Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review

Tired TAG contract negotiators early on a June morning ...

The year 2012 is now in the history books. On the macro side, the Unites States economy got better in slow, tiny steps:

GDP Growth

1st Quarter -- 4.1% growth
2nd Quarter -- 2% growth
3rd Quarter -- 1.3% growth (yeowch!)
4th Quarter -- 3.1% growth

The above isn't (let's be honest here) particularly good by historical standards, but not bad when compared to the rest of the industrialized world ... and enough to return the incumbent President to office.

On the micro side (this union) -- we saw employment growth through most of the year, peaking at 2,770 employed TAG members before DreamWorks began laying off employees late in '12 ...

Until the 4th quarter, unionized animation employment had been on a steady, upward trajectory. Theatrical animation was (mostly) strong, and television animation enjoyed solid ratings. Our fine, entertainment conglomerates wanted to make more of both, and the Animation Guild prospered as a result. And unlike live-action, animation is somewhat more difficult to outsource to other localities, particularly pre-production work. Which is good for Animation Guild members.

But the BIG story for the Guild, far and away, was the negotiations for a new contract. In mid April, an energetic and focused negotiating committee -- composed of executive board members, staff, working members of the guild and Yours Truly -- went into talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and pretty quickly got ice water thrown in its face:

On April 19, after two days of negotiations for a new contract with the major studios, your negotiating team (made up of regular members just like you) felt compelled to walk out.

The studios were not willing to consider most of our proposals, and we were far apart on wage issues.

Animated features and television series are the engine that drives the Hollywood gravy train, yet our workplace and salary concerns were mostly ignored.

TAG's Executive Board has voted to hold a special membership meeting on Wednesday, May 30, to discuss the contract negotiations. It is imperative that we have a full turnout to receive your input regarding our next moves in the battle for a fair contract.

In the meantime, we urge you to discuss these issues with your fellow members. Your livelihood, and that of your fellow workers in animation, is at stake. We have been disrespected for far too long. Do you want our Union to stand up for itself? Then YOU need to stand up for your Union. Attend the special meeting.

The special membership meeting will be held Wednesday, May 30, at the Guild's offices at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. A reception starts at 6 PM with beer, wine, and refreshments, followed by the meeting at 7 PM. ...

Long story short: We got the BIGGEST member turnout for a meeting in the time I've been doing this job. We explained how the producers were coming after us hammer and tong with a low-ball wage offer, how they had rejected almost everything we put on the table and pretty much sneered in our faces. And left us with no options other than to hot-foot it out of there.

The membership was incredibly supportive. They provided input on where they wanted us to go in future talks (WAGES), and answered en masse a digital survey that we put out before returning to the table.

Then in mid-June, we finally DID return to bargaining:

We restarted the Animation Guild-AMPTP negotiations early yesterday, and stayed into the early hours of today to finish the new contract deal. There was planning and waiting and too much eating in the caucus room. There were small side bars*. There were larger side bars. And there were negotiations and a final agreement across the table in the the Big Room ...

From TAG's press release:

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE has reached tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. The labor contract, for a period from August 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015, was negotiated with animation producers represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

The contract calls for two percent (2%) annual compounded wage increases. Health, pension and IAP benefits are to be provided under the terms of the IATSE Basic Agreement, on which agreement was reached in April and which is currently awaiting a ratification vote. Other provisions of the new agreement include a new storyboard revisionist classification, and changes to the talent development program and the DreamWorks Animation wage minimums.

We were in talks until 1:00 this morning. We ended up, at the finish line, with the same economic package that the Basic Agreement bargaining unit reached in April. It was not easy. The producers made clear that we weren't necessarily going to be recipients of the deal bestowed on the IA locals inside the bargining unit, and we had to argue, push and horse trade for everything we finally got.

As you can see up above, we had a sizable committee, and everybody contributed. But I would like to offer a heartfelt "thank you" to Mike Miller, IATSE International Vice President, Vice President In-Charge of the West Coast Office and Director of the Motion Picture and Television Division. Mike was in there pitching from morning to night, and really helped drive the wagon to our final result.

* "Side bars" are off-the-record discussions that take place in hallways and small rooms without windows. Sometimes they're long and other times short. Sometimes you make progress toward a contract in them, but not always.

So that sums up the year 2012: Negotiations were the top Big Deal; continuing employment was the next big deal. Then, of course, there were all the other things: National and state elections, the continued sputtering growth of the world and national economy, the push for "right to work" in various mid-Western states.

It was an interesting twelve months in the Chinese sense of the word. We kind of expect that the next twelve will have their own highlights and lowlights.

Happy New Year.
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Ralph Hulett's New Year's Eve

Don't think that's fireworks through the trees, but who knows?

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Sunday, December 30, 2012


Here, it applies to retirement investing, but Barry Ritholtz's advice is good for all seasons:

Investing Rules

1. Cut your losers short, and let your winners run.
2. Avoid predictions and forecasts
3. Understand crowd behavior.
4. Think like a contrarian (but don’t always act like a contrarian).
5. Asset allocation is crucial.
6. Decide if you are an active or passive investor.
7. Understand your own psychological make up.
8. Admit when you are wrong.
9. Understand the cycles of the financial world.
10. Be intellectually curious.
11. Reduce investing friction.
12. There is no free lunch.

Because it's part of the job description, I get a lot of questions about "Where to put retirement/401(k) money?"

As stated before, nobody is great about foreseeing where bond or stock markets will go. The vast majority of actively managed funds do worse than the indexes they're following. The things individual investors can control is their costs and their asset allocations. Everything else is in the hands of Fate.

The only two points above that I disagree with are number one (which doesn't apply if you are investing in broad index funds) and number six. (You can use a mix of active and index funds, therefore NOT deciding.)

The only way I've been effective at building a stash to retire with is

1) lowering my investment costs,
2) living below my means (so I had something left to save), and
3) having a broadly diversified portfolio.

The (almost) last bit of advice with which I leave you: Acquire some investing knowledge, because the more you know, the more effectively you will invest your money. To that end, I give you a (partial) list of gurus.

Larry Swedroe

William J. Bernstein

John Bogle

David Swensen

Final bit: Next week is the last week to get into the Animation Guild 401(k) Plan during the month of January. After Friday the 4th of January, the next deadline will be February 1st, which will leave you with only 11 months in the year to max out a 401(k) in 2013.
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Overseas B.O. -- Year-end Grosses

Where animation is still a driver.

... Fox's top title by far was the computer-animation Ice Age Continental Drift, which scored an amazing $718.1 million on foreign box office. ... Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers tallied a huge $892.4 million in overseas earnings. ...

Paramount's top earner this time was DreamWorks’ Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, which collected $525.5 million offshore. ... DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians collected $11.6 million in its seventh round overseas and lifted its foreign gross to $165.2 million.

Life of Pi continues strongly on the foreign circuit, drawing $39.2 million ..., raising director Ang Lee’s film to a cume of $220 million ...

Some current worldwide totals:

World Grosses
Wreck-It Ralph -- $275,855,000
Rise of the Guardians -- $255,430,000
Life of Pi -- $303,838,000
Hotel Transylvnia -- $311,023,000

The Ang Lee movie is outpacing Guardians overseas, while staying slightly behind it domestically. I expect that Rise of the Guardians will end up in Hotel Transylvania territory, a bit north of $300 million.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 21

Doves and a radiant sun. Joy to the world.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who's the Successor?

Speculation time.

[Disney's Robert Iger] is set to retire in 2015, and we're all waiting for a proper succession order. This will be big news ...

The choice here can move markets in the short term and mouse-shaped mountains in the long run. Obvious candidates for the CEO post include longtime right-hand man Tom Staggs, Pixar genius John Lasseter, and Marvel Entertainment chief Isaac Perlmutter. The recent acquisition of Lucasfilm also gives Hollywood legend Kathleen Kennedy an outside shot at the top Disney job, given her status as president of the Star Wars empire. Any of these would be excellent choices, and I wouldn't bet on Iger reaching for outside talent ...

My guess is it will be a safe, middle-of-the-road pick from inside Diz Co.'s corporate ranks. Somebody who wears an administrative hat, rather than a creative one.

Because that's the way our fine entertainment conglomerates roll.
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Your Weekend Box Office

Rise of the Guardians moves toward the $100 million plateau, even as it drops to the bottom rung of the Top Ten.

1. The Hobbit (MGM/Wwarner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 4,100] PG13
Friday $10.7M, Est Weekend $32.9M, Est Cume $222.7M

2. Django Unchained (Sony/Weinstein) Week 1 [Runs 3,010] R
Friday $9.6M, Est Weekend $28.4M, Est Cume $61.8M

3. Les Misérables (Working Title/Universal) Week 1 [Runs 2,814] PG13
Friday $9.4M, Est Weekend $28.6M, Est Cume $68.0M

4. Parental Guidance (Walden/Fox) Week 1 [Runs 3,367] PG
Friday $5.0M, Est Weekend $15.3M, Est Cume $30.1M

5. Jack Reacher (Skydance/Paramount) Week 2 [Runs 3,352] PG13
Friday $4.5M, Est Weekend $13.2M, Est Cume $43.8M

6. This Is 40 (Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,914] R
Friday $4.1M, Est Weekend $12.7M, Est Cume $36.7M

7. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 8 [Runs 1,966] PG13
Friday $2.3M, Est Weekend $7.5M, Est Cume $129.9M

8. Monsters Inc 3D (Pixar/Disney) Week 2 [Runs 2,618] G
Friday $2.2M, Est Weekend $6.5M, Est Cume $16.7M

9. The Guilt Trip (Skydance/Paramount) Week 2 [Runs 2,431] PG13
Friday $2.0M, Est Weekend $6.7M, Est Cume $21.1M

10. Rise Of The Guardians (DWA/Par) Week 5 [Runs 3,031]
Friday $1.7M, Est Weekend $5.3M, Est Cume $90.6M

And Monsters, Inc. 3D is (apparently) not going to be raking in the long green like Lion King 3D .

Meantime, BO Mojo has a dandy comparison chart between Guardians and Life of Pi. One is live action, of course, but there's a host of similarities between them.

Life of Pi -- gross: $82.1 million
Rise of the Guardians -- gross: $87.3 million

Both were released on the same date. Both have lots of cg animation (the tiger is almost totally computer generated.) Both cost north of $120 million.

But Pi is considered a more resounding success than Guardians. This goes to what we'll call "common Hollywood wisdom:" Life of Pi is performing well compared to other Ang Lee pictures; Rise of the Guardians is performing weakly compared to other DreamWorks Animation features.

None of this is wrong exactly, but I've noticed that when the media gets a storyline in its teeth, it seldom alters it.

For instance, there was much beating of tom toms about how Kung Fu Panda 2 wasn't doing as well as the original. I heard this over and over again, "Oooh, the new 'Kung Fu Panda'? Kind of a disappointment." Yet when all the receipts were in, KFP 2 collected more dollars than its predecessor.

It's always good to do independent research and draw your own conclusions.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 20

Deer, dark tree trunks, and French vanilla snow.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

No Remake

... of the John, Paul, George and Ringo project.

[Yellow Submarine] would have been a great one to bring the Beatles back to life. But it’s probably better not to be remade – you’re always behind the 8-ball when do you a remake. It gets harder and harder [to make movies]. With the current state of the industry, it’s difficult to stay passionate about it. The hardest thing for a filmmaker as he’s aging is saying, “How much more of this crap can I take?” It’s tough, I can only do it if I have a script to believe in. Like Flight”.

I could never figure out the reason to redo this particular animated feature in the first place. Mr. Zemeckis was going to, what? Make this baby in audience-pleasing mocap? With "almost real" motion capture recreations of the Fab Four?

Eeeewwww. How many people would that creep out?

Probably not many, because I can't imagine that crowds of movie-goers would be stampeding the box office to see the movie. But we don't have to worry about that now, because

1) Robert Zemeckis has lost interest and passion.
1) The project probably can't get financing anyway.

And you know? The bottom won't be dropping out of my life due to the cancellation of a mocap, Moving View Master remake of Yellow Submarine. I'm funny that way.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 19

Bell towers and steepled churches usually get foreground objects, and do so here.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Secondary Market

DVDs and Blu-rays might be on the decline, but the little silver disks still get marketed. The big sellers:

Top 10 DVD and Blu-ray Sales

1) “Ted” (Universal). Week 1.
2) “The Dark Knight Rises” (Warner Bros.). Week 2.
3) “The Bourne Legacy” (Universal). Week 1.
4) “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (Fox). Week 1.
5) “Brave” (Disney). Week 5.

6) “The Dark Knight Trilogy” (Warner Bros.). Week 12.
7) “The Avengers” (Disney). Week 4.
8) “Men In Black 3” (Sony). Week 3.
9) “The Amazing Spider-Man” (Sony). Week 6.
10) “Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted” (Paramount). Week 7.

What often gets overlooked, even as the sales of DVDs go south, is how important the market was (and still is?) for the health of entertainment unions' pension and health plans. Long ago, unions negotiated a small piece of the action in "secondary markets" for theatrical features. Disks for home viewing count as part of the market.

At the top of the home video sales boom (ten years back? Twelve?) the money that flowed from DVDs/Blu-rays strengthened the DGA's, SAG's, IATSE's and every other Hollywood labor organization's bottom line. For animated product, the cash flow is still sizable, because parents continue to buy animation disks by the truckload. Kids watch Madagascar and Ice Age over and over, so it makes sense to have a shelf of Disney, DreamWorks and Blue Sky features close at hand.

There are three full-bore animated features in this week's Top Ten, and a noticeable amount of animation in the seven live-action specimens. So it's small wonder that the field of animation continues to grow. The market is alive and ravenous.

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Ms. Chapman goes on record in the Record.

“The premiere was a double-edged sword because I had been replaced by Mark during production. ...

“It [Brave] is still very much my film. But I think that is going to hurt always. It was very hard to believe what was happening (when I was replaced) and I never really got a straight answer as to why. It still haunts me today.”

It's never easy when you're pushed overboard. You emotionally hurt. You physically hurt. And it's not even like there's a "right" or a "wrong," a "just" or an "unjust."

It's just the way the corporate world ... and world in general ... works. Somebody has the power to make a change, so they make it. John Lasseter -- in this case, the person with the power -- felt there should be a new director on Brave, and he made it happen. From his perspective, bringing in Mr. Andrews was the right thing to do.

As to Brenda not getting a straight answer regarding why she was sacked? In my experience people seldom get the unvarnished truth. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. It's the way dismissals usually go down*.

* Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, through not many. Much thanks to the people who brought the above piece to our attention.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday TV Animation

... finishes behind Jimmy Stewart in black-and-white.

"It's a Wonderful Life" (1.5/6 in 18-49, 5.6 million viewers) ranked #1 for the night among ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in adults 18-49, total viewers and all other key ratings categories.

It's the #1 theatrical movie on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox so far this season in total viewers and tied for #1 in adults 18-49 (with CBS's December 15 airing of "Elf"). It's also the biggest overall audience for a telecast of "It's a Wonderful Life" since Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005. ...

Disney's Prep and Landing came in a distant second during the 8 o'clock hour, and Shrek the Halls held down second place at 8:30 on ABC. And the theatrical Shrek the Third was in the third position -- though not by much -- at 9:00 p.m.

So I guess we can agree that it's reckless to underestimate the power of Frank Capra at Christmastime. Even if you're Shrek.
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Merry VFX Christmas!

VFX Soldier's campaign to end subsidies in the visual effects industry met its first financial goal yesterday around 3:00pm!

As previously mentioned, Soldier launched a crowd-funded campaign to:
challenge and mitigate subsidies that violate international trade agreements.
This campaign has been broken into stages and each stage will have a funding goal. The now-funded first stage will create a feasibility study that will determine what, if any, course of action can be taken to effectively attack these subsidies.

The campaign was briefly stopped by the crowd-funding website, Indiegogo for a few days. Solider explains that the website was seeking clarity on some matters of importance that led to the addition of this paragraph to the campaigns funding page:
Who Is The Law Firm's Client?

We have resolved Indiegogo issues and the Campaign to End VFX Subsidies is now back on-line. In response to their diligence, we have clarified that the law firm is preparing a feasibility study with VFX Soldier as its client so that it receives direction from one client and does not have independent attorney-client relationships with each contributor to the campaign. Once the feasibility study is completed by the firm, that work product will be transmitted to the client, VFX Soldier. If and when, as a result of the feasibility study, VFX Soldier and the law firm determine that there is legal action that is worth pursuing, those parties will reevaluate the representation, redefine its scope, and, potentially, after consultation with any appropriate additional parties, redefine who the law firm's client is for the next stage.

The fact that the first stage reached its funding goal so quickly shows that the this "race to the bottom" now faces its biggest fight yet. The realities of these subsidies, how they are funded and who really benefits, are starting to be understood by the artists and employees who are suffering their effects. These visual effects professionals now have the chance to act, in solidarity, to make lasting and positive changes to the field they've chosen to make their careers.

Working collectively to establish working standards and conditions that the professional has a voice in forming?! Hmmm .. I think I've heard that somewhere before ..

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 18

Much the same subject matter as the Christmas eve card below, but a whole different treatment.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

So Why Theatrical?

The Brew, Reporter and others have noted that Disney Toon Studios will be releasing the (up to now) direct-to-video Planes on large silver screens across the U.S. and Canada.

... Planes originally was planned for a direct-to-home entertainment release when it was announced several years ago. The movie does for the world of airplanes what Cars did for the world of automobiles and even takes cues from the designs ...

So why would the Mouse be releasing a feature produced largely in India (story, design, and some animation is being done at the DT studio in Glendale, California) into theaters? ...

There's speculation that Diz Co. wants to throw an animated something against DreamWorks Animation's Turbo and there is some resonance to that. (This is the feature that's ready for release against the second DWA film of the year so ... why not?)

But I think the three biggest reasons are:

1) Merchandise
2) Merchandise
3) Merchandise

Cars toys has made gazillions for the Burbank conglomerate, and Planes has Winged Action Figure! pasted all over it. So what if it's an Indian-based production? Walt's company isn't some high-toned Florentine art studio.

This is about the MO-neeey.
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Merry Ralph Hulett's Christmas!

Once more the star in the night. You get to see back-to-back treatments of the same subject ... in different years.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

A Schulz-Melendez Christmas

As the Journal informs us:

Of all the "Peanuts" television specials ever made, the first—"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)—was the Charlie Browniest. The 25-minute special was an underdog, just like its hapless protagonist, and barely made it on the air. CBS gave producer Lee Mendelson so minuscule a budget, we learn in Charles Solomon's "The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation," that he was forced to fund the rest out of his own pocket—even though Coca-Cola had already guaranteed sponsorship. When "A Charlie Brown Christmas" pulled in sensational ratings, CBS grudgingly asked for follow-ups. "We're going to order four more," a network executive told Mr. Mendelson, "though my aunt in New Jersey didn't like it either"—a line that Schulz might have written.

Bill Melendez, "A Charlie Brown Christmas's" director, did almost all of Charles' Schulz's "Peanuts" specials, commercials and episodics from the start of their partnership until Schulz's death. His studio was in Hollywood, fully contained in three homey bungalows on Larchmont. The place was small, easy-going and efficient.

Bill was a die-hard unionist. He walked out of Walt Disney Productions when the animation crew went on strike in 1941, and never worked at the Mouse House again. A decade later, he was President of the Screen Cartoonists Guild (TAG's predecessor, and the union that organized Disney in '41) when Walt had his revenge against that union and teamed with the IATSE to help form a rival union.

This one.

Bill didn't take the attack on the SCG lightly or kindly. When he formed his own studio, Bill Melendez Productions, in the 1960s, he made sure he signed a union contract, but it wasn't with the Animation Guild Local 839, it was with the Teamsters. It remained that way for the next forty-plus years.

I was always sorry about it, but I understood Mr. Melendez's reasons, and respected them. Sometimes old wounds go deep.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas Eve

Shepherds, sheep, and starlight.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bob Foster's Christmas Poem

By request, just for YOU, the President's verses.

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the studios
All the artists were working, chairs stuck to their gluteus.
Christmas bonuses dangled like carrots on sticks.
Artists fell for the gag like a bag full of bricks.

Ev’ry year they fell for the same weary tune
“Help us out of this jam and we’ll pay you next June,”
Said the bosses, investors and corporate suits,
With their parachutes, options and camel hair boots.

Then they’d file for protection with chapter eleven,
Then laugh all the way to the bank with their seven,
Maybe eight bags of cash of a shocking amount
To deposit next week in their Swiss bank account.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Pardon me, can’t you see that I must catch my flight
To my ranch in Aruba, then on to Geneva, so
Happy New Year and thanks now I really must go.
Oh, and this marks the end of your health care and bennies.
Thanks for not going union and working for pennies.”

All the artists were stunned by this rotten transgression
Against all their hard work in this noble profession
So they opened their own place and signed with the Guild
Now they all have a pension and health plan for skilled
Union workers and spouses and dependent youth.
So it pays to “Go Union,” now ain’t that the truth?

Read it off your lap top ... in front of the fire ... with your loved ones.

You'll get a warm, toasty feeling inside.

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Your Overseas Box Office

The newer totals:

... Third was DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians, which collected $13.7 million in its sixth round overseas from 6,251 locations in 60 markets. The Paramount release lifted its foreign gross total well past the $100-million mark ($142.9 million). ...

Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s 3D family animation title, boosted its foreign take to $7.3 million its eighth round in 34 territories, and nudged its foreign gross total $67.6 million. Thanks to its strong domestic performance, the film has grossed a worldwide total of $239.5 million. ...

Hotel Transylvania's foreign gross total stands at $164.6 million. Universal’s Ted, $284.2 million.

Here's an interesting comparison factoid: Rise of the Guardians has collected $222.6 million worldwide to date, and Box Office Mojo lists its costs at $145 million.

Wreck-It Ralph, generally considered a bigger success because it's done better domestically, has a global box office total of $239.5 million and a budget (per Mojo) of $165 million.

So let's crunch the numbers. You see a big difference in the amount of money they've taken in after accounting for costs*?

Neither do I. (Perceptions are much of the game.)

* Admittedly, the Mojo's production cost listings might not be super accurate, but they're what we have to go on, yes?
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 15

A domed cathedral, european-style fountain and foreground autumn leaves. Hulett didn't paint domed churches that often, but he uses it here to good effect.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Weekend box Office

Two animated titles (not counting live-action effects work) in the Big Ten.

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (MGM/WB) Week 2 [Runs 4,100] PG13 Friday $10.5M (-73%), Weekend $31.5M, Cume $145.2M

2. Jack Reacher (Skydance/Paramount) NEW [Runs 3,352] PG13 Friday $5.7M, Weekend $17.5M

3. This Is 40 (Universal) NEW [Runs 2,912] R Friday $4.0M, Weekend $12.0M

4. Rise Of The Guardians (DW Animation/Par) Week 5 [Runs 3,031] PG Friday $1.5M, Weekend $7.2M, Cume $79.8M

5. Monsters Inc 3D (Pixar/Disney) Week 1 [Runs 2,618] G Friday $1.4M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $6.5M

6. The Guilt Trip (Skydance/Paramount) Week 1 [Runs 2,431] PG13 Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.7M, Cume $6.7M

7. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 7 [Runs 2,293] PG13 Friday $1.4M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $116.7M

8. Skyfall (MGM/Sony) Week 7 [Runs 2,365] PG13 Friday $1.2M, Weekend $4.0M, Cume $279.1M

9. Life Of Pi (Fox) Week 5 [Runs 1,750] PG Friday $1.1M, Weekend $4.2M, Cume $76.5M

10. Breaking Dawn Pt 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 6 [Runs 2,000] PG13 Friday $817K, Weekend $2.8M, Cume $281.9M

Moving View Master takes Monsters, Inc. to themiddle of the pack. Guardians continues to hang in, but it seems to me its domestic multipe will be -- per the Koch Opening Numbers Calculator -- will be four to four and a half times its opening weekend gross of $23.8 million.

That's a pretty good multiplier, and not unexpected given its "A" CinemaScore, but the opening weekend numbers were weak compared to DWA's recent box office performances.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 14

A snowy New England winter's night, painted in the middle 1950s. Hulett went back to these shapes, colors and design themes many times over the years.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Better News for Guardians?

Are things looking up for DreamWorks Animation? From the Nikkster's weekend box office prediction:

3. Rise Of The Guardians (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) Week 5 in 3,031 theaters. This should amass another $12M-$15M this weekend because of the paucity of toons. Gross not as disappointing now…

The gross could well in the mid to high 80s by the end of the Christmas holiday. That would put it within hailing distance of $100 million.

This ain't a lot by recent Dreamworks Animation standards, but combined with the grosses overseas, Guardians could end up above the $300 million mark after it sails through the holiday season. (A DreamWorker told me today that the company has had 17 money-makers in a row.)
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Winnie Still in Disney's Corner

The courts rule ... and rule again.

... . Disney Enterprises today had its trademark ownership rights to Winnie-the-Pooh reconfirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeal. In a 2-1 ruling (read it here), the Federal Circuit said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office appeals board was correct to dismiss a challenge to Disney’s rights from publisher Stephen Slesinger Inc. “Accordingly, the Board correctly applied collateral estoppel to prevent Slesinger from asserting a claim that its 1983 grant of rights to Disney was a license as opposed to an assignment,” said judges Randall Ray Radar and Kathleen O’Malley of the Appeals Court in their majority opinion Friday. ...

What I find most amazing about this isn't that Disney prevailed in the case -- The Mouse has very deep pockets, after all -- but that Milne's work is still under copyright a gazillion years after he created it.

The other amazing wrinkle is that Milne's Winnie the Pooh franchise is the thing Mr. M. is known for, even though he wrote popular plays, novels and verses in his day. Ninety-plus years later, almost all of them are forgotten.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 13

A snowy winterscape (from original artwork a tad worse for wear). The view looks remarkably like Angeles National Forest, the huge forest preserve above Los Angeles, and which loomed above our house in La Crescenta ...

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Age-Based Asset Allocation

WHen you've done 401(k) Plan enrollments for as long as I have, you figure out that having twenty and thirty-somethings invest mostly in stocks is great in theory but often bad in reality.

Because, when stocks drop a fast thirty or forty percent in a couple of months, even young hearts grow weak. Often-times cookies are tossed, and people bail out of the stock market at exactly the wrong time. (Like right at the bottom.) As financial advisor Rick Ferri says:

... “The ability of young people to handle high levels of equity is a fallacy. It may be technically correct based on long-term returns, but not on short-term emotion. Many young people have far less appetite for equity risk than the age-based model assumes. This is because they’re inexperienced at taking risk and this often leads to capitulation during a bear market.” ...

What I tell artists who are enrolling in TAG's 401(k) is, "Understand your capacity for pain." Because lots of people think they can be aggressive investors and handle disaster, but really can't. I say, "If you're somebody who throws up every time the stock market goes down, maybe you shouldn't be in the stock market. Why ruin your health over a bit of extra money that might take years to show up?"

The TAG 401(k) Plan has a suite of Vanguard Target Retirement Funds; two of them have conservative (Vanguard Retirement Income is 70% bonds; Vanguard Retirement 2010 is 55% bonds.) The Plan also has PIMCO Total Return, an actively managed bond fund.

I tell people over and over: the best strategy is to put at least a few bucks of week into a retirement account, and if you have conservative accounts that won't grow quite as much, that's fine. The idea is to start putting money away; it's not crucial that you put the money into stocks.

I bring this up now because if you want to get into the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan at the start of the year, you have until January 4th to get the paperwork in.
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At DreamWorks Animation

I spent a chunk of my morning at the Glendale campus ...

The mood inside the Lakeside building was somber. Various staffers informed me about recent layoffs and personal service contracts getting rewritten during option time, with guaranteed end dates getting changed to "at will." I was told:

Surfacers and some others have gotten laid off and work transferred to India. Costs are lower there. A while back management laid off part of a department and told them the work was going offshore. They haven't told us things like that since, but people know that jobs are being shifted. ...

... Three or four years from now, who knows what will be over there? Or how much will be here? ...

Moving work to the sub-continent has been going on for a few years now, starting with Puss in Boots. It was a subject of the negotiations between TAG and the company last Spring. At that time, the Animation Guild agreed to concessions to keep work here in California. More recently, minds have been focused by news stories like this:

DreamWorks Animation Could Take $45M Write-Off For ‘Guardians’: Analyst

The studio could take the hit in its Q4 report, Lazard Capital Markets’ Barton Crockett predicts this morning, which might result in a 6 cent per share loss for the quarter vs his previous estimate for a 30 cent profit. Crockett figures that Rise Of The Guardians will end up generating $130M at domestic box offices, plus $276M overseas (similar to How To Train Your Dragon) with sales of 4.9M DVDs (compared to 6.1M for Megamind). What’s more, the analyst says that the “muted performance” of Guardians “is prompting us to pare back box office assumptions for the rest of the 2013 slate”

DreamWorks Animation, the only major stand-alone cartoon studio in the U.S., has been doing a graceful, high-wire act for years, turning out a string of box office hits. But no corporate entity is forever and always successful. Even Pixar has its occasional misfires, and now it's DreamWorks Animation's turn.

So belt-tightening is taking place. It's not a nice reality if you're a DWA employee who's getting notice, but as I said to one worried staffer, it's happened before at other L.A. studios, and it will no doubt happen again. The movie business is often a roller coaster.

Small consolation when you're on an unemployment line, but Hollywood jobs seldom last forever.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nick Clawback?

Earlier in the month there was this:

... Viacom has seen ratings at key network brands return to growth in recent weeks, president and CEO Philippe Dauman emphasized at a big year-end investor conference here Monday.

Speaking at the 40th annual Global Media and Communications Conference, he said: "I'm happy to see that our [programming] investments are paying off" at Nickelodeon, as well as MTV, emphasizing ratings are up at Nickelodeon and MTV year-over-year over the past few weeks. ...

Asked about Nickelodeon, he cited the success of the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a key turning point for ratings. Asked about SpongeBob Square Pants, Dauman called it "a perennial" and "a very strong franchise." ...

Then there was this ...

Dec. 11, 2012– Nickelodeon rang in the holiday cheer this weekend with the original It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! special (Saturday, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. ET/PT), which drew 4.8 million total viewers. Nickelodeon’s first-ever full-length stop-motion animated special won its time period across all TV and posted strong, double-digit gains over last year with K2-11 (7.8/2.6 million, +30%), K6-11 (7.7/1.5 million, +45%), T9-14 (5.7/1.2 million, +84%) and A18-49 (1.2/1.3 million, +33%). ...

And lastly this:

Dec. 18, 2012– Nickelodeon notched another winning week with the premiere of the brand-new “Peter Rabbit’s Christmas Tale,” which drew 3 million total viewers and ranks as the top preschool telecast for the week. Peter Rabbit also was the highest-rated show among both preschoolers and kids 2-11 across all TV in the time period. Additionally, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) took the top spots with K2-11, respectively, and rank as the top two animated series with K6-11 this week. Victorious was the week’s number-one telecast with T9-14.

With the understanding that the paragraphs above are the Chief Executive Officer and press releases talking, Nickelodeon might be getting some of its momentum back.

Sure, the network is dabbling in a wee bit of spin, but the ratings are what they are. So maybe Disney and Cartoon Network will discover Nick walking across the top of their ratings some bright Tuesday afternoon.
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Hollywood Accounting!

The time-honored Tinsel Town custom of doctoring the books goes back a long ways. And it still goes on with a carefree abandon.

You know the drill, no matter how much a blockbuster film makes, it somehow never turns a profit. And now there is a great new scam! Getting taxpayers to pay for your movie!

You want to laugh yourself sick, watch the first half of what Max Keiser unspools for us, directly below.

Many human beings have feet of clay. In a word, they're corrupt. And they go on being corrupt until a life-changing experience ... sometimes jail, sometimes bankruptcy, and very occasionally the Good Book ... makes them straighten up and fly right.

Above, Mr. Keiser focuses on the public-private corruption going on in Michigan. A Friend of the Blog likes to point out how corrupt Public Unions are, also a few private unions. Me, I like to point out that most institutions designed by upright mammals with opposable thumbs go to the Dark Side at one time or another. Banks cook the books with phoney interest rates (Libor, anyone?) and falsify mortgage documents. Movie studios deprive creators of profits by falsifying profit reports. Unions buy property they probably shouldn't.

My point here is, we can harp on some of the crookedness, or we can harp on the larger universe of corruption. I happen to think it's better to point out the wider spectrum of double-dealing. After all, we live in a fallen world. It's good to remember this.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 12

Christmas in the American Southwest, a continuing Hulett theme. You will note the Yucca plant, of the type shown in the the "Three Wise Men" card down below.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Moving View Master

... ain't what it used to be.

Hollywood isn't seeing as much green in 3-D re-releases as it had hoped.

Considered an easy new revenue source after the 3-D re-release of Walt Disney Studios' "The Lion King" popped out of the screen and grossed nearly $100 million last year, most such follow-ups have landed with a thud in 2012.

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" and "Finding Nemo" were both disappointments, grossing $47.6 million and $40.7 million, respectively, in the U.S. and Canada.

At the risk of ticking off various movie execs (and James Cameron), I must say that the overall underwhelmingness of theatrical 3-D (at the box office and otherwise) doesn't surprise me.

If the dimensional viewing experience went for the same ticket price as the flat-screen version, then maybe it would have a bit of added value, and would pull extra fannies -- and accompanying eyes -- into theater seats.


But to pay a couple of extra bucks to wear the goggles and squint at a dimmer screen? For the moving View Master experience?

Count me out. I see lots of newer animated features, but since Toy Story 3 when younger son demanded to know, "WHY are we watching this in 3-D" and I had no compelling answer, I seek out the non 3-D versions of the latest movies.

Call me a Luddite.
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The TAG William Joyce Interview -- Part II

William Joyce on how he became a book writer and illustrator.

Below, the second half of the TAG interview:

TAG Interview with William Joyce

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

The way Mr. Joyce got into the cartoon business? John Lasseter called him up, asking if he could pitch one of his books to Jeffrey Katzenberg as a film project.

William Joyce said "okay."

The next Lasseter phone call was one saying that Jeffrey hadn't wanted to do the book pitch, but he liked the other pitch John had, about toys.

Then John Lasseter asked: "Would you like to come out to California and work on it?"

Mr. Joyce said "Sure." The project turned out to be Toy Story.
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Monday, December 17, 2012

The William Joyce TAG Interview -- Part I

Here at Christmas time, what better way to celebrate the season than talking to William Joyce?

TAG Interview with William Joyce

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link
If you don't know, Mr. Joyce is a prolific book writer and illustrator with a long list of best-selling books. He also does lots of animation ...

William Joyce grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and went to film school at SMU. But making movies wasn't where he got his professional start. Writing and illustrating lots of innovative, eye-catching books was.

Mr. Joyce published his first book in 1981, when he was fresh out of college. He has written dozens and dozens since, among them: Santa Calls, The Leaf Men, Dinosaur BOb, Greorge Shrinks, A Day With Wilbur Robinson, The Man in the Moon, and Rolie Polie Olie.

We talked to William Joyce by phone, from the Moonbot Animation Studio in Shreveport, Louisiana.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 11

The little drummer boy rum tum tumming in the snow.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where We Are

Way more true than I like:

... Today, in most of America, unions have it bad. And part of the reason it’s bad is because we no longer know how to organize. Imagine trying to organize workers in your call center or warehouse, or your software gaming firm or your human rights NGO, as they’re doing at Amnesty International. The pressures against you — from worker cynicism and colleagues’ fear of losing their jobs, to personal relations with your boss and superiors, the bills you have to pay, and simple questions like "how do I organize" and "how do I know I won’t be screwed" — not to mention the inevitable appearance of company snitches, provocateurs, and just run-of-the-mill assholes and idiots... I’m not even talking here about your company’s ability to fire you, demote you, abolish your department, slash your pay, pretty much whatever the Hell they want ever since Reagan busted the air traffic controller’s union... This is the lot of American labor organizers in 2012 , except for in a few remaining pockets of America where union power and memory is still strong and tightly woven into the local cultural DNA.

Michigan is one of those places, which is why crushing labor power there would be as inspiring to the rightwing oligarchs who just got creamed at the polls as, say, the rise of the Tea Party was in early 2009. ...

The moves in Michigan shouldn't surprise anyone. Strangle labor. Shut down abortion clinics. Cut the social safety net. It's what the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower (the best American President during my lifetime) now does.

And of course the shooting up of schools and malls continues. (As Will Rogers used to say: "Ah. The season's started early this year.")

And no doubt we'll have more politicians bemoaning the fact that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School wasn't packing heat. (Just today a conservative friend shared this:)

Why Israel Doesn't Have Shootings in Schools:

It's a fine photograph, and I would be in favor of doing these things that Israel does, as long as we did Israel's other gun things:

Applicants for a gun owner’s licence in Israel are required to prove genuine reason to possess a firearm, for example, self-defence, hunting and sport

The minimum age for gun ownership in Israel is 27 years and 21 years if served in the military

An applicant for a firearm licence in Israel must pass background checks which consider health, mental and criminal records

In Israel gun owners must re-apply and re-qualify for their firearm licence every 3 years

In Israel, authorities maintain a record of individual civilians licensed to acquire, possess, sell or transfer a firearm or ammunition

A licensed firearm owner in Israel is permitted to possess a limited quantity of ammunition ...

(And there's the small point that Israel, in addition to having teachers who tote rifles, also has universal health coverage.)

But back to reality, American style: Regarding guns, the shootings will continue, and no new legislation will be forthcoming.

And regarding "Right to Work": There will be more push to get rid of pesky labor unions, and unions will push back (with mixed results.) If we're lucky, we'll hang onto Medicare and Social Security and a few other programs the population claims to favor. And if we're not, then we'll eventually be back in the cultural times of Calvin Coolidge, and not liking it much.

Add On: Here's how the the next bit of history target="_blank" about weaponry in America will go:

... We all know how the "national conversation" on guns will happen, with liberals saying there are too many guns, and conservatives yelling that we're politicizing it and also, too, arm the kindergarten teachers and the problems will be solved.

And then nothing will happen, and sadly we'll do it all again.

Ronald Reagan supported the Brady Handgun Law, but that fact has been swallowed up in the dark folds of time. I long ago stopped being actively involved in working for or against gun control legislation. Over and over, it's gone the way Duncan Black describes above. George W. Bush supported a ban on automatic weapons, but when the law lapsed no renewals were forthcoming. Barack Obama's administration has okayed carrying weapons in the national parks.

I mostly don't think much about the issue anymore, since I consider it a waste of time. But then, twenty six-year-olds and several adults are blown away by a deranged person, and you're sort of forced to think about it.
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Overseas Collections

The weekend box office in foreign lands is robust.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey cleaned up on the foreign theatrical circuit by bagging $138.2 million at 18,200 screens ...

[Number two Rise of the Guardians] collected $20.1 million in its fifth round overseas from 7,400 locations in 59 markets. A No. 2 Australia bow generated $3.7 million at 259 locations. ...

The Paramount release lifted its foreign gross total past the $100-million mark ($119.4 million). An India opening is on tap this week. ...

Wreck-It Ralph drew $4.7 million its seventh round in 29 territories, and nudged its foreign gross total $57.7. Thanks to its strong domestic performance, the film has grossed a worldwide total of $226.5 million ...

Hotel Transylvania grossed $1.9 million at 1,755 sites in 50 markets. The title’s foreign gross total stands at $162 million.

The worldwide swag for Rise of the Guardians is at $190.8 million, while Hotel Transylvania stands at $305.8 million.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holiday Derby

The animation, it's still in the Top Ten.

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (NL/MGM/WB) NEW [Runs 4,045] PG13 Friday $37.0M, Weekend $96M

2. Skyfall (Eon/MGM/Sony) Week 6 [Runs 2,924] PG13 Friday $2.0M, Weekend $7.0M, Cume $272.4M

3. Lincoln (DreamWorks/Fox/Disney) Week 6 [Runs 2,285] PG13 Friday $1.8M, Weekend $6.3M, Cume $107.0M

4. Rise Of The Guardians (DWA/Par) Week 4 [Runs 3,387] PG Friday $1.5M, Weekend $7.0M, Cume $70.9M

5. Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 5 [Runs 3,042] PG13 Friday $1.5M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $276.7M

6. Life Of Pi (Fox) Week 4 [Runs 2,548] PG Friday $1.4M, Weekend $5.0M, Cume $69.2M

7. Playing For Keeps (Millenium/FilmDistrict) Week 2 [Runs 2,840] PG13 Friday $1.0K (-53%), Weekend $3.0M, Cume $10.6M

8. Wreck-It Ralph (Disney) Week 7 [Runs 2,249]PG Friday $750K, Weekend $3.2M, Cume $168.7M

9. Red Dawn (MGM/FilmDistrict) Week 4 [Runs 2,250] PG13 Friday $725K, Weekend $2.5M, Cume $41.7M

10. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) Week 5 [Runs 371] R Friday $560K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $16.8M

Fifty-eight percent of Guardians' grosses come from abroad. Domestically, the picture looks as though it will brush up against $100 million but not way beyond. We'll see.

Wreck-It Ralph should get up over $180 million in the US. and Canada.

Add On: Rise of the Guardians had a 29% drop in box office receipts and ended up #2 at the domestic box office in its fourth week of release.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 10

Santa abandons sleigh and reindeer for a Model T.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Two Peas ...

... in the proverbial pod.

Life of Pi
Release Date: November 21, 2012
Domestic Gross: $64,159,406
Production Budget: $120 million

Rise of the Guardians
Release date: November 21, 2012
Domestic Gross: $63,941,823
Production Budget: $145 million

By another name, two 3-D extravaganzas, rolled out on the same date, both collecting similar amounts of money at the box office.

Trouble is, Guardians is performing below the DreamWorks Animation box officer norm, while Pi is doing relatively well (if not better) for an Ang Lee feature.

(Here is a pro followed by a con argument regarding Rise of the Guardians grosses.)

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Up and Coming

Last week I had lunch with a veteran Cartoon Network staffer, who told me:

There's this new show, Clarence, that is really funny. The guy who created it is really funny, and it shows. But you can't mention this on the blog. The network hasn't announced it. ..."

Well, as of a couple of days ago, they announced it ...

Cartoon Network has greenlit Clarence, a new animated series created by up-and-comer Skyler Page. The network has ordered twelve 15-minute episodes from the project about Clarence, an optimistic boy who wants to do everything because everything is amazing. This is the third short-form series to come out of the shorts development initiative at Cartoon Network Studios this year ...

When an industry veteran who knows most everyone and has worked on almost everything tells you that a new offering is "really amusing," you tend to listen. At least I do.

But of course, he was talking about the pilot. Now the show has to live up to its promise and be funny for "twelve 15-minute episodes." Then, if successful, it has to be funny for another twelve.
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Thursday, December 13, 2012


This del Toro guy seems to be everywhere.

Fox Animation Studios has come aboard to make Guillermo del Toro and Reel FX's adventure Book of Life, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Fox will open the film, which Del Toro is producing, on Oct. 10, 2014. Originally titled Day of the Dead, after the famous Mexican celebration, the movie's title is now Book of Life ...

He's at DreamWorks Animation, he's at Reel FX. The man gets around, no?

And of course he's hip deep in live-action movies.
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Of Unions and Wages

Walking down the hall of a signator studio today, I was stopped by an artist who told me this:

"My last job was up at Laika. I liked the place, but I've been down here a bunch of month and man. The pay is way better. I mean, I really got a jump, which is amazing.

I wish I could stay here the next twenty years. That would be great." ...

I've heard this a number of times as Business Representative. "Man, my wages are better in this union studio ...".

(To be fair, I've also heard: "You know, I was making better bread at the non-union place in Glendale, and I didn't have to wait for health coverage, and I didn't have to pay your freaking fees!")

Here's my take: If you work in a TAG animation studio for twenty or more years, you will end up with more money and a more comfortable retirement than if you work at non-signator studios, even if those studios pay roughly equivalent wages. (Sometimes they do; often they don't. Depends on your skill set and the market.)

In the time I've done this job, I've had numbers of old-timers traipse into my office and tell me:

"I'm sixty-four, jobs have gotten scarce. I've got Social Security but I worked thirty years in non-union studios and there's no pension. What can you do for me?"

Inevitably, my answer is "Not much."

When an artist is on the back side of his career and the people who always recommended him for that next gig have retired, the options narrow. If you don't have a Plan B ("I'll retire a few years early and take 80% of the industry pension, also get most of Social Security ...") you can end up stocking shelves at Trader Joe's and replaying in your head where, exactly, you went wrong.

This could, of course, be the future of lots more artists and unionized workers if the recent Michigan and Indiana "right-to-work" snowballs keep rolling downhill, growing fatter as they go. The days when powerful labor unions could shut down entire industries are several country-miles behind us.

Long term, what this brave new world means for animation employees is, artists making less money week-to-week; artists working longer hours to maintain decent life-styles. Sadly, this is pretty much the direction working people have been traveling for years:

"There's been a very steady, long-term shrinkage" in the number of people in the middle class, said Paul Taylor, executive vice president for nonpartisan research group. "There's also less money in the middle."

Since 2001, median household income has fallen from $72,956 to $69,487 in 2010, the report said.

The median household net worth, which is the value of assets minus debt, dropped from $129,582 to $93,150 over the same 10-year period, according to Pew, which analyzed U.S. data along with its own survey of nearly 1,300 adults who consider themselves middle class. ...

Actually, real median income has been declining since the 1970s, around the time labor unions began their long slide in power and leverage. Coincidence? Or cause and effect? I'm not smart enough to know, though I have my suspicions.

But I've got three sure-fire remedies to the "every working stiff for himself" mania now sweeping the country: Be sure to live below your means, and tuck as much money as possible into retirement accounts. Also, work as long as you can.

Because when you reach the age of sixty-seven and pull that first, shrunken Social Security check, you will need every cent.

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MPI Premiums - Pay Online!

* Click above image for larger view
The time has almost arrived when the premium charges will be introduced to the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan. These premiums charges will apply only for participants interested in coverage for eligible dependents. MPI has recently mailed out premium statements to participants with two informative fliers we've included here.

The one above shows the three acceptable methods of payment. The most cost-effective method would be to set up payments online at the MPI website.

* Click above image for larger view
The second flier announces the availability of online payments will be starting on Monday, December 17th. Follow the instructions on the flier to set up your premium payment account with MPI. Its our understanding that participants will be able to set up recurring payments using this method. This ensures that payments will be received regularly and on-time.

Participating members with any questions about premiums are encouraged to call MPI at (818) 845-7500 or (855) 275-4674.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 9

Two different types of pine trees ... covered in snow. (From the late fifties.)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Animation and Women

I post about the above from time to time. And a couple of days ago I got this:

I'm an animation guild member and I wanted to comment on the your piece in the nov 2012 pegboard.

Your piece, as well as the piece that you cite from slate magazine are kinda all over the place and just throwing (well meaning) fists blindly;

"Chapman's story is a striking counterpoint to the conventional hollywood wisdom that a raunchy environment is a necessary condition for strong creative work."

That's a rather bizarre assertion by the slate writer. Does she imagine that the writing staff of "dora the explorer" or "beauty and the beast" is constantly riding the very cutting edge of blue, hard core sexual humor? and that hollywood thinks that the only way to get out a profitable "harry potter" pic out is to have the writers religiously attend the lunch buffet at the local strip club? she's extracting a broad sentiment from a very specific instance - the writing environment at "friends", a show that is about the lives of young adults and their views on the opposite sex, sex, sexual activities, body parts, etc. that kind of "vulgar" talk and "headspace" amidst the writers is RELEVANT to the kind of material actually in the show.

Chapman's story is not a counterpoint to "the conventional hollywood wisdom" because THAT'S NOT CONVENTIONAL HOLLYWOOD WISDOM! If you're writing kids' stuff, you're going to be in a pretty tame envioronment compared to if you're writing an episode of "Sex in the City". the lawsuit in which the slate writer refers to probably would have gone very differently if the plaintiff was a writer's assistant on sesame street.

And you bring up the fact that chapman was replaced and also that somebody at pixar said that the movie turned out pretty much as chapman envisioned. You kind of let it go at that but considering the context, it's as if you are saying that she was replaced BECAUSE she was a woman.

Is that so?

Do you know why she was replaced?

I do not.

But considering the extremely inclusive stories that pixar tells, along with such things as the participation of their members in the youtube campaign "it gets better", i dunno, i kind of feel like they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was replaced because she kept bringing in a rabid resus monkey that flung feces at the animators' heads (just a hypothetical example that has no source in reality). would that still serve to support your point?

So like with the Slate piece, you kind of try to shoehorn an oblique example to make a point but that oblique example in no way ACTUALLY backs up your point. or if you know of information that would make the example actually support your thesis (that she was in fact replaced because she was a woman), it's not present in your piece.

And that's simply not fair to pixar or perhaps even to chapman.

Finally, you say that "women make up 17% of the animation guild. however, they make up 50% of the animation department at cal arts. draw your own conclusions."



What percentage of the guild comes from Cal Arts? What is the percentage of women in other animation schools? Women in the guild 17% in 2012, when was the Cal Arts women enrollment 50%? Slso in 2012??? It would actually be kinda absurd to draw my own conclusions just from those data points that you throw out. ...

The "Peg-board article" the member refers to is actually this.

(It's probably wrong to have blog posts perform double duty as newsletter articles, but I get cramped for time, you know? So I take shortcuts.)

I answered the member thusly:

... I won’t defend the Slate writer’s paragraphs. I linked to the piece; Slate can defend itself. (Personally, I see no reason women can’t write “raunch,” or “kid’s entertainment,” or whatever. But they’ve got to get themselves hired to do it.)

As to why Chapman was let go, I haven’t talked to her. But I’ve read her pieces about the departure, and she seems ... miffed. Here’s the first-hand info I’ve got:

Brenda said in a panel discussion TAG sponsored that she was “the token female” at Pixar. Was she joking? Half joking? I donno. They have women in administration up there, but not any (so far as I know) in the “brain trust.” SO yeah, they don’t (didn’t) have many women in creative positions. What the percentage is up there today, I know not. (Second hand, I know that she was recruited by Pixar’s Joe Ranft. I was told that he kind of ran interference for her at the studio, and that when he died, that “protection” went away.)

I talked to one of Brenda’s board artists on “Brave” (I ran across him at Disney Feature) and tried to find out if “Brave’s” story changed substantially after Ms. Chapman got the axe. He said there were changes, but they were in tone and some continuity points. He said “basic story stayed the same after Brenda left.” Maybe some other artists who worked on it disagree, but that’s the story I got.

You’re right about my end sentence. I needed more context to it. Since I didn’t provide any, let me provide some now.

I’ve written the same kind of tub-thumping “There’s not enough women!” pieces before, and gotten push-back from men in blog comments, also a few e-mails. One man asserted that he was a director and there just weren’t many women out there applying for animation work (maybe true, maybe not, but I have no way of verifying, since he posted anonymously); that women weren’t that interested in cartoons, etc. He offered as part of his proof of this lack of interest that few women were enrolled in Cal Arts Animation program, compared to men.

Aha. Something I could verify.

So I called Cal Arts. And they told me when I asked that half the students in the animation program were women.

My conclusion? That the anonymous-commenter-who-claimed-to-be-a-veteran-animation-director was wrong. And if he was wrong about the enrollment at Cal Arts, there’s at least a bit of a possibility that he was wrong about the other stuff he was throwing at me. Of course, the “director” might be some chubby 20-year-old in a Des Moines basement, claiming to be an animation director. When folks post anonymously, there is no way of knowing.

Enough. The reason I write about the lack of women in creative positions is because I think there should be more of them. There’s many females on the corporate/executive side, so why not in creative slots? I have never bought the “lack of qualified applicants” argument, because it’s bunk. In any case, you don’t NEED a high percentage of women relative to men, you only need enough qualified women to fill the available slots. Brenda got HER first job because the studio was “looking for women,” after all.

(You should know that I exempt Jeffrey Katzenberg from my complaints about the lack of women in the animation biz. He has consistently pushed policies to hire and promote women. Ms. Chapman was hired by the House of Mouse while Jeffrey was there, she got her first story director’s job on “Beauty and the Beast,” first director’s gig at DreamWorks Animation. Katzenberg has boosted many women since -- Vicki Jenson, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, etc.)

It’s good that Disney Feature has its first woman director on “Frozen.” I hope there are more.

Mr. Katzenberg, whether you love him and DreamWorks Animation or not, has been noted as one of the few studio chieftans who actually installs and women in key positions. To wit:

... Dreamworks Animation may be the only big Hollywood company out there to have more women in significant positions of power than men. Which makes some amount of sense for the company that backed the only big-budget animated film in history so far to be directed by a lone woman, Jennifer Yuh Nelson‘s Kung Fu Panda 2.

Of the five people in the company’s “top-tier management,” three are women: COO Ann Daly, chief accounting officer Heather O’Connor and worldwide marketing chief Anne Globe. Founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says their pool of producers is a staggering 85% female (including those producers involved with Madagascar and Rise of the Guardians) and says he “couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments.” ...

Please don't get the idea that I'm a DWA rah-rah. DreamWorks is always a strong challenge for TAG at contract negotiation time. But the company deals with employee issues when we raise them, and I know from first-hand experience that the company employs a lot of women in various positions.

For that reality, I tip my hat. And hope that more Hollywood studios someday follow DWA's example.
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Memorial gathering for Rusty Mills

There will be a Memorial Gathering for Rusty Mills on Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 2pm here at the Guild. Doors will open at 1pm.

The Animation Guild
1105 N Hollywood Way
Burbank, CA 91505

This gathering is open to all of Rusty's friends, students and fans. Bring your memories and anecdotes to share with others as we remember our old pal Rusty Mills.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

New Producer for New Production

Angry Birds feature has its creative team start to take shape.

Rovio’s Angry Birds feature film is getting ready to fly in 2016. Today Rovio Entertainment announced that John Cohen, who most recently produced Despicable Me, has signed on to produce what will be a 3D CG-animated movie. ...

Mr. Cohen has a long career in animation, being a director of development and then a vice-president at Fox Animation. He worked hand-in-glove with animation king pin Chris Meledandri, first at Fox, then at Illumination Entertainment.

So John Cohen has beaucoup production experience. And since he's been working in the "Do development, hire a sub-contractor to make the movie" mode the last few years, we would guess that the model for Angry Birds will be to get the script and boards together, then find an offshore (of maybe local?) studio to make the movie.

Whatever, I'm thinking, gets the production the most bang for its buck.
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VFX Soldier launches campaign against entertainment subsidies

In any discussion about the state of the entertainment industry, the topic will eventually land on tax subsidies and troubles they've brought. We've written plenty in this blog about production, both on set and post, flung to the farthest corners of this country/world as it chases the most lucrative cash handouts. These cash incentives, which flow directly back to the production entity, have been the key facilitator in the "race to the bottom" that describes working in entertainment today.

VFX Soldier aims to change that. Yesterday, he launched his Campaign to End VFX Subsidies. A crowd-funded campaign whose goal is to identify the best way to challenge these subsidies, and attack them using a law firm with extensive experience in the matter.

From his post:
Fellow VFX Professionals, the time has come for us to take direct action. As many of you know, this blog has written extensively on the harm that subsidies have caused by distorting the price of visual effects work. This has led to a race to the bottom where many of our colleagues are forced to constantly move around the world as US studios chase subsidies for their films.

As you know, I have pointed out that many of these subsidies violate international trade agreements because they distort the market. I have been in contact with a law firm that specializes in international trade law and has the ability to challenge these subsidies.

On the campaign's Indiegogo page, Soldier brings the point home for 839 members:
Why Should Games & Animation Professionals Fund This Campaign?

Subsidies already play a huge role in the games and animation industry. We may be able to stop those subsidies if we are successful.
As we reported in the linked article above, the UK's incentive was already extended to games and animation. It's easy to assume that the adoption of feature and television animation tax credits will only spread as the hunger for these handouts grows.

This campaign faces a big fight from the conglomerates. These incentives are a palpable revenue stream for their productions and its likely any challenge of this nature will not go unanswered. Having participated in the latest TAG Collective Agreement negotiations, I can say that the overall message from the producers was "Give us a break! We need some relief from you're expensive corner of the industry!". Its important to realize that the financial burden and risk of marketing and funding these ventures belongs to them, not us. We told them so in negotiations, and we should tell them again in the fight to keep the industry from bleeding provincial and state coffers dry in their pursuit of profit.

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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 8

A cityscape card* from the early 1960s ...

This one has a touch of the Peregoy-Ken Anderson styling from 101 Dalmations, on which Hulett did extensive production work.

* Just this evening we came across a stash of card designs we haven't run. So, assuming Steve Hulett is still here in years to come, we could be able to run them.
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Prime Time's Ups ... and Downs

On Sunday night, it was football, FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL!. And after that? ...

The Simpsons garnered a 3.4 adults 18-49 rating up 3% from a 3.3 for its last original on November 25. Bob’s Burgers scored a 2.1 adults 18-49 rating up 17% from last week’s 1.8. Family Guy earned a 2.8 adults 18-49 rating down 3% from a 2.9 for its most recent episode on November 25. American Dad notched a 2.2 up 5% from last week's 2.1 adults 18-49 rating. ...

American Dad is (for me) the most amusing of the bunch. It was kind of a surprise that Fox took so long to pick it up.

But I have to admit: The darker, higher reaches of our fine entertainment conglomerates are a mystery to me.
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Broadening the Brand

DreamWorks has been working to move beyond the mere making of animated features. First:

DWA's $155 million acquisition of Classic Media last summer ushered hundreds of classic properties through DreamWorks' door ... "It gave us a portfolio" and an experienced international sales team ...

DWA owns stop-motion classics "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman." ...

The company has now negotiated a distribution deal with 20th-Century Fox, and a production deal with a studio in Shanghai, China ...

Then a new exec is hired ...

DreamWorks Animation has named Michael Francis its first chief global brand officer, the studio said Monday. In his newly created position, Francis will oversee the company's licensing and consumer products push and franchise management activities. ...

There's been a lot of copy the last year and a half about DreamWorks Animation making new corporate moves. "They're going to start doing live action." ... "The company is building amusement parks." ... "New foreign studios are coming on line." ...

I'm betting that ten years from now, DreamWorks Animation will have way more irons heating up over the fire than just long-form animation.

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Rusty Mills Service

We've been informed that the graveside service for Rusty Mills will be held at:

Glen Haven & Shalom Memorial Park
13017 N. Lopez Canyon Road
Sylmar, CA 91342

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 2 pm.

Glen Haven Memorial Park is located at the top of Kagel Canyon Rd north of the 210 Fwy.

Everyone is invited.

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Foreign Box Office

Santy and Double Oh Seven duke it out.

James Bond is in a box-office photo finish with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny over what looks to be the last slow weekend of the holidays.

According to studio estimates Sunday, Sony's Bond tale "Skyfall" took in $11 million to move back to No. 1 in its fifth weekend.

That put it narrowly ahead of Paramount's "Rise of the Guardians," the animated adventure of Santa, the Easter Bunny and other mythological heroes that pulled in $10.5 million. ...

As the Reporter informs us:

After four rounds on the foreign circuit, Guardians has accumulated a total offshore gross of $90.5 million. Although there were openings in Iceland, Israel and South Africa, the bulk of the weekend action came from holdover engagements in larger markets. ...

Meantime, Wreck-It Ralph is up to $51.1 million in foreign accumulations and $215.5 million worldwide. And Hotel Transylvania has almost $158 million from overseas audiences.
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Ralph Hulett's Christmas, day 7

Weathered church bell, multi-colored sky, adept brush-work.

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