good dribbler. But he was always riding up on his horse's neck and so everyone called him a pommel f*cker. In addition to Mike, Darryl had two or three semi-pro players. He said to me at a story conference, "I hear you play some polo," and I said "Oh yes, Mr. Zanuck, I played at Princeton." Well, my experience at Princeton was minimal, but I let him know I was a big star instead of a second string stiff who occasionally got into a game, and the next day, when I got to the office, there was a pink envelope on my desk and it said READ AT ONCE FROM DARRYL ZANUCK." I thought it was my pink slip, but it was a note that read: "Polo practice will be held at the Warner field tomorrow at seven a.m. Please be mounted there and ready to play at that time." In other words, it was a command from the front office and if I hadn't showed up I felt that my contract was in jeopardy. Anyway, I showed. But I liked it, and we played polo in the mornings. Before long, Zanuck left to form his own company, but we kept playing. We got another bunch of players including some backcountry cowboys from down by the stockyards. In those Depression days, and right on until the war came along, we were playing all over the San Fernando Valley on dirt fields, and over at the Riviera Country Club on grass fields. Our polo team was called "Los Amigos" and we were located at the old Warner Bros. field. The Black Fox military school had a polo team where the Disney Studio now is. There was a dirt field down by the stockyards, and a grass field in a little subdivision in the Valley near Woodland Avenue -- Green Acres, a little off Ventura Blvd. It looked good but it was full of gopher holes. VARIETY kept writing polo up as long as Zanuck and movie producer Walter Wanger were in it. Nobody else very classy was into it. Then the different studios began to talk about teams. At the start there were only two, one at Warner Bros. and one at Twentieth Century, and Zanuck had started both teams. Now I'm going to jump ahead a little to where Zanuck formed his own successful company when he merges with the old Fox Company out on Pico. And Zanuck begins to acquire some real high-end polo players. The trades start making a big play of reporting polo games every Sunday, because more motion picture personalities are now getting involved. VARIETY describes the games like they were international matches at Meadowbrook, and they also kid them because some people getting into the games had absolutely no business on a horse, let alone a polo field. So now, into the polo scene come other people who want part of this publicity and also think it would be one hell of a lot of fun. Spencer Tracy comes on and buys himself a couple of horses and stables them at Riviera. By now we've all moved away from the dirt fields in the Valley and we're out on the grass at Riviera and we've got grandstands and people are coming out and there are pretty good-sized crowds who pay to sit in the stands and watch us make asses out of ourselves. Zanuck used to LOVE to play the number one position, which is the player that takes out the number four, so he's up there in front where if somebody hits a long ball to him he can poke it through the goal "Goal by Zanuck!" He LOVED that. One time he scored a spectacular goal that won a game, but what happened was he missed it and his pony kicked the ball and knocked it through the goal. So the announcer said, "Goal by Pony!" Darryl fired the announcer. I sent to England for special boots and Zanuck had boots you wouldn't believe. He had a kid at the studio shining them up, and I don't think the kid did anything else. Zanuck was by now trying to develop his wrist for polo. He had a sawed off polo mallet with a four-pound head made of solid lead and the mallet was only a foot long. And he went around his office and he'd always be swinging it. He'd walk up and down the carpet in story meetings and sometimes he'd train his eye by flipping a tennis ball to guys and he expected them to toss it back. If you didn't you were liable to get a closing slip the next day. Around this time others start playing. Clark Gable, who was a very good athlete, was on his way to becoming a good polo player, but he didn't get huge about it. He didn't play more than about a year, because the studio kept him so busy promoting and running around. The little time he had he wanted to do hunting and fishing. A lot of actors were really pretty timid players, because if they got hit in the face there would go their careers. I remember one time I was taking the ball down the field, and Spencer Tracy was playing opposite me on the other team. I hit a shot off the boards, and Tracy should have ridden right at me and tried to take the ball. But he was scared he'd get hit, so he rode across the boards and damn near went into the stands, and the grooms were standing there laughing, which was really mean because he was new to the game and my horse was going all out like an express train. Walt Disney got into the act. We played a lot of games, and I only had about two horses, and without Disney, I wouldn't have been able to play a full game. He said, "Niven, take any two of my horses," and this gave me four horses to play. We didn't socialize much away from the polo field, but I always liked Walt. He had a little moustache and a shy smile and was always smoking cigarettes. Will Rogers was a very aggressive polo player, and a hell of a horseman. But he'd do mean things, like if he rode you off the ball, instead of pushing you and riding straight to take the next shot, he'd push right across you and take the next shot on the near side, which could be a foul if the referee wanted to call it. He could throw you that way, and if you knew he was going to do it you would watch for it, but he'd kind of look back with a dirty smile and say, "Well, take that you silly son of a bitch." Rogers was very bad with horses. He was mean with a horse, he'd pull them around. I didn't think he was a very nice fella, I really didn't. Nobody liked him very much around the polo barns, I can tell you that. What they thought of him on the sets at Fox, I don't really know. But he was such a beloved character with the public that if you said anything against him they'd put you down as a freak. Just say he had bad manners on the polo field. (The above is part of a long interview I did with Niven Busch years ago. Not a lot there to do with animation, but a LOT to do with Hollywood in the 1930s.) Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

El Disneyo on Tuesday

I continue my trek with 401(k) booklets slung over a bony shoulder. Today I was at multiple Disney facilities, where I learned... that Ed Catmull and John Lasseter had hosted another Feature Animation meeting on a Disney soundstage for the staff. They reviewed the status of various projects and answered questions from employees. They will, I'm told, be holding these meetings every few months to keep everybody in the loop (always a fine idea). Word is that there will be an ongoing slate of projects in a variety of formats (first release to be "Robinsons" next Spring), and that Personal Service Contracts will be phasing out (no big surprise there.) Everyone I talked to was upbeat about the meeting. I have it on good authority that John Lasseter was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. (Which brings me to the most important point of this post: Twenty-nine years ago in 1977, Woolie Reitherman -- former animator and creative head of Disney Feature Animation -- had a style of dress that included: a shell necklace, a Hawaiian shirt, white slacks, and running shoes. Now, in 2006, John Lasseter -- former animator and creative head of Disney Feature Animation -- has a style of dress that includes, a Hawaiian shirt, dark pants, and running shoes. Coincidence? Or just one small part or God's infinite and intricately designed plan. I think the latter.) Click here to read entire post

News Flash: Toons Go To India?!

The morning news-gathering machine has this happy press release from the World's Largest Democracy... MYSORE: Information Technology Dean B S V Rao said India would be the destination for animation process within three years with an outsourcing potential of US $ 950 million. He said that the Indian animation industry would be US $ 250 million in 2005 and US $ 950 million by 2009. A response this kind of thing usually gets is a "Ohmygawd! It's all leaving! We're doomed!" response. But you'll note that the above is mostly a puff piece regarding training and Indian potential. (Just a little slanted?) And while there is minimal doubt that India and other nations will pick up some American animation work (including visual effects), there are the ongoing issues of cultural differences and talent pools. Animation is a growing pie and the U.S. of A. consumes and creates a large part of it. Otherwise, we wouldn't be seeing things like this. Click here to read entire post

Monday, June 19, 2006

Disney, 1939: "Girls are not considered for the training school"

Disney's Hyperion lot. In Jeff Massie's comments from the Geena Davis discussion below, he mentioned a form letter that Lillian Friedman received from Disney when she applied after five year's experience as an animator at Fleischer. Here's a version of that form letter ... from TAG's archives...and Tom Sito's upcoming Drawing The Line: Here's the text -- in case reading the above gives you eye-strain...
May 9, 1939
Miss Frances Brewer 4412 Ventura Canyon Avenue Van Nuys, California Dear Miss Brewer: Your letter of some time ago has been turned over to the Inking and Painting Department for reply. Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school. To qualify for the only work open to women one must be well grounded in the use of pen and ink and also water color. The work to be done consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with pain according to directions. In order to qualify for a position as "Inker" or "Painter" it is necessary that one appear at the studio on a Tuesday morning between 9:30 and 11:30, bringing samples of pen and ink and water color work. We will be glad to talk to you further should you come in. Yours very truly, WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS By: [Mary E. Cleave]
We were going to say "Good thing that doesn't happen any more." But judging from the statistics, one almost wonders how much the business has improved. After all, thanks to ink-and-paint there were a lot more women working in animation in 1939 then today.
Click here to read entire post

Tom Sito on Women (and Others) In Animation

The University of Kentucky Press has given us permission to offer excerpts from Tom's forthcoming book "Drawing the Line, The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson." Since we've been discussing women in animation, this passage seems apropo: Brenda Chapman-Lima was the first woman to be a head of story, or storyboard supervisor, on Disney's "Lion King" (1995). She was later a director of "The Prince of Egypt" (2000). Vicky Jenson codirected the DreamWorks hit films "Shrek" (2001) and "Shark Tale" (2004), and Lorna Pomeroy-Cook codirected the feature "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" (2002). Yvette Kaplan directed "Beavis and Butthead Do America" (1998). Many modern Hollywood producers and development executives are women, but as of this writing, women animation artists still aren't as plentiful in U.S. studios as they are in Europe and Latin America. On occasion you still hear things like, "Hey, you're making pretty good money for a girl..." And as we earlier posted Tom's thoughts on black animator Frank Braxton's early struggles in the cartoon business, here's what he says about another black artist: Animator Bob Tyler recalls that when he applied for a job at Disney in 1965, a studio exec tried to fob him off with excuses like "You would probably be too tired from riding the bus up from Inglewood to work properly." Then after the Watts riots and the federal Civil Rights Act establishing hiring quotas for all corporations, the same exec called Tyler and asked sheepishly if he would consider reapplying... The battle for fair shots in the business never ends. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Secret Lab Negotiations

And what is "The Secret Lab"? It was, six years ago, Disney's in-house, live action effects studio that was part of Disney Feature Animation... The Secret Lab came about in '99 when DreamQuest -- a live-action effects house purchased by Disney -- was merged with Disney Feature Animation. Today, that effects wing of the Mouse House is pretty much gone, but Disney Feature Animation and the video feature studio called Disney Toons remain under the IATSE contract that was set up for The Secret Lab and called -- for want of a better name -- "The TSL Agreement." The agreement covers most of the production employees at Disney Feature and Toons. It was renegotiated in 2003 and is up for negotiation again this year. Word has reached us that the negotiations are set to take place in the second week of July. Just thought you'd want to know... Click here to read entire post

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekend B.O.

The Friday estimates are in, and Nacho Libre is out of the gate first, with $11 million, followed by 3 Fast 3 Furious at 9.25 mill and Cars in third at $9 million... Boxofficemojo forecasts that Cars will end up number one by the end of the weekend, and I think that's likely, though I suspect Nacho Libre may be closer than they predict. Overall it looks like the Pixar film is headed for about a 45% drop from its opening weekend, which would be a larger falloff than the last three of their films. Over the Hedge is now in tenth place ($1.24 million on Friday), having lost about 1000 theaters to the new releases. We'll add updates as the weekend continues. UPDATE: Cars indeed scored another first place in the weekend race, nabbing an estimated $31.2 million for a 48% drop and a $114.5 million total. That's larger that the second weekend drop-off for Monsters Inc (-27.2%), The Incredibles (-28.7%), and Finding Nemo (-33.7%). Over the Hedge fell 29.6% in its sophomore session, while Ice Age 2 sank a full 50.3%. Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties was seventh in it's opening weekend, coughing up a$7.2 million hairball -- about a third of the original's opening of $21.7 million, and less than half of the Boxofficemojo forecast. Hedge finished 10th, with another $4 million, bring it's domestic cume to $138,755,000 (moving it past Chicken Little, Dinosaur, and Robots on the CG animation charts). What's especially noteworthy is that at this moment three of the top six films of the year (domestic) are fully animated. In about a week, we'll be able to say 3 of the top 5. FINAL UPDATE: The actuals are in, and Cars did better than the estimate, scoring $33.7 million for a 43.9% drop (and a total of $117.1 million). It was number one by over $5 million. Not a bad second lap. Garfield 2 little changed at 7th and $7.29 million, and Over the Hedge was 10th with $4.34 million and a$139.0 million total. Ice Age 2 is still in the top 20, bagging 17th and $361,739, for a total of $192.8 million. Can they keep it in theaters until it passes Madagascar's $193.6 million? Click here to read entire post

Friday, June 16, 2006

Eighties Diz --Tim Burton, Ron Clements (?) and...

me... It was somewhere around 1981. The "Fox and the Hound" was coming out, and the Disney publicity department thought it would be a good idea to plug the picture on college campuses. With a kind-of documentary that could unspool after touring animation staffers gave a talk... For some reason, Publicity decided that Tim Burton, Ron Clements (I think it was Mr. Clements. Ron, if you're out there, confirm or deny, will you?) and Yours Truly. We were all put on stools in a Disney Animation story room, lights and camera were set up, and a publicity honcho started asking us questions. Things like "How did you come to work at Disney?" "What's your day to day work like?" and "How was it working on 'Fox & the Hound?'" Ron answered quietly and succinctly. I bloviated on in my usual way. Tim, stylistically, hit every question out of the ballpark. And when I say "stylistically," I mean he pretty much upstaged everyone. For instance, when asked about how I got to Disney, I rambled on about going through the training program, working with the old-timers, blah blah. But Tim just stared solemnly at the camera and said: "I don't know. I was just going to school, they showed up and hijacked me, and here I am." He said it all with deadpan sincerity. And I had the faintest glimmering that his answers were more entertaining than mine. Or Ron's. It was the same for the "what do you do day to day" question. Ron and I answered in boring detail. Tim looked around the room as though he was on an alien space ship and said: "I don't know. Whatever I'm told..." The interview session ended. The three of us returned to our respective duties. Several weeks later, an animator stopped me in the first-floor hallway and asked: "Have you seen that interview film you did? The one with Ron and Tim Burton?" I told him I hadn't. He rolled his eyes. "You don't look too good in it. Every time you talk, Tim stares at you with his mouth open. Like you're the creature from the black lagoon..." I grunted, my heart sinking a little. I hadn't been aware that Tim had been looking at me while I talked. I'd been focused on enunciating clearly and crinkling my eyes at the camera. "But that's not the only thing," the animator said. "You pause in the middle of one of your answers, and they put a big cartoon 'GULP' in there." My heart sank some more. "Anything else?" I said. "Nothing I can think of, but man. You look like a doofus." "Thanks for letting me know." "No problem." I have zero memory of ever seeing the publicity department's little opus of the three of us. I do know it went out on the college circuit for a time. I do know other people viewed it, because I talked to them. And I know that I once heard it being projected in a third-floor projection room, because I could hear my voice blathering on and the faint sounds of laughter. And I remember hurrying away down the hall, away from my voice. Somewhere in the Disney Publicity archives is a reel of film that contains an interview that's of historical interest because Tim Burton and Ron Clements are in it. And that I hope never to see. (I think I've talked about some of the above before here. Because I'm in a masochistic mood, I thought I would present it in its full glory...) Click here to read entire post

Why We Animate

Because we love it? Sure. Because art is our life? Of course. But mainly we animate, write, storyboard and otherwise sweat blood in the art known as animation because of THIS... Ice Age -- $192,470,228 in the 77th day of domestic release... Over the Hedge -- $134,708,468 in the 28th day of domestic release... Cars -- (still languishing at #1) -- $83,323,649 after 7 days of domestic release. The above figures are through Thursday. There's another weekend upon us, and the greenbacks continue to pile up. And the piling is what motivates the conglomerates to allow us to practice our craft... Click here to read entire post

A response from Geena Davis

Recently I posted some of the findings by the See Jane organization, which was founded by Geena Davis. Their recent report, "Where the Girls Aren't," highlighted the dramatic discrepancy between male and female characters in G-rated films. It generated a lot of interesting comments, and Ms. Davis herself just posted a lengthy, thoughtful comment. Since I suspect a lot of readers don't regularly go back and check the comments of older posts, I'm reprinting it as a new post, since I think this subject deserves more discussion . . . I was told to check out the TAG blog, and I'm very glad I did. You all have very keen observations, and raised questions we are looking to answer as well. Allow me to jump into the discussion... The aspect of our research that most interests me is the quantity of female characters. Several of you -- Klahd, RedDiabla and anonymous, discussed the difficulties in getting a film made with a female main character; with rare exceptions (Mulan, Pocahontas, etc.) that has been true. And we sometimes see films where the female and male stars are more or less equal co-leads (Beauty and the Beast, Lilo and Stitch, etc...). What concerns me about the majority of animated films is that in the "world" of the film -- the fantasy environment that's been created, whether it's toys or animals or whatever -- is usually a world with very few females in roles of ALL sizes. Women and girls, as we know, take up roughly half the space in the real world (a tiny bit more than 50%, but who wants to quibble?); they also share the theater seats equally for animated films. Yet female secondary and tertiary characters are actually more scarce than female leads! If you think about some of the most popular G-rated films, you'll realize there are few, if any, female characters in group or crowd scenes. (The study, as Kevin noted, found only 17%.) My theory -- and it's only a theory -- is that "girls will watch stories about boys but boys won't watch stories about girls" is not a product of our genetic makeup, so much as the cultural message kids are getting. From the very beginning, from their very first G-rated films and pre-school TV shows, with rare exceptions kids are seeing worlds where the male characters make up most of the population; where female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there. Wouldn't our youngest boys and girls get a message from a steady diet of that? And mightn't they grow up into adult women who will watch stories about men, and men who won't watch stories about women? There will always be and should always be films that are aimed at and appeal more to one gender than the other. But the majority of animated films are seen by girls and boys equally; our hope at See Jane is that someday a studio's output of G-rated films will, when averaged, resemble gender parity; that a child's video library would generally reflect gender equity. As for Kevin's question about economics, our study can't answer that, specifically -- it wasn't designed for assessing the profit/percentage-of-female characters ratio. But it is a fact that a number of animated movies with female leads are in the top-twenty box office ranking for the last 15 years. I agree with you: I'm not convinced that pouring more female characters into the stories we tell will dent the B.O. Ken Roskos mentioned Hayao Miazaki as someone who has had success with female characters. What strikes me most about his films is not that he often has a female lead, but that the films as a whole are richly populated with female characters of every stripe. My guess is that his viewers don't really notice that: just as most parents here don't notice a lack of female characters, I suspect that having female characters share the space in his films doesn't stand out to his audience. Japan, if I may be forgiven for generalizing, is know for remaining a fairly sexist society, yet Princess Mononoke became the No.1 movie OF ALL TIME in Japan, beating the record held by "E.T." for 15 years (the record has since been broken by "Titanic"). It was also the all-time best selling video in Japan, selling more than 4 million copies, until the record was broken, again, by "Titanic." (The previous video sales record was held by "Aladdin", which sold about 2.2 million copies in Japan.) If a movie with "Princess," of all things, in the title can be a runaway hit in Japan, perhaps we should feel emboldened to push the boundaries here. The final point I want to respond to is Klahd's suggestion that I "make some financially successful films with strong female roles and hope that the pencil pushers take notice." I wish that worked. I have -- and they didn't. I shot Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own back-to-back, and the press predicted in both cases the start of a wave of female buddy and sports movies. Neither movie provoked the decision-makers to try to repeat their success; in fact, I believe the next female-oriented sports movie to come out was Bend in Like Beckam... about 10 years later. Thank you all for your time, and especially thank you for your serious and thoughtful discussion of our study results. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts. Click here to read entire post

You Know It's Going To Be A Splendid Day When...

You get this in your mailbox (as I did). (Since the text of this doesn't read too well, lemme explain. The letter is a communication from the Veterans Administration saying how sorry they are that personal data they had on me -- and other vets -- has sorta kinda gone missing. I put it up because unhappiness needs to be shared.) Our tax dollars at work. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Writers? Collaborate With Board Artists?

As I run around to studios with my 401(k) enrollment booklets, I've been caught up in some discussions about writers and board artists... Seems that a popular show at one of the studios is going from being done on storyboards from 1 1/2 page premises (no scripts) to scripts before it goes to boards. (It appears that one of the suits up at the top of the food chain has all of a sudden discovered that he "can't deal" with storyboards anymore, but needs paragraphs and blocks of dialogue on a nice, white page.) As the story's been told to me, the show's creator is not overjoyed with this turn of events, nor are the board artists. Some board artists figure they can write scripts, since they've been writing with storyboards through several seasons of the show. Me, I wrote animation scripts for thirteen years but I'm agnostic on the subject. Board the show, or write then board the show, anyway people do it is fine by me. But here's what gripes my hindquarters. Most times, across the business, television board artists have relatively little contact with the writer. Artists get the writer's script, and punch it up as much as they can (or are allowed to), and the boards move on through the production process. And what bothers hell out of me is that few of animation top-kicks see any reason to have the writers sit down with the board artists and spitball gags and ideas for the script before it's written, when it would improve the product. Now I know everybody is ferociously territorial, and that upper management is afraid that this would make the process more expensive, but I've seen such good results from it when it's used, that I'm forever amazed that more studios don't make it bed-rock policy. Click here to read entire post
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