Thursday, September 27, 2012

Collateral Damage

So the visual effects part of Digital Domain gets salvaged, but what about the animation division?

... Directors and producers Chuck Williams and Aaron Blaise, still “devastated” by the sudden shutdown of the new animated feature studio, have put in a bid on rights to “The Legend of Tembo,” the animated feature that was to have made Digital Domain’s name. ...

“We want to make our movie,” Williams said. “One-hundred-twenty people worked on it for two years. Early tests showed it was fabulous—Disney quality, just like we promised.”

... FTI’s Michael Katzenstein portrayed Digital Domain’s foray into the business of producing animated films as the very expensive and elaborate folly ...

“Tembo,” he complained, absorbed $13 million of the company’s money, helping to trigger financial and human tragedy.

Williams and Blaise disagree. Special effects is a thin-margin service business, they say. The real money is in animated features, with nine out of 10 that get wide release in the U.S. turning a profit. ...

I don't know how much of what Mr. Williams and Mr. Blaise tell us is the gospel truth, but if you're going to launch a feature animation studio, it's good to have ...

1) A story to develop. Something with marketable characters and "hooks."

2) A story crew that knows what it's doing.

3) Multiple projects lined up behind the first one so your knowledgeable story crew has things to work on after the first one, so you don't have to lay talented staff off.

4) Enough money in the hopper to see you through production and distribution. (Illumination Entertainment did this; Imagi did not.)

Many believe the above to be easy. It's not, but it is doable with the right mix of talent. You have to know what you're shooting for and have the ability to hit the inside rings of the target. There is also an element of luck involved. You make the third or fourth penguin movie to hit the silver screen (Surfs Up), and you might have problems at the box office, no matter how good your penguin movie is.

Williams and Blaise are right that animated features can make the company that creates a good one a lot of money. But that company has got to have steely nerves and patience. Also deep pockets. Because it's easy to fall off the high wire, and the fall can be a long one.


Diablo said...

Does 1.5 mill sound like a freakishly high "Completion Fee" to anybody else, or is it just me?? pffft,'completion fee'..."Im-a-greedy-bastard" fee is what it should be called!


Floyd Norman said...

The game will continue. Feature film making remains a very effective way to steal money.

David said...

As I understand it FTI’s Michael Katzenstein didn't get his $1.5 million "completion fee/bonus" unless he shut down the animation studio , so he made no attempt to salvage the situation there. Again, notice the old reliable "animation is too expensive and risky" is trotted out to justify his actions, as though the $13 million spent so far on "Tembo" is what sunk DD and not the other highly risky actions of Textor and others at the top level of DD.

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