Wednesday, October 31, 2012

MPI Health Plan Premiums starting Jan. 2013

MPI Participants will soon be receiving notification by mail of the impending Premium charges that will be due January 1st of 2013. A meeting of Business Agents held at the IATSE's West Coast office yesterday focused on the introduction of the Health Plan premiums in fine detail.

For your reference and records, here is a copy of the presentation that was given. Please download it and save it for your review.

Premiums will be charged for any MPI participants who are interested in adding eligible dependents to their MPI Health Plan participation. These charges will be assessed monthly and charged quarterly. The charges are broken down in the chart below:

Premium notification invoices will be sent to participants approximately 30 days prior to the start of the next eligibility period (the Due Date). Those invoices will list the amount of hours worked in the last eligibility period, the hours listed in the participants Bank of Hours and which dependents were covered in the last eligibility period. Finally, there is a section to choose which dependents will continue to be covered by the MPI Health Plan in the next period which means dependents can be dropped or added as needed.

Here is an example of the MPI Premium Invoice.

The premium payment will be due on the first day of the following Eligibility Period. Participants will have an initial 15 day grace period to make their premium payments before the dependents are dropped from the plan. Dependents whose MPI coverage ended due to non-payment can not be re-enrolled until the beginning of the following Eligibility Period. There are a few exceptions to this rule.

During the first months of 2013, there will be some proration of the premium costs based on participants whose coverage overlaps the beginning of the premiums to the plan. For example, a participant whose eligibility period runs from September 1, 2012 to February 28, 2013 will be charged two months of premiums on January 1, 2013.

Married or Same-Sex Domestic Partner participants who currently enjoy dual coverage will each have to pay the applicable premium in order to continue to receive dual coverage for themselves and eligible dependent children. If only one participant pays the applicable premium charges, the other participant will have dual coverage and the paying participant and children will have "primary" coverage only.

For further explanation, please review this copy of the letter that will be sent to participants today. Feel free to call the Guild or email Steve Kaplan with any specific questions regarding you may have regarding these charges.

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2012 CTN Animation Expo - In Two Weeks!

This year's CTN Animation Expo is just two weeks away! Representatives from TAG will be on the exhibition floor again this year for all three animation-centric days. We're looking forward to interacting with all the animation enthusiasts who attend this special event.

We'll be at table T-80, which is right in the middle of the action. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

*click for larger image

See you there!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Katzenberg and Daly continue at DWA

Hollywood Reporter brings news that Jeffrey K. and Ann Daly will remain working in Glendale:

Jeffrey Katzenberg has reached a contract extension with DreamWorks Animation, where his term as CEO will now run through 2017. Ann Daly’s term as COO has also been extended through 2017.

Katzenberg, who had been receiving $1 million per year, will receive an annual base salary of $2.5 million under the new agreement and will be eligible for annual cash bonuses of $4 million. He will also be eligible for long-term equity incentives of $4.5 million, reduced from $8 million under his previous agreement.

Daly’s annual base salary is being increased from $1.012 million to $1.5 million, and she will be eligible for annual cash bonuses of $750,000 in 2012, increasing to $1.5 million in 2013. Additionally, she will be eligible for long-term equity incentives of $3.5 million annually, up from $2.5 million under her previous agreement.

No arguing that Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Daly work hard for their money. DreamWorks Animation continues to be a leader in the feature animation business despite not being wholly owned by one of our fine entertainment congloms. Navigating the choppy waters of the entertainment business can't be an easy task and Katzenberg and Daly successfully do so with clockwork regularity.

Our congratulations to both! We look forward to continuing to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

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Disney acquires Lucasfilm

The Los Angeles Times has the big news:

Walt Disney Co. has agreed to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in a surprise deal that gives the media giant control of the "Star Wars" franchise.

Along with the purchase, Disney announced that it plans to release a seventh live-action "Star Wars" movie in 2015.

In addition to "Star Wars," Disney's purchase of San Francisco-based Lucasfilm will give it ownership of special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic, sound company Skywalker Sound and video game publisher LucasArts.

When George Lucas announced his retirement in June, he named Kathleen Kennedy as his successor. Kennedy will now be president of the Lucasfilm unit of Disney, reporting to WDS chairman Alan Horn.

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Halloween Axe Cop

As we mentioned a few months ago, Fox has launched a rival to the successful Adult Swim programming they're calling Animation Domination HD (or ADHD).

In our previous post, we mentioned a storyboard test for the show Axe Cop. A Halloween clip from the show has made it way to the internet:

As Mr. Hulett commented earlier, more animation on TV is always a good thing. We wish Fox continued success with animated television.

We also wish to remind those toiling on oppressive storyboard tests and non-union animated shows that they have the option and legal right to seek the same benefits they receive while working under a union contract.

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MPI Pension Asset Allocations

Included with the previously mentioned Pension Statement is a chart that shows the breakdown of current investments in the MPI Pension plans. The chart delineates the investments by percentage in each asset class as well as well as where each asset class ended up at the end of the year.

The plan managers have kept the over $6 billion in assets conservatively invested through 2011. Fixed Income (ie. Bonds) and Alternative Instruments outweigh Equity (ie. Stocks) investments. Inside the Equity class, investments in Global equities equaled domestic in the Defined Benefit but were far outweighed by Domestic in the Individual Account Plan.

The plan administrators have successfully steered the pension investments to see gains of between 6 to 9% over the last decade or more with this strategy. We look forward to continued success with their direction.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

"Pigeon show" by Bill Thinnes, opens Friday @ Gallery 839

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MPI Pension Statements

*Click image for a larger view*
By now, you should have received your annual statement from the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan for the 2011 calendar year. In this post, I'll go over the parts of the statement to help better understand where your MPI Pension account balances are. I'll use my statement as an example. (I have the privilege of participating in MPI as a non-affiliate member because of my employment with the Guild)

If you have not received your statement, there's a good chance that MPI does not have your current address. Take this opportunity to contact them or just fill out and return a copy of their Change of Address form. Remember, MPI only communicates via US Post and does not actively seek out participants once they've changed addresses. Its important that participants keep MPI updated with their current mailing address.

Defined Benefit

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These statements have three parts which you should review for accuracy and edification. The first part, pictured above, is the Defined Benefit statement. In that portion, the 2010 balance is added to the new 2011 accruals. The figure at the bottom right (Accrued Benefit, Totals) is the monthly total that would be received if you were to retire at the time the statement was printed.

There is a column called Employee Contributions which most likely lists $0.00. Employee contributions to the Defined Benefit plan were restricted to unclaimed vacation and holiday pay in late 1990. Typically, studios will try to pay that to participants directly.

Also of note is the Vesting Statement that shows that I am currently not vested in the Defined Benefit as I've only been credited with two qualified years. This is shown in bold font on grey background at the bottom of the Defined Benefit portion.

Individual Account Plan

*Click image for a larger view*
The next portion is the Individual Account Plan statement. The 2010 IAP balance is shown in bold on grey at the top of this portion. It is followed by:
  • Prior year adjustments
  • The 2011 plan income earned through the plan investments
  • The 2011 plan income earned through the hourly contribution portion of the IAP funding
  • The 2011 plan income earned through the '6% of contracted wage minimum by job category' portion of the IAP

There are contributions listed called Redistributed Plan Forfetures in both the Hourly Contribution and % of Salary Contribution sections. This money is the portion allocated to active participants that was forfeited by MPI Pension participants that did not complete a qualified year.

This portion is completed with the 2011 IAP balance in bold type on a grey background.

Reported Hours

*Click image for a larger view*
This section will list the reported worked hours for the 2011 year (December 26, 2010 to December 24, 2011). Its important that you review this section for accuracy as best you can. Your pension benefits are calculated based on the number of hours reported by your employers.

If you feel there is a discrepancy in the number of hours reported by your employer, you will need to contact the employer to discuss the matter. They have the ability to report hours for your 2011 year late which will be reflected on your 2012 statement.

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Foreign Box Office Highlights

Animated features continue successful runs in far away lands:

Debuts in Spain, Germany, the Ukraine, Austria, German-speaking Switzerland and in the Middle East powered Sony Animation’s Hotel Transylvania -- a comedy voiced by Adam Sandler and Kevin James about a boy who discovers Dracula is real -- to an $18.1 million fourth week of foreign release at 5,550 sites in 50 markets and pushing the title’s foreign gross total to $68.8 million. The Spain opening provided $3.6 million at 623 spots.

Over 21 rounds on the foreign theatrical circuit, DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is breathing hard on the half-billion gross mark ($495.7 million). The weekend provided the Paramount release with $8.4 million drawn from 2,153 situations in 28 countries. Second weekend action in the U.K. dipped just 20% to $4.7 million from some 540 sites, taking the No. 2 market spot.

Disney’s Frankenweenie, director Tim Burton’s comedy animation with horror overtones, drew $3.5 million in its second round overseas playing in 27 territories, raising its foreign cume to $17.7 million. Director Oliver Stone’s Savages opened No. 2 in Italy ($1.2 million at 308 sites), and drew $3 million on the weekend overall at 1,400 dates in 35 markets. Overseas cume stands at $26.8 million.

A packed Sunday schedule with family bring this post a day later than normal. Apologies to those who waited with bated breath.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

October's Final Weekend B.O. Tally

Only one animated feature left on the Top-Ten this week:
1. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 2,855] R
Friday $3.8M (-25%), Weekend $12.0M, Cume $60.4M

2. Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (Open Road) New [Runs 2,933] R
Friday $3.7M, Weekend $9.0M, Cume $10.4M

3. Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros) Warner Bros NEW [Runs 2,008] R
Friday $3.4M, Weekend $9.5M

4. Paranormal Activity 4 (Paramount) Week 2 [Runs 3,412] R
Friday $3.3M (-78%), Weekend $9.1M, Cume $43.4M

5. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 4 [Runs 2,995] PG13
Friday $2.7M, Weekend $8.8M, Cume $118.0M

6. Hotel Transylvania (Sony Animation) Week 5 [Runs 3,276] PG
Friday $2.3M, Weekend $9.0M, Cume $130.0M

7. Sinister (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 3 [Runs 2,347] R
Friday $1.7M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $39.4M

8. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,491] PG
Friday $1.6M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $30.6M

9. Alex Cross (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 2 [Runs 2,541] PG13
Friday $1.6M (-60%), Weekend $5.0M, Cume $19.3M

10. Fun Size (Paramount) NEW [Runs 3,014] PG13
Friday $1.5M, Weekend $4.0M

However, with Disney's latest release hitting cineplexes next week, we predict more change.

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Help Camp Ronald McDonald on Dec. 8

Click image for full-sized version
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Genndy's Latest Animation

We've posted several times about Genndy Tartakovsky's latest feature and the success its been enjoying. Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew shared what Genndy's been doing since the release of the film:

If you’ve been wondering what Genndy Tartakovsky’s been doing this past summer besides hitting the road to promote Hotel Transylvania and prepping to direct a CG Popeye – wonder no longer. Tartakovsky wrote, directed and animated himself a brand new hand-drawn HT companion short entitled Goodnight Mr. Foot – in all of four weeks.

And now the short is getting an exclusive theatrical run starting tomorrow in Regal theaters nationwide before showings of Hotel Trasnsylvania, as a special Halloween treat for Holiday audiences.

Genndy has been quite a busy man since his gloried union days at Hasbro, Warner Bros and Cartoon Network. We hope his efforts continue to be successful and look forward to enjoying his handiwork in front of his feature directorial work soon.

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The Gary Trousdale Interview -- Part III

TAG Interview with Gary Trousdale
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

After Beauty and the Beast, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise became a Disney directing team through the rest of the 1990s ...

After Atlantis: the Lost Empire (released by Disney in 2001), Gary moved to DreamWorks Animation where he has written, directed, and storyboarded ever since.

He is today at work on animated short that is scheduled for release next year.
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Gary Trousdale Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Gary Trousdale
Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Gary Trousdale expected to be laid off from the House of Mouse at the end of The Black Cauldron, but a series of in-house effects jobs kept him at Disney until his jokey cartoons ... and a recommendation from Joe Ranft ... helped boost him into Disney Feature Animation's story department ...

Becoming a feature animation director was another promotion that was far from pre-ordained. Gary and Kirk Wise were made "temporary" directors on Beauty and the Beast after the original directors left the project. It was only after months of work that they became "official," and the rest, as they say, is animation history.

Gary talks about all these things and more in Part II of the interview.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Slate: Still a Boys' Club

Brenda Chapman's recent post gets amplified a bit in Slate Magazine:

... Chapman's story is a striking counterpoint to the conventional Hollywood wisdom that a raunchy environment is a necessary condition for strong creative work. When Amaani Lyle, an assistant to the writers' room on Friends, sued Warner Bros. over alleged sexual harassment on the job, the defendants successfully argued that crude conversations about sex and women's bodies were a critical part of the creative process. ...

And when Chapman finally got a chance to break out of that mold, to tell a story that ended with a girl delaying the prospect of marriage, she ultimately ended up ceding control of her own story. Brave was Chapman's idea, and she was set to direct it, an appointment that would have made her another first—Pixar has never had one of its feature films directed by a woman. But she was ultimately replaced by her Pixar coworker Mark Andrews, who got to helm the story of Merida, the Scottish princess who works her way out of an arranged marriage. Women, it seems, may change the way men think about fairy tales. But men still get to be in charge of the final draft.

As I've related before, a Pixar board artist who worked on Brave for two-plus years told me the released feature was close to what Brenda had been doing before she was replaced. Same story and characters, if not as dark.

News flash: Hollywood, like much of American society, is male dominated. The chauvinism might not be quite as rampant as in, say, 1940, but it's still there. And animation is part of Hollywood, so it isn't radically less influened by men.

In 1970, 45% of TAG membership was female, but that was in the era of ink-and-paint, which was comprised almost totally of women. Today, there is no ink-and-paint departments, digital or otherwise. The work, such as it is, is offshore.

Women in the rest of the business? Animation? Story and writing? Design? Tech? In 2012 women make up 17%* of the Animation Guild.

Draw your own conclusions.

* Women make up 50% of the Cal Arts animation department.

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The Gary Trousdale Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Gary Trousdale

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Gary Trousdale is a Southern Californian, raised in La Crescenta and educated at Crescenta Valley High School, Glendale College, and the California Institute of the Arts (in that order.)

One would think that the road between Cal Arts and helming the iconic Disney feature Beauty and the Beast would be wide, smooth and straight, but one would be wrong ...

Gary didn't get into Disney until he had worked at Tom Carter Animation and a small illustration studio for the better part of two years. As he describes it, the Mouse House wasn't pre-disposed to hire him straight out of CA, and so he learned his trade in smaller, lower-paying venues.

When Mr. Trousdale finally did find his way to Disney, it was as an effects artist on The Black Cauldron, and even then his path was winding. Gary details all the above and more in Part I of the latest TAG interview ...
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guardians Honored

The gold statues rain down.

The animated film "Rise of the Guardians" was honored with the Hollywood Animation Award at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Awards Gala presented by The Los Angeles Times held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. ...

But ... what the hell are "The Hollywood Film Awards?"

The Hollywood Awards® honors excellence in the established Hollywood community by bestowing the Hollywood Awards® to both in front and behind the camera established talent. ...

Shouldn't, like, the feature be out before it's given an award? Or is that too twentieth century? After all, "film" is giving way to "digital." There aren't many processing labs left, and next year, Fox is reputed to be getting away from film reels altogether.
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Games Get The Sharp Blade Too

The cold reality of the short-term gig rears its head in the gaming side of the business.

Today is not a great day for many Zynga employees. The social gaming studio has confirmed to Gamasutra that its Austin, Texas-based studio may have closed, with more than 100 staffers losing their jobs in the process.

It is also believed that the company's Chicago and Cambridge branches may have been affected. ...

The announcement of the downsizing came during Apple's much-publicized press event, during which the technology giant announced the long-rumored iPad mini, among other things. ...

There's some question about how deep (and precisely when the cuts will be, but you understand this trend-line, don't you? Short term gigs are now the rule more often than not.

Walt Disney Animation Studios hires and lays off employees as needed. Wreck-it Ralph, ends, and out the door. "If we need you for Frozen we'll call you."

Rhythm and Hues, long a bastion of stability, lays off staff in L.A. and hires staff overseas. Sony Pictures Imageworks downsizes in Culver City and super sizes in Vancouver, B.C. ... until the tax rebates run out.

Last month an angry digital compositor came into my office. He had landed a job at the Louisiana outpost of a Los Angeles effects house, and a month after arriving they laid him off, despite the extra weeks indicated on his deal memo. (It was non-binding, of course.) The guy was out of money, mostly out of hope, and asked if there was a lawsuit he could file against the company. I checked with the union lawyer (we had no contract or jurisdiction, so I was just being a Dutch uncle offering advice) and told him that his prospects were bleak. He didn't have a long tenure on the line, and language in his company employment agreement wasn't strong, so the best he could probably do was file a complaint with the California labor commissioner -- who probably didn't have much pull with the company's Louisiana subsidiary in the first place.

This is the way business goes in the 21st century: lots of leverage on the corporate side, minimal leverage for the employee. If you're one of those lucky duckies who lands in the right corporate structure at the right time with the right skill sets, you're in like Flynn. But if you're some poor schlump who works hard but is always a half-hour late to the party, expect to get hired at crunch time and cut loose the minute the last shot get okayed by the producer and director.

That's the way the fates roll in the second decade of the new millennium. Either get used to it, or train yourself to push back.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Pink Slip Time in London

As usual, the company keeps lips sealed about how many artists and tech directors will be slipped the axe.

Double Negative Visual Effects, which provided effects for Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises, confirmed they were getting rid of staff, but refused to reveal the exact number. They said the cuts were due to “a lack of projects”.

The Oscar-winning studio has two London offices, one in Mortimer Street and another in Shaftesbury Avenue, and had employed 1,000 workers until today’s news ...

None of this should be a big surprise.

As talent pools grow wider and deeper, our fine entertainment conglomerates have more visual effects subcontractors to choose from. Also more price points. They're happy to exercise their choices.

And for too many effects employees job chasing, along with shorter employment tenures, have (too often) become the name of the game.
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Goats and Darlings

One feature flies as others sputter.

While "Hotel Transylvania" has become an unlikely hit ($187 million worldwide box office), the Focus Features-distributed "ParaNorman" hasn't done as well as the previous film from Laika Entertainment, "Coraline." The critics loved its dark and semi-scary tone, but since opening on August 17, "ParaNorman" has brought in $55 million domestically and $91 million worldwide. Its budget was unavailable.

[And] Disney and Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" has turned into a bit of a box-office pumpkin, despite being a critical favorite. ...

This isn't quite as amazing as The Wrap thinks. BeCAUSE:

1) Stop motion animation has never performed at the same level as its CGI cousin.

2) "Dark" movies are seldom the box office winners that zany comedies are. And black-and-white movies are pretty much non-starters.

3) Never under-estimate the power of Adam Sandler (in the right vehicle.)

4) Always respect Genddy Tartakovsky's command over the animated cartoon. (He has an amazing track record.)

5) Sony Pictures Animation was due for an out-sized hit.
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Where Cartoons Are Going

This sounds about right.

... We're in this sort of period of transition into a digital world. ...

People are going to pay for what they watch by the inch. ... [E]verything will become available within a very short window after that theatrical experience. ... Take a movie like Madagascar 3. About 150 million people pay us [DreamWorks Animation] about $10 from beginning to end on the movie. Some people go to the movie theater, some buy a DVD, some get it from HBO, some from Netflix, some from Redbox. But you sort of take it through the whole course, whole life of the movie, (it) is about 150 million people, and it's about $10, on an average.

Ten years from now, two and a half billion people are going to pay us, on average, $1.50. ...

I think Katzenberg has his finger on where media is going (assuming our fine entertainment conglomerates can keep the pirates at bay.)

Everybody will choose the platform for how they want to watch movies or tv shows or vintage shorts. Even now, fewer and fewer people watch product as broadcast or cable networks roll them out. They DVR the entertainment. They download it from the cloud. Or go watch it on YouTube at a time of their choosing.

Teenagers and twenty-somethings multi-task viewing experiences, working the smart phone as they watch a Netflix download on the wall-mounted flat-screen. Production companies are all-too-aware that DVDs and Blu-Rays are melting away, that capturing dollars from the internet is where things are going.

When you sit in entertainment industry contract talks, you realize that the Big Four congloms don't have a strong grip on how the various cash flows are going to work out. Are cable networks wobbly? Will anyone be buying the little silver disks five years from now? The companies are insecure and nervous about it, and they do their level best to leverage that insecurity into gains at the bargaining table.

But the changes in the media landscape are real, and Jeffrey Katzenberg is as aware of the new realities as anybody.
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Global Competition

Below, the English-language trailer for a new Indian animated feature.

Kamlu ...Happy Happy, a 3D CGI Hollywood-Bollywood co-production directed by Govind Nihalani that will be released on November 2? In India, anyway, in Hindi. Produced by Krayon Pictures, the same studio that made Delhi Safari, in fact.

This English-language trailer shows it to be a children’s fantasy about a young talking camel who wants to fly, who gets mixed up with a human princess, an enigmatic magician, lots of villains, and so on. Will it play in America? I’m sure the Bollywood producers hope so.

The question before the jury: How will this feature perform in the global marketplace?

Based on the trailer, I think Krayon Pictures has a steep hill to climb competing against the likes of Blue Sky, Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar. But we've seen this playbook before. In the nineties, there were the high-grossing animated features out of the States, and there was every other company on the globe, trying to catch up and failing.

It's not a question of doing your animated movie inexpensively. Because a low budget isn't going to help you much if nobody comes to see your product. A picture can be inexpensive and good, or expensive and good, but what it can't be in inexpensive and lousy.

Audiences aren't interested in the cost, you see, but the final result.
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Overseas Derby in Falltime

Live action features come and go, but it appears that their animated cousins go on forevah.

DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted [drew] a sinewy $9.6 million from 519 U.K. venues. The weekend overall at 2,236 locations in 28 countries provided distributor Paramount $14.9 million, lifting the animation title’s foreign cume to $482.9 million. ...

Hotel Transylvania launched No. 1 in Russia with $5 million elicited from 797 situations. The weekend overall pulled $14.5 million from 4,510 locations in 38 markets, lifting the animation title’s foreign gross total to $68.3 million. ...

Ted pushed its international gross total to $262.6 million (with three territories still to play including India this week) ... [Frankenweenie] drew $4.1 million in its second round overseas playing in 19 territories, raising its foreign cume to $11.9 million. ...

Fox’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, $710.2 million ...

And a quick overview of worldwide grosses brings us:

Global Accumulations

Brave -- $531,521,000 (foreign = 55.8%)
Frankenweenie -- $40,243,000 (foreign = 29.6%)
Hotel Transylvania -- $187,300,000 (foreign = 36.5%)
Ice Age -- $867,095,000 (foreign = 81.5%)
Madagascar 3 -- $699,282,258 (foreign = 69.1%)
Ted -- $481,229,800 (foreign = 54.6%)

Cooking right along.
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hiring Preferences

Per Ms. Chapman:

... I was hired because I was a woman.

I’m not making assumptions. I was simply told that by the executive at Disney Animation with the cold blue eyes who sat behind his desk. It was 1987. They were getting some flack because they didn’t have enough women in creative positions–especially their story department – their current count: 0.

“We need a woman. And you’re the right price.” His exact words – I kid you not. ...

It's good to be in the right place at the right time with the right skill sets. But Brenda has talent in abundance, so it's not surprising that the Mouse gave her the nod.

Funny thing, but when a twenty-something punk I knew got hired into the Disney Feature training program eleven years prior to Brenda Chapman, there was another story trainee, a young woman, who got hired at the same time.

But after three months of writing never-to-be-used story treatments and scripts (and sweating bullets) the woman was let go and the punk retained. A few weeks later, story artist Pete Young told the punk:

I'm kind of sorry they kept you, Hulett. That girl had a spark that I liked. ...

Right place. Right time. I wouldn't have lasted in 1987. I would very likely never have been hired in the first place.
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October Box Office Gallop

Two animated features hang onto their Top Ten rankings, one more strongly than the other.

1. Paranormal Activity 4 (Paramount) NEW [3,412 Runs] R Friday $15.0M, Weekend $34.0M

2. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,247 Runs] R Friday $5.5M (-8%), Weekend $19.0M, Cume $45.5M

3. Alex Cross (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [2,539 Runs] PG13 Friday $4.5M, Weekend $13.0M

4. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 3 [3,489 Runs] PG13 Friday $4.3M, Weekend $13.5M, Cume $106.1M

5. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) Week 4 [3,384 Runs] PG Friday $3.8M, Weekend $15.5M, Cume $123.0M

6. Sinister (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 2 [2,542 Runs] R Friday $3.1M (-58%), Weekend $8.7M, Cume $31.6M

7. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) Week 2 [3,014 Runs] PG Friday $2.8M (-22%), Weekend $9.5M, Cume $24.2M

8. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 4 [2,660 Runs] PG13 Friday $2.3M, Weekend $7.0M, Cume $45.8M

9. Frankenweenie (Disney) Week 3 [2,362 Runs] PG Friday $1.4M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $29.4M

10. Looper (FilmDistrict/Sony) Week 4 [2,223 Runs] R Friday $1.2M, Weekend $4.2M, Cume $57.8M

Wreck=It Ralph, the next major animated release, will roll onto the scene November 2. Expect HT to take a hit at that time.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

New Woman at Pixar

Brenda's gone, but Marti's* arriving.

Today at the Austin Film Festival during a panel on Pixar (and writing), Mary Coleman, a senior development executive at the company, announced that Marti Noxon, a former writer for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Mad Men,” had joined the company on an unspecified project. This is a major development for the notoriously close-knit company, and should at least calm the jangled nerves of animation fans who were surprised and upset by a recent high-profile dismissal. ...

The hiring of Noxon, a true creative visionary who is able to oscillate between fantastical material like ‘Buffy’ and more grounded hour-longs like “Grey’s Anatomy,” should, at least temporarily, shutter the outcry against Pixar’s detractors about the studio’s supposed glass ceiling ...

Now, the question I have is: Will Marti (and perhaps others?) be signing representation cards for the WGAw?

* Sloppiness is its own punishment. This should have been Marti from the beginning, and not "Mary" as is noted below.
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Contract Ratification

Not the TAG 839 agreement, that was ratified by the guild membership a month and a half ago. We're talking here about the Disney-IA "TSL" agreement.

The TSL contract covers animation employees at Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disney Toon Studios. It's been in existence for a dozen years and mirrors the regular Animation Guild collective bargaining agreement. (The biggest single difference between the TSL agreement -- "The Secret Lab" -- and Animation Guild contract is the TSL agreement has fewer job categories, therefore fewer wage rates.)

Today's contract vote was conducted on site at WDAS and DTS. (9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon at Diz Animation; 2:00-4:00 p.m. at Toon.) No mail ballots, just ballots and information sheets, then a stroll down the hall to mark your sheet of paper and drop it in the white box with the slot on top.

Democratic Unionism! ...

Doing the vote on site garnered a higher participation rate than the mail-in version we did for the 839 contract in August. (That one had a particpation rate of 24%.)

The percentage totals, however, were almost exactly what they were for the 839 agreement.

Disney-IA TSL Agreement

Yes -- 87%

No -- 13%

Congratulations to the employees of Disney, also congrats to the IATSE and the Mouse for doing a deal that got such a positive reception.
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... and where are those members working?

Yesterday we showed you our progress to the point where we're at. Today we show you where the 2,741 employed members are working. (Click on the chart for a larger image.)

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thank God! Superman is Safe!

Late to the party with this:

In a crucial legal victory for [Warner Bros.], a federal judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday denied an effort by the heirs of Superman co-creator Joseph Shuster to reclaim their 50% interest in the world’s most famous superhero.

Superman is one of Warner's most valuable characters, having generated more than $500 million at the domestic box office with five films and billions of dollars more from television series such as “Smallville,” toys and games, and 74 years’ worth of comic books.

Had Warner and its DC Comics subsidiary lost the case, they would have soon been unable to continue using certain key elements of the Superman mythos -- including his super strength and speed, secret identity as Clark Kent and girlfriend Lois Lane --without reaching a costly new agreement with the estates of Shuster and co-creator Jerry Siegel.

Just imagine. One of our fine entertainment conglomerates having to pay cash money to the heirs of the guys who created the character. The mind reels. I get the vapors just thinking about it. ...

Praise the long green! New and exciting cash flows can be developed.

... The studio is [now] expected to accelerate development of a planned "Justice League" movie that would join Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and other characters, according to a knowledgeable person not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Warner hopes to shoot the film next year and release it in the summer of 2015. The studio already has a "Justice League" script in the works. Next it needs to attach a director and then cast the lead roles.

Corporatism now! Corporatism forEVAH!
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How many members are working ...

We have more members working at union shops (2,714) than at any time in the history of the Animation Guild. Here's the stats for the last twelve years. (Click on the chart for a larger image.)

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CTN Animation Expo 2012 - See, Hear, Engage and Discover

This year's CTN Animation Expo is just a month away. The Guild has secured its spot on the exhibition floor and we are excited to participate and see all the animation experts and aficionados again this year.

We'd love it if you stopped by and said hello at table T-80, which is highlighted in the image below.

*click for larger image

See you then!

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We get all kinds of e-mail. Like this from a couple of days ago:

Hi, Steve. I've been researching strenuously to find any information about the history of the cancelled "Search for Mickey Mouse" movie. Some former Disney directors say they've never heard of it. However, I'm 100 percent certain the project was indeed once at Disney.

Silly me. I didn't know the project named above had been cancelled. I didn't know the project had been started. Or existed. But I get around so little.

I wrote back that I knew nothing about The Search for Mickey Mouse, and that the only current projects regarding the Mickster of which I was cognizant were some beat boards created by Disney veteran Burny Mattinson and a Mickey project that was being developed by a Disney feature director.

(Whether the director's feature idea is even moving forward at this point, I know not.) ...

I messaged my non-information and got this in return:

"The Search for Mickey Mouse" was going to be about Minnie and Basil of Baker Street's quest around the globe to find Mickey, as they meet a plethora of other famous Disney characters. In the early '00s, there were two major rumors circulating about "The Search for Mickey Mouse":

1) It would be Disney Feature Animation's 50th film. Or...

2) It would be a direct-to-video feature celebrating Mickey's 75th birthday.

Supposedly, the screenwriters - whoever they were - couldn't crack the code on the screenplay. Instead of a compelling narrative, the story was deemed too much of a gimmick (i.e. "Minnie and Basil go to The Hundred Acre Wood and meet Pooh; now they're in Agrabah and meeting Aladdin, etc").

So, "The Search for Mickey Mouse" was allegedly replaced with "Mickey, Donald & Goofy: The Three Musketeers" and the TV series "House of Mouse."

I've spoken with "Musketeers" director Donovan Cook, who likewise said he had never heard of "Search." But if the project was fake, it was one of the most elaborate and well-spread rumors in animation history. ...

I also got a link to this project on a fan site.

The thing of it is, studio artists develop various ideas and pitches all the time. Most end up in the trash receptacle. In the early eighties, story artist Pete Young and I spent the better part of seven or eight months developing boards for a feature called Mickey and the Three Musketeers under the supervision of Burny Mattinson. We looked at old films, developed character arcs, and had the usual fights over the direction of the story. Our version ultimately sputtered to a halt and was never made, but decades later Disney Toons Studio developed and produced their own version. (Dumas and his fiction never die.)

I knew about the later "Musketeers," even saw development boards and Toby Bluth's spiffy backgrounds, but swear to God, this "Search for Mickey Mouse" thingie escaped me. Maybe if I time-transport back to the early two thousands, back to the days of Sharon Morrill and David Stainton, I can vacume some relevant information up and shed some light on this.

(On second thought, maybe I'll just run home and watch television. I've got a week's worth of DVRed "Daily Shows" to watch.)
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Animation Renewals, Animation Ratings

In the last few days I've done walk throughs inside Bento Box and Film Roman-Starz. The artists at both places are eager for good news.

So here's some:

FOX has ordered a fourth season of 22 all-new episodes of the Emmy-nominated animated comedy BOB’S BURGERS, it was announced today by Kevin Reilly, Chairman of Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.

Fox of late has taken its own sweet times renewing the prime-time animated stable. American Dad got a relatively late renewal, and the staff of The Cleveland Show, now mostly on hiatus or layoff (choose one) doesn't know if there is a show to come back to. (Most tend to think not.)

This is a wee bit ironic considering that ...

... Sunday’s premiere of The Cleveland Show (9 p.m.) [on Adult Swim] earned solid delivery gains among adults 18-24 (up 33%), adults 18-49 (up 8%), men 18-24 (up 13%) and men 18-49 (up 1%).

(Adult Swim ranked as basic cable’s #1 network for Total Day Delivery of young adults 18-34 & 18-24 as well as men 18-34 & 18-24.)

And then there were the other parts of the cable/cartoon universe:

Adult Swim programming – including Family Guy, American Dad, Robot Chicken and The Greatest Event in Television History – accounted for 17 of the top 50 telecasts of the week on basic cable among adults 18-34, more than any other network.

Cartoon Network
Across the second week of October 2012, Cartoon Network ranked as basic cable’s #1 network for Early Prime (7-9 p.m.) delivery of boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14, and as the #1 network for Total Day (Mon-Sun, 6 a.m.-9 p.m.) delivery of boys 9-14.

Among the network’s original animated programming, Monday night’s new episode of Regular Show (8 p.m.) scored as the #1 telecast of the day among all boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14, while a new episode of Adventure Time (7:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among all boy demos.

Tuesday night’s animated originals (7-9 p.m.) posted double-digit delivery gains across all kids and boys demos vs. the same time period last year, with a new episode of The Looney Tunes Show (8 p.m.) ranking #1 in its time period among kids 9-14 and boys 2-11, 6-11 and 9-14. Compared to last year’s time period, The Looney Tunes Show charted double-digit delivery growth across kids 6-11 (21%), kids 9-14 (71%), boys 2-11 (10%), boys 6-11 (26%) and boys 9-14 (48%).

On Wednesday night, a new episode of Ninjago (7:30 p.m.) ranked as the #1 telecast of the day among boys 6-11 & 9-14 and #1 in its time period among kids 2-11 ... New series Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk (8 p.m.) scored as the #1 telecast in its time period among kids 2-11 and all boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14. Compared to the same time period last year, average kids delivery grew by strong double digits—kids 2-11 by 86%, kids 6-11 by 71% and kids 9-14 by 70%.

Saturday morning’s presentation of Cartoon Network’s newest original series, Ben 10: Omniverse (9 a.m.), ranked #1 in its time period among boys 6-11 & 9-14, and posted double-digit delivery gains across younger kids and boy demos vs. the same time period last year—kids 2-11 grew by 28%, kids 6-11 by 32%, boys 2-11 by 46% and boys 6-11 by 47%.

Meandering on, there's a reason that Jake and the Neverland Pirates, (in continuing production at the Disney Yahoo building next to the Bob Hope Airport) is still cranking out new episodes.

For the week of October 8, 2012, Disney Channel's daily programming block for kids age 2-7 and their caregivers, Disney Junior, delivered the Top 2 cable TV series among Kids 2-5 and Girls 2-5, “Doc McStuffins” and “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.” ...

Also a reason that Nick has been shuffling execs.

... Disney Channel continued its record streak as the #1 TV network on a Total Day basis to 70 consecutive weeks in Kids 6-11 (614,000/2.6 rating) and Tweens 9-14 (499,000/2.1 rating), and was the #1 TV network for the 2nd consecutive week in Kids 2-11 (903,000/2.3 rating) and for the 4th time in the previous 5 weeks overall.

Disney Channel continues to out-deliver Nickelodeon by solid margins on a weekly basis, surpassing it by double-digit percentages for the 49th straight week in Kids 6-11 (+37% – 614,000 vs. 449,000) and for the 51st consecutive week in Tweens 9-14 (+46% – 499,000 vs. 342,000). ...

Etc., etc.

And prime time animation on Fox still seems to pull them in ... when it isn't displaced by football.

But as we can see, animation is a crowd magnet on the teevee.
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So a Contract

Hollywood IA locals helped a striking crew prevail in the tussle with management.

The union and producers Magical Elves reached an agreement over health and pension benefits last night ... The crew of Fashion Star, on strike since Saturday, will return to work today. There will be no more picketing at Hollywood Center Studios and the producers’ offices. Also, today’s 1:30 PM taping in front of an audience of the NBC reality show will now go ahead as scheduled. ...

The old leverage thing. (You can find the start of leverage being applied here.)

The company had foot-dragged over negotiations, and tried to resume taping the show even as it stalled things out. So picketing continued until the company got serious and reached a deal.

Always remember Hulett's maxim: "There is no fair and unfair, there is only what you have the juice to get."
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Holiday Feature?

The new DreamWorks Animation feature gets its New York unveiling.

On Monday night in New York, DreamWorks Animation held the first metropolitan-area screening of Rise of the Guardians, its highly anticipated awards hopeful ...

My initial impression: Based on the quality of this film and the relative weakness of the rest of this year's animated feature field, it is probably the film to beat at both the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. ...

Me, I've watched trailers and snippets on animators' computer screens for a couple of years now, and I think the feature has a different look and vibe than other DWA movies. As How To Train Your Dragon was a breakaway production, so is Guardians.

Still in all, I think that, box-office wise, Wreck It Ralph will give Rise of the Guardians a spirited run for its money. There are boatloads of gamers (my younger son being one of them) who are itching to see Ralph.
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Foreign Companies -- L.A. Addresses

Work goes out, work comes in.

Venkatesh Roddam, [now in charge of Reliance MediaWorks' film and media services business,] may be the world's most renowned outsourcing executive. But the 48-year-old native of Hyderabad, India, thinks conventional outsourcing is a bad idea when it comes to the movie business. ... Roddam, formerly a senior banking executive with Deutsche Bank, said he wants to expand Reliance's Burbank office, which employs about 75 people, and open a studio in New York. ...

Of course, a big bankroll and low-cost labor don't guarantee success in Hollywood.

Tata Elxsi's Visual Computing Labs, part of Indian conglomerate Tata, unveiled an office in Santa Monica in December 2009, citing its ability to achieve "significant economies" for its clients. The California studio hired Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek and other Hollywood veterans.

But although Tata has worked on some big projects, including "Spider-Man 3," it has struggled to retain local talent. Two of Hynek's colleagues — Tricia Ashford, the head of production, and Treva Blue, head of trailer production — recently resigned after clashes with management, said a person close to the studio who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. Tata representatives did not respond to requests for comment. ...

It's a movie we've seen a bajillion times before: Low-cost provider bops into town and makes his sales pitch. "I can cut your costs by fifty percent!" An American company bites. Then the low-cost results fail at the box office, and that's the end of the marriage built on equal parts of hope, delusion and greed.

In the decades I've been doing this, I've watched foreign animation studios rise, and then rapidly melt away competing for American box office. Because it's not enough to be really cheap, you must also produce an artistic result that somebody somewhere wants to actually see. The MacGuff studio in France (now part of the American Illumination Entertainment) is the first animation house to enjoy success in the U.S. market. (Prior to MacGuff, the watchwords for foreign produced animation was "bombs away!")

So it's understandable that foreign companies are setting up shops in the wide, deep talent pool that exists in Southern California. (Hong Kong-based Imagi tried it five years ago and success didn't follow, but the odds are good that some foreign entity will strike it rich before the sun reaches its red star phase.)

The problems for Asian and Indian companies are the same they have always been: When you're behind in the technology and talent race, it's hard to catch up. Because the sprinters at the head of the pack keep moving ... and moving briskly.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Box Office Factoids

... which took place in and around Sunday's domestic turnstiles.

1) Hotel Transylvania was the highest grosser with $5,202,139.

2) Frankenweenie moved north of $20,000,000 (to $22,075,002.)

3) Finding Nemo (3D) crawled above $40,000,000 (to $40,115,172.)

4) Ice Age: Continental Drift collected $69,492 from 237 theaters. (Close to gone.)

5) Madgascar 3 made $27,205 in 122 theaters. (Close to totally gone.)

Every last drop of revenue is being squeezed from the current crop of animated features. Click here to read entire post

Back to the Hat

I returned to Disney this morning, since the new Disney-IA contract (named the "TSL Contract*") has been negotiated, and I'll be helping out with getting the document ratified later this week. (Not to puncture anybody's balloon, but it looks remarkably like many of the union contracts over the past ... oh ... two or three years. But we'll supply the details to the employees of Disney Toon Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, since they're the artists, writers and technicians who will be voting on it ...)

Re Disney animation, the L.A. Times had this earlier today:

“Phineas and Ferb” movie, originally slated to be released July 28, 2013, has been pushed back to 2014, the exact date to be determined. “Saving Mr. Banks,” about the origins of Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” is now to be released on Dec. 20, 2013, and Disneynature’s “Bears” is due out April 18, 2014.

Two as-yet-untitled animated films from Disney Animation and Pixar Animation are slated for Nov. 7, 2014, and Nov. 25, 2015, respectively.

While I was running around, a veteran staffer told me a about projects in various stages of work.

There's Big Hero Six and Frozen going into production, and then three projects after that. One of them Ron and John's feature, and two more. Nobody knows what order they'll be in, John Lasseter hasn't decided. But we've got more features in development. Three or four more beyond those three ..."

At which point my informant hurried off and I kept shambling around, telling people about the oncoming ratification vote.

Add On: For those wondering what "TSL" means, it' the anacronym for "The Secret Lab*" -- a visual effects division that was embedded inside Disney Feature Animation from 1999 to 2003. The division created visual effects for a number of live-action films, and then was allowed to die a quiet death.

But the contract under which The Secret Lab operated lives on, and today covers the animation work done at Disney Toon Studios (Glendale) and Walt Disney Animation Studios (Burbank).

The name "The Secret Lab" comes from The Emperor's New Groove. Disney also holds a contract named "The Traveling Lab." (TTL) which mirrors the TSL contract.

* You can find a long-winded account of the beginnings of The Secret Lab here. Some of it's inaccurate, but when Jim H. is telling a good yarn, why would he want to stick to ... you know ... facts?
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Animation Magazine Conference Needs Volunteers

Animation Magazine is holding a Feature Films and Visual Effects summit conference at the end of the month. They have shared the flier above asking for volunteers to help support the event.

After reviewing the conference agenda, it appears to be three days packed with important information for animation and visual effects professionals.

We are speaking to representatives of the magazine to find out what exhibition and group discount opportunities exist. We will communicate any discoveries to the membership through email. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Meantime, On the Entertainment Labor Front

... several of our sister unions in the Alliance stir up trouble.

Crew members from the reality TV series "Fashion Star" walked off the job Saturday morning in a dispute over efforts to secure union representation.

Production of the show was suspended Saturday when about 75 crew members struck and began picketing outside Hollywood Center Studios at 8 a.m.

The strike was led by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which has been waging an ongoing campaign to extend union benefits to crew members who work behind the scenes on reality TV shows. ...

The thing about unions, if they don't organize, they wither and die. Because companies keep growing, and new companies continually come along. Blink your eyes a couple of times and the "100% representation" you once enjoyed has become 60%. (Just ask the United Auto Workers.)

As a grizzled old organizer, I can tell you that organizing an area of the biz that has less represented work is tough. Crews are usually uptight because walking out is a major step. They're putting their jobs on the line. It's only when the crappy wages and minimal or zero benefits begin to make people desperate that the reticence to take action fades away.

So hats off to the crew for standing up. And good on the IATSE for backing them as they work to gain pension and health benefits.
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Your Foreign Turnstile Receipts

Ted continues to rake in the money overseas.

Ted grossed $13.9 million on the weekend at 2,900 playdates in 44 markets. Overseas cume stands at $250.5 million while the worldwide take, at $469 million, makes Seth MacFarlane’s comedy fantasy the biggest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. ...

And the 100% animated titles are doing pretty well also:

Hotel Transylvania drew $13.7 million on the weekend overall at 3,560 locations in 24 territories. The family animation outing in 3D has grossed $49.3 million so far overseas. ...

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted delivered $10.4 million from 2,360 situations in 29 countries, thus elevating the film’s foreign gross total to $465.2 million. ...

Ice Age: Continental Drift grossed $3.3 million at 721 spots in four markets. That weekend action elevated the film’s foreign gross to $707 million. ...

Frankenweenie opened offshore in nine markets this round, collecting $4.9 million on the weekend. Early offshore cume for the Disney release stands at $5.3 million.

What's notable here is not only the number of animated titles in play, but the grosses most of them are racking up.

Worldwide Receipts

Frankenweenie -- $27,335,000
Hotel Transylvania -- $151,493,000
Ice Age: Continental Drift -- $866,809,000
Madagascar 3 -- $681,566,000

With the exception of the stop-motion Frankenweenie, all the above titles are doing gangbuster business.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Official Announcement

... hits the press.

Following their successful partnership this year with Ultimate Spider-Man, corporate siblings Marvel and Disney XD are teaming up again for two animated superhero series. As previously announced, Marvel Television is already in production on Marvel's Avengers Assemble and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. Marvel is set to make the announcement today at New York Comic Con that both show are slated to join Disney XD's Marvel Universe block in summer 2013. ...

The Mouse knows success when it rises up in front of it. The Mouse is generally adept at capitalizing on same.

As we've noted before, Ultimate Spider-Man is produced at Starz-Film Roman. Marvel Animation, located in Glendale, is handling Avengers and Hulk (with work well underway) and more series coming soon. I'm told that they will, sooner rather than later, move to a building with more elbow room. Right now they're in 9-10,000 square feet that is filling up steadily.

With space constraints, Marvel is free-lancing work. The company is famously thrifty with a dollar. Whether that operating philosophy extends to MA's television franchises, we will know in the fullness of time.

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Mid October Dog Race

As we move into the holiday season (Halloween is just around the corner), two animated features occupy the Top Ten:

1. Sinister (Summit/Lionsgate) NEW [2,527 Runs] R Friday $7.4M, Weekend $17.5M

2. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 2 [3,706 Runs] PG13 Friday $7.0M (-62%), Weekend $23.0M, Cume $87.0M

3. Argo (Warner Bros) NEW [3,232 Runs] R Friday $5.9M, Weekend $18.0M

4. Hotel Transylvania (Sony Animation) Week 3 [3,375 Runs] PG Friday $4.2M, Weekend $19.0M, Cume $104.0M

5. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) NEW [3,014 Runs] PG Friday $3.6M, Weekend $11.9M

6. Pitch Perfect (Universal) Week 3 [2,787 Runs] PG13 Friday $3.0M, Weekend $9.2M, Cume $35.9M

7. Looper (FilmDistrict/Sony) Week 3 [2,605 Runs] R Friday $1.8M, Weekend $6.4M, Cume $51.6M

8. Frankenweenie (Disney) Week 2 [3,005 Runs] PG Friday $1.7M, Weekend $6.3M, Cume $21.4M

9. Seven Psychopaths (CBS Films) NEW [1,480 Runs] R Friday $1.3M, Weekend $4.1M

10. Atlas Shrugged Part 2 (Atlas) NEW [1,012 Runs] PG13 Friday $691K, Weekend $1.9M

Hotel Transylvania continues to hold nicely, even as Frankenweenie sputters in 8th place. It'll be a surprise if it claws past $50 million. (Did the black-and-white three dee drive people away?)

So maybe it ends up a revival-circuit favorite like Nightmare Before Christmas.
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Friday, October 12, 2012

Changing Executives

This past week I talked with a couple of Nick directors about this:

On Thursday, the embattled children's network witnessed two more departures of high-level executives: Paul Ward, a 22-year veteran of MTV Networks and head of prime-time acquisitions, and Pete Danielsen, executive vice president of programming. ...

Six weeks ago, the network pushed out its head of animation, Brown Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive most responsible for creating the hit "Dora the Explorer." ...

Nickelodeon is rolling out hundreds of hours of new programming ... The network is getting a boost from its reboot of the animated "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which drew nearly 4 million viewers in its first outing. "Ninja Turtles" has improved Nickelodeon's ratings among young viewers by more than 15% in the Saturday morning time slot.

It's not just New York that's repealing and replacing execs. In Burbank, a clutch of executives have departed, to be replaced by new faces (among them, animation veteran David Steinberg.)

But as a Nick artist said to me:

Nick management has been a little uptight. They've seen their big lead in television slipping away. But I see it differently. Every studio makes stupid decisions. Nick let Adventure Time go, and now they're doing an imitation of The Regular Show. But that's nothing new. Years back Disney used to do shows that imitated Nick.

All the big animation companies go up and down. When they're down, they start asking artists for ideas for new shows. Doesn't happen as much when they're on top. Then, the doors are a lot more closed. ...
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Robot #7

CN greenlights another season:

Adult Swim said today it has ordered another season of Robot Chicken, with Season 7 set to air on Cartoon Network next year. Season 6 of the Emmy-winning stop-motion series — which included its 100th episode — currently airs Sunday nights and is the programming block’s top-rated original series. ...

We have no contract with Robot Chicken (more's the pity), but we're nevertheless pleased that the series has gotten picked up. It entertains teenagers in a major way and raises awareness of Star Wars and various Super Heroes. (When the franchises of our fine, entertainment conglomerates are boosted, America wins.)

And most importantly, it's one more animated series that strengthens animation's presence on television. That's good for everyone who works in the industry.
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Animated Feature Funding .. in the 21st Century

There's yet another new Kickstarter campaign that started today. Normally, that news isn't worthy of note. Except this new pitch is from acclaimed feature film director David Fincher (among others) and is for an animated film based on the Dark Horse comic called The Goon.
* Proof of concept video shown above
Entertainment Weekly writes:
David Fincher may be a big-name director, but that doesn’t mean his name alone can turn dream projects into reality. Take The Goon, Fincher and Blur Studio’s proposed animated adaptation of Eric Powell’s inventively manic Dark Horse comic series. Despite the creation of a three-minute “proof of concept” teaser that has been making the rounds on the Internet since 2010, Hollywood still hasn’t taken the bait. So that’s why the studio and The Social Network director are bypassing the traditional greenlighting process and going straight to the public.

With sites like Kickstarter, it’s becoming easier for filmmakers to not only raise money for passion projects, but also demonstrate the pre-existence of a market for said projects.

Apparently the video linked above has been around for a couple of years. According to the Kickstarter page, Fincher, along with the Comic's author Eric Powell and Blur Studio (the LA VFX shop that created the video above) have yet to get a studio to pick the project up. The kickstarter campaign will fund the creation of a story reel to make another run for full production support.

Movie studios are pushing projects to later start dates or pulling them all together as they scramble to find the next "sure-fire" bet to bankroll. A project of this nature, while easily showing a strong support group, "isn't a sequel or filled with dancing animals". So the creatives have gone to their fans to get the project to the next level.

It will be interesting to follow its progression and see how far this goes.
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Simple Investing = Best Investing

A sobering bit of news from the Gray Lady:

For years, America’s largest, richest and most prestigious universities ... churned out double-digit returns. ... An investment stampede ensued as other universities, giant pension funds and even individuals slavishly copied their strategy, which stressed diversification along with high-cost, often illiquid alternative investments like hedge funds, venture capital and private equity funds.

[But] data compiled by the National Association of College and University Business Officers for the 2011 fiscal year (the most recent available) show that large, medium and small endowments all underperformed a simple mix of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds over one-, three-and five--year periods. The 91 percent of endowments with less than $1 billion in assets underperformed in every time period since records have been maintained. ...

I've been at this investing thing for awhile now, and what I've come to understand is:

The more comples and expensive your investment choices are, the LOWER your long-term returns.

I, personally, would run rapidly away from any high-octane investment counselor who was hot to put me into a lot of "go go" funds with big price tags. I've sprinted down that road before, and ended up the poorer for it.

And it's probably why today I tell anyone getting into the the TAG 401(k) Plan to think seriously about stashing all or most of their money into one of the Vanguard Target Funds -- ignoring the dates and focussing on the asset allocation. (For instance, if you want a 50/50 split of stocks to bonds, the 2010 Vanguard target date fund is a pretty good choice, just as Vanguard 2020 is good for a "classic" 60% stock 40% bond allocation.
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hand Drawn at Disney

While wandering the halls of the hat building yesterday, I chanced on one of the traditional animators working there. He said:

We're developing a bunch of different projects to show John Lasseter. It's a complicated process. We pitch to a development group, they tell us which ones they like, then tell us that people who're pitching need to develop three pitches for Joh, since he likes artists showing him three things.

And when we do pitch, it's made clear to us that the stories aren't necessarily for a hand-drawn project. When we've brought it up with John Lasseter, he's shied away from commiting to a hand-drawn feature ...

This is a turn-around from a few years ago, when the idea was to have hand-drawn features created in Burbank, and the CG features produced at Emeryville.

My thought is: John Lasseter is a smart man. He likes hand-drawn but he recognizes they way the wind is blowing. Princess and the Grog grossed $300 million globally; Tangled grossed twice that. When the gap is so wide, it's an easy corporate decision to say: "We're going with CGI."

Ron Clements and John Musker are developing a hand-drawn feature that, if what I've been shown holds up, will look one hell of a lot different from Show White. The scuttlebutt I've heard indicates that Mr. Lasseter isn't as keen on greenlighting hand-drawn epics as he was a few years ago. But who inside Diz Co. could blame him? More than overseeing hand-drawn animation, John Lasseter wants to win. And he's probably made the judgment that creating hand-drawn features isn't a winning corporate strategy.

Even so, I was disheartened to read this from Mr. Kousac down below:

Thankfully, no "hand drawn" cartoons are in the work at Disney for the forseeable future. Looking forward to seeing the Disney artists take hold of their new digital tools.

Sorry, Mr. Kousac. You can be as glad as you like Disney hasn't got any hand-drawn features on its "to do" list. But I think the world is a little bit diminished if the curtain now rings down on big, hand-drawn features. They had a lilting, personalized quality to them, and they are missed.
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Joint Venture

More partnerships in the Middle Kingdom:

Hasbro Inc. announced a joint venture with Chinese toy and entertainment company Guangdong Alpha Animation & Culture Co. to co-develop toys and games for China and other global markets.

"This long-term, strategic partnership will marry Hasbro's global capabilities in both merchandise and television programming with Alpha Animation's expertise and reach in entertainment, including television programming and toy distribution within China," Hasbro Chief Operating Officer David Hargreaves said. "Through our collaboration, we are able to re-imagine these brands from start to finish for both Chinese and global consumers." ...

Hasbro set up an animation studio in Burbank four years ago. The plan was (is) to use animation to sell toys. There have been hiccups along the way, but the company is still in the game, trimming costs wherever it can.

China is another way to trim costs, but it's not only Hasbro:

DreamWorks Animation will co-produce Kung Fu Panda 3, set to be released in 2016, in China with its local venture partners China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment, the companies announced this summer. They will invest more than 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) to build an animation studio and an entertainment complex called the Dream Center. The studio itself will get a $350 million investment and hire about 800 people in the coming years, the companies had said. ...

How well these corporate ventures pan out, remains to be seen. How they'll impact production inside the U.S. of A. is also a question mark. And (of course), it's not only animation.

Visual effects company Rhythm and Hues is chasing dollars to expand overseas.

Sort of a trend, isn't it?
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The International Trailer

WIR's international trailer, which reminds me ...

I was at the House of Mouse today, and the pace is a lot more relaxed. The feature is out of the lighting department (the last step) and a lot of the department is on vacation ... or has just gotten back from vacation.

But there are a few shot tweaks going on still; I was informed that a minor character is being altered for one of Diz's foreign releases. (Strange, but there it is.)

As for the rest of the Disney slate, Frozen has multiple sequences in production, and the feature slated after Frozen is chugging along.

And I was told that the wrap party for Wreck-It Ralph is imminent. Happy faces all around.
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Feel the Love

Yesterday TAG sent out a wide-cast e-mail to members, urging them to vote "No on Proposition 32," and get involved with the campaign to defeat it.

(In case you live out of state ... or in some deep basement in Tujunga ... private and public labor unions in California are fighting Proposition 32, as it strangles their ability to participate in elections and issues and will end their ability to defend themselves against future anti-union legislation and initiatives.)

We got back this tart reply:

Take your advice and shove it up your ass! The last thing anyone needs is a stupid shit bolshevik, telling the members to support government public employees unions! Go f ... yourself with a corkscrew and when your done, do it again! The only thing you and these worthless peons can do is pick each others noses!

With no regard for lazy turds like you! ...

And so on. ...

Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion. But we believe in debate and discourse, and responded thusly:

Hi [name deleted].

The reason private unions are supporting NO on 32 is, they get screwed along with the public ones. This baby called Prop 32 passes, IA and Animation Guild members can probably (long term) kiss their health and pension benefits goodbye. Along with higher wages.

Just to let you know.

We hope you’re doing well. Janette sends her good wishes to you, [the Mrs.] and the boys.

All the best from us lazy turds.

Steve Hulett

See, there's a lot of hate out there for "greedy, bloated" public unions The wages they've negotated are too damn high (the argument goes). And the pensions they get are too generous. So we gotta muzzle them.

There are voices in the comment section who think the Animation Guild has its head up its large intestine supporting public unions (being they're so evil and all), but here's the way we look at it. Private unions get their throats cut along with the public ones. If all unions suddenly have no ability to argue against "right to work" legislation or initiatives or other laws that cripple them.

So all the private unions? Entertainment unions? We're kind of like ... collateral damage.

But Paul Ryan and his associates* are completely right. The country is just too damn far to the left, and the lower orders are running amuck. Here's a handy chart to show just how grotesque all the horrid redistribution of moolah has gotten in this Socialist paradise (led, of course, by greedy public and private sector unions which represent ... wait for it ... a whopping 11% of the working population):

So. Count us as co-mingling with the "stupid shit bolsheviks" who think organized labor should have a voice. And that maybe the upper tax brackets should be raised by 4.5% (the Clinton tax rates) rather than cut by 20% (the Ryan-Romney rates.)

We're funny that way.

* We shrink from naming Willard M. Romney because his positions shift and twitch like pussy willows in a strong September wind. So who knows what he believes? (Probably whatever it takes to get him elected.)
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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Prime Time Toons

As animation prospers at the multi-plex, so does its smaller screen counterparts bring home the money.

Last week, FOX’s ... Sunday Animation line-up combined with The X Factor, BONES and GLEE to lead the network to rank No. 1 among Teens, No. 2 among Adults 18-34 and No. 3 among Adults 18-49.

FOX had The Following shows in the Top 20 programs of the week:

* [Among] the Top 20 programs among Adults 18-49: Family Guy (No. 10), Simpsons (no. 15.)

* [Among] the Top 20 programs among Adults 18-34: Family Guy (No. 2), Simpsons (No. 4), American Dad (No. 9 tie), BOB’S BURGERS (No. 14 tie), Cleveland Show (No. 16).

* [Among] the Top 20 programs among Teens: Family Guy (No. 2), Simpsons (No. 4 tie), American Dad (No. 9), BOB’S BURGERS (No. 10) and The Cleveland Show (No. 14). ...

It remains a mystery why our other fine, entertainment conglomerates don't jump in to prime time animation, but there it is.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that none of them want to sign contracts with the WGAw to cover the work. Far easier to cede the business to Fox. Rupert might be a right winger, but he never lets pig-headedness against signing a labor contract with an entertainament guild stand between him and riches.

Of course, we could cover prime time as well (and sometimes do), but hey. Pig-headedness.

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David Weidman portfolio show, Thursday @ 7 pm

Click on the image for a full view
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Charles M. Schulz LIVES

I assume this will be CGI?

Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and the gang are coming to the big screen, as 20th Century Fox Animation and its Blue Sky Studios unit announced Tuesday that they have acquired the rights to Charles M. Schulz's iconic "Peanuts" comic strip.

The planned movie, the product of an agreement between the studio and Schulz's heirs, is scheduled to arrive in theaters Nov. 25, 2015. ...

Bill Melendez, owner operator of BIll Melendez Productions and also, too, the last President of the Screen Cartoonists Guild before it lost much of its jurisdiction to the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, Local 839 IATSE (our original name), created hundreds of "Peanuts" half-hours and earlier feature films.

The Melendez work always had a lilting fidelity to the spirit of Schulz's strip, and I'm not sure that Blue Sky's computer generated rendition will replicate Bill's earlier work.

I'm, uh, understating things here.
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Monday, October 08, 2012

A Word About Synergy

Compared to Pixar, DreamWorks Animation is crass and money-grubbing: "Addicted to Sequels!" ... "Commercializes Its Properties!" "Runs Franchises Into the Ground!"

Welll ...

... [T]he short Partysaurus Rex, which premiered in front of last month’s Finding Nemo 3D re-release, is slated to make its television debut tonight. In addition, it now looks like the [Toy Story] gang will reunite again for Toy Story of Terror, a TV special due out next year. ...

Made in Canada at the Vancouver studio, no doubt.

Before the snark gets too thick, let's remember that cartoon companies -- even ones founded by Steve Jobs -- are a long way from being Florentine art studios. They're in business to make money, the more the better. And the more money they make, the more people get employed.

So sequels? Hell, yeah! Shorts? Television spin-offs? F*ck yeah!

Animation is a business, not a religion. And the day that corporations don't exploit their creations to the max, is the day they're not around anymore.
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Another Animator With a Political Agenda

Since some among us are touchy about the video below, try this one:

See, in 1944, there was this animator guy name Charles Jones who directed a political cartoon for yet another Democratic candidate, the leftie Franklin D. Roosevelt ...

Mr. Jones worked on the film at night, away from his day job. It was the first production of what became UPA, another left-wing organization, filled with ex-Disneyites who had gone out on strike in 1941. As Disney veteran Joe Grant related to me a few years ago:

"A lot of those strikers were commies, and didn't care enough about the studio. ... (pause) But, you know, Walt hired all those guys, so you know, maybe he's a litte responsible?" ...

Of course, today is a lot different than sixty-eight years ago. Back then, we were only a few years out of a Depression and running big deficits and involved in a long war. And there were these awful labor unions ...

Oh. Wait ...

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Why Obama Now

Fox Animation regular and TAG member Lucas Gray wrote, directed and helped animate a short video highlighting some salient points to consider when making the decision on which box to check during the elections next month.

Gray and a hand full of animators used Obama's 2012 Associated Press luncheon speech, some top-notch animation and a dedicated website to artistically support President Obama's re-election campaign. When you can, check out the video above, as well as the credits list and information sources pages at their website:

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Game Apps, Shorts, and T.V. Shows

Cartoon Network. Going in new directions.

Cartoon Network is considering developing original content as apps and games first rather than as TV shows, in an effort to create its own digital brands to rival the likes of Angry Birds. ...

"I don't think everything has to be created as a show," said Stuart Snyder, president and chief operating officer of parent company Turner's Animation, Young Adults and Kids division. "Things can be developed as shorts, they can start as games, they can start as apps… That is the nature, more and more, of where the business needs to think of itself." ...

So the question I have, one-note Johnny that I am: where does that leave animation artists trying to add to the pension plan and, you know, get health coverage?

Because there is this two-tier system that's been developing awhile.

There is the old-line part of the business, things like live-action and animated television production and theatrical work, and much of those products are unionized. With quaint things like quality health care and pension benefits.

Then there is the "new" part of entertainment: digital effects, video games, phone and ipad applications, etc. etc.. All those things are non-union, and we're told how it's a brave new world now, and everyone needs to fend for themselves, save their own retirement money, suck up the lower pay and higher costs and buy an HMO or high-deductible health insurance policy. Learn to smile and enjoy it.

And when President Romney reaches the 100th day of his administration, and entitlements for the victims and parasites start getting down-sized, I'll be telling my kids to learn to live small and frugal, tucking away as much money as possible for their old age.

Because whatever stash they build up (along with the Wal-mart job) is what will be seeing them through their catfood years.

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