Monday, March 31, 2014

The Animated Television Block

Mr. Murdoch's Sunday night went as follows:

... On FOX, Bob's Burgers earned a 1.0 down 17 percent from last week’s 1.2 adults 18-49 rating. American Dad matched last week's 1.4 adults 18-49 rating. The Simpsons matched last week's 1.9 adults 18-49 rating. Family Guy scored a 2.1 down 5 percent from last week's 2.2 adults 18-49 rating. Cosmos earned a 1.5 down 12 percent from last week's 1.7 adults 18-49 rating. ...

Of the whole lineup, The Simpsons and Family Guy are the most competitive in the key demographic (18-49). Not really a big surprise.

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Pink Goes the Panther

Yet another aspirant for animation glory.

MGM said today that it is developing a new Pink Panther movie, a live-action/animated hybrid that will take its cues from the tone set by the original Friz Freleng and David De Patie cartoons in addition to that of Blake Edwards’ films. That means that the focus will be on the Pink Panther character itself more than Inspector Clouseau, who took over the spotlight for Edwards’ movies thanks to Peter Sellers’ creation of one of the most iconic comedy characters of all time. ...

MGM is today, of course, little more than a corporate name-plate. But when the current owners root around for projects in the library that might gain traction commercially, they come up with the De Patie-Freleng property. And doing an animated hybrid feature.

Which is interesting, because animation veteran Art Leonardi told me how that cartoon pink panther came into being at the studio of De Patie-Freleng, and how it made Mr. Freleng and Mr. De Patie independantly wealthy. It seems that after De Patie-Freleng developed the animated character for the titles of the original live-action film, they asked and were granted a large percentage of profits deriving from future use of that cartoon character.

The Mirisch brothers, who said "yes" to the De Patie-Freleng request, didn't know the gold mine they were sitting on. Or how much they were giving away. (How could they? The gold mine -- all the shorts and commercials and t.v. shows -- were in the future, and so undiscovered.) And the money flowed back to the old cartoon makers for years. And the Mirisches, I'm told, were always a bit chapped about it.

So here we are half a century later, and it looks like ... if the rights are still held by the De Patie and Freleng estates ... that there might be yet more money changing hands. And of course the other story: yet one more company jumps aboard the cartoon gravy train. I wonder if MGM will get Steve Martin to come back and play the second lead?

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Gallery 839: Caricature Show opens this Friday!

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Regular Show

... and how it gets made.

... it all starts with a pitch. The best ideas in the writers' meetings get sketched onto Post-it notes that cover the walls of their conference room. The story is refined and drawn into big booklets called boards. Quintel pulls one from his desk. It's like a thick comic book.

"One episode is 250 pages with two drawings on a page and all the writing is there," he says.

Those boards go to stylist Jessica Yost, who uses Photoshop to bring color into the stills.

"I'll put a background in and if there's a couple characters in there, I'll throw them in there so you can kind of get an idea of what that looks like," Yost says.

"She colors every little thing, if it's a pencil, a bag of chips, or the main character. Or an explosion," Quintel says. "We love explosions on the show; they're hilarious."

Meanwhile, animation director Robert Alvarez is in his office penciling in instructions onto what's called an exposure sheet. It's a long, lined document that provides detailed guidelines for the animators.

"This is their blueprint," Alvarez says. "You're telling them everything you want and hopefully you get it back that way."

Every movement of each character in every frame is accounted for. Alvarez logs nearly 16,000 frames per episode by hand.

"I had a bar room brawl where all the characters are fighting, and you see this long, wide shot of everything that's in it," he says. "So you have to break it down. One guy's throwing a punch with his left, another with his right, and you have to break all that action down and squeeze it in on the exposure sheets and make sure it makes sense."

From Burbank, all of the materials get sent to Seoul, South Korea, where it finally gets animated. ...

Since this comes from NPR, they clue the uninitiated in about about the Korea thing:

... Outsourcing is common with American cartoons. Shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and SpongeBob SquarePants have been doing it for years as a way to save on studio costs. ...

In television cartoons, the outsourcing has gone on for something like forty years. Of course, now that the outsourcing craze is hitting live-action in a major way, they're trying to do something to counter that in Sacramento.

A pity there was no attempt at countering runaway cartoons in 1974. Oh well ...

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Welfare Kings

Away from animation topics on a Sunday night, I was struck by this:

In the debate about poverty, critics argue that government assistance saps initiative and is unaffordable. After exploring the issue, I must concede that the critics have a point. Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

First, welfare subsidies for private planes. The United States offers three kinds of subsidies to tycoons with private jets: accelerated tax write-offs, avoidance of personal taxes on the benefit by claiming that private aircraft are for security, and use of air traffic control paid for by chumps flying commercial.

As the leftists in the George W. Bush administration put it when they tried unsuccessfully to end this last boondoggle: “The family of four taking a budget vacation is subsidizing the C.E.O.’s flying on a corporate jet.” ...

It's forever fascinating how some poor dweeb who ekes out half a living earning the minimum wage, and so qualifies for food stamps, qualifies for an Earned Income Tax Credit, and (now) gets subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, is vilified as a leach. But very little attention (or nastiness) is directed at

Large Corporate Farms on subsidies
Big Oil Companies on subsidies
Big Pharma on subsidies
Military Subcontractors on subsidies
And of course, MY favorites, all the Big Banks that guzzle at the public trough.

“Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent,” the report from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First shows that the largest corporations in the world aren’t models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism. To the contrary, they continue to receive tens of billions of dollars in government handouts. Such subsidies might be a bit more defensible if they were being doled out in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism. But as the study also shows, a full “three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations” — not to the small businesses and startups that politicians so often pretend to care about.

But since we do live in this most excellent of corporatist states, this is to be expected, yes?

Add On: Happily, the Chosen Few don't get special treatment in our courts. Do they?

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World Box Office

Animation's global take:

International Weekend Box Office -- (Worldwide Totals)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $17,800,000 -- ($218,808,813)

Rio 2 -- $14,100,000 -- ($29,700,000)

Frozen -- $8,000,000 -- ($1,072,402,000)

Lego Movie -- $2,600,000 -- ($400,503,720)

The trades tell us:

... Warner Bros’ The Lego Movie has passed the $400M mark worldwide, constructing a cume of $400.5M. The domestic total is now $248.3M and international is $152.2M. ...

Strong perfs from Mr Peabody & Sherman, Rio 2, The Monuments Men and The Grand Budapest Hotel helped 20th Century Fox International pass the $500M mark for 2014 this weekend.

Notably, Rio 2, the sequel to the 2011 hit, made history in Brazil where it had the biggest opening ever for an animated film, and the biggest opening of the year across the board. ...

Frozen has broken Toy Story 3‘s record to become the highest-grossing global animated release in history. The Oscar winner surpassed TS3 this weekend with a worldwide cume of $1.072B, and also entered the list of the Top 10 box office hits of all time. ...

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Drawing Comic Books

Back in the day, most every 12-15 year-old male drew (or wanted to draw) comics. Don't know if teenage boys still aspire to comic book art (I suspect today their ambitions run to mastering video games), but Disney board artist and ace story mind Mark Kennedy posts about the older art form:

"How to Draw Comics Comic" issue #1, part one

I'm always a sucker for any kind of book or tutorial that talks about the artistic process and gives you insight into how any artist works, even if it's kind of remedial and basic. I just like seeing the process of other artists, and as I always say, there isn't much to drawing except the few basic concepts that make up the core of good drawing, and then it's all about using those concepts in increasing sophisticated ways as you become a better and better artist.

Mr. Kennedy will be putting up more installments in due course, so you should plan on making some return trips to The Temple of the Seven Golden Camels.

Add On: And here is Part II.

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Fox Cartoons

TV By the Numbers tells us:

Our Renew / Cancel Index predicts potential renewal or cancellation for scripted broadcast primetime shows by the end of the 2013-14 season in May, 2014.

Bob's Burgers -- Renewal

American Dad -- Moving to TBS

The Simpsons -- Renewal

Family Guy -- Slam-Dunk Renewal

Dads -- Toast ...

What's happening with the Fox animated block?

With Bob's Burgers, artistic staff has been returning to production studio over the last few weeks for the new season.

Family Guy will be back as sure as the sun rises in the east. (With all his other endeavors, will Seth do 22 episodes? Guess we'll find out.)

American Dad is moving to the Turner Broadcasting System for its next season. Word is that there will be a smaller season order on TBS.

The consensus seems to be that the live-action MacFarlane show Dads is a certainty for the chopping block. At the same time, the new MacFarlane show Bordertown has started production at Bento Box, the Valley studio selected to do the show. (It won't be done at Fox Animation on Wilshire. But you knew that, right?)

And then The Simpsons.

The Lady Gaga episode has (apparently) been voted the least liked Simpson-half hour. (Who would have guessed?). And the blogosphere maintains that the show is declining in quality and popularity, even though I've no idea how you graph quality.

I was through Film Roman last week and there have been staff shiftings and changes for the new season of Homer, Marge et famille, which has only recently commenced. Word on the studio floor is that Fox continues to look for ways to trim budgets, and that the crew, while not thrilled, is adapting to the ongoing belt-tightening as best it can. I continue to believe the show will go beyond its current episodic ofer, but I'm not a psychic, so who knows? Somebody down at Gracie Films or an executive down on the Fox lot, maybe.

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The B.O.

Two Family Films in the Top Five, one of the animated and closing in on $100 million.

1). Noah (PAR), 3,567 theaters / $14.9M to $15.1M Fri./ 3-day cume: $41M to $44.6M / Wk 1

2). Divergent (LGF), 3,936 theaters (0) / $8.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $26.1M to $26.5M / Total cume: $95M / Wk 2

3/4). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 3,299 theaters (-308) / $2.18M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.1M to $9.8M / Total cume: $94.9M to $95.3M / Wk 4

Muppets Most Wanted (DIS), 3,194 theaters (0) / $2.6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.6M to $9.9M / Total Cume: $31.6M to $31.8M / Wk 2

5). The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 977 theaters (+673) / $2.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8M to $8.3M / Per screen: $8,400 / Total cume: $24M / Wk 4

6). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 1,178 theaters (+362) / $2.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.7M to $8M / Per screen: $6,780 / Total cume: $20.7M to $21M / Wk 2

7). Sabotage (OPRD), 2,486 theaters / $1.78M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.38M / Wk 1

8/9). Need For Speed (DIS), 2,705 theaters (-410) / $1.1 Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.1M / Total cume: $37.5M / Wk 3

300: Rise Of An Empire (WB), 2,601 theaters (-484) / $1.17M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M to $4.1M / Total cume: $100.9M / Wk 4

10). Non-Stop (UNI), 2,515 theaters (-430) / $1.15M Fri./ 3-day cume: $3.8M to $4M / Total cume: $84.9M to $85.1M / Wk 5

Peabody will sail over the $100 million line in the next few days, after a $2.2 million Friday that was off just 19 percent from last weekend.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Most Valuable

Deadline's idea of a lucrative film:

... Despicable Me 2 has proven itself 2013′s Most Valuable Blockbuster; the film’s impresario, Illumination Entertainment founder Chris Meledandri (below), deserves to take a victory lap. More seriously, the tournament was conducted to give a clearer idea, beyond the weekend and annual box office standings, of the profits and Total Cash on Cash returns that films generate. ...

Meledandri has mastered the art of getting much bang for the buck. When you make an animated feature for $75-$80 million, you have better odds of achieving profits than if your movie costs ... oh ... $200 million.

Universal-NBC made itself a good bet when they partnered with Illumination Entertainment.

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Making Home Movies

Mentioning Visual Effects on this blog or in most contexts these days usually means lengthy prose on subsidies or the hardships artists face in the industry's workplace. It's therefore with great pleasure I share the following lighthearted work from TAG member Daniel Hashimoto.

We hope you enjoy his work as much as we did. You can find the videos on the article "DreamWorks Animator Makes Kid's Home Videos Truly Epic", or we've embedded them in this post after the break.

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Entertainment Union Strikes

Labor writer Dave Robb analyzes the WGA and its strikes.

... The gains in new media won by striking writers six years ago is a major reason it is all but certain that writers won’t be standing under picket signs this spring. ... As to that long discussion of whether the writers gained anything else during that strike, I spent years covering showbiz labor unions and have observed you have to look far down the road for the answer. Past writers strikes are like forest fires: they can be very destructive and suffocating, but they’re a necessary mechanism to clear out the old brush — or an antiquated contract that hasn’t kept pace with the rapidly changing way people receive entertainment content. Nearly all past entertainment industry strikes have that one thing in common: they are the result of new technologies and the uncertainty created about the revenue streams they will deliver.

That was certainly the case in 1959 when writers went on strike for six months over residuals from theatrical films shown on the relatively new medium of television. It was true again in 1988 when writers went on strike for six months over residuals from films and TV shows distributed on home video and cable TV. And it was true in 2007 when writers took to the picket lines for 100 days in a fight over the potential revenues from content made directly for the rapidly evolving field of new media, including internet and cellular technologies.

Burning down the forest every three years is unhealthy as would be writers striking thrice a decade to catch up with the latest content-delivery innovation. That is why the strike of 2007-2008 was so important in hindsight, and why it will go down as a victory not only for writers, but for the industry as well. For while it’s true that only a relatively small amount of money has been earned by writers of product made for new media, the agreement that ended the strike may very well ensure that there will never be another writers strike over new technologies and new delivery systems. ...

[A] future generation of writers may look back on the strike of 2007-2008 with the same sense of gratitude as contemporary writers feel about that past generation of writers who walked picket line in 1959-1960. It also would not be surprising if anyone but writers feel that way. ...

I think labor unions (and the strikes that inevitably go with them) are essential for a healthy, balanced society. It's not that unions and guilds don't make mistakes, or strikes aren't painful, but without them you get the kind of wage and wealth disparity we now endure in the U.S. of A.

While it's quite true that wealth creation isn't a "zero sum" game, when most of the dollars end up in the pockets of a Chosen Few, societies tend to become more unstable and ... dare I say it? ... more painful to live in.

The Haymarket affair didn't materialize out of thin air, after all. There were years of grinding poverty and angry despair helping to make it happen.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rocketing Growth in Animation

Forbes tells us it's happening inside the Middle Kingdom.

... The Chinese animation industry ... is one with high speed growth but low quality products. Since 2010, its total output value has grown at an average rate of 30% a year, to $12 billion at the end of 2012. The most successful animation film series, Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, took in $100 million in box office receipts with its five episodes. Yet with their simple storylines and crude visual effects, Chinese animations almost exclusively target young children. The production quality is nowhere near that of American animations such as Kungfu Panda and Despicable Me—each has easily reaped hundreds of millions from Chinese moviegoers.

Money is an important part of the problem. Chinese TV channels and even theatre chains often do not pay animation producers for what they put in, according to the 2013 Chinese Animation Industry Report by the Beijing Film Academy. The production cost of an animation averages $2000 per minute in China, but most Chinese TV channels pay less than $50 per minute for the airing. Whereas in countries like U.S. or Japan, animation derivatives such as toys and video games constitute the bulk of the industry revenue, inadequate copyright protection has significantly hindered such potential in China. ...

If you didn't know better, you'd swear that Chris Meledandri was setting up a Chinese animation unit.

But apparently not. A Chinese entrepreneur named Gary Wang is the party responsible for the sample situated directly above.

... Since its online release two weeks ago, the first short film from Gary Wang’s Light Chaser Animation Studio has scored close to 30 million clicks on Chinese video sites. ...

For Wang’s Light Chaser, money seems to be the least of concerns. Wang has built extensive contacts with venture capitalists through Tudou’s six rounds of financing. His loyal supporters include IDG China, which invested $8.5 million in Tudou before its IPO on Nasdaq.

The budget for Light Chaser’s first film, to be released in the second half of 2015, is $11 million. In comparison, the production cost for the first “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” movie was less than $1 million. Already backed by an unnamed fund, Wang is in the process of securing B-round financing. ...

Eleven million dollars. Let's see Meledandri underprice that. And since Gary Wang doesn't seem to have any background in ... or particular talents for ... animation, he's going to have to field a staff that knows what it's doing if he expects to succeed in Cartoonland.

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Last Group Photograph

Okaay. Now for something a bit lighter: Andy Deja's posted a picture from 1973 with nine Disney animators in it. The photograph above (one of a few from the shoot) represents the last time this group got together in the same room. ...

Excepting Mr. Lounsberry, I knew most of these guys and worked with several of them. At the time (1973) this picture was taken:

Woolie Reitherman (far left) had just finished directing Robin Hood and the feature animation department was exploring what it would do next. (Next turned out to be The Rescuers, but at the time, it was in early, early development and being worked on by story artist Fred Lucky. Within a short while it would be in production and would prove to be one of the studio's more successful animated features. (In German, The Rescuers outgrossed Star Wars.)

Milt Kahl was three years away from leaving the studio. He would end his career animating Medusa, the villain in The Rescuers.

Les Clark was at this time animating Disney educational films. Continuously employed by the studio from 1927 to the mid-seventies, Les retired from WDP in 1975. (His brother Mickey was a long-time corporate Vice-President.)

Marc Davis, an employee at WED from 1961 onward, came over for this shoot. Marc retired from Disney in 1978.

Ward Kimball hadn't animated in the feature department for some time, and in 1973 had his own small animation unit. (At this time, he was working on a featurette titled -- if memory serves -- A Dog's Life. It was three-quarters done when upper management decided it was "too satIrical" ... plus they didn't like it "making fun of the parks" ... and so smothered the project in its crib. Ward departed the studio a year later.)

Eric Larson was transitioning from animation to Disney's young animators' training program. Over the next several years, Eric would oversee the molding of young talent that came into the department. (Most of the animators that became pillars of the organization in the late eighties and nineties were trained by Mr. Larson.)

Frank Thomas, one of the department's premiere directing animators, worked on two more features (The Rescuers, Fox and the Hound) before hanging it up in 1978 to write the magnum opus The Illusion of Life with Ollie Johnston.

John Lounsberry (seated), long considered one of the easiest of supervising animators to work with (also an artist who did sterling work) would be promoted to director in the seventies, receiving director's credits on Winnie the Pooh and Tigget Too! and The Rescuers. He had directing duties on The Fox and the Hound, but wouldn't live to complete the assignment. Sadly, he died in early 1976 of heart failure after returning from a ski trip.

Oliver Johnston, supervised on both The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound before retiring to co-write The Illusion of Life with Frank Thomas.*

* Kindly note: the personnel in the picture are being described left to right.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

They DO Have a Tradition

This was amusing.

... Warner Bros. gave up a whopping chunk of its profits from the blockbuster Lego Movie, but it won't make the same mistake twice. Sources say Village Roadshow Pictures has not been invited back for the sequel that is being developed by animation guru Chris McKay.

"Obviously, they didn't have confidence in it," says one source. "If you don't really know animation, you would look at that movie [while in production] and think it's awful. If you do understand animation, it was so clever because it felt different. It was cool. But somebody [at Warners] made the judgment that it wasn't cool. Why else would you sell off almost three-quarters of a $65 million movie?" ...

Warners has a history of not being good at feature animation. Their feature animation studio, built in the 1990s, was pretty much still-born. Their pictures with Animal Logic have been hit and miss. And they famously botched up the selling of Brad Bird's Iron Giant.

If Warners gave away a large chunk of The Lego Movie, they clearly didn't know what they had on their hands. But the WB is not alone in making bad decisions. Disney sold off most of the iconic hit The Sixth Sense before its release. Fox was attempting to sell Blue Sky Studios while the first Ice Age was in production. And the Mouse shelved the billion-dollar Frozen because it was gun-shy about "Princess pictures".

It's easy to misjudge a cartoon movie when your paranoid about making a misstep and getting fired, plus you have no meaningful creative chops of your own. As William Goldman says: "In Hollywood, nobody knows anything."

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The Smiley Face Cartel

The fine folks who rule(d) us being .... fine.

Newly unsealed documents show Steve Jobs’ brutal response after getting a Google employee fired

In early March, 2007, as Google was expanding fast and furiously, one of its recruiters from the “ Engineering” group made a career-ending mistake: She cold-contacted an Apple engineer by email, violating the secret and illegal non-solicitation compact that her boss, Eric Schmidt, had agreed with Apple’s Steve Jobs.

What happened next is just one of many specific examples of how people’s lives were impacted by the Techtopus wage-theft cartel that was taken down by the Department of Justice antitrust division, and is currently being litigated in a landmark class action lawsuit.

The Google recruiter’s email—in which she identified herself as “a Recruiter for the ‘ Engineering’ team formerly known as the ‘Site Reliability Engineering’ team”— was sent out on the morning of March 7, 2007.

That evening, Steve Jobs forwarded her email to Eric Schmidt with this note:


I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this.



Kindly note that legal niceties are not at issue here. Only what a given corporation and its founder wants, the laws be damned. ...

But do read the whole linked article. The thing will do a good job creeping you out. (And also this.)

Nobody with nine or ten zeroes in the numbers of their bank account ever goes to jail for stunting or destroying careers. Or destroying lives. Hell, nobody in that upper strata goes to jail for ripping people off and crashing the economy. If you're one of the Masters of the Universe, you pretty much have a license to do whatever skanky shit you want.

For the rest of us: "The United States is a nation of laws, not men."

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How Your Rep Spent His Tuesday

Hulett was at this function.

Proposed legislation aimed at providing more tax credits to attract so-called runaway movie and television productions back to the industry's birthplace in California won initial approval from a legislative committee Tuesday.

The proposal would renew and increase a state tax credit — amounting to as much as $400 million a year — to better compete with generous tax subsidies available in more than 40 states, including New York, Louisiana, New York and Michigan, as well as studios in Canada and Britain.

The tax credit would allow most film and TV production companies to reduce their tax liability by 20% of the cost of many production expenditures. ...

The hearing for the bill (AB 1839) was held in a small meeting room in the state capitol. The place was packed. Representatives from more than a dozen IA locals, the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, caterers, trucking firms, and several other small businesses spoke in favor of the bill. I got up and mentioned that VFX is in serious, serious trouble in California. And how Industrial Light and Magic, a long-time pillar of visual effects in the bay area, is setting up satellite studios in Canada and London.

Bruce Doering, the Executive Director of the Cinematographers Guild, said the industry is at a tipping point, that production infrastructure is starting to unravel and if it goes away to places like New York, Louisiana and Georgia (all states with big tax incentives) it will be tough to get the work back.

At the membership meeting tonight, we collected a bunch of signatures on letters urging the California legislature to pass the enhanced bill. It's not a perfect solution, and it needs more explicit language about animation and visual effects embedded in it, but the law, if passed, will be a big improvement over the legislation that's in place now. Over the next few days, we'll be sending out e-mails and letter asking people to write the California Assembly and Senate about the new tax incentives.

More coverage of the hearings can be found here and here.

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The Better Deal

So Diz Co. buys a web TV network. And DreamWorks Animation buys a web TV network. The best buy?

The Disney deal with Maker Studios suggests AwesomenessTV could be worth quite a bit more, based on back-of-the envelope math.

In February, AwesomenessTV had 74 million unique desktop viewers globally, compared with 205 million for Maker Studios, according to comScore, which doesn't include mobile views. Assuming Disney pays the full $950 million, it would imply a valuation of $343 million for AwesomenessTV if each viewer is assigned the same value at each company.

What's more, AwesomenessTV is growing even faster than Maker Studios. AwesomenessTV had 269 million desktop video views in February, up twentysevenfold from the same month of 2013. Maker Studios video views rose a more modest 61 percent to 1.9 billion over the same period, according to comScore.

AwesomenessTV is also focused on a single channel with a high density of teen viewers. That's a rare asset and potentially attractive to advertisers who historically have gone to traditional TV networks like Viacom's Nickelodeon.

DreamWorks is in need of such an asset because its core movie business is prone to volatility. After the big success of its "Shrek" movies last decade, the company has had a mixed record in recent years. ...

Of course, when it comes to the purchase of internet assets, everybody is flying a teensy bit blind. Because there's no sure-fire way to know with precision what the values of these young, new startups actually are.

DWA and Disney are hoping they're a good deal. It will take time to know if they actually are. But at this point, it looks like DWA did pretty well with their purchase. (They certainly paid a lot less than their friends in Burbank.)

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Monday, March 24, 2014


Today Yours Truly was walking through the state capitol with other IA reps, talking to legislators and their aides about the movie and tv tax incentive bill that is only now wending its way through the Assembly and the Senate here in Sacramento. ...

Why does California need an expanded tax incentive bill? Since we already have a modest tax incentive program in place? Here's one of the reasons:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that authorizes substantial tax incentives for [film production that includes post production and visual effects]. Specifically, qualifying film productions are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit on post-production expenses across New York State, and an additional 5 percent credit for areas outside the metropolitan New York City area. ...

California is seeing its film production infrastructure unravel, even as Georgia builds dozens of new sound stages and New York welcomes more television production because of tax incentive programs. The only thing California has at present are low-budget features and reality television. And visual effects? We know what's happening there, don't we?

All of us made forceful arguments that the way to keep California's movie studios and talent pool intact is to match what New York, Georgia and Louisiana are doing. The State Assembly appears to be on board, but the State Senate might be needing some convincing.

(The Chief of Staff of one assembly person told us we'd better have all our arguments lined up like trained ducks if we expected to prevail. "Northern California legislators need to be sweet-talked to vote help Southern California businesses." I said that ILM, Pixar, and PDI weren't southern California businesses.)
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YouTube Networks

As went Jeffrey K. and Dreamwork Animation months ago, so now goes Diz Co.

"Short-form online video is growing at an astonishing pace and with Maker Studios, Disney will now be at the center of this dynamic industry with an unmatched combination of advanced technology and programming expertise and capabilities,” said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company.

“Disney is synonymous with the best entertainment and is the ideal partner for us, strengthening our position as the leading player in online video,” said Ynon Kreiz, Executive Chairman and CEO of Maker Studios. ...

I don't know what the Mouse is buying, because beyond a few trailers, cat videos and Public Domain movies, I've got no idea what's going on with YouTube. But it must be something, because Maker Studios went for a much steeper price than Awesomeness TV. But I guess the Walt Disney Co. believes that it's buying something exciting and good, since it's shelling out $500 million, and maybe $950 million, if everything goes swimmingly.

So I guess building your own YouTube network is now the proven path to riches. Certainly working on cartoons five or six days a week is a much slower method.
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Success With Moral Uplift?

Somebody please tell me what's going over my head here.

Animated 'message' movies strike box-office gold

After the runaway success of Frozen last year, Hollywood film-makers have high hopes for their spring lineup of cartoons on a mission to educate

Cartoons with a conscience and a mission to educate have become the route to success in Hollywood this spring, after a winter devoted to greed and crime in films such as The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle.

Last week Mr Peabody & Sherman – a DreamWorks animation about a dog that adopts a child and travels through history encountering Marie Antoinette, Leonardo da Vinci and the Trojan horse – beat all-comers to top the US box office. Early next month 20th Century Fox's Rio 2, in which a lovable blue parrot and his friends battle extinction, is being rolled out in conjunction with a campaign by the US Forest Service to encourage children to spend more time outdoors and reconnect with nature.

Studio-sponsored, public-service announcements are planned in the hope of instilling a love for nature in children and creating a legacy of environmental stewardship. ...

Okay, so I guess it's all the soaring goody goody stitched in to each and every animated feature that makes the difference between success and failure here in the 21st century. Is that how it goes?

What about, you know, other kinds of themes?

... Catholic film blogger Steven Greydanus saw a deeper "gay" message [in Frozen], which was in part supported by fellow blogger Gina Luttrell who championed the film's progressive themes. By posting a blow-by-blow account of what Greydanus describes as Frozen's "gay-culture themes" ...

Does anybody seriously believe that animated features are successful because of their moral uplift? Or because they push devil worship? Or bestiality? I mean really?

So how do we explain Gone With the Wind? Or Titanic? Or Star Wars" ("May the Force be with you.") What great moral themes do we find in those flicks? Granted, there's some heavy-duty ecological and "noble native" overlays threading through Avatar, but anybody buy into the idea that those things are the reason the picture was successful? The flying dragons and cool landscapes and nifty action scenes had little or nothing to do with it?

I've got a different explanation. When a movie turns into a blockbuster, it ain't the "messages" that put it over. It's the characters. It's the gags. It's the way the story, dialogue, art direction, sound effects and music intertwine to create a theatrical experience that grabs you by the shirt collar and makes you yell "Boy, howdy! Thaat's entertainment!"

But hey, I could be wrong. Maybe it is the bestiality and homo erotic overtones.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Analyst Porn

Mr. Peabody and Sherman is already a flop. A stock guy told me so.

... “Analyst: ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman‘ May Cause $84 Million Write-Down at DreamWorks Animation" presents the opinions of one media analyst as gospel. I would argue that the problem with pieces like this, especially when dealing with films whose overall box office fate is very much up in the air and especially when the opinion of “ media analysts” is trumped as “news”, is that they create the impression of failure right out of the gate, which in turn has a negative influence on the people who read said articles. If you tell people that 300: Rise of an Empire and/or Mr. Peabody and Sherman are disappointments after opening weekend, it creates an impression in the would-be viewer’s mind that said films are not worth their time. ...

The $32 million debut of Mr. Peabody and Sherman is not good news, but its analysis must take into account the somewhat surprising legs of Warner Bros.’ The LEGO Movie and Walt Disney’s un-killable Frozen from last November. We have little idea of how the film will play out both domestically (I seem to be in the minority in disliking it) and internationally. The fact that 20th Century Fox is opening their next Blue Sky animated film, Rio 2, in much of the world starting March 20th in advance of its April 11th domestic debut won’t help and Mr. Peabody and Sherman will be open in most of its territories by March 27th. I wouldn’t be terribly optimistic about Mr. Peabody and Sherman‘s box office chances, but nor would I shout that it’s a massive bomb just after its not-great domestic opening weekend. ...

I think Fox is ill-advised to roll out its wholly-owned Rio 2 so close to P & S, but what do I know? They want to depress grosses of films in which they have a stake, up to them. (P & S's second weekend first-place finish clearly means nothing.)

The issue for DWA is, until they're more broadly diversified, every time they release a picture DreamWorks staffers will be biting their nails, worrying about those first weekend grosses. It's kind of difficult to hit a four-bagger every time you come to bat, but where else except Cartoonland is a $300 million global gross considered awful? (I guess in a business segment where you've convinced people that $500 million and up is the norm.)

H/t President Emeritus Tom Sito.

Click here to read entire post

Box Office of the World

Animation's global totals are ...

International Weekend Box Office -- (Global Totals)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $23,100,000 -- ($183,802,384)

Frozen -- $9,000,000 -- ($1,049,743,000)

The Lego Movie -- $8,615,000 -- ($390,951,674)

Rio 2 -- $10,400,000 -- ($10,400,000)

Deadline tells us:

... Mr Peabody & Sherman added an estimated $11.4M to break the $100M mark internationally. The overseas cume is now $102.8M from 63 markets. The movie opened in Malyasia and South Africa this weekend and has three territories left to go. It had a strong hold in Spain, adding $5.65M on 506 screens for the No. 2 spot with no drop from its 1st frame. ...

Rio 2, which lands in Brazil next weekend, opened in its first two markets this weekend: Russia and Ukraine. ... Locals flocked to see the animated sequel which took an estimated $10.43M for the No. 1 slot. ...

Frozen, which fell out of the Top 10 domestic after a staggering 17 straight weeks, has hit the $1.05B mark globally. It is now the 12th highest grossing movie of all time, skating past Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace, Jurassic Park, and Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It’s still the 2nd highest grossing animated release of all-time behind Toy Story 3. Disney chief Bob Iger said last week he expected Frozen to surpass TS3, and it looks like it’s headed that way with strong numbers out of Japan. The film added $9M this week in 22 territories. In its 2nd Japanese frame, it jumped 7% over last weekend with an estimated $8M and another No. 1 perf. To outmaneuver TS3, Frozen will have to make roughly another $13M.

Warner’s The Lego Movie has Oz (April 3) and Germany (April 10) yet to go, but added $4.5M in 54 markets this weekend for a $147.6M estimated cume. ...

It's always fine to remember that Disney Studio Chief Richard Ross put Frozen onto the shelf during its development. (Some moves are more brilliant than others.)

Click here to read entire post

WGA Fights Comcast

For some reason, the Guild has issues with Comcast owning most of the distribution pipeline.

The Writers Guild of America has offered a chilling picture of the future of television to the Federal Communications Commission in a bid to block the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.

In February, Comcast agreed to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion in a deal that would combine the two largest cable companies in the United States. The deal must still be approved by the FCC. ...

The WGA noted in its brief that the television industry is all ready consolidated enough, and that more mega-mergers would only harm viewers and limit their choices.

“The market for delivery of video programming remains consolidated and lacks sufficient competition at all levels,” the guild said. “This outcome is a result of deregulation and consolidation through vertical and horizontal mergers. Broadcast, cable and pay TV networks are owned by a handful of companies.

“The repeal of the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules in 1995 led to the consolidation of studios and networks. At the time of the repeal, the broadcast networks argued that increased competition from cable networks justified retiring the rules. The proliferation of cable channels, however, has not increased competition: seven companies, five of which own broadcast networks, are responsible for 95% of all television viewing in the United States. ...

Silly WGA. Doesn't it know that we live in a corporatist state? And that companies with money and juice get what they want?

It's about the conglomerates, to the exclusion of most everything else. I would be very surprised if the FCC lurches out of its stupor and blocks this deal.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Corporatists On Steroids

Remember the wage-fixing dust-up between Google, Apple, Pixar and others?

Turns out there were a LOT of others.

Apple and Google’s wage-fixing cartel involved dozens more companies, over one million employees

... In January, I wrote about “The Techtopus” — an illegal agreement between seven tech giants, including Apple, Google, and Intel, to suppress wages for tens of thousands of tech employees. The agreement prompted a Department of Justice investigation, resulting in a settlement in which the companies agreed to curb their restricting hiring deals. The same companies were then hit with a civil suit by employees affected by the agreements.

This week, as the final summary judgement for the resulting class action suit looms, and several of the companies mentioned (Intuit, Pixar and Lucasfilm) scramble to settle out of court, Pando has obtained court documents (embedded below) which show shocking evidence of a much larger conspiracy, reaching far beyond Silicon Valley.

Confidential internal Google and Apple memos, buried within piles of court dockets and reviewed by PandoDaily, clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP. All told, the combined workforces of the companies involved totals well over a million employees.

According to multiple sources familiar with the case, several of these newly named companies were also subpoenaed by the DOJ for their investigation. A spokesperson for confirmed that in 2009-10 the company was investigated by the DOJ, and agreed to cooperate fully with that investigation. Other companies confirmed off the record that they too had been subpoenaed around the same time.c...

The revelation that tech companies and animation companies built themselves a cartel to suppress wages (free markets, hell yeah!) shouldn't surprise anybody living in 21st Century America.

I have learned over the years that companies will do lots of things to hold down pay. Sometimes what they do is borderline legal, sometimes not. Beyond conspiracy, one of the more basic ploys is to tell employees not to share wage information. The fact that this maneuver violates a wage earner's right of free speech and various labor regulations doesn't way heavy on many employers' minds.

Neither does lying to employees about what other individual are making. It's a practice so common that many managers consider it basic good business.

We today live in a corporatist state with most branches of government in service of corporations, from military manufacturers building tanks the Pentagon doesn't want, to a banking industry scooping up piles of free money, to entertainment and oil conglomerates guzzling tax rebates. That illegal wage suppression got so egregious the Department of Justic stepped in to slap hands and wrists is an anomaly, not a sight that "the system is working."

In 2014, the system is designed for entities with the word "incorporated" at the back of their names, not for flesh-and-blood individuals.

Click here to read entire post

Your American B.O.

Mr. Peadbody and Sherman takes a major hit as the Muppets enter the marketplace, but remains in third place.

1). Divergent (LGF), 3,936 theaters / $22.8M Fri. / 19.75M Sat. to $19.9M (-12% to 14%) / $13.9M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $56M to $56.7M / Wk 1

2). Muppets Most Wanted (DIS), 3,194 theaters / $4.6M Fri. / $7.1M Sat. (+53%) / $5M to $5.3M Sun. (-25%) / 3-day cume: $16.5M to $17M / Wk 1

3). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 3,607 theaters (0) / $2.7M Fri. / $5.3M (+95%) / $3.97 (-25%) / 3-day cume: $11.7M to $12M / Total cume: $81M+ / Wk 3

4). God’s Not Dead (FREE), 780 theaters / $2.79M Fri. / $3.3M Sat. (+18%) / $2.1M to $2.7M (-15% to 20%) / 3-day cume: $8.6M to $8.9M / Wk 1

5). 300: Rise Of An Empire (WB), 3,085 theaters (-405) / $2.4M Fri. / $3.6M +53%) / $2.5M (-30) / 3-day cume: $8.6M / Total cume: $93.7M / Wk 3

6). Need For Speed (DIS), 3,115 theaters (0) / $2.2M Fri./ $3.3M Sat. (+52%) / $2.1M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $7.6M to $7.8M+ / Total cume: $30.2M to $30.4M / Wk 2

7). The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 304 theaters (+238) / $1.8M Fri. / $2.9M Sat. (+55%) / $2.2M Sun. (-25%) / 3-day cume: $6.75M to $7M / Per screen: $21,500K to $23,100K / Total cume: $12.9M to $13.1M / Wk 3

8). Non-Stop (UNI), 2,945 theaters (-238) / $1.8M Fri./ $2.9M Sat. (+57%) / $1.7M Sun. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $6.3M / Total cume: $78.6M / Wk 3

9). The Lego Movie (WB), 2,501 theaters (-539) / $975K Fri. / $1.8M Sat. (+92%) / $1.2M Sun. (-30%) / 3-day cume: $4.1M / Total cume: $243.3M / Wk 7

10). Tyler Perry’s Single Mom’s Club (LGF), 1,896 theaters / $939K Fri./ $1.4M Sat. (+52%) / $71M Sun. (-62%) / 3-day cume: $3M+ / Total cume: $12.8M / Wk 1

Deadline explains:

It’s traditionally very hard for the industry to track family films and Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted which was guesstimated to come in around the high-$20 million mark — and would have if not for Mr. Peabody and Sherman which is also after that family audiences — is looking like $18M to $19M tonight.

Muppets Most Wanted's budget is around $54M. Peabody is gonna pull $11.3M away from it, which is like when The Nut Job was in the marketplace and had a similar problem with Frozen (which no one could have guessed would have played as long as it did). ...

Frozen has now departed the Top Ten, which makes sense because it's now out on little silver disks and available everywhere. But it continues to be a money machine.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, March 21, 2014

Most Valuable Blockbusters

Deadline did a series of "Final Four" style match-ups today, just for amusement.

With one exception, the entertainment daily had the animated movie coming out on top.

Like for instance:

Despicable Me 2 vs. Star Trek: Into Darkness

... A first-round rout. The good news for Star Trek is, even without Abrams, Paramount and Skydance are formulating another sequel and continuing one of Hollywood’s most enduring franchises. In this matchup though, it’s no contest. Despicable Me 2 is pouring off $394.5 million in profit, by our estimates. By comparison, Star Trek generated $29.9 million. ...

And this:

Monsters University vs. Thor: The Dark World

The Winner: Neither gains much of an edge because each is the second installment of a franchise, though Thor 2 probably amps up expectations of the next installments of Marvel’s biggest jewel, The Avengers. So we go to the profit numbers. According to our experts, Monsters University will return $179.8 million to Disney, besting the $139.4 million that Thor 2 returns to Disney. Total cash-on-cash return edge goes to Monsters University. ...

The take-away here isn't that animated features made it into the match-ups, but that numerous animated features dominated the match-ups. How a small sub-set of movies that were once ignored are now at the top of the "Most profitable" category of feature films continues to amaze me.

Click here to read entire post

TAG 401(k) Plan Changes

This will be of interest to TAG members.

Yesterday, TAG 401(k) Plan trustees voted to change the Animation Guild's plan administrator. For the past several years the Plan has used Mass Mutual to administer day-to-day operations. Beginning this summer, Vanguard Mutual Funds will take over that function. ...

This change came about because Plan trustees have been focusing on service and costs. They've determined, after a lengthy vetting process, that Vanguard's service level, funds and overall cost structure best suit the Plan's needs.

There will be changes in the Plan going forward; we believe the changes will enhance participants' investments.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Considering VFX"

There's another report out about how California's entertainment industry is currently starved for oxygen and thus eating it.

The section on page 15 (linked above) caught my attention. It's nice to see that some people have a clue.

... As larger budget films become more visual, dramatic and technological in their effects, the portion of the production budget spent on visual effects has increased commensurately. Yet in spite of the growth of the industry resulting from visual effects being increasingly integrated into films, employment in the industry in California has been stagnant over the past decade as outsourcing of services to facilities outside of the nation continues, drawn by generous subsidies and lower-cost labor.

California is one of only a handful of locations that does not have subsidy programs specifically targeting visual effects. As a result, even California-based companies are opening offices in Canada, the United Kingdom and in Asia to qualify for tax incentives offered in those locations.

For the special effects industry, even more so than film and television production, the work can be done anywhere by qualified labor. It is a lucrative business, with a high-skilled, highly-technical workforce that can produce quality product using personal computers across the globe. As such, the threat to this industry’s long-term survival in California is real.

Consequently, a provision specifically aimed at allowing visual effects providers to access tax credits may be considered.

The credit level applied to visual effects should be determined based on (a) the acceptable level of ROI and (b) the expected percentage of California expenditures that qualify for inclusion. If the acceptable level of ROI is 1.00, and assuming all visual effects expenditures in California qualify, then using the relationship between the two variables found in Exhibit 5-1 the maximum credit incentive level would be 12.5 percent. It is not known whether this would be sufficient to make the domestic industry competitive. ...

If AB 1839, the legislation to expand California movie and television tax credits that is now under consideration in Sacramento, gets passed, it would be good if there were benefits to the Golden State's visual effects businesses, since they are

a) high wage employers,
b) high tech business that are a big plus for the state, and
c) a growing and vibrant part of the motion picture business, so to exclude them from the bill doesn't make a huge amount of sense.

There will be a number of amendments to the AB 1839 (and its Senate counterpart) over the next few months, so visual effects might be brought under the law's umbrella before the bill is voted up or down. The report from California's governments simply spells out the obvious: It's not a swift idea to not have a growing, cutting-edge sector of the movie business left out of the bill, but politicians (have you noticed?) march to their own drummer lobbyist.

Click here to read entire post

Pete Young

Long ago, Mr. Young was an up and coming creative powerhouse at Disney Feature Animation.

... [A] good story artist has to know when to make decisive moves in story development. Pete learned not to introduce a new story element if his director wasn't ready for it. Good ideas presented at the wrong time stood a chance of getting rejected. At Disney, the politics of story can be as important as creative skills. Pete Young - along with Ron Clements sold “Basil of Baker Street” as an animated project. And sure enough the film was green lit for production by studio boss, Ron Miller. ...

In the early eighties, Pete was one of the pillars of the Disney Feature Animation. He was in his middle thirties then, but looked like he was twenty-five. Or twenty-two. He was one of the drivers in the story department, with an uncanny knack for coming up with the right story/character/gag when the Boss (whoever he happened to be) was most ready to receive it.

He's been gone almost thirty years. I think about him all the time.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The TAG Interview -- Randal Myers (Part II)

TAG Interview with Randy Myers

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

After Randy left Warner Bros. Feature Animation (and Randy sort of had to, since the studio shut down), he moved to a new studio called Cartoon Network, where Genndy Tartakovsky, a Cal Arts classmate, was creating and directing Dester's Lab and the Power Puff Girls. And Mr. Myers, his animator's background standing him in good stead, quickly became a director of television cartoons. ...

Since then, Randy has directed hundreds of cartoon episodes for most of the major studios in Los Angeles. He is of the opinion that, beyond working diligently, it's useful to know what's going on in the industry and to network, network, network. Click here to read entire post

Money Machine

Small wonder that Robert Iger was praising Frozen's virtues at yesterday's stockholder meeting.

Underscoring the popularity of Frozen, Disney said Wednesday that it has sold 3.2 million units of the movie on Blu-ray and DVD on March 18, its first day of sales.

The company believes it will be one the biggest titles released in home entertainment in the last decade. Following its debut on digital HD and digital 3D on Feb. 25, it quickly became the fastest-selling digital release of all time, according to the studio. ...

Disney will soon be able to open its own mint. From this one animated feature. Click here to read entire post

Craft Meeting #5 -- Animation Directors, Animation Checkers

Last night the fifth and final craft meeting took place in TAG's meeting hall. There was a good turnout of animation directors and checkers, and the first order of business was a veteran animation director's concerns about today's L.A. cartoon industry:

... Being referred to as "sheet timers" has had, from producers, an ill effect on us: 1) knowledge and respect for the work that we actually do. 2) The salary/ wages that we are paid reflective of that lack of knowledge.

Our job title should have always been "Animation Director," since that is what we actually do. We do not and have never TIMED X-SHEETS! What we DO is DIRECT the animation by Slugging (which is actually the portion of our work that should be called "timing.") We then Direct the animation action ( characters, effects, camera moves ) by scribing them onto X-Sheets; this is Animation Direction NOT Sheet Timing.

I don't know what other studios are doing this but, Warners, Hasbro and Marvel have taken the slugging portion away from us.
We are now given an animatic that we did not slug, with X-Sheets already "read" based on that animatic. We are then required to "make- it-work. That means as we are filling out the sheets, Directing the animation, we are, at the same time, slugging.

Unless we are fortunate enough to be "on staff" at a Union Contract Studio, earning a reasonable wage, we are, instead, picking up freelance work. That freelance work, as I believe you know, in reference to the amount of footage one is given/handed, varies. This is understood. The problem is that we are still being paid the same $3.00 per foot average for the past, what?... 25-30 YEARS!!!

On another serious note: For the first time in my career ( since 1977 ) I was ineligible for continued MPHW coverage due to the increase from 300 hours to 400 hours in a given qualifying period. With my banked hours applied, I fell short by 52 hours. Had this new 400 hour increase not be instituted, I would still have my wonderful MPHW coverage. ...

I explained that

* Seven years ago during IA-AMPTP negotiations, the Animation Guild's position was that the 300 hour contribution requirement should be maintained, but the IA decided to go to 400 hours instead of adding premium payments. (Note: Premiums for MPIPHP Health coverage were introduced in the last contract negotiation.)

* The title "Sheet Timer" was negotiated in the 1970s. And I detest the classification title.

* Footage rates can be eliminated through a disavowal in the next contract negotiation, since they're not in the guild contract but something that the studios conjured out of thin air. ...

There was a lengthy discussion about footage rates, and whether they helped or hurt animation directors. I said that eliminating footage rates would probably raise freelance wages by a small amount and increase the number of contribution hours into the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan. There were advocates for retaining footage rates, but more attendees appeared to be in favor of eliminating them and being paid the daily or weekly rate.

There were complaints about schedules, particularly freelance employees receiving 400 or 500 feet of work on Friday and being told "it needed to be in" by Monday.

There was a spirited back-and-forth about the use of animatics. And how animatics cut into timing directors' work. And how (in some cases) animatics eliminate timing directors' work altogether (and how studios often don't like the end-result of no timing, and then set about repairing the work by hiring ... animation directors). But whether or not animatics are useful and needed in the production process, it was generally conceded that studios like animatics, and they won't be going away.


Median Timing Director Wage: $2198


Schedules are most often too short -- pre-production pieces (board, design, etc.) are generally incomplete/inadequate -- mising info. -- little to no notes -- lack of informed people to answer questions!

Biggest issues working under TAG/IA contract: we wnat more money, more resonable schedules, and more job security.

Biggest issue under contract: Producers' wide discretion in firing.

Biggest issue: Raise footage rate and lower hourly rate used to convert footage to hours.

We need a footage minimum rate in the contract, subject to 2% increases.

Footage rates suck.

Freelance timing rate is unattractive to anyone talented enough to hire. Overtime is sometimes needed but never authorized.

Biggest issue: Footage rate should be $5 per foot with a 2% increase each year.

The time scheduled isn't really adequate but I make it work ...

The meeting lasted about an hour and a half, then continued another twenty minutes as people broke into small groups and continued talking.

Find a summary of all other craft meetings here.

Click here to read entire post

Box Office Drivers

The Mojo tells us:

As of Sunday, total domestic box office earnings have surpassed $2 billion in 2014. To date, the box office is up around eight percent from last year.

If that pattern continues, 2014 would come close to being the first $12 billion year. That isn't guaranteed, though: 2014 is lagging behind 2012, 2010 and 2009, none of which even came close to $11 billion.

Two animated hits are leading the way so far this year. The LEGO Movie is number one so far with $236.9 million (as of Sunday), which accounts for nearly 12 percent of year-to-date box office. The movie ranks second all-time among February releases behind The Passion of the Christ, and is on its way to being one of the highest-grossing original animated movies ever.

Frozen is in second place so far with over $133 million. Despite opening in November, the Disney Animation blockbuster has been in the Top 10 on all 11 weekends so far this year. That makes 16 straight, which is the longest streak since Chicago in early 2003. ...

On a worldwide basis, The LEGO Movie leads 2014 releases with $379 million (over 62 percent from the U.S.)*. 300: Rise of An Empire was a fast hit overseas, and ranks second for the year with $238 million. Thanks to huge numbers in China, the Robocop remake is currently in third with $234 million. Mr. Peabody & Sherman ($149 million) and Ride Along ($142 million, most of which is from the U.S.) rank fourth and fifth, respectively.

Domestically, Warner Bros. is the highest-grossing studio in 2014 with $442 million (22 percent). ...

None of the above is surprising information.

Animated features have been the high-profit segment of international box office for some years now. It's been decades since cartoons were a sleepy backwater of the industry, which most conglomerates ignored or scarcely knew existed. Even Warner Bros., which used to be where animated features went to die, has had stupendous success which its latest theatrical offering.

Animation continues to be the part of Movieland that shines.
Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At DreamWorks Animation

Barrons tells us:

Last week, DreamWorks Animation's dog-and-boy film Mr. Peabody and Sherman was labeled a flop after it took in just $32.5 million domestically during its opening weekend. However, Peabody isn't rolling over just yet. It made $21.5 million domestically this past weekend, enough to take the top spot during a slow patch. And the second-week drop was smaller than some analysts expected. ...

[DreamWorks Animation] hasn't had a $200 million domestic grossing film since How to Train Your Dragon in 2010. Since then, Pixar topped the $200 million mark with Brave; Disney Animation with Tangled and smash Frozen; Universal with Despicable Me; and Warner Brothers with The Lego Movie. ...

But actually, staff at the Glendale campus aren't morose. As one artist said to me: "We got a Number One movie this week, and we'll take it." The question is, how will P & S hold up when Miss Piggy and friends enter the marketplace on Friday?

Animation is wrapping up on How to Train Your Dragon II, and only lighting and surfacing remain to be done. Home, the short for which is displayed below, comes out in the Fall.

A staffer noted:

Home has a lot fewer major characters than most of our movies, so rigging was easier, we didn't have as many complicated rigs to do. ...

I've got no idea what Home's final budget will be, but DWA usually produces $150-170 million dollar features. By the accounts I've heard around the studio, the picture is funny and fast-paced. DreamWorks Animation hasn't had a lot of luck with its recent originals (The Croods excepted), but maybe Home will break with recent box office history and have big returns.

If so, it'll mean that the majority of DWA's 2014 feature slate will be winners.

Click here to read entire post

The TAG Interview - Randal Myers (Part I)

TAG Interview with Randy Myers

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Director and animator Randy Myers is nothing if not persistent. When he got turned down by Cal Arts for a spot in their animation program, he applied a second time. When the school declined to accept him a second time, Mr. Myers started taking art classes in earnest, redid his portfolio, and finally found success ...

But Randy Myers was a young man in a hurry. "It was the early nineties," he says, "and there was a demand for animation artists. And I had loans of pay off, so after two years I left and went to work full time in animation. ..."

It was a heady time. Disney Feature Animation was on a roll with a string of hits, and every major entertainment company wanted to be in the animated feature business. Randy went to work for Turner Feature Animation, where he worked his way up to animator on Cats Don't Dance, then moved over to the Warner Bros. feature studio where he animated on Quest For Camelot and Brad Bird's Iron Giant in rapid succession.

Randy speaks of these things and more in the first of a two-part TAG interview.
Click here to read entire post


Why organizing VW went down in flames:

Last month, the United Auto Workers (UAW) attempted to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The union failed. Media reports of organized labor’s demise have followed, with the debate divided between one camp that views the labor movement as beyond-resuscitation dead, and another that views the patient on life-support with only a slim chance of survival.

Perhaps there is no turning back. But the fight in Tennessee doesn’t really tell us much one way or the other, despite all the hyperbole surrounding the lead-up to the vote. ...

What then is the real lesson of Chattanooga? The campaign illustrates how labor law disadvantages unions trying to make inroads across industry after industry in today’s economy. ... To remain relevant, unions must find success in the fast-growing occupations of our increasingly service-dominated economy. This means occupations like home health care aides (a rare bright spot for organized labor in some states), retail workers, fast-food employees, and customer support specialists. And last month’s struggle in the South makes clear what an uphill battle union expansion will be absent significant changes in the laws governing collective bargaining. ...

I've been in the union organizing game for a while now, and here's what I've figured out:

The movie business is an anomaly. Outside of the public sector, it's about the only American industrial area that remains highly unionized. In some ways this is a fluke of history; American movies and television shows haven't had (until now) stiff competition from overseas, and in fact, American movies and television shows have been major export items for the United States. By dominating foreign suppliers, American entertainment has remained robust ... and as a result union contracts in Movie/TV-land have continued in place.

What's the one part of movies/tv that isn't unionized? The part that wasn't invented when unions were dominant: CGI visual effects. This isn't, I don't think, accidental.

I'm (relatively) optimistic about the movie/entertainment business remaining union for the foreseeable future. But for the next five to ten years, I'm pessimistic about unions organizing everything else. The article linked above gives some reasons:

[During the UAW organizing drive of Volkswagen], Tennessee state legislators warned darkly about cutting future state subsidies should the workers vote the union in – effectively threatening future jobs for their constituents should the union win. As Harvard Law Professor Benjamin Sachs has written, “conditioning the availability of tax incentives on VW’s union status would in all likelihood be preempted by federal labor law, and therefore illegal.” Senator Bob Corker went further, claiming he had evidence that Volkswagen would expand its Tennessee plant’s product lines if the workers voted down the union (the company strenuously denied the claim). ...

Why do Corker and his anti-union colleagues feel free to offer expressly illegal advice – and issue illegal threats – to a private corporation? Because they don’t fear the consequences. This exemplifies the atrophied state of U.S. labor law today, where lawmakers freely flout the law, and demonstrates the long odds labor faces even in the rare case when management remains neutral during an organizing campaign. Would the outcome of the vote have been different if lawmakers actually supported the laws they are elected to uphold? ...

As any grizzled organizer will tell you, companies threaten employees during unionization drives all the time, and they do it despite federal laws that protect employees from retaliation or termination because of their organizing activities. (News flash: Having laws that are unenforced are like having no laws at all!) Corporations do this with an impunity that would have been unthinkable forty or fifty or sixty-five years ago, but then, the company-union playing field has changed. It really ain't even a playing field anymore. It's a steep slope on the side of Mount Everest, with conglomerates holding record profits and private-sector unions clinging to the cliff-edge. (The reason the IATSE and TAG still have organizing successes is due to leverage, not the law. There are enough unionized jobs in television and movies that non-union employees can achieve union contracts despite lax enforcement of laws.)

But history is an ever-flowing river, and as the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen, as private jets and gated communities proliferate and the population that lives paycheck to paycheck continues to grow, the citizenry will become more and more restless. It happened in the 1930s and 1890s, it happened in 18th century France and 20th century Czarist Russian. It happens today in Thailand, the Ukraine, and Egypt (to name a few countries with big disparities between the rich and working poor.)

Where there are yawning canyons between wealth and poverty, people get ticked off ... and then, more often than not, take action. The results are often unpretty, which is why I can never understand why billionaires so often push back ferociously against structural reforms that would preserve much of their wealth but give working stiffs a leg up. "Single payer health care? Forget it! Bigger Social Security checks? You're crazy!"

Sadly, it's part of human nature to look no further than the fence post a hundred yards down the road. The long-term history lessons provided by Czar Nicholas and King Louis are never fully learned, particularly by the rich. They're too busy accumulating the next billion to recognize that the angry mob gathering at the foot of the hill intends to take all that lovely money away.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Moving North

Most everyone knew this was coming.

TORONTO - Industrial Light & Magic on Monday took the wraps off of its new and expanded Vancouver studio as it continues work on a new Star Wars franchise.

The VFX division of Lucasfilm, and a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, launched the 30,000 square foot feature visual effects facility in the city's downtown Gastown district.

Around 200 artists are expected to be at work at in the new Vancouver operation by summer 2014, with movies like Transformers 4, World of Warcraft and around a third of the production on Star Wars Episode VII to be done in the west coast city. ...

California continues to get kicked in the backside because of the torrent of free money that British Columbia and other Canadian provinces and countries throw at our fine, entertainment conglomerates.

There are really only two ways to counter this:

1) Countervailing tariffs get put in place against foreign subsidies (but this won't counter subsidies in New York, Georgia, Louisiana and other United States).

2) California offers tax subsidies that are competitive (or close to) with British Columbia, New York, Georgia, etc., etc.

But to strip away the b.s., there are no ideal solutions here. Only ones that are less shitty than the non-solutions we have now. Giving free money to large corporations has long-since become a fine, American tradition. We hand out dollars to banks, car companies, owners of big league sports franchises, so why the hell not Warner Bros., Disney, Viacom, and Twentieth Century Fox?

I detest the tradition and practice, since it turns free-market capitalism on its head, but twenty-first century America is what it is.
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In Search of the New Iger

The ongoing quest.

Disney Starts Search For New CEO

... Bob Iger, Disney's current CEO, will be ready to leave in 2016, which means the search for a replacement is already underway.

•Ann Sweeney, head of the Disney/ABC TV Group, recently left Disney, likely in part due to being out of the running for CEO...

After 12 years at Nickelodeon and 3 years at FX, Sweeney rose through the Disney ranks and has headed the Disney/ABC TV Group since 2004. Sweeney was not being considered in the running for the CEO position of the Disney conglomerate, which could make her decision to take her career in a new direction more understandable. ...

Other names are in contention for the Disney top spot, including James Rasulo, the company's chief financial officer, and Thomas Staggs, chairman of the theme park unit. The two men have significant experience at Disney and would provide a smooth transition for company. However, it could be that the company is looking for a more innovative vision for the future that only fresh blood could provide.

Sheryl Sandberg, who sits on the Disney board, is another name frequently mentioned. With her background at Facebook and Google, she has the foresight necessary to provide a vision for the future. ...

Lots of speculation at this point about who ends up getting the top spot.

But one thing seems likely: The current CEO will not be departing under the black cloud the previous CEO had hovering over him. If anything, there will be a lively fireworks display and a nice exit package when Robert Iger at last heads out the door.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Animation in the Middle Kingdom

Every year China puts out a glowing, upbeat report about how well the Chinese animation industry is doing. I'm in the habit of reading the internet summaries, and was surprised to this year see this:

... In 2013, because of rising production costs, serious brand [brain?] drain and less national support policies, investment in animation industry declined and the number of animations also dropped, enterprises producing movies and TV cartoons decreased in quantities, and original animation production was dropped to around 150 thousand minutes, year-on-year decline of 32.7%, indicating China's animation industry is developing from large quantity to high quality. ...

So is that it? A 33% drop in production means quality is going up? Couldn't it just mean ... you know ... that there's been a drop in production? How do you measure "high quality"? And how do you measure how much it's risen year over year?

Disney and DreamWorks Animation are in China setting up production units, but those studios haven't produced anything as yet. Which would indicate that domestic studios aren't doing as much production for the home market.

Or so it seems to me.

But the report summary doesn't quite jibe with a concurrent press release about a Chinese feature:

Magic Wonderland, based off a popular TV series, is Zoland Animation's latest original animation movie set to be released this year. Targeted towards children ages 5-12, the animation has already won a number of prestigious awards. ...

The Chinese animation industry has evolved over recent years from an outsourcing destination for animation to one that is renowned for the uniqueness and creativity of the nation's own original animation. With sales exceeding US$5 billion in 2012, over 4,000 hours of animation content produced a year and Chinese animation penetration in over 70 markets, China looks to be one of the fastest growing countries for animation, production, licensing and merchandising in the world. ...

Well, maybe the licensing and merchandising sectors are growing. But when production is down 32.7%, that doesn't quite fit the definition of "fast growing".

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Animation's World Box Office

The world totals for cartoons.

International Weekend Totals -- (World Cumes)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $15,300,000 -- ($148,779,916)

Frozen -- $10,400,000 -- ($1,026,556,000)

The Lego Movie -- $4,700,000 -- ($378,431,928) ...

As the entertainment press reminds us:

... Disney’s Frozen, which held its Top 10 position at the domestic box office for the 17th straight weekend, is now open in all markets. It cast a spell in Japan this weekend to give Walt Disney Animation Studio its biggest opening of all-time there with an estimated $9.4M. That’s 13% off Monsters University’s opening last year – the film went on to be the No. 2 movie of 2013 in Japan with over $90M. I’m told that multiples for opening weekend in Japan can sometimes be as high as 15. If Frozen has legs there, it could potentially overtake Toy Story 3 as the biggest animated movie of all time. ...

Mr Peabody & Sherman is also continuing its strong run overseas. The movie travelled to another $15.3M from 10,340 screens in 61 markets. The international cume is now $85.6M for the Fox release. In Germany particularly this week, the movie saw a 9% bump, adding a further $1.5M. It’s still got Australia, China and Korea to go. ...

Warner Bros’ The Lego Movie added an estimated $4.7M in 52 markets for an international cume of $141.5M. Upcoming releases include Australia on April 3 and Germany on April 10. ...

All three features seem to have staying power in world markets.

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Running For Office

Patric Verrone, long-time animation writer (under the WGA) and a WGAw board member, goes after a State Senate seat.

WGA board member Patric Verrone, who as union president led the guild through a tumultuous 2007-08 strike, is running for state Senate in California's 26th district, he said in a fundraising letter Saturday. He faces five other candidates in the June 3 primary, but his biggest opponent may be his signature accomplishment -- the WGA strike -- whose effect remains hotly debated.

Verrone, an Emmy-winning writer on late-night shows and animation programs including Futurama, is also a lawyer admitted to practice in California and Florida. ...

The 2008 writers' strike ended up helping the Directors Guild of America leverage a New Media deal that other unions and guilds (including this one) have followed.

Mr. Verrone's two terms as WGAw President were filled with activism, and there's still debate inside the Guild and out whether the '07-'08 strike helped WGA writers or hurt them. But we wish Mr. Verrone well in his quest for legislative office.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Billion is Nice, But ...

... regarding Frozen, it ain't just the ticket sales.

... Merchandise is a big part of the strategy at Burbank, California-based Disney, which is the largest licensing company in the world. It's sold almost 500,000 dolls modeled after Elsa and her sister Princess Anna; during a limited-edition offer in January, almost 5,000 were snapped up in 45 minutes at, a record for the site.

Mattel Inc., a Disney licensee, has sold more than $100 million of "Frozen" toys, while licensee Jakks Pacific Inc. has sold tens of millions of dollars worth ...

When you're firing on all cylinders, what's a little thing like box office grosses?

And this has translated into higher morale inside the Hat Building. As a storyboard artist said to me last week:

"Wow. Did you think this would ever be happening again? I don't think anybody around here imagined we'd be back on top. The last few years, we've felt like second class citizens, so having a blockbuster, it's a new experience."

Well, since the 1990s, anyway. But what I said (and honestly believe) is that hits go in cycles. Even Pixar, a studio with a never-ending hot streak, has movies that do less well than others. (Nobody points at Cars II as an iconic classic, although it did sell a lot of toys ... see above.)

One of the nice things about the hat building these days is it's packed to the gills. Staffers tell me when Big Hero 6 is fully ramped up, work space for the crew will be at a premium. Added to which, there's lots of projects in development, with artists spending their work days in story conference rooms, hashing out plot lines and character arcs.

"We've almost outgrown the building," a supervisor told me. "But it's a nice problem to have."

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The Box Office

Whoa, look who's on top.

1). Mr. Peabody And Sherman (FOX), 3,951 theaters (+17) / $5.5M Fri. / $9.5M Sat. (+75%) / $6.2M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $21.2M (-34%) / Per screen: $5,445 / Total cume: $63.3M to $63.8M / Wk 2

2). 300: Rise Of An Empire (WB), 3,490 theaters (+20) / $5.7M Fri./$7.8M to $8.1M Sat. (+38%) / $5.1M Sun. (-35%) 3-day cume: $18.6M to $18.8M (-58%) / Per screen: $5,420 / Total cume: $77.8M to $78.1M / Wk 2

3). Need For Speed (DIS), 3,315 theaters / $6.6M Fri./ $6.6M Sat. (0%) / $3.9M Sun. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $17.3M / Per screen: $5,400 / Wk 1

4). Non-Stop (UNI), Wk 3/ 3,183 theaters (+70) / $3.19M Fri./ $4.6M Sat. (+47%) / $2.6M Sun. (-44%) / 3-day cume: $10.5M (-34%) / Per screen: $3,390 / Total cume: $68.6M to $68.8M / Wk 3

5). Tyler Perry’s Single Mom’s Club (LGF), 1,896 theaters / $3.2M Fri./ $3.2M Sat. (0%) / $1.8M Sun. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $8.3M / Per screen: $4,378 / Wk 1

6). The Lego Movie (WB), 3,040 theaters (-250) / $2M Fri. / $3.3M Sat. (+62%) / $2.18M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $7.5M to $7.6M (-29%) / Total cume: $236.8M / Wk 6

7). Son Of God (FOX), 2,990 theaters (-281) / $1.4M Fri./ $2.2M Sat. (+52%) / $1.76M Sun. (-20%) / 3-day cume: $5.4M+ (-48%) / Per screen: $1,840 / Total cume $50.8M / Wk 3

8). The Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL) / 66 theaters (+62) / $1M Fri./ $1.4M Sat. (+360%) / $1.1M Sun. (-20) / 3-day cume: $3.6M (+349%) Per screen: $55,152 / Total cume $4.8M / Wk 2

9). Frozen (DIS), 1,466 theaters (-194) / $520K Fri./ $925K Sat. (+76%) / $560M Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $2M (-30%) / Per screen: $1,390 / Total cume: $396.3M / Wk 17

10). Veronica Mars (WB), 291 theaters / $1M Fri. / $617K Sat. (-39%) / $375K Sun. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $2M / Per screen: $6,837 to $7120 / Wk 1

The Mojo remarks:

... Mr. Peabody & Sherman took third place with $5.45 million. That's a light 32 percent drop from last weekend, which suggests Peabody is getting strong word-of-mouth among family audiences. The DreamWorks Animation movie will take first place for the weekend with as much as $23 million. ...
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