Friday, January 31, 2014

Arthur Rankin, RIP

Another mover and shaker falls.

Arthur Rankin Jr., the animator, producer and director behind the whimsical holiday stop-motion TV specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, has died. He was 89.

Rankin died Thursday at his home by Harrington Sound in Bermuda, The Royal Gazette newspaper reported.
In the early 1960s, Rankin and Jules Bass founded the film production company Videocraft International (now called Rankin/Bass Productions). Their stop-motion, cel-animated features were painstaking to make and known for their doll-like characters. ...

Sorry to see him go. The consolation is that he lived to a very ripe old age and died at home in Bermuda. (How many lucky duckies get to have a home in Bermuda?)

The other consolation? Making animated movies that are ever-greens.

... [Rankin=Bass] holiday specials air every year and always draw a crowd. In December, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted in 1964, and Frosty the Snowman, which premiered in 1969, were broadcast by CBS and were the two highest-rated programs of the night. ...

Mr. Bass was the Walt Disney of animated television specials. He made his stop-motion half-hours, and they pulled big ratings, year in and year out, for half a freaking century.

You could have something way worse written on year tombstone.
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Selling Tax Credits

LA Times scribe Richard Verrier reports on a popular way our fine conglomerates maximize their use of the prevalent tax credits. They SELL them:
Moss Adams, one of the nation's largest accounting firms, has launched an online exchange for trading film and other tax credits.

“We’re proud to bring the exchange to our clients and future members and expect it to transform the way tax credits are purchased and sold,” said Rob O’Neill, state and local tax partner at Moss Adams. “Through this new digital marketplace, exchange members will gain transparency and real-time access to buyers and sellers across the nation and reduce the time it takes to complete a tax credit transaction.”

The venture underscores the growing secondary market for film tax credits. About $1.5 billion in film-related tax breaks, rebates and grants were paid out or approved by nearly 40 states last year, according to Times research. That's up from $2 million a decade ago.
Tax incentives vary by state and since the overall tax liability of the studios isn't high in some of the filming locations, it becomes more lucrative for them to sell their incentives to existing in-state businesses with higher tax burdens. The Times put together this interactive graphic page to better describe the process.

While the talk of "leveling the playing field" and "getting in the game" become louder, its important to understand how the entire mechanism of tax incentives has distorted entertainment revenues and driven the direction of the industry.

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The Shorts Competition

From el Wrappo.

... In another tight and strong category, a Disney cartoon faces stiff competition from a variety of inventive short films. ... This is a very good group of films, with no clear frontrunner but abundant viewing pleasures to be had. Non-voters can get the chance to see them on Friday when Shorts HD and Magnolia will release them in Los Angeles, New York and more than 250 theaters around the country. ...

If you don’t count Walt Disney’s voiceover-from-the-grave on “Get a Horse!,” “Room on the Broom” has the category’s most high-profile voice talent. The British short has a cast that includes Gillian Anderson as a witch who keeps losing things and gaining passengers on her broomstick, and Simon Pegg as the narrator. ...

It's always hard to handicap the shorts category. The reflexive impulse isa thinking "Oh, Get a Horse wins," but often there isn't a front-runner, even with a conglomerate's muscle behind this cartoon or that. I wouldn't be amazed if Get a Horse! won, but I wouldn't be dumbfounded if it lost.

I'm on the road a lot today. We'll see how much posting gets squeezed in. ...
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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pitching Shorts

Nick wants submissions.

Nickelodeon announced today its call for submissions for its 2014 global Animated Shorts Program, which is designed to identify and develop new animation talent and provide a platform for new content for kids. This year’s program marks the third year for domestic pitches and the second annual call for international submissions, continuing the search for a new set of creative voices and visionaries.

The network will choose a minimum of 10 pitches to be developed into shorts that will appear on air, on and on the Emmy Award-winning Nick App. These shorts also have the potential of becoming long-form animated series on Nickelodeon. In 2013 Nickelodeon took over 1000 pitches worldwide for the program. ...

Soliciting shorts ideas got rolling when Fred Seibert was the head of Hanna-Barbera twenty-odd years ago. At that time, there were invitations for staff artists to bring in ideas, and the ones that found favor would be green lit for production into shorts.

Then, the Guild had some ambivalence regarding the thin money that was involved. Now, TAG still isn't crazy about the size of payments for some step deals that come out of various shorts program. On the other hand, it's a way for new talent to break through, and that part of it is a good thing. Lucrative careers have been launched via the H-B shorts program ... the Nick shorts program ... the Cartoon Network shorts program ... (etc.)
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WGA and the AMPTP

Negotiations get rolling, and it's good times ...

The union’s bargaining co-chairs warn their members ahead of Monday’s talks with the AMPTP.

Four days before the Writers Guild is to begin negotiations with Hollywood’s movie studios and TV networks, the co-chairs of the guild negotiating team say the producers are seeking $60 million in rollbacks.

“Last Thursday the WGA received a set of opening proposals from the AMPTP for our upcoming negotiations. They included 60 million dollars in rollbacks for writers, 32 million of that coming from our health plan,” Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray wrote to members.

“But it doesn’t stop there,” the letter continued. “Other proposals targeted screenplay minimums (11 million dollar rollback), TV residuals, and our Pension Plan.” ...

Not. ...

This is pretty much standard operating procedure for our fine entertainment conglomerates and their reps in recent years.

The drill is, throw out fairly draconian proposals. Piss off the g.d. unions. Then negotiate a deal that ends up pretty status quo, but check-mate labor by pulling off YOUR proposals bit by bit as they pull off THEIR proposals one at a time.

It's all about winning, and the current Alliance is deep into that mind-set. It's what they know how to do, and they practice it with gusto.

The Wrap calls the WGA missive "inflammatory," but that's silly. One of the best weapons unions have is to get the word out to members about what the hell is going on with contract proposals and negotiations. I've never thought it was useful for unions to keep negotiations confidential. The bright light of publicity is a useful tool and it should be used.
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From Art Director to Novelist

Aureleio O'Brien is the author of multiple sci fi/fantasy novels. ...

Of course, in some corners of the known universe, Aurelio is known as Brian McEntee, the production designer/art director of Beauty and the Beast, Ice Age and other popular animated entertainments. He's now published GENeration ExtraTERrestrial, a wide-lense epic that details what happens to alien outsiders who "must cope with parental love, sibling rivalries, peer pressure, and try to fit in, stand out, and make their way in the world, a world that is not really theirs."

GENeration eXtraTERrestrial is brilliantly written. It is the sort of book that gives you a tiny sense of loss at completion just because the characters are such fun to spend time with. I cared, I laughed… a lot. It is clever, intelligent, funny, heartwarming, and one of my favorite reads this year.

-- Paul Manchester, AKA Wil Whimsey — artist, storyteller, and poet

(I've read the book, like it a lot, and since it's just come out in larger format paperback, recommend it here.)
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Imageworks Closes Facility in India

Last night, David Cohen posted confirmation that Sony Pictures Imageworks is closing their facility in Chennai, India:
In answer to a query from Variety, Sony issued the following statement: “Sony Pictures Imageworks will not renew its lease in Chennai, India when it expires in March. This facility made significant contributions to such productions as ‘MIB3′ and the upcoming ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2.’ Imageworks is committed to its headquarters in Culver City and facility in Vancouver, BC.”

Imageworks India was launched when Sony acquired Indian animation studio FrameFlow in 2007. Veteran vfx producer Joe Gareri was hired as general manager of Imageworks India and Imageworks’ web site still lists him in that role. Imageworks did not disclose the number of employees who will lose their jobs but insiders say the Chennai branch had around 100 employees, very few of whom will be relocated.
This comes a little more than a week after reports that Imageworks will move more employees to their Vancouver facility:
"Sony Pictures Imageworks is focused on maintaining an organization that delivers high-quality work while being responsive to our client's needs. As part of this process, we are transitioning a percentage of our technology teams to our Vancouver, B.C., studio in order to provide greater support to our artist community and remain cost competitive."

The reasons for this are pretty clear to those who read this blog. The name of the game in today's entertainment world is SUBSIDIES.

If you're giving them out, the studios will come a-runnin. If, however, your subjugated proletariat comes to believe their tax money should be spent on something else (ie. themselves!), entertainment studios are more than happy to head to "greener" pastures .. and as fast as you can say "corporate welfare".

This move validates an argument that TAG member and VFX blogger VFX Soldier has been making for years:
#VFX goes to subsidized locations instead of cheap labor locations
.. and punctuates his reasons for the effort to bring countervailing duties provided under the World Trade Organization laws to the visual effects industry.

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Visual Development,SPA Style

How cartoon characters get made in CG ...

Sony Pictures Animation has been an IA-signator studio for a decade. (They're the pre-production arm of SONy Pictures Imageworks, which is NON-signator). Housed on the ImageWorks campus in Culver City right next to Culver Studios (formerly Selznick-International), SPA took a while to find its creative sea legs, but has turned out some porfitable features over the last few years. (Leas profitable: The Aardman collaborations. Oh well ...)

I always enjoy walking through SPA, they have GREAT digs. And it's nice to see them on a creative roll.
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014


It's late, and I'm burned, so here's a child's garden of award-winning visual effects.

You will notice a lot of sci fi. It seems that space ships, robots and light sabers are looked on with favor.
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More Moolah

Early indications are more ka-ching! for Diz Co.

The sing-along version of “Frozen” was leading advance weekend sales at Fandango, the online ticket broker said Wednesday, ahead of the current No. 1 film “Ride Along” and the weekend’s two wide openers, “That Awkward Moment” and “Labor Day.”

Super Bowl weekend can be a strange one at the multiplexes, with much of America distracted by the big game. And while advance sales don’t always translate into box office, it looks like “Frozen” is going to make some more noise. ...

While all the Moms and Dads are swilling adult beverages and cheering on their preferred team on the wall-mounted flat screen, the children will be at the neighborhood multiplex, giving their throats a treat.

Or so the Mouse anticipates.

Add On: And already it's a record-breaker:

Frozen has become the top-grossing original animated feature of all time. The film has reached a domestic box office total of $347,899,011, passing Finding Nemo’s original domestic box office of $339,714,978 to reach the top of the charts. By original, we’re excluding sequels and any box office take from re-releases. ...

Also remember, that doesn't account for inflation.
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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tonight's General Membership Meeting

The first TAG membership meeting of 2014 had a lively crowd asking a lot of questions ...

There were several hot topics, among them:

* Shortened work schedules: "We now have to pose out animation to the voice tracks, build a rough animatic, draw layouts, and the schedules are insanely short." ...

Animation employees' non-responses to TAG's annual wage survey: "We need the shop stewards to go around and get each member of their crew to fill out the survey form. Or have everybody write their classification and weekly wage and throw it into a hat. Anonymously." ...

Animatics: "Aren't animatics a thing the Editors Guild does? Why are board artists doing them? Shouldn't we be telling production people editing isn't our work?" ...

Craft meetings: "What's going to be discussed?" [What we can do now to help artists work situations; begin work on 2015 contract proposals; short schedules; long employment tests; Work definitions for different job classifications.] ...

Questions and answers went on for over an hour. Business representative Steve Hulett (me) gave a report on the state of the industry. Work in television continues to be robust, and there has been selective hiring in feature production after a lot of layoffs during 2013. DreamWorks Animation TV continues to grow its staff as it prepares new Netflix series. Other television divisions at other companies are subcontracting some shows to outside boutique studios, most shows done under a union contract.

After the meeting adjourned, many members stayed to discuss industry work situations, and what TAG members can do in coming months to make work better.
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And the Next Blockbuster Is ...

... an animated feature from Warner Bros. (At last!)

... Out last week was the announcement that Walt Disney would be releasing a special “sing-along” version of Frozen into theaters on January 31st, 2014.

What’s amusing is that it’s exactly one week before the debut of Warner Bros.’ The Lego Movie. Now a sing-along version of Frozen in its 11th weekend of release isn’t likely to make much of an impact, as it’s more of a cheap shot along the lines of Disney reissuing The Little Mermaid one weekend before the release of 20th Century Fox's Anastasia back in 1997.

But the move shows both that Disney is in a position to be punking their competitors again, as well as the fact that for the first time in forever (sorry), Warner Bros. Animation is actually a serious competitor. I had thirteen people at my house this Saturday, ages ranging from 2 to 65. Every single one of them wants to see The Lego Movie. ...

As the smaller distributors take their shots at animated films (Hoodwinked from Weinstein Company, The Nut Job from Open Road, Battle For Terra from Lionsgate, etc.) one of the very biggest movie studios around still lacks its own brand and/or identity in the realm of theatrical animation.

In case you didn't know, Warners has opened another animation division, housed on its Burbank lot, to develop theatrical animated features. The Lego Movie isn't out of this new WB incubator, but I think it's an indicator that Warner Bros. wants to be in the theatrical animation business, despite its misfires in the 1990s.

Sure, the company got burned with its hand-drawn product a decade and a half ago, but it doesn't make a lot of business sense to continue sitting on the sidelines while Fox/News Corp, Disney, and Sony vacume up all the gold. Let's face it: the profit margins and successes of competitors have made it imperative to get into animation in a larger and more significant way.

And it looks like the WB is finally doing that.
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Monday, January 27, 2014


One of the big issues for our fine entertainment conglomerates going forward is ... how do they capture all the revenue streams generated by various distribution channels?

Let's face it. Kids don't plunk down of the black-and-white Sylvania to watch Saturday morning cartoons anymore. They watch entertainment whenever and wherever they want to on computers, laptops, i-Pads, smart phones and the occasional wall-mounted flat screen.

So how do big corporations maximize profits? Here's one answer ...

Cartoon Network and The LEGO Group Mix It Up Globally with MIXELS

... Mixels is a groundbreaking global franchise created by the powerhouse partnership of two of the biggest forces in kids' entertainment Cartoon Network and The LEGO Group and will make its US debut on multiple screens and platforms this February. A true multiplatform brand, arrives on the web first on February 6, followed by animated shorts on Cartoon Network starting February 12 during the Teen Titans Go! half hour (7:30-8:00pET). Soon after, kids will be able to "mix, max and murp" with their own LEGO Mixels collectible building sets and download the Calling All Mixels app.

Kids media consumption changes every day and this unprecedented collaboration and launch of Mixels continues the evolution of how Cartoon Network is looking at the development and distribution of content and IP creation.

Bringing together world-class animators, game developers and product designers from the onset and launching the property on multiple platforms and formats, Cartoon Network and the LEGO brand will enable kids to have a fully integrated and rich experience from the very start of this exciting new franchise.

Mixels is centered around a world of colorful creatures who can mix and combine with each other leading to hilarious and surprising results. ....

And blah, and blah, and blah. {FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE!}

But you get the idea. Time-Warner has figured out that if you want to cover all the bases, you do the television content, also the phone apps, website portals and on-line games, along with the plastic toys (merchandise!) and the comic books.

Then, if things really get cooking, you can develop animated features and really build this Mixels thingie into a universe that spits out endless gushers of money.

Certainly something to shoot for.
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It's Good to be the King

... or the chairman.

Viacom's top three managers earned a total of $102.4M in 2013

Viacom's top there executives enjoyed a jump in compensation of 28% in 2013 to a total of $102.4M.

The salary package of Chairman and founder Sumner Redstone rose to $36.2M from $20.4M and that of CEO Philippe Dauman climbed 11% to $37.2M.

The earnings of COO Thomas Dooley increased 11% as well, to $29.1M.

The compensation includes salaries, cash bonuses and pensions, and the value of stock and option grants awarded in previous years. The execs' basic salaries stayed the same. The company said that the salaries "reflects more than $10.5B delivered to owners of Viacom shares in fiscal 2013."

A couple of days ago, at a signator animation studio, a veteran artist on a popular prime time show said to me:

"I haven't gotten a raise in three years. What can you do about it?"

I asked her what he made, and found out it was above scale rate. So I had a ready answer: "If you work over scale, the studio doesn't have to pay you any more than it does now. Legally there's nothing the guild can do to get them to boost your wages."

"Yeah, great. So I'm sorry I asked."

At which point, having nothing further to say, I left. My one consolation is that at least the deserving rich, the job creators, are getting nice raises. It's lifted some of the hopelessness I've felt the past few days.
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General Membership Meeting - Tomorrow Night!

Just a reminder, an Animation Guild bi-monthly general meeting for the membership is tomorrow night. The food and drinks are available starting at 6:30pm and the meeting will start at 7:00pm.

We'll be talking about the up-coming craft meetings, unpaid overtime and employment tests, and we have a new giveaway for 2014! Active and members in the process of joining will have the chance to win an Apple iPad Mini!!

The meetings are held in the meeting hall on the second floor of the Guild offices at 1105 N Hollywood Way in Burbank.

We hope to see you there!

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Prime Time Animation's Growing Numbers

Who would have guessed?

Based upon 30-day multi-platform statistics for FOX programming airing the week of December 9, 2013, six programs grew 50 percent or more from Live + Same Day viewing among total viewers, including Family Guy (+71 percent) and Sleepy Hollow (+65 percent.) ...

Ah, but they weren't the only TV cartoon shows that had growth.

TOTAL AUDIENCE (millions) -- Percentage Gains

The Simpsons -- 12.8 -- +25%
Bob's Burgers -- 8.2 -- +29%
Family Guy -- 12.6 -- +71%
American Dad -- 8.4 -- +50%

The two big horses, of course, are Family Guy and The Simpsons. But American Dad and Bob's Burgers are also holding their own.

I sometimes get asked by Simpsons crew members how long I think the show will go on. (Since I'm the resident thug of the animation guild, I obviously have great insights into the matter.) I always say the Yellow Family will go on for thirty seasons.

And I honestly believe it. Fox won't decapitate any of its golden geese before it has to.
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So this ...

... looks as though it derives a lot of inspiration (Design? Story points? Climactic moments?) from an earlier incarnation of the SB story that I saw somewhere once ... when Ike was President.

Why do I have the feeling that animation is the destination to which 21st century filmmakers are all traveling?
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Global Animation Box Office

Animation continues to rake in greenbacks ... francs ... kroner ... lira ... rubles (etc.)

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Frozen -- $20,200,000 -- ($810,316,000)

The Nut Job -- $ 000 -- ($40,271,245)

Despicable Me 2 -- $5,000,000 -- ($964,765,385)

Walking With Dinosaurs -- $4,200,000 -- ($113,449,804)

Despicable Deux is closing in on the billion dollar marker, far and away the highest animated grosser in 2013 (although Frozen may best it in 2014.)

The Nut Job has not yet played in foreign venues, but is performing smartly in the United States and Canada. Funny, cute animals generally play well overseas, so we can expect at least fifty percent of the picture's final take coming from abroad.

And large prehistoric reptiles don't appear to be the draw that they used to be.

Add On: From The Wrap:

Disney’s animated “Frozen” continues to be a box-office avalanche, and crossed the $800 million mark at the global box office this weekend.

The 3D tale of two princess sisters added $20.2 million from abroad and another $9 million domestically, to raise its worldwide total to $810 million since opening at Thanksgiving.

That pushes “Frozen” past “The Lion King’ and makes it Disney’s second-highest non-sequel animated release ever, behind only “Finding Nemo,” and the seventh-highest of all time. It has taken in $462 million internationally and $347 million domestically after 10 weeks in release.

Add On Too: The Dinosaur movie does better in foreign lands:

Fox’s 3D family film Walking with Dinosaurs opened very strong to take in $1.9M on 566 screens. The film, which had a lackluster domestic run, has taken in 10.1M from non-Fox markets in addition to the $4.2M it took in this weekend to push its cume to $79M. ...

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Oliver Callahan, RIP

Another animation veteran moves on.

Oliver Edward Callahan (Lefty) passed away January 21, 2014.

With a career as an animator at MGM and Hanna Barbera studios he brought joy, laughter, storytelling, and endless imagination to his craft. Among Among Mr. Callahan's numerous animation credits: MGM theatrical shorts, also decades of Hanna-Barbera shows including Jetsons, the Movie; A Pup Named Scooby Doo; The Smurfs; The Flintstones and much of everything else that was produced by Hanna-Barbera from the 1960s to the 1990s ...

He was preceded in death by his wife Gloria A. Callahan. Survived by his two daughters, Laura Jackson (Robert) and Claudia Daniels (Kurtis); sister, Jackie Lee; 5 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

A marine corps veteran, Mr. Callahan was laid to rest at Camp Nelson National Cemetery.

He was eighty-four years old.
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Motion Picture and Television Fund

The MPTF held a fundraiser at Santa Anita race track this afternoon. Something around $70,000 was raised, almost double the total from last year. The President of the IA was in attendance, and many of the movers and shakers from the Motoin Picture and Television Fund. ....

I mention it here because the MPTF clinics are a key part of Guild members' medical coverage. A large number of TAG and IATSE members rely on these health centers across Southern California for their medical needs, and if they disappear? Medical costs go up and a major health option disappears.

Can't have that happen. Next year, the goal is to raise moolah up in six figures.
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Weekend Numbers

The animated features hold up well.

Box Office Projections

1). Ride Along, (UNI) 2,759 theaters (+96) / $6.3M Fri. (-57%) / 3-day Cume: $20.5M / Wk 2

2). Lone Survivor, (UNI) 3,131 theaters (+142) / $3.6M Fri. (-48%) / 3-day Cume $12.3M/ Wk 5

3) The Nut Job (OPRD) 3,427 theaters (+45) / $2.5M Fri. (-43%) / 3-day Cume: $11.2M to $11.4M/ Wk 2

4). Frozen, (DIS) 2,757 theaters (-222) / $2M Fri. (-27%) / 3-day Cume: $9.1M / Wk 10

5/6). I, Frankenstein, (LGF) 2,753 theaters / $2.8M Fri. / Estimated 3-day Cume: $7.75M / Wk 1

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (PAR) 3,387 theaters (0) / $2.6M Fri. (-51%) / 3-day Cume: $7.77M / Wk 2

7). American Hustle, (SONY) 2,304 theaters (+100) / $1.9M Fri. (-35%) / 3-day Cume: $6.9M / Wk 7

8/9). August: Osage County, (TWC) 2,411 theaters (+360) / $1.4M Fri. (-36%) / 3-day Cume: $5.2M / Wk 5

The Wolf Of Wall Street, (PAR) 1,804 theaters (-126) / $1.4M Fri. (-32%) / 3-day Cume: $5.1M / Wk 5

10). Devil’s Due (FOX) 2,544 theaters (0) / $906KM Fri. (-74%) / 3-day Cume: $2.7M / Wk 2

It seems if you have some comical animals and a crew of artists who know their way around long-form animation, you can open your own Fort Knox. Frozen is still at #4 after ten weeks (shades of Titanic's performance a decade and a half ago.)

The Disney picture had a tiny decline; Nut Job's falloff was larger, but still not too bad compared to the competition.

Add On: Updated weekend totals:

The Box Office Top Ten

1. Ride Along - Universal - $21.2M

2. Lone Survivor - Universal - $12.6M

3. Nut Job, The - Open Road - $12.3M

4. Frozen - Disney - $9.0M

5. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - Paramount - $8.8M

6. I, Frankenstein - Lionsgate - $8.3M

7. American Hustle - Sony - $7.1M

8. August: Osage County - The Weinstein Company - $5.0M

9. Wolf Of Wall Street, The - Paramount - $5.0M

10. Devil's Due - 20th Century Fox - $2.8M

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Friday, January 24, 2014

150 Funds

White Coat Investor Dr. Jim Dahle writes about how he gave up making large donations to investment grifters and started handling his own investments.

... I am a practicing, full-time, board-certified emergency physician just a few years out of residency. Although I’ve always been interested in personal finance and investing, I really started diving into the field as a resident when I finally got sick of financial professionals ripping me off. In fact, most of my first few encounters with financial professionals ended badly for me. ...

If nothing else, my 24 years of formal education taught me how to teach myself new things. I searched the internet, participated in forums, and visited the library and used book store across the street from my home. I talked to everyone I knew who knew anything about money. I read book after book, some good, many bad. Eventually I realized this financial stuff is far simpler than practicing any medical specialty. Unlike medicine, however, there is no one out there willing to teach it to you without sending you through the school of hard knocks. As a general rule, those who know even a little of this stuff use their superior knowledge to take advantage of you to make a buck.

It is your job to determine how much income to save in any given year. It is your job to decide how to allocate your assets to reduce risk of loss and maximize rate of return. It is your job to negotiate the salaries of those who perform financial tasks for you. And it will be your job to deal with the consequences of any financial catastrophes caused by your own bad decisions or ill luck. ...

As Dr. Dahle explains, investing doesn't have to be complicated. And he walks us through a wide range of different do-it-yourself investment plans:

150 Portfolios Better Than Yours

Portfolios 10-21: Target Retirement 2025 Fund

100% Vanguard Target Retirement 2025 Fund

Don’t like a static asset allocation? Don’t want to have to make the decision of when to change from one Life Strategy Fund to the next? Consider a Target Retirement Fund where Vanguard makes that decision for you. For a cost of just 17 basis points, the 2025 Fund uses the same 4 funds that the Life Strategy funds use (in a 70/30 allocation), but gradually makes the asset allocation less aggressive as the years go by. The portfolios range from 90/10 (2040 and higher) to 30/70 (Income). 2015 and newer add a short term TIPS fund to the mix.

Portfolio 39-48: The Couch Potato Portfolio

50% Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
50% Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (TIPS)

Guess who else will tell you what do? Scott Burns will. He offers 9 portfolios, ranging from 2 funds to 10 funds. You just have to choose how much complexity you’re willing to deal with for some additional diversification. If there are 5 funds, each fund makes up 1/5 of the portfolio and so forth. He likes TIPS, international bonds, and energy stocks.

Portfolio 49-52: The Ultimate Buy And Hold Portfolio

6% Vanguard 500 Index Fund
6% Vanguard Value Index Fund
6% Vanguard Small Value Index Fund
6% Vanguard REIT Index Fund
6% Total International Stock Market Index Fund
6% Vanguard International Value Fund
6% Vanguard International Small Cap Index Fund
6% An International Small Cap Value Fund
6% Bridgeway Ultra-Small Market Fund
6% Vanguard Emerging Markets Index Fund
40% Vanguard Short (or intermediate) Term Bond Index Fund

Paul Merriman will also tell you what to do. 10 equity asset classes and 1 fixed income asset class. Will it work? Sure. Will it be a pain to rebalance and allocate across all your accounts? Absolutely. Will it beat some of the simpler options above over your investment horizon? No one knows. In case you don’t like the “Ultimate” portfolio, Paul has three others that are equally complicated, ranging from 100% stocks in 9 assets classes to 40% stock in 12 asset classes.

Portfolio 150: The White Coat Investor Portfolio

17.5% Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
10% TSP S Fund
5% Vanguard Value Index Fund
5% Vanguard Small Value Index Fund
7.5% Vanguard REIT Index Fund
5% Bridgeway Ultra Small Company Market Fund (BRSIX)
15% Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund/TSP I Fund
5% Vanguard Emerging Markets Index Fund
5% Vanguard International Small Index Fund
10% Schwab TIPS ETF
10% TSP G Fund
5% Peer 2 Peer Lending Securities (mostly Lending Club)

I’m more than willing to admit that it is unlikely that this portfolio will be the best of the 150 portfolios listed here over my investment horizon. However, since my crystal ball is cloudy, and since I’m convinced that sticking with any good portfolio matters far more than which good portfolio you pick, I’m going to stick with it (and have with minimal changes in the last decade, leading me to an annualized after-tax, after-expense return of around 9.5% [as of 1/11/2013]). A good portfolio is broadly diversified, low-cost, mostly or completely passively managed, regularly rebalanced, and consistent with its owner’s need, ability, and desire to take risk. Every portfolio in this post meets those qualifications. Pick one you like, or design your own. Just don’t go looking for the best one. As Prussian General Karl Von Clausewitz said, “The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.” ...

This is the second investment post in the last few days, but we've got reasons.

Members of the Animation Guild are blessed with a Defined Benefit Pension Plan, a Defined Contribution Plan, and the Animation Guild 401(k) Plan. The three taken together means that nobody under our seamless cloak of benefits will have to resort to Alpo in their "gray hair and bifocals" years. In fact, some veterans in the cartoon biz have earned themselves a benefit of several thousand a month in the Motion Picture Industry Defined Benefit Plan, and $500,000 to $650,000 in Defined Contributions (the sum totals of the Motion Picture Industry's Individual Account Plan and TAG's 401(k) Plan.)

But you have to participate in the earning of benefits to receive the benefits. The Defined Benefit Plan and Defined Contribution Plan are automatic when you work at a TAG signature studio. The 401(k) Plan (like ROTH IRAs) are optional, and require members' money.

Starting next week, TAG rolls out the first 2014 401(k) enrollment meetings, hosted by moi. And we strongly urge you to attend. The late afternoon lifestyle you improve will be your own.

TAG 401(k) Enrollment Meetings

Tuesday, Jan. 28th, 2 p.m. -- Disney TVA, Empire Center, Room 5223

Thursday, Jan. 30th, 2 p.m. -- Starz/Film Roman, "Glass" conference room ...

401(k) enrollment meetings will be happening through the month of February. Watch this space for dates, times and locations.

Click here to read entire post

Illumination's #5

Meledandri & Co. don't rest on their grosses.

Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment have announced that Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart will voice the lead characters in “The Untitled Pets Project,” which marks the companies’ fifth fully-animated feature-film collaboration, [and released February 12, 2016.] ...

Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri and his longtime collaborator Janet Healy will produce the film, which will be directed by Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”), co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. ...

Dogs have long been winning characters in animation. Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, and The Fox and the Hound are pictures that did well in their day. There's little reason Illlumination Entertainment can't do the same with its 2016 release.
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Oscar-Nominated Shorts Hit Theaters Jan. 31

An opportunity to view the 2013 Oscar-nominated shorts is at hand:.
Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures are bringing the Oscar-nominated animated short films to theaters for the ninth straight year, starting Jan. 31.

The animated shorts will be released as one presentation, with the nominated live-action shorts and documentary shorts each released separately. The programs are due to open in more than 250 theaters across the United States, Canada and Europe, growing to more than 400 theaters through its run.

Here’s how the distributor described the nominated animated short films:

* Feral (Directors Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden). Synopsis: A wild boy who has grown up in the woods is found by a hunter and returned to civilization.

* Get a Horse! (Directors: Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim). Synopsis: Mickey Mouse and his friends are enjoying a wagon ride until Peg-Leg Pete shows up with plans to ruin their day.

* Mr. Hublot (Directors: Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares). Synopsis: The eccentric, isolated Mr. Hublot finds his carefully ordered world disrupted by the arrival of Robot Pet.

* Possessions (Director: Shuhei Morita). Synopsis: A man seeking shelter from a storm in a dilapidated shrine encounters a series of household objects inhabited by goblin spirits.

* Room on the Broom (Directors: Max Lang and Jan Lachauer). Synopsis: A genial witch and her cat are joined on their broom by several friends as they set off on an adventure.

More information as well as a locator of the theaters showing the shorts near you can be found on the ShortsTV website:

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New ADHD Product

I put this sample up for a couple of reasons:

1) The divergent comments.

On Crunchyroll they lurch between horrified and dismissive:

That's 2 1/2 minutes I'll never get back. Badly animated and voice acting was only so so. It's supposed to be a funny parody but it just felt flat to me. ... I can see why they're comparing themselves to those shows...I can see multiple elements from all those anime seemingly copy and pasted in lol ... Bleh. I didn't find it entertaining or worth 2 minutes and 26 seconds of my time. ... etc.

On YouTube they are (marginally) better:

this was random and accurate in all the right ways. ... I feel like this could turn into a successful echi anime series ... Fuck this family guy channel show I will rather see the new spongebob ep and PAC man show then this shit ... and so on.

2) We are working to organize ADHD.

Last time we checked, the company paid sub-par wages and offered no health coverage. (Now that it's January and we've entered the Age of the Affordable Care Act, we'll see if this dynamic still holds.)

As is often the case, a number of employees are not thrilled with the money or working conditions, but hunker down with nose to the whirling stone because a lower-paying animation job is still preferable to no job at all.

Even so, if you are one of ADHD stalwart employees, give us a call. We're as interested as ever in bringing sunlight and roses into your lives. We'll do everything we can to see that you get a leg up in this industry of cartoons.
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It may or may not strike. But a financial mag speculates.

Will Disney Make 'Frozen 2'?

Under normal circumstances, a film like Frozen would normally be all-but-guaranteed to get a sequel. ... But Frozen isn’t just any normal film. It’s a Disney animated film. Over the last 76 years, only five of Disney’s theatrical animated features have merited genuine sequels that played in theaters. ...

Writer Scott Mendelsohn expounds at length on the exceptions: Rescuers Down Under, the many direct-to-video sequels to classic features that don't count because ... well, because they're direct-to-video (although some were released theatrically in foreign venues), or Winnie-the-Pooh movies, or whatever. So there! ...

But all this is silly.

Sequels get made because they have a guaranteed marketability factor and therefore higher odds of turning a profit. And movie companies always like better odds.

But Disney Feature Animation has never had a great need to do sequels. For instance, a sequel could have been made of the mid-fifties hit Lady and the Tramp, but developing and producing 101 Dalmations got the studio over the same goal line: another highly successful cartoon feature with dogs.

It's the same now. Walt Disney Animation Studios could have made Tangled 2; instead it produced Frozen #1 with a different princess and got itself another hit.

Disney's formula is much like the old studio system. One Clark Gable picture was much like another ... but not a sequel. One Dick Powell musical was very similar to the previous candidate, with Dick smiling winningly and singing his heart out to a Warner Bros. ingenue, but playing a different character.

And Republic Pictures didn't make sequels to John Wayne's cowboy blockbusters. It just made another cowboy picture with the Duke, giving him a new name and a fresh hat, a new love interest and different set of villains. There was no need to make a sequel, because all the same ingredients were in place for another money-maker.

The same thing happens with the Mouse's Princess pictures. It's the formula, not the sequel, that's important.
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Job creators, they always respond in a positive way to free money.

... Quebec Premier Pauline Marois was in London on Monday to announce that one of the largest visual effects companies in Europe, will be opening an office in Montreal.

Cinesite, a London-based company that specializes in the production of visual effects and animation for film and television, is behind the digital special effects in blockbuster films such as Harry Potter and X-Men.

The move is expected to create around 200 jobs in the city, with the possibility of 50 more by 2018. ...

“Montreal and London are the best city’s in the world to make a movie and visual effects.

“This burgeoning creative hub, combined with the investment support offered by the government of Quebec, makes it the ideal location for us."

Damn straight it's a great place. The province is eager to shower Canadian looneys on you. Why wouldn't you want to come?

Free enterprise!
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Mining Every Vein of Gold

We'll see if this falls flat or not:

... Wednesday [Disney] said it would be releasing a special sing-along version of its animated blockbuster [Frozen0 in about 1,000 theaters on Friday, Jan. 31. ...

Diz is going retro, doing its update to Mitch Miller (the sing-along king of the early sixties), getting kids to buy a ticket and follow the bouncing ball snowflake.

Might work out, might do a face plant. We'll know soon enough.
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Creative Work

... on an animated feature.

... Writer/director Jennifer Lee and songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez talk with Kim Masters about the backstory behind the creation of this new Disney classic. One 'aha' moment came when Anderson-Lopez, writing with her husband, Bobby Lopez (Book of Mormon, Avenue Q), wrote the song Let it Go. Lee discusses how that anthem crystallized the movie for everyone at the studio and how she rewrote the script because of it.

Changes and reworkings come from many sources and directions. The process never really changes. Click here to read entire post

How Much To Save For Retirement

The easy answer is, "As much as possible." The more nuanced (and realistic?) answer might be this:

With the stock market constantly rising and falling, it's hard to predict what kind of luck you'll have when you retire and how much you should be saving so you don't run out of money. One financial expert, however, has found the magic retirement savings rates for most people.

Professor Wade Pfau, who teaches at financial planner school American College, looked at market returns between 1871 and 2009. Using that wealth of data, he crunched the numbers to find the "safe savings rates" that would guarantee retirement income in any kind of market (bear or bull).

If you have 30 years to save and want to replace 50% of your income, use a 60/40 asset allocation (60% stocks and 40% bonds) and save 16.62% of your salary every year. More proof that saving early pays off: If you have 40 years until retirement, the savings rate drops to 8.77%. ...

Me, I don't believe in magical savings rates. (When you're unemployed it's hard to save anything, but extremely easy to burn through your money stash.) What I do believe in is striving to save regularly, even when you're up against it. A TAG member recently told me:

Even when I'm on layoff, I put $25 or $50 a month into Vanguard's Total Stock Market. I do it religiously. I never touch the money. And I've managed to save thirty thousand dollars over the years. It hasn't been easy, but I'm glad I've done it.

The point is to start an investment program and stick with it. Put money into tax sheltered accounts (IRAs; 401(k) Plans.) Put money into straight-up investment accounts. But put money into something.

The question is, where? There are a bajillion asset allocation strategies, and all of them have varying degrees of merit. I'm a big fan of Larry Swedroe's Big Rocks Portfolio*. It's a stock and bond portfolio that's diversified, but tilts to small cap value; it also slices things up between a variety of funds.

But maybe the last thing you want to do is study mutual fund charts, or stare at line graphs. For investors who want minimal hassle, a simple yet broadly diversified portfolio might be the ticket. Something like this:

Three-Fund Portfolio

Vanguard Total Stock Market
Vanguard Total International Stock Market
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index

What I like about both approaches above is they are 1) low cost, 2) they cut out the Wall Street sharpies, and 3) at the end of thirty or forty years one or the other will provide you with a nice, neat stack of greenbacks for your sunset years. I bring this up now because (once again) we're starting Animation Guild 401(k) enrollment meetings, and I want you (surprise!) to attend.

Oncoming TAG 401(k) Enrollment Meetings

January 28 -- 2-3 p.m. -- Disney TVA (Empire)
January 30 -- 2-3 p.m. -- Film Roman
February 4 -- 10-11 a.m. -- Walt Disney Animation Studios
February 5 -- 2-3 p.m. -- WB Animation
February 6 -- 2-3 p.m. -- Sony Pictures Anim.
February 13 -- 2-3 p.m. -- Fox Animation

* At the link, you'll discover several different structured investment portfolios. Please note that ALL have their points. But some I like more than others.

Click here to read entire post

Artists' Stand Paying Off

In November of 2012, we wrote about artists who had filed a class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles against The Mill and Yurcor. The issue: employee wages were being deducted to pay the employer's taxes. The artists have now reached a settlement with the companies, which has been preliminarily approved by a federal court judge. The hearing for final approval is scheduled for April 2014.

As soon as I took my position as the Guild’s organizer, I was asked about the legality of wage deductions artists were forced to accept with Yurcor when working at The Mill. After seeing the “payroll tax” that was levied on them and thinking something wasn’t right, I did some research. Shortly thereafter, I contacted the Guild’s attorney, and started to reach out to artists to see if there was any interest in legal action.

The Guild is extremely happy to hear that the artists have prevailed in this matter. We are glad to have been able to help and hope that visual effects artists can take note of the importance. However, we are also aware that the wage deduction practice has not been stopped, but has only taken on a new shape.

Those few artists who led the charge have helped over two hundred of their friends and colleagues benefit financially from the court’s decision. More importantly, this shows that artists have the ability, and therefore the POWER, to take actions to improve their working conditions.

The decision to act, individually or together, is always an option. If you are ready and interested in making a change in your workplace, let us know by signing a card, or feel free to email me.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

At DreamWorks Animation

I spent a large part of the morning walking through DWA's Glendale campus, mostly in the big Lakeside Building nestled beside the cement-lined L.A. River. One employee noted:

"Mr. Peabody and Sherman is in the 'final tightening' phase. They're testing it, gauging reactions, doing one more comedy pass before its' Marc release date ..."

What was news to me was who was in-studio last week.

"Steven Spielberg was in last Wednesday to give notes on How To Train Your Dragon 2. He liked the first Dragons a lot, and one of his kids is really crazy about the original. Steven's's been involved with the new movie for awhile, he's seen it three times.

"Everybody thinks we've got a terrific film, but the third act needs to be a little bigger, have a little bigger climax and a larger celebration at the end. We're supposed to get a meeting about Steven's notes tomorrow or the next day." ...

This is a year of opportunities for DWA.

The studio has three movies out this year: Mr. Peabody and Sherman, How To Train Your Dragon II, and Home (formerly Happy Smekday). Pixar has no releases, Walt Disney Animation Studio has Big Hero 6 in November, and Disney Toon Studio brings out a sequel to Planes over the summer. Illumination Entertainment/Universal releases Minions in eighteen months.

So DreamWorks Animation has a relatively clear field, and the general consensus seems to be that How to Train Your Dragon II is the favorite for becoming an animation blockbuster this year.

All the scuttlebutt I've heard regarding the movie from crew has been positive. The only caveat would be that when you're immersed in a film for a long time, it's sometimes tough to own a clear-eyed perspective. (Seeing the forest for all the overgrown trees, and all that.)

But time grows short. In six months we'll see if Dragons Deux becomes a blockbuster ... or something else.
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Hitting the Bricks

There's an oncoming visual effects protest planned for the Oscars:

Daniel Lay, who runs the VFX Soldier blog, and others are hammering out details for a demonstration

Visual effects workers are planning a demonstration in Los Angeles next month to protest foreign tax subsidies they argue are destroying their industry, TheWrap has learned.

The event is being billed as the March in March and will be tied to the Oscars. It comes after a similar grass-roots protest drew more than 400 people at last year’s Academy Awards.

“We’re trying to focus on the destructive impact of the subsidies race,” Daniel Lay, who writes the influential blog VFXSoldier, told TheWrap. “We want to broaden it to include musicians and grips and others who are being drastically effected. It’s great that there’s an Oscar party going on, but a lot of us are being hurt by this subsidy.” ...

The thing about subsidies, they help a Chosen Few. And those few are (mostly) Sony, the Disney Co., Viacom, News Corp., and Time-Warner, Inc.

Canada, New Zealand, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Great Britain and scattered others wave free money at our fine, entertainment conglomerates and those corporations come running the way hogs run to slop. (Free enterprise, fuck yeah!) And visual effects workers, animators, modelers, riggers and assorted employees are gifted with sub-par wages for which their corporate masters are reimbursed. Sadly, the jobs usually don't last a hell of a long time, but that's small price to pay if Hollywood can be bribed lured to your geographic locality.

Such a deal.

In most cases, the math doesn't really work out for taxpayers, but large corporations are happy to take the generous doles being handed out. For they are people, you know, and have their needs*.

* Higher profit margins.
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Monday, January 20, 2014

Michael Sporn, 1946 to 2014

Lately it seems like the good guys die in clumps.

... Long a mainstay of New York independent animation filmmakers, Michael Sporn earned a 1984 Academy Award nomination for the short film Doctor DeSoto, adapted from the William Steig children’s book. It was one of fifteen short children’s films Sporn produced and directed for distributor Weston Woods, including Steig’s Abel’s Island (1988), which was nominated for an Emmy Award; The Amazing Bone (1985), winner of a CINE Golden Eagle; and The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2005), winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video and Best Short Children’s Film award from the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Sporn’s animated HBO specials adapted from children’s books and tales include: Lyle Lyle Crocodile (1987); The Red Shoes (1989); Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel (1990); The Marzipan Pig (1990); Ira Sleeps Over (1992, CableACE Award winner); Goodnight Moon and Other Stories (1999, Emmy winner); Happy to Be Nappy and Other Tales (2006); Whitewash (1995, Emmy winner); I Can Be President (2011).

He also created animated titles and inserts for live-action features, such as Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City (1981) and Garbo Talks (1984), and Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). ...

He fought a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was the same age as most of the folks I came into the business with. Click here to read entire post

The New Pretender to the Throne

A new cartoon with fuzzy animals appears to be doing well.

... The big debut by the “The Nut Job” is the best ever for Open Road, and it looks like the computer-animated tale directed by Peter Lepeniotis could become the highest-grossing film ever for the not-quite-three-year-old company, whose current best is 2012′s “The Grey” at $51 million. ...

As Open Road’s first animated family release, “The Nut Job” represented uncharted territory for the marketing team. So how did they pull off an opening way about $10 million above the pre-release tracking and the expectations of analysts?

“We basically took our cue from the movie,” Open Road marketing chief Jason Cassidy told TheWrap, “and really embraced the fun and playful creatures that the filmmakers created. ...

In animation, having a compelling story isn't the end-all, be-all. But having characters that an audience can latch onto and enjoy usually is. When you have both, you're gold.

Without naming titles (because it's wise to be diplomatic), I can think of any number of animated features over the last dozen years that contained a dog of a story. Sometimes there were no second act. Sometimes there wasn't a third. Sometimes there were plot holes through which you could have steered the Queen Mary. And once in a while there stretches of plot (or dialogue) that were border-line incoherent.

But almost all of the pictures described above that still ended up successful had one thing in common: Characters the viewing public liked. Characters audiences could root for, wanted to root for. When the compelling lead and likable sidekick(s) were in place, the features often made big money.

I don't know if The Nut Job falls into "Has great characters!" category, since I haven't seen it. But judging from the reviews and box office, it seems to contain leads and supporting players who are good enough to bring quite a lot of ticket buyers in past the turnstiles. How much momentum it has and money it makes going forward is anybody's guess.

How The Nut Job holds up through its second weekend will probably tell much of the tale.
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Hal Sutherland, RIP

From President Emeritus Tom Sito comes word that Hal Sutherland, animator, director and co-founder of Filmation, has died. ...

Mr. Sutherland passed away on January 16 of unknown causes. Born in 1929, he was raised in Massachusetts, and noted in a 2011 interview:

I was born and raised in Cambridge. I lived alone with my grandmother in a corner house. I stayed in the house quite a bit of the time sitting by a large window where there was a stuffed chair, and my grandmother was able to place a board across the arms to fashion a small surface for me draw on.

Thinking back, I remember looking forward to the milkman and the garbage man coming by with their horse drawn wagons. I assume it prompted my later fascination with horses. Once, the garbage man gave me a ride on his wagon horse around the corner, which I remember even today. During the winter months when the world seemed covered with snow, the milkman put “sleigh runners” on his delivery wagon and now and then rode the neighborhood kids around the block. That was quite a thrill for me. A little later on, as I began to age, I took on a job delivering copies of the Saturday Evening Post around the neighborhoods.

I loved sitting under the back porch to glance through the pages and admire the fantastic illustrations in each issue before the actual deliveries. I’m sure a good deal of my inspiration to draw and paint sprang out of those moments ...

[At my first animation job at Disney], I was lucky to find assignments within the studio that exposed me to many facets of the animation world, (things that) most artists who had been there many years ahead of me never viewed. I was fortunate to work on short subjects and features such as Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, plus the very last theatrical short with Donald Duck. I spent several years absorbing that precious information and training. This training gave me a view of the technical sides of animation and later, when a very busy Walt Disney’s attention was detracted from the animation world -- to creating Disneyland -- the studio fell out of its production scheduling, forcing many layoffs. I was fortunate to be kept on for a good bit of time after most artists had gone to work at outlying small studios. ...

After Disney, there was Larry Harmon (and Bozo) soon followed by the shoe-string founding of Filmation ... where Hal, Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott got their first contract by running a Potemkin operation that had no employees, just animation artists pretending to work in a sub-let space on their lunch break. Happily, the ruse worked and a decades-long run followed.

What I've long admired about Mr. Sutherland is he founded a studio, worked like a stevedore for a dozen years, then cashed out and pursued a painting career in the Pacific Northwest. It takes a strong man who knows what he wants from life to do something like that. Most of animation's children (including me), keep busy in the biz until we're dragged off by our heels.

So here's to you, Hal Sutherland, for navigating your life point-to-point, and knowing where you wanted to be through each point of the compass.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Worldwide Animated Box Office

...Rentrak style.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Frozen -- $24,600,000 -- ($759,102,000)

The Nut Job -- $0000 -- ($20,550,000)

Boonie Bears -- $15,000,000 -- ($15,000,000)

Despicable Me 2 -- $9,000,000 -- ($954,165,385)

Pleasant Goat and Big Wolf 6 -- $5,000,000 -- ($7,000,000)

You'll note that Frozen is thundering toward $800 million, while Despicable Me 2 is making a run at an even billion dollars. (Not bad for a small American animation company and Parix cartoon studio.)

Meantime, Boonie Bears, the first Chinese CG animated feature has collected $15,000,000. The picture is based by a wildly popular Chinese television show of the same name, and appears to be performing briskly in the Middle Kingdom. Pleasant Goat a hand-drawn feature from another Chinese television series has lots of head-banging mayhem:

Big Big Wolf had been physically assaulted with a frying pan on at least 9,544 occasions, the government news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

Meanwhile, Pleasant Goat had been boiled alive in water 839 times and received no fewer than 1,755 electric shocks. ...

But you gotta give audiences what they crave, don't you?. Because of either A) the violence or B) the hand-drawn format, Goat seems to be a pale shadow beside Bears.
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An investment magazine asks:

Why has Pixar remained hesitant to produce series television? ...

Pixar doesn't really need to.

Because there's this other Disney subsidiary called Disney Television Animation that's producing series television.

Further, there's this other small screen division called Disney Toon Studios that's producing lwer burdget features and shorts. John Lasseter runs it.

Pixar can produce television series and specials any time the Mother Mouse so orders. Not really a problem. But since the Emryville outpost just closed its Vancouver studio, they'll have to do the teleivsion work in the bay area.

And (most likely) India or Asia.
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Saturday, January 18, 2014

YouTube Animation Factoid

This intrigues me because it's a gauge of interest in the format.

... The YouTube home for clips from Family Guy, The Simpsons, and other animated staples of the broadcast TV network witnessed a sizable week-over-week increase in views of 712%. The channel ended up with more than 12.4 million views on the week and in the #30 spot in the U.S. thanks to The Simpsons tribute to master animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. ...

So who'd have thought the big driver was gonna be this:

Click here to read entire post

Ten Slots, Two Cartoons

And here is your projected weekend box office (including Martin Luther King holiday):

1). Ride Along -- Estimated 3-day Cume: $35M / Estimated 4-day Cume: $40M to $45M / Wk 1

2). Lone Survivor -- 3-day Cume $22.6M / 4-day Cume: $26.6M / Wk 4

3) The Nut Job -- 3,427 theaters / $4.7M Fri. / 3-day Cume: $18M to 19.4M / 4-day Cume: $24.6M to $25.9M / Wk 1

4/5). Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit -- 3-day Cume: $15.8M to $16M / 4-day Cume: $18.6M / Wk 1

Frozen, (DIS) -- 3-day Cume: $12.7M to $12.9M / 4-day Cume: $17.6M to $18.7M / Wk 9

6). American Hustle -- 3-day Cume: $9.8M to $10.3M /4-day Cume: $11.7M to $12.2M / Wk 6

7). Devil’s Due -- 3-day Cume: $9.1M to $9.3M / 4-day Cume: $10.4M / Wk1

8). August: Osage County -- 3-day Cume: $7.4M / 4-day Cume: $8.8M / Wk 4

9). The Wolf Of Wall Street, -- 3-day Cume: $6.5M to $7M / 4-day Cume: $8.2M / Wk 4

10). Her -- 3-day Cume: $4M / 4-day $5M / Wk 5

Frozen continues to hang in nicely, even as it closes in on the tenth week of release.

The other interesting factoid is, the Canadian/Korean co-production The Nut Job which has received less than middling reviews, nevertheless opened in the #3 position.

So I tend to doubt the circulated wisdom that the deluge of animation has quenched the public's thirst for cartoons.
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Making a Hybrid Animated Cartoon

Bill Murray tells of target="_blank" his experience.

Someone asked "will there be a Garfield 3?"

I don't think so. I had a hilarious experience with Garfield. I only read a few pages of it, and I kind of wanted to do a cartoon movie, because I had looked at the screenplay and it said "Joel Cohen" on it.
And I wasn't thinking clearly, but it was spelled Cohen, not Coen.

I love the Coen brothers movies. I think that Joel Coen is a wonderful comedic mind.

So I didn't really bother to finish the script, I thought "he's great, I'll do it." So then it was months before i got around to actually doing it, and I remember i had to go to a screening room in somewhere, and watch the movie and start working. And because they had had trouble contacting me, they asked my friend Bobby to help corral the whole situation together. So Bobby was there, and you know when you're looping a movie you're rerecording to a picture?
So this was an odd movie because the live footage had been shot, but the cat was still this gray blob onscreen. So I start working with this script and I'm supposed to start re-recording and thinking "I can do a funnier line than that" so I would start changing the dialogue that was written for the cat. Which kind of works, it sort of generally works, but then you realize the cat's over here in a corner sitting on a counter, and I'm trying to think how I can make it make sense. So the other characters are already speaking these lines, and so I'm going "did he really say THAT?" and you're kind of in this endgame of "how do I chess piece myself out of this one?"

So I worked like that with this gray blob and these lines that were already written, trying to unpaint myself out of a corner. I think I worked 6 or 7 hours for one reel? No, 8 hours. And that was for 10 minutes. And we managed to change and affect a great deal. ...

Mr. Murray continues:

The next day I came into work and the producer gave me a set of golf clubs, and I thought "that was kind of extreme, especially since I can't go play." And the second reel was even HARDER because the complications of the first ten minutes were triangulated. It was really hard to write my way out of that one. And there were all these people on the other side of the recording studio, and at the end of the reel I was SOAKED In perspiration. I had drunk as much coffee as any columbian ever drank, and I said "you better just show me the rest of the movie." And they showed me the rest of the movie, and there was just this long, 2 minute silence.

And I probably cursed a little, and I said "I can fix this, but I can't fix this today. Or this week. Who wrote this stuff?"

And it appeared that one of the people behind the screen was the misspelled Joel Cohen. And I said "how could you have THAT scene take place before this scene? This can't possibly happen? Who edited this thing?"

And another person behind the glass was the editor of the film. He quit the film that week to go work on another job, so that began a long process of working on the film. I worked the rest of the week on it, and I said "Bobby it is still nowhere near done. But I can't fix it all, we have to try to do this again."

It was sort of like Fantastic Mr Fox without the joy or the fun. We did it twice in California, and once in Italy when I was working on The Life Aquatic, we were working on an INSANE place in Italy, with a woman who was a voice from above interrupting everything, I cursed again, and she left to take another job, and that was just the first once.

And we managed to fix it, sort of. It was a big financial success. And I said "just promise me, you'll never do that again." That you'll never shoot the footage without telling me.

And they proceeded to do it again. And the next time, they had been shooting for 5 weeks. And I cursed again. I said "I just asked for one little thing, letting me know." and that one was EVEN HARDER. The second one was beyond rescue, there were too many crazy people involved with it. And I thought I fixed the movie, but the insane director who had formerly done some Spongebob, he would leave me and say "I gotta go, I have a meeting" and he was going to the studio where someone was telling him what it should be, countermanding what I was doing.

They made a movie after that second miscarriage, that went directly to video. So they sort of shot themselves in the foot, the kidneys, the liver and the pancreas on the second one. If you had a finer mind working on them? The girl, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, she was sweet. In the second movie they dressed her like a homeless person. You knew it wasn't gonna go well. ...

What's charming about reading this is, Bill Murray describes precisely how the process unfolds (unravels?), and doesn't beat around the bush with political niceties.

And yeah, there are always ups and downs when making animated movies. Good things get put in and good things get taken out. And sometimes bad decisions get made, and there is nothing you can do about it.

The whole Reddit back-and-forth (linked high above) is worth reading. Particulalry if you're a Bill Murray fan.
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Friday, January 17, 2014

Bye bye, Sprocket Holes

You could see this coming.

Paramount Pictures has become the first major studio to stop releasing movies on film in the United States.
Paramount recently notified theater owners that the Will Ferrell comedy “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” which opened in December, would be the last movie that would it would release on 35-millimeter film.

The studio’s Oscar-nominated film “The Wolf of Wall Street” from director Martin Scorsese is the first major studio film that was released all digitally, according to theater industry executives...

Technological change (and the digital revolution) keeps upending various carts, and movie film is the latest.

Celluloid was the medium by which screened entertainment was born. From nickelodeons to picture palaces in the '20s to talkies to Technicolor to Cinerama/Cinemascope/Technirama 70, it was all movie film sliding past lenses and shutters at 16 or 18 or 24 frames per second.

There was a hundred and twenty years of film history and more than a dollop of romance, but now it's going away.

Because the only constant in the universe is change.

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The 2014 Holiday Party Slideshow

For a few years now, TAG member Enrique May has acted as the unofficial photographer of the Guild's holiday celebration event. He brings his camera and records fun and memorable moments as he walks through the crowd, then spends the better part of a few days color correcting and adjusting his images to share with us.

So, we want to share them with you. We extend our thanks to Enrique for his efforts and hope everyone had as good a time as it appears in his pictures.

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Sound Awards

Everybody was on pins and needles about this. because we can never have enough awards.

The Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) today announces nominees for the 61st MPSE Golden Reel Awards in feature film categories. Nominees represent the work of the world’s most talented film editors and their contributions to the best films of the past year. Nominations for television, animation and computer entertainment categories will be announced on Friday, January 17th.

Best Sound Editing in an Animated Feature (English or Foreign Language) (Includes ADR, Dialogue, Sound Effects and Foley)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

The Croods

Despicable Me 2


Ernest & Celestine


Monsters University


Editing in general is seldom thought about in animation, but it takes a level skill to put reels and sound effects together. It's true that editors don't have to deal with lots of coverage and takes, but they work closely with directors and board artists to pull continuity together. And of course sound editing is similar no matter what the format. Click here to read entire post

San Antone

I've been in San Antonio for the past week, attending the IATSE's Winter Executive Board Meeting ...

The International (our mother union) has had a pretty good string of successes the past couple of years, organizing different corners of its jurisdiction: It's expanded its reach into trade shows and sports broadcasts, and gained new contracts with reality shows, low-budget features, and commercial work. (Currently, the IA has sopped up most of the trained workforce working in ever-expanding reality programming, making it hard for non-union producers to staff newer shows.)

That's a sampling of the good, on-the-ground, working person news. The political challenges in 2014 were laid out today in a long afternoon session conducted by two AFL-CIO political strategists who described the hurdles between now and election day:

1) A large segment of the voting population dislike the Affordable Care Act.

2) A large segment of the voting population distrust President Obama.

3) A huge segment of the voting public hates Congress (Democrats are slightly ahead of Republicans, but nobody is liked.)

4) Too many people are still un ... or under-employed.

But it's not all gloom and pouring rain. On labor's side, there are happier demographic realities: A growing number of Asians, Latinos, and blacks now Democratic, a trend that has been in place for three election cycles. Also, too, Asians, Latino and blacks are becoming a larger and larger percentage of the United States' population.

There might be billionaires' money arrayed against progressive politicians, but there is also the hard reality of this:

And this:

... After rising in the Roaring Twenties, the income share of the one per cent fell sharply in the postwar period. Since the late nineteen-seventies, it has been climbing again, albeit in a somewhat zig-zag fashion. The top earners’ share of overall pre-tax income peaked at about twenty-four per cent in 2007, fell back during the Great Recession, and then recovered strongly. In 2012, it was about twenty-three per cent. ...

How have the folks outside the one per cent been faring? ... Once again, the long-term trends are clear. Between the start of the Second World War and the first oil-price shock of 1973, families in the bottom ninety-nine per cent saw their incomes rise sharply. With the exception of the late nineteen-nineties, the past forty years have been marked by slow growth. ...

When voters' noses are pushed up against the fact that a small sliver of the population has a large chunk of the bucks, they become open to the idea that maybe some adjustments should be made. The AFL-CIO guys made the point that Republicans are onto the inequality thing, but thus far their stated solution is to give the top income brackets more money.

So, the trick eleven months hence will be to

A) Get union members to the polls (historically, unionists punch high above their demographic weight.)

B) Get the message of income inequality out, along with proposals for a higher minimum wage, unemployment insurance, etc., etc.

C) Get the troops on the ground to spread the message of B) prior to election day.

There were other bullet points, but those were the major ones. It was emphasized that the stakes (as always) are high, because the modern Republican Party is keen to gut what remains of the labor movement (12% of the work force) and use it as a throw rug.
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Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Foreign View of Corporate Welfare

The Economist weighs in.

Best State In A Supporting Role

THE luminaries of the film world flocked to Los Angeles this week to celebrate the 71st Golden Globe awards and quiver before the unveiling of the Oscar nominations. But more often they travel the other way. Thanks to generous incentive schemes offered by other states and countries, America’s movie capital has lost its lustre: only two live-action movies with budgets over $100m were filmed in Los Angeles last year. Half as many feature films were produced in the city last year as in 1996, according to Film LA, a private non-profit organisation. Television drama is 39% below its 2008 peak.

In America the craze for this peculiar type of corporate welfare began in 2002, when New Mexico set up a juicy programme of tax credits and interest-free loans. By 2007 30 films were being shot in the Land of Enchantment and other states wanted in; by 2009 only a handful did not offer producers some kind of bribe. It was New Mexico’s tax credits, not its vast desert skies, that lured the TV hit “Breaking Bad” away from California. ...

My position on this kind of crap? I hate it. Just like I hate tax-payers underwriting sports stadiums and oil companies and other schemes that benefit a Chosen Few sitting atop the economic pyramid.

But let us face it: These schemes will go on, and some of the trickle down will help working stiffs, and only slowly, bit-by-bit, will voters wake up. But hey. We live in a corporatist state, so what the hell can we expect?
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The Irish Trade Association

The Irish gird their loins in the international movie production marketplace.

The VFX association of Ireland has been formed with the objective of promoting Ireland nationally and internationally as a centre for excellence, talent and scale in the area of VFX.
The association was founded was Ireland’s four biggest VFX suppliers, namely Windmill Lane, Screen Scene, Egg Post Production and Piranha Bar.

VFXAI will play a key role in the exhibition and representation of the infrastructure and talent available in the Irish VFX industry. It will interface with training agencies and 3rd level institutions to maintain a consistent flow of industry ready talent. ...

Now all they need are some REALLY BIG government subsidies to attract all the poor, struggling international conglomerates, and they're all set.

Free enterpirse, fuck yeah!
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The Nominees

Since I've been in meetings all day I'm late to the party, nevertheless:

The Oscar nominees for animated feature this year reflect shifts in an art form that has become an increasingly crucial part of the movie business.

There is the return of an industry giant, Walt Disney Animation Studios, which saw its blockbuster musical "Frozen" collect nominations both for animated feature and original song; the validation of a younger studio player, Los Angeles and Paris-based Illumination Entertainment, which secured its first Oscar nominations for "Despicable Me 2" and that movie's original song, "Happy"; the omission of a category stalwart, Pixar Animation, which was passed over for its prequel "Monsters University"; and the end of an august career, that of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who was nominated for what he has said will be his final film, "The Wind Rises."

"The Croods," the DreamWorks Animation caveman comedy, and "Ernest & Celestine," the hand-drawn French-Belgian adaptation from independent distributor GKIDS, rounded out the category. ...

Since I've got no clue which of the above will win, I'll limit myself to one prediction: Frozen will pick up at least one Oscar, either for song or best animated feature.

As for the rest, may the best .... or most politically connected .... feature win. I'm so old I remember when nobody cared whether an animated feature got ANY nominations. Animation was a sleepy, irrelevant backwater that Hollywood ignored.

Oh yeah. Here's a list of all the nominees.
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And the Viz Effx Goes To ...

This award is basically a foregone conclusion this year, yes?

The Visual Effects Oscar longlist announced in December has been whittled down to a shortlist of four nominations – not that this list matters as we all know Gravity has got the gong sewn up. Alongside Alfonso Cuaron’s space masterpiece are Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness (perhaps surprisingly), The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and The Lone Ranger.

Elysium, Oblivion, Pacific Rim, and Thor: The Dark World are the films that didn’t make the cut. ...

The first time I was even aware that there was a visual effects Oscar was the year The Guns of Navarone won it.

The Guns of Freaking Navarone.

The clip from the film that got the picture a Little Gold Man was a clay-model mountain blowing up, then a couple of toy cannons falling out of the mountain into water. That's what it took to win the award in 1962. That obviously wouldn't cut it today, but fifty-two years ago? Gang-busters. Plus TGON was a blockbuster World War II picture, which didn't hurt.

The only thing that surprises me about Gravity is that it wasn't a nominee in the Animated Feature category. But I guess you have to be 100% pure.

Or something.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Return of Ralph

Not Kramden, but Bakshi. Who appears to be back in the game.

... There hasn’t been much recent news from [Ralph] Bakshi, ... but with “Last Days of Coney Island” he’s making a return to filmmaking, and to subjects that have marked his career since the beginning: crime, corruption, and the grime-ridden streets of New York. ...

The decline of Coney Island was a local tragedy, but it wasn’t just the beach that was in trouble. As Bakshi tells it, the fate of the neighborhood was a metaphor for everything happening in America, including the assassinations of Kennedy and King. “Coney Island was a place where poor people could go and not feel poor,” he said. “You wouldn’t run into any Rolls Royces, and you didn’t feel that there was anything that you could not afford to do. But it ended up trashed, and I felt that America was headed the same way.

Bakshi describes “Last Days” as a period piece, but he’s not shy about making contemporary analogies. Coney Island is looking a lot better now, even after Hurricane Sandy, but gentrification may be as foreign to its spirit as mob rule. “If they build it into some sort of big, fancy place, then it’s not Coney Island,” he said. “They could call it Coney Island, and I guess that’s fine for the rich people, but that’s not the Coney Island that was so important to millions of people who were struggling to give their families a good time.” ...

The last time I laid eyes on Ralph Bakshi, he was not in a good mood. The Animation Guild had filed a grievance against Paramount because a young production assistant on Cool World had dumped twenty ounces of paint over the head of the supervisor for color models. The paint dumping had motivated the supervisor to file a police charge against the assistant, which made Ralph unhappy because he was fond of the production assistant. (The kid had supplied music scratch tracks for CW, and Ralph liked them a lot.)

The kid was let go, but the supervisor was also fired. The Guild, suspecting a revenge motive, grieved the production to get the supe her job back. Ultimately we lost the grievance because we could not prove that she'd been let go due to payback for the complaint to the Burbank P.D.

You win some, you lose some.

But all those unpleasant things happened twenty years ago. Ralph now lives in New Mexico, painting and living the good life, and I'm at the same old taco stand, still filing the occasional grievance. (For some people, time stands still.)

Happily, Mr. Bakshi has made a return to Cartoonland. Here's hoping The Last Days of Coney Island makes a splash.
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Projects and Release Dates

Universal/Illumination Entertainment reveals them.

This original animated comedy event about courage, competition and carrying a tune will be written and directed by Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The film will be produced by Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy.

The team who brought you DESPICABLE ME and the biggest animated hit of 2013, DESPICABLE ME 2, returns to continue the adventures of Gru, Lucy, their adorable daughters—Margo, Edith and Agnes—and the Minions. Get happy on June 30, 2017.

A newly imagined version of the enduring holiday classic will be directed by Pete Candeland and adapted from Dr. Seuss’ book by Michael LeSieur. The film will be produced by Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy and executive produced by Audrey Geisel.

So IE is going for a nice mix here.

The expected sequel (with close to a billion dollars in box office receipts, there's no way another Despicable wouldn't get made ... by whatever company produced it.) ...

The reimagined chestnut from Theodore Geisel (It's already been done as an animated featurette (Jones) and a live-action feature (Ron Howard/Carrey.) ...

And something new and potentially different. (A zazzy musical from a live-action director. And Frozen has certainly shown that animated musicals can be blockbusters ... once again.)
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

No Change

And really not much of a surprise.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has released its annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report on employment numbers for the top-grossing 250 films, and the numbers aren’t great. Women made up 16 percent of the nearly 3,000 employees surveyed, which is down 2 percent from last year—and what's more, down 1 percent from the numbers in 1998. Essentially, it means there's been no discernable progress in increasing the numbers of women working in film over the past 16 years.

The findings line up with recent data from the Director’s Guild about the number of female television directors, and also include tracking for below-the-line and visual effects jobs. According to the report, the largest represented groups of women working in film are producers (25 percent), editors (17 percent), and production designers (23 percent), but they make up only 6 percent of directors, 4 percent of sound designers, and 3 percent of cinematographers. ...

Well, there are a lot more women who are producers, anyway. Also more women working as production designers.

But TAG's stats are pretty much in line with much of the biz: 17 percent of unionized animation work is female. And it's pretty much the same year in and year out.
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