Sunday, March 31, 2013

Freebie Video Games

From CNBC.

Blizzard Entertainment [recently announced] that it would be giving its next game away for free ...

Free to play games don't make a lot of sense to some investors, who are used to the $60 retail model (and its residual income from downloadable content). The concept of a small percentage of customers paying piecemeal for small items is hard to balance against the upfront revenue ...

But free-to-play titles are fast becoming one of the most lucrative areas in gaming. Driven by the app revolution, where small developers are making hundreds of millions for giving away their games, and Asia, where the model has been flourishing for years, large U.S. publishers are finally coming around.

Electronic Arts has been one of the beneficiaries of the leap of faith to free-to-play. Last quarter, it earned $25 million on iOS devices alone with its app "The Simpsons: Tapped Out". And the model has proven to be a savior for "Star Wars: The Old Republic."

Launched as a "World of Warcraft" killer,"The Old Republic" initially had the same model as most massively multiplayer games—a base cost for the game, followed by a monthly subscription fee ... Developed by one of the industry's most respected developers, it seemed destined to succeed, but developers didn't count on how voraciously fans would chew through the game's content, then leave.

Seeing income fall, EA converted the game to a free-to-play model last November. Since then, the game has seen 2 million new accounts created—with thousands more jumping in every day ...

Video game companies are the latest animation creators who have stumbled on the cold reality: "You don't adapt, you are in peril of death."

Not that it isn't true in other economic sectors that companies need to learn from their mistakes*, but the entertainment industry has always been vulnerable to changing markets: Nickelodeons gave way to big, higher-priced theaters, silent movies were pushed out by talkies, black-and-white films got swept away by color films.

And in the last twenty years, delivery systems have changed willy nilly: broadcast to cable; video cassettes to CDs to streaming video on demand (over high-speed internet!)

Oh, what's a content provider to DO?

In the case of video game companies, it appears the answer is to give the game away without charge, then get a big customer base, then nickel-and-dime that base with add-ons.

... A recent study by Visa subsidiary PlaySpan found that 77 percent of gamers are spending more time with free to play titles these days.

They're paying, too. PlaySpan found that men were three times more likely than women to make in-game purchases, with respective averages of $13.38 and $4.84 per month. And younger players are proving especially receptive to the idea. Men aged 18-24 years old have an average spend of $30.59 per month. ...

No strategy works forever. But it's useful to dump a business model that is causing you to go broke in favor of one that isn't.

* Always excepting, of course, the Big Banks. When you own the Federal Government, you have access to your own mint. So just take the money from the Big Casino and run, good corporate practices be damned!

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Bruce Timm, He Is Staying

Apparently Mr. T. is not departing WB Animation.

... It turns out Bruce Timm was just extremely busy on certain projects like the Green Lantern animated movies/shorts and since it takes years to complete animation, it’s no wonder that everyone searches for that first word that gets spoken. We initially thought that he was stepping down from Warner Bros. Studios, but it turns out after a quick WonderCon interview with their PR guy, Gary, he’s not stepping down. He’s just started working on other stuff. ...

Apparently everybody fell over their genitalia getting the story wrong, and we compounded the error.

Our bad.

So now we repeat the updated correction. And hope for the best. (Of course, we could pick up the phone and CALL Bruce Timm, but what fun would that be?)
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Foreign Accumulations

DWA's newest appears to be performing well.

... The Croods opened in another five markets over Easter weekend, including the U.K., where it took in $5 million. The family film placed No. 2 internationally for the weekend, earning $52.5 million for a foreign total of $140.5 million and worldwide cume of $229.1 million.

Croods is likewise benefiting from being presented in 3D. In Russia, for example, 72 percent of the gross is coming from higher-priced 2D tickets. ...

I would submit that the reason that The Croods is performing at normal DreamWorks Animation levels is because the cave persons' opus follows the DWA template in ways that Rise of the Guardians did not.

1) Emphasis on a group of wacky, somewhat shlubby characters
2) Go-getter hero/ heroine who drives plot
3) Life-threatening conundrum to resolve
4) Character arcs (i.e., one or more characters learn something and change)
5) And abundance of comedy and/or action

You will note thatROTG lacked many (but not all) of the above ingredients. Guardians' protagonists were super-natural beings with super-natural powers. (The Sandman "dies" but magically comes back to life, so little seems to be at stake.) Shlubbiness is at a minimum, ditto wacky comedy.

DWA's Recent Features

The Croods -- $227,271,000 (2 weeks)
Rise of Guardians -- $303,594,000 (19 weeks)
Puss in Boots -- $554,709,226 (18 weeks)
Madagascar e -- $742,110,251 (19 weeks)
How to Train Your Dragon -- $494,878,759 (17 weeks)

(You will note that DreamWorks Animation's sequels and character comedies have performed best over the past couple of years.)

Elsewhere on the foreign box office front, Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson have helped the GI Joe sequel leap off to a solid start. And Walt's Oz the Great and Powerful has skipped above the $200 million mark.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Your Domestic B.O.

The Croods holds up well.

1. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount) Week 1 [Runs 3,719] PG13 Wed/Thurs $10.5M, Friday $15.5M, Saturday $15.6M, Weekend $41.2M, Cume $51.7M

2. The Croods (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) Week 2 [Runs 4,065] PG Friday $10.7M, Saturday $9.6M, Weekend $26.6M (-39%), Cume $88.8M

3. Tyler Perry’s Temptation (Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 2,047] PG13 Friday $9.3M, Saturday $7.9M, Weekend $22.5M

4. Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict) Week 2 [Runs 3,106] R Friday $4.7M, Saturday $5.6M, Weekend $14.1M (-53%), Cume $54.9M

5. Oz The Great and Powerful (Disney) Week 4 [Runs 3,324] PG Friday $4.3M, Saturday $4.4M, Weekend $11.7M, Cume $198.4M

6. The Host (Open Road) NEW [Runs 3,202] PG13 Friday $5.2M, Saturday $3.4M, Weekend $11.0M

7. The Call (TriStar/Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,439] R Friday $1.7M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.7M, Cume $39.5M

8. Admission (Focus Features) Week 2 [Runs 2,161] PG13 Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $3.1M (-49%), Cume $11.7M

9. Spring Breakers (A24) Week 3 [Runs 1,379] R Friday $1M, Saturday $932K, Weekend $2.5M, Cume $9.9M

10. Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 1,575] PG13 Friday $490K, Saturday $505K, Weekend $1.2M, Cume $20.5M

As one of our fine trade papers says:

... Last weekend, Fox-DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods” took first with a similar sum, and it appears the toon will place second this frame over newcomers from Lionsgate and Open Road. It earned $10.7 million Friday and is likely to land in the mid-$20 million range through Sunday.

In eight days in release, “Croods” has cumed $72.8 million, and in a holiday weekend and spring break window largely devoid of family fare, pic should continue to play well. ...
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More Contractions

And they seem to be coming fifteen minutes apart.

Berkeley, Calif.-based VFX company Tippett Studios laid off 40 percent of its workforce Friday, the company's CEO and president Jules Roman confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter, with the possibility of more pink slips coming.

More than 50 visual effects designers were let go, leaving a staff of 100 full-timers still working at the studio, whose recent work is on display in such blockbuster films as Ted and Twilight: Breaking Dawn.

"We're hibernating, figuring out a way to reinvent and scale down because there's a lag in work obviously and there's such upheaval in the visual effects industry, period," Roman said. ...

Upheaval? Yeah, that's about right.

The industry still has increasing amounts of work, with every live action feature owning a little or a lot of visual effects; ditto for scripted t.v. shows that aren't in the three-camera sitcom category. But there are also big increases in the talent pool, with universities and specialized training facilities turning out tech directors and animators, designers and modelers at a hectic pace.

Supply, I believe, has caught up with demand.

And on the business side, it continues to be counterproductive for visual effects shops that sub-contract studio work (i.e., most of them) to low-ball bid one another to get work that will ultimately drive them bankrupt. So it's likely that the downsizing of the industry will continue awhile.

Of course, this kind of thing has never happened before.

... In both the automobile and the PC industry, the first 5-10 years witnessed a rapid rise in the number of firms and subsequently a rapid fall. ...

In both cases the industry went from infancy to just below 300 firms in about 12 years (271 auto firms in 1909 and 286 PC firms in 1987) and the industry ‘shakeout’ began to occur about 15 years after the initial growth spurt (around 1910 in the automobile industry and around 1989 in the PC industry).

In automobiles, by 1940 there were only a dozen firms left, a phenomena that appears to be happening in the PC industry, where just 5 firms share 50% of the global market. ...

So why should the visual effects industry be different?

Companies rise and and companies fall. It's a painful reality, but it was ever thus. In 1910, there were more than a hundred active and profitable movie companies creating product for nickelodeons; most had disappeared by the early 1920s. (Closer to our era, only the Disney Co. has held contracts with the Animation Guild from the Guild's founding in 1952 until today. Every other company is a relative newcomer.)

At some point (and I've no idea what that point is) the visual effects industry will gain a measure of equilibrium. In the meantime, we'll be passing through what economists call "creative destruction" ... and not liking it very much.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Second Weekend Hold

The Nikkster has good news for DreamWorkers.

... Family toon The Croods held strong for #2 its second weekend – down only -31%. “A phenomenal hold,” a Fox exec gushed to me. Pic looks like $11.5M today for a $30M weekend which will help its multiple.

If its multiple ends up being 4.5 at the end of its run, we're looking at a $180 million domestic gross. Then everyone can clench up worrying about how the snail movie (Turbo) will perform this summer.

My concern is, will America be ready for a snail movie? Especially so soon after a garden slug movie (Blue Sky's Epic)?

I mean, audiences eventually got tired of penguins. How long will it take for them to become weary of snails and slugs?

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Timm Moving On?

Bruce T. is, if reports are true, hanging up his WB Animation hat.

Bruce Timm is stepping down from his role as supervising producer of DC animation to work on more personal projects.

Two things: 1) Having steered the best, most functional portion of DC entertainment for over 20 years, ... 2) he'll be replaced by James Tucker, who's got plenty of DC animation experience, having directed and/or produced Batman Beyond, Justice League, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Static Shock, and more. ... Tucker has a very promising quote in an interview he gave to Voices from Krypton:

"I'd love to use more of a variety of characters, but that's something I don't have control over," [Tucker] says. "Granted, 'Dark Knight Returns' was long overdue to be adapted and I'm glad they did it and did it superbly. But beyond that, I'm not really interested in replicating, image by image, word for word, something that was in a comic book, because you can’t replicate that experience or feeling. You’re basically getting a secondary experience, so you have to make it your own in order to make it work as a movie. Creating films in which people are going through it with a checklist saying, ‘Okay, they took that out, they took that out…' I’m not interested in doing anything like that." ...

Warner Bros. Animation has gone through changes of late.

A director who works for WBA says the main lot wants budgets to be lower, and if cartoons can't be brought in for the right price, they'll close the division.

Whether this is hyperbole or not, we donno. But Warners seems to be clinging tightly to dollar bills these days. (This could be one of the reasons Bruce Timm decided it was time to move, yes?)

Warner Bros. Animation has downsized a lot in recent months, wrapping up series and producing only a few direct-to-video features. (The Scooby Doo franchise marches on ... through good times and bad. But this is the natural order of things. When you talk about the Scoobster, you are talking about the right hand of God. He's as ubiquitous as slver bells in December.)

As for Bruce, maybe he'll show up at Marvel Animation before long. (Who knows? Old Warner Bros. hand Paul Dini is there.) But I imagine we'll find out what Mr. Timm will be doing next before too long.
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hanging Fire

... The R & H fire sale goes on ... and on ... and on.

The bankruptcy auction, which kicked off Wednesday morning and proceeded until 2 a.m., started up again Thursday afternoon.

Those waiting to hear the results of the bankruptcy auction for troubled visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues will need to wait at least one more day. ...

The auction was scheduled to begin Wednesday morning. It proceeded until 2 a.m. and continued Thursday at the offices of its reorganization counsel Greenberg Glusker. ...

Thursday morning, South Korea’s JS Communications filed a conditional objection in connection with the auction. JS had pulled out of being the stalking-horse bidder after it missed its Court mandated deadline of March 19 to execute a binding asset sale and purchase agreement in connection with its stalking horse bid.

But in Thursday morning’s filing, the company argued that the R&H has “invited bids that improperly violate this court’s procedures order so as to deny JS its court-approved breakup fee.” ...

Maybe some of Rhythm and Hues' suitors are getting cold feet. And this might be why.

Warner Bros. Disputes That Its VFX Work Is Assumed in Rhythm & Hues Sale

The studio says that whatever company buys R&H won't gain the benefit of contracts for "Black Sky," "Winter's Tale" and "300: Battle of Artemesium."

As a federal bankruptcy court oversees an auction that will determine new ownership on troubled VFX house Rhythm & Hues, Warner Bros. is letting it be known that its visual effects work doesn't come with the package. ...

Warners says that agreements on the film "are not executory contracts," and because they were terminated prior to the bankruptcy, "the Warner Bros. agreements cannot be assumed and assigned pursuant to section 365 of title 11 of the United States Code (the 'Bankruptcy Code') in connection with any sale that is contemplated." ...

Warners has sort of specialized in stomping the corpse with its steel-soled boots. Why should the behavior change now?
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The Alan Zaslove Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Alan Zaslove

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mr. Zaslove was among the first directors hired at Disney Television Animation ...

He arrived during the division's second year of operation, and over the next decade and a half directed and produced an array of hit Disney TVA shows that included Duck Tales, Aladdin, The Return of Jafar, and Thea Adventures of the Gummi Bears.

Mr. Z. retired at the end of the 1990s, but was soon called back by Universal Cartoon Studios to oversee The New Woody Woodpecker Show. He retired for good in the first decade of the 21st century.
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Alan Zaslove Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Alan Zaslove

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Alan Zaslove had one of the longer, more succesful careers in American animation.

Starting, in 1943, as an office boy (and then in-betweener) for Leon Schlesinger's studio (known, of course, as "Termite Terrace"), Alan wrapped up his career in the 21st century at the Universal Cartoon Studio high in the superstructure of the Black Tower. ...

Early on, Mr. Zaslove took a bit of time off for military service (who didn't in the 1940s?) but afterwards found long-term employment with the United Producers of America (aka UPA), where he animated a long string of classic shorts (Gerald McBoing Boing, Mr. Magoo) and then directed sequences of the Magoo feature 1001 Arabian Nights.

Alan talks about all the above and more in Part I of the newest TAG interview.
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Eternal Socialism

The global competition to hand taxpayer money to fine, entertainment conglomerates continues apace.

LONDON – The proposed tax credit system for high end TV, animation and video games has leapt through the final hoops standing in its way and will be in place from April 1, 2013.

The introduction is designed to help keep the U.K. on the map with Hollywood studios and high end producers looking to make big budget TV projects -- likely to be budgeted at $1.5 million plus per episode.

The proposals for the credits had to secure state-aid approval by Brussels before the British government could start implementing the long-awaited tax benefits to applicants. ...

Thank the Lord approval was extended. Any day Britain's conservative government can steer a little socialist largesse to the movie business is twenty-four hours well spent

Now. Back to AUSTERITY!
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Viability of TV Cartoons in a Changing TV Landscape

Cartoon Network continues to trundle along handsomely.

... Across the fourth week of March, Cartoon Network ranked as the #1 television destination for all boys 2-11, 6-11 and 9-14 (among all TV) on Thursday night (7-9 p.m.), #1 among boys 6-11 & 9-14 on Monday night (7-9 p.m.) and #1 among boys 9-14 on Wednesday and Friday night (7-9 p.m.).

On Monday night, original animated series Regular Show (8 p.m.) scored as the #1 telecast of the day among boys 6-11 on all television; similarly, the earlier 7 p.m. telecast ranked as the #1 telecast of the day among boys 9-14.

New episode premieres of Dragons: Riders of Berk (Wednesday, 8 p.m.), Annoying Orange (Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) and Incredible Crew (Thursday, 8 p.m.) each ranked #1 in their respective time periods with all boys 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14. ...

And as one cartoon net rises, another declines.

... Todd Juenger, analyst with Sanford Bernstein in New York, says Viacom’s increased subscription video-on-demand license agreements with Netflix and others, continues to hurt Nickelodeon ratings.

In 2012, Nickelodeon TV ratings dropped 14% in Netflix households, compared with 12% in non-Netflix homes. The ratings declines were even more pronounced for Nick Jr. (down 14%), Nick Toons (down 21%) and TeenNick, which saw ratings decline 17% in Netflix homes while remaining flat in non-Netflix homes.

By comparison, Cartoon Network ratings increased 15% in Netflix homes, mushroomed 38% at The Hub, 17% at Disney XD, and 10% at Sprout; while declining 2% and 4%, respectively, at Netflix homes watching Disney Channel and Boomerang.

Notably, Cartoon Network inked an SVOD deal with Netflix in January, while Disney and Netflix signed a landmark streaming deal set to begin in 2017 for movies, and earlier for catalog Disney Channel fare.

In a March 25 note, Juenger cautioned that increased availability of children’s content on Netflix conditions kids and their parents to skip linear TV. Indeed, the “Just for Kids” section is designed so children can navigate content choices without parental supervision since the programming has been pre-screened by a nonprofit child advocacy group.

The long-term problem for tv networks (of all stripes) is the increasing ubiquity of "on demand" video. Who wants to wait for a Nick show when you can pluck it out of the skies and place it on the computer whenever you want?

As "anywhere, anytime" entertainment delivery expands, rating companies take time-shifting into account, advertisers try to out-manuever DVR ad-skipping, and teenagers cease to watch scheduled t.v. altogether. (And who the hell watches on television screens anyway?)

Welcome to 21st century media.

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WGA Hirings

From time to time we run employment breakdowns in the cartoon biz; how many women, how many olds, how many youngs. The WGA has put out its latest report on their hiring situations:

... [W]hile women have seen a 5% increase in writing staff jobs between 1999-2000 and 2011-2012, at the current rate of growth it would take women “42 years to catch up with men” in terms of TV writing staff jobs.

Minority writers nearly doubled their share of staff writing positions during that same period, from 7.5% to 15.6%, but still remain severely underrepresented compared to the population at large. Among the ranks of TV executive producer in the 2011-2012 season, women were underrepresented by factor of more than 2 to 1 “among writers who run TV shows” and minorities were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1.

In the 2010-2011 season, just 9% of pilots had “at least one minority writer attached” and 24% of pilots had at least one woman writer attached. ...

Animation has never had a large cross-section of minorities in its ranks. And the Writers Guild might have fewer women writers than men, but it could be worse. Here's what's happening in cartoonland:

Women in Animation (2009)

directors - 15%

layout - 17.8%

model designers - 15.4%

storyboard - 13.3%

visual development - 9.4%

Everything's relative.

(The L.A. Times take on the report is here.)

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Pixar Sequels

Toy Story has spawned two sequels. And shorts. And attractions at Disneland. Also lots and lots of toys. But it has a close rival.

... While we have yet to hear any rumblings of a Cars 3, Disney does continue to make short films in the franchise and three new Tales From Radiator Springs have just been released. ...

In point of fact, Mr. Lasseter and Disney have a first-cousin of Cars ...

... and of course it's this:

Many people blather on about the Toy Story franchise, the Shrek franchise, and the Ice Age franchise.

But the taco stand to rival them all is the Cars money machine. There are movies, and shorts, and toys. So now Disney has launched a new line of talking transportation units to bedazzle the millions of seven-year-olds out there, the better to dip a rodenty hand into parental wallets and extract folding green in the service of admission tickets, hard metal toys, and video games.

Genius. Solid genius.
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For Every Action ...

... there is an equally significant re-action.

Wall Street analysts on Monday lauded the opening of DreamWorks Animation's The Croods, which earned about $45 million in its first weekend in the U.S. They said it should help investor sentiment after the disappointing box-office performance of Rise of the Guardians.

"The early success of The Croods should help ease concerns about DreamWorks' competitive position within the CGI animation space," said Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente. "Bouncing back from a rare miss with Guardians, The Croods had a solid showing in its domestic box office debut. ...

Wall Street wanted some sign that Jeffrey and Co. hadn't lost their touch. The opening weekend gave it to them.

Now. On to Weekend Two.
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Sunday, March 24, 2013


From today's local paper.

... "We had the worst year we've ever had last year, and this year is not shaping up to be a whole lot better," said Mark Dornfeld, owner of Custom Film Effects, a small Burbank company founded in 1999, where half of a 12-person staff is on reduced hours because work is so slow.

"It used to be we didn't have to go search for work, it just landed on our door," Dornfeld said. "We've been told by studios, 'We're sorry, we have to bid this offshore.'"

Funny thing. Just now I'm writing a longer piece* about the 1982 Animation Guild strike. Care to guess what the central, motivating issue of that strike was?

Work going offshore.

So here we are thirty-plus years later, and the issue is again runaway production.

Only now the work isn't just runaway production to Asia or India, but runaway production to Canada or other entitites inside the U.S. of A. that offer major tax breaks and wage subsidies. (Vancouver, B.C. is the most expensive city on the continent, but it offers BIG subsidies for animation and visual effects, so our fine conglomerates are delighted to send work there.)

In the late forties and fifties, studios did productions in foreign lands because of costs and taxes, much like now. The issue never goes away completely, it just ebbs and flows. If California institutes bigger tax breaks next year, it might solve some of the problems. Temporarily. But new problems will crop up. They always do.

* This is the next chapter of the "Hulett at Disney Feature Animation" saga. I hope to have it done before the sun reaches its red star phase.
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Foreign Earnings

The Croods opens well overseas.

20th Century Fox’s first release of a DreamWorks Animation title ... opened substantially if not spectacularly on the foreign theatrical circuit, grossing $63.3 million at 11,870 venues in 47 markets covering 86 countries.

The adventure comedy about a pre-historic family embarking on a road trip scored the second highest offshore opening launch of 2013, bested by the foreign opening Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful, which drew $69.9 million a fortnight ago. Nonetheless, Croods racked up powerful numbers in its seven largest markets, and scored No. 1 debuts in a total of 44 territories. ...

Having seen this pup, I think it connects better than DWA's previous release, so we'll see how it holds up over the next month. Hazarding a guess, I'd put its global revenue in the half billion dollar range.

Global Grosses

Escape From Planet Earth -- $56,091,152

Ted -- $548,382,304

The Croods -- $107,316,000

Wreck-It Ralph -- $445,845,000
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Studio Walk Throughs

At Walt Disney Animation Studios, staff continues to be hired for Frozen, with a chosen few laboring on Big Hero Six, scheduled to swing into production later in the year. (It will overlap with Frozen).

I'm told a lot of departments anticipate an abundance of overtime, but as one employee put it:

"We're going to try to do six-day weeks. But we'll probably have some seven-day work schedules. Steve Goldberg has made the pipeline pretty efficient, and that helps. We learned what we need to do during Wreck-It Ralph, so we'rein good shape. ..."

At Dreamworks Animation, the studio will be shifting to 40 and 45-hour weeks. Before state law changed on January 1st, the company had a bunch of pre-paid overtime deals with employees. Those are now (mostly) inoperative, and DreamWorkers tell me everyone will be on 45-hour deals when current Personal Service Contracts lapse. This will give DreamWorks Animation a payroll week similar to Disney.

Meantime, at Bento Box, most of the story artist have returned from hiatus on Bob's Burgers, and have started work on a new season of shows. A second season of Brickleberry is underway at Bento Box's Lankershim Blvd. Studio in North Hollywood. (Bento #1 is in Burbank, California, Bento #2 is in Studio City, California and yet another outpost is in Atlanta.)
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Sigh of Relief

Now with butter-flavored Add On.

... issues from DreamWorks Animation.

Croods, from DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox, is now expected to open to a solid $43 million. ...

Which, by mmy lights, makes complete sense, because it plays to DreamWorks Animation's strenghts: gorgeous scenics, wacky comedy, visual gags and diverse characters. ...

The Nikkster breaks down the weekend this way:

1. The Croods (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) NEW [Runs 4,046] PG Friday $11.6M, Saturday $18.5M, Weekend $44.0M

2. Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict) NEW (Runs 3,098] R Friday $10.0M, Saturday $12.8M, Weekend $30.5M

3. Oz The Great and Powerful (Disney) Week 3 [Runs 3,805] PG Friday $5.7M, Saturday $10.2M, Weekend $23.0M, Cume $178.5M

4. The Call (TriStar/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 2,507] R Friday $2.6M, Saturday $3.9M, Weekend $8.7M (-48%), Cume $30.9M

5. Admission (Focus Features) NEW [Runs 2,160] PG13 Friday $2.0M, Saturday $2.7M Weekend $6.4M

6. Spring Breakers (A24) Week 2 [Runs 1,104] R Friday $1.9M, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $4.5M, Cume $5.0M

7. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,160] PG13 Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $17.4M

8. Jack The Giant Slayer (Warner Bros) Week 4 [Runs 2,560] PG13 Friday $765K, Saturday $1.4M, Weekend $3.0M, Cume $59.1M

9. Identity Thief (Universal) Week 7 [Runs 2,166] R Friday $758K, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $2.5M, Cume $128.0M

10. Snitch (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 5 [Runs 1,807] PG13 Friday $544K, Saturday $877K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $40.3M

Congratulations to Chris Sanders and Kirk de Micco and the whole creative and production staff. Also congrats to story supervisor Ed Gombert, who headed up the storyboard crew for the first time since Aladdin. I hope the picture exceeds expectaions in all ways.

Add On: The Croods' first-day results are close to How to Train Your Dragon's:

The Croods -- $11,600,000
How to Train Your Dragon -- $12,111,766

B.O. Mojo opines:

... The Croods grossed an estimated $44.7 million from 4,046 locations. Among recent original DreamWorks Animation movies, it's about even with 2010's How to Train Your Dragon ($43.7 million) and Megamind ($46 million), and a vast improvement over November's Rise of the Guardians (which took 11 days to get to $44 million).

This is without a doubt a good start for The Croods, though it was hard to imagine it going much lower. The movie had a competent marketing effort, and benefited from the fact that the only other 2013 animated movie so far was February's modest Escape From Planet Earth. With an "A" CinemaScore and no serious competition until May, The Croods is in a very good position, though it would be shocking if it came close to matching How to Train Your Dragon's $217.6 million.

The audience was 57 percent female, and surprisingly skewed older (55 percent were 25 years of age and up). 3D ticket sales only accounted for 38 percent of the gross, which is an incredibly low number for the format. ...

I think the commercial pizzazz of 3-D is over. Me, I find the format only marginally useful (though DWA has used 3-D more entertainingly than most studios).

I've seen The Croods,, but only in glorious "flat" screen Spare me the magic goggles and lower light levels.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Back From the Dead?

Walking through Warner Bros. Animation, things are quiet at present. There's been lots of lay offs, and a bunch of television series aren't happening anymore. Looney Tunes. Green Lantern. Young Justice. But maybe there's life in the old cartoon studio yet.


Today two separate crowd funding entries for both shows popped up. The purpose? If enough votes are had, then the next step would be crowdfunding. ...

Entries from recently canceled animated shows Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series have shown up. If both get 2,500 votes, then the funding process will go forward. ...

As of this article being written, Young Justice is at 32% and Green Lantern: The Animated Series is at 8.2%. ... [T]hese campaigns appear to be, if not backed by Warner Brothers, at least cleared by them. ...

I would imagine Warner Bros. might be receptive to fans underwriting all or part of the company's intellectual property. It ain't a direct state subsidy, but its the next best thing. Click here to read entire post

Variations on a Theme

Walt Peregoy holds forth, one year ago. (This is going around Facebook and other places just now ...)

And here's an audio version of Peregoy fulminations that we put up in 2011. Listen to it here and here.

Crusty and cantankerous. That's Mr. Peregoy.

Thanks to Tom Sito and Jeff Jonas for resurrecting the video.
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Standing Pat, Planning the Long Game

And now an investment post, since we're overdue.

Four years ago, a sixty-something member came into the office, and he was agitated.

We were in the middle of the financial meltdown, and his broker/financial advisor had his investment stash mostly in stocks. Given the member's age, I thought this was nuts. And said so.

The guy wanted to jump out of his stock positions and get into CDs and bonds. The broker wanted him to stick with the stocks. I didn't take a position.

In retrospect, I should have emphatically agreed with the broker (even though the broker was misguided with the man's asset allocation.)

Because ...

The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

Don’t just do something, sit there!

I love that purposefully juxtaposed Yogi Berra-ism.

I have been thinking about nothing on this lovely Friday morning. More precisely, why doing nothing — or at least much less — is better for your long term investing outcomes than doing something, also known as more.


Don’t do something, anything, just for the sake of it. If you are going to do something, you better have a damned good reason for it.

Doing something feels good. Doing something creates the illusion of control. Doing something responds to the angst we feel when we are unhappy with current circumstances.

Doing something is why people dump all of their stock at market bottoms; please-just-make-the-pain-stop-sell it-I-don’t-care-if-this-is-the-low was heard quite often in February and March 2009.

I have been thinking about nothing recently, mostly in the context of time frames (a post I did a few weeks ago, expanded into a full column for Sunday).

Humans exist in the here and now, at the intersection of past and future. The present is all they really know from experience. Contextualizing the long game is not their forte. What 24/7 media fills their minds with is so much meaningless detritus, so many useless options — its why they often forget that nothing itself is a viable choice. Indeed, nothing is often the best choice available. ...

I have spent years overthinking and over-analyzing investment options. I do too much slicing and dicing, putting money into that stock fund and this bond fund until I have twelve or fifteen funds stacked up like lumber at a busy construction site.

And I have been guilty of chasing after "hot" funds and bailing out of cooler funds, and generally running with the lemmings.

It took the financial fustercluck that occurred in 2008-2009 (otherwise known as the Great Recession) to force me to get my financial head on straight. For once, I didn't run screaming from my plunging stock funds. Instead I gritted my teeth and muttered "Ignore it, ignore it, please God let me ignore it ..."

And lo. Four years later, the funds I owned were back to even ... and I (at last) learned the beneficial art of doing nothing.

Moral: Set up a financial plan that is right for your head, your nervous system and your circumstances. And stick with it.
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lucasfilm Animation Alterations

Seems sort of obvious now that Diz Co. owns The Force, they wouldn't want Cartoon Network (and Time-Warner) to share the wealth.

... It seems that the team behind The Clone Wars will not be a team for much longer. While the status of Season 6 story arcs is still unknown, reports indicate that Lucasfilm employees responsible for bringing the show to life are being reassigned or let go. ...

[One source] described a dramatic downsizing of the entire division and said that Disney planned to place future Star Wars TV projects in the hands of its existing television operation.

Ah yes, downsizing. The ongoing theme of 2013.

But Disney didn't purchase Lucasfilm for the animation division. Animation is part of the package, but I understand the Mouse has other assets of the same type. So they're dealing with Lucas cartoons in the obvious way: reducing the footprint.

Which likely means Star Wars projects will end up at Disney TV Animation, Disney Toon Studios, or some other Disney animation unit. Big Shiny Robot isn't thrilled with this.

... Let’s be honest, no Disney television show has ever or will ever look as good as The Clone Wars did. And it’s a testament to those who worked on it. ...

Lucasfilm still has a feature animation unit; my information is it will continue with the current project (helmed by Brenda Chapman). Whether it makes a feature beyond the project now in work is anybody's guess.

But I would prognosticate a big "no," and that the current movie will be a one-off. Disney needs a third feature animation division like it needs a third ear on Mickey. And I don't know how John Lasseter would fit into the equation (if he'd fit at all.)
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Priced to Buy

In visual effects land, it's not just liquidations.

Prime Focus World said Wednesday that Hong Kong-based private equity firm AID Partners Capital Limited has made a $10 million equity investment in the visual-effects company.

Prime Focus, a subsidiary of Indian media and entertainment industry services company Prime Focus Limited, said that with the investment, the company is now valued at $250 million.

In return, AID will receive a minority stake in Prime Focus World.

The money will be used to help grow Prime Focus' business in China and other emerging markets, possibly through an acquisition. ...

Seems to me that smart-money investorys are picking up some nicely-priced properties while the fire sales are on.

Be fun to know what kind of "minority take" their $10 million buys them. My guess would it's relatively substantial.
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Stating the Obvious

From Business Insider.

... Analysts have "The Croods" projected to open between $38 million and $45 million.

Stifel analyst Benjamin Mogil predicts the film could earn $150 million domestically and another $300 million overseas.

Those numbers are 20 percent below the $60.3 million opening of last summer's "Madagascar 3." Current tracking for "The Croods" is more in line with the "Shrek" spinoff "Puss in Boots."

If the film performs well, then it will prove the "Guardians" debut was simply an anomaly.

However, if it fails to meet analyst's estimates, and teeters close to DreamWorks Animation's Thanksgiving debut, the studio could have a larger problem on its hands with only one other film — about a racing snail — out later this year. ...

Jeffrey K. and associates have long been doing a high-wire act ... and doing it well.

But to have a business model that requires you to release one blockbuster hit after another is ... a tall order. Pixar has done it. And DreamWorks Animation has sort of done it.

But DWA is a stand-alone company, almost totally dependent on its movies to keep the corporate ball rolling. DreamWorks Animation now has a sizable library to exploit, and other businesses that it's starting to get into, but it's still in high-wire act mode.

And after Rise of the Guardians's under-performance, it's got some weights bolted to its extremities. So this weekend's grosses will be important, no?

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beyond the Valley of Uncanniness

Face and speech technologies keep improving.

... One of the steepest challenges for computer animators and game developers is crafting realistic human characters without dropping their audience off the proverbial cliff of the uncanny valley. At the annual GPU Technology Conference this week, NVIDIA demonstrated “Face Works,” a technology made possible by their Titan graphics card. It’s a technology that may end up shielding our eyes from the uncanny valley forever.

NVIDIA defines Face Works as “advanced real-time character performance.” They’re able to take 32GB of facial data (the bump maps, texture maps, lighting, expressions, etc) and compress it down to 400MB in a new way of rendering facial expression. Considering that it takes an 8000-instruction long program to render each pixel on Ira’s face, that’s quite an achievement. ...

Watch the last couple minutes of the linked video. I thought I was looking at a live actor, but it was a computer creation. (Better than the human computer creations that have gone before, yes?)

But honestly, I don't know how this applies to what we call "animated features." Because if it's a synthetic visual creation that looks and acts like a live action image, won't audiences' eyeballs and brains register it as "live action?" The same way that they now register old-style character animation as a "cartoon?"

If you build something that looks completely real, isn't that what people watching will consider it to be?
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Tax Credits!!

Face it: the playing field will never be level.

... The British finance minister puts aside an initial $30 million for high-end TV, animation and video games ...

LONDON – Britain got its latest annual budget Wednesday, and the U.K. entertainment industry was surely paying particular attention. After all, the sector is one of the key beneficiaries of long-expected tax incentives for high-end TV productions, animation and video games that were part of the budget. ...

[The Chancellor of the exchequer] said in a brief mention during his annual budget speech that the introduction of the tax relief would play a big part in keeping the U.K.'s "world-class visual effects sector" competitive in his brief reference to the measures.

It is designed to help keep the U.K. on the map with Hollywood studios and high end producers looking to make big budget TV projects - likely to be budgeted at $1.5 million plus per episode. ...

It's a long spiral down to terra firma. And you have to ask, "When will governments be paying companies to perform the work in their city/state/country AND guaranteeing them a profit to do it?"

State socialism forevah!
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Creatives Unite!

The current plight of visual effects artists is part of the Great Grinding of working artists (and others) in the 2st century.

Can unions save the creative class?
Newspapers are dying. Musicians and writers can't get paid. Maybe it's time for creatives to really organize

In decline: America’s creative class — artists, writers, musicians, architects, those part of the media, the fine arts, publishing, TV and other fields — faced with an unstable landscape marked by technological shifts, a corporate culture of downsizing, and high unemployment.

So is it time for artists to strap on a hard hat? Maybe unions or artists’ guilds can serve and protect an embattled creative class. With musicians typically operating without record labels, journalists increasingly working as freelancers as newspapers shed staff, and book publishing beginning what looks like a period of compression, unions might take some of the risk and sting out of our current state of creative destruction. ...

If you work in the union biz, you eventually figure out that artists in unionized studios get slammed around just like their counterparts elsewhere. The difference is that some of the slamming you can DO something about. Grievances can get filed. Phone calls can be made. Studio visits can calm things down.

In the time I've been here, TAG has organized studios, filed grievances, and worked to raise awareness about the usefulness and utility of labor unions. We've had non-union artists keep us at arm's length, then call us for help when their non-union studio (that they thought was going to last forever) rolled over and died, taking several weeks of employees' salary and vacation pay with it.

When things like that happen, you never give people the cold shoulder or the straight arm, because you know that you need every ally you can muster, and if you turn somebody away you risk making an enemy. Because it's 2013, and labor unions understand that the wolves are at the gates.
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... is what Dave Rand seems to be.

But it's good that he's willing to stick his neck out and say how the visual effects industry is taking it in the shorts, even as our fine entertainment conglomerates make more and more visual effects tent poles.

It's a continuing mystery how pervasive visual effects are, while at the same time causing large, recently flourishing visual effects houses to sink beneath the waves. Click here to read entire post

Early Moolah for Croods

Worldwide rollouts of DreamWorks Animation's latest have started to happen:

... DreamWorks Animation's The Croods — their first movie being released by 20th Century Fox — earned over $6 million from preview shows in Russia, Mexico, and a handful of smaller markets this weekend. Aside from Russia and Mexico, it is also reaching Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. (along with around 40 other territories) next weekend, and it will surely claim the top spot. ...

I haven't seen early tracking for the movie so have no clue how it will perform this weekend, but it looks closer to the zany comedy stylings of the company than Rise of the Guardians, so I'm thinking it will have stronger grosses. Click here to read entire post

Monday, March 18, 2013

Workplace Environments

The niceness of the space in which you work can be important, yes?


Small teams, extracurricular art, and an open approach to failure help Dreamworks get the best from its army of animators and tech wizards.

...DreamWorks Animation's films require intense work and long hours, replete with footage quotas for animators. So the standard creative company perks apply. There’s free breakfast, lunch, and snacks at various commissaries, and there are game rooms replete with typical tech company goodies like foosball and ping-pong. ...

But there are other things too. Like workplace quotas.

I've been at DWA a lot over the past month. First for the big round of layoffs, more recently to answer questions about changes to DreamWorks Personal Service Contracts. (It seems new California labor regulations have forced alterations to the company's overtime provisions in its PSCs.)

An animator told me:

We're going to be doing forty-hour weeks now. I was told the studio expects the same animation footage with forty-hours as with the longer weeks we did last year. ...

I responded if that was the case, then animators would maybe have to

1) Work faster,

2) Do gratis overtime, or

3) Ask for authorization to work more hours at time-and-a-half.

Free o.t. to meet television production deadlines has been an unhappy strategy for animation employees longer than I've done this job. (And it's been one of the bigger issues during the time I've done this job.) Free o.t. seldom rears its ugly head in feature animation, yet it occasionally pops up when production managers get overly ambitions ... or desperate.

Animation footage requirements at different studios has varied widely over time. Recently a veteran animator said the quota at UPA in the fifties was twenty-five feet a week (the same as at Warner Bros. Animation.) Frank Thomas told me that ten feet a week was expected on Disney shorts in the 1930s. (Frank and Ollie were doing eight or nine feet a week when I worked with them in the seventies.)

Ward Kimball bragged that he cranked out thirty-five feet of animation every week on Dumbo.

There are no hard and fast numbers. There's also no set amount of time required for producing an animated feature. Most of Dumbo was done in a year. The Fox and the Hound took three and a half years to produce. Wreck-It Ralph's production time-line was under a year, and Frozen looks as though it will be under the twelve-month marker as well. A Disney veteran said to me last Thursday:

Frozen is going to have a tight production schedule. The crew's told management they'd like to avoid lots of seven day weeks, but we know we're going to have plenty of six-day weeks. ...

Walt Disney Animation Studios (aka Disney Feature) has employed shorter production schedules with expanded staffs to get pictures completed on tight deadlines. DreamWorks Animation has used longer schedules with crews that were carried from project to project. That now seems to be changing.

Whether or not DWA ends up with a Disney-style production model will be known in the fullness of time.
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Dueling lunches

From Dave Rand, a VFX artist working at Rhythm & Hues:

For the first time in my 18 year career as a vfx artist, the client, a studio, hosts our overtime lunch. This comes two weeks after the Animation Guild hosts our overtime lunch. Everyone is just getting so friendly!

Can you see what happens when there's balance?
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Genius, Illustrated

Genius, Illustrated - The Life and Art of Alex Toth
Published by The Library of American Comics, an imprint of IDW Publishing, San Diego.
Edited by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell. Hardcover, 13" x 10", 341 pages, $49.99.

This is a great book, especially if you're a fan of Alex Toth's work. It spans the period in Toth's career between Cambria Studios (1957 - 1965) and Hanna-Barbera, concluding with his death on May 27, 2006 at age 77.

There are tons of art samples (many shot from original art), including comic book art, private sketches, a comic strip done exclusively for The Hollywood Reporter, character designs, model sheets, storyboards, presentation art, family photographs, with many pages in full color, and riveting text laced with fascinating information and anecdotes from friends, co-workers and fans. Even if you knew Alex personally, there's plenty of new information and stories to be found in this hefty volume.

Many pages are devoted to Toth's private life and his relationship to his kids and other key players in his life. A very revealing and inspiring publishing achievement that all Toth fans will love.

-- Bob Foster

REQUEST FROM THE EDITOR of Genius, Illustrated

The Library of American Comics editor Dean Mullaney has produced two outstanding books on the art and life of Alex Toth entitled Genius, Isolated and Genius, Illustrated. Mullaney is currently at work on the third volume of the Toth series: Genius, Animated. It will focus on Toth's career in animation and Mullaney would like to hear from people in the animation business who worked with Toth, who might have some stories to tell, and who might have photographs or artwork suitable for inclusion in the forthcoming book.

If you'd be willing to be interviewed for the third volume, please contact Dean Mullaney at

The Library of American Comics, an imprint of IDW Publishing located in San Diego, CA, has published a series of comic art related books that include The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, The Complete Little Orphan Annie, The Complete Terry and the Pirates, and Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles.

Check out their complete catalog at:
For more books you might also be interested in, check out the IDW catalog: and

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

On The 22 Rules

The New Yorker analyzes Emma Coats' "22 Rules of Storytelling" and decides:

The kind of recipe for success that a soft-drink company might guard with fierce vigilance, a movie company puts online for all to see. Emma Coats, a former storyboard artist at Pixar, sent out a list of the company’s “22 Rules of Storytelling.” I confess, I thought there was just one—“whatever works”—though it’s no surprise to learn that Pixar, a Disney subsidiary, has codified its process to a programmatic uniformity.* ...

(Go to the bottom of the article, and you see that the writer Richard Brody realizes he's wrong to pin the 22 Rules on Pixar, and takes back a bit ... but not all .. of what he originally said.)

The larger point to be made: Good storytelling is organic, not mechanical. Sure, there are basic structures that are often observed, but the problem for big-budget filmmakers aren't "rules" per se, but the endless notes and picking of nits from various development executives. And of course the focus groups and "testing," as companies try to cover all their bets when sinking dollars into the latest project.

Our fine entertainment conglomerates usually attempt to duplicate the successes that have gone before, the better to maximize profits. This means that characters and story beats have a sameness to them. No exec will get fired for replicating the tried and true, or hiring a big name actor or screenwriter. But heads will roll if something new and different is tried ... and it fails.
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Overseas Money Gathering

There's little animation in play, but plenty of visual effects extravaganzas.

Oz The Great and Powerful dominated, ... taking the top weekend spot overseas with a $46.6 million gross and lifting its offshore cume to $136.8 million. ...

Agood Day to Die Hard drew a mighty $15.7 million at 5,009 venues, elevating the total weekend take to $20.4 million ... Foreign gross total flew past the $200-million mark ($201.3 million) ...

Jack the Giant Slayer expanded its footprint for a weekend tally of $10.3 million at some 4,000 sites in 25 markets. International cume stands at $35.2 million. ...

Foreign Grosses

Rise of the Guardians -- $200,300,000

Wreck It Ralph -- $247,900,000

Escape From Planet Earth -- $1,367,308

Escape, as you can see, hasn't been out and about in foreign venues much. As of Sunday, it was still in the Top Ten in the U.S. and Canada.
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Ceding Territory

Fox Broadcasting trumpets its new dominance ....

FOX has officially surpassed NBC and moved into the No. 2 spot for the season among Adults 18-49. The network’s week was highlighted by dominate performances from American Idol, BONES, THE FOLLOWING, GLEE, and the Sunday night ANIMATION DOMINATION line-up, leading the network to rank No. 1 for the week among Adults 18-49, Adults 18-34 and Teens.

FOX also ranked No. 1 six nights this week among Adults 18-49 and Adults 18-34. ...

And the network was delighted to point out the shows that were whomping the competition. We highlight the animated ones below ...

8 of the Top 20 programs among Adults 18-49: Family Guy (No. 11), ... The Simpsons (No. 16 tie) ...

11 of the Top 20 programs among Adults 18-34: Family Guy (No. 3), THE Simpsons (No. 7), BOB’S BURGERS (No. 10 tie), American Dad SP (No. 8 tie), The Cleveland Show 8:30p (No. 10), BOB’S BURGERS (No. 12), The Cleveland Show 8:30p (No. 13 tie)

9 of the Top 20 programs among Teens: Family Guy (No. 3), THE Simpsons (No. 5 tie), The Cleveland Show 8:30p (No. 5 tie), BOB’S BURGERS (No. 9) ...

Fox can't take full credit for the victory. NBC contributed by running sucky shows (which NBC is a little thin-skinned about).

But weak competition or not, animation has certainly helped boost Fox upwards, and it's a continuing puzzlement to me why other networks allow Fox to have a monopoly on prime time animation.

(It can't be that Fox is the only company that's willing to sign a labor contract with the WGA for nighttime animated shows, can it. If so, Fox has made out like a bandit.)

It took years for entertainment conglomerates not named Disney to start making theatrical animated features. How many more years will it take for entertainment companies to compete against Fox in the prime time cartoon arena? Are they that averse to making money?
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spring Break Box Office

Now with rich, caramel Add On.

Diz Co. rides high with the wizard.

1. Oz The Great and Powerful (Disney) Week 2 [Runs 3,912] PG Friday $11.4M, Weekend $42.0M, Cume $144.9M

2. The Call (Troika/TriStar/Sony) NEW [Runs 2,507] R Friday $6.2M, Weekend $16.7M

3. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 3,160] PG13 Friday $3.7M, Weekend $11.1M

4. Jack The Giant Slayer (Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 3,357] PG13 Friday $1.7M, Weekend $6.8M, Cume $54.5M

5. Identity Thief (Universal) Week 6 [Runs 2,842] R Friday $1.3M, Weekend $4.8M, Cume $124.0M

6. Snitch (Summit/Lionsgate) Week 4 [Runs 2,353] PG13 Friday $1.0K, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $37.6M

7. 21 And Over (Relativity) Week 3 [Runs 2,424] R Friday $950K, Weekend $2.7M, Cume $22.0M

8. Safe Haven (Relativity) Week 5 [Runs 2,206] PG13 Friday $840K, Weekend $2.5M, Cume $67.0M

9. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) Week 18 [Runs 1,602] R Friday $745K, Weekend $2.5M, Cume $124.6M

10. Dead Man Down (FilmDistrict) Week 2 [Runs 2,188] R Friday $640K (-65%), Weekend $2.1M, Cume $9.4M

One of our fine trade papers says:

Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful” is looking at an admirable hold for its second frame, dropping about 45% for a three-day haul likely at or a little shy of $45 million. The Mouse’s magic maker earned $11.4 million domestically Friday.

This beat out new entries “The Call” from Sony-TriStar and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” from Warner Bros.-New Line, Friday’s second and third, respectively. ...

Through last Thursday, the animated brigade had accumulated the following:

8) Escape from Planet Earth -- $49.8 million
21) Wreck-It Ralph -- $188.1 million
25) Rise of the Guardians -- $102.8 million

Escape From Planet Earth has now fallen out of the Top Ten, but the Weinsteins must be pleased that it's performed as well as it has. (Now if they can just hack their way through the lawsuits generated by some of the creators, they'll be all set.)

Add On: I spoke too soon. Escape clung to the tenth rung of the Popularity List, declining by the smallest percentage of any of the highest ten box office entertainments. It dropped 27.7% while losing 328 screens. The pic collected another $2.3 million and now owns a total of $52.2 million over the course of its domestic run.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

The Channel of Mouse

This is a wee bit startling.

... Disney Channels Worldwide — which operates Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior — has succeeded in introducing young audiences to the company’s iconic characters for the first time, or to new franchises that make them loyal to Mickey and friends for years to come.

“Disney Channel has become the biggest franchise grower for the company worldwide,” Jay Rasulo, the Walt Disney Co.’s chief financial officer, said last fall at the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills. “It used to be (film) animation, but the amount of time kids spend in front of the TV and
Web devices (and) mobile devices (watching) the Disney Channel make this an incredibly powerful vehicle.” ...

I was a Disney employee when the Disney Channel was launched.

Back in the early eighties, the Channel was much derided by Disney employees:

"It'll never work." ... "It shows nothing but crap. Who wants to watch Mickey cartoons and old episodes of Zorro?" ... "How can the studio produce enough material for a cable channel?" ... "Who do they think they're kidding?" etc.

People all over the lot were pitching and selling ideas for shows. The Channel was taking lots of odd stuff. Just so long as it didn't cost much to produce, things could get on. Welcome to Pooh Corner, one of the first originals made for the Disney Channel, was made for next to nothing on a small Hollywood sound stage, where two half-hour shows were cranked out each week.

One hundred twenty episodes were produced in three years.

And Tim Burton made a cheapie version of Hansel and Gretel (taking a break from his animation duties) that aired on the channel once. This small epic cost slightly more than $100,000 and has been pretty thoroughly buried for thirty years.

But what most tickles me is, the Disney Channel, this powerhouse driver of corporate profits, wasn't launched by Hollywood hotshot Michael Eisner, but by Ron Miller, who launched the Channel mere months before being overthrown the the Bass brothers in a 1984 coup.

Small irony, yes?

Click here to read entire post


I guess there's only so much tax money for our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

Gov. Susana Martinez opposed the so-called “Breaking Bad bill” that would have raised the state’s film tax credit to 30% from 25% for TV series shooting at least six episodes in New Mexico, AP reported. Martinez told the Legislature she supports the film industry but objected to a subsidy just for Hollywood rather than making it part of an overall package of economic incentives ...

I would be willing to wager the rent money that, as time moves along, tax funds will start to dry up for the various "Cash for Hollywood" bills that now litter the Canadian provinces and various U.S. states. There is, after all, only so much moolah to go around, and voters will start to catch wise that large entertainment conglomerates are getting too sweet a deal. And then rebel.

Long-term tax subsidies are inherently unstable and hard to sustain. Over time, tax payers resent the largesse, and look around for politicians who will spend dollars on them ... or not spend dollars at all.
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's the Solution ...

(Now with Add On.)

To the visual effects conundrum? Here's a few ... offered by various stakeholders:

Viz Effects Trade Association. Former visual errects honcho Scott Rossis reaching out to the heads of the major visual-effects shops to try to persuade them to create a trade association. ...

"What's prevented it from happening in the past, is that each one of the visual-effects facilities have it in their heads that there is not enough work, and the enemy is the other facilities, so the concept of sitting down at the table with the enemy is hard for them to get over,"

Union Organizing "The visual-effects artists are at the lowest point downhill where the trouble has rolled due to a broken business model," Organizer Steve Kaplan said. "One thing that needs to be done to staunch the downward flow is to form a union as a barrier to abuses of overtime and benefits and to establish certain minimums and standards in the work place."

Values.... "It's about changing the value proposition - and that's not to be confused with asking filmmakers to pay us more," said Mark Driscoll, president and co-founder of Look Effects, a 100-person shop that has worked on "Black Swan" and "Warm Bodies." "There is plenty of money being spent. I think it's more about discussing what our relationship is to the ownership risk and reward on a film."

Subsidies. "Adding say half a billion or a full billion to the film subsidies in California would bring a flood of jobs back to the Golden State, in the long run it would perpetuate a race to the bottom, which dismantles any hope to have a booming growth industry based on talent and branding rather than political whims and charms," Dave Rand, a visual-effects artist at Rhythm & Hues, said.

What the industry is going through is slow-motion destruction. Studios are going out of business. Countries and states are seeing which of them can throw the most money at visual effects projects, the better to lure them to their geographic location. Visual effects artists, pushed to the wall, are demonstrating and holding mass meetings.

What emerges at the end of the death spiral? I could see a landscape of fewer key suppliers. And maybe Disney finding a way to make its new effects shop ILM work for the Mouse's live-action tent-poles. Parts of the industry might have union contracts, while other parts not.

But I don't see Chinese and Indian studios dominating the business in my lifetime. It's next to impossible to have a grip on quality when your main focus is being the low cost provider. It's like taking monastic vows while running a whore house: the two things aren't compatible. In twenty years of close observation I've never seen that particular formula work.

Add On:

Unionization and the creation of a trade association topped the priorities at a visual effects biz town hall meeting Thursday in Los Angeles where hundreds of VFX professionals gathered to discuss the state of their troubled industry. Despite calls for solidarity within the global community and a general sense of accord, a tense volley of boos erupted halfway through the panel when Visual Effects Society rep Mike Chambers took the mic and mentioned the organization’s call for larger California subsidies made in an open letter last month. In the letter the VES had announced plans to hold a VFX Congress, which has yet to materialize. “What are you going to do?” shouted one audience member to Chambers, who had no answer for his group. ...

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President Emeritus Tom Sito SPEAKS

Tom Sito -- author, animator, director, storyboard artist and college professor -- has written a new book on the history of computer animation. In due course, we plan to pick Mr. Sito's brain about his tome in a TAG Interview, but in the meantime ...

FLIP: Were there any popular myths about CG that were shattered during your research? Any surprises?

TS: I found all the layer upon layers of interconnectiveness fascinating. How the same people popped up again and again. Like Ivan Sutherland, who wrote the first software program at MIT, was also at the government agency ARPA when they began to develop the Internet, Then he taught at University of Utah. His class included Ed Catmull, Nolan Bushnell, Jim Blinn, Jim Clark (SGI), Gouraud, Phong, Alan Kay ( laptop computers) all giants in CG development. It was Alan Kay who suggested to Steve Lissberger that he do TRON in CG, and he also suggested to Steve Jobs that he buy Pixar from Lucas.

Another revelation was how at the New York Institute of Technology, an eccentric millionaire was financing an attempt to create the first CG feature as early as 1975! Almost twenty years before it was done with Toy Story (1995). ...

You can find the rest of Tom's interview here. ...

Tom worked on this book for a long time, interviewing loads of movers and shakers in the field. His first book, Drawing the Line has been a steady seller for years.

(You can find our earlier TAG interview with Professor Sito here and here.)

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chinese Studio ... Foreign Talent

This caught my eye.

Tudou’s Gary Wang Eyes Animation Domination In China founder Gary Wang is gearing up to launch an animated film studio in Beijing on April 1, making movies primarily for the domestic market. The entrepreneur told The Wall Street Journal he has secured tens of millions of dollars in funding from a group of international investors. With China now the world’s second biggest movie market at $2.74B in sales last year, the time is ripe, Wang believes.

Movie theaters are opening at a breakneck pace and the environment has improved for distribution, promotion and copyrights, Wang said. China does not have a large animation sector but DreamWorks is now in a joint venture with China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment on Oriental DreamWorks, a Shanghai studio that will develop and produce original Chinese animated and live-action content. Wang is recruiting local talent, but also scanning Los Angeles and San Francisco for directors, storyboard artists and senior animators.

There's a large, California-based talent pool of animators, designers, and board artists who have worked on wildly* successful animated features. Smart global business persons know these are the kind of folks that it's desirable to recruit. So I expect that one of two things will happen:

1) Gary Wang will set up an office in the eastern San Fernando Valley to interview prospective employees for his Chinese studio, or

2) He will set up a satellite facility in Studio City to feed his operation in mainland China.

Just because Hong Kong's Imagi tried it and failed doesn't mean it won't succeed the second time around.

$500+ million = "wildly"
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Going to India? (Part XI)

Deadline says:

Random Cow Pictures‘ Matt Flynn will direct It’s A Dog’s World, an animated pic centered on autistic 8-year-old Willie Welby, who travels to a parallel universe where all the dogs talk ...

You can never go wrong with talking dogs. However ...

... The production will take place fully at Reliance MediaWorks‘ studios in Mumbai and Chennai, India, with preproduction set to begin this month. ...

According to People* Who Claim to Know, this whole-enchilada-cooked-in-Mumbia thing might present problems because:

Reliance can't even finish simple work outsourced to them! They have no ability to do this. What the f*ck are they smoking!?

Perhaps they're inhaling deep, rich, laughing tobacco. Or maybe something stronger.

As we've previously noted, it's well and good to create inexpensive animated features. But it's even better to create animated features that audiences will actually watch, and the features from the sub-continent have not yet cleared that bar.

* Here defined as individuals inside Hollywood effects studios with knowledge of Reliance's sub-contract work.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Mick

This has been percolating at Disney Television Animation for a long while. I was sworn to secrecy about it (aren't I always?) But clearly, the invisiblity cloak has now come off.

Disney Channel is launching a new short-form series of 2D comedy cartoons featuring its iconic Mickey Mouse character, the network announced in advance of its upfront presentation on Tuesday.

The series of 19 cartoon shorts will premiere on Friday, June 28 on Disney Channel, and the WATCH Disney Channel app. ...

Here's one of the new offerings. Diz Co. is clearly interested in doing new things with its corporate symbol. Click here to read entire post

The Sam Ewing Interview -- Part II

TAG Interview with Sam Ewing

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mr. Ewing spent the larger part of a decade working at Hanna-Barbera, then left to take a job at Saban ...

Mr. Ewing says Saban (and Saban International) was an interesting place to work.

Haim Saban was always completely upfront about the way he paid his people: "When you come to work for me, I'm not going to pay you very much. You have to work and prove yourself. But after you've shown that you can make me money, I'll pay you more. Pay you a lot more."

Mr. Ewing worked as a producer of Saban animated shows and as a Vice-President of Internation productions. When Saban was sold to Disney, he elected not to stay with the Mouse but move on to fresh fields of endeavor.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Continuing Gold Rush

It apparently hasn't escaped the smart money's notice that CG animated features are more profitable than any other kind of theatrical long-form entertainment. Therefore:

COLOGNE, Germany - Cinematography technology group Arri, maker of Arriflex cameras, has formed a production and sales alliance with Munich-based animation group Trixter that will see the two companies co-produce and sell animated features for the international market.y the

The first production under the new alliance will be Ploe - You'll Never Fly Alone, a family-friendly feature about a young golden plover. ...

Everybody's chasing the big brass ring. And why not? If American animation studios can open their own mint, if Spanish and French animation studios can hit pay dirt, then German studios can do it as well.


The price of software and hardware is coming down, and artists' talent pools expanding. So there's ample opportunities to create animated features at various price points: $10 million; $40 million; $80 million and up. (Find a budget that suits you!)

And certainly the rewards are there:

... 3D turtle toon “Sammy’s Adventures 2” had made $42.1 million worldwide, while Scandi sequel “Niko 2: Little Brother, Big Trouble” (screening at Cartoon Movie) earned $19.3 million. Also in Lyon, “Tad, the Lost Explorer” has made $24.6 million in native Spain, topping $40 million worldwide. ...

The number of animated features are going to continue increasing across the globe. Robust box office will see to that. Even DWA's failure Rise of the Guardians grossed $302 million. Now, if the movie had only cost $90 million, it would be safely in the black.
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The Rebellion Strikes Time-Warner

As BC tells us:

An official announcement on the Star Wars website has promised “a new direction for Lucasfilm animation.” [Also, too:]

"We are exploring a whole new Star Wars series set in a time period previously untouched in Star Wars films or television programming."

Obviously driven by the recent Lucasfilm-Disney deal, this “new direction” seems mainly designed to a sever ties with Cartoon Network. As a result, the fifth series of Clone Wars is to be the last… at least on TV.

Well ... yeah.

Disney isn't in the business of enriching Time-Warner. Not if Diz Co. can help it.

Further, I don't believe Disney will be in the business of having a third theatrical animation division on its roster. I would be willing to wager that the Chapman-directed, animated feature that Lucasfilm is developing will be its first ... and last.
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The Sam Ewing Interview -- Part I

TAG Interview with Sam Ewing

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Sam Ewing worked in the animation business for decades, but not as an animator, writer, or board artist. Mr. Ewing was a producer and development executive for the likes of Hanna-Barbera and Saban ...

And before that, he was the go-to guy in children's programming for NBC, where he worked closely with all the major television animation studios, from H-B to FIlmation and beyond.

Mr. Ewing describes his first day as a Hanna-Barbera employee as follows:

I had been in and out of the studio many times when I worked for NBC, but the day I came to work as an employee, carrying my box of stuff, the guard stopped me at the gate and wanted to know who I was. Me walking in had never been a problem when I came in as an exec from the network, but when I started working there, it was a problem. ...
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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Says He'll Keep It Going

So Rhythm and Hues WON'T be going away?

David Shim is managing partner of JS Communications, which got approval from the courts Friday for a “stalking horse” bid for the bankrupt visual effects firm.

“I have no intention to liquidate,” he told Variety. “Far from it. Rhythm & Hues should be taken care of. It’s in the common interest of the motion picture industry to support it for its skillset and what it can do for the industry going forward.

Shim said R&H’s problems were “the fault of the industry as a whole” but he added that the company’s financial management had been “a little lacking.” He has been onsite regularly at R&H’s offices and JSC appears to be the company’s preferred buyer in the upcoming bankruptcy auction. ...

A while ago, I was working for an animation company that was told by its foreign buyer that "production would continue" after the takeover. This was before the sale was finalized.

But whatayaknow? The second the ink was dry, the foreign purchaser (in this case, the French corporation L'Oreal) shut the twenty-six-year-old Filmation down faster than you can say "Zoot alors!" and a 140 animation employees were out of work. So the fact that a major suitor of Rhythm & Hues is making soothing noises now really "don't impress me much."

(But I guess we can always hope, can't we?)

The problem for the visual effects industry remains what it has been for two decades: Visual effects cannot flourish in a system that requires the studios that create those effects to low-ball their bids to get work, thereby cutting their own corporate throats.

And employees working at those studios cannot survive when they have long stretches of unemployment, no stable pension or health plans, and no assurances that the work they are doing today will still be around five months from now, and not (instead) in some Montreal sweat shop that may or may not make its next payroll.

Hard realties, heart-breaking realities. "Zoot alors!" indeed.

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World Box Office

Disney, as in the U.S. and canada, performs well overseas.

Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful boasted the top international opening of 2013 in debuting to a solid $69.9 million from 46 markets, bringing the tentpole's global bow to $150.2 million. ...

Hansel and Gretel came in No. 2 overall at the international box office, grossing $11.2 million from 48 markets for an international total of $142 million. ...

A Good Day to Die Hard placed No. 3, grossing $9.1 million from 67 territories for a foreign total of $177.9 million and worldwide cume of $241.2 million. ...

Ted also made news as it matched the $327 million grossed internationally by The Hangover Part II. ...

On the full-bore animation front, cartoons were collecting money as follows:

Foreign Box Office

Rise of the Guardians -- $200,300,000

Tad, the Lost Explorer -- $41,000,000

Wreck-It Ralph -- $247,900,000

Tad is the low budget CG feature from Spain that is making brisk money outside the U.S. of A.

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Marvel Animation's Latest Rollouts

Marvel Animation tells us when its new series arrive:

The "Marvel Universe" programming block on Disney XD will expand with the debut of two new animated series: "Marvel's Avengers Assemble," and "Marvel's Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.," it was announced yesterday by David Levine, Vice President and General Manager, Disney XD Worldwide and Jeph Loeb, Executive Vice President & Head of Television, Marvel Entertainment.

Kicking off the summer programming is a special one-hour preview of "Marvel's Avengers Assemble" on SUNDAY, MAY 26, followed by the series premiere on SUNDAY, JULY 7. "Marvel's Hulk and the Agents S.M.A.S.H." premieres SUNDAY, AUGUST 11 (all at 11:00 a.m., ET/PT) on Marvel Universe on Disney XD. ...

With "Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man" as its centerpiece, Marvel Universe is the destination for kids and families to enjoy original animated Marvel TV content, including series and interstitials ...

I was through Marvel's small but active studio on Friday, with artists busily working on Hulk and Avengers. (Spider Man's latest television incarnation has been produced 'til now at Film Roman.)

Marvel Animation has informed me that the intention is to add a couple more series to the Marvel Universe mix, but that hasn't been done yet. Whether the studio is waiting until it sees how the Hulkster and Avengers perform, I know not. The Marvel super hero universe is red hot, so more series (I think) are a foregone conclusion.

Marvel Animation has hired a lot of Warner Bros. Animation/D.C. Comics staffers, including writer Paul Dini.(Friday, I asked a former Warners super hero artist how it felt to be working on Marvel's side of the street. He said, "Hey, it's nice to have a job."

Which, of course, it is.)
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Grand Prize

Because it isn't all about the Oscars, Emmies and Annies.

The Russian animation “Out of Play” by Ivan Maximov won the grand prize at the 8th Tehran International Animation Festival.

The winners of the festival, which is held annually by the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (IIDCYA), were announced during a ceremony in Tehran on Thursday. ...

... “Children Who Chase Lost Voices” by Makoto Shinkai from Japan won the Best Feature Animation Award.

The Best TV Animation Award of this section went to “Welcome to Bric and Brac” directed by Amandine Gallerand and Matthieu Chavallier from France. ...

But what about Wreck-It-Ralph? Why no mention of Brave?

This Tehran awards thingie is rigged.
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Technicolor B.O.

Now with Add On.

Color saturation and ThreeDeediness is the weekend theme.

Sam Raimi’s 3D blockbuster, Oz the Great and Powerful, is gearing up for an impressive $23 million haul Friday with a projected $80 million for the weekend. ...

Lots of critics are saying Oz doesn't compare to the "iconic" 1939 film, but most everybody forgets this minor fact:

The 1939 classic cost nearly $3 million -- MGM's most expensive film that year. Though released to much fanfare, it lost money until 1956 ... "Oz" was neither a commercial or critical success. The New Yorker said it had "no trace of imagination, good taste or integrity" ...

See, everybody turns handsprings over the original, and I remember seeing it as a kid on grandpa's round-screened color t.v., but the epic was a money loser for close to twenty years. It took a long run on television to turn its reputation around.

Everybody now remembers it as this awesome hit, this jaw-dropping game changer, but it wasn't. Gone With the Wind was the monster in 1939, which gave a big boost to three-strip Technicolor.

Add On: To nobody's surprise, Oz the Great and Powerful rakes in moolah:

Disney's 3-D prequel to the classic L. Frank Baum tale "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" debuted in first place and earned $80.3 million at the weekend box office in the U.S. and Canada and $69.9 million overseas, according to studio estimates Sunday. ...

Weekend Box Office

1 Oz The Great and Powerful $80,278,000

2 Jack the Giant Slayer $10,020,000 ($43,811,000)

3 Identity Thief $6,319,000 ($116,530,000)

4 Dead Man Down $5,350,000

5 Snitch $5,100,000 ($31,855,000)

6 21 and Over $5,056,000 ($16,840,000)

7 Safe Haven $3,800,000 ($62,884,000)

8 Silver Linings Playbook $3,745,000 ($120,749,000)

9 Escape From Planet Earth $3,207,000 ($47,832,000)

10 The Last Exorcism Part II $3,120,000 ($12,083,000)

20 Wreck-It Ralph $409,000 ($187,912,00)

26 Rise of the Guardians $224,000 ($102,679,000)
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