Friday, January 02, 2009

In Need of a New Business Model

The front page of today's L.A. Times explains how Hollywood is hurting ... and looking for new solutions:

"You can eliminate all the limos and velvet rope events you want," said former studio executive Marty Kaplan .... "But if you're still spending $100 million on pictures that have little chance of being hits, you're in a business that is inherently nuts."

"Inherently nuts", what a concept. But it's been going on for some while, even though it's difficult to justify exorbitant paydays for A-list actors when they stop delivering big opening weekends and their films don't turn a profit.

But in a business as complicated as movies and t.v. have long since become, momentum happens, and old bad habits are hard to break.

For animation, the situation is somewhat different. The folks who actually create toonage are not paid huge sums of money, and though overseas studios are cheaper, in the theatrical realm the companies beyond America's shores have been fairly consistent in not producing big hits. (This being one case in point ... in contrast to this).

The big threats to American animated features aren't star salaries or high-priced directors, but the future possibility of blockbuster animation getting made in India or the Philippines or some other low-cost territory.

To date, that future hasn't happened. And I've no idea if it ever will.


Anonymous said...

And you can bet studios will be hring outside consultants with no practical experience in film making or animation to "advise" them as to how to "solve the problem" or "manage change." Instead of looking at the bad decisions the heads of the studios have made, and then trusting employees on the ground to help solve the problems, they'll hire outside consultants to deal with things as if it's a "pr" problem. This is one of the big reasons Disney lost it's footings.

Instead, they ought to stop trying to manage people and situations, and just focus on making great movies. Let the people who have to MAKE (and have made) the movie solve the production issues.

These mba types (and the poor souls who hire them) are hired only to weed out those who won't do what the studios want them to--even if that means shipping work overseas.
Disney's already doing this with Feature Animation-and you can bet it will be amped up over the next few years, especially since "Bolt" didn't perform as hoped.

The problem of change has been dumped on HR, who's only response in recent times is to hire an outside consultant-rather than actually work to deal with the real issues.

Those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it.

Anonymous said...

Disney is NOT outsourcing. Where in the world did you get THAT info from?

Bolt was made ENTIRELY in-house.

Anonymous said...

And Bolt didn't do as well as hoped. Disney is outsourcing lots of "Princess and the Frog," and is looking into outsourcing a lot of their non-Pixar CG product just as much as any other studio.

Anonymous said...

7.5 bil

Anonymous said...

And you can bet Pixar will start outsourcing as much as Dreamworks. Not the main stuff, but a lot of the smaller stuff, and eventually who knows.

Roadside Romeo was a Disney local market (Indian) experiment. The film was terrible and disappeared quickly here in the U.S. I'd bet it did better in Indiia, the largest film market in the world. That said, some of the animation was pretty smooth. Not grounded in character, per se, but it moved nice. Audiences can tell the difference, but accountants can't.

Anonymous said...

(This being one case in point ... in contrast to this.)

Hi, the 2nd THIS seems to have a broken link. What site/page was it pointing to?

My two cents; As disappointing it is to always have to deal with executives clueless about animation, I believe it is our obligation (as animation artists) to try to educate them that a good "product" requires great commitment not shortcuts.

Easier said than done I know but we have to keep trying.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to correct Mr. Anonymous who said "Disney is NOT outsourcing. Where in the world did you get THAT info from?"
The fact is that Disney IS outsourcing on The Princess and the Frog. Only Clean-up Inbetween, EFX Inbetween, and Ink and Paint. It's very unfortunate...

Steve Hulett said...

The second "this" link is now fixed.

After observing movie execs for a long time, I find that they tend not to change a business model they perceive as working.

So ... they didn't ship feature animation overseas because theatrical 'toons produced overseas mostly didn't make the money or profits as the domestically done stuff did.

This has held true for the last eighteen years. Studios did an overseas feature ("Once Upon a Forest"), the feature flopped, so they tried the domestic Disney model. which was deemed to be more effective.

It's true that Disney has outsourced minor things since the eighties (effx cel work was done in China for "Little Mermaid," for example.)

But by and large, the big grossers have been created stateside.

Studios tend to shy away from biz models that don't generate bucks. Which isn't to say that at some point, overseas production won't take hold. But domestic theatrical features are perceived as the the way to go now.

Anonymous said...

"Jungle Book 2," "Return to Neverland," "Bambi 2" "The Tinkerbell Movie," and "A Goofy Movie," among others were produced mostly overseas (coordinated from L.A.), and aside from the stories (aside from the Goofy movie), they were pretty good looking, high quality films. I don't agree with doing sequels, but the artwork and the animation was of VERY high quality.

Steve Hulett said...

All but "The Goofy Movie" (which grossed around $60 million domestic) were made for home video.

Home video, in the studios' minds, is something to be outsourced, like television animation.

And you're right, the quality was quite good with the Disney sequels. The Disney studio in Australia was doing particularly fine work.

But again, most of this product was for home video. "Jungle Book 2", which got a theatrical release, was initally planned as a direct-to-video feature. (Kevin Lima worked on it for awhile when its status was being elevated to "theatrical release.")

Disney Toons got into theatrical animation for a few years with the "Pooh" films and "Return to Neverland." None of these were huge grossers (mostly $40-$60 million).

Which tended to reinforce the general perception that overseas features were seldom blockbusters on the order of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Lion King."

Anonymous said...

Actually, only Bambi 2 was made directly for home video. All others had worldwide theatrical releases.

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