Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Newer Cartoons

A Times think-piece on the changing state of animation ... with President Emeritus Tom Sito.

... "Conventional thinking was that animated filmmaking was a high-stakes gamble," said Tom Sito, a professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts who was an animator and storyboard artist at Disney Animation in the 1990s. "Only Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks with their brand-loyal audiences seemed to hold a monopoly on success. But the Illumination films seemed to come out of nowhere and were wildly successful. Add to that the success of 'The Lego Movie,' and the thinking now is that anyone can play." ...

It's a long way from the 1970s, when animation on big screens meant a Disney feature (Robin Hood, The Rescuers) or some lower-budget offering from an independent film-maker like Bakshi. And television was Hanna-Barbera and a few small pretenders to the Saturday-morning throne.

The 1990s saw a boom in television and theatrical animation, but that faded at the turn of the century. Rival studios hoping to emulate Aladdin and The Lion King fell on their faces, and even Disney Feature Animation produced a series of clunkers.

But fifteen years further on, animation has exploded, fueled by CG blockbusters on large screens and a plethora of hand-drawn series on the t.v. that draw impressive ratings. With Laika studios in Portland starting to gain traction, it's clear that there are other styles of animation beside CGI to which the viewing public will flock.

If somebody turned out a hand-drawn feature with compelling characters and story, I would happily bet that that would do well.

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The financial press, it thinks Frozen 2 is a dead-bang certainty. (Why would anybody come to that conclusion?).

The hit movie "Frozen" has yet to receive an official sequel order. Disney (NYSE:DIS) signed a new licensing deal this week that will extend the power and revenue of the franchise and could be major foreshadowing step to an extension of the franchise.

Hasbro gained the rights to make dolls based on the "Frozen" movie beginning in the year 2016. Prior to this deal, Mattel had the rights and is the obvious loser here. The deal comes less than a week after highlighting Jakks Pacific as a winner this holiday season with its highly anticipated Snow Glow Elsa doll and Olaf Sno Cone Maker. Investors sold off Jakks on the Hasbro news, but Jakks does not lose anything in the deal.

Not to take away from the deal or cause speculation, I have to believe that this is foreshadowing for an official sequel notice coming soon. ...

No conglomerate worth its buy-backs creates a hugely profitable product and then walks away from it. Not in 2014.

Did Fox-News Corp. walk away from Ice Age? Did Pixar walk away from Toy Story? Did DreamWorks ANimation abandon Shrek? Sure, Walt Disney never followed up with a sequel to Snow White, but 1937, that was a different freaking universe. Studios weren't geared toward sequels. They were geared to "Let's make another Clark Gable/James Cagney/Tyrone Power movie very much like the last Clark Gable/James Cagney/Tyrone Power movie."

Sequels just didn't enter into the equation.

But they do now. We're living in the first half of the twenty-first century. Not the first half of the twentieth.

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From trades, press releases, etc.

Alec Baldwin will play a baby in DreamWorks Animation’s newly announced comedy Boss Baby. Kevin Spacey also is aboard as corporate uber-villain Francis E. Francis and the two will duke it out amid a struggle for world power and the title of World’s Best Boss.

The pic, inspired by Marla Frazee’s 2010 picture book, will be released on March 18, 2016 by Fox. ,,,

Mr. Spacey, of course, memorably played the villain in Pixar's Bug's Life; it's nice to see him climbing aboard the animation freight wagon once again.

Mr. Baldwin slides back and forth between television and movies. He will no doubt make a spectacular baby.
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Meditations: An Exhibit opens next week!

Opens Friday, October 10th
6:00 pm to 9:00 pm

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Cartoon Network's Anti-Bullying Outreach

The Washington Post details anti-bullying campaigns in kids' television:

It used to be that when a television show wanted to get serious, it would take a break from its everyday proceedings for a Very Special Episode, devoted to the consequences of unusual intrusions into what was presumed to be everyday life, including drunken driving, racism, or violence against children. ...

But for Cartoon Network, which is on track to collect a million viewer-made videos in an ongoing bullying prevention campaign, raising awareness has become less about trying to push the children who are its target audience into new ways of thinking and more about meeting them where they are. ...

Rather than commissioning bullying-specific storylines, Alice Cahn [Vice President for Social Responsibilty at Cartoon Network] met with animators to give them the information. “A guy raised his hand in the back and said, you don’t need to share this with us, in junior high, we were the kids getting our heads stepped on in the toilet bowl,” she recalled. Now, the network produces anti-bullying posters featuring characters from Cartoon Network shows and quotes they have already spoken in episodes — Cartoon Network does not have to put new words in their mouths to get a message across. ...

In the sixties, when I was growing up, most kids got bullied at one time or another. In those far-off days, there weren't many counseling programs to deal with it, or cartoons on Saturday morning to raise collective awareness of the problem. You just suffered through the torture, and muddled through.

We look at school bullies as a modern phenomenon, but they've been around forever. And things like school massacres? A totally new occurrence, something that never occurred before in the Land of the Free. (Except not).

At least now, we're dealing with the problems in a slightly more sophisticated, systematic way.

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Premiere Ratings

Fox Broadcasting had a good Sunday night.

The season premiere of The Simpsons scored a 3.9 adults 18-49 rating, up 34 percent from a 2.9 for the previous season premiere and up 144 percent from a 1.6 for the previous season finale.

It was the show's highest rated premiere in three years. ... The season premiere of Family Guy, which was an hour-long crossover with The Simpsons, notched a 4.5 adults 18-49 rating, up 73 percent from a 2.6 for the previous season premiere and up a 125 percent from a 2.0 for the previous season finale.

It ranked as Family Guy’s highest rated premiere since 2010. ...

There was a time when other networks programmed animation in prime time, but putting on cartoons in the evening on various networks has disappeared ... except at Fox.

A few months ago, I asked an executive who works in the upper reaches of Disney's ABC network if the Mouse was ever going to challenge Fox in prime-time network land, maybe sign an agreement with the Writers Guild of America, the better to compete with Rupert's minions.

He looked at me as if I'd just climbed out of an over-flowing septic tank and said, "Never."

So I guess the only broadcast entity serious about animated half-hours between 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. is the one owned by News Corp.

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Wrestling with a Conglomerate

The Editors Guild, Local 700, IATSE, is punching back:

IATSE accuses cable channel of retaliating against workers wanting to unionize

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union representing striking editors on Bravo's “Shahs of Sunset,” has filed charges against the cable network with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union alleges that Bravo is retaliating against workers requesting union representation. Last week, Ryan Seacrest Productions handed over the production of “Shahs” to Bravo amid a work stoppage by the show's editors. Individuals with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap that the cable network will most likely hire non-union editors to finish “Shahs'” fourth season.

“If Bravo or Ryan Seacrest thinks that their problems go away because they announce that our editors have been fired, they're sorely mistaken,” said Alan Heim, ACE, President of the Motion Picture Editors Guild (IATSE Local 700), in a statement on Monday. ...

At the moment, NBC-Universal is playing hardball with the striking crew. The editors have a hill to climb, but continue to picket on Wilshire Blvd. Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Broadening Their Reach

Internet distribution giants go after overseas cartoons.

With networks increasingly tightening their purse strings, digital platforms like Amazon and Netflix are opening up a whole range of opportunities for European animation producers and sales agents.

“Netflix and Amazon are the first players in broadcast history that are global and do not own a kids library and production unit so they are willing to invest. It’s a big change,” said Philippe Soutter, co-founder of Paris-based PGS Entertainment, which handles “Monchhichi” and “The Jungle Report.”

Netflix, which launched last week in France (along with Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg), has been on a buying spree, picking up five shows, including “Pok et Mok,” “Alfred,” “Franklin” and “La Petite Geante,” from Gaumont Animation. ...

Amazon, which attended Cartoon Forum for the first time, is having a more cherry-picking approach than Netflix, but still ensures series great visibility across multiple markets, said Malene Iversen, head of sales at Copenhagen Bombay, pitcher of “Me and Sonny” at Cartoon Forum. ...

Like more and more platforms, Amazon aims to board series at an early stage to participate in the creative process and is looking for diverse shows from different nationalities. ...

The question will ultimately be: Which cartoon series will have the broadest worldwide popularity? And if Amazon and Netflix can pick winners, then over time they'll want to own franchises outright.

Cartoons, after all, are ever green products that generate significant cash flow for decades. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna may have gone to their rewards, but the animated half-hours they've left behind still make other people money.

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Your Worldwide Box Office

As detailed for us by the beloved Rentrak.


The Boxtrolls -- $5,100,000 -- ($34,950,000)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $4,000,000 -- ($644,292,000)

Teenage Mutant Turtles -- $3,900,000 -- ($342,082,132)

Dawn of Planet Apes -- $3,300,000 -- ($695,789,537)

And then there are the old animation titles with little in the way of box office grosses left in them, but hang in at various multiplexes anyway.

Almost Gone Features -- World Cumes

How to Train Your Dragon 2 -- $611,076,665

Planes: Fire & Rescue -- $138,772,624

Maleficent -- $756,489,220

Add On: Deadline gives a breakdown of what title is doing what, where.

... Universal release The Boxtrolls added an estimated $5.1M this frame at 1,806 dates in 16 territories for an early total of $17.7M. The Laika Entertainment pic opened in Russia at No. 5 with $1.1M at 80 dates. That was 72% above Coraline and 28% above Paranorman, both of which also hailed from Laika. In New Zealand, it opened on par with those films with $76K at 50 dates. Kiwi kids are off on school holidays from tomorrow. The Philippines bowed to an estimated $27K at 51 dates. ...

Disney/Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy added $4M from 33 overseas territories this frame as it preps a landing in China on Oct 10. The offshore cume to date is now $325.1M with a worldwide take of $644.29M.

Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still strutting at the overseas box office with an added $3.9M at 2,156 locations in 40 holdover territories. The international total to date is $154.9M. ...

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is closing in on the $500M international mark with $3.26M more this frame for a current haul of $488.2M. As the Fox movie wraps its run in China, it has cumed $107.3M there. Japan is still performing with a $7.85M cume after this 2nd frame. ...

And just so nobody thinks it's only about American movies ...

German 3D animated pic The 7th Dwarf opened in Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland to gross a total estimated $830K at 641 dates. Directed by Boris Aljinovic and Harald Siepermann, it’s the story of clumsy Bobo who triggers a major crisis at Fantabularasa Castle that puts the entire kingdom into a deep sleep

Bobo? Bobo?! Whatever happened to Doc, Sleepy, Bashful, etc. etc.??

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Via President Emeritus Tom Sito:

ANIMATION BREAKDOWN: The Hubleys - A Centennial Celebration (trailer) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.


Today's the last day of the Hubleys' show on Fairfax. ...

As Jerry Beck relates:

The Cinefamily presents a major retrospective and art exhibition at The Silent Movie Theatre this weekend, 9/26-9/28: The Hubleys, A Centennial Celebration. Screenings include newly restored and 35mm prints, an art exhibition of original Hubley family artwork, and live appearances.

John Hubley had been a Disney animator and a pioneer at UPA (he created Mr. Magoo), but during the McCarthy days he refused to name names and was blacklisted. This led to him forming his own fiercely independent animation studio with his wife, which became one the most influential animation teams of the 20th Century -- they won Oscars and created the whole mid-century cartoon aesthetic. ...

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sale Pending?

Now with Add Ons!

The trades tell us ...

Word spread late today that Japanese conglomerate SoftBank was in talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation. When reached by Deadline, a DreamWorks Animation spokesperson said, “We do not comment on rumors and speculations; we do not know where this news is coming from.” A source with knowledge of the matter told Deadline, “talks are at a preliminary stage, but no paper has been signed.” ...

I've thought for a long time that Jeffrey was angling to sell DreamWorks Animation even as he denied he had any interest in selling. Back a few years ago, an animation exec (and entrepreneur) told me over breakfast that Mr. Katzenberg had been trying to sell DWA before the bottom dropped out of the economy in '08.

Six-plus years further on, DreamWorks Animation now owns some some valuable content, not only its library of films, but its internet properties, and its library of acquired cartoon characters. So at the right price, the company would be well worth purchasing. My crystal ball tells me if a sales happens, Jeffrey will stay involved with the company under a long-term employment contract.

I guess we'll find out how much change comes to DreamWorks Animation in relatively short order. If Softbank buys the the company, it will likely do it sooner instead of later. (Maybe even by Monday!)

Add On: The L.A. Times take; the New York Times take says this:

... One reason that acquisition talks have never gone anywhere is that Mr. Katzenberg — who controls an outsize portion of the voting power — has demanded a hefty price. Mr. Katzenberg has publicly said in the past that he believes DreamWorks Animation is worth as much as its rival, Pixar Animation Studios. The Walt Disney Company paid $7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006. ...

This is pretty much what I've heard over the years. Mr. Katzenberg wants a Pixar-sized deal, but the Mouse's purchase of the Emeryville studio was a non-recurring phenomenon: Diz Co. believed it needed Steve Jobs' company a lot, and paid accordingly.

But there haven't been other conglomerates who felt the same way about DreamWorks Animation. So nobody is going to cough up $7,000,000,000. Maybe Jeffrey is coming to terms with this reality.

Add On: Bloomberg discusses Softbank's move to acquire DreamWorks Animation:

SoftBank controls the third-largest U.S. mobile operator, Sprint Corp. (S), and has been looking for more U.S. media and technology investments. The company ended talks to buy the fourth-largest mobile carrier, T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS), in August because of regulatory opposition.

SoftBank can afford DreamWorks Animation and a successful deal would make it the second Japanese company to currently own a Hollywood film studio. The company’s stake of more than 30 percent of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), the Chinese e-commerce company that went public this month, has a market value of more than $70 billion. Sony Corp. (6758) owns a film and TV studio in Culver City, California.

Just weeks after abandoning the T-Mobile takeover, SoftBank sold almost $4 billion in bonds. Alibaba’s initial public offering on Sept. 19, which led SoftBank to forecast a gain of about 500 billion yen ($4.6 billion), is a step toward global expansion, Son said at the time on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.”

Most Acquisitive

“The acquisition would benefit SoftBank in revenue, and also by offering content to its mobile carrier, it would benefit Sprint,” said Tomoaki Kawasaki, a Tokyo-based analyst with Iwai Cosmo Securities Co Ltd.

Son (CEO of Softbank) laid out a 300-year plan in 2010 that included investing in 5,000 companies by 2040. Even as he forecast that 99.98 percent of companies would cease to exist in their current form over the next 30 years, he vowed that SoftBank would survive. Last year, he attempted to buy Universal Music Group from France’s Vivendi. ...

“Most investors believe Katzenberg wants a deal with a bigger media company where he has a path to the CEO seat,” said Paul Sweeney, director of North American research at Bloomberg Intelligence. “This does not appear to be such a deal.” ...

Add On Too: The Wall Street Journal says (behind a fire wall):

SoftBank Corp.'s discussions to acquire DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. have cooled, according to people familiar with the matter, less than two days after word first emerged of the talks.

It wasn't immediately clear what had happened between Saturday, when the talks were under way, and Monday. It remained possible that negotiations could restart, two of the people said. The two sides could ultimately strike a deal other than an outright takeover ...

Add On III: Like an energetic shark, Softbank has, if reports are true, turned its attention away from DWA.

The same day that talks SoftBank and DreamWorks Animation cooled off, the Japanese telco/Internet company has turned its attention to Legendary Pictures. Sources tell Deadline that Softbank is looking to take an equity stake in Thomas Tull’s studio, which aligned with NBCUniversal last year. Legendary reps could not be reached for comment. ...

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Leverage ... and Hard-To-Move Objects

A brief back-story: A couple weeks back, the editors on the reality show Shahs of Sunset went on strike. Apparently they wanted better pay, saner hours, and health and pension benefits. Socialistic things like that.

Since the walk-out, there's been a picket line on Wilshire, with which the Animation Guild has been proud to help out. A week ago, NBC-Universal moved the shows launch date back, and now there is this:

Bravo has taken over production on its reality series “Shahs of Sunset” from Ryan Seacrest Prods. to end the standoff with 16 editors who are seeking IATSE representation.

Bravo and Ryan Seacrest Prods. confirmed the shift in production responsibility on Friday afternoon. The show had been in post-production on its fourth season when 14 editors and two assistant editors went out on strike earlier this month, demanding an IATSE contract.

IATSE condemned Bravo’s move to fire the editors as a violation of the employees’ legal right to organize. ...

The story here is pretty simple: union yanks crew. Company decides to be hard-fanny.

But the company would, we think, take a different tack if Shahs of Sunset was a major hit, pulling in big bucks for NBC-Universal, and advertisers were screaming.

But that's not the case.

The ratings for Shahs are far from stellar, ranking down below any number of animated half-hours and the 4,522nd re-running for Friends on the magical Nielsen list, so NBC-Universal (the owner of Bravo, on which the show airs) is not feeling too vulnerable.

The situation would be different if SoS was a more valuable commodity, but it rates what it rates, and the boys and girls at the network aren't about to let some uppity labor organization waltz in and grab better wages and benefits for its members without a fight. Especially when the show is marginal and the corporation doesn't stand to lose much.

So NBC-U will try to get current episodes completed with some other crew, the Editors Guild will work to get a contract, and the strike will go on.

And it's safe to say that union leverage has, because corporate stakes are low, met a hard-to-move object.

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Box Office Across the Fruited Plain

The weekend totals.

1). The Equalizer (SONY), 3,236 theaters / $12.5-13M Fri. (includes $1.45M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $33-37M / Wk 1

2). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3,638 theaters (9%) / $5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16-17M (-44%) / Total cume: $58M / Wk 2).

3). The Boxtrolls (FOC), 3,464 theaters / $4.8M Fri. (includes $1.45M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $16.5M / Wk 1

4). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2,868 theaters/ $2.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7 M (-50%) / Total cume: $22.5M / Wk 2

5). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 3,376 theaters (-8%) / $M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5M (-43%)/ Total cume: $33M / Wk 3

6). No Good Deed (SONY), 2,130 theaters (-2%) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.6M / Total cume: $46M / Wk 3

7). A Walk Among the Tombstones (UNI), 2,714 theaters (-1%) / $1.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.4M / Total cume: $21M / Wk 2

8). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 2,451 theaters (-16%) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.7M / Total cume: $319M / Wk 9

9). Let’s Be Cops (FOX), 1,534 theaters (-33%) / $400K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.4M / Total cume: $79M / Wk 7

10). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PAR), 1,585 theaters (-32%) / $340K Friday / 3-day cume: $1.4M / Total cume: $187M / Wk 8

Meantime, a few older animation titles continue to hang around.

The Old Timers -- Domestic Totals

24) Dawn of Planet Apes -- $207,367,837

25) Maleficent -- $240,147,220

28) How To Train Dragon 2 -- $175,655,104

34) Transformers: Extinction -- $245,288,377

37) Planes: Fire and Rescue -- $58,590,624

No doubt Diz Co. will keep Planes in circulation until it breaches that magical $58 million.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Just Crazy

But hey. It's an art form.

'The Boxtrolls' And Why It's Crazy To Do Stop-Motion Animation

“It’s the worst way to make a movie,” said [producer Travis] Knight. “It makes no sense. You’re cutting your hands and contorting your body. But it’s an incredible art form that is so rare and so beautiful.” ...

“Stop-motion combines all the worst aspects of live and stop-motion,” said director Anthony Stacchi at Comic-Con. “It’s very much a performance. We might do one rough pass of moving the puppets and a rehearsal but then we really have to do the whole scene in one go.” ...

Tell us something we don't know.

The reason that more studios don't do more stop motion isn't because it's difficult. Or time consuming.

It's that the big studios have made lots more money with CGI animated features than the other versions of animation. If our fine entertainment conglomerates made bigger grosses from stop motion and/or hand-drawn animation, then the multiplexes would be full of them.

But CGI animated features are the coins of the realm, so that's what Disney, Fox-News Corp, Sony and Viacom tend to mint. There are, of course, the occasional stop-motion/hand-drawn feature from Europe (and elsewhere), but these are small-budget releases that mostly earn small grosses. Niche, boutique features, if you will. (We'll leave off the specialty items derived from tv shows like The Simpsons or Sponge Bob Square Pants).

Until the market changes, CGI features will be what most companies focus on.

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Work for FREE!

And, at the same time, pay for some college course or other where you can earn course credit so that this scam is legal.

Our friends at Blur Studio in Culver City have this gem up on social media:

Blur Studio is seeking unpaid Animation Interns to work on a Blur sponsored project here at our Culver City studio. Applicants must be in a program through which they can earn course credit for their work. Ideal candidates will have a positive attitude, the ability to take direction and work independently, experience animating in 3dsMax, Maya, or XXSI and a desire to grow as an artist. Please send reels and resume to ... (etc.)

No minimum wage. In fact, no wage at all. Such a deal.

Of course, you can earn course credit by going to a college or university and listening to the prof. And that would probably be more restful than being bent over a computer monitor animating for Blur Studio for ten or twelve hours at a stretch.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Animation de France

From Variety:

France Televisions injects 29 million Euros ($37 million) per year into animated programs. Why do you invest so much in animation?

Kids programming is one of the editorial mandates of France Televisions. Children watch a lot of TV and we see them as future citizens, not just as future consumers. Our ambition is to strengthen our role as prime purveyor of qualitative animated programs for young audiences — one which parents can trust.

As public broadcaster, [we] have a responsibility: develop a qualitative offer which helps young people become citizens, promotes values of civism, equality, integration, which contributes to the battle against discrimination and stereotypes.

This is why we program more than 5000 hours of animation on our channels each year — France 3, France 5 et since March also on France 4 from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. These channels attract considerable audiences. ...

France has long been a center for animation (even though a lot of the country's output i unknown to American audiences.)

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered a veteran of Paris's MacGuff Studios, who reported that long hours and not great pay are not limited to cartoon factories in the States. He said that under-reported work hours happened in the City of Light, too. Who could have guessed?

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Honorees at World Animation and VFX Summit

An eclectic mix of artists.

Film Roman founder Phil Roman, DreamWorks producer Bonnie Arnold (How to Train Your Dragon 2), director David Silverman (The Simpsons, The Longest Daycare), veteran voice actor Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh), Gotham Group founder Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, and RGH (Rubicon Group Holding) Studio will be honored at The World Animation & VFX Summit on November 2nd, at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey. This year’s six honorees selected for their contributions to the art, technology and business of animation and visual effects. ...

Acclaimed former Disney animator Glen Keane (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Tangled), Production Designer Max Keane and Technical Project Lead Rachid E Guerrab discuss the making of Google’s beautiful new 2D animated short Duet. ...

To spotlight one of the honorees: Phil Roman began his career in the Disney animation department and had a long tenure at Bill Melendez Productions was a director. Founding his own studio where he produced Garfields specials and episodics, then a myriad of other television shows including Bobby's World and The Simpsons, Phil's studio was one of the most successful independent operations in a time when small animation studios were more than just job shops creating product wholly owned by monster entertainment conglomerates the way they are today.

Film Roman was among the last of the independents that created and owned their own shows. Hardly possible now, but very possible in that happy time before federal laws and regulations allowed the giants to vertically integrate everything. Now, if Disney, Viacom, Fox or Time Warner doesn't own the cartoon, then the cartoon never gets on broadcast and/or cable. (That's changed a wee bit with the growing reach of the worldwide web, but we'll see how much it changes. And for how long.)

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Trailer Thumping

Lift-off is only weeks away, so on to the next trailer.

And nobody's singing Broadway show tunes, and there is no snow in sight. So I have no idea what its world grosses are gonna be, except it should make money for Diz Co. Click here to read entire post

Mouse in the Sub-Continent

Diz Co., despite a big investment, appears to be struggling inside the Indian market.

India Remains A Dream For Disney: Not A Reality

Disney is going back to its brand in an attempt to connect with the tough Indian market. The only demographic being reached by Disney in India is the educated, elite class, it must go beyond them to grow. Executives abandoning UTV after Disney acquired it suggest there is still a cultural disconnect that has to be solved. ...

The major hurdle is the very localized tastes of the people of India, which results in many films being accepted in some areas, while in other areas comparatively doing almost nothing. Indian filmmakers know this, which is why it produces many more films each year. They must produce according to local and regional tastes, which requires many more productions. ...

Disney's strategy in India was the acquisition of UTV. At that time of the closing of the deal the company reached over 100 million Indian viewers on a weekly basis.

UTV is comprised of five foundational brands - Disney; Marvel; Bindass (which targets Indian youth); Hungama TV, a children's channel; and UTV.

Initially the deal did well for Disney, as a number of decent performances from its film releases showed promise. Again, the problem is how it can successfully reach beyond the elite, educated consumer to a much larger market. ...

Branding is one of its biggest, if not the biggest challenges, because many people have no emotional connection with Disney, if they've heard of them at all. I also know from people that have worked in India in other areas of life, that it is just as hard to make inroads among the various ethnic groups as it is anywhere in the world. It appears Disney faces the same challenge in the film and TV business there. ...

Disney's India business is going to weigh on the company for a long time. It's going to have to go incrementally across numerous ethnic groups and geographic regions, probably having to figure out how each one can be penetrated and won over. ...

Disney spent close to half a billion to acquire UTV Motion Pictures; by all accounts, the investment isn't anywhere close to paying off. And now that UTV's top staffers have gone elsewhere, Ciz Co. is faced with starting over and rebuilding from the sub-basement up.

Apparently not every corporate acquisition Disney makes pays off like a rigged slot machine. Odd.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

At Warner Bros. Animation

Warner Bros. Animation is house in (count 'em) four different buildings on the Warner ranch in Burbank. Last week I got to the main animation building; today I traipsed through the two multi-story structures at the south end of the lot. ....

The studio has more more work in progress than it did a year ago. Wabbit, the latest incarnation of Bugs and Co., is deep into boarding and design. I talked to one of the people working on it who said:

"We're getting back to the original takes on the characters. The company knows it's gotten away from the Bugs and Daffy that made Looney Tunes popular back in the day. So we're going for the approach that made the characters work, the sight gags, the craziness. The new Mickey Mouse cartoons are, what? Three minutes long? These new Wabbit cartoons are going to be five minutes, which is a couple of minutes shorter than the old theatrical shorts.

The trick is, we can't do all of the same kinds of gags. We can't do a gun going on in Daffy's face, can't do all the shooting with guns. So we have to do work arounds, find jokes that work for the characters but avoid the modern prohibitions." ...

I told the artist I get why the Powers-That-Be don't want all the fire-arm humor from the old days, except it's actually kind of a dumb prohibition since all the old cartoons are out there and I seriously doubt that six-year-olds are going to differentiate between the original crop of LT shorts and the new cartoons without all the bang-bang, shoot-shoot.

The originals from the thirties and forties will still be on the internet and cable networks, correct? And they will have the off-limit violence in abundance, won't they? Like for instance ...

Elsewhere in the building, artists and designers are working on a new Lego TV series, which makes a great deal of sense, what with the Lego theatrical feature that cleaned up at the box office. (Synergy! That's where it's at! Monetize product on all the distribution platforms!)

Since this is a television project, animation is being done in China rather than Australia. Now if the Chinese will only wise up and kick in some tax incentives ...

Click here to read entire post

Ever Expanding Animation Markets

Everybody wants a slice of the global marketplace.

Estonian arthouse animation seeks bigger auds

Produced by Estonia’s Nukufilm, stop-motion dialogue-free “Carrot” will be pitched on Friday at Toulouse’s 25th Cartoon Forum.

Tallin-based Nukufilm (“Lost and Found”) was founded in 1957 and according to studio sources, produces “90 minutes of pure animation per year,” being the biggest puppet animation studio in Northern Europe.

“Nukufilm'”s is one out of the six projects coming from Eastern Europe –Poland has two and Croatia, Latvia and Bulgaria one a piece. ...

“Estonian animation industry is approaching more and more mainstream areas. And this series project is also a sign of this trend.” ...

It mostly flies under the radar, but non-U.S. animated features do credible business in various foreign venues.

The Hayao Miyazaki features, for example.

And this:

[Spanish] local toon biz’s flagship is Enrique Gato’s Indiana Jones parody “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” the third Spanish film in a row to open Cartoon Movie. Studiocanal-sold, “Tad” snagged $40 million worldwide through Feb. 17, becoming Spain’s highest-grossing Spanish toon ever ($24.6 million), distribbed by Paramount.

“Spain’s film sector now accepts animation as part of its industry,” says “Tad” writer-producer Jordi Gasull at El Toro. ...

You don't have to rake in half a billion in worldwide grosses if you can make features that cost five or ten million dollars. A fifty million dollar gross will make you a very tidy profit.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Starz, the media company (and long-time owner of Film Roman), is putting itself through some changes.

Starz Puts Itself Up For Acquisition, Meets With Fox for Potential Bid

The premium cable company's market value is currently $3.2 billion, Discovery is said to be interested

Starz is shopping itself for possible acquisition, taking a meeting on Tuesday with 21st Century Fox, according to individuals with knowledge of the encounter.

Starz could be a valuable asset to the right media company. The premium cable company could be valued at more than $3.2 billion based on its share price of $29.58 on Tuesday.

One individual close to the discussions said Discovery Communications was an interested bidder. The Walt Disney Co., which does not have a premium cable channel and whose CEO Bob Iger has acquired numerous assets in recent years, could be another potential buyer ...

The one constant in 20th century America is ... the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is a quaint relic from the 19th century, and we're done with it.

Starz has talked about spinning off Film Roman for some time. (They acquired it eight years back.)

But I wonder how a corporate acquisition by an outside party would impact the crew of the Yellow Family? (I mean, Diz Co. owning yet another animation studio? That produces The Simpsons? At least if Fox picked up Starz, the prime time cartoon would be coming full circle.)

We'll just have to wait and see who buys the corporation, and then make wise-ass comments.

Click here to read entire post

The Constant Lure of Free Money

A California visual effects shop opens an outpost in Canada. (What a surprise).

VFX studio Atomic Fiction — formed four years ago in the Bay Area with projects including Robert Zemeckis’ Flight — has settled into its second base, Montreal.

Both the Oakland, Calif., and Montreal bases of the company are currently working on Zemeckis’ next film, The Walk, which tells the story of Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

Filming of The Walk recently began in Montreal, where Atomic Fiction operated out of a temporary space while its new 15,000-square-foot space was being readied.

The company now has roughly 50 artists in the Bay Area and roughly 40 in Montreal. ... Atomic Fiction signed a six-year lease for its Montreal space and aims to expand the base to 100 artists. Co-founder Kevin Baillie told The Hollywood Reporter that the company had been looking to expand into Canada, and it chose Montreal due to the fact that The Walk was shooting there and, of course, healthy tax incentives that are "some of the best out there." ...

The great thing for Atomic Fiction is, the subsidies will flow in both California and Canada, what with the Golden state's new tax incentives and all. But the pile of free money will be higher in Canada, so naturally enough, more employees will be in Montreal.

Free enterprise and rugged individualism is truly grand, wouldn't you say?

Click here to read entire post

Early Cartoons

Mr. Beck brings this to our attention.

Turner Classic Movies is going Back To The Drawing Board on Monday night October 6th. For only the second time in two years, the network will devote over six hours of prime-time programming to classic, historically-rare animated shorts and feature films. ...

Ten Winsor McCay shorts will be shown including Little Nemo (1911), Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), How A Mosquito Operates (1912), The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), The Flying House (1921) and Gertie On Tour (1921). ...

From 12:15am (EST)/9:15pm (PST) animated feature films - Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1927), Max Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels (1939), Toei Animation's Magic Boy (1959) and Chuck Jones The Phantom Tollbooth (1969) - fill out the schedule. ...

Since AMC movie classic changed its mission, Turner Classic Movies is where you need to go for serious movie watching. And every once in a while they run a slate of cartoons.

Click here to read entire post

Monday, September 22, 2014

Randall William Cook Speaks

He won three little gold men for his work on three Peter Jackson epics, and has this to say about CG effects animation.

... To the average person who is not in the film business, what is the most misunderstood part of your profession?

I suppose it's the notion that everything that goes through the computer is untouched by human hands.

If a studio is rushing to complete a Christmas release, they'll hire all the animators they can get a hold of, so they'll all fly to wherever, work on the project then they'll fly to another hemisphere to work on the summer releases. The studios can't really publicize their personnel, so they have to publicize their technology.

As a result, this emphasis on technology is generally the thing that's talked about the most, to the devaluation of the artist, because the artist is just a temporary hire.

If you're painting a house, it doesn't matter if you have Picasso or Diego Rivera or some schmuck from down the street. You're going to have a painted house. And a lot of the big movies are painted houses - some of them well-painted houses, but still - if you're doing a heartfelt character there has to be not only guidance from a good director and animation director or supervisor, or whatever the DGA will let us call ourselves these days, but also guidance from top notch animators. So it's a collaborative work. This all of course builds on top of a performance that may have come from an actor, and it may not have. ...

I've known Mr. Cook a long time (like even before he worked at Disney Feature Animation) and would love to get him to do a TAG podcast. Until then, this interview -- and you should read the whole thing -- will have to do.

Click here to read entire post

And the Newest Lawsuit

The second in September.

Former animator Georgia Cano’s class-action suit filed Tuesday is the second in two weeks over alleged anti-poaching policies at major animation houses.

It targets many of the same defendants as former VFX worker Robert Nitsch Jr.’s lawsuit—including Sony, Dreamworks and Disney’s Pixar and Lucasfilm divisions—claiming they forged non-competitive hiring agreements that “metastasized over the years into an industry-wide wage-fixing cartel.” The difference is, while Nitsch’s proposed class covers animators employed by the studios since 2004, Cano wants to represent those like herself who’d been hired before 2004.

Her lawsuit is one of several cases to spring from a 2010 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Pixar, Lucasfilm and technology companies including Google, Apple and Adobe. That litigation ended when the companies agreed not to enforce anti-poaching agreements for five years. ...

People ask me, "You think there was price-fixing wage-fixing? You think there's fie under this smoke?"

I always answer in the affirmative, mostly because the usual suspects have admitted it. The question is, what are the remedies? The game was rigged (I think), and people were wronged. How much money people might get in a settlement is anybody's guess. but nobody will end up wealthy. They might be awarded enough for a nice downpayment on a new car.

Nobody's world, however, will be transformed. Especially not the offending corporations.

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Foreign Box Office

Animation's performance around the globe:

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Guardians of Galaxy -- $5,200,000 -- ($632,269,000)

Teenage Ninja Turtles -- $7,300,000 -- ($333,317,989)

Dawn of Planet Apes -- $8,150,000 -- ($683,661,593)

The Boxtrolls -- $4,000,000 -- ($11,000,000)

As the trades tell us:

... 20th Century Fox’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picked up $8.1 million after opening to $3.7 million in Japan. That marks the last international market for the simian sequel, which has nabbed $681.5 million globally, easily trumping its predecessor 20th Century Fox’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picked up $8.1 million after opening to $3.7 million in Japan. That marks the last international market for the simian sequel, which has nabbed $681.5 million globally, easily trumping its predecessor. ...

Paramount Pictures’ “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” grabbed $7.3 million from 50 markets, driving its worldwide haul to $333.3 million. ...

Click here to read entire post

Sixty-nine Years Ago Today ...

... Disney released Hockey Homicide.

Milt Kahl and John Sibley were two of four animators; Bill Berg was one of the story artists.

Bill was a good friend of my father's, and was up at the house all the time. He and my dad collaborated on a live-action piece for the Mickey Mouse Club, "How to Draw Donald Duck" which feature Bill and a lot of small kids trying to draw the duck. (One of the small kids was moi).

In the fifties, Bill had a thick thatch of blonde hair, thick bushy eyebrows, and furry forearms. But all the hair went away when he contracted a virus in the late sixties that turned him into a twin brother of Mr. Clean/Yul Brynner. (No hair on arms, head or above the eyes). Bill drew the "Scamp" strip for many years. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 84.

Hockey Homicide's background artist was Art Riley, who had a reputation for living frugally (he lived with his mother for many years), investing in the stock market way before it was fashionable, and driving an ancient Cadillac that he babied along. Vance Gerry told me that Art didn't get out much. Vance once gave him a lift home from the studio (the Cadillac must have been in the shop) and stopped at a supermarket on the way. Art accompanied Vance into the market and stared at the rows of food, polished floors and fluorescent lights and said:

"Wow, this is something. What do you call this kind of store?"

Art left the studio after thirty years employment. He died in Monterey California, still living on his stock holdings, in the late 1990s. He was 87.

H/t Tom Sito.

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Your Domestic Box Office

Per Deadline's early numbers.

U.S./Canadian Box Office

1). The Maze Runner (FOX), 3,064 theaters / $11.3M Fri. (includes $1.1M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $30M to $32M / Wk 1

2). A Walk Among the Tombstones (UNI), 2,712 theaters / $4.75M Fri. (includes $428K in late nights) / 3-day cume: $14M+ / Wk 1

3). This is Where I Leave You (WB), 2,868 theaters / $3.85M Fri. (includes est. $100K in late nights) / 3-day cume: $11.7M to $11.9M / Wk 1

4). No Good Deed (SONY), 2,175 theaters (0) / $2.95M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.6M to $10M+ (-60%) / Total cume: $39M to $40M / Wk 2

5). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 3,656 theaters (0) / $2.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $8.7M (-48%) / Total cume: $26.3M / Wk 2

6). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 2,846 theaters (-258) / $1.37M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M / Total cume: $313.7M / Wk 8

7/8). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PAR), 2,348 theaters (-609) / $627K Friday / 3-day cume: $2.55M / Total cume: $185M / Wk 7

Let’s Be Cops (FOX), 2,312 theaters (-443) / $760K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.5M / Total cume: $77.1M / Wk 6

9). The Drop (FSL), 1,192 theaters (+383) / $645K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2M (-49%) / Per screen average: $1,677 / Total cume: $7.7M / Wk 2

10). If I Stay (WB), 2,371 theaters (-669) / $538K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.8M / Total cume: $47.6M / Wk 5

And then there are the animated and semi-animated titles still in the marketplace, the ones that are almost gone but not quite.

Animated/Semi-Animated Features -- Total Cumes

24) How To Train Dragon 2 -- $175,338,647

26) Maleficent -- $239,799,600

27) Tranformers: Extinction -- $245,151,963

36) Planes: Fire and Rescue: -- $58,474,387

Click here to read entire post

Another Production House

... dives into the animation pool.

“Shrek” producer John H. Williams and Henry Skelsey, managing partner of Fulton Capital Management LLC, have formed 3QU Media as a specialist in CG-animated feature films for the international marketplace.

3QU Media has completed funding from a group of investors for its initial slate of four films with budgets under $20 million, starting with animated comedy “Charming.”

Ross Venokur will direct from his script, which re-imagines the tales of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty after they discover they are all engaged to the same Prince Charming.

“Our purpose is to produce mainstream and commercially successful CG-animated family films with elements of comedy, adventure, romance and personal inspiration for the global market,” Williams said.

3QU Media is producing in association with WV Enterprises. Williams is producing and SC Films International is handling foreign sales.

Production has started at Cinesite’s new animation studio in Montreal. ...

Mr. Williams has a record of producing successful animated features, but also features that didn't set the box office afire. Happily N'Ever After cost close to $50,000,000 and didn't earn back its production cost in theatrical grosses. Critics were not kind.

If 3QU Media can make credible animated features at the $20 million price point (an iffy proposition) then it can likely generate profits.

But if wit and production values are low, then creating blockbuster movies will be a steep mountain to climb. With the budgets 3QU Media will be working with, they're not going to have a lot of room for do-overs, so the story and production crews are going to have to get it right the first time.

Good luck with that.

Add On: And of course there is a new Texas production house which the Brew details here.

Click here to read entire post

Friday, September 19, 2014


What Mark Kennedy said.

... Because of the way that the media writes about films, only a very small number of people ever get any credit or acknowledgement of their role in the making of the film. That's totally understandable…the public has little interest in reading too much about any one movie, usually, and we just want one or two faces so that we can say, "oh, that's the author of the movie", and then we move on to the next thing. But don't let that fool you into thinking that one or two people are responsible for making a movie great. In my experience, it takes a great creative team to generate a successful movie, and an atmosphere where everyone can challenge each other is a safe supportive way. It's easy to say and hard to do, but when you can get that kind of environment to work, it seems like you can accomplish anything.

Mark has had a long career in animation, and knows whereof he speaks.

Many people who plus the movies that become blockbusters, who make our fine, entertainment conglomerates and the execs who run them even richer than they already are often go unnoticed, often get laid off from the job when it's completed, and may or may not jump onto another project and continue their careers.

In Cartoonland, it's not just writers and directors who make the features successful. It's board artists. And designers. And animators. And modelers, riggers, surfacers and lighters who make the eighty-seven minutes of bright illusion into a satisfying whole.

Lots of times that gets overlooked; fortunately, creators like Mr. Kennedy know who's responsible for the magic. And are happy to tell us what's what.

Click here to read entire post

Collector Alert

You'll want to get your wallet out.

Ray Bradbury’s science fiction and animation art collection is going up for auction on Sept. 25.

Bradbury, ... who died in 2012, was a prolific collector. Among the highlights of the collection are a 1946 Charles Addams painting of ghoulish creatures flying at twilight. ...

Bradbury also owned 43 original Disney animation cels and original cels from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The animation art is also being sold.

The auction takes place on Sept. 25 at Sanders' Los Angeles office and online.

I doubt that Ray outstripped the beloved Mega Collector, but taking a peek at what Mr. Bradbury has to offer might not be a bad idea. Click here to read entire post

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coulda Been a Contender

... Instead of, you know, a visual effects house in receivership.

Visual effects veteran Scott Ross reflected on the heated disagreements he had with James Cameron. ... "Second to my mother dying, [making Titanic] was the worst experience of my life,” Ross admitted, saying he was under very public, “unbelievable pressure” when the budget was rising while the need to complete more work for the director nearly bankrupt the company. “I felt like I had no support,” Ross said. "The studio sided with Jim, I could never ask Fox for a change order. We were the fall guys."

“I went head to head with Jim Cameron over and over again,” he recalled, adding that it's more important to win the war than the battle. “I could have handled my relationship with Jim in a much better way ... more strategically. ... Digital Domain I think would be a very different company today had Jim and I got along. … I think Digital Domain would be as successful as Pixar,”

Yeah, hm hm.

I'm always skeptical of "If it hadn't been for X, everything would have turned out Y instead of Z." Because there is only what happened, not what would have happened if reality had been different. (As in, "If there wasn't any Christmas, we'd all be Buddhist." Oh really?)

And Mr. Ross weighs in about the wage suppression thingie:

“To me, Ed Catmull was always a shining light. ... When I found out [about the alleged anti-poaching agreements], my initial reaction was to defend him. But I knew people around him are very smart. … and no matter how you look at it, it’s illegal." ...

I doubt that Dr. Catmull (and others) were thinking about possible illegalities. I think they were focused on keeping wages under control "for the greater good of the business".

Click here to read entire post

Genndy's Popeye

The sailor man in CGI.

This arrived in the mailbox hours ago, so we put it up a wee bit late ...

And we notice that it's up in a lot of places now. (Deservedly so.)

Click here to read entire post

Gov. Brown Signs AB-1839

In the foyer of the TCL Chinese Theater this morning, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 1839 effectively amending the tax code to increase California's entertainment tax incentive starting next year.

“California is on the move and Hollywood is a very important part of that,” said Gov. Jerry Brown just before signing the legislation into law today outside of Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre — and behind a sign that read “Keep Cameras Rolling In California.”

“It’s not only a golden state but home of the silver screen,”added the governor, promising thousands of new jobs would emerge from the new law, the widely supported and multi-sponsored Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act.

[T]he signing ceremony today was a who’s who of state and local politicians as well as industry execs and Hollywood heavyweights. State Assembly members Mike Gatto and Raul Bocanegra, who introduced the bill without a price tag in late February were in attendance, as was big tax industry incentives advocate LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and incoming state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon. “You can’t assign a value on having a strong middle class,” Gatto told a cheering crowd of industry workers about the goal to preserve jobs in the state and gain back ones lost. “Today, with the stroke of s pen, California is doing something.” Added De Leon: “Come back home where you belong,”

I was lucky enough to be asked my Steve Hulett to attend today's event as a representative for The Animation Guild. Mr. Patton was not exaggerating when he describes the attendees as a 'whos who of state and local politicians'. Most of the State legislature was in attendance as well as representatives from most of the local entertainment labor unions, the California Labor Federation, the California Film Commission among others. Everyone who had the opportunity to speak mentioned the return of middle-class entertainment jobs to the applause and cheers from the attendees.

It would be nice to see the incentive bring some feature and lots of TV production back to town. It would also be nice if the visual effects language the bill includes sees local vfx shops flourish with the effects work on those films and TV shows. We'll all be watching next year to see how much of an impact this will have. Methinks it will be .. a lot.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Around the Hat

I was on Riverside Drive at the Hat Building today. Big Hero 6 is in its last week or work. (At least that's what staff told me.) Animation is done, surfacing and lighting are all but complete.

Just some retakes and repairs are all that's left. There's a few minor rewordings for foreign releases. Outside of that, we're done. ...

The picture launches in weeks, and the Mouse is starting the rollout.

I’ve just left The Soho Hotel in London where Disney were showing clips of Big Hero 6, Disney’s new animated movie. ...

It begins with a night shot of San Fransokyo. Immediately the topography is recognisable as San Francisco, from the lights on the bridge in the bay, a clanging tram running down the steep hills, but everywhere is alive in moving flashing neon, Tokyo advertising, branding and building styles mapped out across the architecture. It is impressive, but it will become more so.

We are shown shots from the real-life Carnegie Mellon school of robotics, where Chris Atkinson has been working on soft robotics that inspired the look, and indeed the very nature, of Baymax in the film, robotics intended not to hurt people who come into contact with them in a medical context. This is real, folks. ...

Staffers seem upbeat about BH6's box office prospects. I told a couple of guys in layout that I thought the picture would do robust business, but probably not quite as robust as Frozen.

But what do I know? Maybe the world is waiting for a kid and his robot. Maybe Big Hero 6 smashes records everywhere.

Click here to read entire post

Mining the Faults

Fred Flintstone has been done and redone, so why not the less successful prime time series?

Mexican animation shingle Anima Estudios is taking the “Top Cat” franchise back to the bigscreen with “Top Cat Begins.” In 2011, Anima produced “Top Cat: The Movie,” which became the highest grossing Mexican film that year, clocking 2.5 million admissions and its $3.2 million on its opening weekend broke box office records. Toon was theatrically released in more than 25 countries. Warner Bros will distribute “Top Cat Begins” in Mexico.

“ ‘Top Cat Begins’ is the most ambitious project in our studio’s history and the one with the most international potential,” said Fernando De Fuentes, chairman of Anima Estudios.

“It’s not a sequel but rather a companion piece to the first ‘Top Cat,’ and will be in CGI, not 2D like the original,” ...

Top Cat, launched with fanfare in '61, landed with a dull ker-splat and was broadcast history by the end of the television season. It was always a poor relation to The Flintstones, but it's nice that it's a gargantuan box office hit south of the border.

It's nice that T.C. is a hit anywhere.

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Class Action Action

From Deadline:

Animation Studios Lawsuit Wants Judge Who Scuttled Apple Settlement To Preside

If DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm thought they could bog down the class-action lawsuit that a former DWA effects artist has brought against the toon studios, they’d better think again. ... “Plaintiff Robert A. Nitsch, Jr. submits this administrative motion requesting that the Court consider whether Nitsch v. DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. and … High-Tech Employee Litigation are related and direct the Clerk of Court to reassign Nitsch to the Honorable Judge Lucy H. Koh,” said lawyers for Nitsch in a federal filing this week." ...

For the past several years, [Koh] has presided over a class-action case by 64,000 tech workers against Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe in which the tech giants contrived for years not to snag engineers and other qualified employees from one another. As in the animation studios suit, which was birthed out of evidence presented in the tech suit, the companies were accused of also suppressing employees’ wages to double digits below market value as a way to keep people in-house and save on costs to boost profits. ...

I've listened to animation employees' stories of job offers rescinded and low-ball wage proposals, of talks broken off with potential employees when a studio discovered they worked for a competitor.

Whether there was a conspiracy to keep wages suppressed is a question for the courts. But I know what I think.
Click here to read entire post

Cable Ratings

The reason there's more TV animation than ever? It makes much money.

Adult Swim ranked #1 among basic cable networks for Total Day Delivery of adults 18-24 & 18-34 and men 18-24 for the second week of September. ... [A] new episode of the acquired series Bobs Burgers (Sunday, 9:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period among adults 18-24 & 18-34, and grew average delivery of adults 18-34 by 2% and adults 18-34 by 20% vs. the same time period last year. ...

Adult Swim programming – including Family Guy, American Dad, Robot Chicken and Black Jesus – accounted for 21 of the top 50 telecasts of the week on basic cable among adults 18-34, and 23 of the top 50 among men 18-34, both more than any other network. ...

Across the second week of September 2014, Cartoon Network ranked as television’s #1 network for Total Day Delivery of boys 6-11 & 9-14, and #1 for Early Prime (6-8 p.m.) Delivery among kids 2-11 & 6-11 and all targeted boys. Total Day delivery grew year-over-year among kids 2-11 by +17% and kids 6-11 also by +17%. ...

And so on and so forth.

We've reached the point where broadcast television (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) is little different than cable television. On any given night, Cable networks outgun their broadcast cousins. Which makes sense, because everything is on cable, and fewer and fewer people derive their viewing pleasures through a rooftop antenna.

But even cable as we've known it is changing. The day approaches when everyone will be sucking their preferred content off the internet, and then cable will be side issue. It's going to be "whatever you want to see, whenever you want to see it." Content and branded content will be the deal. The delivery system will be irrelevant.

Which explains, come to think of it, why we've had this expansion of television animation. It's potent content. Cartoons are relatively inexpensive to create, have a long shelf life, and people watch them in droves. (And there's the added bonus of big sales of ancillary merchandise -- dolls, games, video knick knacks and phone apps. What's for a fine, entertainment conglomerate not to like?)

Click here to read entire post

Monday, September 15, 2014

Speaking of Corporate Anti-Unionism ...

There is this:

The National Labor Relations Board has reaffirmed its 2008 decision that CNN violated the rights of hundreds of unionized contract staffers in 2003 when it axed them in favor of non-unionized workers. The case stems from the cable net’s use of Team Video Services, a contractor that provided camera and tech services to CNN’s Washington and New York bureaus. The NLRB has ordered the network to offer jobs or ”substantially equivalent positions” to 100-plus of those affected workers. It also must repay all of the 300-plus staffers for loss of earnings and benefits and cease and desist from any anti-union doings. ...

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but every once in a while they turn in a good way. Click here to read entire post

Rick and Morty II

Apparently, though there is now a contract in place for "Rick and Morty" , one of the show creators is not happy.

[Justin Roiland]: Just want to comment on this. I care about the [Rick and Morty] crew. I would bend over backwards to make sure they are happy. The problem here is that the union went after the OLD studio (Starburns) and the new studio (Rick and Morty LLC) had no idea. By the time we found out about this the union was strong arming the crew to walk out. We had almost no time to put together a deal with the union. It was incredibly stressful and absolutely unnecessary. To put a deal together over a weekend is just nuts. We would have landed on just as good a deal regardless of this gross time limit put upon us by the union. It left a really bad taste in my mouth. I am happy the crew has benefits and all the other perks that come with unionization, I just don't like how the whole thing went down. It was unprofessional and not needed. I love my crew and want them happy and am constantly in awe of their talent, dedication, and hard work BUT FUCK THE UNION. Get some better business ethics. You came off desperate and indecent. Not every production needs to be treated like monsters. Especially one that is RUN by the two creators and our line producer. ...

(Add On: It seems the Reddit thread linked above has been taken down. Whatever. Let us continue anyway.)

To be clear here, the Animation Guild had no idea there was an "old" or "new" studio. After the crew approached us several months ago, we believed we were organizing Rick and Morty the Adult Swim Show and (by extension) Starburns Industries. We found out when we filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board that the company had changed between Season #1 and Season #2 to "Rick and Morty, LLC". Until that moment, we were in the dark about the newest corporate wrinkle.

And just so everyone knows ... From the beginning, we were about organizing Rick and Morty, the show. ...

We've gotten questions about this from others. Here's what I wrote (now slightly amended) in answer:

My two cents:

Regarding Starburns being blind-sided by the Animation Guild, it’s twaddle. The crew (which is top notch, by the way) was being paid sub-par wages and no health or pension benefits. (And I don’t mean they were offered a skim milk HMO and weak 401(k). I mean they were getting NOTHING. ZIP. NADA.)

The crew, unhappy about their treatment (they were on 60-hour weeks which made their 40-hour weekly wages still well below TAG minimums) approached us early in the summer and we held multiple meetings prior to a vote for any job action. We collected NLRB representation cards and prepared to file a petition for a vote for union representation.

Prior to TAG filing the petition, I called the studio multiple times to let them know what the Guild was doing. I left messages each time and got no response. We then filed the Labor Petition and the NLRB notified Starburns about the filing. It took them over a week to answer, but there was then communication, during which we learned that Starburns Industries –- the company listed on our petition -- was not the entity under which the “Rick and Morty” crew now worked. (Starburns Industries had been the company during Season #1. At the start of Season #2 – which is still in progress – the show was switched to Rick and Morty LLC which happens to have -- surprise! -- many of the same principals as Starburns. Until the interaction with the NLRB, the Animation Guild didn’t know this.)

So. “Rick and Morty” topkicks were well aware that the Animation Guild was busy organizing the crew. We were informed by staff that the company met with the artists while we had the petition at the NLRB to tell them how unionization wasn’t a real swift idea, and the Motion Picture Industry and Health Plan had crap benefits anyway. (You know, as opposed to ZIP, NOTHING, NADA.) Why would it do that if it had “no idea” about what was going on?

But back to the main story: The Labor Board informed the Guild that since the petition was incorrect, the ultimate outcome was that it would be dismissed by the board. So we were faced with going back to square one with rep cards and filing a new petition, and knowing we didn’t have a lot of time to do this, or going to the crew and explaining the situation and seeing what they wanted to do.

We held a lengthy meeting with most of the “Rick and Morty” artistic staff on the evening of Thursday, September 4th detailing the above and asking them what they wanted to do. Doing a strike to leverage the company to a contract was one of the discussion topics. After much back and forth, almost everyone in the meeting voted to walk off the job the following Monday (September 8th). No arm twisting by the Animation Guild was involved.

We were told that word of the vote reached Rick and Morty LLC soon after, which is likely true because the company then moved with alacrity to sit down and negotiate with the Guild. Their lawyer called on Friday afternoon and agreed to begin negotiating toward a deal “in good faith”. She also asked that we agree to NOT pull the crew on Monday.

To which we said no. (We never set any deadline to reach a deal, but we never agreed to call off any alleged strike.)

We then negotiated with the company through the weekend. Bright and early Monday morning, the company’s representative again asked us to not pull the crew. Again we said no, saying if we had reached a proposal by noon-time we would take it to the staff and see if they wanted to hit the bricks or not.

Happily, the company and guild reached a tentative agreement at 11:00, and Steve Kaplan and I drove it to the “Rick and Morty” crew around 11:20. They were out on the sidewalk waiting for us, and we went through the deal points. When we finished, the staff voted to ratify the deal. There was no strike.

Lastly. This tale isn’t about Rick and Morty LLC being blind-sided. They weren’t, and we can demonstrate that.

It’s also not about some poor little independent company getting “strong armed” by the big mean union. Rick and Morty LLC has little to do with this. The story is actually about a large international conglomerate named Time-Warner low-balling a skilled artistic staff on wages, health and pension. Time-Warner/Turner owns the property and pays the bills, not R & M LLC.

It is, finally, a story about leverage, as most things in life are. Unions don’t have leverage often, but in this case The Animation Guild did. The fact that the Guild representative couldn’t get his calls returned until after the Labor Board petition was filed, the fact that the company didn’t get serious about engaging a lawyer and talking about a contract until after they found out about a strike vote should be evidence of that. Obviously we can’t prove a negative, can’t prove that Rick and Morty LLC wouldn’t have greeted us warmly and sat down and done a deal if we had come hat in hand and said “pretty please”, but that’s not how things work in 21st century Hollywood, and we doubt it would have worked that way here.

Last point: I'm truly sorry that Justin feels that we're the assholes here. It's not our purpose to tick off creative talent, though it seems in this case, we did. Back several months ago, we responded to outreach from the Rick and Morty crew, and events took their course.

I've been doing this job a while now, and more often than not artists choose not to walk off a show. The R & M staff chose a different path, and I respect that. Others should, as well.

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Going Disney

The financial press (in this case Seeking Alpha) is catching on to the fact that DreamWorks Animation is changing its stripes.

... Being a studio that is reliant on releasing two successful films a year has made it difficult for the company to grow. It also makes it hard for investors to analyse, as a hit or a miss film can have a major impact on the company. It is not a great long-term business model when you only make money twice a year when a film is released resulting in a stock that is down 34% year to date.

Transforming from a studio into a global branded family entertainment company

However, like all good animated films DWA is planning on having a happy ending. DWA feels it finally has enough characters to move aggressively just from film into television, consumer products, digital content and location based entertainment. A similar model to Disney (NYSE:DIS) that relies on multiple revenue streams. Instead of watching DWA twice a year at the movies, fans can watch 365 days a year on Netflix and TV, keeping their characters front of mind. ...

This might be what Jeffrey Katzenberg was aiming for right along. Frankly, I've been nervous the last few years, thinking that the company was doing a high-wire act. It's hard to make a long-term business model out of "Do two blockbuster movies every year." Because if you have a flop or three, the business model gets blown all to hell.

So branching out, partnering with Netflix to build a library of television content, building a merchandising division, getting into the amusement park business, are all extremely smart moves. Long term, DreamWorks Animation can end up being its own conglomerate, but right now, it's still in the "mini-conglomerate" category.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Newer Platforms

TV morphs before our eyes.

Google is making a bold play to nab at least $300 million in TV advertising ­revenues from broadcasters and do what James Packer and Lachlan ­Murdoch couldn’t after buying into Network Ten four years ago: recreate a youth-orientated TV network via YouTube.

According to Nielsen, YouTube’s ­Australian audience topped 9.5 million people in August and Google’s latest ­figures say Australians have signed up to more than 40 million YouTube channel subscriptions this year.

Some media buyers who are in ­negotiations with the online giant for its new YouTube “Preferred” project – the first initiative outside the US in which top-spending brand advertisers are guaranteed access to the online video juggernaut’s top 5 per cent of channels – say Google wants 10 to 20 per cent of the $3.5 billion TV ad market. ...

Teenagers and twenty-somethings don't consume entertainment the way their ruddy-duddy parents do?

It's cable networks occasionally, and the internet a lot. And tablets, smart phones, tablets and once in a while the desktop computer. The newer generation is a country mile from the kids who watched Leave It To Beaver on the black-and-white set in the living room, or the portable sitting on a desk in big brother's bedroom.

The days of three national networks and a handful of local stations seems as remote as Victorian England. In the 21st century, everybody's viewing habits will be customized to his/her mood and desire. Before the '20s arrive, most of the viewing public will be plucking their preferred entertainment off the internet cloud as the urge strikes them. Waiting for television content will be for saps.

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Making Inroads

As the Mouse expands its operations.

... Mickey Mouse and Goofy Dog – two of the most-loved characters from Walt Disney’s cartoons – are in Ho Chi Minh City now ready to entrance kids and adults alike with their 12 magic performances later this month.

“Disney Live! Mickey’s Magic Show” will be staged in 12 shows at Hoa Binh Theater (240-242 3/2 Street, District 10) from September 24 to 28. ...

Today a stage/magic show. Tomorrow an amusement park. Click here to read entire post

Your International Box Office

Early autumn animated features are doing well.

... The Boxtrolls was No. 1 in the UK in its debut frame, taking $3.4M at 510 dates including last weekend’s paid previews. This was Universal’s 5th No. 1 opening of the year in the market. Overall, the animated picture earned an estimated $5.7M at 1,449 dates in eight territories.

Mexico is expected to finish up the weekend at No. 2 with $1.8M at 605 dates. Denmark opened No. 6 with $83K at 55 dates and Sweden opened at No. 4 with $168K at 111 dates. This is the biggest opening for Laika Entertainment in both of these markets. Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi’s Here Be Monsters adaptation has 49 territories to open over the next few months. ...

How To Train Your Dragon 2 sparked up an additional $1.6M from 2,063 screens in 15 markets, lifting the international cume to $435.5M. Germany saw a 2% jump this frame with $520K at 791 locations. The cume there is $25.4M.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction added $1M from 21 territories at 612 locations. Total international box office stands at $835.5M. ... Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes has climbed back to the No. 1 spot in China where it now has an outstanding $95.3M cume that puts it in the 2014 Top 10. This frame, its 3rd in the Middle Kingdom, was worth $7.6M from 4,000. ...

But where we would be without the comprehensive and ever-reliable Rentrak?

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Guardians of Galaxy -- $9,300,000 -- ($611,526,000)

Teenage Ninja Turtles -- $10,500,000 -- ($319,941,491)

Dawn of Apes -- $9,500,000 -- ($670,825,479)

The Boxtrolls -- $5,700,000 -- ($5,700,000)

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Marvel and Animation

Marvel has a lot of animation going on in its big-screen live action movies, but it's also active with animation on smaller screens:

... Let's end with Marvel Animation -- it's been a few months now that Steve Wacker came in from the print side of Marvel to take on the position of VP, Current Animation. From your perspective, what has having someone like him, with his experience, meant to Marvel Animation thus far?

Marvel TV Chief Jeph Loeb: Marvel's "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon is also under the umbrella of Marvel Televison.
Loeb: Wacker has, first and foremost, always been a terrific storyteller. I think that's why he was as good an editor as he was. He was somebody that I worked with, and it was one of the best experiences I had as a comic book writer. When it became apparent that more and more of my time was going to need to be focused on the live-action side of the division, we had to make sure that the stories we were telling on our three shows -- "Ultimate Spider-Man," "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." and "Marvel's Avengers Assemble" -- continued with the kind of quality and fun that we've been having.

Stephen had come out for several summits, and had been a voice that we were listening to long before we knew that we could extricate him from New York. It very much felt like, this is the right shoe to fit the Marvel Animation foot. He, along with Cort Lane -- who's been there longer than I have -- continue to tell remarkable stories with a staff and writers that love those characters. ...

What I've learned about Marvel Animation is, although Disney owns it, the company pretty much operates on its own. It's got minimal (as in zero) connection with Disney Television Animation. The Mouse lets its Marvel units operate independently, and independent they are. When TAG negotiates contract points with Marvel Animation, it doesn't consult Disney labor relations but plows its own path.

Pretty much a separate entity.

Marvel Animation has a small studio in Glendale. They have experienced staffers who turn out episodes for a limited number of series, Guardians of the Galaxy being the newest addition to the MA family. Because space is limited, in the last few weeks they've expanded to an additional building further down the 5 freeway, but they still keep costs ... and square footage, down to a minimum.

Because Marvel and its animated subsidiary are nothing if not cost-conscious.

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A Brief History of Stop Motion Animation

This is hardly comprehensive (where's Gumby? The George Pal Puppetoons?) but informative, nevertheless.

My younger brother and I used to watch an 8 mm print of the 1925 feature The Lost World, the Jurassic Park of the silent era, over and over. When you're eight years old, dinosaurs are it.

Funny how cell animation is now digital, and analog filmmaking has gone away (along with film itself) but stop motion animation goes on and on.

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All American Box Office

Theatrical grosses slow down as they move into the Fall.

1). No Good Deed (SONY), 2,175 theaters / $8.8M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $24.5M to $25M+ / Wk 1

2). Dolphin Tale 2 (WB), 3,656 theaters / $4.2M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $15M to $16M+ / Wk 1

3). Guardians Of The Galaxy (DIS), 3,104 theaters (-117) / $2.1M / 3-day cume: $7.8M to $8.3M / Total cume: $305.5M / Wk 7

4). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PAR), 3,273 theaters (-270) / $1.1M Friday / 3-day est. cume: $4.8M to $5.1M / Total cume: $181M / Wk 6

5). Let’s Be Cops (FOX), 2,755 theaters (-177) /$1.27M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.3M to $4.5M / Total cume: $73M /Wk 5

6). The Drop (FSL), 809 theaters / $1.46M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.3M to $4.9M / Per screen average: $5,800 / Wk 1

7). If I Stay (WB), 3,040 theaters (-117) / $1.1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4M / Total cume: $44.9M/ Wk 4

8). The November Man (REL), 2,702 theaters (-74) / $835K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.78M / Total cume: $22.5 / Wk 3

9/10). The Giver (TWC), 2,253 theaters (-323)/ $733K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.6M / Total cume: $41.3M / Wk 5

When The Game Stands Tall (SONY), 2,435 theaters (-331) / $715K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.5M / Total cume: $26.8M / Wk 4

The next animated feature out of the gate will be LAIKA's Box Trolls, coming in October. Until then, you'll have to have your appetite for animation sated by the older movies still hanging on in a few hundred theaters around the nation:

End-of-Release Features -- Domestic Totals

20) Dawn of Apes -- $206,435,479

21) How to Train Dragon 2 -- $174,864,272

31) Planes: Fire and Rescue -- $58,301,800

32) Transformers: Extinction -- $244,803,687

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Rick and Morty

We've been busy in Burbank. Here are the details (via press release):

The animation crew of “Rick and Morty”, one of Adult Swim’s newer blockbusters, has ratified a new labor agreement that will give them hourly wage boosts and health and pension benefits.

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, was contacted by show staffers in early summer and engineered an organizing drive with artists on the show -- which culminated in a union contract on Monday. Steve Kaplan, the organizer for the Animation Guild, said: “This is an incredible victory for the Rick and Morty crew. They were the drivers on this, exercising their leverage at the right time. Management knew the artists were a valuable asset to the show. And to their credit, they did the right thing by quickly agreeing to a contract.”

Steve Hulett, TAG’s long-time business representative, added: “I’ve been repping the Guild for a while now, and this was as focused and dedicated a crew as I’ve seen. After management realized the artists were serious about coming under the Animation Guild’s jurisdiction, they moved quickly to negotiate a fair and comprehensive contract. The talks were intense at times, but also cordial and professional.”

The Animation Guild represents over 3,300 animation workers in Southern California. Over the past three years, it has seen a steady increase in its membership. ...

The way this went down:

1) "Rick and Morty" crew is unhappy with working without a TAG contract. Contacts the Animation Guild.

2) Guild springs into action collecting representation cards from crew, communicating with "R & M" artists, etc.

3) Guild files with the NLRB (that's the National Labor Relations Board, for those who struggle with acronyms). In the course of e-mails and phone calls to the Board, the Animation Guild discovers that "Rick and Morty" (Season #2), is being done under a different corporate entity than "Rick and Morty" (Season #1). And we have the wrong company listed on the g.d. rep cards.

4) Guild springs into action again, and calls a meeting of the crew to explain the situation. It is noted that time is of the essence. (Season #2 will wrap in a couple of months). Crew votes to hit the bricks in order to get a contract.

5) Company finds out how crew has voted. Company becomes concerned. Company dispatches lawyer to talk to the Animation Guild about a contract.

6) Contract talks begin on Friday September 5th, going over the weekend and concluding on Monday, September 8th. Guild takes contract proposal from company to crew on Monday morning. Crew, standing on sidewalk, votes to ratify contract proposal, which includes retroactive payments for wages, also pension and health benefits.

7) The Era of Good Feeling begins.

And now you know the rest of the story. Kudos to organizer Steve Kaplan for being the point of the spear on this.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Macro Labor Trends in Show Biz

Employment in movies and television moves in a downward direction?

While the U.S. economy has steadily added jobs since the end of the recession, one business is seeing a sharp decline: the movie industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the motion picture and sound recording industry has dropped from as high as 368,000 in 2013 down to just 298,000 in August. That’s a 19% drop in just over two years.

Bloomberg reported last week that Warner Bros. plans to offer buyouts to some of its employees, and may ultimately fire staffers if too few accept the offers; this being part of a plan to help boost its profits. The same article reported that the studio’s domestic box office receipts dropped 15% in 2014. ...

Technological change has wreaked havoc in many parts of show business.

The music industry has been taken apart by downloading and streaming over the internet. It was happening fifteen years ago, when I sat on a panel and listened to an industry lawyer tell a roomful of high-powered attorneys that it was "over" for little silver disks sold by RCA, Capitol Warner Bros Records, Elektra, etc. etc. And that they'd better get a new business model fast, or they would be out of business.

The guy wasn't wrong. Record company after record company has since gone through bankruptcy and restructuring. Rock bands and country western singers make the bulk of their livings with concert appearances, records are no longer a big factor for most of them. (Paul McCartney makes millions filling Dodger Stadium; he doesn't sell a lot of recordings anymore.)

And now Marketwatch tells us that employment in the "movie business" is shrinking, and Marketwatch isn't wrong. But the reality is more complicated than that. Today, much of the high-end movie business has exited L.A., but contributions into industry pension plans, propped up by hourly contributions, have not plunged. Much of the slack has been taken up by low-budget reality television shows, low-budget television, and a generous sprinkling of sitcoms. While more television shows are getting made (you have to fill up the hundreds of cable channels with something), the number of mid-budget features has declined.

Animation, both television and feature, is the one part of moviedom that enjoys robust growth. Over the past three years, the Animation Guild has seen a steady rise in the number of employees working under its jurisdiction. This isn't because feature work has exploded, but because there are more television shows being produced for a lot more outlets. Netflix. Amazon. Adult Swim. Cartoon Network. Animation Domination. Fox Broadcasting. The Disney Channel. It all adds up to more jobs for more artists, and it occurs because the profit margins for animation are healthy and the ancillary markets robust.

It's been otherwise in the past. So let us give thanks that our fine entertainment conglomerates have now decided that cartoons are the entertainment business's own private gold mines, and they want to dig lots more of them.

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