Thursday, May 31, 2012

Incoming Mouseketeer

New top-kick in Burbank:

[Alan] Horn, who spearheaded such expensive hits as the "Harry Potter" series while president of Warner Brothers Entertainment, intends to focus on six to eight films a year geared toward Disney's core audience of families and young adults, he says, and was not told by Disney CEO Bob Iger to rein in budgets.

"All Bob said was 'make good movies,'" Horn, 69, told Reuters in a telephone interview. "I've made expensive films that have flopped, and boy do they hurt." ...

Mr. Horn has lots of movie exec experience in the deep end of the pool, but he's no spring chicken. So it will be interesting to see how long he remains at the studio's helm. (Robert Iger has announced his retirement, and he's a lot younger than Horn.)

It seems his last interaction with animation -- that he talks about -- was greenlighting Happy Feet.
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Fred Moore Birthday

We're talking about a watercolor by Mr. Moore, undated. And charming.

This is, of course, from the Mega Collector, and features little kids rather than the usual unclothed females that were one of Mr. Moore's specialties.

We thought it was a nice change of pace from other recent posts.
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Last night's meeting had a lot of positive energy and good input from the membership.

But it wasn't (isn't?) all lollipops and sunshine. ...

Here is a screed from a member who has a different POV:

Why IN THE WORLD would you walk away from any negotiation?!? How old are you? Do you walk in this animation world that I LIVE in? Do you realize that all you do is take without really giving back? And NOW you threaten my job? What is there to discuss? I want to work! I will send this to every member I can and I would hope that if the guild truly represents the artists; you will put it into the "Pegboard".

Now to a couple of the terms you say are past negotiation.

1. Tests: These are not a studio thing, but are demanded from other "Guild" members, Directors, Supervising directors, Supervising Producers etc...

2. Raises: Wow! really? In 1996 I was making more than I do now.

3. Health benefits: I was told in my "Welcome to the union" meeting that the co-pay was going up. (Not to mention that I don't have them yet.and may never.)

I'm sure there are more, but I need to get ready to go to bed because "Thank GOD!! I get to go to work tomorrow!"

People close to me tell me I should keep my mouth shut, but you asked for my opinion. Sooo... Here it is.

Lead, or get out of the way. When you are making more than most of us each year there is an issue. Remember, We pay you to represent US. at least for now.


I'm not really clear about some of the objections. But what I scope out:

1) The artist objects to the committee voting to reject a low-ball proposal and walking out of negotiations.

2) The artist doesn't want to go on strike. (Nobody has proposed that.)

3) The artist doesn't want his co-pays/premiums to go up. (If he's single, neither will.)

4) The artist doesn't like what I'm paid.
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tonight's Special Membership Meeting

Biggest turnout in thirty years.

The room was way too small for the number of people who showed up. Two hundred and forty artists, writers and tech directors sat, stood in the back and crowded the stairwell listening to the negotiation committee's presentation of the two days of talks that ended in a walkout at the start of Day Three ...

I gave a synopsis of the producer and Animation Guild's proposals, after which members gave their own eloquent takes on the progress (or lack thereof) the committee encountered during negotiations.

* How the AMPTP let the committee know that live-action scripts are more "complex" and "sophisticated" than the animated variety.

* How almost all of TAG's proposals were rejected. And then the committee got a low-ball offer on wages.

* How there is no need to take account of holidays in work schedules, because "the show must go on."

* Etc.

Members in attendance made it clear they weren't inclined to take less than the IATSE and local unions in the Basic Agreement negotiations achieved. The committee asked for additional input from the membership, and asked them to give their priorities on proposals. (In the next few days, members will receive a list of proposals with the request to get the digital form back to TAG as rapidly as possible for tabulation.)

Near meeting's end, I said that any member who desired to serve on the negotiation committee for the next round of talks should contact me via

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Don't forget tonight's meeting ...

... about the state of negotiations for the 2012-2015 collective bargaining agreement.

At the union meeting hall, 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. Beer, wine and refreshments at 6 pm; meeting starts at 7 pm. Active and inactive members only. See you there!

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The IA restructures

New York -- The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has made some important changes to its Divisional structure to go into effect June 4, 2012. Among the changes is the creation of two new divisions.

The first is the creation of a Division of Education and Training to be headed by former International Representative Patricia White. “Pat has taken on the role of developing these programs with great success. Training and Education are a core part of our priorities for success and I have full confidence in Pat’s ability to further that objective,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb.

The second change creates a new Broadcast Division. “Representation of broadcast technicians remains an integral part of this Union, and this change will bring added focus and prominence to those crafts,” said Loeb. Long time International Representative Sandra England will be charged with heading up the new division.

Finally, the Organizing Division will be folded into the current Stagecraft Division. Each of the other Divisions (Motion Picture and Television Production, Tradeshow and Canadian Affairs) has its own distinct self-contained organizing function. The main focus of the Organizing Division has been broadcast and stagecraft organizing. “It now makes sense to have a unified and cohesive organizing and representational Stagecraft Department. Stagecraft organizing deserves the advantage of integration like the other Divisions have,” stated Loeb. “International Vice President Daniel E. DiTolla will bring his tremendous talent, tenacity and commitment to the Division.” The new structure gives each Division a well-rounded, coordinated team and reinforces the IA’s commitment to organizing.

The IATSE is an International Union that represents members employed in the stagecraft, motion picture and television production, and trade show industries throughout the United States, its Territories, and Canada.

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Phil Cummings @ Gallery 839, starts Friday, June 1

1105 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank

Reception, 6 pm-9 pm

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Obscurity Award

I would give to this:

This will only excite about three dozen people, but those three dozen souls will be stricken mute with wonder and paralyzed by glee. Twenty-five years later, there is actually going to be a sequel to Mysterious Cities of Gold, the 39-episode cartoon that debuted in 1982 as a US-Franco-Japanese co-production. ...

Once again from DIC and Studio Pierrot—apparently it picks up right where the first season left off, 30 years ago, as Estaben, Zia, and Tao go off to Asia in search of more adventure …. and more destroyed lost tribes, to be sure.

The original, it seems, has played in the U.S. of A. from time to time, but not in a resoundingly enough way to make me aware of it. I asked a cartoon junkie who I know if he had heard of this epic, and he said "What? No way."

But on the off-chance that one of the three dozen people on the globe that will soon have heart spasms over the oncoming Mysterios Cities of Gold sequel, we publish the information about it here.

You're welcome.
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Retirement Strategies

Artists, writers and tech directors working under an IA/Animation Guild contract have three things going for them that many others don't.

1) The MPIPHP Defined Benefit Plan
2) The MPIPHP Individual (Lump Sum) Plan
3) The TAG 401(k) Plan

1) is pretty straightforward. You work the requisite number of qualified pension years (5), and you get a monthly check for $300 or $1300 or whatever you have earned in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan. But with 2) and 3), you've got a number of different options ...

Assume that you've squirreled away a hundred and twenty grand in the TAG 401(k) Plan. Also assume that you've worked a couple of decades and have $80,000 to $120,000 in the Individual Account Plan.

You can go a couple of ways here.

You can take the $200,000, dump it into stock and bond funds and skim off a thousand per month of the earnings, interest and a slice of the principal until that principal is gone ...

Or you can take the money and dump it into insurance annuities*.

Here's what Barron's magazine says that you'd get in the market right now:

Now. If you want to leave the remnants of the $200,000 to little Bobby, Billy and Isadora, you can certainly do that. And maybe the monthly payment route ...

Defined (Monthly) Benefit
+ Social Security
+ Monthly Insurance Annuity
= Comfortable Retirement

... isn't the highway you want to take. But maybe for simplicity and overall ease of mind, it's pretty enticing. You're the one who will have to decide. We just wanted to lay out the options here so you would have something to chew on.

* Kindly note that one of the annuity options offers a slightly smaller payout, but the return of unused principal.
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IATSE VFX All-Hands Meeting

The IATSE has announced an open and infomational meeting for visual effects artists. This meeting will be held on Sunday, June 3rd at the International Cinematographers Guild building from 1:00 to 3:00pm. The Cinematographers Guild is located at 7755 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood.

This will be the first of many regular meetings the IATSE will be holding across the city. These meetings are designed to give a venue for visual effects artists to learn about the process and benefits of unionization directly from IATSE representatives.

If you work in the visual effects industry and have questions or want to learn more about how to form a union at your workplace, these meetings are for you! We look forward to seeing you there!

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Frank Tashlin, Author

President Emeritus Tom Sito points us to this publication (and some others).

Frank Tashlin had achieved recognition as a children's writer when he entered the film industry to work in the animation units at Disney and Warner Bros. Both of these early careers would have decisive import for the major films that Tashlin would direct in the 1950s. This early experience allowed Tashlin to see everyday life as a visually surreal experience, as a kind of cartoon itself, and gave him a faith in the potential for natural experience to resist the increased mechanization of everyday life. Tashlin's films of the 1950s are great displays of cinematic technique, particularly as it developed in a TV-fearing Hollywood. They featured a wide-screen sensibility, radiant color, frenetic editing, and a deliberate recognition of film as film. Tashlin's films often resemble live versions of the Warners cartoons.

As we said a while back, Mr. Tashlin was an artist ahead of his time. He was the first main-stream director who brought a cartoon sensibility to live-action films. It's a commonplace thing today, but Frank T. was pretty much the man who pioneered the trend.

And, as Sito says in the link above, he was pro-labor, believing in the usefulness of guilds and unions

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Renovating a Landmark

Restoration of the first Disney studio.:

For 15 years, a Kansas City group has raised money to revitalize Laugh-O-Gram, Walt Disney’s first professional animation studio, and turn it into an interactive historical site, educational museum and perhaps more.

Now, 90 years after Disney began work there in May 1922, organizers are launching their final fund-raising push, hoping to complete the project by 2015. ...

The American impulse is (usually) to tear down anything that's seventy or eighty years old. What possible good can it be? Why save something decrepit?

Maybe to throw a light on where we've been? To maybe give us a hint to where we might be going?

Walt Disney was like a lot of hand-to-mouth filmmakers in the early days of the motion picture industry. He opened a store-front and hired a few guys. He started creating product that he thought would sell and catch fire. The fact that his company ultimately grew into an international conglomerate while lots of other people -- the Fleischers, Walter Lantz, to name two -- came and ultimately went says something about his drive and genius.

But it also says something about the fickle finger of fate. Walt Disney Productions could have sunk beneath the red ink of bankruptcy a number of times like other studios, but didn't. Outside forces came together at opportune moments, and the studio kept going. All the way from Kansas City to today. And Michael Eisner, Robert Iger, and a myriad of other human beings are the richer for it.

ht/ Jay Jackson and Merry Kanawyer Klingen.
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Foreign Box Office

Where one tent pole knocks down another tent pole.

Men In Black 3, the second sequel in Sony’s billion-dollar sci-fi franchise, took over the foreign theatrical circuit on the weekend, opening at 22,435 venues in 103 territories, grossing $132 million and firmly shoving aside The Avengers as the No. 1 film overseas. ...

Among the animated franchises, The Lorax has accumulated $94.1 million abroad, which is 30.9% of its $305 million global take.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits has taken in $74.5 million overseas, which is over 73% of its worldwide gross.
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Constants ... and Change

On Friday I was contacted by an agent who complained:
"We have clients who turn in script drafts and don't get paid for for one, maybe two months. The studio tells them they won't pay until "it's been approved," and sometimes it doesn't get approved for weeks. ..."

This is a sad story, an outrageous story, but not new.

When I was a fresh-faced business agent barely two months on the job, a freelance storyboard artist phoned to say that she had done a production board for Disney TVA, turned it in two months before, and still hadn't been paid for the work, sixty days later. I told her I would contact Disney toute de suite and get the problem resolved. She said:

"That's great. But please don't give them my name."

The paranoia about getting on somebody's shit-list was in full swing, even in 1990.

So ... that's been a constant. What's also constant is t.v. animation facilities not paying for overtime unless they absolutely have to.

But here's what's changed: Some feature animation studios that paid overtime as a matter of course, now sometimes don't.

Back in '77 Disney Feature Animation was deep into production of Pete's Dragon. For the first time, the studio had committed to a hard-and-fast release date. They were locked into a holiday opening at Radio City Music Hall, and everybody who could hold a pencil and trace a line was busy animating and/or doing cleanup on the picture.

Pete Young, a buddy in the Disney story department, had begun his studio tenure as an effects in-betweener, and management, frantic to hit its release date, put him on Pete's Dragon seven days a week, paying him his story artist rate, and overtime on his story artist rate, the whole time he was in-betweening.

He loved it. In fact, one Monday morning he said to me:

"Don Duckwall [senior production exec] stuck his head in here on Sunday, and thanked me for all the time and hard work I've put in. When he thanked me, I was making triple time*. I smiled and told him, 'Happy to do it, Don.' In-betweens at triple time my story rate? I'm okay with that. ..."

Ah, but things are different here in the 21st century.

During production of the last hand-drawn feature, I got complaints from Disney Feature artists of lengthy hours, uncompensated overtime, and (of course) nobody wanting to rock the boat with a grievance.

(Understand, this isn't corporate policy here, but over-caffeinated production managers striving to score Brownie points with high-level execs by coming in under the budget. A stinky practice, nevertheless.)

The times, they have most certainly changed.

* In that far-off era of Jimmy Carter and wide-lapel suits, unions were a wee bit more dominant than now. Then, over-time rates were: double time after eight, triple time after fourteen elapsed, and triple time on Sundays. Today o.t. is time-and-a-half and double time. Of course, the wage gaps were way less in the 1970s.
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Saturday, May 26, 2012


Cartoon Brew put up one of the companion pieces to this yesterday ...

But here John L. talks about his digital "Eureka" moment at Disney thirty years ago. And says (right at the end): "Then I got fired."

Funny thing about firings ...

In the early eighties, Disney Feature Animation was going through turbulent times. Don Bluth had exited with half the feature animation staff. Tom Wilhite, head of the publicity department, had been installed by Ron Miller as head of productions and he was shaking things up, working to get new ideas and talent going in both live action and animation.

On the cartoon side, Wilhite encouraged the younger animation staffers -- many from Cal Arts -- to try new things. (This got resentful push-back from animation department old-timers. Who would have thought?) On the live-action side, Mr. Wilhite greenlit break-the-mold properties like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Tron.

I remember everybody in the younger ranks was kind of jazzed and excited. But time passed. The animation old-timers gained the upper hand with the next animated project, The Black Cauldron, and Something Wicked was having production problems.

And Tron?

The computer picture came out the same weekend as Mr. Spielberg's E.T., and suffered a box office defeat. The visuals were dazzling but the story and characters were a bit on the skim milk side, and it didn't do the kind of business Walt Disney Productions was hoping for. So Tom Wilhite's stock and company-wide influence fell, and the animation department got rid of John Lasseter.

Mr. Lasseter's separation from Disney was the first of several terminations, for a little bit later, Tom W. was pushed overboard to make way for a production head from M-G-M. But the M-G-M guy only lasted nine months, because in the interim Disney Chairman Ron Miller got axed in favor of Michael Eisner, who brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Are we clear on all the departures and arrivals? Fine. Because there's a few more.

Eisner lasted twenty-odd years, then he was decapitated -- metaphorically speaking -- by Roy Disney, who himself was pushed out by both Eisner and Ron Miller in previous palace coups. This left the way clear for Robert Iger, Eisner's second-in-command, to ascend to the throne. And Iger, of course, brought back the earlier-fired John Lasseter to run animation.

Which only goes to show that hirings and firings are temporary; all part of the great, eternal Circle of Corporate Comings and Goings. If you're fired today, you can always come back in 2022.

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Memorial Day Derby

The horse race never ends, but only gets more frenetic:

1. Men in Black 3 3D (Columbia/Sony) NEW [4,248 Theaters] PG13
Friday $18M, 4-Day Weekend $75M

2. Marvel’s The Avengers 3D (Disney) Week 4 [3,918 Theaters] PG13
Friday $9.7M, 4-Day Weekend $45M, Cume $523.5M

3. Chernobyl Diaries (Alcon/Warner Bros) NEW [2,433
Theaters] R Friday $3.5M, 4-Day Weekend $11.5M

3. Battleship (Universal) Week 2 [3,702 Theaters] PG13
Friday $3.0M (-65%), 4-Day Weekend $13.5M, Cume $43.3M

5. The Dictator (Paramount) Week 2 [3,014 Theaters] R
Friday $2.7M (-51%), 4-Day Weekend $11.5M, Cume $43.3M

6. What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Lionsgate) Week 2 [3,021
Theaters] PG13 Friday $2.2M (-42%), 4-Day Weekend $9.0M, Cume $24.0M

6. Dark Shadows 3D (Warner Bros) Week 3 [3,404 Theaters] PG13
Friday $2.0M, 4-Day Weekend $9.5M, Cume $65.0M

8. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) Week 4 [1,233
Theaters] PG13 Friday $1.5M, 4-Day Weekend $9.0M, Cume $17.9M

9. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Week 10 [1,421 Theaters] PG13
Friday $565K, 4-Day Weekend $2.7M, Cume $395.7M

10. Think Like A Man (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 6 [786 Theaters] PG13
Friday $390K, 4-Day Weekend $2.0M, Cume $88.9M ...

No animated features, but plenty of animated effects in evidence.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is now just out of the magic circle of ten at #11, with $26.5 million in the booty bag.

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Handing Out Flyers

The bulk of the week was spent running to studios handing out info sheets about contract negotiations, and Wednesday's membership meeting. ...

Usually interest for membership meetings is not exactly through the roof. But every facility I went to, every cubicle I walked by, people wanted to talk about it and said they were coming. As I was walking out of a studio in Glendale, I got buttonholed about the health plan:

"There's health premiums coming in, right? We hear they're going to be up there." ...

I explained that the benefits package in the Basic Agreement calls for $0/month for single participants, $25/month for one dependent, $50/month for 2 or more dependents. I also said the deal under the Basic isn't necessarily the deal the Animation Guild ends up with, since we haven't come to an agreement yet.

We'll see how many people show up for next week's festivities.
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Visual Effects -- Then and Now

We got asked today: "What visual effects work has been union?"

My short answer was ...

Back in the time of old style visual effects (stuff like this ... and this) lots of effects work was under union contracts.

It was all analog, you see, meaning the effects -- painted mattes, models, rear projection, front projection, and film process work -- were done the old-fashioned way: in the camera, in the film lab, without the aid of computers. All these disciplines were inside studios or a few outside suppliers that had been organized under union contracts.

But all that changed a couple of decades ago. Analog work was displaced by digital code, and old-line effects houses (you know, the one with union contracts?) began to die off, replaced by digital facilities of all sizes and descriptions. Most of these newer places had no union contracts, but there were exceptions. George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic had a small digital division in its early days, and Local 16 in San Francisco had a contract for the work. This became significant when the "handful of computers in the back room" became the whole company, and a local of the IATSE had the work.

And the Animation Guild, holding contracts with Los Angeles animation studios, commenced representing digital artists when those studios moved to computers. (TAG also repped visual effects workers under an IA contract at Disney's "Secret Lab," also inside Warner Bros. Animation when that studio contracted effects for live-action features.)

But most computer effects today are done without benefit of union contract. Except for Sony, the big studios no longer produce effects under their own roofs. It's cheaper outsourcing to small independent studios for simple shots, and to large indy studios (ILM, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues) for the complicated shots that contain lots of water or collapsing buildings or flying monkeys.

I won't kid you. It would be nice if the flying monkeys (and other things) were done inside the studio with union wages and benefits, but such is not the case.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012


From India's Business Today:

... What ails the Indian animation industry and what keeps it from connecting with a target audience of children consuming $100 billion worth of toys, clothes, entertainment, food, and other products and services?

"I think a lot of Indian animated content lacks an appealing narrative," says Rishtee Kumar Batra, Assistant Professor, Marketing, Indian School of Business ... [A]lmost none among the handful of Indian animation films that tried to get away from mythology have been successful. Neither Jumbo (2008), starring Akshay Kumar, or Toonpur Ka Superhero (2010) with Ajay Devgn, or Roadside Romeo (2008), produced under the Yash Raj banner, made waves at the box office.

Some believe it was because the filmmakers failed to target their audience and market the movies right. The younger ones were unmoved by the likes of Kumar and Devgn, while older ones, who knew of the stars, found the plot too simplistic. ...

It's even simpler than that: When audiences don't connect to a movie, they don't show up in sufficient numbers to enable the picture to turn a profit.

It has always been thus. Audiences were unmoved by Andrew Stanton's John Carter, even as they embraced Wall-E (another space opera), a few years earlier. Some pictures have momentum and buzz, others don't. More often than not it comes down to content. If the story and characters don't compel people to plop down in theater seats, companies have a write-off on their hands.

Pretty straightforward and uncomplicated, when you think about it. And one of the reasons so much story work is done by the same reliable (and proven) hands, year after year. Also one reason that Chris Meledandri uses seasoned animation pros from Disney, DreamWorks and other California studios, even as he produces feature films in Paris.

But even talented movie makers don't hit home runs every time at bat. Just ask Mr. Stanton.
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We Get E-Mail

... and were asked:

Where is the animation industry going? Cuz from what JK said in the meeting and the way there are no jobs in our field in this country...I am really starting to doubt it's going to go in a good direction in the next few years. and I don't think i can live on nothing for another 5-10 yrs or however long its gonna take for it to get fixed. ...

The reply:

To answer your question, I don’t think it’s possible to predict where the industry is going in five or ten-year increments.

When I started at Disney in 1976, the business was a small and sleepy backwater. There was Hanna-Barbera, there was Disney features, there were some smaller television houses with a total of 1400-1500 Animation Guild members working in a business that was mostly union.

About half of the AG members were women working in ink-and-paint. (The Guild was then called “The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists.”)

In 1976, Hanna-Barbera was doing television animation here in town. This production work came to an end over the next few years, and the Animation Guild did two industry-wide strikes to try and keep more of it here. The strike worked in 1979 and failed in 1982. And tv animation went to Japan, Korea, and later China. Filmation, the last television animation studio to do its animation in L.A., closed its doors in 1989.

I started as TAG business agent soon after. There were then 700 active members. “The Little Mermaid” hadn’t been released yet, and Warner Bros. Animation was just beginning to come back to life. If somebody had told me in ‘89 that the animation business would double and then double again over the next ten years, I would not have believed them. I would have said it would stay an eccentric little subset of the movie industry instead of the power-house it has become.

The above is a long-winded way of saying (again): “I’m not a good prognosticator.”

So now that we have THAT established, where do I think the business is going between now and 2022? I think it will continue to grow. I think animated features and visual effects movies are big drivers in the film business, and will go on being big drivers, that lots of the work will be done in Southern California because that’s where the most experienced talent pool is, but there will also be production in China, New Zealand and Australia, production in Europe and India. And, of course, Canada. (But tax subsidies don't last forever.)

If it were just a matter of quantity and cost, there would be no work in California NOW. But I’ve learned over the years that cost is only one part of the whole equation. India has made some really inexpensive animated features, but most of them have lost money because audiences stayed away in droves.

Chinese animators are quite proud of “Pleasant Goat and the Big Bad Wolf” taking in $20.6 million domestically, but “Kung Fu Panda” grossed $100 million in China. It’s not enough to be cheap, you must also be good enough to make money.

Right now, the Animation Guild is near historical highs in membership. This month, we brought in another 19 people, so SOMEBODY out there is employing people. (Having said all that, there are plenty of artists who are unemployed at any given moment in time, and I know people who are hurting. But the overall numbers indicate that the business as a whole is not in a slump.) ...

Hope this helps.
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The DWA Campus

... And the music video constructed therein.

Since this gives a quick look at DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus ... and some of the offices, the commissary, and spiffy olive trees and European-style fountain, we put it up. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Middle Kingdom and Quality

As we've mentioned here and there, it's not enough to be inexpensive:

... "To shift from quantity to quality is now the biggest challenge for Chinese cartoon makers," says [Chinese cartoonist Carol Liu Hong]. "There's also the problem of piracy. It doesn't do any good to have favorable policies if you don't protect the commercial strength of the producers." ...

Uh, yeah ...

Not to single out China, but the issues are as they have always been for any overseas supplier. It's not enough to run a lower budget operation, there must also be product that audiences want to see.

... China's roughly 10,000 animation studios, employing 200,000 people, churned out 260,000 minutes of animation material in 2011 -- about a half-year's worth of continuous programming. Most of it will never be broadcast.

With supply far exceeding demand, about nine in 10 animation companies are unprofitable, state media report, citing industry insiders. To get by, most studios rely on overseas outsourcing contracts and deals with toy manufacturers and other companies using cartoon figures for advertising. ...

In the years we've been posting here, a theme has emerged: Cut-rate doesn't cut it. If nobody watches the stuff, the producers lose money. Which is why there is still work in Southern California *.

* It was this way twenty years ago. I suspect it will be this way twenty years from now.
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Josh and Chuck talk about Unions

Josh Clark and Charles W. Bryant are the hosts of the How Stuff Works podcast Stuff You Should Know. A podcast from the Marshall Brain edutainment site that covers a wide range of topics in well researched broad strokes over 30-50 minutes.

I was a regular reader of the How Stuff Works webpage and when I delved into the world of podcasts, it was the first search I performed. In the latest release from Josh and Chuck, they delve into How Labor Unions Work (link to the podcast audio file).

As I mentioned, I find Josh and Chuck to be well read in the topics they cover and the podcast a great listen for those who want to learn some of the mechanics of unions, a little of the history of why unions exist and where we're at today.

I would recommend this podcast for all new members, all visual effects artists and anyone who is interested in beginning their research on unions.
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The Mark Evanier Interview -- Part II

Although a writer by trade, Mr. Evanier has also been a longtime voice director on many of the animated shows that he has penned ...

TAG Interview with Mark Evanier

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

He explained that the main work is casting the right voice to the right role, then getting out of the actor's way and allowing the performer to do what she (or he) was hired to do.

Mark informed me that the average number of takes he asks for on a given show is "one point one." As he notes in today's interview: He once had an actor in and out of a session so quickly that the performer was certain he'd been dismissed. It took a few minutes of reassurances to the actor's agent to convince the man otherwise.

Mark has been known to complete a voice session for a six-minute short in fifteen minutes.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012


This comes up from time-to-time in 401(k) meetings: the Social Security thing:

... [Social Security's] surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits. ...

From 1961 through 2011, the year covered in the last Social Security report, Social Security taxes exploded from 3.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 5.5 percent.

Income taxes went the other way. The personal income tax slipped from 7.8 percent of the economy to 7.3 percent, with most of the decline enjoyed by people in the top 1 percent of incomes. The big drop was in the corporate income tax, which fell from 4 percent of the economy to 1.2 percent. ...

So to recap: Over the past three decades, the middle and lower brackets have shouldered most of the funding of their own retirements. In effect, the Middle Class has prepaid its own Social Security retirement fund. Yet if you listen to various talking heads, they'll inform you that all of those bonds in the Social Security trust fund are "worthless i.o.u.s," (as opposed to all those Treasury bonds in high-flyers' portfolios, which are ... you know ... "full faith and credit" i.o.u.s.)

I bring this up because lots of thirty and forty-somethings tell me that they don't think that "Social Security" will be around when they reach retirement age. Well, if they vote the right set of people into office, they can certainly make that prediction come true.

But they don't have to vote that way. Especially if they want some kind of decent retirement.
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The Mark Evanier Interview -- Part I

Mark Evanier has been a comic book fan (and author), sitcom and variety show writer, and (for our purposes here), the creator of hundreds of t.v. animation scripts ...

TAG Interview with Mark Evanier
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mark began his writing career in kindergarten, penning a Seuss-style children's book that didn't find a publisher but pointed the way toward his future work. Mr. Evanier wrote copy for Los Angeles-based magazines when he was fresh out of high school, soon moved on to comic books, situation comedies and variety shows before commencing a long, happy career in animation. ...

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CAPS charity art auction, May 31

Inked and rendered by Darwyn Cooke, from an original by Dave Stevens

The Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS) is holding an original art charity auction on May 31, 2012, at 7:00 pm in the upstairs meeting hall of the Animation Guild, 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank.

The auctioneer will be none other than Sergio Aragon├ęs (MAD Magazine, Groo the Wanderer).

The auction is in honor of the late Dave Stevens who worked for many years at Hanna-Barbera and later became well-known for his creation of The Rocketeer (celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.) Dave left us far too soon in 2008 as a result of the rare hairy cell leukemia. Fifty percent of the proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Hairy Cell Leukemia Foundation in Dave's name.

The art featured in the auction comes donated by many luminaries in the world of comics, illustration and animation: Mike Mignola, Darwyn Cooke, Kelley Jones, Jack Davis, Dan Spiegle, Russ Heath, William Stout, Xaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Jim Silke, Humberto Ramos, Ruben Procopio, Tone Rodriguez, Scott Shaw!, Stan Sakai, Stephen Silver, Angelo Torres, Patrick McDonnell, Al Jaffee, Mike Allred, Jim Steranko, Stan Goldberg, Dave Willardson, Dean Yeagle, Dustin Nguyen, Phil Noto, Benton Jew, Ralph Reese, Dan Brereton, Travis Charest, Norm Breyfogle and Eric Powell.
There will even be a print of one of Dave Stevens' Rocketeer pieces signed by both Dave and Bettie Page.

With the blessings of the Stevens family, the Comic Art Professional Society asks your help in combating the disease that claimed Dave's life. Your high bid on a piece of exquisite original art can aid research that will, hopefully, one day bring an end to hairy cell leukemia, a rare and insidious form of cancer.

For more details, and to see images of the art to be auctioned, visit the CAPS website.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Up the Road at Film Roman

This a.m. I visited the Simpson unit at Starz-Film Roman, where staffers are a wee bit somber ...

"We've had the schedules for shows cut from eight weeks to seven. They're telling us, 'We're not cutting salaries,' but people know they are. When the weeks are cut by one, hiatuses are longer, and yeah, they're cutting our salaries."

It seems that Fox is cutting the show's budget, and is struggling to make everything work.

"Management said that Fox is cutting the budgets 30%, so they have to cut staff and try to get more erricient. I think that Fox is moving toward a board-driven show, and the layout department won't be there anymore. ..."

One of the staff pointed out this:

With just one week remaining in Season 23, last night’s episode ‘Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend’ attracted just 4.00 million viewers – the lowest recorded viewers for a new episode on record.

The new record bumps season 22′s ‘The Great Simpsina’ out of the 5 least-watched episodes of all time, which means this list is now entirely comprised of episodes from this season.

1. “Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend” (season 23) – 4.00 million
2. “The Daughter Also Rises” (season 23) – 4.33 million
3. “The Spy Who Learned Me” (season 23) – 4.74 million
4. “Beware My Cheating Bart” (season 23) – 4.86 million
5. “How I Wet Your Mother” (season 23) – 4.96 million

This led an artist to comment that the two upcoming seasons will likely be the show's last on Fox. "Gracie hates Fox. If the show keeps going, it could move to, say, Comedy Central. They'd cut the budgets even more, but hey. The show could keep going."

Another crew member thought the next two seasons would wrap up the long run, Fox would then syndicate the hundreds of episodes for three-quarters of a billion dollars, handing Gracie and a few profit participants another gold mine while many artists get the shaft the opportunity to seek employment elsehwere.

"But sometime, Gracie will start producing another feature. And some of the crew will return to get on that train ride."

Me, I don't know what will happen, since my crystal ball is fogged up. But I'm happy to report this:

The Simpsons finale was up two-tenths to a 2.1 from last week's 1.9 adults 18-49 rating. ...

Which means it picked up an additional 600,000 eyeballs, give or take. I'll be the optimist here: I believe with both fibres of my being that the Yellow Family will be with us for years to come!

With all-new, lower-budget, cable-driven episodes!
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"The Development of the Digital Animator"

Tonight at the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, the 18th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation hosts a panel discussion with some of the pioneers of digital animation.

When "Toy Story" burst onto the scene in 1995, its computer-generated imagery was, for many, a bold new technique in animation. However, the development of computer-generated motion picture animation was a lengthy and meticulous process that had its first public exposure with the mesmerizing swirls of the opening titles for "Vertigo" (1958). Of equal importance to the technical developments were the influential animators and designers who devised artistic uses for engineering advances. Join our panel of some of the pioneers of digital animation as they revisit the long path from laboratory to cineplex.

Scheduled panelists:

Tom Sito (panel moderator) is a veteran Hollywood animator and historian. His screen credits include "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," "Shrek" and "Hop."

Rebecca Allen is a media artist, designer and director whose groundbreaking animated work ranges from landmark music videos to dance films, interactive art installations and Emmy Award-winning opening titles. Her collaborators include Kraftwerk, Mark Mothersbaugh, Carter Burwell, Peter Gabriel and Twyla Tharp. She is currently professor of Design|Media Arts at UCLA.

Philippe Bergeron is a CG animator and president of, a 3D projection mapping company. He co-directed and animated one of the first CG characters in the short "Tony de Peltrie," the closing film of SIGGRAPH '85. He also worked at Digital Productions and Whitney/Demos Productions.

David Em began producing digital art in the 1970s and has worked as an independent artist in research laboratories such as the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group. He is the first digital artist to have his papers collected and preserved by the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art.

Tim Johnson is a director and animator who began his career at Chicago's Post Effects. At Pacific Data Images in the 1980s, he animated the first digital Pillsbury Doughboy. His feature directing credits include "Antz," "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" and "Over the Hedge."

Jeff Kleiser is the co-founder of Digital Effects, New York's first CG house. He later co-founded both Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company and Synthespian Studios. His credits include "Tron," "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid," "Stargate" and "X-Men: The Last Stand."

Bill Kroyer is an animator and director whose credits include "Tron," "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" and "Scooby-Doo." He received an Academy Award nomination for his 1988 short film "Technological Threat." He is currently Director of Digital Arts at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University.

John Lasseter is Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Studios. His directing credits include Pixar's first short, the Academy Award-winning "Luxo Jr.," and the feature films "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2," "Cars" and "Cars 2."

Phil Tippett is an Academy Award-winning visual effects animation director whose creditsinclude “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and several of the films in the “Twilight Saga.”

Diana Walczak is a CG animator and director who co-founded Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company and Synthespian Studios. With Jeff Kleiser, she created the first female Synthespian performer, Dozo, for the 1989 music video "Don't Touch Me." Her credits include the digital opera "Monsters of Grace" and the feature films "X-Men" and "Surrogates."

Monday, May 21, 7:30 p.m.
Samuel Goldwyn Theater
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets and more information

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Allure of Free Money

This was almost inevitable ...

Digital Domain, the award-winning visual effects company behind the blockbuster “Transformers” films and “Tron: Legacy,” is expanding into the Middle East with plans to open a 150,000-square-foot production studio in Abu Dhabi in 2015.

Parent company Digital Domain Media Group, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., said Sunday night that it was partnering with Abu Dhabi government-backed media and entertainment company twofour54 to build a studio that would create English- and Arabic-language animated movies targeted at Middle Eastern audiences, as well as produce visual and 3-D effects. The project also would include a media school run by Digital Domain, similar to one it operates in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The studio will employ more than 500 people and cost more than $50 million to build. The government of Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, will partly subsidize the project.

Following this:

Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission are launching a production rebate from September 1, marking the first major incentive scheme in the Middle East.

The incentive, in the form of a rebate of up to 30% of qualifying spend in Abu Dhabi, will be available for feature film, TV, documentary, advertising and music video production. ...

Nothing like a fat money enticement to get more movie production into the country.

Now. If Digital Doman can just railroad a bunch of U.A.E. film students into paying for the privilege of working at the soon-to-be facility, they'll be all set.
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"For Suckers"

Sometimes I wonder if the right hand of Rupert M.'s empire (20th Century-Fox) knows what the left hand is doing, because there is this morsel in the Wall Street Journal's Smart Money:

... "3-D is for suckers."

So what are moviemakers doing to bring more bodies into theaters? They're revisiting an innovation of decades past: 3-D. And not everyone who tracks Hollywood is wild about the trend, saying it's a passing fad. Plus, action films don't always translate well to 3-D.

Boston Globe film writer Ty Burr recently carped about the "sins against the visual cortex" perpetrated by 3-D releases Clash of the Titans, Gulliver's Travels and Green Lantern: They "aren't just terribly written, they're terrible to look at, with actors' faces separated from the backs of their heads," he wrote.

Of course, Hollywood doesn't quite see it that way. In a 2010 interview, Clash of the Titans director Louis Leterrier praised today's 3-D, saying what viewers see on the screen is "exactly what it looked like on set." But either way, consumers are paying the price for the new-old technology: Admission to a 3-D flick is generally $3 extra.

I've seen six or eight stereoscopic productions, and I feel the same way about the 3-D now that I have over the last three or four years:

1) 3-D is occasionally entertaining, but the entertainment is usually parceled out sparingly over the length of the movie.

2) DreamWorks Animation makes the best use of the format.

3) The format isn't worth the elevated price of admission, because it's essentially Moving View-Master, and I was never crazy about View Master when I squinted at it as a kid. So why should I endure it now?
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Springtime Steeple Chase in Foreign Lands

It seems that Diz Co. is having a fine time with its comic book acquisition:

Marvel’s The Avengers is now Disney’s biggest release ever thanks largely to foreign-generated box office accumulated over the last month including the latest weekend’s No. 1 overseas tally of $56 million drawn from 54 overseas territories. ...

Aardman's The Pirates still churns through foreign waters, but is far from being a chart buster. (It's till under $100 million globally.)

The next two big animation releases are Madagascar 3 (DWA) -- a couple of clicks down -- and Brave (Pixar) -- immediately below. I'm expecting that both will do well in international venues, since both are 3-D extravaganzas, and both stories take place in lands of castles and casinos.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Have Our Moneyed Elites, and the Commies Have ...

Princelings. There's a shocking surprise.

The Hollywood studio DreamWorks Animation recently announced a bold move to crack China’s tightly protected film industry: a $330 million deal to create a Shanghai animation studio that might one day rival the California shops that turn out hits like “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Incredibles.”

What DreamWorks did not showcase, however, was one of its newest — and most important — Chinese partners: Jiang Mianheng, the 61-year-old son of Jiang Zemin, the former Communist Party leader and the most powerful political kingmaker of China’s last two decades. ...

The spoils system, for all the efforts to keep a lid on it, poses a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the Communist Party. As the state’s business has become increasingly intertwined with a class of families sometimes called the Red Nobility, analysts say the potential exists for a backlash against an increasingly entrenched elite. ...

Critics charge that powerful vested interests are now strong enough to block reforms that could benefit the larger populace. Changes in banking and financial services, for instance, could affect the interests of the family of Zhu Rongji, China’s prime minister from 1998 to 2003 and one of the architects of China’s economic system. ...

Sound anything like the moneyed elites on this side of the Pacific?

As I was reading this, I was thinking of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, CitiCorp, and the irrepressible Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan-Chase. And I thought about how a majority of Americans don't want to prop up the big banks. But let's get real. If our mega financial institutions get in trouble again, the government will ride to the rescue one more time, no matter which party is in power.

The Reds in China have their privileged, powerful, wealthy few. And we have ours.
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Mid May Derby

Now with cheese-flavored Add On.

The Pirates! clings to the bottom rung of the Top Ten:

1. Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney) Week 3 [4,349 Runs] PG13
Friday $15.3M, Weekend $54.0M, Cume $454.5M

2. Battleship (Universal) NEW [3,690 Runs] PG13
Friday $9.0M, Weekend $25.1M

3. The Dictator (Paramount) NEW-Wed [3,008 Runs] R
Friday $5.7M, Weekend $15.0M, Cume $23.0M

4. What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Lionsgate) NEW [3,021 Runs] PG13 Friday $3.8M, Weekend $11.0M

5. Dark Shadows (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,755 Runs] PG13
Friday $3.7M (-61%), Weekend $12.0M, Cume $49.6M

6. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 [354 Runs] PG13 Friday $872K, Weekend $3M, Cume $8.7M

7. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) Week 9 [2,064 Runs]
Friday $820K, Weekend $2.4M, Cume $391.0M

8. Think Like A Man (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 5 [1,722 Runs] PG13
Friday $800K, Weekend $2.4M, Cume $85.6M

9. The Lucky One (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,055 Runs] PG13
Friday $585K, Weekend $1.8M, Cume $57.0M

10. Pirates! Band Of Misfits (Aardman/Sony) Week 4 [1,840 Runs] PG Friday $340K, Weekend $1.4M, Cume $25.7M

Worldwide, the Aardman pirate movie has collected $98.5 million against a budget of $55 million.

Add On: It appears that the unfortunate Taylor Kitsch has an unblemished record of box office flops, with two big-screen bombs under his belt. And in a single year!

Universal and Hasbro Entertainment's big-budget Battleship barely left port in its North American launch, grossing a dismal $25.3 million. ...

Fist John Carter, now Battleship, two mega-budget write-offs. Where will it end?
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Competitors in TV Animation

The Reporter reports:

Kids these days aren't like they used to be. Just ask executives at television networks that cater to children. Over the past year, a sea change in viewing habits has thrown one of the most profitable segments of Hollywood into a chaotic period of transition. Longtime leader Nickelodeon suffered a nearly 30 percent drop in ratings in February, while rivals including Cartoon Network have seen increases. At the same time, upstarts such as The Hub, PBS Kids, Sprout and even Netflix are siphoning off viewers, to say nothing of the online programming and gaming options ...

In many ways, Nick is having a mid-life crisis. A couple of years ago, it made a sizable commitment to CG animation. There were the Dreamworks shows (Penguins of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda). There was Robots and Monsters. Then DWA sent How to Train Your Dragon, the series to APU/Wildbrain and the crew of Robot and Monster which staffers told me was one of the smoothest-running Nick series in ions, got pink-slipped before the show had its network launch.

Added to which, the hand-drawn Adventure Time, which Nick declined to greenlight and put into turnaround, is now a hit for a resurgent Cartoon Network, and CN's ratings are up, even as Nickelodeon's sag. It's enough to give a cartoon executive heart-burn ... and second thoughts about being all CGI, all the time.

... Disney Channel for the first time beat Nickelodeon in first-quarter 2012 among children 6-11 when measured around the clock. Most analysts attributed the shift in part to Nickelodeon relying on only a handful of high-performing series (SpongeBob, iCarly) while Disney, Cartoon Network and others now offer a more diverse slate of new shows.

"Our strategy has been to build a strong, consistent portfolio of content and not rely too heavily on any one series," says Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide. "If you get into that trap, the bottom can fall out on you, and I think that's what happened to Nickelodeon." ...


Me, I think ratings and the fortunes of the kids' networks are cyclical: down today but up sixteen months from now when new product kicks in. As I write, Nickelodeon is doing serious development work, with board artists creating shorts that could, audiences willing, blossom into hit series down the road. (Sponge Bob, despite corporate wishes, will not last forever.)

Nick was not going to stay Top Dog forever. No entity does. But failure is not a death warrant. For resilient, innovative companies, it's a wake up call that says: "You had your run, now get off your backside and try some new approaches."
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Friday, May 18, 2012

The May 30th Meeting

I think we'll be getting a turnout at the next Membership meeting *.

Over the past week at every studio I've gone into, I've gotten asked about the gathering that will take place at 1105 N. Hollywood Way the Wednesday after next. (May 30th.) People know that the negotiations went less than swimmingly. ...

Members tell me:

1) What did the producers offer, exactly?

2) Why did the negotiating committee walk out?

3) What's going to happen now?

4) I plan to be at the meeting.

Today I had a roomful of people ask about the issues and the April negotiations, and I did a short symposium.

I told the group the negotiations were scheduled for three days and that I thought, on day two of the talks, that it looked like we were maybe headed to a deal, since we had addressed some side-letter issues and gotten (I believed) positive response.


When the "economic package" (benefits plus wages) was presented by the producers in side bar near the end of Day Two, committee members' faces fell atop the floor. Everyone on our side went back into the caucus room and discussed the figures that had been laid out, and not in a happy way. A little while later, the producers asked for an opportunity to give their reasoning behind the proposal, and so the committee trooped into the large negotiating room and listened to various studio reps give their explanations for the low-ball numbers.

The following morning, after sixteen hours to mull over the information, the TAG negotiating committee unanimously voted to reject it. And walked out.

Most of the studio employees who heard my monologue today said they would be at the meeting on the 30th to hear from negotiating committee members. I told them it was important to attend, and important that they give their input.

*Note: This WEDNESDAY, May 30th meeting is one day later than TAG's regularly-scheduled Tuesday meeting.
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The Electric Peg-Board

There's an extra bonus to subscribing to the Guild's e-mail list ... you can choose to receive The Peg-Board by e-mail as well.

Just click "Yes" under "Online PegBoard?" on the online subscription form, and instead of the snail-mailed Peg-Board you will get an e-mail with a link to an online version, either as a online Flash flipbook or a downloadable PDF file. What's more, you'll get it a week before the print version goes in the mail. (The May issue went out by e-mail last Monday, but it won't go out by regular mail until next week.)

So, save a tree and get your Guild news a week early.

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The TAG Email List

One of the quickest ways we have to communicate with the membership is through their email addresses. TAG has made a concerted effort over the last few years to collect member's email addresses in order to send timely messages about upcoming meetings and events, Gallery 839 openings, open positions at our contracted studios (and sometimes, non-contracted studios!) among many other topics.

Even through all our efforts, we still have members who are not on the list and may not even know the list exists. In order to make it easier to request to be added, we've created an application form on the website:

Its important to remember that this email list is reserved for Animation Guild Members ONLY. Active, suspended and members on Honorable Withdrawal are eligible to be on the list. Requests submitted through this link will be verified and non-members will not be added. Members must request to be added using their personal email addresses ONLY. Studio addresses will not be accepted. Members who have been added will be notified within one week via a welcome message.

If you haven't been receiving notification from us, visit the page and provide us your address today!
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cable Companies Buy (Part of) Internet Co.

Comedy distributor merges with distributor of comedy.

Turner Broadcasting is taking a minority stake in Funny or Die, the producer of online comedy videos that was founded by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy.

The investment will link up Funny or Die with two Turner brands on television: TBS, which is known for sitcoms, and Adult Swim, which shares channel space with the Cartoon Network ...

New media and older media come together ... to reinforce one another?

The Animation Guild, like every other entertainment union, has a "New Media" sideletter in its contract. This is fine as far as it goes, but with the line continually blurring between "old" media and its newer cousin, where does each begin? And end?

The question is important because guilds and unions have negotiated pension and wage breaks for new media work, which means there is a nice, neat loophole out there in the wider world that negatively impacts animation employees.

The studios continue to say that product on the internet doesn't make them much money, therefore the cost break is deserved. But what happens when the work, created at bargain rates, migrates to cable and broadcast platforms and garners higher fees? What then?
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Jokes That Work

Now with Add On!

While on the subject of DreamWorks Animation ...

Whether the new feature delivers from start to finish, I cannot say. But the clips on the far side of the link are amusing.

DreamWorks Animation isn't foolish.

It knows that the zoo animals are winners. It knows that setting features in locations other than the U.S. of A. tends to goose foreign box office. (Witness Monsters vs. Aliens, Megamind, etcetera as examples of the reverse phenomena.)

DWA also knows it is useful to hit a home run each time at bat. Therefore, tried-and-true tent poles mixed in with high concept originals is a way to keep audiences coming back ... coming back ... coming back ...

The strategy worked last year. We'll see how it performs this year.

Add On: As is the custom, DWA rolls out its latest at Cannes.

... [Chris] Rock says of the film which opens June 8 on a wide run, “I like children’s movies that have jokes for adults (as this one does). Actually my kids get fidgety at a certain point but I say, “we’re not going until I find out what happened with the bear!” ...
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Television Dragon

To catch people up: I journeyed to the production site of How to Train Your Dragon (the tv series) this morning, ostensibly for (yet another) 401(k) enrollment meeting ...

The television version of Dragon was originally produced by APU, the union subsidiary of Wildbrain Animation, but there had been -- so I'm informed by impeccable sources -- a few issues between the mother ship and its sub-contractor. Don't know what all of them were, but the scuttlebutt was that APU wasn't delivering all the bells and whistles promised in the original bid. (OhmyGod! Never heard of anything like that happening before!)

So in late April/early May the production transitioned from APU/Wildbrain to DreamWorks Animation. Same crew, and many of the same administrators, but now the staff has the option to participate in the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan, since APU declined to sign the 401(k) Trust Agreement, much to some crew members' regret.

A show exec told me that the series will be doing a second season, which would be good news for folks near the end of their runs on Season One, I would think. Some artists have been with the production for a year.

DreamWorks Animation is edging back into television work after being away from it for some years. In the go-go nineties, the company had a television unit on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, but the original plans for producing most or all of a broadcast network's Saturday morning half-hours never came to fruition, and the syndicated market withered and died, so DWA ended its push to do lots of animated product for the small screen.

The last couple of years, however, Jeffrey's boys and girls have reversed course. Although "Kung Fu Panda" and "The Penguins of Madagascar" were shopped to Nickelodeon, "Dragon" marks the second series for which DWA has taken the helm. "Neighbors from Hell" originally done by Bento Box, was the first.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Middle Kingdom and Greenbacks

What's a little (potential) corruption between friends?

... Hollywood’s interest in China has grown with the country’s plan to build state-of-the art theaters and upgrade its film industry, moves that would also help fuel studios’ local theme- park and live-entertainment businesses. The country is letting in more foreign films, sharing ticket sales more equitably and encouraging ties to local producers. Reports last month of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry raised the question of whether studios’ progress would be interrupted. ...

The SEC sent letters to studios seeking information about dealings with certain officials, and possibly inappropriate payments, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Studio officials decline to discuss the inquiry, some citing confidentiality rules. The letters were sent by the SEC in March, the New York Times reported earlier. ...

If there's dollars changing hands as our fine entertainment conglomerates jockey for the best spot to climb aboard the Shanghai gravy train, allow me to say that a little energetic back-scratching is what has always made America great. From the Guilded Age until today.

So here's to spreading the wealth. Especially when it's spread by the right people, for the right reasons.

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Finding Time to Live

... and breathe.

... Every twice unfinaled shot, every understaffed, underbid, over delayed project keeps us from watching our children grow and keeps us from precious moments with our loved ones. Does it really need to be that way? If the President of Production can have such a balance, can we not, as compassionate human beings who love the work we do, and love our families, come to a more equitable solution, where projects can be planned at least well enough to keep from going into crunch for a year at a time? I don’t know about you, but when my job forces me to miss out on a year of my daughter’s life or more, I think it’s plain wrong. How can I make a film for children and not spend any time with my own?

Besides this, how do I care for my family without health insurance, sick days or vacation days while working mandatory twelve hour days, six days a week for months on end? Is the value of my children or even myself less than others? ...

The reality of movie-making in the glorious twenty-first century is: everyone works until their eyes cross and their typing digits drop off, until the insane production schedules are sucked into a black hole swirling at the edge of the Ursa Major Galaxy.

When I was an unemployed house-husband staying home with a toddler, my wife was working the same kind of insane work schedule. (Seven day weeks. Thirteen-hour days.) What made it semi-palatable was she was making a lot more money on her check, and was getting a lot more hours into the union pension and health plans.

Don't misunderstand. Unionized employees can work brutal hours too. Once upon a time, the double and triple time rates served as a disincentive to work people until they dropped. But this was in the days before worldwide movie rollouts in thousands of theaters were tied to release dates set not in concrete, but high-tensile steel. Before movies were produced by hungry conglomerates with deep, deep pockets that didn't care what the costs were if it meant missing a narrow,carefully calculated window.

So what's the difference between union and non-union work? If you're union, when the brutal schedule is over and you're out on the street hustling for the next job, you aren't hunting on-line for an affordable health care policy at the same time. You are covered by health benefits that last six to fifteen months, so that is one iron weight off your back. And you're building pension credits that will insure you aren't dumpster diving in your sunset years.

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Seth MacFarlane Channels Carl Sagan

From Forbes. Cosmos is coming back because:

... MacFarlane is serious, putting his money and his clout with Fox, where his mouth is. Fox plans to air a reboot of the 1980s PBS science show Cosmos, one of the most popular and least hip programs ever made. MacFarlane is also spending his money to help get late Cosmos host Carl Sagan’s substantial collections of letters, notes and drawings into the Library of Congress. “I never met Carl Sagan, but this is my way to give something back to him for all of the things he gave to me,” says MacFarlane.

Fox might seem like a strange network to host a reboot of Cosmos. The show was one of the most popular ever on PBS, but much of its success depended on viewers buying into Sagan’s poetic vision of space as the exhilarating new frontier for exploration. Not exactly the kind of show you’d expect on a network dominated by shows like American Idol and MacFarlane’s naughty cartoons. “It’s not going to be the biggest money earner,” admits Kevin Reilly, head of entertainment at Fox Networks. “But it could have a cultural impact.”

And of course, Fox wants to keep Mr. MacFarlane happy, since his naughty cartoons make the network buckets and buckets of money.
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Help Harry's Haven

Dear Fellow Union Member:

My name is Frank Fassnacht and I am a retired member of Local 695. I currently live at the Motion Picture Home and my wife lives in their Alzheimer's & dementia care unit, Harry's Haven.

I wanted to remind you that I am walking with the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Team Harry's Haven in the San Fernando Valley Walk to End Alzheimer's on June 10th. We are reaching out to various locals to ask for your support and assistance.

There are a few ways you and your members can lend your support:

You can join us for the walk on June 10th in beautiful Woodley Avenue Park in Van Nyus. It is a great chance to get some exercise and support a wonderful cause. And, MPTF is giving a free T-shirt to everyone who comes out to walk with Team Harry's Haven! You can sign up for the walk here:

You can also show you support by donating to Team Harry's Haven -- we are aiming to raise $7,500 by the day of the walk. Follow this link to donate:

All the money we raise goes to the National Alzheimer's Association, an organization that is very close to my heart. My wife and all the other residents of Harry's Haven stand to benefit a great deal from the wonderful work they do.

Please feel free to pass this information on to your members. We would love to have an IA presence at the walk and we need all the support we can get!

Don't hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions.

Thank you for your support!

Frank Fassnacht

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hybrid Trailer

When it's late and my frontal lobes shut down, I either mistake male Cal Arts students for females or ...

... post weird live-action/animation mashups of well-loved super heroes. (Dark Knight Rises soundtrack. Batman, the Animated Series visuals.)

Thank you Ben Price of White Plains, New York.
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At DreamWorks Animation

Today was a Lakeside walk through and the ever-popular 401(k) enrollment. And I ran across a crew member on The Croods who said:

"I thought the picture had some issues a year ago, but they've licked the problems and made things work. We're having a crew screening today at 4:30 so we'll see how it looks."

I observed that Chris Sanders is famous for making lots of tweaks along the way. Also that animated features usually get better as they go (The Black Cauldron being a notable exception.)

Another artist said he wished the picture made more money and cost less. I replied that when you have two big grossers in a year where you've only released two features, that ain't bad.

DWA's next big release is the third installment of Madagascar, this one set in Europe. The prognostication?

... The second quarter for Dreamworks will include the release of Madagascar 3 in the United States, and several other countries. Several analysts asked about the release schedule during the question and answer segment of the conference call. The big worry is that Dreamworks is delaying the release of Madagascar 3 in several European countries due to the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The movie will be released in England and Germany in the fourth quarter, which leads to worries of piracy. ...

Then, of course, comes The Guardians, still in work as we speak. Since it contains Santy Clause and other beloved figures, it's out during the holidays. And with luck, becomes another "tent pole."
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"Why don't we have a roster?"

We get this question from time to time, typically from members who are (understandably) frustrated at the tendency of some studios to hire inexperienced newcomers when veterans are unemployed.

Some union contracts restrict hiring of inexperienced workers, others don’t. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, however, no union contract can require an employer to hire a union member in preference to a non-union member. That’s been illegal since 1947.

The Animation Guild, like SAG, the Writers Guild and some other IA locals, has no roster from which employees are supposed to be hired. TAG has a seniority clause in its contract, but that clause gives employers leeway in their hiring practices. Other IATSE unions have rosters from which employers hiring in union-represented categories are supposed to give preference for hiring.

The Animation Guild has never had a roster system. When Local 839 was founded in 1952, the original contract didn’t have one, most likely because the Screen Cartoonists Guild, TAG’s rival at the time, also had no roster. A roster has to be set up with the agreement of the employer to hire from it; otherwise it gives no protection to members. At worst, history has shown that in some unions the roster can be a source of corruption, when the union officers who run the roster arbitrarily exercise the power to determine whether a member will be allowed to work or not.

The IATSE rosters are honestly run and, as they now exist, are far more open than they were twenty-plus years ago. At that time, rules were stringent for getting on union rosters, and a large non-union workforce that didn’t qualify for roster placement developed.

By the late 1980s, the numbers of disaffected “off roster” film workers became almost overwhelming. And movie production companies were happy to use them because they were less expensive. The non-union workers disliked the IA for locking them out of union work in the first place ... and were therefore almost impossible to organize. By 1990, over 40% of movie production work was non-union. And IA unions with rosters were forced to relax their rules for entry in order to survive.

So this “keep the newcomers out” thing has its downside. Younger workers are going to get into the business, union or non-union, roster or no roster. For any union to try to keep them out is not only impossible but self-defeating, since those workers will someday be the members that we rely on to keep our unions alive and thriving.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Crayon Dragon

As we were saying, Cal Arts' animation department isn't a male* bastion the way it used to be. For instance:

Toniko Pantoja created the short directly above as her his second-year project. As Toniko says:

"A girl is commissioned to paint over an old concrete illustration, in which to her surprise, sinks into. She befriends a painted dragon who has a wing missing."

(Find Toniko's blog here.)

* Ha. Toniko Pantoja is male, now that I dig more deeply. My mistake, for which apologies.
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TAG 401(k) Factoids

I spent most of today in TAG 401(k) Trustee meetings. Some of the bullet points about what I learned:

TAG 401(k) Plan

Assets -- $153,476,900
Participants -- 2,275
Average Account Balance -- $67,462

Age breakdown of Plan participants:
21-30 yrs = 90
30-39 yrs = 548
40-49 yrs = 969
50-59 yrs = 527
60+ yrs = 141.

When people get into their 30s, and particularly their 40s, the idea that they'd better build up assets for old age starts to take hold. Twenty-somethings? They seldom have much interest in building nest eggs, as can be seen above. (Makes sense, I suppose. Many of them are single and retirement seems light years away.)

Then marriage comes along, followed by children, and suddenly the idea of saving takes on a higher priority. Happened that way for me, sadly. I only wish I had been smarter, sooner. Would have made a difference in my bank account.
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Jeffrey K. Steps Up

Regular readers of this web-based journal are familiar with the political grenades our most prolific author can throw. In his lobbing of discussion bombs, he regularly points out that conservative forces have been long at work eroding the very tenants of President Rosevelt's Second New Deal porgrams.

In what can be called the latest effort to beat back those forces, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of signator studio DreamWorks Animation, has donated $2 Million to the superPAC supporting the re-election of President Obama.

Congratulations and thanks are due to Mr. Katzenberg. While his representatives in negotiations certainly weren't the pro-labor liberal advocates Jeffrey has shown himself to be, we respect his on-going commitment to liberal politics as well as his support of President Obama.
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Ten Investment Commandments

I'm wrapping up the springtime 401(k) enrollment meetings this week, so here is one more post about salting money away for retirement.

I get asked from time to time, "What's the best way to invest?" My short answer is "keep costs low and diversify. The longer answer (which is only slightly more complex,) is:

1 Develop a workable plan
2 Invest early and often
3 Never bear too much or too little risk
4 Diversify
5 Never try to time the market
6 Use index funds when possible
7 Keep Costs Low
8 Minimize taxes
9 Invest with simplicity
10 Stay the course

All of the above sounds simple in concept, and it is. (The dirty little secret about long-term investing is, it's really not complicated. Despite what commissioned financial advisors tell you.)

What's tough is actually doing it over long periods of time and sticking with the plan. Most people chase the hot market segment of the moment. Or pull money out of under-performing investments at exactly the wrong time (usually the market bottom.) Or never put money into long-term investments in the first place.

The other secret is: The earlier you start putting money into 401(k)s, IRA accounts and investment accounts, the easier you'll breathe when you hit sixty and realize you have a cushion to see you through retirement. Sadly, many aren't starting at all:

... About 49% of Americans say they aren't contributing to any retirement plan, according to a new survey conducted by LIMRA, a trade association for the financial services industry.

"The findings from this survey were disturbing, given that people will increasingly need to rely on their personal savings to make ends meet in retirement," said Matthew Drinkwater, associate managing director at LIMRA's retirement research division.

If you missed an early start, you can still climb on board now and tuck something away. If you're over fifty, the Feds allow you to save up to $22,500 per year in a 401(k) account, and you can also fund a ROTH IRA with after-tax dollars that will earn interest and income tax free.

And if you're one of those animation professionals who finds work, then gets laid off four months later, then finds work again, you can still put away 2% of your paycheck into a 401(k). It might not be a lot, but it's the equivalent of a couple of lunches ... and saving something is better than saving nothing.

Hulett's Last 401(k) Meetings

DreamWorks Animation -- Tues., May 15th, 2 p.m. Dining Rms B & C

Cartoon Network -- Wed. May 16th, 1 p.m., Main conference rm

DWA (Ventura Blvd. "How to Train Your Dragon") -- Thurs. May 17th, 10:30 p.m.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Talking the Remake

Tim Burton discusses breathing new life into an old property:

On Corpse Bride, our puppets were so sophisticated that people thought they were [animated] in the computer. It sort of undermined the beauty of the stop-motion technique. So, with Frankenweenie, we have a smaller budget and decided that the puppets are going to have to be a bit cruder. But that’s okay, because that’s part of the charm of stop-motion. I wouldn’t go back to the original King Kong and smooth down the fur. ...

I remember when Tim was making the original FW back in the early eighties.

He was generally seen as a big talent by the younger artists inside Disney's feature animation department, but a frustrated talent. He did some very Burtonesque designs for The Black Cauldron. The Cauldron's producer raved about them ... and then didn't use them, as many of the Disney old guard through they were way further out than the studio should go.

Tom Wilhite, the head of production before Ron Miller was overthrown and Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg rode into town, championed Tim's work, but there was a lot of bureaucratic opposition inside the animation department. Tim made Vincent, some low-budget films for the brand-new Disney Channel, and lastly Frankenweenie. When it was completed, Disney didn't know what to do with it and Mr. Burton moved on to bigger, more satisfying projects.

Tim has always been smart ... and talented. But I always thought the "weird kid on the block" persona that he liked to display was a bit of a pose. He had an office across from mine for a few months, and weird he was not. Focused and smart was more like it.

But Hollywood's about marketing first, last, and always. Tim was a good marketer.

(Rick Heinrichs, the production designer of "Frankenweenie" talks about the pic's art direction here.)
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IATSE Focuses on Visual Effects

FXguide talks to rep Peter Marley about the challenges of organizing visual effects artists:

The IA announced their intention to organize visual effects artists in an open letter to the Visual Effects Society on November 11, 2010, but until now have refused all requests for interviews and did not even have a web site.

In this exclusive interview with fxguide Peter Marley, International Representative for the IA discusses why the IA feels the time is right for a Visual Effects Guild. We discuss portable benefits, pension, residuals, the process of organizing and take a look at efforts going on now to organize. ...

Digital visual effects is a huge and growing part of live-action features.

The old analog variety of viz effx -- models and mattes, film-on-film process shots, hanging miniatures -- was often used sparingly because of the clunky (and limited) technology. But the people who did that type of work were mostly unionized.

Not so today. Now that the sky's the limit, most everybody is working without benefit of collective bargaining agreement. And so the IA kicks up its efforts to provide visual effects employees with contractual rights and a seamless cloak of benefits.
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The Foreign Horse Race

... offers few surprises. Superheroes rule, and Tim Burton's latest has to settle for No. 2:

The Avengers played like a vacuum cleaner on the foreign theatrical circuit for the third consecutive round, sucking up a weekend tally of $95.4 million from 54 territories ... [Dark Shadows], the eighth collaboration of Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton, drew 93% of what 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the fourth Depp-Burton combination) grossed in the same markets at “the same point in release” ...

Sony’s animation title The Pirates! Band of Misfits played at 3,328 venues in 50 markets and drew $2.2 million. Offshore cume stands at $74.5 million. ... DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s Puss in Boots, $405.5 million ...
Puss now has a worldwide total of $554,130,561, the bulk of the booty from overseas.
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