Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trading Places

Late to the party with this:

Nickelodeon said last fall that its ratings woes were temporary, but that doesn't look to be the case: This month, kids-TV rival the Disney Channel beat it for the first time in its average number of total daily viewers. ...

Of the top 10 most-watched cable networks in March, only one slipped more than Nick. And therein lies more bad news for Nick, because that network is its evening offshoot: Nick at Night fell 36 percent to 942,000 average daily viewers ...

Parents have long complained that Nick airs too many reruns of popular staples like "SpongeBob SquarePants," as the Disney Channel generates new original programming like "Jessie" and "Good Luck Charlie" to continue the success of hits like the recently departed "Wizards of Waverly Place."

Nick responded to the ratings woes in the fall by announcing plans to air up to 500 hours of new content in the near-term. ...

The Disney Channel was started in the early 1980s, when Ron Miller was Chairman of Diz Co. It started life as a shoe-string operation, with all kinds of low-rent programming. It long ago moved up to the major leagues.

Nickelodeon has been riding high for a long time, but it's never good to assume you can rest on your cushy status quo. While you're resting, you get trampled by the competition.

I've listened to Nick execs complain about upper management's choices: refusing to greenlight Adventure Time, shutting down Robot & Monster when it was humming along, betting heavily on CG shows when CG shows are more costly and get no better ratings with the junior set than their less expensive, hand-drawn brethren.

But ratings go down, ratings go up. A few years ago, Cartoon Network's management was wondering what it could do to pull their cable network out of the dunk tank, and now CN is flying high. The ratings game is cyclical. Today's winners become tomorrow's winners losers. Unfortunately for Nick, tomorrow is here.

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April Fools' Steeple Chase

The early numbers from your Nikkster and mine.

1. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Week 2 [4,137 Theaters] PG13-Rated Est Friday $19M (-72%), Est Weekend $5560M, Est Cume $245M

2. Wrath Of The Titans 3D (Warner Bros) NEW [3,545 Theaters] PG13-Rated Est Friday $12.4M, Est Weekend $37M

3. Mirror Mirror (Relativity) NEW [3,603 Theaters] PG-Rated Est Friday $5.8M, Est Weekend $21.0M

4. 21 Jump Street (Sony) Week 3 [3,148 Theaters] R-rated Est Friday $4.6M, Est Weekend $14.5M, Est Cume $93.5M

5. Dr Seuss’ The Lorax 3D (Universal) Week 5 [3,264 Theaters] PG-rated Est Friday $2.0M, Est Weekend $8.5M, Est Cume $190M

6. John Carter 3D (Disney) Week 4 [2,397 Theaters] PG13-rated Est Friday $530K, Est Weekend $2.0M, Est Cume $66.2M

7. Salmon Fishing In Yemen (CBS) Week 4 [483 Theaters] PG13-Rated Est Friday $450K, Est Weekend $1.7M, Est Cume $3.6M

8. Act Of Valor 3D (Relativity) Week 6 [1,239 Theaters] R-Rated Est Friday $350K, Est Weekend $1.3M, Est Cume $68M

9. A Thousand Words (Dworks/Par) Week 4 [1,007 Theaters] PG13-rated Est Friday $275K, Est Weekend $1.0M, Est Cume $16.5M

10. Project X (Warner Bros) Week 5 [903 Theaters] R-rated Est Friday $255K, Est Weekend $950K, Est Cume $53.5M

Dr. S.'s The Lorax will be up around the $190 million mark by the end of the weekend. And still climbing.

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Ed Aardal's Disney Layoff

... and Disney phone call.

As Mr. Aardal related the story to Mega, Ed was laid off after Lady and the Tramp wrapped up. But shortly thereafter, Walt Disney was looking at development and drawings for Sleeping Beauty, and said: "You know, this would be good sequence to give to Ed Ardaal."

At which point, underlings informed Walt that Ed had been ... uh ... given his walking papers.

Soon after, Walt Disney called Ed and asked him to come back to the studio, as he had some work that was right up Ed's alley. But Ed replied: "Gee Walt, I've got another job."

And Ed never did go back to WDP.

(Whether the tale is apocryphal or not, it was the way Ed told it to Mega ... and I'm telling it to you.)

Here is some of Ed's handiwork soon after departing the House of Mouse.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Mega "Lady and the Tramp"

The climax to 1955's Lady and the Tramp, rendered in pencil by Disney veteran Ed Aardal, brought to us by Mega Collector ...

Ed had a long career at Walt Disney Productions, and a long career after WDP. He was laid off after Lady and the Tramp, and he told Mr. Mega an amusing story about the layoff when Ed and Mega worked together in the mid '70s. In Mega's words:

Ed was the sweetest, gentlest, most kind-hearted guy. And very generous with his knowledge. He took me under his win when I was lucky enough to work with him in 1976 ...

This was when Ed Told Mega the story up above. (If it's not there yet, it will arrive shortly.)

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This was a looong time coming.

Creating Hollywood's largest entertainment union, members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have voted overwhelmingly to combine into a single bargaining unit.

SAG represents 125,000 actors, extras and stunt performers in movies and television shows. AFTRA has about 70,000 members who are actors as well as singers, dancers, disc jockeys, sports announcers, comedians and broadcast journalists, among others. About 40,000 people hold membership in both labor groups. ...

Should have happened a decade ago.

The long-term problem for SAG, as I understand it, is that AFTRA has been eating its lunch regarding situation comedies. SAG had that landscape almost to itself for a long time, but during the strike threts of 2009, producers began putting new television half-hours under AFTRA contraacts as fast as they could.

It also doesn't help that SAG had jurisdiction over film, but film -- as we've known it for the past 120 years -- is going the way of the passenger pigeon.

But it's good that the two unions finally got their stuff together and got hitched. Now all they have to do is work out the kinks in their respective benefit plans:

... [A]n extensive analysis by The Hollywood Reporter underscores that the future of the SAG health plan may hang in the balance: unmerged, that plan is becoming less robust and more expensive – and this is happening much faster to SAG’s plan than AFTRA’s. ...

Maybe now that there's a merger, things will stabilize.

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Now that Tintin is out on the little silver disks, it gets more reviews. And this kind of nails it:

... Clearly motion-capture technology has its place. It worked in the semi-realistic world of Avatar (it helps if most of your characters have cat eyes). It worked to allow Andy Serkis to deliver brilliant performances in both Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and The Lord Of The Rings (an ape and a Gollum mixed in with live actors and all sorts of other special effects). But when the film is fully animated as in The Polar Express and The Adventures Of Tintin, the weird look of it -- not quite live action, not quite animated -- and the dead eyes of the characters is genuinely ugly. It's like stop-motion animation with none of the charm, animation with none of the freedom and beauty, computer animation with none of the sharpness. It's neither fish nor fowl and it's hard to understand why Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson couldn't see that. ...

As I've said: If Glen Keane had been supervising the Tangled crew and animated this film -- beat for beat -- it would have been better and far more successful stateside.

Rotoscope from Hell works okay in some live-action/mocap features. Not so much in total mocap, which makes audiences ... uneasy.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Still On Track

The word is that the Animation Guild is still slated to negotiate with the Producers in middle April ....

The labor telegraph also has it that the IA-AMPTP talks over the Basic Agreement could well be resarted sometime in April.

Guess we'll see.

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From Shop Steward to Studio Top Kick

Kevin Geiger was the Animation Guild's shop steward at Walt Disney Animation Studios for multiple years. He's now in China, building domestic animation companies. He's got himself a challenge, but knowing Mr. Geiger, he's no doubt up for it.

“We’re trying to give Chinese audiences a sense of ownership,” Mr. Geiger says. “They’re so tired of period pieces, but people are reluctant to do something modern because it sometimes bumps up against the censors. It’s safer to do something set in the past. But Pixar tells movies about now. ‘Toy Story’ is set today.‘Wall-E’ is set in the future. Why can’t Chinese animation be the same?. ...

They're working with a small budget, but we'll see what happens.

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Sequences have been in work at the Lakeside Building for a while now ...

I remember this being in development a while ago, down in the lower reaches of Lakeside, if I remember right. I had very little idea about what it was about ... then. I have a better idea now.

“They [ don’t have a warlike side,” [director Peter Ramsey] says, though they’re certainly tougher than other images of the characters. “Their whole existence is based on the idea that a full, rich, loving, adventurous life for a kid is worth anything they would possibly have to sacrifice. That’s the idea of being a Guardian. It’s kind of analogous to being a good parent, really.”

The Guardians is the new offering from DWA later this year. Madagascar 3 is DreamWorks Animation other release.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dragon and Other Tales

The Reporter reports:

Cartoon Network unveiled a slate of originals designed to appeal to the Turner-owned channel's core audience of boys 6-11, including a sketch comedy show headlined by Nick Cannon, a series based on YouTube sensation Annoying Orange ... and a spinoff of DreamWorks' Oscar-nominated How to Train Your Dragon (with the movie's principals on board) debuting this fall.

Cartoon Network is having its best first quarter in five years (up 28 percent year-over-year) in primetime. ...

As regards HTTYD the series, production changes (on pre-production) will be coming in April. Some but not all of the theatrical voice cast is doing the series.

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DD Finds New Revenue Stream .. Students!

VFX Soldier's latest post brings to light a shrewd business tactic Digital Domain CEO, John Textor, has revealed in an IPO discussion held in November of last year. The linked audio clip on the post has Mr. Textor explaining to the crowd of would-be investors one of the ways DD has discovered to to add to its revenue stream.

Digital Domain has partnered with Florida State University and started the Digital Domain Institute. According to their own explanation, the institute "sets a new standard in digital media education through an unprecedented public-private partnership with The Florida State University".

Mr. Textor explains it this way:
What’s interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college. 30% of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida, is not only going to be free, its going to be [student] labor that’s actually paying us for the priviledge of working on our films.

I know what you're thinking, how is that possible? There are laws that protect such things from happening, right?. Mr. Textor begins to answer that:
We were able to persuade even the academic community, if we don’t do something to dramatically reduce costs in our industry, then we’re going to lose these industries .. we’re going to lose these jobs.

So, if 30% of our labor can be free, actually paying tuition, but by [the] Junior and Senior year at the college, [students are] working on real films, as part of the professional workflow, and [they] graduate with a resume that has five major films, [their] name in the credits, and more than just an intership level of experience, then that’s the perfect kind of trade off.

Is This Legal?

DDI's Course Catalog page has a class called Internship. Its easy to assume this will be the class that students register for to obtain the "privileged" work, even though Mr. Textor has already claimed the work to be above intership level experience. USDOL has a fact sheet that defines internship programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While the whole document answers the question, this paragraph punctuates it perfectly:

Similar To An Education Environment And The Primary Beneficiary Of The Activity
In general, the more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience. [...] If the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work, then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.

Calls in to the Florida Department of Education haven't been returned yet. One can guess there are loopholes that are being exploited there as well. The FLSA documents seems to claim that in order for DDI to be compliant, all they have to do is pay their students minimum wage and overtime. Is that enough?

The Broken VFX Business Model

This isn't the first time we've run into a school attempting to exploit students. In the summer in which I was hired, we discovered that Gnomon proudly boasted about their students working on feature films and popular television shows. These days, the big scam is getting tax payers to offset production costs.

Its been pointed out many times, the whole visual effects business has to be restructured. Studios have turned to visual effects as a means to get people to purchase tickets and see their movies. Since the workers aren't unionized, it was only a matter of time before those seeking profits worked to get us where we are today.

Fixing it, will take courage and determination. Its a waste of time to vilify the entertainment producers for doing what good business does. Its time to start being accountable and use the leverage that's inherent in the skills and talent that the artists bring to the table.

Its time, to unionize.

Animation Guild Representation Card
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Twenty-five years of employment

Per VFXSoldier's request below, this chart shows the employment of Local 839 members over the last twenty-five years.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cartoon Ratings

... for Cartoon Network. Which seems to be doing well, by golly.

... Across March 2012, Cartoon Network stands as television’s #1 network—broadcast and cable--for boys (2-11, 6-11, 9-14) in Early Evening Prime (7-9 p.m.). Versus March last year, prime delivery grew by strong double digits across the board: average kids 6-11 (665,000) grew by 29%, kids 2-11 (935,000) by 25% and kids 9-14 (516,000) by 29%. Average Total Day delivery saw double-digit increases across all kid demos, between 16% - 24% in March.

Monday nights (7-9 p.m.) ranked #1 among all boy demos, posting delivery gains across all kids and boys demos between 2% - 14% across March. Both Adventure Time (7:30 p.m.) and Regular Show (8 p.m.) ranked as the #1 show in their time periods among all kids (2-11, 6-11, 9-14) and boys (2-11, 6-11, 9-14).

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights (7-9 p.m.) also ranked #1 for boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14. Tuesday and Wednesday nights charted impressive double- and triple-digit delivery gains across the board—between 40% - 109%—and each boasted multiple shows (The Amazing World of Gumball, Level Up, Adventure Time, Johnny Test) that ranked as the #1 telecast in their time periods among boys. ...

A couple of years ago, an exec at CN was lamenting the net's sliding ratings. What a difference a few dozen months makes.

The paragraphs above go a long way to explaining why our fine, entertainment conglomerates are interested in making animated entertainment. The costs are more than competitive, and the shelf life goes on forever.

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At the Membership Meeting

Long meeting tonight. We spent most of the time discussing the recent Basic Agreement negotiations and the oncoming TAG 839 negotiations ...

We rolled out proposals and got input for other proposals. I explained that although we're tentatively set to commence talks with the AMPTP in mid April (the 17th, 18th, and 19th.) But the fact that the IA-AMPTP negotiations haven't yet ended probably means that The Animation Guild's dates will be moved. (Don't necessarily have to move, but probably will move. Talks for the Basic Agreement are usually tied up with a bow before we jump in.)

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Gendy's Handiwork

Should have put this up HOURS ago. (Damn job.)

Animation is to be wrapped on HT this summer. Crew is working hard as crunch time closes in ...

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We Get (Anonymous) Letters

At tonight’s membership meeting at the Guild office, we will be discusssing endorsing proposals for the upcoming contract negotiations, as well as soliciting active members to serve on the Guild’s negotiating committee.

The following anonymous letter was slipped into our inbox last night. It’s a good starting point for discussion at this evening’s meeting.

We look forward to seeing anyone with an opinion on this letter, or on the state of our union and its future. at tonight’s meeting. Pizza and refreshments at 6:30 pm, meeting starts at 7 pm.

Dear Local 839,

For years now, it has become apparent to me, that no real support is given to the artists, who report workplace issues to the Union, such as tighter schedules, more complex storyboards and unpaid overtime. Instead, we are given only a sympathetic nod, in the Peg Board. This is not to knock The Animation Guild. We the members appreciate the 401 k plan, health plans, pension plans as well as grants and quality classes offered; but historically, the purpose of Unions has been to protect workers from being underpaid and overworked. The purpose of our Union should be to protect artists from being robbed of the thing of value they have - the ability to creatively work and get the job done, under reasonably competitive conditions.

The culture of the animation industry is very mercenary when it comes to artists and designers. We're work for hire or perma-lancers. Year after year various workplace issues get brought to the Unions attention but at the studio level, it does not seem like any changes are being exacted; and the workloads continue to increase.

There is systemic exploitation, across the studios, when storyboard artists are given a script and schedule but are expected to render layouts and animate scenes. What recourse does the artist have? If the artist honestly works eight - nine hours and calls it a day, knowing that the studios will not authorize OT (unless the production is winding down and shows have to be shipped), that artist will most likely fall behind schedule, be viewed as a non-team player (by others who choose to work ten-eleven hours) and does not get called back to the studio, after layoffs.

Local 839 is supposed to be our collective voice and offer corporate protection. Our Local 839 business representative has the ears of studio heads without repercussion and has to be well-informed with state labor laws; such as, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement in the California Department of Industrial Relations' overtime regulations.

Some may say that barking too loudly will cause studios to take the work overseas. That's been happening for years. What's the artists' recourse? If the animation union is too small in number, why not expand and include animation artists in the gaming industry? Some of these artists face similar issues but they aren't unionized and would probably appreciate some corporate protection.

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand, in the Master Collective Bargaining Agreement, why a Union would have a "No-Strike - No Lockout" clause. Not that I'm advocating a strike or lockout, but it seems like it weakens a Union's leverage.

There are too many artists working unpaid overtime, under exploitive conditions because the artist truly enjoys the work that they do, desire to pursue excellence and are afraid of losing their job. The overtime worked, isn't for overtime pay, rather, it's the artist attempt to keep their job (which consequently affects marriages and families).

One of the Union's solutions is to "build a culture where nobody works overtime until management agrees to pay for it" which is impractical in a mercenary workforce; however, if the Union organized its members not to work unpaid overtime until management agrees to pay (with documentation to back it), this could exact practical change.

Will Local 839 exact significant change in workplace conditions, favorable to both employer & employee?

If you could field these concerns, in an upcoming issue of Peg Board (but not Peg Board alone), it would be much appreciated!

Thank you for your time,

A Member of Local 839

Steve Hulett: Attending recent negotiations, I asked other union reps what their members faced with uncomped overtime. They told me it was an ongoing problem.

Uncomped o.t. has been rearing its head since the day I started as business representative. There's a variety of ways to combat it: Studio visits after hours; collective complaints and action by the crew; discussions with show runners. All of these have proven useful, but there is no one "magic bullet." I urge anybody who works uncompensated overtime to contact the office.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

So Maybe Fox Will Pick It Up

Clerks: The Resurrection.

... [I]t looks like Clerks: The Animated Series may be following the leads of other canceled ... primetime cartoon series that built up sizable cult followings after their forced departures from the airwaves. ... A follower of Smith’s Twitter feed expressed their admiration for the Clerks cartoon and Smith responded with a surprising revelation:

“Via @Just_Reboot ‘Clerks cartoon was brilliant, I rewatch it bi-monthly’ @Miramax 2.0 and I are hoping to give you new eps weekly next year.” ...

The idea that adult animation could be spreading beyond Adult Swim and Fox is a prospect that delights my soul.

From a low point in the early part of the century, television animation is coming on stronger than ever. This might be due to executives' collective realization that:

1) Animation gets ratings.

2) Animation sells toys and other collateral merchandise.

3) Animation continues to have life on the little silver disks.

4) Animation is a marketable commodity forevah.

I mean, consider: One of our friendly conglomerates just put out an elaborate boxed set of UPA cartoons from the fifties. Think anybody is going to be issuing "The COMPLETE 'I Married Joan' and 'My Little Margie' collections" anytime soon?

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Not Quite There

... yet.

... The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) have not completed their negotiation for a new Hollywood Basic Agreement. The parties need additional time to review data before resuming talks at a later time. In the meantime, the parties will continue to maintain a formal news blackout. ...

Local and Basic Agreement negotiations have gone on for the last three weeks and all of this past weekend. I've attended the talks sine Monday last, enjoying the ambiance of the former Warner Bros. Animation, former May Co. building at the fabled Sherman Oaks Galleria.

(It was touch-and-go for a time on Sunday. The rain was pouring down and the power went out. And there we were, hunched over our laptops and iPads in the caucus room, wondering when the WiFi was going to come back on.)

Like all the talks I've participated in, these have included lots of proposals and counter-proposals. Some have been accepted, others not. But as the saying goes: "There is no deal until there's a complete deal."

This deal isn't finalized as there remain issues outstanding. I won't go beyond that. There is a news blackout, you know.

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Thought Food

... And quite nourishing, too.

... [T]he top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of the total income gains went to the top 1 percent; in the Bush recovery, the figure was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent. ...

Makes my patriotic heart swell with pride. So let's shoot for 96%! Romney 2012!

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Jim Duffy, 1937-2012

Animator, director and producer JIM DUFFY passed away March 23 at the age of seventy-five.

Duffy spent twenty years at Klasky Csupo supervising many of their Nickelodeon shows, particularly Rugrats, directing more episodes of that series than any other artist. He was Creative Producer and Director of Aaaahhh, Real Monsters, Rocket Power, As Told By Ginger, and All Grown Up. Before that he’d worked at Murakami-Wolf, Hanna-Barbera and Marvel on various shows including Captain Planet, Smurfs, G.I. Joe and Jem.

Services are set for Saturday, March 31 at 2:30 pm, at the Old North Church at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. Here is a map.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

American VFX in China

China Daily informs us:

... As a visual effects provider [who] has worked with Chinese directors including Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Gordan Chan, Base FX's [Christopher Bremble] has witnessed the change in the Chinese movie industry's investment in post-production.

"The budget for visual effects is going up 30 to 40 percent each year, while the demand for it is increasing 50 percent, making it difficult to satisfy the hunger," said Bremble. ...

"In China, the film industry is still very much a star-based film industry, and the visual effect is just a tool, playing the supporting role," said Bremble.

"But in the West, it plays a primary role. Hollywood movies' ambitions are more global, and visual effects help to translate them to every market." ...

"The current problem for the industry is the shortage of professionals with experience in this field," said Wu Yan, general manager of Technicolor (Beijing) Visual Technology Co Ltd. ... He added that while the gap in technology can almost be ignored as it's not difficult to overcome, finding people with the skills to operate the equipment is what matters most ...

There it is again, that "skills" thing.

Maybe it explains why so much visual effects ... and animation ... and graphics work remains in California. (I've been observing the phenomenon for twenty-plus years; VFX Soldier has cited studies about it -- that thing we're pleased to call "agglomeration.")

As I've noted before, it's not enough to be cheap. You must also have a high level of quality that translates into dollars at the box office. And because there has been a concentration of talent in Southern California for a long time, our fine, entertainment conglomerates (and large video game companies) swoop into Southern California to access the people who know how to do the work. Better to do the shot right the first time and pay a little more, than do it multiple times at an (illusory) discount.

China, per China Daily, isn't yet delivering the requisite quality.

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Your Overseas Box Office

No surprise here. Hunger Games ends up #1 with $59.3 million, lower than John Carter's opening numbers ...

But as regards Mr. Carter, the Mouse hasn't published any weekend totals, maybe because:

... The live-action, fantasy-adventure dropped to fourth place in such key markets Australia, Germany, Spain and South Korea. It finished No. 7 in the U.K., No. 8 in Italy and No. 9 in France, and is estimated to finish below its $40.7 million total figure reported in the prior weekend. ...

As for the animated entrant:

... Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax registered $5.5 million on the weekend overall playing 1,953 venues in 25 territories. Foreign cume stands at $21.3 million with openings scheduled this week in 15 markets ...

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Weekend Box Office

There's the kids' book blockbuster, and then there is everything else.

1. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) NEW [4,137 Theaters] PG13-rated Est Friday $68.2M, Est Weekend $140.0M

2. 21 Jump Street (Sony) Week 2 [3,121 Theaters] R-rated Est Friday $6.2M (-53%), Est Weekend $20.0M, Est Cume $69.9M

3. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax 3D (Universal) Week 4 [3,677 Theaters] PG-rated Est Friday $3.2M, Est Weekend $13.0M, Est Cume $176.7M

4. John Carter 3D (Disney) Week 3 [3,212 Theaters) PG13-rated Est Friday $1.3M, Est Weekend $5.5M, Est Cume $62.2M

5. Project X (Warner Bros) Week 4 [2,065 Theaters] R-rated Est Friday $625K, Est Weekend $1.8M, Est Cume $51.4M

6. October Baby (IDP/SGF) NEW [398 Theaters] PG13-rated Est Friday $595K, Est Weekend $1.8M

7. Act Of Valor (Relativity) Week 5 [2,219 Theaters] R-rated Est Friday $560K, Est Weekend $1.9M, Est Cume $65.8M

8. A Thousand Words (DWorks/Par) Week 3 [1,787 Theaters] PG13-rated Est Friday $525K, Est Weekend $1.7M, Est Cume $14.8M

9. Safe House (Universal) Week 7 [1,330 Theaters] R-rated Est Friday $392K, Est Weekend $1.5M, Est Cume $122.4M

10. Journey 2 (Warner Bros) Week 7 [1,340 Theaters] PG-rated Est Friday $310K, Est Weekend $1.3M, Est Cume $97.0M

What is evident from the above:

1) When you have a hot book franchise that connects with the target audience, you can open your own mint.

2) Chris Meledandri has not lost his touch turning out animated features that people want to see.

3) Andrew Stanton has been gifted with a lesson that things in movieland do not always go the way one hopes and expects. And that nobodyh is infallible in figuring out popular tastes

Add On: The New York Times reports Hunger Games big take:

“The Hunger Games” hit the box-office bull’s-eye over the weekend, taking in a record $155 million in North America and setting up what promises to be one of the biggest film franchises of this decade. ...

Lionsgate did a fine marketing job. (Maybe Disney should hire them.)

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Glen Keane's Departure

Glen has, apparently, ankled Disney.

And there is, apparently, some gnashing of teeth and rending of garments:

Glen Keane left Disney today. Let me die. It is truly the end of an era. #justleavemeheretodie ...

Crying because Glen Keane resigned from Disney :'( no hope left in this world ...

To which I say:

"Wha ...??"

All this angst. You would think that the Pope has gone off and become a Buddhist. But here's the way it is in the business of animation: Almost everybody in the cartoon industry moves from one studio to another studio in the course of their career. For all kinds of reasons.

Glen, last I heard, was in the old animation building on the main lot developing projects. Now he has tendered his resignation. Maybe he was having "creative differences" with the powers that be, maybe it was something else.

All I know is, when I talked to him in the hat building some months back, he told me he "was looking around" at different options and wasn't sure he would stay at Disney past Tangled. He didn't seem particularly ferklempt about it. He'd enjoyed his run but thought he might go elsewhere.

This is a business people, not a religion. Disney ceased being Disney when Walt and Roy passed from the scene. There have been three regimes since then. The Disney Co. is a large, fairly lucrative conglomerate, but there are no stained glass windows in the Hat or Team Disney buildings.

To those that are weeping salty tears today because Glen has elected to pick up his hat and boogie elsewhere I would recommend: Have yourselves a good cry and get over it.

Add On: Our fine trade paper reports on Glen's resignation here.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Droopster

Mega Collector comes up with something different: Droopy in three dimensions.

This was a Droopy string dispenser, designed to hang on a wall. And dole out string through the Droopster's mouth.

The contraption came out in 1945. I have no idea ... and neither does Mr. Mega ... how many of these things were sold. But MC has one.

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... And where it's happening

And here's where people are working, animation-union-shop-wise.

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I've been a bit less active in studios and the TAG blog because I'm attending the IA-Teamsters-Basic Crafts negotiations with the AMPTP now going on in Sherman Oaks ...

(In fact, I'm writing this from the caucus room.)

Don't bother asking how things are going, because there is a general information black out. But I will say the talks have been interesting. Hopefully there will be a satisfactory resolution early next week.

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What's happening in animation, March 2012

Our ongoing mission: to bring you news of what's going on at the studios with which the Guild has a contract ...

DREAMWORKS is almost finished with Madagascar 3, due out this year along with Rise of the Guardians. Shows getting ready for production include The Croods, Turbo and Me and My Shadow for 2013; Mr. Peabody & Sherman and How to Train Your Dragon 2 for 2014; and a feature with the working title of Trolls.

DISNEY is in production on Wreck-It Ralph for a Fall 2012 release and in pre-production on Frozen for fall 2013. The 2014 feature has not yet been announced.

DISNEY TOONS is busy with Planes and Tinkerbell; DISNEY TV ANIMATION is even busier with Jake And The Never Land Pirates, Fishhooks, Sofia and Gravity Falls.

In production at FOX ANIMATION: Family Guy seasons 9 and 10, American Dad season 7, The Cleveland Show seasons 3 and 4. In development: The Flintstones.

NICKELODEON has wrapped Penguins of Madagascar and stopped production on Robots And Monsters. Production continues on Dora The Explorer, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Fanboy and Chum Chum, Planet Sheen, T.U.F.F. Puppy, The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

FILM ROMAN is busy with three shows: Spiderman, Dan Vs., and some weird show with a bunch of big-eyed round characters that probably isn't going to go anywhere.

WARNER BROS. ANIMATION has DC Showcase, a series of short subjects featuring lesser known comic book superheroes, and an untitled Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner short.

CARTOON NETWORK STUDIOS has I Heart Tuesdays and Ben 10: Omniverse.

Shows at HASBRO STUDIOS include Pound Puppies, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Family Game Night, Pictureka!, The Adventures of Chuck and Friends, Hubworld, Transformers: Prime, Scrabble Showdown, The Game of Life, Clue and Transformers: Rescue Bots.

At BENTO BOX, Brickleberry is still in production, and Bob's Burgers is waiting for a pick-up.

UNIVERSAL ANIMATION is newly moved to 121 W. Lexington Drive in Glendale. They're currently producing Seasons 7, 8 and 9 of Curious George, comprising thirty-six eleven-minute episodes, delivering from the end of 2012 to the beginning of 2014. Also two sixty-minute Curious George Specials for Spring and Halloween, both scheduled to air in 2014.

At MARVEL PRODUCTIONS, one project is in development to be announced, two more to be developed later in the year.

And PARAMOUNT will get started on a SpongeBob SquarePants feature later this year.

Go to the website for addresses and contact information. We'll follow up with news of anything that has fallen through the cracks.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tomorrow is the Toddlers' Big Day

For Disney Jr. comes to town!

The cartoon will debut on Disney Junior, a cable-TV network for 2- to 7-year-olds that the company is launching on March 23 ...

Disney is shuttering Soapnet, a 12-year-old channel devoted to soap operas, and shifting those subscribers over to what will be its fourth network aimed at families and young people, after ABC Family, the Disney Channel, and Disney XD, a four-year-old channel for boys. “It’s a better monetizaton of beachfront property,” says David Bank, an entertainment analyst at RBC Capital Markets. ...

An animated TV show costs about $13 million for a 26-episode season—a fraction of the price tag for a major motion picture—and can fuel sales of related products for years, says Sean Cocchia, general manager of Disney Channels Worldwide.

Strip away the glitter and pixie dust, and you'll find it's all about the toys and the dollies.

As it was in the 1980s, when Filmation pioneered toy promotion with shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra, Princess of Power, so it is in the merry 21st century with Disney, Viacom and their array of cable networks. (Filmation had to make do with syndication on over-the air stations, since that was then the only big distribution network going.)

Our fine conglomerates have figured out that the cash streams are interlocking and mutually reinforcing. That cartoons beget toys in the hands of five-year-olds. And five-year-olds don't care if the half-hour advertisement cartoon is hand-drawn or CGI. Since hand-drawn animation for television is cheaper than computer generated images, hand-drawn is the medium of choice for kiddie t.v.

So. You want hand-drawn cartoons to survive and thrive? Go buy your kid a Phineas and Ferb action figure.

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TAG interview: Nancy Massie

Here’s a bit of Guild history: a half-hour excerpt of a June 1981 interview that animation historian Harvey Deneroff conducted with Nancy Massie: inker and color stylist, union activist, 1941 Disney strike veteran, and my mother.

Interview with Nancy Massie

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Nancy Bedell grew up near Farmers Market and graduated from Fairfax High School. In 1937 she walked up Fairfax Ave. with her portfolio and got a job as an inker at Ub Iwerks. By 1940 she was at Disney. She was one of the few ink-and-painters to stay out for the entire six weeks of the Disney strike; on the picket line she met assistant animator Reg Massie, whom she married a year later.

Over a forty-four-year career she worked for the likes of Art Babbitt, Shamus Culhane, Frank Tashlin, Dave Hilberman, Preston Blair and Richard Williams. She was a charter member of IATSE Local 841, the NYC animators’ union. At the time of the interview she was a color stylist at Hanna-Barbera, and a member of Local 839's Executive Board.

The interview took place at our offices in North Hollywood, with occasional interjections from myself in the background. The excerpt starts in mid-interview – she had just spoke of how she and Reg lost their chance to become Communist Party members when they broke out in laughter upon being invited to a Party meeting ...

Nancy Massie died in August 1981, two months after this interview.

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Tax Incentives Forevah!

The new normal is: producers chase after tax breaks and set up shop with the best government handout they can get. (Free enterprise!).

Therefore, we have this ...

A new tax scheme is to be introduced in a bid to keep UK TV and animation talent from moving abroad where production is cheaper.

Chancellor George Osborne announced the film-style tax break as part of his budget for 2012.

It is understood that the tax break will aim to encourage development in the animation and video game sectors. While the chancellor's financial incentive will also apply to high-cost dramas, such as Titanic and Downton Abbey.

It's good to know that he dole is alive and well.

For corporations, if not for people. But since corporations ARE people, I suppose it amounts to the same thing.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mad 3

Madagascar 3, produced in northern and southern California, hits the world markets this summer.

Mad 3 takes place in Europe. Sounds reasonable to me.

It's not lost on DreamWorks Animation that DWA features which aren't set in the U.S. of A. perform better at the world box office than pictures that are. You know, movies like Monsters Vs. Aliens and Megamind?

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The John Musker Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with John Musker

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

After Aladdin Clements and Musker pushed to make a science fiction version of Treasure Island, but Jeffrey Katzenberg was unenthusiastic. ...

The studio wanted the pair to direct a story about the Greek God Hercules, and so Ron and John negotiated a new deal wherein they directed a movie of the muscular deity first, then took up work on Treasure Planet.

Fans of Gerald Scarfe, they brought the British artist onto Hercules to create a fresh look for the hand-drawn feature. With Treasure Planet, they integrated large amounts of CG work into one of the last Disney movies created with pencils and paper.

Today, John is working with his long-time partner Ron Clements on a new Disney project. They are in the early stages of development. Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Great March to China

With a billion and a quarter pairs of eyes to watch product, our fine entertainment conglomerates are interested.

... Big studios are trying to push further into China, where box office receipts rose more than a third last year to $2 billion. China represents one of the most attractive growth opportunities for the US movie industry, which is facing declining North American theater revenue and slumping DVD sales.

For the last decade, China has allowed only 20 foreign films a year — mostly big-budget Hollywood fare — to get national distribution. But it opened the door a little more last month when it changed the rules to allow in up to 14 more films a year as long as they are made in 3-D or for the big-screen Imax format. ...

It's dawned on corporate leaders that most of the revenue derived from big, tent-pole productions come from overseas. And here in the 21st century, animated features are definitely holding up big tents. Kung Fu Panda 2 made over $75 million in China, which might explain part of the reason Jeffrey Katzenberg was in the Middle Kingdom Monday and Tuesday.

... Katzenberg said there are seven animation proposals competing for Oriental DreamWorks' maiden production, Xinhua reported.

He said the joint venture, promoted as a Chinese family entertainment brand, will closely link elements of Chinese history, culture and literature in its various productions.

For 2012, work will focus on assembling talents into a competent team, Katzenberg said, adding that a studio will be set up with leading DreamWorks expertise, especially on three-dimensional (3D) technologies. ...

Putting studios into China isn't so much about low wages as it is about big audiences. Because low wages inexorably rise.

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The John Musker Interview -- Part II

When John Musker arrived at Disney in 1977, the old guard was departing. Milt Kahl had left the year before and Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston would retire the year after. But the new guard hadn't yet found its footing. ...

TAG Interview with John Musker

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

The Disney animation department was then divided into two factions. John worked on the Christmas featurette The Small One, after which director Don Bluth exited the studio, taking half the animation crew with him. The department began rebuilding, and a short time later John was the first of the Disney newcomers to become a director.

Briefly assigned to The Black Cauldron. John received his first director's credit on The Great Mouse Detective, where he worked for the first time with Ron Clements.

Clements and Musker became full-fledged partners on The Little Mermaid, and commenced a fruitful collaboration with writer and lyricist Howard Ashman, about whom John writes:

... After getting Peter’s OK to try a script [for the The Little Mermaid] , we began by writing a ten-page treatment. We were surprised when Peter told us of Howard [Ashman’s] interest in Mermaid and that Howard had some exciting ideas for the project.

“He wants to make your British stuffed shirt, court composer crab Clarence a Rastafarian!! I don’t know, go talk to him, it’s wild!” Peter said. Ron and I had never met Howard but had seen and loved the LA production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood where Howard had trans-“plant”ed it from NYC. We loved Howard’s humor, the visual qualities, and the way the story was propelled in the songs. We were intrigued and excited to meet him, although a little uncertain about whether Howard knew anything about animation.

We had our first meeting with Howard at the Helmsley Palace Hotel in Manhattan in the summer of 1986. Howard was working on his musical Smile. We had sent him our ten- page treatment and now we would discuss with Howard not only the story itself and the characters, but most critically how songs could be integrated to help tell the story.

I don’t know why, but I had a mental picture of Howard before I met him: dark hair, mustache and beard, glasses, a little heavy. I have no idea where this picture came from, except that the only Howard I knew in life was dark-haired. Maybe the name “Ashman” headed me in the ‘dark’ direction in some goofy, literal way (ashes are dark, right?)

As we opened our Helmsley Palace hotel room door to a crisp knock, I first laid eyes on Howard. Just as I predicted! He had blondish, tousled hair, was thin, wore no glasses, was clean-shaven, and younger than I pictured, too. ( OK, so I missed….on everything…) He asked us if we minded him smoking and we said no problem. He lit the first of several cigarettes, which he smoked with a sharp intensity.

We had the meeting in that venue in part because Howard had never seen the inside of the Helmsley Palace and wanted to see its purported opulence first hand. Knowing him now, perhaps he was curious to see how Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, would decorate. “Frankly,” Howard sniffed, as he sized up our room between puffs on his cigarette, “I’m disappointed.”

There it was: our first introduction to a man who had strong opinions on nearly everything. ...

Mermaid turned out to be the first of two storied collaborations between Ron, John and Howard.

(John has other memories of Mr. Ashman here and here.)

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Monday, March 19, 2012

John Carter a flop .. or is it?

Hollywood's Reporter twitter feed provided this report:
'John Carter' Will Cost Disney $200 Million in Operating Losses
The linked report claims that due to weak domestic box office performance and a "tent-pole feature" budget, the Disney Company will be forced to post quarterly loss of between $80-120 million dollars.
Disney [...] will post a loss of from $80 million-$120 million, the company said. During the same quarter a year ago, Disney reported operating profit of $77 million. John Carter marks the fourth year in a row that Disney has had to take a large write-down due to a poor performing movie.
The problem is, other reported numbers don't agree with this report.

Mr. Hulett has opined prolifically about the "organic" nature of production studio budgets. In previous posts, he states that feature budgets ebb and flow as the production studio desires and not always in line with actual costs. In the case of Disney's John Carter (if Mojo's numbers are to be believed), it seems that in the three weeks its been out has almost made up its supposed $250 million price tag once you include the foreign box tally.

Personally, I've heard varying reviews of the film. Most of my trusted sources (people I know whose opinions I've come to trust through years of friendship and experience) have told me not to miss seeing it in the theaters. I've also been told that the effects are of the highest caliber and a fine example of where the technology is today.

One could easily conclude that given a healthy run in the theaters, this film will make up its "costs" and find itself in the black. Its also apparent that ticket sales outside our fine United States seem to be making up the bulk of the overall tally. This fact seems to be the norm these days, and its a wonder why those figures weren't included in THR's report.

In the end, its important to remember the wise words of Hulett:
Nothing prevents our fine entertainment conglomerates from moving costs to some other movie's production number, or charging development to "studio overhead" to make stockholders less unhappy or participants of "net" profits less rich.

So, no matter what the numbers say, its apparent that Disney thinks John Carter was a stinker.
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Who Makes the Moolah

Who makes the big bucks? No surprises there.

Chairman-CEO: $7 million to $20 million.

The consensus suggests that a salary of $4.5 million is common, but that's just the base. Add to that the largest share of a bonus pool based on performance and access to a program granting stock options and/or restricted stock. Unsurprisingly, the top studio executive would also have pretty much free reign with the company jet, some kind of reimbursement for a home theater and, possibly, reimbursement for an apartment in New York. ...

I'm not someone who waxes apoplectic over generous payouts. In Hollywood, heavy wage packets have been the norm forever (Louis B. Mayer, in his day, was the highest paid executive in the United States. $250,000. Deal with it.)

So call me a classical cynic on the subject. American executives have been over-compensated for so long -- based on anywhere else in the world -- that it has long since become "the natural order of things." Movie stars and big time athletes make millions too, but they are subject to a bidding process courtesy of the conglomerates that are controlled by highly-comped execs. As a Fox suit told me long ago:

Executives know what the upcoming film slates look like and have ways to push stock prices down around the time stock options are issued and push them up when they need to cash options in. Doesn't always work, but they always have an eye out for it ...

Big paydays have been an American tradition for a lot of years. And it won't be ending anytime soon.

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The John Musker Interview -- Part I

John Musker, long-time director, producer and writer at the House of Mouse, grew up in Chicago Illinois and earned a Bachelor's Degree from Northwestern University ...

TAG Interview with John Musker

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

The degree was not in art. But John had been the political cartoonist at Northwestern's student newspaper, had an ongoing interest in drawing, and after graduation sent portfolios and resumes off to Walt Disney Productions and Marvel Comics. Two rejection letters followed, but Disney suggested that John apply to the California Institute of the Arts.

Which John did. And two years (and student films) later, Disney Feature Animation reversed its earlier position and offered John a job that began the week that Star Wars opened. ...

Cal Arts class circa 1976 -- Back: Joe Lanzisero, Darrell Van Citters, Brett Thompson, John Lasseter (pencil in mouth), Leslie Margolin, Mike Cedeno, Paul Nowak, Nancy Beiman; Middle: Jerry Rees, Bruce Morris, Elmer Plummer, Brad Bird, Doug Lefler; Front: Harry Sabin, John Musker

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Shrinking Health Coverage

I've been a part of the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan since the 1970s. And for the past decade-plus I've watched MPI insurance get more costly and less comprehensive year .. by year ... by year. Which isn't to say the insruance is bad, just ... less.

But participants in the MPIHP aren't the only ones who have been eating it:

The share of children and working-age adults who had insurance through an employer fell 10 percentage points during the last recession, according to a study released on Thursday by the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

From 2007 to 2010, the share of children and working-age adults with employer-sponsored coverage fell to 53.5 percent from 63.6 percent, according to the study. ...

Employer-anchored health coverage started during World War II, got enshrined in law by President Eisenhower and a Republican Congress in 1953, and is now (pretty much) a shadow of its original self.

During the oncoming week, the IA and the AMPTP will arm-wrestle over who gets MPI Health coverage, who pays for it, and how extensive the coverage will be over the next three-year contract cycle.

Fun times.

I'm guessing, in a half-educated way, that participants will be doing premiums for the first time, the Plan's health offerings will be a bit skimpier, and that most people will learn (somehow) to live with it.

For as national trends go, so go we.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Overseas Turn-Style Twirling

The good news for Disney: John Carter remains #1. The bad news: It's slipping.

... Weekend action for the $250-million-plus live action animation fantasy-adventure was down more than 40% from its foreign debut last round. It slipped from first place to No. 4 in the U.K., where it took in an estimated $1.8 million. ... Carter’s overseas reception remains considerably kinder so far than the comparable $13.5 weekend tally and $53.2 million cume-to-date meted out in the U.S. and Canada. ...

Me, I don't think Carter is going to end up being the kind of dead mackerel that Mars Needs Moms was. On the other hand, I don't think it ends up making much in the way of green stuff for the Mouse.

But what the hey. After all the receipts come in, maybe the damage will be minimal.

... Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s accumulating a China gross of more than $100 million ($101.5 million). ... Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax grossed $11.6 million overall at 1,275 venues in 16 markets. A Russia debut yielded an impressive $9.7 million. ... It ranks as this weekend’s No. 2 title. ...

The Lorax has a worldwide accumulation of $158.4 million to date. Box Office Mojo offers a handy comparison chart of Lorax, Despicable Me and Hop right here.

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Incarnations of "Snow White"

Now that multiple versions of Snow White head toward theatrical release, one of our fine trade papers reports:

... Snow White -- who'll be the star this year of two upcoming movies, Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman-- had her first opening of 2012 with a show of goth-inspired, Disneyesque watercolors by artist Camille Rose Garcia. The exhibit, which debuted at the Michael Kohn Gallery in mid-city Los Angeles, features works that can also be seen in a new illustrated book of the Brothers Grimm fairytale, just published by Harper Design ($14.99). ...

I've got no clear idea why studios are now cranking up new versions of Snow White. The Disney version from 1937 was a blockbuster in its day, breaking box office records and raking in more coin than almost any movie before it. And it's sold millions of DVDs and video-cassetes since.

But Snow White came out 75 years ago, so why all the commercial churn now? I don't get it.

But maybe it's because the studios are comfortable with projects with built-in public awareness, and of course Snow White has that in spades. (Maybe that explains why Disney is doing Maleficent with Angelina Jolie. They've got themselves a pre-sold project.)

And of course there were animated versions of Snow White before Disney. Betty Boop took a run at the fairy tale in 1933. Just as she tackled Cinderella a little while after ... and in glorious Cinecolor, too!

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Animation to Live Action

21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller* explain how directing live-action is different than directing animation. And how it's the same.

Phil Lord: The whole [directing] process is intimidating because you’ve got these guys that have been on 20 movies or more, and everybody on the [live-action] set is more experienced than you. “Cloudy [with a Chance of Meatballs]” was really no different at the beginning, but the temperament of an animation studio is such that everybody’s kind of like us — people are relatively soft-spoken, it’s not the same. Like on a movie set, you really are commanding an army, and you have to learn the difference between “action” and “ACTION!”

... There are things that are really the same [in live-action or animation], but it’s not like we’ve only been speaking with computers for the last four years. You’d hang out with other filmmakers and talk to them about their shots, and [with] storyboard artists and animators or performers, you’d have the same issues of trying to communicate what you want, but still allow the latitude for them to bring what they can bring. And it’s no different in live action where you’re still trying to create a community where people can mess up and try new stuff and it’s okay. ...

Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller are now successful first-time directors in both animated and live-action features. When they came into rework Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, they were comedy writers with no animation experience, and some of the animation staff at Sony Pictures Animation were skeptical about their abilities to head up an animated feature.

But they pulled the feat off, and delivered Sony's first animated hit. The studio was so pleased with the box office results that it asked them to embark on another feature. I was told that Miller and Lord declined.

But now here they are back again, delivering unto Sony (and MGM) yet another hit. So I doubt that Sony is miffed in any kind of major way.

* This Chris Miller is not the Chris Miller who directed "Puss in Boots" or "Shrek 3". That's a different Chris Miller entirely, just to let you know.

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The Box Office

Now with smoky barbeque Add Ons

... near the Ides of March.

... With 24 percent of schoolchildren out for spring break, Universal's holdover Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is doing sizable business as well and could gross $10 million to $11 million for the day, putting it in a dead heat with 21 Jump Street for the weekend ...

The Nikkster's early numbers:

1. 21 Jump Street (MGM/Sony) NEW [3,121 Theaters] R-rated Friday $13M, Weekend $35M

2. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (Universal) Week 3 [3,769 Theaters] PG-rated Friday $7.1M, Weekend $27.9M, Cume $163.5

3. John Carter (Disney) Week 2 [3,749 Theaters] PG13-rated Friday $3.9M, Weekend $13.6M (-55%), Cume $53.2M

4. Project X (Warner Bros) Week 3 [2,922 Theaters] R-rated Friday $1.5M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $48.5

5. A Thousand Words (DreamWorks/Paramount) Week 2 [1,895 Theaters] PG13-rated Friday $1.1M, Weekend $3.9M (-36%), Cume $12.3M

6. Act Of Valor (Relativity) Week 4 (2,765 Theaters] R-rated Friday $1.1M, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $62.6M

7. Safe House (Universal) Week 6 [1,920 Theaters] R-rated Friday $817K, Weekend $2.9M, Cume $120.4M

8. Journey 2 (Warner Bros) Week 6 [1,935 Theaters] PG-rated Friday $699K, Weekend $2.7M, Cume $95.3M

9. This Means War (Fox) Week 5 [1,660 Theaters] PG13-rated Friday $781K, Weekend $2.4M, Cume $50.8M

10. Silent House (Open Road) Week 2 [2,124 Theaters] R-rated Friday $799K, Weekend $2.2M (-66%), Cume $10.7M

It appears that John Carter had a bit of a drop from its first weekend to its second. Disney just can't catch a break with sci fi movies. Oh well ...

Add On: The old entrants move down a notch as 21 Jump Street rakes in $35 million.

... 21 Jump Street easily wrested the domestic weekend crown from Universal and Illumination's hit Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, which has ruled the domestic box office the past two weekends. Lorax continued to do good business, coming in No. 2 with $22.8 million in its third outing for a domestic cume of $158.4 million ...

John Carter perched on the third rung of the box office ladder, dropped -55.2%, weekend to weekend.

Add On Too TIME gives its take on the weekend here.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Converting for Dollars

So here's a surprise: Jurassic Park is getting retrofitted with genuine imitation Three Dee.

... “I’m not a huge proponent of post-conversion,” said Jurassic’s producer Kathleen Kennedy, “but I think if the filmmaker gets intricately involved in the post-conversion then I think it can be really, really good. I think Jurassic Park is a perfect example of a movie that could work really, really well as a 3D picture.” ...

This is Kathleen speak for: "While I'm not a fan of 2-D to 3-D conversions, I'm a HUGE fan of more money. Therefore, I applaud changing "JP" into a dimensional movie."

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Seuss Forevever

This should startle nobody.

Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri, and Audrey Geisel will ... begin developing a 3D CG-animated feature based on The Cat in the Hat. Rob Lieber has just been set to write the script. Meledandri will produce and Geisel will be executive producer. ...

Meledandri has overseen Horton, The Lorax, and now The Cat in the Hat. Illumination Entertainment knows when it's on to a good thing.

Added to which, IE doesn't spend $100 million in development costs! Doesn't have a large bureaucracy! What are they thinking!?

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More Bill Tytla

The Mega Collector gives us still more of his Bill Tytla collection, all of it undated, but coming (most likely) from the 1920s and 1930s ...

Here's a pair of Tytla's figure studies.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

At Fox Animation

I spent the middle of the day at Fox Animation ....

The Cleveland Show and Family Guy crews are working straight ahead. But things are a little more ... uh ... tense in the American Dad unit.

"We still don't know if we're going to get picked up or not. Every week they tell us we should be hearing any time, and every week there's nothing.

"There's twenty completed episodes that have been held back, so there's almost another season's worth of shows, even if Fox doesn't greenlight new ones."

Family Guy crew members hope that if the worst happens, they can swing over to the new McFarlane show currently in gestation:

... I'm finishing a rewrite on the pilot. We're trying to, essentially, stay true to what that show is. There's something cool to me about, in 2013, turning on your TV and seeing 'The Flintstones' and having it look like 'The Flintstones.' There's really not a lot about that show -- other than the references to 1960s America, which really come through in the writing more than the visual -- that needs to be changed visually and stylistically. They invented the template that we're using in animation. We kinda want to keep it, more or less, the same. The stories that we tell will be a little more current." ...

Let's hope that American Dad gets the greenlight for a new season. (After all, the series is doing relatively well in the ratings.) But if the worst happens, Fox Animation can place AD crew onto the Fred and Wilma reboot.

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Voice Actor

So Robert Downey Jr. stepped out of DWA's Mr. Peabody and Sherman. And the new actor?

Modern Family star Ty Burrell has signed on to voice Mr. Peabody in DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

Last time I was a DreamWorks Animation, the Peabody/Sherman story crew was hard at it, getting sequences ready for story reels. Release date is 49 weeks from now, so they have to keep moving.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Health Concerns

Some unpretty health care spending projections:

If health insurance premiums and national wages continue to grow at recent rates and the US health system makes no major structural changes, the average cost of a family health insurance premium will equal 50% of the household income by the year 2021, and surpass the average household income by the year 2033. If out-of-pocket costs are added to the premium costs, the 50% threshold is crossed by 2018 and exceeds household income by 2030.

Without major structural changes in the US health care system, the employee contribution to a family premium plus out-of-pocket costs will comprise one half of the household income by 2031 and total income by 2042. Rising health-care costs remain at the core of this unsustainable rise in insurance premiums.

Health care costs have moderated over the last year, but long-term trends, who knows?

The IATSE and producers will be wrestling over who pays what for union health coverage over the next three years when they sit down to negotiate five days hence. I would guess that companies and union members will both be paying more -- a combination of "plan redesign" (otherwise known as cost shifting, premium payments for participants, and higher contributions for companies.

Me, I think sooner or later we'll have some variation of a single-payer system, simply because health costs will crush any other approach. The head of a large health insurer agrees:

Mark Bertolini, CEO and Chairman of Aetna Insurance, announced that the end is near for profit driven health insurance companies. “The system doesn’t work, it’s broke today. The end of insurance companies, the way we’ve run the business in the past, is here.” ...

When the day arrives that few in the great middle can afford hospitalization or a doctor's visit, we'll move to a new system. Because the alternative will be untenable.

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The IA and AFL-CIO make political statements.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, at its midwinter meeting in Orlando, Florida, voted unanimously on Mar. 13, to endorse Barack Obama for a second term as U.S. President. IATSE President Matthew Loeb, who serves on the Council, is pleased to announce that the IA General Executive Board has endorsed President Obama as well.

Hardly a surprise endorsement, since the Prez wants to keep Medicare and not outlaw labor unions.

Even so, I assume there will be union members who support Mittens, Rick, or Newt if they get the Republican nod.

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Bill Tytla

The legendary Disney animator created some artwork in the 1920s and 1930s that MegaCollector bought seventy-plus years later ...

Below, some rough sketches that Tytla did in the late 1920s, when he was studying art in Paris.

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Diz Exec Pay Approval

Apparently Institutional Shareholder Services's objections to Diz Co.'s exec wage compensation package had a bit of an effect:

... 56.6% of Disney‘s shares were cast in favor of its controversial executive compensation plan while 42.8% opposed — down from last year when 76.8% supported and 22.7% opposed – according to the preliminary results announced today at the annual meeting in Kansas City. ...

It's a hard push to get shareholders to vote contrary to corporate wishes, but sometimes it happens. (The last time, of course, was when Roy Disney brought his issues to a shareholder meeting and made things hot for Michael Eisner.)

More reports of the Kansas City shareholder conclave here and here. Wish we could have been in Kansas City. Just too long a commute.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Still More Animated Features

You can never have enough players in the animation game.

Tuesday night at the SXSW Film festival, local fixture Robert Rodriguez took to the ACL Live stage at the Moody Theater to announce several new Quickdraw Productions initiatives ... Rodriguez is set to launch an animation company called Quickdraw Animation, with two feature-film projects already in the works ...

Quickdraw Animation will be its own entity with its own financing and infrastructure devoted to making CG-animated feature films. The first two films are Heavy Metal and a family film, both of which have finished scripts and are moving into storyboard pre-production phases. ... For the new animation company, he will keep a core group of 6-8animators in-house at his Austin-based Troublemaker Studios to mastermind all the story and visual elements before using sister companies to finish the animation.

It isn't lost on film companies that quality animation is a growth industry.

Gore Vilenski Verbinski develops a feature in his living room, and ends up winning an Oscar.

Chris Meledandri starts a new enterprise called Illumination Entertainment, and its first two cartoon offerings finish #1. (And the second effort, The Lorax, knocks off Disney's $250 million entry in the second week of its release.)

Small wonder Rodriguez wants to jump into animation whirl. Half of Hollywood is trying to elbow its way in, so why not him?

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After a long hiatus, links!

Movies, money and metadata ... visualized, including many animated features. (Hat tip to VFX Soldier.) ...

Andrew Stanton talks about the making of John Carter.

The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed by Its First Trailer. (And how that trailer conformed to Andrew Stanton's desires.)

Animation Legend Ralph Bakshi Looks Back at His Cult Classic "Wizards"

New Animated Features on the Blu-Ray.

Marvel Takes Digital Comics To The Next Level With ‘ReEvolution’

The Blackwing Diaries: The details in animation story-telling matter.

"The Temple of the Seven Golden Camels" provides a lesson in a character's posture: Heads, Ribs and Hips - Part I.

Indian VFX industry needs Hollywood supervision, education.

Speaking of Visual Effects ...

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Coming Soon ...

... to an AMC near you.


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Disney TVA's New Mojo

Disney TVA is now off the Disney lot and reconfigured near the Bob Hope Airport (Burbank, CA.) and what was once the Grand Central Airport (Glendale, CA.) And where once the series were home-grown, Disney TVA -- under the wing of the Disney Channel -- now welcomes cartoon creators from other distributors of television cartoons ...

Producer Craig McCracken ... has taken his latest project to Disney. His new TV series is "Wander Over Yonder," a comedy about an intergalactic traveler named Wander and his steed, Sylvia ...

... artist and director Paul Rudish ... has a deal with Disney Television Animation. Charlie Bean, former creative director of the Cartoon Network's U.K. studio, is executive producer of the Disney XD series, "Tron: Uprising," based on the 2010 Walt Disney Studios' sci-fi film, "Tron: Legacy." Mike and Matt Chapman, creators of the popular Internet cartoon "Homestar Runner," also have a development deal with Disney. ...

For more than half a century, the fortunes of television animation studios have ebbed and flowed. Eleven years ago, one of the biggest and busiest tv cartoon facilities was Sony Adelaide, then employing three hundred artists.

Adelaide is now pretty much gone.

And three years ago, Warner Bros. Animation had withered away to a few dozen employees. Now it spills through four buildings on the Warner Ranch and a fifth building a couple miles away.

Nickelodeon cartoons were part of the robust Nick franchise for a decade and a half. But recently, Nickelodeon's grip on ratings has slipped a bit, and the studio's working to develop new properties and talent.

All of the above is another way of saying: Studios go up, and studios go down. No entity stays on top forever. (In the middle nineties, Disney Feature was the biggest and mightiest. In the mid eighties, Filmation was the biggest employer of animation artists in Los Angeles. Filmation ceased to exist in 1989.)

But the Times gets part of its analysis wrong. When it says: Disney television animation struggled for years to find success, despite founder Walt Disney's place in the cartoon pantheon, it ignores what a roaring money-maker the division was right out of the box ... and well into the nineties. It spawned "The Disney Afternoon" and created the hugely successful direct-to-video feature franchises.

So hear us, Los Angeles Times. Diz TVA didn't "struggle" for success. It found it and lost it several times over. And right now the place is on an uptick yet again.

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Post Mortems

The Times gives its autopsy report:

... [A]lthough there's plenty of blame to go around on both the creative and marketing sides, there's another factor: the source material itself. Disney could have made a better movie and sold it more persuasively to a skeptical public. But it was dealing with a stacked deck from the start.

"John Carter" is based primarily on "A Princess of Mars," the first in Edgar Rice Burroughs' early 20th century 11-volume series of Barsoom novels. It's a touchstone work of science fiction -- so touchstone that many viewers don't know what it is.

More to the point, it's an epic, which can be a tough sell no matter the studio or marketing strategy. ...

I've only seen the trailer and a five-minute clip for JC, so I'm not the best one to judge, but the environment for Carter seems to be all dry and desert-like.

You know, unappealing? Like Mars? (Avatar, by contrast, looked like it had been shot on Kauai.)

Further, we all know that no Mars feature has been boffo at the box office. Even Tim Burton couldn't pull it off. Even with Jack Nicholson doing his best Richard Nixon impression.

So if John Carter ends up being a write-off for the Mouse, it had plenty of omens and portents. (Maybe a $150 million budget would have helped get a different result?)

Add On: The New York Times weighs in with its morgue notes.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

401(k) Costs

I remind members who participate in the TAG 401(k) Plan that nobody can control returns of various funds. People can, however, control costs:

... [E]xpenses built into target-date funds are a growing peeve. Most such products are "funds of funds" that spread assets among multiple other investment vehicles. As a result, target-date-fund expenses span an unusually wide range. Vanguard's target-date products, which rely heavily on index funds, have average expenses of $18 a year per $10,000 invested; at the opposite extreme, Oppenheimer uses actively managed funds and charges $168 per $10,000.

... The differences can add up. According to human resources consultant Towers Watson, an increase of just $50 per $10,000 in target-date-fund fees could cost a high earner the equivalent of eight years' worth of retirement savings over the length of his career.

The TAG 401(k) Plan is pretty much like most plans across the fruited plain. It's got PIMCO Total Return. It's got some (relatively) low cost index funds. It's got a range of actively-managed equity funds that charge dearly for their management services (1% and up.)

And it's got the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds, the most cost-efficient offerings TAG 401(k) offers. (These replaced pricey, under-performing specimens that we didn't like very much.)

Fund expenses will hurt returns badly over long periods of time. While many people are excited to jump into the hot fund of the moment, what participants should aim for are funds inside a plan that are

A) broadly diversified and

B) have the lowest possible expenses.

That happens to be the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds, coming in under 1/5%. They're funds of index funds, and index funds out-perform 90% of managed funds over ten and twenty year periods because of ... (surprise) lower costs.

If you choose one of the Vanguard Funds based on your preferred asset allocation and stick with it, by the time you're finished you'll have achieved better results than most investors, particularly the ones who performance chase via expensive, actively managed funds.

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Your Foreign Box Office

... Where Mr. Carter is making more money.

Disney’s John Carter premiered worldwide on the weekend, and dominated the foreign portion of its theatrical run by grossing $70.6 million in its debut at about 8,300 screens in 51 overseas territories.

That’s in stark contrast with the film’s anemic $30.6 million opening gross in the U.S. and Canada. In an otherwise bland box office weekend offshore, the film’s robust performance provided a much-needed jolt. ...

On the animation side, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked has run up $206 million ($437.2 million worldwide) and Puss in Boots now totals $387.5 million ($536.7 million worldwide.)

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

At Film Roman - Starz Media

Bopped over the Film Roman on Friday afternoon, where The Simpsons crew is finishing the last of the current season's shows ....

The show with the most challenges every year is always the Halloween episode. As one of the crew said:

"It's always got more stuff going on: crowds, effects, overall BIGNESS. We rotate the Halloween show between directors and crews, year by year. The director who gets it one year doesn't get it the next, because of all the extra work involved. ...

The Simpsons continues to perform in the FOX universe. The show's ranking on Fox during the 2011-2012 season:

1) Touch -- 12.01 million viewers

2) New Girl -- 7.36 million viewers

3) Glee -- 7.76 million viewers

4) Family Guy -- 6.23 million viewers

5) The Simpsons -- 6.76 million viewers

... out of 18 scripted FOX shows.

(Here are the Yellow Family's episode ratings for the current season.)

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Moebius, RIP

As reported by our fine trade papers:

The legendary French artist Moebius, whose real name was Jean Giraud, died at age 73, according to the BBC.

Giraud's career spanned more than fifty years. His most famous creation was the Western anti-hero Blueberry, which first appeared in 1963 in France. Blueberry was a loner who traveled the post-Civil War American West after being framed for a murder he did not commit. The character started out as a racist but came to oppose discrimination of all kinds.

To American comics fans he is probably best known for a two-part Silver Surfer mini-series he scripted with Stan Lee, which won an Eisner Award ... in 1989. ...

Thirty years ago Moebius had a large hand in creating the animated feature Les MaƮtres du temps, released in English as Time Masters.

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Box Office in Early March

Dr. Seuss and animation continue to rule:

1. The Lorax (Universal) Week 2 [3,746 Theaters] Friday $9.8M (-44%), Est Weekend $40M, Cume $124M

2. John Carter (Disney) NEW [3,749 Theaters] Friday $9.6M, Est Weekend $26.5M

3. Project X (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,055 Theaters] Est Friday $3.9M (-51%), Est Weekend $11.4M, Cume $40.1M

4. Silent House (Open Road) NEW [1,890 Theaters] Est Friday $2.6M, Est Weekend $6.5M

5. Act Of Valor (Relativity) Week 3 [2,951 Theaters] Est Friday $2.0M, Est Weekend $7.5M, Cume $56.2M

6. A Thousand Words (Paramount) NEW [2,124 Theaters] Est Friday $1.9M, Est Weekend $5.7M

7. Safe House (Universal) Week 5 [2,144 Theaters] Friday $1.3M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $115.8M

8. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 5 [2,478 Theaters] Friday $1.2M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $118M

9. This Means War (Fox) Week 4 [1,848 Theaters] Friday $1.2M, Weekend $4.0M, Cume $47.1M

10. Journey 2 (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,525 Theaters] Friday $850K, Weekend $4.7M, Cume $91M

And I would doubt that Disney will be making a sequel to the Edgar Rice Burroughs book. In the words of the Nikkster:

Friday’s box office numbers for director Andrew Stanton’s turkey came in even weaker than predicted. Now let’s see if word of mouth can help this box office flop which earned a ‘B+’ CinemaScore. ...

Apparently, audiences that go to see it like it passably well. But not enough in the way of audience is motoring to the neighborhood AMC to take it in.

Add On: John Carter performs (a bit) overseas. Here, not so much.

Andrew Stanton's 3D sci-fi epic John Carter hit $30.6 million in its North American debut thanks to an uptick on Saturday, while the film opened internationally to $70.6 million for a total $101.2 million.

Disney is under no illusions that it's out of the woods financially despite a slightly bettter-than-hoped for global performance. John Carter cost $250 million to produce plus a marketing spend that puts the total pricetag well north of $300 million and probably closer to $350 million. ...

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