Monday, December 06, 2010

Disney Walkabout

I spent a chunk of my afternoon on various floors of the Hat Building. Lots of people moving to new quarters on the first floor, setting up for live music on the second floor, and a happier mood all around.

As one of the veterans told me:

"People are real happy that Tangled is doing well. Artists that have only been here five or six years, they've never experienced one of our features performing at the box office."

Another artist showed me a teaser trailer for Tangled that was never used. It shows Flynn and the horse Maximus fleeing soldiers, then falling on the branch, and then Flynn Rider discovering the tower and climbing same.

As it was explained to me: "The original teaser got cut up and used a different way." [See above.] "The bits where Flynn is grabbed by Rapunzel's hair, dragged by Rapunzel's hair, didn't end up in the film. Flynn escaping on the horse Maximus didn't end up in the film.

"What the released teaser trailer did was take pieces from the film and pieces from the original, unused trailer, and that's why people wonder why the trailer from five months back has shots not in the film. It's because some bits were designed for the first teaser, then that teaser got recut and restructured. ..."

(I always liked the cuts up in the tower of Flynn Rider getting grabbed by the hair, and was sorry it wasn't in the feature. Thought it added some nice character bits. But you can't have everything.)

Another artist related that she understood The Bear and the Bow was getting retooled from the ground up after Brenda Chapman's departure. We fell into a discussion about directors getting replaced on animated films, how it happens with regularity, and she said:

I don't know why management says "Directors run the show" when directors obviously don't. When John wants it one way and a director wants it another way, John's way wins. Some employees around here believed what was said instead of what actually happens, and got demoralized.

"I guess they [top management] just want to polish their legacy and build themselves a storyline about how the studio is. But I think it would be better if they just were honest about the reality." ...

Me, I think honesty about The Way Things Actually Operate is always the better policy, but Pixar's topkicks have been successful doing it their way, so what the hey. You can't argue about results.


Anonymous said...

Being a director doesn't mean shit in this industry. If you're not a producer (i.e. "writer") you're nothing.

Anonymous said...

Its Maximus, not Maximillian

Anonymous said...

The artist you talked to did you, Disney employees, and your readers a disservice by not understanding John and Ed's philosophy on studios.

Here's a quote:

"“The one fundamental change that we made when we came in here was that we worked to make this studio a filmmaker driven studio, not an executive driven studio; which it used to be. Most every other studio except Pixar is an executive driven studio, but not this place. And the filmmaker is not just the directors. They are the key, but it’s the producers and heads of story, the supervising animators; the group that makes this film. That’s why I really empowered these guys to make this a film they want to see.”

Hopefully that clears that up. Directors arent the be-all, end-all. They have a role to fill, just like we all do. And if they are making a movie that the team isnt in support of, they have to be dealt with. Its much more democratic than the implication she made about John being a dictator. Many decisions on Tangled went against John's wishes, but the team felt strongly enough to stick to their guns, and the film was great.

But artists like to complain and pretend they know better than the people who built Pixar from scratch. At least thats entertaining.

Steve Hulett said...

Its Maximus, not Maximillian.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 5:53 -

Sounds nice, but that's clearly spin, now that John Lasseter no longer really officially "directs" the movies he oversees. Since he is usually just the executive producer on films, how will they justify him taking control of all projects and kicking directors out? Well, by changing their famous old mantra of "director-driven" studio into "filmmaker-driven" studio, because obviously, John's made films before, so now that fits better.

Isn't the famous story back in the day - when John Lasseter was a young pup trying to make his way at Disney and he had to butt heads with the folks in control? He felt as if he wasn't being heard and that it seemed to him like the older folks were stuck in their old ways? Then he was relegated to doing in-betweens and was told that he had to put in his time at this before he could be heard. Wasn't he quoted as saying that he wouldn't want to put any artist in that position again?

Well I could have sworn he was butting heads with "film-makers" back then. But as Steve said, Pixar's guys have produced so can't really argue them... but at least, be honest about it. It's basically John Lasseter's way or the highway. Stop pretending it's not. Stop saying artists have more power at Pixar than at any other studio on the bluray special features when the reality is other studios respected directors like Chris Sanders enough to let him craft the film he wanted to make, and will probably respect Brenda Chapman's as well.

It just looks like damage control now. It was a "director-driven" studio when John was just a director. Now it's a "film-maker driven" one. If he ever decided to also be the janitor, it would be a "janitor-driven" studio.

Anonymous said...

Another quote:

And to this day, this development department [at Pixar] is loved by the directors, because it's a support group. It's not somebody telling them what to do. It's not a gate. It's a support group. The directors - because we're a director-driven studio - are the ones who are responsible for the movie and everything else is to support them. On the way, we measure progress. It's how well that team gets together. Because initially, the films they put together - they're mess. It's like everything else in life. The first time you do it, it's a mess. And sometimes it's labeled, "well, the first time it's a failure," but it's not even the right word to use, right? It's just like you get the first one out, you'll learn from it. And the only failure is, if you don't learn from it - if you don't progress. So the way we measure it is like, "Is this team functioning well together?" and it's the thing that's never let us down.

From time to time, there have been things said about "director driven" movies, like by Ed C. up above.

So maybe people have gotten the wrong ideas about studio realities, you think?

There are times when directors probably need to be replaced -- especially if the movie isn't working. But it's good to be clear and honest about this.

The "director driven" meme took hold because Ed C. and others talked about it a lot. (To be fair, maybe Ed and others meant it when they said it. But it doesn't appear to be true now.)

Anonymous said...

"Well I could have sworn he was butting heads with "film-makers" back then"

What "film makers"? Rich Rich? Don Bluth? Woolie Reitherman? Nah, Disney didn't have "film makers" back then (just look at their output), they had a bunch of [talented] technicians, a few good animators, and no one in the upper ranks who stuck their neck out with an opinion, good taste, and strong storytelling skill.

Anonymous said...

This is a lively discussion of semantics, and I appreciate it. (I do, honestly, no snark) I can see both sides. But at the end of the day, I'm going to side with John and Ed. Their track record is just too good to ignore. I mean, Ed had plans for computer animated films before there was even a frame-buffer invented.

That's be like visions of traditional animated films before pencils were invented.

Wally Alias said...

It is a director driven studio.

Lasseter is the director and he drives it.

That's as clear and truthful as you need to be.

Anonymous said...

" I mean, Ed had plans for computer animated films before there was even a frame-buffer invente"

Others did too. That doesn't make him a good executive. And, there's talk of him retiring in the near future. It must be taxing for someone his age to run two studios.

Anonymous said...

"artists that have only been here five or six years, they've never experienced one of our features performing at the box office."

They probably never will experience it either. Most of the guys who have been there 5+ years got fired, they kept all the cheap talent.

Anonymous said...

Factually incorrect. You're sooo far off from correct about the number of layoffs and the nature of them.

Folks, don't read anonymous slams and believe them. Anon just above, I'm Bruce Wright in effects at Disney. If you care to discuss this stuff openly, contact me.

No, "most" of the people who were here 5 years ago were not fired.


whew. Okay, calm now.

Unrelated: prep and landing operation secret Santa, a new Disney Short airs tonight on abc during Charlie Brown. Watch it!

Anonymous said...

I work at DW with a number of ex Disney who were fired after Tangled. Many of them had been there for a long time.

Bruce, feel free to give your take on the layoffs if you disagree that disney has no loyalty or sense when it comes to talent retention.

Not Bruce said...

There were layoffs, yes. And it sucks. But it wasnt "everyone," and it certainly wasnt only the "cheap talent." From my experience, the ones who were let go were almost exclusively the under-performers (with some exception). Thats not meant as a slam, it's just from what I saw.

Plain fact is, Disney WANTS to retain talent, but the suits across the street (Im looking at Iger and Ross) insist that until there's a hit, overhead has to be low. It doesnt make sense, and it isnt fair, but thats how it is.

Now that Tangled is a hit, hopefully we'll see more talent retention.

Maybe Bruce said...

Fact of the matter is Disney wasn't making any profit on their animated films. They were already bleeding money away on development and production. If Tangled continues on the way it has been performing and Pooh turns out a profit, then we'll see more retention in the mouse house. If Disney were to retain all their animation staff then they'd be bleeding even more money. And suits don't like that.

Does it suck and is it unfair to the animators who have to be let go. Definitely. But it is completely understandable why it had to be done. Afterall at the end of the day it's business.

Floyd Norman said...

Oh, please! Disney's not some start up in danger of going under. They're a deep company with incredible resources that will keep generating dollars long after we're gone.

As far as "studio bosses." I remember a young George Lucas hating them too. That is, until he became one.

Anonymous said...

1-2 million saved a year by letting a bunch of animators go is less than a drop in the ocean to disney.

Anonymous said...

You've been beating that drum for a while Floyd, but you of all people should know you cant fund films that make no money at the box office forever.

is really Bruce Wright said...

To the DW employee above, yes, more people got let go than anyone would like. And yes, some really great people were among them. Tell me about it. It sucks.

But that doesn't mean that "most" of the people who've been here over five years were let go. It's simply not true.

If you want my opinions on the positives and negatives of Disney, all you need to do is ask anyone who was ever in a meeting with me. I'm not shy about expressing my opinions.

But I only express them within the company.

Floyd Norman said...

Well, Anonymous, I never asked for forever. But, let's face it. Disney spends millions on all kinds of jerk off projects. One or two million bucks to retain animators is clearly a drop in the bucket in the Mouse Cash Ocean.

Even Walt knew reinvestment was part of doing business. No one is asking Disney to fund an art community with no return on the money. Just invest in the business they built. Hell, if Jeffrey can do it - why can't Disney?

Anonymous said...

While working at Disney on "TPATF" there was a talk about marketing etc. It was very imformative, we were told that the princess line alone brings in $2 Billion a year, thats Billion people yet they do talk about how the artists are such a drain on resources. The whole time the kept talking how they dont want to lay off people yet no real development was going on. Say what you mean and dont just say things to make people feel good. So some quick math, lets say everyone on average was making $80,000 on Frog give or take. The film employed roughly 200 people that comes out to $1.6 million a year to pay them. I know there are other costs but still $16 million isnt going to break Disney so yes as Floyd said above it is but a drop in the Disney money ocean.

Anonymous said...

Oops sorry for the typos above I meant $16 million and not $1.6 million.

Anonymous said...

I would think its a lot more than 16 million on the books. You have multiple expenses attached to every employee annually and not including the behemoth facility costs that mount for each fiscal year that are related in some way to head count.

Can it be done smarter.... always. But unfortunately the artistic staff is also always the first targeted. As an artist, its very frustrating to see well trained staff sent packing as soon as the gig is over. Remember these decisions are from people that are running a numbers business and that is their focus. Hope that doesn't remain the new norm and more stability will return for American animators.

Anonymous said...

"They probably never will experience it either. Most of the guys who have been there 5+ years got fired, they kept all the cheap talent."

No studio has loyalty so don't fool yourself. You're really just a hired gun for the project. Much like freelance. The union only cares about getting new people in for the dues and not about sustainable employment, that way it won't have to pay out pensions to people not paying in with studio hours.

I sure hope no one was working unpaid overtime there.

Steve Hulett said...

I understand the layoffs. There is no feature in the production pipeline for people to go onto. Management is not going to retain people when there is no work for them to do.

The underlying problem: Disney Feature story development has not been robust. You can't have overlapping productions when you don't have overlapping product development ready on the tarmac.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Floyd. It'd be nice if that idiot Iger and that flake Ross would understand that animation BUILT Disney, and would stop treating it like it's merely one of Disney's subsidiaries - and less important than Hannah Montana.

How about they sell those farking Muppets and invest the money into a terrific, blow-'em-out-of-the-water 2D film that's on a par with Fantasia?

Steve Hulett said...

The union only cares about getting new people in for the dues and not about sustainable employment, that way it won't have to pay out pensions to people not paying in with studio hours.

No. We tub-thump for sustainable employment all the time. Here. In private conversations. In negotiations.

Also, TAG pays no pensions. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan does. And if you've earned enough qualified years and hours to qualify for a pension, you get a pension, assuming you're old enough.

Anonymous said...

"I agree with Floyd. It'd be nice if that idiot Iger and that flake Ross would understand that animation BUILT Disney, and would stop treating it like it's merely one of Disney's subsidiaries - and less important than Hannah Montana."

First of all, Floyd knows NOTHING more than anyone else. Period.

Secondly, sorry to burst your bubble, but Disney is a public company. To the VAST majority of stockholders, animation doesn't mean anything. Profits do. If another subsidiary makes money--that's good. If Hannah Montana whore's herself out another 5 years, that's a lot of johns.

Until Animation rakes in the cash...and even after, count on the staffing to remain low at Disney during lulls, and higher during the end crunch. You gotta remember, Disney Feature Animation hasn't had a moneymaker for 10 years.

Anonymous said...

From my experience, the ones who were let go were almost exclusively the under-performers (with some exception). Thats not meant as a slam, it's just from what I saw.

What I've seen is a bunch of those 'under-performers' doing amazing work at places like Blue Sky and DreamWorks and several other studios. Fact is, Disney doesn't have stuff to work on, because they can't figure out what films Ed and John want to make, so they lay off excellent talent. You're one of the lucky ones (or an effective suck-up), so you tell yourself whatever you have to to sleep at night, but Disney has been hemorrhaging talent for years, and that talent has been making good money for competing studios.

Anonymous said...

You misunderstand. I never said the people laid off werent talented, nor that it's a good thing. My point was Disney didnt keep the people they kept simply because they were "cheap."

It was an excruciating experience (for everyone) and the criteria had almost nothing to do with their salary. Maybe it was chemistry, maybe it was performance, maybe it was politics, but based on who is still there, it wasnt salary.

Anonymous said...

**First of all, Floyd knows NOTHING more than anyone else. Period.**

Yeah, I'll take your word for it, Mr. Anonymous.


Anonymous said...

here's what most folks seem to be missing/forgetting.

no animation work being done = No need for animators.

when work is needed disney will rehire/hire new animators. and if work continues to be done and needed then they will retain their employees.

they aren't going to pay for an entire roster of animators to sit around with their thumbs up their butts until something goes into full development.

it sucks but it's what it is.

Anonymous said...

wow -really?

Everyone gets that. The point is why aren't they doing enough animation to roll employees over? DW seems to be managing just fine as does Pixar.

It's more about an attitude towards the medium and those that make it.
Right now Disney feels like there's no need to retain top talent because they don't feel there's any difference between any of the talent - (John is partly to blame for that) and they don't care that much about the legacy of Disney animation in anyway but a superficial way.

Go watch Waking Sleeping Beauty. We're right back to the days when Wells, et al weren't interested in animation since they don't see it as profitable. Until it was.
Looks like the only one who learned from that lesson is Jeffrey.

Anonymous said...

Pixar isnt doing fine. Their animators disappear for months as well, without pay, while they re-tool stories. Its technically a layoff, but with a promise of re-hire.

Dreamworks is the most stable, with the most in development. The trade-off is that you might get stuck on something crappy, like Puss n Boots.

But hey, its money.

Anonymous said...

welcome to the world of business. nothing is profitable until it makes a profit. that's the world we live in.

if meet the robinsons, bolt, and princess and the frog all pulled the same numbers as shrek and toy story then of course we'd be seeing a long production pipeline with plenty of animators working. however they didn't none of them brought in money to the studio so productions were slowed, which is why we have the gap in 2012.

if tangled continues to do as well as it has been and winnie the pooh turns out strong as well then you'll see more productions green lit and you'll see animators returning to the hat building.

Anonymous said...

But THAT'S the difference. Back when Wells, et al. came to Disney in the 80's Disney kept the crews despite the fact that the movies weren't making money and kept pictures in the pipeline. It wasn't until Mermaid that there was any real promise of serious money to be made (even meh BO from GMD and O&Co didn't warrant keeping crews on during downtime).
They kept them there because of Roy and the understanding that was how you ran an animated studio.
WHY isn't JL insisting they not lose talent?

Probably because he does the same thing at Pixar. Other than a few key people he doesn't respect the talent.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know what happened to the Disney shorts program. I was disappointed to not have cool new short at the beginning of Tangled to cheer for. I thought that program was being set up to keep animators busy during lulls in feature production. Walt knew how to keep his guys around and busy doing shorts.

Anonymous said...

Prep & Landing

Anonymous said...

So one short makes it the Disney SHORT program...hehe

Anonymous said...

Tick Tock Tale

Ballad of Nessie

Prep and Landing: Operation Secret Santa

Prep and Landing 2


And theres more in the pipeline

Anonymous said...

They relaunched the shorts program so long ago and so far all we've actually seen released to the general public is How To Hook Up Your Home Theatre and Prep & Landing.

Glago's Guest was supposed to be released with Bolt and it that plan got scrapped, still have yet to see it.

The Ballad of Nessie was supposed to be released with The Princess and the Frog but got put aside and various sources says it's completed to still in development. Who knows!?

Tic Tock Tale AGAIN was supposed to be released with Tangled. AGAIN it was put aside.

I'll probably die before I see another NEW animated short. (PS I count all the Prep & Landing shorts as one)

Anonymous said...

Is it possible it's because...dare I say it...the shorts just aren't very good?

Bruce Wright said...

Ummm. Whatarewetalkinabout?

Anyhoo.... Speaking of Shorts, the new Prep and Landing short is viewable in HD on Youtube!

MAN I love this short. Tons of fun, inventiveness and heart.

I get choked up at the end. I'm a big softie.

Anonymous said...

WHY isn't JL insisting they not lose talent?

Probably because he does the same thing at Pixar. Other than a few key people he doesn't respect the talent.

Actually, Pixar is run completely differently. There are very few layoffs when there are lulls in production.

Anonymous said...

"Other than a few key people he doesn't respect the talent."

If you want to prove you're not a liar, lay out the proof of this statement.

Otherwise, you're a liar.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you prove you're not a 13 year old Pixie?
Otherwise you're a 13 year old Pixie

Anonymous said...

I thought so. No proof. Just like a 13 year old brat.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:44 Who are you? Peewee Herman...?

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