Saturday, May 31, 2014

Personal Service Contracts

Personal Service Contracts (agreements between an animation studio and individual employee) were de riguer in the go-go nineties. But when animation hit a slack spot at the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st, PSCs fell out of fashion.

Disney Feature stopped doing them; DreamWorks Animation continued the personal service contract practice but the documents became less beneficial to employees.

In the last twelve months, however, some studios have started doing individual contrast with employees. Because of the uptick, TAG did a seminar on Personal Service Contracts at the last General Membership Meeting. Some of the bullet points: ...

* Term contracts -- these PSCs begin and end on a date certain. Like for instance, June 1st 2014 to May 31st 2015. The studio agrees to employ an individual for a set period of time (with the usual loopholes in case of performance issues, insubordination, etc.). And the employee agrees to remain with the employer.

* At Will contracts -- an agreement with no long-term guarantee of employment. Employer will call this a "week to week" contract, or "run of picture" contract, but in practice this seldom means an employee will be retained until the end of a project, but only until the Producer no longer requires the employee's services. (Note: In a true "at will" contract, an employer can lay off an employee with a week's notice; an employee can resign from the studio with or without a week's notice.

* Indemnity Clauses (or "indemnification") -- the employee agrees to pay to defend his/her employer against lawsuits triggered by employee using stolen work on the employer's project. (The Guild always points out indemnification clauses in PSCs. these clauses have been around since the 1990s. We've never seen an animation employee pay for a legal defense against a third-party lawsuit, but the threat remains.)

* "Two-picture contracts" -- A PSC that offers employees a "two picture, run of feature" deal, but the way the contract is structured and worded, an employee can be laid off at any time. (There's no definition of "end of picture"; there's an option, exercised by the studio, to extend an employee to a second feature). The guild considers these "two picture agreements to actually be "at will" agreements.

* Ownership rights -- the employer/Producer claims that the producer retains ownership of any artistic work the employee creates during her/his term of employment. (In practice, the employer seldom -- if ever -- lays claims to such work, but language in the contract makes it a potential threat.)

* Carve outs/ Exclusions -- TAG recommends that artists negotiate "carve outs" to studio ownership of their work by negotiating "carve outs" for rights to three or more personal project that the employee is working on at the time of hire. (And if she/he doesn't have three personal projects, she/he should invent three titles under which future personal projects could be placed.)

There are sometimes disputes over PSCs. Studios will label them "term" deals (thereby blocking an employee from resigning and taking another job) when they are, in fact, "at will" deals.

And PSCs that have no better terms or conditions (higher wages, guaranteed employment, additional vacation, etc.) can often be disputed. As the TAG lawyer Stu Libicki has said more than once: "Slavery/involuntary servitude was outlawed a few years ago."

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All Things DreamWorks

Seeking Alpha projects DreamWorks Animation's future ...

* DWA has a release schedule full of sequels, which historically translates to lots of cash flow.

* DWA's Chinese JV makes it much easier to distribute its movies in China and increases its box office take per movie.

* The new cost structure allows $20 million cost savings per movie.

* DWA's fast-growing TV segment will bring in significant revenues in the next few years. ...

And the cash flows for various feature releases in its sparkly past:

Feature -- Release Date -- Budget -- Gross

Antz -- 10/2/1998 -- $105,000,000 -- $171,757,863

Prince of Egypt -- 12/18/1998 -- $70,000,000 -- $218,613,188

Road to El Dorado -- 3/31/2000 -- $95,000,000 -- $76,432,727

Chicken Run -- 6/23/2000 -- $45,000,000 -- $224,834,564

Shrek -- 5/18/2001 -- $60,000,000 -- $484,409,218

Spirit -- 5/24/2002 -- $80,000,000 -- $122,563,539

Sinbad -- 7/2/2003 -- $60,000,000 -- $80,767,884

Shrek 2 -- 5/19/2004 -- $150,000,000 -- $919,838,758

Shark Tale -- 10/1/2004 -- $75,000,000 -- $367,275,019

Madagascar -- 5/27/2005 -- $75,000,000 -- $532,680,671

Shrek the Third -- 5/18/2007 -- $160,000,000 -- $798,958,162

Kung Fu Panda -- 6/6/2008 -- $130,000,000 -- $631,744,560 ...

Puss in Boots -- 10/28/2011 -- $130,000,000 -- $554,987,477

Madagascar 3 -- 6/8/2012 -- $145,000,000 -- $746,921,274

Rise/ Guardians -- 11/21/2012 -- $145,000,000 -- $306,941,670

The Croods -- 3/22/2013 -- $135,000,000 -- $587,204,668

The company has a shot at becoming a mid-sized conglomerate, with lots of different corporate pieces creating profit, but also of falling on its face and not going on to greater glory.

Maybe the sequel strategy will work. It's certainly true that every other feature cartoon company is using that corporate business plan, and since DWA kind of started it, there's no reason they can't cash in on sequelmania.

But it's up to the general public whether they succeed or not.

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Wicked Box Office

The evil sorceress/fairy/whatever appears to be dominating the box office.

May 30th-June 1st

1). Maleficent (DIS), 3,948 theaters / $24.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $65M to $70M+ / Wk 1

2). X-Men: Days of Future Past (FOX), 4,001 theaters (+5) / $9.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $31M+ to $32M+ (-66%) / Total expected cume: $161M / Wk 2

3). A Million Ways to Die in the West (UNI), 3,158 theaters / $6.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16M to $17M+ / Wk 1

4). Godzilla (WB), 3,501 theaters (-451) / $3.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11M / Total cume: $173.5M / Wk 3

5). Blended (WB), 3,555 theaters (0) / $2.37M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.8M to $8.2M (43%) / Total cume: $28.9M to $29.4M / Wk 2

6). Neighbors (UNI), 2,939 theaters (-327) / $2.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.2M to $7.5M / Total cume: $128M+ / Wk 4

7/8). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (SONY) 2,152 theaters (-1,008) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.6M / Total cume: $192.5M / Wk 5

Million Dollar Arm (DIS), 2,329 theaters (-690) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.6M / Total cume: $28M / Wk 3

9). Chef (OPRD), 624 theaters (+126) / $496K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M / Total cume: $6.76M / Wk 4

10). The Other Woman (FOX), 1,114 theaters (-1,040) / $435K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.38M / Total cume: $81M / Wk 6 ...

So the Sleeping Beauty spin-off opens convincingly, while Mr. Macfarlane's Western (as many Westerns do) dies a quick death.

Rio 2 has fallen out of the Top Ten and now resides at #12, with a total accumulation in the $124 million range. (The feature is way bigger overseas, where it's made $326,600,000, for a grand total of $450,000,000 and change.)

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Bye Bye Imageworks

The effects house (and feature animation production facility) is exiting Culver City.

In a further blow to Southern California's visual-effects industry, Sony Pictures Imageworks is moving its Los Angeles-area headquarters to Vancouver, Canada..

The unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment said Thursday it was transferring the bulk of its operations to a new facility in Vancouver, where it already has a satellite studio.

Sony is expected to keep a small staff in its Culver City facility, which employs about 270 workers.

The move will allow the company to cut costs by capitalizing on generous tax breaks that aren't available in California.

Film companies operating in British Columbia, the province in which Vancouver is located, can recoup about 60% of what they spend on local labor costs. Those incentives have made Vancouver a major hub for film and TV production, as well as visual-effects work. ...

California is halfway through ginning up tax incentives of its own that will include the visual effects industry. What difference it makes ... if and when the legislation passes ... remains to be seen. Click here to read entire post

An evening at UCSB ..

Weeks before the tragedy that took place in Isla Vista, I had the opportunity to sit with Mariana Acuña-Acosta and Daniel Lay, aka VFX Soldier in the Pollack Theater at UCSB for a discussion sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center's Media Industries Project (MIP). The MIP had been holding a two-day conference called "Precarious Creativity" that was focused on discussing issues in today's film and television industry.

The video above is of the keynote discussion on visual effects that was held on April 25th

We have hopes that the state of visual effects in California will see a revival if AB 1839 makes it to law.

Even now, there are smaller boutique studios sprinkled across the east valley and in Santa Monica and Culver City that are doing more visual effects. But the big places -- Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues -- no longer exist as they once did.

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The New-Movie Channel

The ground continues to shift in the way that people consume live-action and animated features:

Consumers are rapidly adapting to purchasing movies through digital channels, according to NPD.

* The growth rate for the electronic sell-through of movies is triple of that for TV EST.

* The exclusive early release window for some digital titles appears to be helping to boost demand and awareness.

* The trend is encouraging for studios looking to capture some of the lost revenue from the lower demand for DVDs.

* Movie theater operators might look at the development differently with their revenue share mix tilted higher the longer movies stay in a theater.

Why is Electronic Sell Through important? Or being posted about here?

Because "sell through" is part of a secondary mvoie market, and labor organizations get a piece of the action. For the Animation Guild and the IATSE, DVDs and electronic sell through royalties help fund our pension and health plans.
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Thursday, May 29, 2014


So this afternoon I stroll through one of the Mouse's animation division, and a member says this:

"I've been in the business for over twenty years, I'm in my forties, and I'd like more than two weeks vacation. And Human Resources tells me, 'Sorry, we have an agreement with the UNION. What you get is two weeks.'" ...

At my advanced age there's not a lot that ticks me off, but Disney's minions continually saying "Oh, the union agreement is for two weeks off per year. So that's all we can give you. Sorry."

Actually, that's not all they can give. Because the "agreement" also states this:

"Employees who have had one continuous year of employment with the Producer shall be entitled to two weeks paid vacation."

Sure enough, the contract says it's two weeks. But the contract also says this:

Nothing in this agreement shall prevent any individual from negotiating and obtaining from the Producer better conditions and terms of employment than those herein provided.

See, what sticks in my craw is this flapdoodle spouting from administrators' mouths that they have no choice but to grant a mere two weeks vacation because, gosh darn it, the contract forces them to..

What the ten days of pay is, is a base line. The boys and girls at Diz Co. can always dole out more days off, but they can't give less. If the company would man up and say: "Junior chum, the contract says we only have to give you a minimum of two weeks paid vacation, and that's what you're getting, because we will it to be so," honest to God I would be fine with that.

But they don't. And it's this maddening impulse to deflect responsibility and make some other entity the bad guy that causes me to lose my lunch.

But hey. It's Tinsel Town. Honesty has been missing in action for seventy years already. No doubt it will be missing for the next seventy.

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The Book

Mr. Del Toro branches away from DreamWorks Animation.

ReelFX of Dallas and Santa Monica is doing this picture. I like that it doesn't look like the standard-issue Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks offering.

Perhaps a wee bit like Tim Burton. It's out in the Fall.

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Mary Blair's "Johnny Appleseed"

A collector has gifted us with this Blair original.

Back in the late forties, when the allies had defeated the Axis powers and all was right with the world, Walt Disney Productions was a small, struggling studio in Burbank which was doing "compilation" features, that is, shorts and featurettes wrapped inside a full-length format.

Artist Mary Blair did a whole lot of development work on Disney projects of the period (some of it seen here)but I hadn't come across the piece above.

So we thought we'd show it to you.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cable Cartoons

... and their ratings. (Which explains why they go on ... and on):

... Among the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim’s original programming, new episodes of Robot Chicken (Sunday, 11:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among adults 18-24/18-34 and men 18-24/18-34 across the month. Similarly, The Boondocks (Monday, 10:30 p.m.) posted delivery gains among adults 18-34/18-49 and men 18-24, 18-34 & 18-49 vs. the same time period last year, ranging between 8% and 38%. ...

On Saturday night, animated series comprising the network’s TOONAMI block, including Bleach (12 a.m.) and Blue Exorcist (2 a.m.), grew delivery of all targeted adults and men between 8% and 61%.m Additional series Attack on Titan (11:30 p.m.) and Black Lagoon (2:30 a.m.) increased delivery among adults 18-34 & 18-49 and all targeted male demos across May, ranging between 3% and 24%. ...

Cartoon Network’s newest series Clarence (Monday, 7 p.m.) scored as the #1 program among all boy demos – 2-11, 6-11 & 9-14 – on Monday nights in May. Additionally, the May 5 new episode premiere of award-winning original series Adventure Time (Monday, 6 p.m.) stands as the #1 telecast of the month among boys 9-14. In fact, Adventure Time (6 p.m.), Regular Show (6:30 p.m.) and Clarence (7 p.m.) all ranked #1 in their respective time periods on all television among boys 6-11 & 9-14 ...

Wednesday night’s presentation of original animated series Teen Titans Go! (6:30 p.m.) ranked as the #1 program of the day among boys 2-11 & 6-11 across the month of May, with new episodes earning 3% to 24% delivery gains across all targeted kids and boy demos. Similarly, new original animated series Steven Universe (Wednesday, 7 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among boys 6-11 & 9-14. ...

What jumps out at me is the number of hand-drawn cartoons directly above that are #1 in the cable universe.

It should be clear by this time that kids don't care if a show is CG or hand-drawn. If they like a Nick or Cartoon Network or Disney offering, they'll happily watch it, format be damned. Sofia the First thrives as a CG show, but the hand-drawn Teen Titans Go! is #1 in its time slot.

And Adventure Time, after getting tossed over by Nickelodeon in favor of a CG show that didn't click, is (once again), the leader of the pack for Time-Warner's Cartoon Network. Puzzle that one out.

Our fine entertainment conglomerates now recognize that though computer generated animation often means big box-office at the local AMC, it adds little value or profit to television cartoons. And because CGI for tv costs more, studio have been forced to reassess. When you look across tv schedules, the trend is clear: there are fewer CG shows, and more animated offerings of the Fred Flintstone/Peter Griffin variety.

It makes perfect economic sense.

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Over the First Hurdle

To nobody's surprise, AB 1839 clears the first legislative house.

California's TV and movie tax credit bill cleared the full state Assembly by a 71-0 vote on Wednesday, leaving Senate passage and Gov. Jerry Brown's approval as the final hurdles.

The bill, AB 1839, would extend the program through 2022 and expand the eligibility to include movies with budgets over $75 million and network TV dramas. No dollar figure has been attached to the bill, but it's almost certain to be significantly higher than the current program, which is capped at $100 million annually. That's well below the credits offered by several states, such as New York, which makes more than $400 million available annually, and that had led to a major production exodus over the past several years.

Wednesday's unanimous passage of the measure, introduced by Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) and Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), was expected since many of their colleagues had signed on as co-authors to show broad support for the bill. ...

The politics of this bill is tricky.

Republicans are for 1839 because it's a tax break. Democrats are for 1839 because it's a "jobs bill." But the California Teachers Association, which has a bit of influence in the state, opposes the measure because it takes revenue from the state's General Fund. And northern California Senators, who have yet to vote, say "I get why L.A. likes it, but what's in this package for my constituents?"

Then, of course, there's Governor Brown and the question of whether he'll sign the bill ... if and when it reaches his desk.

My prediction is ultimate passage and a signature into law, but I'm not an expert on the wheels of government in Sacramento. I could well be wrong.

Add On: the California Film and Television Production Alliance speaks:

“On behalf of hundreds of thousands of middle class California workers, creative talent, small businesses, vendors, local governments and film commissioners across the state, we wholeheartedly thank the two authors, Assembly Members Gatto and Bocanegra, and the entire California Assembly for their vote on AB 1839, the California Film and Television Job Retention and Promotion Act. The strength of the unanimous vote demonstrates the Assembly Members’ clear understanding of the vital economic importance of the motion picture industry to California and their determination to return this state to a competitive position. This could not have been achieved without the dedication of AB 1839’s authors, and the unwavering support of 67 co-authors. Our industry has been a vital part of California’s heritage and we want to continue be part of the Golden State’s economic vitality in the 21st century. This vote puts us one step closer to that reality.”

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Banking on Animated Product

The L.A. Times tells us:

... Hollywood is banking on DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon 2," the sequel to the 2010 original that brought in $218 million domestically. Paramount Pictures' "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and 20th Century Fox's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" are also on tap for the summer. ...

All the high-budget movies listed above rely heavily on animation. Obviously not all of that animation is done in California, or even the U.S. of A., but let's acknowledge the tune being played here. Blockbusters, whether animated or live-action, need crews of animators to get to market. The studios in which they work might be in New Zealand or Australia or France or Canada or India, but animation workers are indispensable to the process, wherever they are.

This week, the California Assembly will be voting on Assembly Bill 8139, which puts the Golden State in serious competition with other New York, Georgia and Louisian, also Britain and Canada, for entertainment tax subsidies. For the first time, California has language in the bill for visual effects and the animation that propels VFX.

This hasn't happened before.

Up until now, California's entertainment tax subsidies have focused on cable t.v. shows and lower budget features, but the boys and girls in Sacramento have come to recognize that visual effects jobs and high-end movies/television have been scampering out of the state. This legislation (and who knows if it reaches the governor's desk and the governor freaking signs it?) is designed to stanch the bleeding.

My starry-eyed prediction: if this bill passes and gets signed, you will see a goodly amount of visual effects return to California.

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It's Distribution, Amigo

As J. Katzenberg says, multiplexes are so ... 1998.

... "Netflix and Sony Pictures Television have reached a multi-year agreement to bring Sony Pictures Animation feature films in the first pay TV window to Netflix members in the U.S., beginning with the hit movies Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and The Smurfs 2 in 2014," the three companies said in a joint statement. "Sony and Starz continue their long-term partnership, and Starz remains the exclusive pay TV home of Sony Pictures Entertainment feature titles through 2021." ...

For Netflix, the news is positive, because the company can replace part of the content it lost from its discontinued licensing deal with Starz, the analyst said, adding: "The Sony deal would only add one or two titles per year to its lineup, but gradually increases the company's focus around younger/animated content as they have exclusive access to Pixar, Disney Animation, DreamWorks Animation, and Sony Animation."

That means that Fox's Blue Sky Studios and Universal partner Illumination "are the only other major sources of animation, which are distributed through HBO," Wible said, adding: "We believe the younger demographic is an important element of Netflix's long-term strategy as they condition future generations to use the platform as they mature." ...

Anybody who spends time with teenagers (good luck getting their noses out of their eye phones) understands that the demographic sucks up entertainment on their communication devices, on iPads, on flat screens bolted to the wall. And sometimes, they absorb images from all of those sources at once.

So for Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation, this is likely a good match. SPA has the product, and Netflix has the pipline.
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iCandy: An Exhibit by Don Jurwich at Gallery 839 in June

Opens Friday, June 6th from 6:00pm to 9:00pm at Gallery 839.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Links

Holiday linkage!

It's a May 26th link-fest, because I'm just too damn lazy busy to write commentaries to the interesting articles below.

The artist who imagined Middle-earth. -- You may not know John Howe, but you have probably visited his worlds.

A quarter century of Simpsons guest voices.

Award-winning animation filmmaker Gitanjali Rao talks about the state of Indian animation industry and her films.

How technology is driving the next wave of film animation ...

Spielberg, Katzenberg And Geffen Celebrate The Twentieth Anniversary Of DreamWorks SKG. (There are some facts wrong in this piece, but it's the thought that counts.)

Robert Iger, Major League Baseball's next commissioner?!?

John Lasseter's Cal Arts talk; John Lasseter's Cal Arts Doctorate.

Click here to read entire post

Pixar Thumbnail

Out today for Inside Out, the June 2015 release.

... In 2015, [Pete Docter] will take us ... inside the mind of an 11-year-old named Riley.

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.” ...

Disney/Pixar is on a recent roll with female protagonists: Rapunzel, Anna, Elsa, Tiana, and Merida. A lot of female leads in a relatively short period of time.

And now Riley.

Add On:

And nobody can argue that heroines in animated fetters don't pull in big bucks.

... Frozen just iced the studio’s own Iron Man 3 to become the fifth highest-grossing film of all time globally. Frozen‘s gross now is a whopping $1.219B compared to Disney/Marvel‘s Iron Man 3‘s $1.215B.

Disney and the filmmakers have the Japanese, in large part, to thank as it has been been sitting in the No. 1 post in the Land of the Rising Sun for 11 straight weekends to take in an incredible $193.7M to date. It is the No. 4 film of all time in Japan and Disney’s largest grosser of all time in the country (live action and animation, including Pixar). It is the No. 3 Western movie, only behind James Cameron’s Titanic and Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

So I'm guessing we'll see female leads in a few more animated movies down the road, yes?

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Supporting Players Move Their Date

It's not just The Penguins of Madagascar, those well-known second bananas of DreamWorks Animation, who are getting a new release window. It's also happening to supporting players at Universal-Illumination Entertainment.

The Minions Movie release date has been moved from the original Dec. 19, 2014 to July 10, 2015 as announced on Friday. Universal's decision to move the movie means that it'll have no animated film to release this year, a first since 2009. ...

Someone close to the company revealed ... that Universal is determined in repeating its success with "Despicable Me" and "Despicable Me 2," both were released on July. ...

DreamWorks Animation, it turns out, is going to have the 2014 calendar pretty much all to itself.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 rolls out within weeks, and its Madagascar spin-off comes out in the Fall, (like Minions moved from its original play date.) Between those two DWA features, only Disney Toons has a cartoon release scheduled, the second feature in its Planes franchise.

Click here to read entire post

International Box Office

Super heroes and giant reptiles dominate, but there's a small chunk of room for animation.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (Worldwide Accumulations)

X-Men Umpty Ump -- $171,080,000 -- ($61,780,000)

Godzilla Again -- $34,500,000 -- ($315,373,367)

Amazing Spider-Man Deux -- $11,200,000 -- ($673,901,192)

Rio the Second -- $4,800,000 -- ($450,798,040)

Frozen the First -- $6,700,000 -- ($1,219,273,546) ...

Rio the Second, is Numero Uno in Venezuela (there's a surprise) four weeks running. South America has been fertile territory. Meantime, Frozen continues to frolic in Japan and continues to increase its huge numbers.

The Spandex crowd (see above) is also doing quite well at the world box office.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mo Cap = Big Box Office

At least, just this once, that's the reality in India.

... The unrivalled king of the box office, ‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth, on Friday set the coffers ringing to the tune of ‘Kochadaiiyaan’ as the country’s first full-length photo-realistic animation took a bumper opening across the State.

According to sources, the film has had an overwhelming response at over 450 screens across the State. Archana Kalpathi of AGS Entertainment, which has two multiplexes in Chennai, said: “The response has been phenomenal and it feels like the summer box office has finally arrived this year. Most audiences are eager to see the film in the 3D version.” ...

Creating the 3D-animated characters in the likeness of the lead actors and bringing the story to life meant that the makers had to collaborate with several international companies.

The film was shot with the actors performing at the Centroid Full Motion Capture studio located within Pinewood Studios in UK. ... For the post-production work, team Kochadaiiyaan also worked with Los Angeles-based Counter Punch studios. The head camera that the actors are seen wearing in the ‘making of’ videos was provided by another US company, Faceware Technologies, which specialises in facial capture in various Hollywood blockbusters and computer games. ...

Mo Cap, sadly, doesn't always have the greatest reputation.

When James Cameron does it, and mixes in some live-action, box office records get broken. Yet when Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg do Mo Cap in its pure, unadulterated form (Beowulf, Tin Tin), the public stays away in droves.

But it appears that the Devil's Rotoscope works well on the sub-continent. (Who would have guessed?) And American and British companies are getting in on the act.

Click here to read entire post

The Holiday Box Office

It's super heroes and giant reptiles, from dawn to dusk:

1). X-Men: Days of Future Past (FOX), 3,996 theaters / $35.7M to $36M Fri. / 3-day cume: $91M to $97M / 4-day cume: $110M to $120M / Wk 1

2). Godzilla (WB), 3,952 theaters (0) / $8.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $31.7M to $33.2M (-64%) / 4-day cume: $31.8M to 41.8M / Total cume: $157M to $159M / Wk 2

3/4). Blended (WB), 3,555 theaters / $4.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.2M to $14M / 4-day cume: $16.5M to $18M / Wk 1

4). Neighbors (UNI), 3,266 theaters (-45%) / $4.28M+ Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.5M (-48%) / 4-day cume: $16.5M to $17M / Total cume: 116M+ / Wk 3

5). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (SONY) 3,160 theaters (-831) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.5M to $8.1M (-53%) / 4-day cume: $9.6M to $10.3M / Total cume: $186.8M to $187.4M / Wk 4

6). Million Dollar Arm (DIS), 3,019 theaters (0) / $1.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.5M to $6.9M (-33%) / 4-day cume: $8.2M to $8.5M / Total cume: $22M / Wk 2

7). The Other Woman (FOX), 2,154 theaters (-900) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.5M (-44%) / 4-day cume: $4.3M to $4.5M / Total cume: $78.6M / Wk 5

8). Rio 2 (FOX), 1,701 theaters (-670) / $535K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.4M (-35%) / 4-day cume: $3.2M / Total cume: $122.4M / Wk 7

9/10). Chef (OPRD), 498 theaters (+426) / $562K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.1M (+210%) / 4-day cume: $2.7M+ / Total cume: $4M+ / Wk 3

Heaven Is For Real (SONY), 1,720 theaters (-1,173) / $498K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M (-57%) / 4-day cume: $2.3M / Total cume: $86.5M / Wk 6

Rio 2 is close to falling out of the Top Ten. Domestically, it's performed a wee bit better than Mr. Peabody and Sherman, but it's performed heroically outside the U.S.

73% of Rio 2's money comes from countires not named the United States of America/Canada.
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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Story Tao of Vance Gerry

Disney story director Mark Kennedy relates the teachings of a grand master of feature animation story telling.

... Vance [Gerry] is saying that--in general--you want to use simplified anatomy and direct lines for readability and to get the audience to grasp the point of a story sketch quickly and directly. Usually the goal in story sketch is for the audience to grasp the meaning of the sketch in a quick glance. Many times, when story sketches are cut together to make a story reel, they are on the screen for a second (or even less time than that). So you need to eliminate any confusion that might arise in the viewer. The audience won't have time to hunt for the point of the sketch and decipher what they're seeing. ...

Vance made storyboarding ... and animation story work in general ... appear effortless.

He had a gift for staging, for the use of color, shadow and light. And he had a genius for creating the right drawing for the tale he wanted to tell the first time out of the box. Which is rare talent. As Ed Gombert says:

"Vance could get more work done in a day than most of us accomplished in a week. ..."

You've seen Vance's work on screen for years. You just didn't know it was his.

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Entertainment Tax Incentives

Assembly Bill 1839, California's version of Canadian/New York/Georgia movie and television tax incentives, moves closer to a vote:

... Legislation to expand California’s tax incentives for film and TV production cleared another committee on Friday, as the state Assembly appropriations committee unanimously approved the bill.

The legislation now goes to the full Assembly for a floor vote. ...

The bill would expand the state’s $100-million per year of incentives for production by making big budget movies eligible, along with more categories of one hour TV drama series.

Still to be determined is what amount supporters will see in annual tax credits, a key figure to make California more competitive with other states that offer more generous incentives. ... New York’s tax credit provides about $420 million per year, but the challenge for the bill’s authors has been to propose an amount that can survive the legislative process.

The legislation would also provide a post production credit for projects that complete at least 75% of visual effects work in the state...

The thrust of the bill is to lure production back to California. On Tuesday, IA union members will be at the capitol, leafleting and jaw-boning lawmakers to pass the new incentives. Expectations are the legislation will move briskly through the Assembly. The challenge will be to get it past skeptical State Senators from northern California.

Then, of course, there's the governor, who marches to his own drum.

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News From Our Charming, Corporatist State

There is now an official settlement, ladies and gents:

Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe to pay $325 mln to settle hiring lawsuit

Four major Silicon Valley companies have formally agreed to pay $324.5 million to settle claims brought by employees who accused them of limiting competition by colluding not to poach each other's talent.

The settlement, between Apple Inc, Google Inc , Intel Corp, Adobe Systems Inc and roughly 64,000 workers, was disclosed in papers filed late on Thursday with a federal court in San Jose, California.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh has been asked to preliminarily approve the accord at a June 19 hearing, over an objection by one of the four named plaintiffs, Michael Devine, who says the settlement let the companies off too easily.

The payout was originally reported by Reuters but not officially confirmed. ...

Please never forget: Steve Jobs was a revolutionary genius, looking to better the world.

And most, but not all, of humanity.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Studio Roundabouts

The last few days I've been at Disney TVA (Sonora and the Yahoo Building) and Bento Box, where production-type things are happening. ...

Up at the Empire Center (that's near the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, if you're wondering), Princess Sophia the First is embarked on a third season of shows while the second season wraps up.

The 7D, airing this July, is close to completing work on its first group of episodes, with many storyboard artists on hiatus as storyboard revisionists continue work into June. (Penn Zero, another yet-to-air Disney show, is also in work.)

Long-running series Jake and the Neverland Pirates is slated to return for another season, but many artists are still on hiatus.

Over at Disney TVA Sonora, a new set of Mickey Mouse shorts (three minutes long, and animated in Canada) is in work, as are newer installments of Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder. Sonora also has some new projects in work, but since I'm A) not sure they've been announced, and B) have no desire to listen to another Disney manager bark at me on the phone, the less I say about them the better.*

Bento Box Burbank (the facility on Magnolia near Buena Vista Street) continues work on Bob's Burgers, while Bento Box North Hollywood (located at Lankershim and Magnolia) creates another season of Brickleberry and is ramping up production on Bordertown, the latest prime-time animated half-hour from the MacFarlane creative team.

They had just finished screening an animatic for one of Bordertown's early shows when I walked in, and crew members reported it was funny. Additional Bordertown staff comes on board next week as the production continues to ramp up.

* Kindly note that I'm a wee bit sketchy about some of the shows in work at Disney TVA Glendale. I tend not to pay attention to show titles, or who's doing what to which series. TV animation is an ever-changing, always-shifting kaleidoscope and I don't pay close attention to everything. I know it's wrong but I'm weak.

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Bigger Projections

... which is a good thing.

... DreamWorks Animation's 3D family film “How to Train Your Dragon 2” will open between $55 million and $70 million when it hits theaters on June 13, according to pre-release tracking that came on line Thursday. ... The opening for the Fox-distributed “Dragon” may not hit the high end, but it will be the only animated film in the market until Disney's “Planes: Fire and Rescue” lands on July 18, which should give families plenty of time to catch up with it. ...

If this sequel doesn't do $600 million in global box office, I will be surprised. Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

DWA: Light ... and Dark

It's late. But let me leave you with this:

... 'Turbo,' a $100 million movie for us, not considered a success," [Jeffrey] Katzenberg says. "In the real world it's a $300 million hit and a brand. For Netflix, it's a smash hit and their second-most popular kids program behind 'Spongebob.'" ...

"If we made a good movie and it played well we opened to $40-60 million and we got a four multiple on that. And, by the way, 16 for 16 [movies in terms of that success]. I don't know if anyone has ever done that before. And the average box office for those 16 was $520 million. I don't know if anyone has ever done that before. What worked for us was just make a really, really good movie. Storytelling is what matters." ...

But also this:

... DWA has learned the hard way that past hits are no guarantee of future success. Since its spin-off in 2004, the company's revenues, profits, and stock price have been in decline. ...

In 2004, DWA was riding high. Shrek 2 was one of the top-grossing animated films of all time, and the company earned a fantastic return on invested capital (ROIC) of 37%. ... After-tax profit (NOPAT) and ROIC for DWA have been in a steady decline for the past decade, except for 2007. Over this same time, NOPAT has declined by 17% compounded annually, and ROIC has fallen to 4%. ...

I want DreamWorks Animation to succeed. It's making the right moves in diversifying, but have the moves to broaden the corporation's cartoon base come too late in the day? The company had sixteen hits in a row, but it needs another sixteen to climb to the next level, and this needs to happen sooner instead of later.

Dragons 2 will almost certainly be a hit. Penguins of Madagascar will likely do robust business as well, which is why the picture was moved up: animated comedies that are part of a successful franchise have always been winners for DWA and the company is betting it will happen again.

Pretty good bet. But then, DreamWorks could use two blockbusters in a row.

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Getting While It's Good

Georgia has aggressive movie and television tax incentives.

Therefore ...

... IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 479 in Atlanta may be the fastest-growing union in the U.S. In 2003, it had only 191 members; six years later, after the state’s 2008 tax incentives took effect, the local’s membership doubled in consecutive years, doubled again two years later, then nearly doubled again two years after that. It’s now the largest IATSE local outside of Los Angeles and New York. ...

Besides the tax incentives, producers who shoot in Georgia also get discounts on wages. Union films shot in LA and New York are covered by IATSE’s basic contract; films shot elsewhere are covered by IATSE’s cheaper Area Standards Agreement, which gives producers yet another incentive to flee California. ...

Like Local 479, Local 839 has been growing, only the Animation Guild doesn't have tax incentives or lower wages to help it along. California, bless its short-sighted heart, sees no reason to expand the entertainment tax bills now under legislative consideration for cartoonland's benefit. That's because lots of animated projects still remain in the Golden State, and if it ain't broke (yada, yada) ...

So what's the problem?

Here it is in a nutshell: Even though lots of pre-production work for television animation can be found in L.A., even though several theatrical animated features haven't (yet) vamoosed to someplace else, a majority of animation employment occurs outside California. Sony Imageworks has moved its animation crew to Vancouver, and Mercury Filmworks in Ottawa has shows from different Hollywood cartoon studios crowding against its groaning rafters.

Added to which, the nuts-and-bolts production work for most American t.v. cartoons is done on other continents.

If it weren't for the talent pool in L.A., and the cold fact that building a work-force of experienced artists is strenuous and time-consuming, even more work would be elsewhere. Los Angeles animation is growing only because global animation is exploding. California animators have today a smaller piece of the total pie than they did ten years ago; it's only because that pie is expanding at such a rapid pace that the guild now has 3,354 writers, artists and technicians working under its jurisdiction.

Hell, if we had the tax incentives Georgia or Vancouver had, our numbers would be 6,000. And growing.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

DWA Makes a Switch

Movies get reversed.

Less than a month before the release of How To Train Your Dragon 2, DreamWorks has flipped the dates for its next two films. Madagascar spinoff The Penguins Of Madagascar is moving up from March 27, 2015, to a Thanksgiving week bow of November 26. It’s switching places with Home, the aliens-hiding-on-Earth tale featuring the voices of Jim Parsons, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Martin and Rihanna. ...

I've got no hard information about why DreamWorks Animation is making the change, but I've got my suppositions. ...

Jeffrey has a picture coming out that owns positive buzz and momentum. He undoubtedly wants the picture released after How to Train Your Dragon, the Sequel to also be a hit, and

1) Has seen Home and Penguins, and determined that Penguins is the bigger crowd pleaser, OR

2) Has seen Home and Penguins, likes them both a lot but figures the sequel has better odds of making the most money, OR

3) Has seen Home and Penguins, likes the non-sequel better but figures the safe bet after Dragons II finishes its run are the wacky birds from Antarctica. OR

4) Is going with the weaker picture first, in the hopes that Dragons favorable press and drawing power will carry over to PoM. OR

5) Home needs more time for tweaking/polishing.

Whatever the reason is, I'm betting the change is triggered by wanting to achieve back-to-back hits, the better to gain traction and momentum rolling into 2015.

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Sequel Mania

But Warner Bros. was an animated feature also-ran for so long, you can hardly blame them.

... Warner Bros has slotted the animated 3D action pic Ninjago for September 23, 2016. Building off the Lego Group’s popular ninja-inspired minifigures, Ninjago will mark the directorial debut of Tron: Uprising’s Charlie Bean. ...

In March, Warner Bros set Chris McKay to direct its sequel to The Lego Movie, so the Ninjago pic would be more precisely called a spinoff. And why not: the first film that opened in February and has turned in a worldwide gross of $452.4 million. McKay was animation co-director on the first film that was made under the direction of Lord and Miller. They are producing both pics, with Michelle Morgan & Jared Stern writing a treatment for Lego Movie 2. ...

Warners is using a slightly modified Chris Meledandri model for making animated features: The studio is doing the pre-production in Burbank (on the studio's main lot, apart from its Warner Bros Animation operation that's two miles away) with boarding, design, writing and other pre-production performed under a Disney Feature style contract. Production work is performed in Sydney by Animal Logic.

With the success of Lego Movie Uno, Warners is back in the feature animation derby in a major way. The 1990s turned out to be the company's lost decade as far as theatrical animated features went. Space Jam was a medium-sized hit, but Quest for Camelot and Brad Bird's excellent Iron Giant went nowhere.

It's been hit or miss since, but now WB has plunged into serious development of new animated properties. The announcement today is an indicator that the House of Bugs and Daffy is in the theatrical animation biz for the longer haul.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Another Princess Film

The Reporter and Moscow Times tell us:

... Russian animation company Wizart has sold its 2012 feature The Snow Queen and its sequel to China's Flame Node Entertainment for theatrical distribution among a slew of early deals in Cannes.

The Snow Queen, a $7 million adaptation of the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale that also inspired Disney hit Frozen, will be shown in Chinese cinemas by the end of the year. The Snow Queen 2 will be in cinemas next year. ...

The Russians have been in Andersen territory before. As previously noted, they produced a hand-drawn Snow Queen back in the 1950s, when the goal (then as now?) was to do "Disney style" animation:

... Universal purchased outright the United States and Canadian rights to The Snow Queen, which had been produced in Russia in 1957. ...

Soyuzmultfilm Productions, the Russian production company, entered the film in the Vancouver Film Festival on August 3, 1959, and Universal ran the picture at the San Francisco Film Festival in November 1959. ...

I saw the earlier SQ when I was ten years old. I remember it being a trifle slow, but maybe I was over-influenced by Disney style and pacing. The current feature and its soon-to-be sequel went be Russia's second and third tellings of the Andersen fairy tale. (When you're on to a lucrative thing, you keep doing it.)

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Ten Years Ago Today ...

Shrek 2 was released. It became a huge hit, and sequelitis was born.

... The first Shrek film was a genuine four-quadrant hit: kids loved it and so did critics, but so did snarky young teens like myself at the time, who appreciated its upending of the films we'd grown up with. The second Shrek film spawned spinoffs like this Simon Cowell-starring American Idol spoof, and it was downhill from there. ...

I don't think "downhill" is the right term. The third Shrek was considered a disappointment (40% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and Shrek 4 was not the money spinner everyone at the studio hoped for.

But maybe, if DWA concocts a durable story, it's time for Shrek 5. It only seems right, since multiple sequels are now the thought for the day, every day. Plus the ogre is now an official internet phenomenon.

Added to which, sequels on top of sequels on top of sequels are now the law of the land.

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Victory Through Air Power II

... With God on their side. Watching this reminded me (a little) of the old Disney Feature.

Or perhaps the Iranian animated feature above is trying for the war-like goodness of Battlefield 3 and other video games that teen-age gamers cotton to. But how long can you stare at a screen watching stuff blow up? ...

Per exiled Iranian filmmaker Ali Fatehi :

...These videos started to appear about five years ago, after Western countries started making more video games about attacking Iran. Since Iran lacks the technology to make advanced video games, ... it seems they’ve decided to make 3D animations in response to them. ...

These films, which seem geared toward children and young people, don’t just mention Iran – they mention “the united army of Islam”. And in “The message of Rachel Corrie”, they’ve renamed the Tel Aviv airport the “Martyr Rachel Corrie airport”. These details show that it’s not just about defending Iran; it’s about Islam and holy war. ...

Ah, but isn't every war holy, each in its own way? As S. L. Clemens taught us to pray all those years ago:

... O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief. ...

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Of course, Mrk Twain wrote this back in the old days, when people didn't know any better than to rain bombs on each other. We've evolved to peaceful enlightenment since then.

Oh, wait. ...

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

South American Cartoons

Somehow I missed this. It's not just U.S. animation that is prospering.

... At least eight Brazilian toon pics have opened in Brazil since late 2012 — among them Paolo Conti and Arthur Medeiros’ stop-motion “Worms,” the eco-themed “Branimals: The Forest Is Ours,” the Globo Filmes-backed historical fantasy “Nautilus” and “Rites of Passage,” featuring two hero-legends from Brazil’s Northeast.

Five or more toon pics are in production; nine, if not more, have applied for BNDES Development Bank funding, per “Sbornia” producer Marta Machado.

“Brazilian animation is currently booming. From 1917 to 1995, Brazil produced five to six animated movies; over the last five to six years, we’ve made 25-30,” says Felipe Harelik, producer of “Between Frames,” an animation/live action documentary hybrid that traces the history of Brazil animation, including interviews with Carlos Saldanha (“Ice Age,” “Rio,” “Rio 2”) and “Sbornia” co-helmer Guerra, a ’90s pioneer. ...

As previously noted, there are lots of animated features in work around the globe. The ones we hear about come form California, Paris, and Connecticut, but there are features out of many other geographic locations, and the studios in these places don't make them because they are boutique art studios funded by the Medicis and dedicated to doing art for art's sake.

They produce animated features for the same reasons that Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney and Blue Sky do. Because they make money. And because Socialism.

... “We have the best public-sector film policies in the world,” Bolognesi boasts. “Only France’s are as good or better.”

(France? They're like France?!)

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World Box Office

Only two animated features in the race, one of which never seems to stop accumulating revenue.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Cumes)

Rio 2 -- $7,600,000 -- ($ )

Frozen -- $7,800,000 -- ($1,206,323,000)

So why is Frozen still raking it in? Here's a reason:

Frozen. 10 weeks. No. 1. Japan. $179.6M. No kidding.

The animated film about unconditional love is up 8% over last weekend. Should we now recite the records in the country? Okay, let’s start with the biggest ever Disney release, be it animated or live action. Biggest Pixar release. Highest grossing animated release of all time from the U.S. and the third highest U.S. release of all time. Internationally, it’s playing in only three territories, but still managed to skate in with another $7.8M in its … wait for it … 26th week of release overseas.

It is now at $1.2 billion. ...

Rio 2, meanwhile, flew in with another $7.6M from 55 markets to bring it’s total cume to $322.4M. Added to what it is expected to make in the states this weekend, the worldwide cume for this animated family picture is over $440M. ...

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

New Feature Studio

From Deadline:

Mili Pictures Worldwide, a new animation company based in China, has opened a Los Angeles and has tapped High School Musical producer Bill Borden to run it. The company, which is launching its first pic — the vidgame-based Dragon Nest — in July in China, has also set its first movie for LA pre-production: the comedy Ping Pong Rabbit.

Works is underway with Corpse Bride co-director Mike Johnson directing a script by High School Musical scribe Peter Barsocchini. Under the model, production will move into the animation process in China in the fall to take advantage of lower costs. ...

So another Chinese animation sets up a studio in L.A. to tap into the talent pool residing therein.

This model has been used before with varying degrees of success. Most recently, Chris Meledandri used it for pre-production for the Despicable Mes A few years back, Imagi Entertainment (of Hong Kong) used it with less happy results.

So we'll see how Mili Pictures does with its own version of the model. What really counts, is having good decisions made in pre-production. TAG will, of course, work to get a contract with Mili's studio. Wish us luck.
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Your American Box Office

The Friday numbers indicate that a large Japanese monster is performing well.

Friday Accumulations

1). Godzilla (WB), 3,952 theaters / $36M Fri. / 3-day cume: $90M+ (includes $9.3M Thursday) / Per screen average: $23K / Wk 1

2). Neighbors (UNI), 3,311 theaters (+32) / $8.8M to $9.0M Fri. / 3-day cume: $27M (-45%) / Total cume: $92.5M to $94M / Wk 2

3). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (SONY) 3,991 theaters (-333) / $4.6M to $4.8M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16.5M (-54%) / Total cume: $172M+ / Wk 3

4). Million Dollar Arm (DIS), 2,109 theaters / $3.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.5M / Wk 1

5). The Other Woman (FOX), 3,054 theaters (-252) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.5M (-32%) / Total cume: $71.7M / Wk 4

6). Heaven Is For Real (SONY), 2,893 theaters (-155) / $1.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: 4.5M (-39%) / Total cume: $82.3M / Wk 5

7). Rio 2 (FOX), 2,371 theaters (-602) / $925K Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M (-16%) / Total cume: $118.2M / Wk 6

8). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 2,271 theaters (-430) / $1.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M (-29%) / Total cume: $251M / Wk 7

9). Moms’ Night Out (SONY), 1,046 theaters (+2) / $672K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.2M (-48%) / Total cume: $7.6M / Wk 2

10). Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (FREE), 2,578 theaters (-80) / $470K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.9M (-48%) / Total cume: $6.5M / Wk 2 ...

Rio 2 will click close to the $120 million range this weekend, dropping a mere 25%. Legends of Oz continues to be a weak-kneed performer.

Add On:

1). Godzilla (WB), 3,952 theaters / $38.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $98M+ (includes $9.3M Thursday) / Per screen average: $24,835K / Wk 1

2). Neighbors (UNI), 3,311 theaters (+32) / $8.3M to $8.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $265M+ (-46%) / Total cume: $91.6M / Wk 2

3). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (SONY) 3,991 theaters (-333) / $4.5M / 3-day cume: $15.5M to $16M (-55%) / Total cume: $171M+ / Wk 3

4). Million Dollar Arm (DIS), 2,109 theaters / $3.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.58M / Wk 1

5). The Other Woman (FOX), 3,054 theaters (-252) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.2M to $6.5M (-32%) / Total cume: $71.75M / Wk 4

6). Heaven Is For Real (SONY), 2,893 theaters (-155) / $1.25M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.5M to $4.7M (-39%) / Total cume: $82.5M / Wk 5

7/8). Rio 2 (FOX), 2,371 theaters (-602) / $865K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.76M (-25%) / Total cume: $118M / Wk 6

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (DIS), 2,271 theaters (-430) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.76M (-29%) / Total cume: $250M+ / Wk 7

9). Moms’ Night Out (SONY), 1,046 theaters (+2) / $617K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2M to $2.2M (-53%) / Total cume: $7.48M / Wk 2

10). Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (FREE), 2,578 theaters (-80) / $445K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.9M (-50%) / Total cume: $6.5M / Wk 2

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Fox Giveth As It Takes Away

Fox Broadcasting is taking American Dad from its Sunday night cartoon lineup and going with a live-action half-hour. But animation will be added back into the mix early next year.

Fox hasn’t forgotten that a lot of its longest-lasting bread and butter has been with the most colorful type of series, and they're now starting to promote the culturally satirical series Bordertown, which will jump the fence into primetime next year.

Bordertown is the brainchild of Family Guy writer/producer Mark Hentemann, who is executive producing with familiar cohort Seth MacFarlane, whose name should give you a pristine idea of what brand of humor this series will wallow in. Family Guy takes the 80s and women-bashing jokes, American Dad takes on the Republicans, The Cleveland Show took on black culture, and now Bordertown will likely skewer Mexican heritage and America’s current resistance to immigrants. It’s like the four food groups, if food had a way of insulting you with TV-MA jokes. ...

MacFarlane is spending less time at Fox Animation (on Wilshire) these days and more time at his new headquarters in Beverly Hills.

But that won't matter much with Bordertown, since the new series isn't housed at Fox Animation, but over in the San Fernando Valley, at Bento Box, which has done a lot of Fox animated projects the last few years, and looks as though it will do more in the near future. (We're informed -- perhaps erroneously -- that ADHD, which was supplying late-night cartoon shows to Rupert's conglomerate, won't be doing as many Fox projects.)

Bordertown is only now ramping up to full strength. Board artists are at work, also directors. The balance of the pre-production crew should be in place over the next month.

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A Hit?

The odds look good, if the trades are any indication.

... Cannes this year might as well be called the Jeffrey Katzenberg International Film Festival. He’s had his cast and star dragon from How To Train Your Dragon 2 cruising the Croisette looking for paparazzi — and finding them. ...

[How To Train Your Dragon 2] should be a major Best Animated Feature Oscar contender. It really manages to top the 2010 first film in terms of heart, laughs, action and pure exhilaration. And it won a major ovation at its official screening Friday. ...

So there you have it. Laughs. Exhilaration. Action. Which will mean the company will ... if the predictions are accurate ... break out of its recent slump.

DWA was due for a comeback. Looks like the new movie will be the slingshot that catapults it back toward prosperity.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

TV Cartoon Ratings

Here's the flat-screen performance of selected television cartoons.

Last Sunday

On FOX, Bob's Burgers earned a 0.9, down 18 percent from last week's 1.1 adults 18-49 rating. American Dad scored a 1.1, down 15 percent from last week's 1.3 adults 18-49 rating. The Simpsons garnered a 1.6, down 20 percent from last week's 2.0 adults 18-49 rating. Family Guy notched a 2.1, down 5 percent from last week's 2.2 adults 18-49 rating. Cosmos earned a 1.2, down 25 percent from last week's 1.6 adults 18-49 rating. ...

All the shows above (excluding Cosmos) have been picked up for new episodes. American Dad will have a new (reduced) season on TBS, while the other shows will remain on Fox. ...

And in Cableland?

Adult Swim and Cartoon Network

Among Adult Swim original programming, a new episode of Robot Chicken (Sunday, 11:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among targeted adults 18-24, 18-34 & 18-49. On Monday night, a new episode of The Boondocks (Monday, 10:30 p.m.) posted year-over-year gains among all targeted adults and male demos, ranging between 7% and 58%.

On Saturday night's TOONAMI block, One Piece (1:30 a.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among all young adults and men. Similarly, Blue Exorcist (2 a.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among adults & men 18-24. Black Lagoon (2:30 a.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among all targeted men, while Beware the Batman (3 a.m.) ranked #1 in its timeslot among men 18-24 & 18-34.

Moreover, Bleach (12 a.m.) and Naruto: Shippuden (1 a.m.) grew average delivery of targeted adults and men by double-digits vs. the same time period last year, ranging between 14% and 61%. Attack on Titan (11:30 p.m.) and Blue Exorcist (2 a.m.) also increased delivery among adults 18-34 & 18-49 and all targeted men.

Adult Swim programming – including Family Guy, The Boondocks, American Dad and Robot Chicken – accounted for 15 of the top 50 telecasts on basic cable for the week with adults 18-34, more than any other network. ...

On Monday night, Cartoon Network's original animated programming fueled the network to land as the #1 television destination among kids 9-14 and boys 6-11 & 9-14 in Early Prime (6-8 p.m.). Average delivery grew across targeted kids/boys 2-11 & 6-11 vs. the same time period last year, ranging between 4% and 13%.

A new episode of Adventure Time (6 p.m.) scored as the #1 telecast of the week among boys 6-11 & 9-14, #1 for the day among kids 9-14, and #1 in its time period among kids 6-11 and boys 2-11. Similarly, a new episode of Regular Show (6:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among kids 6-11 & 9-14 and all targeted boys.

Both new episode premieres increased average delivery by double digits across all targeted kids/boys demos vs. the same time period last year, between 11% and 102%. Wrapping up the evening, a new episode premiere of Clarence (7 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among kids 6-11 & 9-14 and all targeted boys. ...

By rights, Adventure Time should be earning Nickelodeon some heavy coin, but Nick declined to turn the pilot into a series, and so producer Fred Seibert bought the production back and took it to Cartoon Network, will it's been a major smash hit.

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Ever Evolving

You don't fully realize how far visual effects have come until you see them laid end-to-end in 184 jam-packed seconds.

136 years of VFX, in one quick gulp.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

TAG Interview -- Kelly Ward

Kelly Ward knows better than many the need to reinvent yourself ...

TAG Interview with Kelly Ward

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Mr. Ward, you see, was a professional actor at a young age. He worked on stage, he worked in television, he worked in movies. And he was successful at it.

But then he had the bad luck to grow older, and miss out on roles he earlier snagged with regularity. He relates that a casting director told him, "We don't need to hire you for the teenager's part. We can just hire a real teenager.")

So Kelly changed the direction of his career arc. In the mid-80s he was collaborating on scripts with animation veteran Jeff Segal, and soon after he was hired as an assistant story editor on Hanna-Barbera';s Go Bots.

For awhile, he continued acting. But the animation work was steadier. In the span of three decades he has written numerous script, served as a story editor, produced, and directed voice actors. (He's also done some voice acting himself.)

Today Kelly is directing voice talen on Jake and the Neverland Pirates, also collaborating with animation veterans Cliff MacGillivray and Phil Mendez on The Note Hunter: The Case of the Haunted Swamp.

Why is Kelly now writing books? After so many years in animation. It's that "constantly reinventing yourself" thing.

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Broadening the Franchise

Well now. Lookee here.

Olaf's Adventures

When Robert Iger said Diz Co. isn't done cashing in on its latest Fort Knox, the chairman isn't kidding.

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A Studio's Failure

And a story that's been told more than once.

On a rainy autumn afternoon in 2002, Will Vinton sat alone in a board room, reviewing his severance package.

His desk, now barren, had once displayed the emblems of a storied career: an Oscar, six prime-time Emmys, a slew of Clios and innumerable other honors. He had brought clay animation back to life. But his creations, once animated on silver screens, were now housed in cardboard boxes, frozen in various states of bewilderment.

Over thirty years, Vinton had built his firm, Vinton Studios, into a $28-million-a-year enterprise. He’d produced, directed, and brought to life the most memorable characters of the 80s and 90s -- the California Raisin, Thurgood Stubbs, the “Red and Yellow M&Ms.” He not only coined the term "claymation," but was its unheralded king.

And now he was in the board room, tracing over the language that seized his kingdom. Hours earlier, he’d handed over his company and all of its trademarks to Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The billionaire’s son, an animation intern and ex-rapper with no management experience, would be assuming his place. ...

We've seen versions of this over the entire history of animation.

The Fleischer brothers. (Down in flames in 1942).

Lou Scheimer. (Filmation bought by L'Oreal and shuttered in 1989).

Bluth-Sullivan. (Bankrupt in the 1990s).

Phil Roman. (The company Film Roman goes on, but Phil's removed as CEO).

And Walt Disney came close to going the way of the Fleischers, Lou Scheimer, Don Bluth. After the strike of '41, after Pinocchio and Bambi under-performed, the company was on the ropes. Then World War II happened and the federal government propped Walt Disney Productions up with a big fat training film contract. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The point is, there's often a cob-web-thin divide between success and failure. If a couple of pictures don't go over, if a commercial contract fails to come through or a t.v. series is cancelled, it's Chapter Eleven Time.

Skill, talent and hard work go a long way, but they are sometimes trumped by bad timing and bad luck.

H/t Nathan Loofbourrow.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Meanwhile, Up In Sacramento

I've been in the state capital today and yesterday, lobbying and testifying for AB 1839. (That's the assembly bill designed to widen and improve California's movie and television tax credit. Designed to help, you know, California not get its head kicked in by other states and localities with tax credits of their own.)

The broad brush strokes of today's hearing:

... Today the bid to expand California’s current $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit program passed its second legislative test in Sacramento. The state Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee unanimously 8-0 moved the multi-sponsored Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act forward. ...

“At least 37 other states and jurisdictions have introduced incentive programs to take the entertainment industry out of our own state of California,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto in testimony to the Taxation Committee today. “I hope that Bill ADF 1839 will combat the national and international competition for production. ...

A bit of glad news is that Gatto, under questioning, said that they would be inserting a visual effects piece into the bill, but are still working out "the right language." (Between you, me and the California population north of San Luis Obispo, I think this is a necessary addition if the authors want to win over State Senators from Northern California.)

But even if the legislation passes Assembly and Senate, there's still one last hurdle:

Governor Jerry Brown today still wouldn’t commit to supporting an expansion of California’s $100M Film & TV Tax Credit program. “Certainly my office will engage in a lot of conversations on many issues like the movie tax credit,” he said today during a press conference in LA after he announced a revised proposed state budget that included a rainy-day fund, debt reduction, an increase in health care coverage and safeguarding teacher’s pensions. However, Brown’s revised budget didn’t have any increase to the state’s current $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit program. ...

Before the Hollywood labor contingent walked over to the state capitol, we talked about Jerry's stand-offishness. Thom Davis, the Entertainment Union Coalition's chairman, doesn't think Jerry will veto the bill when it reaches his desk. But I'm not necessarily convinced, since you ou can never tell what Governor Brown is going to do until he actually does it.

But let's accentuate the positive, shall we? Today was a good step forward. And the revelation that visual effects will be part of the bill is welcome news.

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Sony Downdraft

This has got to sting.

... Current CEO and President of Sony – Kaz Hirai – is preparing to take a 50 percent pay cut while declining his annual bonus, according to The Wall Street Journal. Other unnamed high-level Sony executives will follow suit in a sign of solidarity with their struggling company, which will post an annual loss for the fourth time in five years. ...

Less than two weeks ago, Sony revealed that it expected to post a $1.27 billion loss for the 2013 fiscal year. In February, it forecasted better numbers, predicting a $1.07 billion loss. Either way, such a loss is a far cry from the $489 million profit it expected to turn in 2013. ...

Of course, that's the parent company. No word yet if Amy Pascal and associates (of Sony Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, etc.) are going to be doing any belt-tightening of their own.

I don't remember any Hollywood movie execs taking 50% pay cuts, but I get around so little. Maybe somewhere, some time it's happened. Maybe.

But somehow I don't think so.

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As Goes Disney and DreamWorks Animation ...

So goes the house that Jack (and Sam and Harry) built?

Time Warner Inc. is in early-stage talks to buy the YouTube network Fullscreen Inc., in a move that would give the media giant a hefty online video presence and access to younger viewers.

People familiar with the matter said that although a deal is yet to be finalized, Time Warner could end up paying a price similar to the $500 million that The Walt Disney Company (DIS) shelled out last month to buy Maker Studios, another popular YouTube network. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding these YouTube networks that have emerged over the last few years. Here’s why we think Time Warner is forging ahead with a takeover bid for Fullscreen. ...

Our fine, entertainment conglomerates are stampeding to the New Media frontier. The question will be, how do the Big Players monetize their new acquisitions? And will this (ultimately) mean the end of cable networks? Broadcast networks?

Animation plays a sizable (and growing) role on the inside this space, and TAG represents artists who create content for the platform. TAG's contract covers "New Media" with similar language found in other IA contracts, and WGA contracts, DGA contracts, etc.
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Declaration of the Obvious

From Money:

... Frozen is on track to be the fifth highest grossing movie of all time, and is already Disney's (DIS, Fortune 500) biggest selling digital and Blu-ray release.

"This is definitely up there in terms of our top, probably, five franchises," said Disney CEO Bob Iger in a conference call last week after Disney reported a 27% surge in profits. "So you can expect us to take full advantage of that over the next at least five years." ...

Already, Elsa dresses have been selling out and people were bidding as high as $1,000 on EBay.

"The magic of the movies comes in big swings. Disney hit a grand slam with this one," said Barton Crockett who covers Disney for FBR.

And this is just the beginning. Crockett said we should expect a "Frozen" sequel in 2018.

A sequel?! Could it even be possible?!? Who could ever have imagined? Click here to read entire post

The Upward Trend

Deadline takes note of the employment growth in animation.

... “The work has really increased on the television side. ... There’s more storyboard work and design work, and it’s all driven by animation’s profitability. Animated television shows have been a great cash cow and profit stream for the conglomerates. They can make them at a competitive price, and they have a long shelf life.” ...

As I said to Dave Robb, there aren't a lot of live-action shows from the sixties that still have new episodes and and direct-to-video features being made, but that's the case with Scooby-Doo. (If you'd told me the Scoob was going to be one of the iconic cash cows of Cartoonand in 1969 -- when I was a sophomore in college -- I would have fallen on the floor laughing.)

And The Flintstones, an even older cartoon series, is being prepped as an animated feature. Funny, but I can't think of any other t.v. shows from 1960 that are being made into long-form theatricals.

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This Month in Animation

... brought to you by President Emeritus Tom Sito:


May 1st, 1989 - Walt Disney Feature Animation in Orlando Florida opened.

May 1st, 1993 - The Florida Animation Union Local 843 chartered.

May 1, 1999 - Spongebob Squarepants debuted on Nickelodeon.

May 2, 1964 - Disney’s audio- animatronic Abe Lincoln exhibit opened at the NY World’s Fair. The animatronic technology forms the basis of modern motion capture technique.

May 3, 1969 - Ground breaking for the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. ...


May 4, 1927 - The Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences formed. Studio heads Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer originally conceived the Academy as an arbiter where studio artists could air grievances without fear of retaliation, thereby sidetracking the call for unions. It didn’t work because of the nature of its founding by studio heads. Writer Dorothy Parker commented: “Going to the Academy with your problems is like trying to get laid in your mother’s house, someone’s always peeking through the curtains”.

May 6, 1937 - THE FLEISCHER STRIKE - Cartoonists vote to strike Max Fleischer’s studio after Max fires 13 animators for union activity and complaining about the 6 day work week.
The strike was settled several weeks later when parent company Paramount forced Max to recognize their union.

May 8, 1943 - Tex Avery’s “Red Hot Riding Hood” debuts. It is one of Avery’s most popular cartoons, inspiring several of his own “sequel” shorts as well as influencing other cartoons and feature films for years afterward.

May 10, 1929 - "Skeleton Dance", the first Disney Silly Symphony, debuts. Its tight sync animation by Ub Iwerks inspired a generation of animators.

May 17, 1941 - The Looney Toon Lockout. Producer Leon Schlesinger tries to forestall the unionization of his Bugs Bunny cartoonists by locking them out. After a week he relents and recognizes the cartoonist guild. Chuck Jones called it “our own little six-day war.”

May 18, 2001 - Dreamworks Animation's "Shrek" opened. Earning $484.4 million at the worldwide box office, the film was a critical and commercial success. Shrek won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

May 18, 2003 - Pixar’s "Finding Nemo" opened. The film received widespread critical acclaim, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and was nominated in three more categories including Best Original Screenplay.

May 20, 1937 - Bob Clampett promoted to director at Leon Schlesinger’s Looney Tunes Studio. After leaving Looney Tunes, Clampett created the Beany & Cecil Show for television.

May 20, 2003 - In 1977, when Walt Disney’s "The Rescuers" was being completed, the artists for a joke added a Playboy picture into a pan shot. Going by at 1/24th a second, they were confident nobody would ever spot it.

Later in the 1990s, when "The Rescuers" went to VHS video, they edited out the controversial frame. But when it was time in 2003 to re-release on DVD, the Studio apparatchiks went back to the original 1977 negative, without ever bothering to consult any of the artists. On May 20, 2003, nine million copies of the "The Rescuers" DVD hit the stores, with the ensuing public outcry, and embarrassed apologies you might imagine. **

May 22, 1985 - Disney animation director Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman who directed The Jungle Book among other films, died in a car crash following lunch at The Smoke House in Burbank.

May 23, 1931 - In Max Fleischer’s "Silly Scandals", the girl character first seen in Dizzy Dishes is now called Betty Boop.

May 27, 1933- Walt Disney’s The Three Little Pigs premiered, whose song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” became a national anthem of recovery from the Depression.

May 29, 1941- THE WALT DISNEY CARTOONISTS STRIKE. Animators go out after Walt refused to recognize their union and fired Art Babbit and several others for union activity. The picket line and campsite went up across the street where St. Joseph’s Hospital is today. Chef’s from nearby Toluca Lake restaurants would cook for the strikers on their off time and the aircraft mechanics of Lockheed promised muscle if any “ruff-stuff” was threatened. Picketers included Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace), Walt Kelly and Margaret Selby Kelly (Pogo), Bill Melendez (A Charlie Brown Christmas), Steve Bosustow and John Hubley (Mr. Magoo), Maurice Noble and Chuck Jones (What’s Opera Doc?), George Baker (Sad Sack), Dick Swift (The Parent Trap) Frank Tashlin (Cinderfella) and four hundred others.

Animators from Warner Bros., MGM and Walter Lantz marched with their Disney brothers and sisters, because they knew this was where the fate of their entire industry would be settled. Celebrities like Dorothy Parker, Frank Morgan and John Garfield gave speeches. The studio claimed no one of importance was on strike.

The strike was eventually settled by federal arbitration and a little arm twisting by the Bank of America. Walt recognized our union and most base salaries doubled. Many of the artists who left the studio afterwards set up U.P.A. and pioneered the 1950’s style.

** A small addendum to "The Playmate in the Window" in The Rescuers: It was never clear to me if the background or camera department inserted the Playmate centerfold in the window of a building that the albatross and his mouse passengers fly past. (Maybe the departments collaborated?)

What IS clear, because I viewed it first-hand, is that Miss April (or whichever month she was) could be viewed on the VHS version of the feature.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

At Nickelodeon

The end of last week I spent a few hours at Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios in Burbank, walking around and talking to artists.

A couple of years ago, Nick was developing new animated shows that were mostly CG. The company had jettisoned several veteran executives and decided to focus on 3-D computer graphics, hitching the corporate wagon to the new hot format.

But the gambit didn't turn out precisely as planned. Budgets got bigger, but audiences didn't. ...

... Of the top 10 most-watched cable networks in March, only one slipped more than Nick. And therein lies more bad news for Nick, because that network is its evening offshoot: Nick at Night fell 36 percent to 942,000 average daily viewers. ...

Nickelodeon discovered that, even though CG animation is de rigueur in the theatrical realm, it doesn't drive audiences in TV land. Four to eight-year-olds are just as content watching hand-drawn and flash animation, as they are the pricier CG stuff.

So eighteen months ago, Nickelodeon performed a course correction, brought in new execs, and ordered some hand-drawn shows that ... whattayaknow! .. did pretty well. And last week there was this:

... A second season [of 20 episodes] is in the oven for Nickelodeon’s Breadwinners, a popular animated series that ranks #1 in its Saturday 11:00 a.m. time slot with Kids 2-11/6-11 and Boys 2-11/6-11. The announcement was made today by Russell Hicks, President, Content Development and Production. ...

Breadwinners, of course, is in the older pencil tradition of Nickelodeon.

But it's a step back from the company's earlier intention to make CG cartoons the core of Nick production. As a supervisor said:

"Russell Hicks got hired here as the head creative guy a year-and-a-half ago and he's changed things around quite a lot. There's seven or eight directors who give input, get together and look at stuff in development [I said it sounded like Lasseter's "brain trust".]

Yeah, sort of the same thing. Russell was an artist before he went into management. He still comes in early and draws, walks around to see what's going on. He saw some of my roughs and knew immediately what the idea I was working on was about. He didn't need finished, polished drawings because he knows what the rough drawings mean when he looks at them.

That's a BIG help." ...

Nick, like other cartoon companies, is enjoying boom times with its current product, which is why I'm seeing more artists in more cubicles. Nothing at all wrong with that.

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Foreign Box Office

The global market for feature animation is relatively quiet, but Frozen keeps rolling along.

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Rio 2 -- $14,100,000 -- ($425,165,244)

Frozen -- $7,100,000 -- ($1,190,740,000)

Legends of Oz -- $000 -- ($3,705,376)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman is pretty much at the end of its run, earning $266,233,017, not enough to push it into the black. (It had a production budget of $145 million.) 59% of its gross came from overseas, 41% was run up in the United States and Canada. The Koch calculator (named for TAG President Emeritus Kevin Koch) showed slightly less than a 4:1 ratio for opening weekend to total run. (Not great. A 3:1 ratio is considered weak; 5:1 or better quite good.)

The next big animated release: How to Train Your Dragon 2. We should know soon after release if it heading for blockbuster territory.

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