Saturday, August 31, 2013

Epic at #1

Not in movie palaces here or around the world, but in purchases of little silver disks.

Blu-ray Sales, August 19-25: Epic Overtakes Olympus for Number One

For the week that ended on August 25th, Twentieth Century Fox's Epic topped both the Blu-ray-only and overall package media charts. ... Epic managed a surprisingly robust theatrical run despite mediocre critical notices (the film's Metacritic total is 52%); the CGI adventure grossed over $253 million worldwide on top of a projected $100 million budget. Factoring into its sales was a Blu-ray market share of 40%. ...

A quarter billion in movie ticket sales would be considered robust by many standards, but not for animated theatrical features. News Corp. has been operating its own mint wit the Ice Age franchise, earning $700 million and 800 million a pop. Not so for Rio (although the movie did relatively well) or the latest epic based on a William Joyce property.

It would be worth knowing if, on a subliminal level, there is audience resistance to snails and garden slugs as characters in animated features. That theory might explain the tepid box office for both Turbo and Epic.

The sad part: Movie creators can never know with certainty why their movies didn't do boffo business at the turnstiles. That's why I offer up the theory of why this feature did less than stellar business: audiences didn't want to see mollusks on the big-screen. And especially not in 3-D.
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Labor Day Box Office

Now with Nikkster Add On.

The big animated money-makers of summer have more or less shot their bolts. But here's how total domestic accumulations for cartoon features in release shake out:

Total Domestic Box Office

Planes (#4) -- $64,798,000

Despicable Me 2 (#14) -- $352,530,000

The Smurfs 2 (#17) -- $64,554,000

Turbo -- (#19) -- $79,047,483

Two animated features, Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, did gangbuster business. Everything else (to use a polite term) underperformed general expectations. Nevertheless ...

... [T]he all-important summer box office season is wrapping up more than 10 percent higher than last year, on track to beat the summer of 2011's record $4.4 billion in revenue.

This was largely thanks to a calendar packed with big-budget tentpoles. "We've had 15 films that have done over $100 million this summer, compared with about 13 films last year, so it was a deeper slate than last year," said Eric Handler, an analyst at MKM Partners. ...

The studio at the bottom of the pile this summer: Sony. Both its "After Earth," and "White House Down" bombed. Not a single one of its films broke into the summer's Top 10. ...

We might add that The Smurfs 2 also wasn't a barn-burner (at least domestically), so it's kind of important that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 gets some traction.

Add On: The weekend box office per Ms. Finke:

Weekend Box Office

1. One Direction: This Is Us (TriStar/Sony) NEW [Runs 2,735] PG Friday $8.8M, Saturday $4.0M, 3-Day Weekend $16.9M, 4-Day Holiday $20.0M

2. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) Week 3 [Runs 3,330] PG13 Friday $3.6M, Saturday $5.5M, 3-Day Weekend $14.8M, 4-Day Holiday $20.0M, Cume $79.2M

3. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 4 [Runs 3,445] R Friday $3.1M, Saturday $4.5M, 3-Day Weekend $12.7M, 4-Day Holiday $16.0M, Cume $112.9M

4. Planes (Disney) Week 4 [Runs 3,259] PG Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.9M, 3-Day Weekend $7.7M, 4-Day Holiday $10.7M, Cume $73.8M

5. Instructions Not Included (Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 347] PG13 Friday $1.9M, Saturday $2.7M, 3-Day Weekend $7.5M, 4-Day Holiday $9.3M

6. Elysium (Sony) Week 4 [Runs 2,539] R Friday $1.5M, Saturday $2.3M, 3-Day Weekend $6.3M, 4-Day Holiday $8.1M, Cume $80.2M

7. The Mortal Instruments (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,118]PG13 Friday $1.4M, Saturday $2.0M, 3-Day Weekend $5.6M, 4-Day Holiday $7.2M, Cume $24.6M

8. The World’s End (Focus Features) Week 2 [Runs 1,553] Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.8M, 3-Day Weekend $5.1M, 4-Day Holiday $6.7M, Cume $16.5M

9. Getaway (Warner Bros) NEW [Runs 2,130] PG13 Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.5M, 3-Day Weekend $4.5M, 4-Day Holiday $5.5M

10. Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (Fox) Week 4 [Runs 2,393] PG Friday $980K, Saturday $1.7M, 3-Day Weekend $4.4M, 4-Day Holiday $6.0M, Cume $56.5M

Planes continues to cling to the fourth rung of the list, making steady money. One of the first times a feature from the sub-continent has gained a bit of traction. (Turbo collected $770,000 domestically this weekend, good for 19th place. It's only in 438 theaters at this point, but had a 20% bounce, this weekend to last. And the 3D showings of the snail accounted for just 25 percent of its total box office, the most underwhelming performance for the format yet. Moving View Master might be doing gangbusters overseas, but it isn't happening in a major way stateside.)
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Friday, August 30, 2013

Four Pillars

There are many investment charlatans out in the wider world. Dr. William Bernstein, a financial wizard (and neurosurgeon now retired) is anything but. I've read several of his books, and here is a summary/condensation of one of his best, The Four Pillars of Investing:

PILLAR ONE--Investment Theory:

"Anyone promising high returns with low risk is guilty of fraud."

"The long-term return of high-grade bonds is essentially the same as the dividend yield."

"The market is brutally efficient and can be thought of as being smarter than even its wisest individual participants."

"Stock picking and market timing are expensive, risky, and ultimately futile excercises."

"A prudent course is to make the broad market and a lesser amount of small U.S. and large foreign stocks your core stock holdings."

"Financial history provides us with invaluable wisdom about the nature of the capital markets and of returns on securities."

"No one--not the pundits from the big brokerage firms, not the newsletter writers, not the mutual fund managers, and certainly not your broker--can predict where the market will go tomorrow or next year."

"From the market peak in September 1929 to the bottom in July 1932, the market lost an astonishing 83%."

"The message to the average investor is brutally clear: expect at least one, and perhaps two, very severe bear markets during your investment career."

"Most investors are simply not capable of withstanding the vicissitudes of an all-stock invesment strategy."

"A young person saving for retirement should get down on his knees and pray for a market crash, so that he can purchase his nest egg at fire sale prices."

"For the 50 years from 1932 to 1981, Treasury bonds returned just 2.95% per year."

"The fundamental investment choice faced by any individual is the overall stock/bond mix."

"Alfred Cowles was directly responsible for the collection and analysis of most of the nation's stock and bond data from 1871 to 1930. Without Cowles, we would still be financial cave dwellers.

PILLAR TWO--Investment History

"Be aware that the markets make regular trips to the loony bin in both directions."

"There is nothing new--only the history you haven't read (Larry Swedroe quote)"

"In no field is a grasp of the past as fundamental to success as in finance."

"Bubbles occur whenever investors begin buying stocks simply because they have been going up."

"At times of great optimism, future returns are lowest; when things look bleakest, future returns are highest."

PILLAR THREE--The Psychology of Investing:

"The biggest obsticle to your investment success is staring out at you from your mirror."

"Overconfidence is probably the most important of financial behavioral errors."

"The next major error that investors make is the assumption that the immediate past is predictive of the long-term future."

"Human beings are not very good at taking losses or admitting failure."

"My experience is that the wealthier the client, the more likely he is to be badly abused (by his broker)."

"The most liberating aspect of an indexed approach is recognizing that by obtaining the market return, you can beat the overwhelming majority of investment professionals who are trying to exceed it."

"A superior portfolio strategy should be intrinsically boring."

"If you cannot hold onto the asset class mutts in your portfolio, you will fail. Your overall portfolio return is all that matters."

PILLAR FOUR--The Business of Investing

"Make no mistake about it, you are engaged in a brutal zero-sum contest with the financial industry.--every penny of commissions, fees, and transactional cost they extract is irretrievably lost to you."

"99% of what you read in and hear from the financial media is, in fact, advertising cloaked as journalism."

"It is a sad fact that you can pass the Series 7 exam and begin to manage other people's accumulated life savings faster than you can get a manicurist's license in most states."

"Stay clear of mutual funds and variable annuities with sales loads and fees."

"Vanguard became the first, and only, truly 'mutual' fund company owned by its shareholders. There was, therefore, no incentive to milk the investors, as generally happened in the rest of the investment industry."

"At the present time, I'd still give the nod to the more traditional open-ended index funds (over ETFs)."

"When you buy the market, you are hiring the aggregate judgment of the most brilliant and well-informed minds in finance."

"The stockbroker services his clients in the same way that Bonnie and Clyde serviced banks."

"The essential characteristics of the successful investor are the discipline and stamina to, in the words of John Bogle, 'stay the course'."

"With relatively little effort, you can design and assemble an investment portfolio that, because of its wide diversification and minimal expense, will prove superior to most professionally managed accounts."

It took me twenty-plus years to figure out the truths William Bernstein imparts above. Unfortunately, I'm a slow learner.

TAG 401(k) Plan Enrollment Meetings

Bento Box
Wed. Sept. 18th, 2 pm,
5161 Lankershim - Table Read Rm.

Disney Feature
Wed. Sept. 4th, 3 pm,
Rm. 1300

Tue. Sept. 3rd, 10 am,
Conf. Rm. 101

Cartoon Network
Tue. Sept. 17th, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Marvel Animation
Wed. Sept. 4th, 10 am,
Marvel Anim. Conf. Rm.

Wed. Sept. 11th, 10 am,
"T.U.F.F. Puppy" Rm. A26.

Robin Red Breast
Wed. Sept. 11th, 3 pm,
Lrg. Conf. Rm.- Santa Monica Bldg.

Starz/Film Roman
Thur. Sept. 5th, 2 pm,
“Glass” Conf. Rm.

Sony Pictures Animation
Thur. Sept. 19th, 2 pm,
North - Rm 2050

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Your Labor Day Cartoon Clip

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Deux will soon be upon us.

Sadly, Sony Pictures Imageworks has sent animation work on this feature to Vancouver, where the corporate socialism is more generous than the paltry package California offers. (Like, nothing or close to.)

Happily, a chunk of the work has remained in Culver City. (It seems that Vancouver can't handle as much production as Sony hoped, so back to Culver City some of the cartoon goes.)

The picture comes out in September, and if it dodges what the media has called "the summer animation glut" is known to the animated feature gods but not to us. A lot depends, we think, on whether the picture is any good or not.

Funny how that works.
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Replacement Time

It seems there is a changing of one of the Diz Co. creators.

Pixar Animation yanks director Bob Peterson off 'The Good Dinosaur' ...

Pixar Animation has removed the director of its 2014 film, "The Good Dinosaur," and not named a replacement, marking the fourth time in eight movies that the Emeryville studio has made a director change midstream.

With the film's release date fast approaching and various creative choices unmade, Pixar executives decided to replace director Bob Peterson this summer, according to the studio's president, Ed Catmull.

"All directors get really deep in their films," Catmull said this week. "Sometimes you just need a different perspective to get the idea out. Sometimes directors ... are so deeply embedded in their ideas it actually takes someone else to finish it up. I would go so far as to argue that a lot of live-action films would be better off with that same process." ...

Ed Catmull has also made this argument:

... Creative power in a film resides with the film's creative leadership. As obvious as this might seem, it's not true of many companies in the movie industry and, I suspect, a lot of others. We believe the creative vision propelling each movie comes from one or two people and not from either corporate executives or a development department. ...

Except when it doesn't.

To be fair, top studio execs have long had final say over the features under their purview. In recent times, some live-action directors tended to be untouchable, but even that has changed a bit, as fewer have "final cut" and other creative perks they often came to expect.

In the olden days, however, the front office wasn't shy about sharing its own creative vision with directors:

To: Curtiz

From: Wallis

Subject: Captain Blood

I have talked to you about four thousand times, until I am blue in the face, about the wardrobe in this picture. I also sat up here with you one night, and with everybody else connected with the company, and we discussed each costume in detail, and also discussed the fact that when the men get to be pirates that we would not have "Blood" dressed up.

Yet tonight, in the dailies, in the division of the spoils sequence, here is Captain Blood with a nice velvet coat, with lace cuffs out of the bottom, with a nice lace stock collar, and just dressed exactly opposite to what I asked you to do.

I distinctly remember telling you, I don't know how many times, that I did not want you to use lace collars or cuffs on Errol Flynn. What in the hell is the matter with you, and why do you insist on crossing me on everything that I asked you not to do? What do I have to do to get you to do things my way? I want the man to look like a pirate, not a molly-coddle. You have him standing up here dealing with a lot of hard-boiled characters, and you've got him dressed up like a God damned faggot...

I suppose that when he goes into the battle with the pirates (the French) at the finish, you'll probably be having him wear a high silk hat and spats.

When the man divided the spoils you should have had him in a shirt with the collar open at the throat, and no coat on at all. Let him look a little swashbuckling, for Christ sakes! Don't always have him dressed up like a pansy! I don't know how many times we've talked this over...

I hope that by the time we get into the last week of shooting the picture, that everybody will be organized and get things right. It certainly is about time.

Some things change, others things stay the same, but everything comes 'round again eventually.

My take on all this is: when an employee has a creative difference with The Boss, The Boss prevails. It's never been much different, learned articles to the contrary.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

7/10 of a Billion

Pixar still has a perfect record.

... “Monsters University” today crossed $700 million at the worldwide box office, making it the fourth-highest grossing toon for Pixar ... behind “Toy Story 3,” (with $1.06 billion), “Finding Nemo” ($922 million) and “Up” ($731 million) — also is expected to become the studio’s highest-grossing animated film in China, with roughly $19.1 million locally. In total, “Monsters, Inc.” made $563 million globally. ...

How many studios can say every feature has made big bucks? Only one.

Whether or not your think every Emeryville film is an artistic winner, it's still impressive.
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This is smart thinking.

"Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Never Land Rescue" will premiere Sept. 29 on Disney Channel and Disney Junior, marking the first appearance of Tinker Bell in Disney Junior's "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" series. ...

When you're a big conglomerate looking for cross-pollination, looking for SYNERGY!, you take James M. Barrie's characters and use them as you will.

Tink doesn't talk? She now talks. Tink is CG, then hand-drawn. If she doesn't look exactly like other Tinks, so what? She's got the wings, the blonde hair, the little green outfit.

So she's good.

The idea, boys and girls, is to get the pre-Ks to know and love Tink, then get the tweeners to hone in on the CG direct-to-video product, then (if the tweeners turn into film geeks) get them to look at the 1953 movie.

It's all good, it's all seamless, it's all in the pursuit of God, Country and higher profit margins.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One More Animated Feature

... in the crowded pool.

Newly-formed production company Gnosis Moving Pictures announced Tuesday that it will produce the animated feature The Quest in partnership with Will Vinton’s Vinton Entertainment.

Vinton, an Oscar winner for the 1974 animated short Closed Mondays, will direct a script he wrote with Andrew Weise and Peter Crabbe.

Mr. Vinton lost control of his Portland studio eleven years ago when investors pushed him out. (This business phenomena is sometimes known as the "Phil Roman effect:"

You found the studio. You expand the studio. You get more prosperous and you take the shares of your enterprise public. Then the stockholders get ticked off that you aren't making them more money (or any money at all) and throw your backside out the door.

But those are the breaks in Cartoonland. I'm just happy to see that Will Vinton is back in the game, creating again.
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DWA Walk Throughs

I was surprised today on DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus. A group of employees was on hand for the 401(K) enrollment meeting, ready to sign up for the Plan. Last time around, in the midst of the big layoffs, there was practically nobody, so today I was thinking: Hey now. Artists with some confidence in their longer term prospects with DreamWorks. All riight.

Up in the Lakeside building, there are more empty cubicles but still work on Mr. Peabody and Sherman, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and others. Layoffs, however, still go on.

Meanwhile, the newer TV animation division is ramping up and enjoying some success ...

The first season of DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk, premiered on Cartoon Network last September and quickly became a ratings success. On average, season one's premieres ranked #1 in their timeslot among key boys 2-14 versus all other TV networks, according to Nielsen Media Research. ...

Over at DWA TV's Ventura Boulevard studio, most of the work on Season 2 Dragons has wrapped, but a staffer said they're hopeful of getting a third season order. I asked if the unit was going to remain on Ventura Boulevard in mid-Valley, or if they were going to take the moveable feast to Glendale. The staffer wasn't sure. "Won't happen before the start of next year, wherever we are."

I asked if anybody knew where the new television facility was going to be, and was told it was in a high rise on Brand Boulevard south of the 134 freeway. That narrows it down only a little, since there are a lot of high rises south of the 134 on Brand Boulevard.

I was also told that nobody has moved over there yet, but I ran into a producer/director from another t.v. animation studio who's joining DWA t.v. (He was at the Ventura studio for a production meeting. Since he's fairly high profile, I was surprised he was leaving his long-time gig. But I guess DWA is going after established, higher end talent.)

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Macro Wages, Micro Wages

People complain to me on a regular basis that they're working for the same money or less than they were five ... ten ... fifteen years ago. Turns out there is a lot of that going around (who would have guessed?):

You're going to have to be patient. Very patient.

The wage "stagnation" workers are experiencing even as the economy and job numbers continue to improve is going to last considerably longer than expected, according to economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

That wage increases come to a complete halt during recessions and don't recover immediately after is not unusual. But this time, the freeze and the decline in the real value of wages is "more pronounced than the pattern observed in past recessions. The economy has been recovering for four years and unemployment has declined considerably, but wage growth has continued to slow.

"The trend will probably continue ... long after the unemployment rate has returned to more normal levels," the economists write in a July paper.

The economists, basing their findings on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, said they do expect wage growth to "accelerate" sometime in the future, but don't say when. Right now, "the spike in workers who are experiencing no wage changes has reached record levels." ...

The Los Angeles animation industry has been sort of an outlier in the roller-coaster pattern of weekly salaries.

In the 1980s, artists got pretty close to minimum scale at lots of animation houses. Disney Feature paid veterans a bit more than newbies, but wages were anything but extravagant.

In the 1990s, salaries took off as both television and theatrical animation expanded at the same time and demand way outstripped supply. By the early 21st century the boom and feeding frenzy were over (particulalry for traditional artists) and the big bucks were being made by CG artists with production backgrounds. (Adam Smith lives!)

But now it's the second decade of the new millenium, and even CG tech directors and animators are getting hit in the pocketbook. Pay is (once more) bumping against minimums, and nobody is gloating about big money. The days of making twice the Animation Guild's minimum rates are long over. And our cousins, brothers and sisters in the VFX arena?

... Visual effects is the one key piece of filmed-entertainment production that operates under the Randian free-for-all that those economic sages prescribe for America’s greater prosperity. Until around 10 years ago, vfx artists and their skills were relatively scarce, so their jobs tended to be permanent and lucrative.

When IATSE tried to organize Sony Imageworks in the boom years, almost none of the company’s employees voted to unionize. That mindset held across the industry — and proved short-sighted. The major studios never had to become guild signatories for visual effects artists as they are for actors, directors and other specialties. They remained free to use f/x made anywhere, under any working conditions. And so they do.

As a result, downwardly mobile SoCal vfx artists — the canary in the coal mine for the rest of L.A.’s production pros — are learning to their terror just how much they have in common with laid-off machinists in Milwaukee. ...

We noticed this "lower pay" trend in cartoonland start in the late 1990s, but it's gone on to 2013. Animation is lucky compared to live-action and visual effects in Los Angeles. We've seen erosion of paychecks, but there is still a sizable workforce and lots of t.v. and theatrical work.

For grips, electricians, camera operators and everyone else on the live-action side, the high-end television shows and big-budget threatrical motion pictures are being made far away from L.A. County. The work that's remained has been (relatively) low paying.

Not good, but the way it is.
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The Doo

First the big dog is animated (hand-drawn). Then he's CGI with live-action thrown in. And now?

[Warner Bros.) is developing an animated Scooby-Doo feature film, returning to the franchise that produced a pair of live-action/animated hybrid films a decade ago. The project has been set up with Atlas Entertainment with Charles Roven and Richard Suckle producing.

Roven and Suckle also produced 2002′s “Scooby-Doo” for Warner Bros., mixing live action actors with the titular Great Dane, which was computer-generated, along with “Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed” two years later. The first film generated $275 million worldwide, and the second followed with $180 million.

The obvious question: This will be all CGI, right? It isn't going to be done in the "classic style," right?

And then the next question: Will pre-production be done in L.A.? And will production be done in town or will it be outsourced? (Many companies are chasing socialistic hand-outs in the form of tax rebates and wage subsidies, after all. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!)

It's great that Warner Bros. is again jumping into theatrical animated features. But I want to know where all the work for the features takes place.
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Monday, August 26, 2013


Two things to keep in mind about animated tv shows and features: They make a lot of money unto themselves. (Think Snow White's re-releases and video-casettes, silver disks, over seventy-odd years. Consider The Simpsons syndication packages.)

And then there's the gajillions in merchadise:

... "Despicable Me was an absolute blowout," says Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of, a website that reviews toys. "The retailers underbought it in a big way, and they are playing catch-up. Literally everything sold out. It was severely underestimated."

In 2013, U.S. toy sales will hit about $22 billion, according to data from the NPD Group, with a quarter coming from toys based on licenses from movies and TV shows ­-- the category that in recent years has grown most quickly. ...

Along with DM2, the top toys of the summer at Toys R Us, she says, were products from Disney's TV series Sofia the First and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was reincarnated last fall by Viacom's Nickelodeon, spinning off boy-oriented merchandise that has been popular with kids, teens and adult collectors.

But it's not just the big hits. Sometimes the under-performers get traction.

... DreamWorks Animation had success with Turbo because of the popularity of car toys with boys. “Even if a classic movie property does not perform well at the box office,” says Toys R Us’s Harnisch, “we often find that the combination of classic play patterns, like cars and trucks, as well as lovable characters translate well at retail.”

“It was tough this summer and [Turbo] was also a new [line of products],” says DreamWorks Animation's head of global consumer products Michael Connolly. “It’s always hard to get in front of people, but Turbo has done a lot better than the box office indicates because it’s such a fantastic play pattern.” ...

DreamWorkers have told me that the company expected Turbo toys to be big, along the lines of Pixar's Cars, and one of the reasons the TV show was put into work before the movie was released. I've no idea if DWA came close to its aspirations in the ancillary product department, but here's hoping.

Of course the larger point here: toys, licensing, and games are major reasons animation is today such a huge part of the entertainment marketplace. The shows and movies are often ever-green, spewing out cash-flow for decades. And the merchandise that gets generated in their wake also becomes hugely profitable. Most live-action franchises (Star Wars excepted) don't come close to the performance levels of their animated cousins.
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Just another cog in the machine

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Calling for Entries

Those cartoon awards are rolling around again? Already? (Okay, so it's the call for entries that's looming up.)

The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, announced its ‘Call for Entries’ for the 41st Annual Annie Awards to begin Tuesday, September 3.

Step-by-step instructions are located at and are entirely on-line again this year. A complete list of Rules and Categories can be found on the Annie Awards website – -- along with up-to-the-minute updates and information about the ceremony. Deadline to submit entries and materials is midnight Monday, November 4. The 41st Annual Annie Awards ceremony is set for Saturday, February 1, 2014 at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles. ...

“In an effort to simplify the entry process, we’ve combined a few things that are due on November 4,” said ASIFA-Hollywood President, Frank Gladstone. “Along with entries and materials, you’ll need to be a current member, renew your membership or join ASIFA-Hollywood by this date to participate in the Annie Award voting.” There are also new guidelines for sponsors, Gladstone explained. “Studio sponsorship contracts will also have to be in by the November 4th deadline and sponsors will not be able to take advantage of their entry benefits until their sponsor contract has been recorded. While you still need to be a professional member of ASIFA-Hollywood to submit, each sponsoring studio will also be asked to provide us with a list of designated submitters from their studio group. Finally, there will be no 'retroactive discounts' for entries that a non-sponsor has initially paid for, who then becomes a sponsor after the fact,” said Gladstone.

“Of course,” added Gladstone, “we continue to welcome independent entries and look forward to even more individual submissions this year.”

Entries submitted for consideration will be from productions that were released in the United States between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013. The deadline to join ASIFA-Hollywood or to renew membership, to become a Sponsor, and to submit entries and materials is midnight Monday, November 4, 2013.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Losing a Close One

Last Friday there was a vote-count for a National Labor Relations Board election at a small animation studio. It didn't involve a lot of artists, but the campaign was fairly long. with flyers ... and meetings ... and finally battling information sheets: Local 839 is misinforming you about this." ... "The company is not truthful when they say ..."

Because mail-in ballots were involved, the counting took place at the NLRB's Region 31 headquarters ...

So on Friday afternoon the cardboard ballot box was opened, and the vote tally came down to

Grand Exalted Productions -- 8 votes

The Animation Guild -- 6 votes

In other words, 6 "yes" votes to be repped by the Animation Guild, and 8 "no" votes to not be represented.

We knew it was going to be close, one way or the other. We knew the artists were worrying about the viability of the show on which they worked. In the end the comfort of "status quo" prevailed over the uncertainty of voting for change.

But enough. Unions win campaigns, and lose campaigns. TAG has had its share of wins, but we've certainly taken losses. (Read about one here ... and also, if you have time, the comments.)

The Animation Guild will be continuing various organizing drives now in progress, some of which will end it contracts, others which will end up as dust in the wind. But anyone who doesn't feel there is a need for better wages, working conditions and benefits for people who work for a living is probably living somewhere besides the U.S. of A.

We intend to keep pushing for better.
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Your Worldwide Box Office

Animation continues to joggle right along at the foreign turnstiles.

... “Despicable Me 2,” took in nearly $11 million from 51 markets this weekend. That pushed it past the $800 million mark (It’s at $805 million) and established it as the highest-grossing animated film of the year and seventh-highest ever.

It’s Universal’s most profitable film in the studio’s 101 year history and the studio’s second highest grossing film worldwide ever, behind “Jurassic Park.” ...

“Monsters University” was [at #3] with $19.6 million from 55 territories and has now taken in nearly $425 million overseas. The global total for the Pixar family film is $686 million. ...

Turbo is still collecting box office dollars, but doesn't look to be a chart buster.

Weekend's Foreign Box Office -- (Total World Cume)

Jurassic Park -- $30,000,000 -- ($89,885,935)

Monsters University -- $19,600,000 -- ($686,596,000)

Planes -- $5,900,000 -- ($77,391,000)

Despicable Me 2 -- $10,900,000 -- ($805,759,070)

Smurfs 2 -- $11,900,000 -- ($234,916,118)

Turbo -- $4,800,000 -- ($150,274,003)
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Happy Birthday, Mr. Kelly

Now with Add On!

One hundred years ago today, Walter C. Kelly was born. You probably know him from this:

Kelly was also a Disney animator and storyboard artist, working at the studio from 1936 to 1941. Kelly departed the studio around the time of the strike, went to work for Dell Comics, and found his way to immortality via a cartoon possum and a lively and literate mind. (The fact that W.C.K. drew real well didn't hurt either.)

Mr. Kelly died at the age of sixty, way before he should have gone, but he was never a man who enjoyed robust health. Still, we're grateful for the years that he shared his talent, and Pogo.

TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito's observations about Mr. Kelly and the '41 strike:

Scanning the articles about the 100th Birthday of Walt Kelly, I notice some of the old revisionism still in play about his whereabouts during the Great Disney Strike of 1941. That he was "ambivalent about the Strike" and so he coincidentally left the studio for a "family leave".

Before Roy Disney ended it in 1991, this mythology was spread to give the idea that 1-That nothing was bad enough at the Disney Studio to necessitate the artists being so ungrateful to Walt as to strike, and 2- No one of any importance left because of it, which Walt put out as a press statement at the time.

I talked to the strike leaders like Littlejohn, Hilberman, Hurtz and Selby Kelly, who told me Walt Kelly indeed was pro-union and was involved. You can read about it in my book Drawing the Line. From today's vantage point, it's easy to dismiss the notion that Kelly might care about the conditions of his fellow artists. It's much easier to ascribe his actions to pure self-interest. But that was not the spirit of the age, nor the spirit of the strikers. Passions among the artists were building and anger rising for months before the summer of 1941, The debate occupied a lot of Ward Kimball's thinking then, and he was Kelly's close friend. It is absurd to believe Walt Kelly paid no attention of any of it, and that a man of his principles should pick the climax of this argument to suddenly cut and run "for family reasons".

If as some say, Kelly expressed misgivings about the strike years later, well so did Bill Tytla. A lot of people in middle age come to feel embarrassed about the passions of their youth. One thing that is undeniable is that Walt Kelly was a man of conviction, and not afraid to stick his neck out for what he believed.

So I say Happy 100th Birthday not just to Walt Kelly the great cartoonist, but to Walt Kelly the believer in the rights of artists!
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Your Late August Box Office

The Nikkster lays it all out.

1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) Week 2 [Runs 3,110] PG13 Friday $4.7M (-43% from a week ago), Weekend $15.6M, Cume $50.9M

2. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 3 [Runs 3,445] R Friday $4.0M, Weekend $13.1M, Cume $91.4M

3. The World’s End (Focus Features) NEW [Runs 1,549] R Friday $3.4M, Weekend $9.6M

4. The Mortal Instruments (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 1 [Runs 3,118] PG13 Friday $3.1M, Weekend $8.9M, Five-Day Cume $13.7M

5. You’re Next (Lionsgate) NEW [Runs 2,437] R Friday $2.9M, Weekend $8.0M

6. Planes 3D (Disney) Week 3 [Runs 3,378] PG Friday $2.2M, Weekend $8.2M, Cume $59.3M

7. Elysium (Sony) Week 3 [Runs 2,913] R Friday $2.0M, Weekend $7.1M, Cume $69.1

8. Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters 3D (Fox) Week 3 [Runs 2,730]PG Friday $1.4M, Weekend $4.9M, Cume $48.1M

9. Kick-Ass 2 (Universal) Week 2 [Runs 2,945] R Friday $1.3M (-78%), Weekend $3.9M, Cume $22.1M

10. Blue Jasmine (Sony Classics) Week 5 [Runs 1,283] PG13 Friday $1.1M, Weekend $4.1M, Cume $14.7M ...

Despciable Me 2 is just out of the Top Ten, with a domestic total of $348,100,420 as of Thursday. (Turbo is at $78,142,003 and will have to work to crack $100 million. Which doesn't seem likely.) Click here to read entire post

Building Retirement

Next week I start a new round of 401(k) meetings, so it's time to focus on where you're going economically, and why it could be a smart idea to think (again) about tucking money away.

... According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, the median retirement savings balance for all working-age households is merely $3,000. Sure, that includes young people who haven’t saved much, but the near-retirement households aren’t doing much better. The median retirement saving balance for households ages 55-64 is just $12,000. A lot of families are going to have a rude awakening when they finally retire and realize they have to downgrade their lifestyle significantly.

Households with retirement accounts such as the 401(k) and the Roth IRA have a significantly higher income and wealth. Those households (55-64) have a bigger retirement savings median at $100,000. That’s better, but even that figure is quite low. If you find yourself near retirement without a lot in retirement savings, you will need to work hard now to salvage your retirement.

Run the numbers now. The first step is to keep track of your expenses and see where all the money goes. Then you need to estimate your retirement income. Check your Social Security statement to see how much help you would get from Uncle Sam. Don’t get your hopes up, though, because the average Social Security benefit for a retired worker is only about $1,200 per month. If you have a pension, you can add it to your retirement income here as well. Once you have done this, you can see if there is a big gap between your current expense and estimated income, and you can start figuring out how to reduce the shortfall. ...

The average accumulation in the Guild's 401(k) Plan is now $79,000. Not awful, but not great either. Even though many TAG members are en route to an okay but far from fabulous pension, they need to put away more retirement cash, and the 401(k) plan offers a relatively pain free way to accumulate money. (There is no match, but the tax advantages are considerable. You pay no state or federal taxes on the wages you put into 401(k) accounts, and earnings grow tax-deferred.)

Today I talked to a long-time Guild member who is just now at a studio back east. He tells me that he talks to a lot of twenty-somethings about saving for retirement in low-cost investment accounts. He says that many are clueless about the impact of pricey, actively-managed funds on long-term investments, but he's doing his best to educate them. (Costs of, say, 2% don't seem like a lot over three or four years, but over three decades they add up to 60% of the total nut. Yeowch.)

Diversified, low-cost investing is simple if you allow it to be. What is sometimes hard is sticking with the program and starting the program in the first place. However, we'll do our best to make the first step of the journey as easy and accessible as we can. Find below out upcoming 401k Enrollment meetings, listed in alphabetical order:

Bento Box
Wed. Sept. 18th, 2 pm,
5161 Lankershim - Table Read Rm.

Disney Feature
Wed. Sept. 4th, 3 pm,
Rm. 1300

Tue. Sept. 3rd, 10 am,
Conf. Rm. 101

Disney TVA - Empire Cntr..
Tue. Aug. 27th, 10 am, Rm. 5223

Disney TVA - Sonora Bldg.
Tue. Aug. 27th, 3 pm, Rm. 1172

Cartoon Network
Tue. Sept. 17th, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Dreamworks Animation
Wed. Aug. 28th, 10 am,
Dining Rm. B&C

Dreamworks - Dragons
Wed. Aug. 28th, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Fox TV Animation
Thur. Aug. 29th, 2 pm,
Main Conf. Rm.

Marvel Animation
Wed. Sept. 4th, 10 am,
Marvel Anim. Conf. Rm.

Wed. Sept. 11th, 10 am,
"T.U.F.F. Puppy" Rm. A26.

Robin Red Breast
Wed. Sept. 11th, 3 pm,
Lrg. Conf. Rm.- Santa Monica Bldg.

Starz/Film Roman
Thur. Sept. 5th, 2 pm,
“Glass” Conf. Rm.

Sony Pictures Animation
Thur. Sept. 19th, 2 pm,
North - Rm 2050

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Friday, August 23, 2013

At Fox Animation

I spent a stretch of my morning at Fox Animation on Wilshire, where the American Dad and Family Guy crews are pleased that both shows have new seasons stretching out ahead of them. (As you probably know, American Dad, despite solid ratings, exits Fox and moves to TBS for its next season.)

The new round of AD episodes will number fifteen, not the usual 22. Crew members are a tad, downhearted about the lower number, but happy that a new season is happening. And of course there's the question of how Seth MacFarlane will be able to give his complete attention to everything, because ...

... Mr. MacFarlane is stretched thinner than ever.

Fox has declined an Asian-American group's request to reshoot the pilot for the upcoming Seth MacFarlane fall comedy, "Dads," despite brewing backlash over what many critics have called insensitive and even racist jokes.

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) had asked the network to alter scenes featuring Brenda Song's character dressing up in a sexy schoolgirl costume to please Chinese businessmen during a meeting with her bosses (Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green). They objected to the "racial and sexual stereotypes."

Judging from the promo, the jokes are on-par with Seth's cartoon series, but maybe Dads seems a little more "out there" because the jokes come from live-action actors' mouths.

But if we're talking live-action, there's also the upcoming big-screen presentation, A Million Ways to Die in the West:

... "Everybody's laughing all the time," [Amanda Seyfried] said. "It's like nobody cares about the fact that they've been shooting a 14-hour day. Every line is hilarious."

Seyfried, who plays Albert's ex-girlfriend, praised MacFarlane's ability to handle his duties as both director and lead actor. "It's amazing, he looks like a movie star," she said. "He's very focused on what he needs to do and he watches the takes, but then all of a sudden he's next to you in the scene, and you're like, uh, are you watching what I'm doing, or...? And then he yells cut when he's in the scene." ...

So how are all the different hats Seth juggles (wears?) in the growing empire going to spin out? No idea. But the folks working in the animated division of MacFarlane, Inc. are pleased to have jobs for the next year.
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Batman Ben

This doesn't have much to do with the cartoon version, but so what? It's funny.

"Come Back Val Kilmer, All Is Forgiven ..."

The internet citizenry reacts to Mr. Affleck as the Caped Crussader. (Happily, I'm at an age where I don't give much of a sh*t. Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Michael Keaton, Warner Bros. will figure it out. Maybe.) Click here to read entire post

Thursday, August 22, 2013


...Woman. ...

Andy Khouri of Comics Alliance explains:

What artist Robert Valley did with his four-minute Wonder Woman short for Warner Bros. Animation’s DC Nation campaign was much more than simply express the powerful essence of the iconic superheroine. In just a few precious seconds, Valley defies every expectation absolutely anyone would have about what Wonder Woman could be ...

The piece above isn't four minutes. To get the full dose of WW, click on the link above.
Click here to read entire post

It Couldst Be Giants

Uannounced, but out there.

... Giants ... will be to Jack and the Beanstalk as Tangled was to Rapunzel and Frozen is to The Snow Queen.

The film hasn’t been officially announced, and it could disappear from the schedule even after it is. But for now, work on the film continues, and I understand that director Nathan Greno has had a couple of table reads and is getting the basic shape of the film into good order. ...

So you know, I really try to keep my mouth shut about upcoming projects that aren't out on the internets. There's a reason for this: I'm a labor rep, and I get tired of being yelled at by this or that studio person because I've ruined some flack's official roll-out announcement.

I sincerely, earnestly try to avoid "breaking" anything because I walk around in all these studios and see stuff. I'm not an operator or a fan site and I really don't care what's in the development hopper one way or the other, since pictures fall in and out of work all the time. (Rapunzel/Tangled morphed into different movies for multiple years.)

I've heard this and that about Jack and the Beanstalk. I'm glad to know it's on a faster track now.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Still More TV Animation

Another half-hour on a fine, cable network.

FX has given a pilot greenlight to Bigfoot, an animated comedy series based on Graham Roumieu’s faux Bigfoot autobiography graphic novels In Me Own Words, Me Write Book, And I Not Dead. Written by Matt McKenna (American Dad) and executive produced by Seth Rogen, the FX Prods-produced project revolves around Bigfoot, everyone’s favorite crypto-zoological hominid, as a modern-day everyman. ...

The conglomerates have stumbled onto the fact that

A) Lots of people watch cartoons on the TV.

B) Cartoons travel well (mostly).

C) Cartoons are relatively inexpensive to produce.

I think all these things enter into the equation of making or not making new animated product. And animation has a looong shelf life. What 1961 prime time sitcoms -- besides The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Flintstones -- are still in circulation half a century later? Not many.

And there's a lot more toy store merchandise sold with Fred, Barney and Wilma than Rob and Laura Petrie, trust me.
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Lean and Mean

One of our fine trade magazines tells us:

Walt Disney will lay off about 175 people at its ABC television unit beginning Wednesday, the result of an internal review discovering that many positions were unnecessary because of new technologies and redundancies as a result of acquisitions, insiders told The Hollywood Reporter.

The layoffs amount to about 2 percent of the unit, which employs 7,600. Insiders say the layoffs will largely hit the eight owned and operated TV stations housed in Disney's ABC Television Group. The company has eight owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh Durham and Fresno. ...

Here in the 21st century, you can never slip enough people the axe ...

On a related note, a Disney animation staffer last week told me how she came back from family leave and got notice of termination, and I ran into a Frozen animator at the grocery store who had animated his last scene on the picture two days before. He related:

I knew the job was temporary when I started. Disney is paying me through the beginning of September, so I'm happy about that. ...

It always good to have something to be happy about, even if it's two or three weeks extra pay as you wade into the unemployment line.
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At Starz-Film Roman

My morning was spent at Starz-Film Roman along Hollywood Way, where a Simpsons director told me:

Nobody has told us, but I think that Fox is going to pick up The Simpsons for the 26th season. And then I think, if they get the voice actors on board, they will go all the way out to 30 seasons and end the program.

And then they'll make two Simpsons features. ...

From his mouth to the viewing public's eyeballs. ...

But one way or the other, Starz-Film Roman has to be mulling over what they're going to be doing after the Yellow Family completes their final half-hours. And by golly, it turns out they are:

Starz's animation house Film Roman is making a push into developing its own original animated programming.

The Burbank-based company, best known for its work-for-hire animation on The Simpsons, Beavis & Butt-Head and King of the Hill, has optioned several original ideas that it is developing.

Led by general manager and head of production Dana Booton, the unit of Starz has made a substantial, but undisclosed investment into an effort to produce and distribute original programming.

The initiative comes at a time when Starz, which John Malone's Liberty Media spun off as a separately traded company in January, has also focused on developing more original programming for its premium TV service. ...

The marketplace is a lot tougher now than when H-B developed shows and licensed them to the networks, because the networks couldn't own programs outright. In today's corporatist state, monopoly is a pleasing rather than a dirty word, and vertical integration, with one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates owning programming and distribution top to bottom, is all the rage.

But maybe there's still a place for the smaller players to develop good work and get it on the air. We certainly hope so.
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Tuesday, August 20, 2013


At the Mouse, I was once again in the hat building, and a second-floor staffer related:

The lighters and finalers are doing seven-day weeks now, getting Frozen finished. The rest of us are on regular schedules, since production on the picture is over for us [last of Frozen's animators have pretty well wrapped]. The newer shows are just ramping up. ...

Other feature players tell me that "production is going to be stretched out on the next couple of features. The production time on Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen was pretty compressed."

Elsewhere in the Kingdom, the curtain (axe blade?) came down on an old perennial ...

Walt Disney Co. (DIS) will close its Toontown Online video game for kids after 10 years, as the company’s interactive unit shifts resources toward the larger Club Penguin and to mobile games.
Toontown, in which monthly members form teams to fight evil robots, will stop operating on Sept. 19. ... The game made its debut in June 2003 and Disney has said it was the first massively multiplayer online game designed for kids and families. ...

The change leaves Club Penguin as the only so-called virtual world operated by Disney. The site, acquired in 2007, is the largest of its kind, according to Disney. The company has been adding more themed content tied to characters from Star Wars and Pixar films like “Monsters University.” On the Toontown site, Disney suggests players move to Club Penguin. The site had more than 200 million penguin characters created, according to a July report by Variety. ...

So production on the new feature closes a few weeks before Toontown goes dark.
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The Tale of Glut

Just too many?

... The flood of computer-animated movies is reminiscent of the late 1990s, when Disney blockbusters such as "The Lion King" spurred others to jump into the business — only to fail with a string of box-office clunkers, such as "The Iron Giant" and "Titan A.E.," that led to widespread layoffs.

Most of the recent movies, however, have fared well at the box office, some hugely so. Universal scored a massive hit with "Despicable Me 2." Since its release July 3, the Universal sequel, produced for $76 million, has raked in more than $750 million, making it the most profitable movie in the studio's history. ...

Okay, we get it. There's just too many animated features competing against each other, and so grosses are down.

Oh. Except that Despicable Me 2, released in the middle of the glut (after Monsters University but before Turbo) is the "most profitable movie in Universal's history."

Think about that. More profitable than Jaws. Or Jurassic Park. More profitable than The Sting or the long series of monster movies. So how did it make so much money in the middle of the glut?

Because a crowded field doesn't necessarily mean box office failure. Otherwise DM2 would have under-performed. It's really simpler than that. When an audience decides not to go see a movie, you can't stop it.

Unfortunately for DWA, the audience decided not to go look at a movie about a speedy snail. Fortunately for Chris Meledandri, the world's theatre-goers decided they really, really wanted to see Despicable Me 2, which has out-performed Monsters, Inc. 2/Monsters University in most geographic areas, though not by much.

If people want to go see a long-form cartoon, they'll go do it. And if not, not. Gluts be damned. It's the content, not the format.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Frenchified Animation

Two blockbusters makes a trend.

French animators are enjoying global success. ... Made not in Hollywood but in Paris's 15th arrondissement by the Illumination Mac Guff studio, "Despicable Me 2" ... has taken nearly $700 million at the box office on a budget of $76 million since its release in June.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said in July that the feature was "going to end up being the single most profitable film in the 100 year history of Universal Studios".

... The success of this "made-in-France" animation goes back to the 1980s.

Veillon, like Mac Guff founder Jacques Bled, cites a 1982 initiative by the Ministry of Culture to develop the animation industry through the National Centre for Cinema.

Combined with the first 3D software, it paved the way for a whole generation of animation professionals.

Work generated by the main terrestrial television channels then created an environment in which the firms flourished, added Veillon.

Marc du Pontavice ... attributes Paris's strength in animation to its centuries-old link to painting and later illustration and cartoons.

He said the training young animators received in Paris was the envy of the world with some 500 student graduating each year, many of whom attracted the attention of big US studios.

Producer Janet Healy, one of Illumination's first employees, said the firm scoured the world to find the right studio for "Despicable Me 2".

"We went to Canada, New Zealand, Australia," she said before Illumination head Christopher Meledandri met Mac Gruff founder Bled.

Making films in France was "no cheaper (than other countries) if you look at it dollar to dollar," she said.

But after seeing Mac Guff's "Dragon Hunters", Meledandri finally chose the studio, she added. ...

Well, there was also those zesty French film subsidies. Those certainly didn't hurt.

France isn't a low-wage country, not by a long shot. But it has some of the same things California possesses: Innovation, focused training, and a skilled talent pool. And France has one ingredient that the west coast lacks, a generous wage subsidy that takes away the sing of working in a higher cost environment. Mr. Meleandri cheerfully admits this is one of the continuing attractions of having a Paris studio.

When (and if) the golden state enacts a robust kickback for our fine,entertainment conglomerates to chew on, perhaps Mr. Meledandri will flirt with the idea of setting up an L.A. Studio*, yes?

* To be fair, Illumination Entertainment's partially-animated "Hop" was produced in Los Angeles at the Rhythm and Hues studio. But R & H is gone, and so is Mr. Meledandri's plans to use a cartoon facility in L.A. More's the pity.

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TV Visual Effects

As Deadline notes:

The serial nature of TV and its inherent short deadlines allow facilities and effects artists to find a satisfying and stable niche. “The predictability of the television season helps us,” says Andrew Orloff, co-owner and visual-effects supervisor of Zoic Studios, whose clients include TNT’s Emmy-nominated Falling Skies and ABC’s Once Upon A Time. “We built our business model on serving a bunch of different markets, and we’ve done pretty well.” ...

In Los Angeles. (Even as Zoic has a studio in Vancouver. Right up until the subsidies are taken away.) And there are those pesky tight schedules:

[Visual effects supervisor] Gary Hutzel says he often does work in Canada, with the Defiance effects team based in Toronto. But the kind of labor outsourcing to places like India or China that’s seen in feature films is less practical on a TV schedule.

There's this frightening thing called an air date, and that limits a producer's options with overseas studios. If a supplier misses a deadline, you're screwed, because your special effect is missing from your coast-to-coast, primetime baby.

Not good. But ultimately it keeps work here ... and in Canada for as long as the rebates and tax subsidies hold out. (This is the same dynamic that has kept large chunks of animation in Los Angeles. There's a talent pool here that is good to utilize, and foreign studios can be unreliable when you need them to be the opposite.)
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Suggestive Motion Picture Moments

Pausing the Blu-Ray is a national pastime, yes?

Many have already seen this, since it went up in June. But I'm just catching up to it, there's lot of Disney pictures embedded in the compilation (can you tell?), and it's Sunday night. So I post the pup anyway. ...

They don't show The Rescuers clip, where Bernard and Bianca fly through Manahattan and a naked Playboy Playmate is full frontal in an apartment window.

(This one I've seen. It was in the first VHS release and then -- I think -- deleted. A cutesy camera operator put the Playmate in for a single frame, and it wasn't detected until the 1980s.)
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August's Foreign Accumulations

The tally for animated features abroad:

Weekend's Foreign Box Office -- (Total Global Cume)

Smurfs 2 -- $20,000,000 -- ($201,912,189)

Despicable Me 2 -- $19,500,000 -- ($781,187,560)

Planes -- $7,300,000 -- ($52,390,000)

Monsters University -- $6,000,000 -- ($658,600,000)

Turbo -- $2,900,000 -- ($143,504,280)

Sadly, DWA's snail picture isn't getting a lot of traction. Despicable Me 2 has been in world markets longer than Turbo, but is still pulling in way more money in world markets.

The Worldwide Box Office rankings of animated features are as follows:

2013 Global Box Office Rankings

#3 -- Despicable Me 2

#6 -- The Croods

#18 -- Epic

#26 -- Smurfs 2

#30 -- Turbo
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Synergy Too!

Ah. So it IS one big universe, after all.

Buzz Lightyear, Jack Sparrow, the characters from "Monsters Inc." and "The Incredibles" are all getting ready to play together and interact in a new kind of virtual universe.

It's a big weekend for Disney's struggling Interactive division, which is overhauling its strategy with a brand-new video game platform due to hit stores Sunday.

The new product called "Disney Infinity" is a departure from the media giant's strategy in a number of ways: It brings together characters from far-flung Disney and Pixar worlds, in an unprecedented mashup, and it ditches a strategy of creating stand-alone console games.

The game platform starts with a $75 starter pack—comes with three game figurines, which have accompanying video game content, and a base, which plugs into any of the consoles. ...

This replaces Disney's money-losing strategy of introducing a stand-alone $60 console game for each big movie release—Disney's Interactive unit has lost $1.4 billion since 2008.

Recently the division slashed its employee numbers and closed a number of studios that make stand-alone games, as it looked for more profitable ways to tap into the value of its brands. ...

Diz Co. has long eaten it in the games realm.

The company builds a video game division, loses large amounts of money, closes (or drastically downsizes) said division. TAG has been marginally involved in the Mouse's roller coaster ride because from time to time we help game artists and animators when Disney is slipping them the axe. (A few years back, the company was cutting its Glendale game studio down to a nub and we assisted employees who were having their Personal Service Contracts stomped on.)

This time around, Disney is taking a leaf out of Activision's Skylander book, and seeing if it can generate some serious coin from a broader, interlinked model. Early indications are encouraging, but we'll jsut wait and see, won't we?
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Academy Collection

... gets a significant donation:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the gift of the Abe and Charlotte Levitow Collection featuring animation art and related production materials documenting the career of animator Abe Levitow.

Donated in their parents’ honor by the Levitows’ three children, Roberta, Judy and Jon, the collection features animation cels, backgrounds, storyboards, graphic art materials and related film prints—hundreds of items that represent Levitow’s accomplishments as an artist, animator and director for Warner Bros., UPA and MGM, and include his work on features such as “Gay Purr-ee” (1962) and “The Phantom Tollbooth” (1970).

The collection, which will be housed in both the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archive, is a significant addition to the Academy’s holdings in the animation field. “We are honored that the Levitow family has entrusted the preservation of their father’s legacy to the Academy’s archivists,” said Margaret Herrick Library Director Linda Mehr, “and you really can’t go wrong when Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are in the mix, can you?”

If you don't know, Abe Levitow was a sizable talent in animation for decades, which is in itself a remarkable thing because Mr. Levitow died at the age of 52 in the mid-1970s.

He was the director of the perennial Christmas tale known as Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. And at the time of his early death at age 52, he was pencilled in to direct the animated feature Raggedy Ann and Andy, a job that ultimately went to Richard Williams.
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Early Weekend Box Office

Now with a whole mess of Add Ons.

The turnstile Gods smile on animation.

Disney’s “Cars” spin-off “Planes” should hold well in its second frame after overperforming with north of $22 million last weekend. Also, Universal’s stalwart holdover “Despicable Me 2″ continues to pull down impressive weekend-to-weekend drops entering its seventh frame. The toon already has amassed a whopping $341 million domestically. ...

Of course, there's the "Animation is eating its own with the overcrowding" meme, but it doesn't hold up well. Despicable Me Deux and Monsters University have both performed, leaving only Turbo out in the cold. But come on already. Turbo tracked pretty closely with Planes in terms of box office. And yeah, Planes cost one hell of a lot less, but still in all. If the box office is similar, I don't know why one is a failure and the other a success.

It can't be only the respective budgets, can it?

Add On: Early predictions for weekend winners?

1. The Butler - $26.1 million
2. Kick-Ass 2 - $17.1 million
3. We're the Millers - $14.2 million (-46%)
4. Planes - $13.9 million (-37%)
5. Elysium - $13.1 million (-56%)
-. Jobs - $8.3 million
-. Paranoia - $6.6 million

(Obviously, the early estimates are open to change.)

In the meanwhile, this year's box office has been relatively robust.

Year-to-date figures show 2013 has finally caught up with and passed 2012′s box office numbers, in both gross receipts and ticket sales. Audiences are also showing up at a rate 7% ahead of 2012, and the summer in particular has been an enormous success — up more than 10% over last summer.

Considering the fact last year’s summer touted such heavy-hitters as The Avengers, the final Christopher Nolan Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises, a Spider-Man reboot, and the third Men In Black installment, it’s surprising the industry has managed to actually top that powerful line-up. Last year’s box office tally came in at 6.5% above 2011′s figures, and this year is on course for another 6-7% annual increase. ...

Add On Too: Rentrak rolls out its estimate of the weekend takings:

Domestic Weekend Box Office

1. Lee Daniels' The Butler - The Weinstein Company - $25.0M

2. We're The Millers - Warner Bros. - $17.8M

3. Elysium - Sony - $13.6M

4. Kick-Ass 2 - Universal - $13.6M

5. Planes - Disney - $13.1M

6. Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters - 20th Century Fox - $8.4M

7. Jobs - Open Road - $6.7M

8. 2 Guns - Universal - $5.6M

9. Smurfs 2 - Sony - $4.6M

10. Wolverine, The - 20th Century Fox - $4.4M

11. Conjuring, The - Warner Bros. - $3.9M

12. Despicable Me 2 - Universal - $3.8M

Only two animated features reside in the Top Ten, with DM2 lurking just beneath.
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Friday, August 16, 2013

Cartoon Socialism!

... British style.

Three BBC dramas and a couple of animated kids projects have been guaranteed the 25 percent tax break for programs that cost $1.56 million (£1 million) or more per hour. But overall, more than 30 guarantees have been issued, with the rest of the projects not immediately named. ...

BBC kids network CBeebies got guarantees for tax incentives for two shows -- animated Sarah and Duck and stop-motion series Calamity Island. ...

Nothing like good old capitalism to get jobs growing. Especially when the capitalism is generously laced with state socialism. (The oil industry figured that out a long time ago.) Click here to read entire post

Phineas and Ferb Disappear

... From the Mouse's movie slate.

Disney says it has removed Phineas And Ferb from its schedule. A film adaptation of Disney Channel’s hit animated series had been targeted for 2014 after being bumped from its original July 2013 date. Screenwriter Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine and was nominated for Toy Story 3, had been pegged to write Phineas ...

Okay, so the movie is delayed (canceled?) but everybody cheer up. There are still some synergistic crossover episodes coming on the television side:

Dan Povenmire: We actually started [Marvel development] in January of last year; we started knocking around story ideas and seeing what we could make work. We wanted it to be not only a good Phineas episode, but a good Marvel episode as well, and I think that's what we've done. It's got the action and the superhero feel of a Marvel episode and all the humor of a Phineas episode mixed together. ...

Since Diz Co. bought several different household brands for billions of dollars, it's good they are actually using those brands, yes?
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

SAG-AFTRA Landslide

A happy day for the incumbent.

Ken Howard made history Thursday, defeating Esai Morales to become president of a combined SAG-AFTRA in the first national election since Hollywood’s two largest labor unions merged last year.

Ballots for the national officers election were mailed to 139,967 eligible voters on July 16, and 28,755 were returned by Thursday's deadline, for a return of 20.5 percent.

Howard received 16,396 votes, with Esai Morales receiving 9,850 votes, Paul Edney receiving 1,359 votes and Marilyn Monrovia receiving 960 votes. In the election for secretary-treasurer, Howard's running mate Amy Aquino was elected with 17,590 votes and Jane Austin, Morales' running mate, received 10,662 votes. ...

20.5 percent. Sort of like an off-year election. (But actually, that's about what union elections usually do, somewhere between 19%-25%. That's been the Animation Guild's percentage returns over the time I've been here, so nothing has really changed.) Click here to read entire post

Keeping the Wheels Turning

DreamWorks Animation's new money stream:

DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. announced [August 14th] that it has completed its previously announced private offering of $300 million aggregate principal amount of 6.875% senior notes due 2020 (the "Notes"). The Notes are unsecured, unsubordinated obligations of DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. and will be guaranteed by the Company's existing and future domestic subsidiaries that guarantee the Company's credit facility.

The Company intends to use the net proceeds of the offering of the Notes to repay the outstanding loans under its revolving credit facility, including accrued and unpaid interest thereon. The Company expects to use the additional net proceeds, if any, for general corporate purposes, which may include acquisitions and repurchases of the Company's common stock. ...

There's a lot of movies in the company pipeline. So it's good to keep the lights on and the doors open with some new corporate notes so that all the new product has an opportunity to get released. Click here to read entire post

CSATTF Application Time!

The time of year to start preparing the CSATTF Tuition Reimbursement Grant applications is just around the corner. As you can see on our Grants Classes page, there are a number of programs that we have included in the tuition reimbursement program already. We are looking forward to bringing those programs back next year, as well as including more.

That's where we need your help. If you are taking skills training or skills enhancement classes at a local institution, in the classroom or online, and would like it to be a part of the CSATTF Vendor Training Reimbursement program, please email Steve Kaplan and let him know.

Time is of the essence! Send your email to Steve today!! Applications are due to CSATTF sometime in late October to early Novemeber. We should receive approvals back by mid January 2014.

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Important News!

For which the world has been waiting.

Paramount and Nickelodeon Films' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will now hit theaters on Aug. 8, 2014, two months later than originally planned.

Paramount has good reason for moving the CGI/live-action hybrid, which Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes is producing. This summer, the box office saw a glut of family movies, resulting in diminished returns for a number of films.

Had it stuck to its original June 6, 2014 release date, Ninja Turtles would have opened only a week after Disney and Pixar's The Good Dinosaur (May 30) and two weeks before Fox and DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 20). ...

We've seen various incarnations of the oh-so-popular, oh-so-profitable NT franchise. Of course there was the original hand-drawn series (built off the comic book, as I remember), then there was the original big-screen franchise with actors in turtle suits. Then there was the CG movie from Imagi that also did passably well.

Our fine, entertainment conglomerates took a lesson away from this year's crowded summer schedule: Don't put do many family movies in ultra-close proximity to one another, because it doesn't enhance box office.

A year hence, we'll see how the strategy pans out. (Truth to tell, there will still be a lot of close proximity.)
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

At DisneyToon Studios

Lots of big visuals for Planes in the spacious lobby of DisneyToon Studios on Sonora. There's a number of recent DreamWorks Animation employees peopling the halls and cubicles, and they're happy to be working ....

At least a couple of Tinkerbell features are in work. And there are two new installments of Planes on various Cintiqs.

There's also a bunch of new shorts being done, so there are short subjects in production at every division of Disney.(Features just now has Get a Horse, Disney TVA is producing a series of edgy-yet-retro Mickey shorts, and DisneyToon Studios has got a batch in work.)

There's lots of projects in the DisneyToon pipeline, and it isn't all slated for little silver disks. Per Mr. Lasseter:

Disneytoon Studios was started a number of years ago to feed into the direct-to-video market, but as the home video sales have continued to decrease rapidly we are looking at the evolution of the studio going more theatrical. ...

I gather this means that DTS will be the low-cost Disney cousin that releases films to support clothes, games and small plastic toys.
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Miyazaki Hate

I had no idea.

Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu, known in English as The Wind Rises, opened on July 20 in Japan. It is the first Miyazaki film based on the life of a historical figure – Horikoshi Jiro, who designed the Zero planes shortly before the onset of World War II. ...

“What Miyazaki offers is a layered look at how Horikoshi’s passion for flight was captured by capital and militarism, and the implications of this for thinking about the history of technology [in Japan],” ...

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s denial of Japanese war crimes in World War II and his aggressive policies on the disputed Diaoyu islands have sparked criticism in Asia. Miyazaki himself has expressed disapproval.

"One can only be appalled by the lack of historical sense and fixed convictions on the part of top political leaders," Miyazaki wrote in a July editorial put out by his studio’s magazine. "People who have not thought enough should not be messing around with our constitution."

Miyazaki also wrote that a “proper apology” should be given to Korean comfort women who serviced the Japanese army during World War II. ...

Such remarks have generated ire from right-wing Japanese conservatives, many of whom have taken to the internet to express their approval of Prime Minister Abe’s nationalistic policies. On the Yahoo Japan profile for Kaze Tachinu, over 2,000 comments are visible, and many netizens are lashing out at the film’s pacifist message, calling it overly “left-wing”. Others have labelled Miyazaki “anti-Japanese” and a “traitor.” ...

It's one thing to be the kindly old spinner of fantasy films, quite another when you become a peace-loving leftist traitor. Mr. Miyazaki has attracted the angry attention of the knuckle-draggers, and he'll never occupy the high perch in quite the same way ever again.

Oh well.
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The Winners Are ...

rolled out here late.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced today the juried winners for the 65th Emmy® Awards in the categories of Individual Achievement in Animation,

Outstanding Individual Achievement In Animation

Adventure Time • Puhoy • Cartoon Network • Cartoon Network Studios
Andy Ristaino, Character Design

Disney Mickey Mouse Croissant de Triomphe • • Disney Television Animation
Jenny Gase-Baker, Background Paint

Disney Mickey Mouse Croissant de Triomphe • • Disney Television Animation
Joseph Holt, Art Direction

Disney TRON: Uprising • The Stranger • Disney XD • Disney Television Animation
Alberto Mielgo, Art Direction

Dragons: Riders of Berk • We Are Family (Part 2) • Cartoon Network • DreamWorks Animation
Andy Bialk, Character Design

The Simpsons • Treehouse Of Horror XXIII • FOX • Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television
Paul Wee, Character Animation ...

Congratulations to all the artists who triumphed in a competitive field. Click here to read entire post

Animation Driven

That other entertainment conglomerate with the amusement parks is having a good year.

Universal Pictures International (UPI) has grossed $1.8 billion at the international box office. ...

The major success of Fast & Furious 6 ($544.4 million) and Despicable Me ($410 million) at the international box office helped catapult the studio to its best year at the foreign box office to date. There were also solid performances from several other films. ...

In 2012, UPI grossed $1.794 billion for the year when it was handling films such as Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Ted, Battleship and Snow White and the Huntsman. ...

You will note that the income drivers here are animated features, and animated creatures and robots inside live-action features.

I think it's a trend.

On the other hand, the visual effects business is in chaos and DreamWorks Animation has down-sized, so even though movies with animation are doing well, the people who make the animation are too-often eating it.

But it's good to know that the lucky duckies sitting at the top of the corporate heap are making untold riches. That warms my heart.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Then and Now

As Mark Twain says, history doesn't repeat itself ... but it rhymes.


In 1979, after a decade of losing animation jobs to less expensive overseas studios, The Animation Guild ent on strike for contract protections against runaway production. After a two-week walkout, they got it.


[In 2013, 400 visual effects workers protested runaway production at the Academy awards.] ... It is now status quo for visual effects to be created abroad, where there are low currency rates, government subsidies, cheap labor or tax breaks. ...

What's happening with visual effects today happened with hand-drawn animation forty years ago. Cel painting went away, then animation went away as American television animation was outsourced to Japan, Korea and the Philippines (among other places.) And now?

... Countries with lower workers' compensation like India and China are offering a 20-60 percent discount in production in hope that cheaper visual effects studios will help attract other technology industries to their regions ...

And so you have the Visual Effects Society issuing white papers with familiar-sounding remedies:

"[To stay in business, visual effects companies] could focus on commercials, which have a quicker turn around. Or, they could concentrate on creating preliminary effects designs in pre-production. This would protect their creative involvement by setting the design in LA before post-production work is outsourced for completion."

This is pretty much what animation companies resorted to decades ago. When the production work went overseas, Hanna-Barbera and others held on to pre-production work (scripts, storyboards, design work) which companies occasionally tried to ship abroad, mostly with bad results.

Today, strangely enough, the animation industry is still rolling along in Southern California, and there are more people employed than during the days when animation work was totally in Los Angeles County. But production work is still largely shipped abroad.

If I had a crystal ball, I would predict that visual effects work will hang on in Southern California, but look different than the present business model. There will be more pre-production and more pre-viz, more theatrical animation and live-action "money shots" created locally, more wire removal, crowd scenes, comping and lower budget animated features created aboard. The work won't vanish from Southern California because the talent pool is deep and the talent pool is needed. And low wages in cheaper countries tend to rise, and subsidies aren't forever.

On the other hand, the corporate feeding frenzy for visual effects, which caused job stability and higher wages in the 1990s, probably won't be coming back. Visual effects employees are going to have to adapt, some of them big time. The future for animation/visual effects in Southern California won't be lollipops and roses, but it won't be a scorched desert, either.
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Meanwhile, Beyond Burbank ...

Animated features from other continents get traction.

South African animated 3D movie Adventures in Zambezia won the "best feature for children" award at the 21st Anima Mundi international animation festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last week.

The award is the latest in a string of successes for the debut feature from Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios ...

[T]he film has been sold to over 40 territories, and within 12 weeks of its release in five of those territories had sold over 1-million tickets, notably reaching number 2 at the box office in Russia and Germany. ...

According to AWN, the picture's box office has been respectable in lots of territories:

* In Poland, Kinoswiat the film took off with a respectable #3 at the box office but then climbed to #2 in its second week before landing at #3 again ... total box office to date is US$ 2,692,190 ...

* In the Benelux Entertainment One opened February 6th at #5 with over US$ 300,000 then climbed to #3 in its second week with an increase of +46% over its first weekend and is now perched at over US$ $1.8 million in box office. ...

* In Russia, the film opened #4 at the box office and then climbed to #2 the following week with an increase of +15.5% over its opening weekend... it was a total of 5 weeks in the Russian top 10 and has grossed over US $5.6 million. ...

* In S. Korea, distributor Bloomage racked in almost 400,000 in tickets shortly after the Christmas Holidays. Opening weekend the film did $576,000 and has now totaled over US $3 million dollars in box-office. ...

* In Portugal, newly formed distributor Outsider Films has kept the film in the top 10 for 8 weeks cracking the 100,000 admissions mark this week translating into $714,980 in box office.

* In South Africa , Nu Metro garnered over 8.25 million Rand which depending on the currency exchange rate nearly hits the US$ 1 million dollar mark and a solid success in its home turf.
* In Israel which was the first territory to open the film theatrically summer 2012 the film was the #1 Independent Animated film of the year. In its 12 weeks at the box office the film grossed over $ 750,000. ...

CG animated features continue to be a global growth industry. Most foreign product doesn't rack up the big numbers of U.S. features, but they are quite competitive in lots of countries. It ain't just Pixar, Disney DreamWorks and Blue Sky.
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Monday, August 12, 2013

Late Afternoon Hat

I drove over to the hat building late in the day, where I got shown various scenes of Frozen that are in different phases of production. What I saw had a lot of ice, snow and late-afternoon light, and looked beautiful. I'm guessing that Frozen will do close to the grosses that Tangled ran up, since it pitches itself to a similar demographic, has music, songs and comedy, and got greenlit as a CG feature (after starting development as a hand-drawn feature) after Tangled did big numbers in the U.S. and elsewhere. ...

A supervisor asked how things are in the rest of the industry; I said employment is reasonably high but many of the gigs are shorter. He said:

Well, I'm really glad that this place has finally worked up to one picture a year. It means more people are going to be working. They compressed the schedule on Frozen, but I think they'll stretch it out some for the next one. We've got six weeks left to go and everybody is working hard. There's lot left to do ...

(The supe was referring to Disney's new announced slate of animated movies.)

There's a lot of visual effects artists in the division just now, several over from Sony Pictures Imageworks. One of them told me:

"Visual effects is in shambles. Rhythm and Hues did everything right. They survived every previous downturn but this last one still got them. ... What I like about working in animation is the director is right there, available to look at your shot and give you feedback. In live-action, you've got to stand in line and wait, you feel like a second-class citizen. Or like you're over sitting on the sidelines, but you shouldn't be." ...

Morale is pretty good, even though everyone is into six-day weeks. Even the on-call artists are getting paid for their Saturdays. But as one staffer (another viz effx person) said: "Hey, we're working sixty-hour weeks. but it's not the usual 100 hours you get during live-action crunch time, so it feels like a holiday, you know?" ...
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