Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Acquision!

Not by Disney, but that other cartoon studio in neighboring Glendale.

DreamWorks Animation is in talks to acquire a YouTube network for teens and tweens, in a move that would expand the studio's presence on new media platforms, two people familiar with the matter confirmed.

The studio is negotiating to buy AwesomenessTV, a Nickelodeon-styled online network that has attracted nearly 500,000 subscribers with its mixture of original Web content including sketch comedies, game shows, sports programs, music and lifestyle shows. ...

Perhaps the calculation here is that cable networks and internet channels will be melding together in the near future, and so buying branded delivery systems is important. When the little box next to your wall-mounted flat-screen pulls in internet content as easily as HBO of the Disney Channel, it'a all going to be one big blob of entertainment, so get a NAME.

Then there's the realty that DWA doesn't have the jack to buy itself an ESPN, so it's got to be creative and forward-looking ... out of necessity. (And I would think that's the maneuver that it's executing here.)
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Pay Ratios

Since we DO talk about workers and the Captains of Industry once in a while, there's this.

CEO Pay 1,795-to-1 Multiple of Wages Skirts U.S. Law

Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204, up 20 percent since 2009, the data show. The numbers are based on industry-specific estimates for worker compensation.

Almost three years after Congress ordered public companies to reveal actual CEO-to-worker pay ratios under the Dodd-Frank law, the numbers remain unknown. As the Occupy Wall Street movement and 2012 election made income inequality a social flashpoint, mandatory disclosure of the ratios remained bottled up at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which hasn’t yet drawn up the rules to implement it. Some of America’s biggest companies are lobbying against the requirement. ...

“We don’t believe the information would be material to investors,” said Tim Bartl, president of the group’s advocacy arm, the Center on Executive Compensation. Accounting for country-to-country differences in wages and benefits at global companies would be costly, time-consuming and all but impossible, he said in an interview. ...

Call me a Commie (even though I served in our glorious Southeast Asian war against the Commies), but I believe it's a fine thing for companies to tell their shareholders and the general public what their chieftans are pulling down, salary-wise.

Tim Bartl thinks it wouldn't be useful, maybe because these things would happen:

... Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF), the clothing retailer, and Simon Property Group Inc., the real estate investment trust that owns and manages shopping malls, ... lost say-on-pay votes last year, getting 24 percent and 26 percent of voting shareholders’ support respectively, according to proxy solicitor Georgeson Inc. Typically, more than 90 percent of voting shareholders back the non-binding resolutions at S&P 500 corporations.

Naturally enough, the people pushing to get rid of requirements to disclose pay and pay-ratios are following an old, honored playbook. Keep people in the dark about what our fine, corporate leaders are making, and they'll be less likely to get exercised over the generous wage offerings and bountiful stock options.

Because the troops down in the company trenches? They just don't realize how deserving and valuable their golden generals actually are.
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In the Black

It's good to see that you can't keep a hard-charging animation studio down.

DreamWorks Animation made money in the first fiscal quarter of 2013 without help rom the release of a new movie. The company posted net income of $5.6 million and earnings per share of $0.07, surprising Wall Street analysts that forecast a loss.

The company pieced together $134.6 million in revenue from home entertainment, live theatrical performances, its library and Classic Media, a company it acquired last July. Its library contributed $41.4 million in revenue while past releases like "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and "Rise of the Guardians" helped on the home entertainment side.

The company had lost $82.7 million dollar in its previous quarter ...

This just goes to show that DreamWorks Animation has value and cash flow above and beyond its current release. There are, after all, stuffed toys, games, dvds and other "ancillary markets."

And of course, the current release, The Croods is doing quite nicely, which must be a relief to Jeffrey and associates.

But I've thought for a while now that some of the downsizing of DWA was attributable to getting the company in shape for purchase (lock, stock and film library) by one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates, most likely 20th Century Fox.

(The other reason for the layoff of 350 staffers was -- here's a surprise -- that the pictures are expensive, and if one of them isn't a smash hit, money difficulties soon arise.)
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Change your address online

Members (active or inactive) can now change their mailing and/or e-mail addresses online by going to animationguild.org/change-address.

If you're changing your mailing address, you should also go to the MPIPHP website for a form to change your address with the health and pension plan.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Volunteer for the City Of Hope's Pediatric Picnic

Scott Shaw! asks for our help:

Once again, I'm looking for professional cartoonists to volunteer for an extremely worthwhile charity event, the 16th Annual Pediatric Picnic for the City Of Hope on Saturday, June 1, from 10 pm to 4 pm in Duarte, California. We will be drawing cartoons for the young cancer patients of the City of Hope Hospital and their families.

We'll need at least thirty volunteers to handle the somewhat grueling demand of drawing requests for children who ask for sketches of everything from Hello Kitty to Wolverine, in every style from classic Disney to dynamic superheroes to manga and animé. Therefore, we need experienced professional cartoonists who are kid-friendly, patient and creatively flexible. Drawing supplies and food will be provided. You'll be working hard for six hours (with bathroom breaks, of course) but I guarantee that you'll have a great time drawing for an appreciative audience of sick kids who can really use a little fun to brighten up their lives. This event is for these young patients and their families only so it's required that you leave your families at home.

The City of Hope is celebrating its 100th year Centennial Anniversary and we want to help us make this year's Pediatric Picnic a memorable one! If you're interested in joining us, please send me a message asap that includes your professional background and email. Thanks!

Scott Shaw!
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Planning Your Future

For many animation professionals, financial planning can be difficult. The nature of our business, the difficulties of working and living job-to-job, and the uncertainties of layoffs and not knowing where and when your next job will happen, can leave us without a plan for financial stability.

At our next membership on May 28, Business Representative STEVE HULETT will host a panel featuring two financial advisors discussing the ins and outs of financial planning for the animation professional.

TIM CRONIN and TIM METCALF are Senior Vice Presidents and Investment Advisors for Wells Fargo Advisors, based in Orange County.

Cronin helps clients build, manage, protect, and transition their wealth — not only Investments but credit and debt, risk management, insurance, trust and fiduciary services. He believes in listening carefully and understanding his client’s needs, analyzing, crafting and implementing a plan and then monitoring, evaluating and making adjustments as needed.

Metcalf graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Finance. He strives to help each one of his clients plan for a financial future in a way that best meets their goals, whether planning for a comfortable retirement or looking for a comprehensive diversification strategy that maximizes potential for growth while adjusting for the appropriate level of risk as your needs change over time.

Come listen to these experts talk about how to plan for a sound financial future. And feel free to ask them questions. It is, after all, your retirement that you want to get right

The meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 28 starting at 7:00 pm, at the Animation Guild, 1105 N. Hollywood Way (between Chandler and Magnolia) in Burbank. Before the meeting, pizza and refreshments will be served at 6:30 pm. The meeting is free of charge and all members, active or inactive, are encouraged to attend. Parking is available on the premises or on Hollywood Way.
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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Superhero Artists

Some underpaid artists in Montreal are in the cool video game biz with the cool company, so everything is good. Or so the New York Times informs us:

... THE Montreal studio of Ubisoft fills a five-story red brick building, a former textile factory built in 1903 that covers a city block at the northern end of Boulevard St. Laurent.

The company is based in Rennes, France; it was founded by five brothers from Brittany in 1986. They opened the studio in Montreal in 1997, lured by generous tax credits. American competitors soon followed — Electronic Arts in 2004 and a Quebec division of Warner Brothers Games in 2008 — making Montreal a video game industry center.

“When you play an E.A. game, it feels like the business people got the last word,” says Stephen Totilo, editor in chief of the video game Web site Kotaku (and an occasional game reviewer for The New York Times). “With Ubisoft, you can tell that the creative people did. It’s pretty clear they take far more creative risks, even in a sequel. They’re definitely putting art ahead of other companies.” ...

Some employees say that the company is a great place to start out — calling it “Ubischool” — but that unless you are a senior executive or the producer of a successful title, the salaries are lower than those of competitors. “They probably pay 90 percent of what everyone else in Montreal is paying, and that’s less than they pay people in the U.S., and that’s less than they pay in the U.K.,” says Mr. Pachter, the industry analyst. ...

Gee. Tax credits and lower wages. What could be finer?

Maybe a studio in Bangladesh.
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The New Disney Short

Who Done It?

... There's a real air of mystery surrounding this animated short. The fact that it's done in black-and-white, features rubber-hose, pie-eyed versions of classic Disney characters and has Walt himself providing Mickey's speaking voice suggests that this is something that Disney has dug out of its vault. And yet still others at the studio are suggesting that "Get A Horse!" might actually be an entirely different sort of animal. ...

I'm surprised to see all the speculation about the "new Disney short." I mean it's either new or it's not. (Does it matter?)

Warner Bros. Animation made new shorts with old soundtracks ("I Thought I Saw a Puddy Tat" or however the song title is spelled). So Disney could do something new with Walt's voice, yes? (Not, mind you, that Diz Co. actually is.)

As to whether this ""Get a Horse" picture is new work? I keep my yap buttoned.
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Box Office In Foreign Lands

Where the Cave Family yet thrives.

The Croods took in $13.1 million for the weekend from 67 markets, pushing its foreign total to $308 million and worldwide cume to $471 million. The 3D toon has earned $18 million in China. ...

Meantime, Marvel's Ironman 3 had a blowout weekend with $185.1 million flowing into the box office, while Oblivion has now earned $134,1 million.

Animation's Worldwide Grosses

Wreck-It Ralph -- (foreign: $281,800,00) $471,176,830

The Croods -- (foreign: $308,000,000) $471,025,000

Frankenweenie -- (foreign: $31,800,000) $67,091,068

Rise of Guardians -- (foreign: $200,300,000) $303,712,758

Note that The Croods (6 weeks of release) and Wreck-It Ralph (25 weeks of release) now run neck-and-neck at the worldwide box office. Just one more example of how American-themed animated features perform less strongly in foreign venues.
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Maybe They're Catching On

... that sub-contracting only takes you so far.

... Much of Asia's animation production since the 1960s has been tied to foreign interests attracted by stable and inexpensive labor supplies. For nearly forty years, western studios have established and maintained production facilities, first in Japan, then in South Korea and Taiwan. ...

The usual procedure is for pre-production to be done in the United States or other European countries, after which, the package is sent to Asia for production. The work is sent back to the U.S. or other headquarter country for post-production Offshore animation has led to the creating and nurturing of a local industry, as an infrastructure is built up, equipment is put into place, and skills are transferred.

An emerging trend in the Asian animation industry is the increasing focus towards production of local animation content for television as well as production of animated movies.

A number of Asian animation studios are giving importance to owning and protecting animation content by investing in intellectual property protection mechanisms.

Subcontracting studios understand how they're getting suckered. They do 90% of the work; American conglomerates vacuum up 100% of the profits.

I'm sure Asian studios look at the present setup and think: Wait a minute! We can do the whole picture, soup to nuts. And control the rights! Why are we taking pennies on the dollar?

Only it's not as simple as it looks. Show me an Indian or Chinese-produced animated feature, and I'll show you a feature that's had the allure of a damp fart at the global box office. (Roadside Romeo anyone? Alpha and Omega?) Chris Meladandri finally pulled off the feat of making an animated blockbuster outside the U.S.* but after Chris? ...

SFX Crickets.

* Mr. Meledandri had much of the story work done in Los Angeles on his first Illumination Entertainment production. The animation, of course, was done in that low-wage bastion known as Paris, France.
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Maximizing Recent Purchases

Robert Iger, as we know, is fine with buying other companies, like Pixar, Lucasfilms, and Marvel. They're all now part of the Diz Co. family of companies. But of course, the Mouse needs to maximize cash flow from these newer acquisitions, and appears to be doing just that:

Walt Disney is reuniting Marvel heroes under one roof. The latest to rejoin? Daredevil, a blind vigilante whose other senses are enhanced to a superhuman degree. Ben Affleck played the title character in a 2003 feature film that failed to meet heightened expectations. ...

In October, News Corp.'s 21st Century Fox returned the rights to Marvel Studios when a deal with would-be director Joe Carnahan fell through. ...

How will Disney depict Daredevil? The comics contain dozens of rich storylines that could inform a script, but a reboot seems most likely. For now, Feige will only confirm that Disney owns the rights. ....

Big parts of the Marvel Universe remain in outside hands. Fox still has comprehensive film rights to the mutant heroes known as the X-Men as well as the Fantastic Four, a superhero family that's seen action twice on the big screen in recent years while helping to inspire the Pixar Studios hit The Incredibles.

Sony , meanwhile, controls the rights to live-action Spider-Man films.

The House of Mouse will likely beam as many Marvel franchises back to the Mother Ship as it can. What's the point of leaving cash in other people's pockets if you ultimately control the rights?

It's just a matter of time before rights revert to the new copyright owner. And the Disney Company is nothing if not patient. (Look how long it took to develop and release Tangled. ...)

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Movie Grosses in Springtime

Steroid users sit atop the Top Ten List.

Pain & Gain took in $7.5 million on Friday, putting the Michael Bay pic on course for a $20.5 million opening, good enough for a No. 1 finish at the North American box office. ...

In the meanwhile the Cave Family trucks on. ...

Friday Turnstyle Grosses

1) PAIN AND GAIN -- $7,500,000

2) OBLIVION -- $5,100,000 ($52,388,000)

3) 42 -- $2,950,000 ($61,304,000)

4) THE BIG WEDDING -- $2,500,000

5) THE CROODS -- $1,540,000 ($157,965,000)

Still in the Top Five after five weeks. Not bad at all.
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Friday, April 26, 2013

Entertainment Biz Swells a Bit

The industry claws its way back in L.A.

... The film, television and music industries in Los Angeles County generated 131,600 jobs in March, up 7.9% from February and 12.6% from the same month a year ago. ...

The increased film production activity, Kleinhenz said, offset job losses at some studios, including DreamWorks Animation, which announced in February it was laying off 350 employees. El Segundo-based visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues also laid off more than 200 workers in February. ...

March's jobs total was the highest level in L.A.'s entertainment sector since late 2008, noted Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist for the LAEDC. ... The job gains in entertainment helped lower L.A.'s overall unemployment rate in February to 10.3%, compared with 11.6% in February 2012. The private sector in February added 99,000 jobs. ...

In point of fact, animation unemployment levels aren't as horrible as the press says they are.

The DreamWorks Animation layoffs, which commenced last month, have gone forward in slow motion. While many have departed, many are still being paid by the studios.

There were three categories of laid off DWA employees: Those that exited with 30 days pay, those that received two months salary, and (lastly) individuals with longer term Personal Service Contracts who were separated from service but will be paid salaries over four ... or eight ... or twelve months. (These folks have not shown up as "unemployed" because they're still on the DreamWorks Animation payroll, even though they no longer work on campus.)

Added to which, a number of DreamWorkers have found employment at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where work continues to ramp up on Frozen, and Big Hero Six waits in the wings. This might explain why, over the past half year, the Animation Guild's membership has dropped by only six active members.

And there is still considerable employment at non-signator studios. Sony Pictures Imageworks has 300 employees laboring in Culver City ... and another 400 in Vancouver. Production work on The Smurfs is ongoing; when that wraps, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Deux will be in production with pedal to the proverbial metal. (It has to be moving briskly, since the picture has a Fall release date.)

Los Angeles-based animation might not be in full flower, but it's a considerable distance from being the full-bore disaster that the trade press and Los Angeles Times make it out to be.
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Titans Reboot

Over the past year, Warner Bros. Animation has laid off 20% of staff and shuttered several shows. So this must be a great comfort:

The debut of Warner Bros. Animation’s new animated comedy-action series TEEN TITANS GO! on Tuesday, April 23, at 7:30/6:30c on Cartoon Network packed a ratings punch, ranking as the #1 kids program of the day on basic cable among Boys 2-11, 6-11, 9-14 and Male Teens.

It also ranked #1 in its time period among Kids 2-11 & 6-11 as well as Boys 2-11, 6-11, 9-14 and Male Teens, outpacing its timeslot competition on Nickelodeon and DisneyHD by double- and triple-digits among the show’s key demos of Kids 6-11 and Boys 6-11. ...

The show has a more comedic tilt than the original Teen Titans. A couple of months ago, a couple of WBA artists said they preferred the original version, but America seems to be clasping the new show to its capacious bosom.

I'm happy for WBA, but mostly I'm happy for the artists who worked on TT Go!
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Box Office Predictions

A futile exercise, but media writers do it anyway.

... This is the first summer movie season in recorded history where a Pixar/Disney film or a Dreamworks Animation film is not expected to be the top cartoon of the summer, if not the year. No this year’s animation contest at the box office will likely be won by … Universal?

Sure, Monsters University, which looks perfectly fine for a harmless piece of comic amusement, will likely make the usual Pixar $215-$245 million average, give or take 3D ticket price bumps and/or whether or not the film is better than Cars 2.

Epic will likely make healthy coin along the lines of Rio‘s $143 million domestic/$484 million worldwide and Dreamworks’ Turbo will be gunning for something approaching the Dreamworks normal of $150 million domestic and $500 million worldwide. And let’s not talk about Disney’s Planes.

The likely top grossing animated film of summer 2013 will be Despicable Me 2. The first film grossed $256 million in 2010, the highest grossing animated film ever not from Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks. And there is no reason that the sequel, which will capitalize on the goodwill of the first film, shouldn’t approach if not surpass that total this time around. ...

Hey now. I can play this game ...

Unlike Forbes Magazine, my crystal ball is cloudy, but here's the way I believe the battle of the grosses will play out.

Pixar will be the top earner at the end of the summer season. Monsters, Inc. is a well-loved film, and how wrong can you go with a sequel?

MU -- $217 million (domestic); $310 million (foreign).

DreamWorks Animation is kind of a wild card. Staffers tell me that Turbo is an entertaining movie, but I have the reaction:

Yeah, but the leading man is a snail. Are people going to want to go watch a snail?.

Guess we'll find out.

Turbo: $160 million (domestic); $285 million (foreign).

Blue Sky Studios rolls out Epic. The trailers show this to be a visually beautiful feature, but William Joyce properties have not been treated kindly at the box office. Therefore ...

Epic: $115 million (domestic); $230 million (foreign).

Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment was the first U.S. animation company that had a box office hit with a foreign-made animated feature. Despicable Me Uno cost $70 million to create and raked in a worldwide take of $543,113,985. My estimate is that Two will make slightly less than that:

DM 2 -- $190 million (domestic) and $311 million (foreign).

Now we'll wait a few months ... and see how far off the mark Steve is.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Retirement Dice Roll

This afternoon a long-time member called to ask me if I had seen this.

Watch The Retirement Gamble Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

"The Retirement Gamble" Facing Us All -- Retirement is big business in America, but is the system costing workers and retirees more than what they’re getting in return? ... The 401(k) was never designed with the middle class in mind, and may now be leaving a generation of Baby Boomers without enough to avoid poverty, says New School economist Theresa Ghilarducci. ...

Spending time on the board of trustees of a 401(k) retirement plan has educated me a bit. I do a lot of enrollment sessions with TAG members and I've read a lot of investment books, half from self-defense and half out of self-interest.

John Bogle, former CEO of Vanguard Mutual Funds, said this about 401(k) plans:

Their basic problem is that they are thrift plans, not retirement plans. You can take your money out pretty much whenever you want to. You can borrow from them. You can select funds on your own with as much help or non-help as you want. You can talk to your brother-in-law — not usually a good idea. And we know that those choices that are made are bad, unfortunate for investors. …

The member who phoned today was somewhat creeped out by the Frontline report. "The 401(k) fees!" she said. "The fees eat up your earnings! Your retirement!"

I allowed how this was true, but that there were ways around much of the problem: If participants went with low-cost index funds (and the TAG 401(k) Plan has a bunch of them), they could minimize the "eaten alive by fees" thing, and improve the chances of putting more money away for retirement. And they could live below their means and invest the extra money in low-cost, broadly diversified index funds outside retirement plans.

Many studies show that Americans are in deep manure if they have to rely on 401(k) Plans and Social Security for retirement. They take Social Security at age 62 or 63, thereby reducing their monthly checks; they put minimal amounts of their wages into 401(k)'s and so don't come close to funding retirement.

Happily, most TAG members will end up with a Defined Benefit Pension (monthly check) and a lump-sum payment (big stack of money called an "Individual Account Plan") when they hang up the daily grind of animation work and take retirement. But this doesn't take away the necessity of saving more for your hammock years. As the linked Frontline story demonstrates, most people in their twenties, thirties and forties are a long way from building a comfortable retirement. It's up to each of us to start now if we're to avoid being part of the underfunded majority.

Note: The Animation Guild will be holding a Panel Discussion about saving for retirement at its May 27 General Membership meeting. Be there if you can.

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Hardly surprising.

A former employee of the Oscar-winning Hollywood visual effects studio behind "Life of Pi" sued the bankrupt company Monday, claiming he and others are owed two months' worth of unpaid compensation after being laid off.

Visual effects artist Thomas C. Capizzi filed his adversarial class action against Rhythm & Hues Inc. in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, claiming he is not only owed for at least the one month the firm allegedly didn’t pay him, but for an additional 30 days...

Good luck squeezing blood from a stone.

Mr. Capizzi would be better off suing the fine conglomerate who profited from the movie, except that isn't too feasible. Rhythm & Hues -- film's subcontractor -- was his employer, so the employer (which now has minimal money) is the one that must be gone after.

(If I had been asked, I would have advised Thomas C. and anyone else seated at work stations without benefit of wages to get up and quietly but forcefully walk out. If you're working for free, you might as well be home doing your own projects. There's the same amount of money, but a lot more satisfaction.)
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where have we gone?

Despite the recent bad news from DreamWorks, we have eighty-one more people working at union shops than we did a year ago. Where are they working?

Mostly at Disney, although smaller shops (Cartoon Network, Nick, Bento Box and Marvel) have also taken up the slack. Granted that we haven't yet seen the full effects of the DreamWorks layoffs, up to this point we seem to be able to weather the employment changes.

Counting all divisions, Disney is once again our largest employer.
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Studio Divorces

Mr. Steve Moore speaks some truth and wisdom.

Starting out, we all fancied our careers taking the Frank and Ollie trajectory. Working at a studio for life. Meet another lifer and fall in love. Get married on the studio lot. Buy a house and fill it with studio memorabilia. Maybe a studio themed swimming pool. ... In reality, most of us have had a series of Wile E. Coyote trajectories - flying along, feeling confident, then "PAF!" Rock face. ...

I never bought the studio-as-family thing, and certain directors and producers need that. Showing love for the project isn't enough, you have to love them as well. Doing your best work is not enough, you have to be a great pally pal. Today, more than ever before, the big studios take on artists with a trial period, during which you are judged not only by your work, but by your fit. I know an excellent veteran artist who did not make the cut somewhere because some wimp felt threatened by his strong opinions. ...

Imagine Disney without Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl, or Bill Peet. They and many more like them were artists unto themselves, not just company men. They spent their whole careers at one studio and STILL had hard feelings about it. Not a bad studio ex, but a bad old studio marriage. Would they have survived the studio today, or been tossed aside for better fits? ...

Kimball, Kahl and Peet left Walt Disney Productions (as it was then called) angry and/or under a cloud.

After years of service, Bill Peet had a lot of control over feature projects. He did the boards and supervised the recording sessions until Walt hoisted Woolie Reithermann into the pilot's seat and Mr. Peet was made co-pilot. This didn't sit well with Mr. Peet, and he stormed out.

Ward Kimball got into a spitting match with Disney's upper management over an ugly granite portrait of Walt Disney that was displayed in a studio hallway, and got pretty much got shoved overboard from the S.S. Mouse.

Milt Kahl felt he was being undercut by some of his peers, and left the studio in a bit of a snit. In the late seventies I asked him on the phone how he liked retirement and he snarled: "I didn't retire from Disney's, I quit!"

Richocheting around animation studios, I've noticed that it takes an enlightened executive to know how to utilize strong talents who might also be a touch ... eccentric? Quirky? But enlightened execs are in short supply.

In this ferociously corporate age, where most egos are insecure and artists who don't "play well with others" are quickly gone, it would be hard for creative artists like Ward Kimball, Bill Peet and Milt Kahl to flourish, let alone survive.
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New Benefits From the MPI Health Plan

Here’s some news on improvements to the coverage offered by our MPI Health Plan, courtesy of the latest issue of the For Your Benefit newsletter.

Home Health and Nursing Care Services
MPI’s Board of Directors has revised its current approval process for coverage for Home Health/Nursing Care. The Health Plan will no longer require physician orders and notes from attending nurses, and needed services will be seamlessly and automatically authorized by Anthem Blue Cross.

Shingles Vaccine Covered
Coverage for the shingles vaccine (Zostavax, et al.) was approved by the MPI Board of Directors, effective July 1, 2013, for all participants age 60 or older. Shingles is a painful, localized skin rash, often with blisters, that is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles because VZV remains in the nerve cells of the body after the chickenpox infection clears, and VZV can reappear years later, causing shingles.

Venipuncture for Medical Procedures
In order to provide proper coverage for required medical procedures, MPI’s Board of Directors has approved venipuncture, the process of obtaining intravenous access to blood from a patient for laboratory testing, as a Health Plan benefit, effective retroactively to August 1, 2012. Such coverage is standard in the industry, according to the Medical Review Institute of America.

Virtual Colonoscopy
The MPI Board of Directors has approved Computed Tomographic Colonoscopy or virtual colonoscopy as a covered benefit of the Health Plan, effective July 1, 2013. The non-invasive nature of the procedure, combined with its ease of use for patients with colonoscopy intolerance, technical difficulties or other high-risk factors, make virtual colonoscopy an effective screening tool in the fight against cancer.

And how does all the health coverage get funded? ...

In 2012, the plant had assets of $3,211,854,000 which was 82.1% of funded liabilities, putting it in the top tier of funded plans. (By contrast, in 20120 plan assets totaled $2,921,643,000.)

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Animation's Hard Charger

It's Fox in the theatrical realm.

'Croods' Success Underscores Fox's Evolution Into Dominant Animation Player

Analysis: The studio is dominating the family market this spring with the DreamWorks Animation hit and Blue Sky's "Epic" on the way

The Croods opened to $43 million on March 22 and for the past month, as it has rolled up $154 million and never dropped below third place at the box office. “The Croods” has brought in another $272 million overseas.

And it's not done yet. “The Croods” will remain the only real cartoon in the U.S. market for the next month – until the May 24 debut of “Epic,” another Fox release. And that one will have the family market to itself until June 21, when Disney rolls out “Monsters University.” ...

Fox’s stranglehold on the kids market this spring and the emergence of its in-house animation unit Blue Sky underscore the point studio chairman Jim Gianopulos made last week at CinemaCon: Fox is now a dominant player when it comes to animation. ...

When Jeffrey Katzenberg was making noises about leaving Paramount, I thought that he would decamp to Time-Warner, since T-W had only a small presence in big-screen animation and needed to beef up its arsenal. I ruled Fox News Corp out because it already had a successful animation studio with Blue Sky Animation.

Silly me. I didn't factor in Fox's ongoing lust for all types of animation: Hand-drawn and CGI, small-screen and big screen, cable and broadcast.

Among ALL our fine, entertainment conglomerates, Fox is often more out-there with animated product than Disney. It's got fewer cartoons on cable, but it more than makes up for that weakness with a squadron of animated half-hours on the Fox broadcast platform. And (like the Mouse of Mouse) Fox distributes the full-length cartoons of two animation studios, Blue Sky and DreamWorks Animation.

Like we've been saying, Rupert and his minions are serious about doing the animation.
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Adios Futurama

For the second (or third?) time.

Comedy Central announced Monday that animated series Futurama would not be renewed for any additional seasons.

The final season premieres June 19 at 10 p.m. with the series finale slated for Sept. 4.

Futurama initially aired on Fox from 1999-2003, before being canceled. Comedy Central revived the series in 2007 with four straight-to-DVD movies before ordering two more seasons in 2010, which aired over four years. By the end of its run, Futurama will have aired for seven seasons.

Futurama has long been overshadowed by its older sibling The Simpsons, but it's owned a loyal (if smaller) following.

This sci fi cartoon is the Matt Groening show that the Animation Guild has failed to organize. So we are batting .500 as far as Matthew's creative works are concerned: YES on The Simpsons. NO on Futurama.
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Union Downsizing

From the L.A. Times.

SAG-AFTRA said Sunday it is eliminating 60 positions from the organization as part of plan to balance its budget.

The layoffs, about 10% of the jobs at the union, represent the second wave of layoffs that have occurred at SAG-AFTRA since the two unions voted to merge a year ago ...

The merger created the biggest entertainment union in Hollywood, with more than 165,000 members. Combining two separate organizations created some overlapping positions and departments, and the job cuts were deemed necessary in part to eliminate duplicate jobs. ...

It isn't just our fine, entertainment conglomerates making cuts. It goes on lots of other places, too. Click here to read entire post

Maximizing Profits and Cash Flow

Fox leverages the cartoon art form.

Last Sunday Sitcoms

The Simpsons (Fox) - A new episode at 8 did 4.11 million and a 1.8 18-49 rating, which seems below normal.

The Cleveland Show (Fox) - Its normal time of 7:30pm was new and did 2.5 million and a 1.2 18-49 rating, as this show might be the odd-man out soon*.

Bob's Burgers (Fox) 2 airings - The 8:30 airing was new and did 3.45 million and a 1.6 18-49 rating, losing some steam from its lead-in but still not too bad. ... A repeat at 7pm did only 1.68 million and just a 0.7 18-49 rating, but on par in 18-49 with previous week.

Family Guy (Fox) - A brand new showing at 9 did 5.02 million and a 2.5 18-49 rating, which was up the best of the block by far and #1 for the night (excluding the Master's overrun).

American Dad! (Fox) - A new episode at 9:30pm did 4.23 million and a 2.1 18-49 rating, which is decent.

The reasons why no other conglomerates want to compete in this market area continue to elude us.

Because, let's face it. Rupert and his minions have made millions programming prime-time animation on the Fox broadcast network. Yet Disney, NBC-Universal and Viacom continue to avert their eyes and pretend its not happening. Or something.

Very odd.

Reminds us of the long-ago times when Disney had the animated feature market ALL to itself. Although, in those days, the Mouse wasn't making HUGE profits, but only comfortable profits.

* We keep telling people that "Cleveland" is over, but nobody wants to believe us.
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Foreign B.O. in April

The cave women and men trudge on.

"The Croods" continued to build on its international grosses, adding $23 million from territories. That ups its foreign haul to $274.5 million and its worldwide total to $429 million after five weeks for distributor Fox. Its biggest market was China, where it brought in $6 million.

G.I. Joe and Oblivion also had good weekends.

Meantime, The Croods should reach the half billion dollar mark in two to four weeks.
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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Branching Out

Jeffrey Katzenberg, in addition to making a bit more money, is branching out.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was on hand in Beijing Friday for a press event to announce the Oriental DreamWorks project Tibet Code.

Based on a wildly popular series of books in China, Tibet chronicles the adventures of two men on the hunt for Buddhist treasures. There are currently eight books in the series, which has been compared to the Harry Potter franchise. ...

This live-action movie brings Jeffrey full circle.

Twenty-eight years ago he came to Disney from Paramount and was a full-steam-ahead live-action guy, who knew very little about animation.

I remember a Disney old-timer at the time (one who didn't like him) saying: "Katzenberg asked about outtakes for the movie*." Outtakes!? We don't have outtakes in animation!"

But that was then. Three decades on, Jeffrey has long-since learned how animated features are made, and runs an animation studio that's been turning out cartoon hits (along with some non-hits) for seventeen years. And before that, there was a decade of revitalizing hand-drawn animated features at Disney.

But what I find interesting here is that Mr. Katzenberg is returning to his live-action roots, to when he was a brash up-and-comer helping to create box office magic at Paramount. So the question arises: is Jeffrey K. broadening the reach of DreamWorks Animation? Doing what Disney did in the forties and fifties, broadening its slate of animated movies so it includes live-action?

It won't be long before we find out what the answer is.

* This was in the days of "The Black Cauldron."
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The Weekend Steeple Chase

Your domestic box office, for Friday.

1) OBLIVION -- $13,300,000

2) 42 -- $5,210,000 ($41,242,000)

3) THE CROODS -- $2,225,000 ($147,623,000)

4) SCARY MOVIE 5 -- $2,059,000 ($18,707,000

5) G.I. JOE -- $1,544,000 ($106,980,000)

6) PLACE BEYOND PINES -- $1,411,000 ($8,136,000)

7) EVIL DEAD -- $1,360,000 ($45,705,000)

8) OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN -- $1,232,000 ($85,533,000)

9 JURASSIC PARK -- $1,000,000 ($35,471,000) / 15

10) OZ GREAT/ POWERFUL -- $763,000 ($221,485,000)

Box Office Mojo projects a 31% drop for The Croods this weekend, which would make it the second smallest decline for a movie in the Top Ten. (42 would be the smallest.)

Add On: The cave people had the smallest box office drop of any Top Ten entrant.


1) Oblivion -- $38,152,000
2) 42 -- $18,025,000 ($54,057,000)
3) The Croods -- $9,500,000 ($154,898,000)
4) Scary Movie 5 -- $6,296,000 ($22,944,000)
5) G.I. Joe -- Par. $5,775,000 ($111,211,000)
6) The Place Beyond the Pines -- $4,746,000 ($11,448,000)
7) Olympus Has Fallen -- $4,500,000 ($88,801,000)
8) Evil Dead -- $4,100,000 ($48,445,000)
9) Jurassic Park 3D -- $4,008,000 ($38,479,000)
10) Oz Great/Powerful -- $3,048,000 ($223,770,000)

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Jeffrey's Pay Day

It's a tad more than in previous years.

According to a SEC statement from the company, his overall compensation package increased from $4 million to $5.24 million last year.

Katzenberg actually took a salary in 2012, compared to the previous two years where he only earned $1 in salary. In contrast, DreamWorks Animation's CEO earned $365,386 in salary last year.

He also earned $5 million in stock awards -- about a million more from 2011 -- and an additional $375,000 in other compensation. ...

The stock is up a bit, but then there's all those artists who lost their jobs.

It's not easy being the boss of an animation studio that isn't an appendage of one of our fine, entertainment conglomerates. I guess you do the best you can do.
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Down at the SPA

I spent a large part of my morning (after a lovely, loong drive) at Sony Pictures Animation, where I'm told they will be staffing up for new productions next month ...

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II is still in story, even as it's in production. (Nothing new there.)

But staffers tell me that there are going to be a lot of animators put on it so that Sony's big Fall sequel makes its release date. (There's lots of animation still in the hopper, and a September release date staring the production in the face. Nobody I talked to is sure where the animators will be. India? Canada? Culver City? Our guess there will be Sony Merry Workers in all thos places.)

Kazorn and the Unicorn (a.k.a. Kazorn) is in early story development, with more story artists slated to climb aboard the project as the feature ramps up.

(There are posters for Popeye up on the wall, and there was a lot of activity in the editing bays, but Kazorn and Cloudy were the pictures I observed in the immediate foreground.)
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A peek into the Jetsons archive

Opening title illustration for The Jetsons from the Warner Brothers animation archive.

From the Paleofuture blog at Smithsonian magazine, a look at the Jetsons archive, currently at Warner Bros. Animation.

An early design for the Jetson family. Note Judy with conservative clothes ...
These are from a CBS Sunday Morning segment scheduled for April 28, about the impact of The Jetsons on the way that we think about the future.
Early concept illustration of Rosey the Robot

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Viacom's Loss

... is Google's gain as the entertainment giant's lawsuit against YouTube goes down in flames. Again.

Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit claiming that YouTube is legally liable for hosting copyright-infringing work was dealt a death blow Thursday, when a judge issued a summary judgment in favor of the online video portal.

"The burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove," U.S District Judge Louis Stanton said in his ruling from New York. ...

Our fine, entertainment conglomerates will have to figure out new methods to maximize proifts in the digital age. Because the old distribution models really don't work in the same ways anymore.

And Older Media doesn't have the leverage to get its way in congress the way it once did. Google and others have as much or more power, so Viacom, Time-Warner, Diz Co. and the rest will have to navigate the new realities of the entertainment marketplace.

Technology marches on.
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The New Diz Co.

Which is none other than the once cartoonless 20th Century Fox.

Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos hailed his studio as the new "dominant player in animation" on Thursday, telling exhibitors that the combination of its in-house animation studio, Blue Sky, and its new distribution partner, DreamWorks Animation, had catapulted Fox to the front of the class.

While Pixar has yet to slip with a single film at the box office, there is no question Fox has staked out a leading position in terms of quantity of successful films. As the Fox chief was quick to point out at CinemaCon, the two most successful animated franchises of all-time, "Ice Age" and "Shrek," now reside under the same roof.

With an eye toward the global box office, the studio has positioned itself as a family entertainment juggernaut and Gianopulos described animation as a "cornerstone" of the studio's success. ...

You've got to give Rupert and his minions credit.

They're the only major entertainment conglomerate that has made the decision to out-Disney Disney. And they've pretty well succeeded. Examples?

* Fox News Corp is the only company that has successfully built a block of prime-time animated shows*.

* Fox News Corp now has two feature animation studios under its wing, the third entertainment conglomerate to do this. (The first was Time-Warner, which owned Turner Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation for a few years in the middle nineties. Both divisions were shuttered later in the decade.)

* Fox News Corp is expanding its cable animation presence, an area of distribution in which Diz Co. and Time-Warner have been dominant.

* Fox News Corp will be releasing more animated features in 2013 than Disney.

But Fox isn't stupid, and can read the profit margins for various movie genres as well as anybody. The company knows that animated features make the most money. So why wouldn't they want to be in the business?

* Fox is the only major with an animation contract with the Writers Guild of America, West. The other majors avoid the WGAw like Superman avoids Kryptonite, but it's paid off big time for Fox.
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And here are two examples of same, being exercised:

Example One:

Writers for "Fashion Police" have walked off the job.

Writers on the E! Network cable show hosted by comedian Joan Rivers have gone on strike following a dispute over back wages.

The Writers Guild of America, West did not immediately announce the action, but at least one writer on the show posted a blog on the action.

"I just went on strike from my job writing for a highly rated cable TV show,'' Eliza Skinner, a writer on "Fashion Police," posted on Tumblr. "That might mean the brilliant comedians I know here online or in real life will be asked to come in and replace the striking workers."

Skinner continued: "There are tons of people that are so funny, and I’d LOVE to have you write on our show -- I’ve even recommended some of you for the job in the past. And who knows -- they might ask you to do it. But while we strike you really shouldn’t work my job. Really really really." ...

This, of course, is kind of the traditional leverage. Working people get ticked off, so working people go on strike. Worked pretty well, once up a time. But that was when the playing field was a bit more level.

Then there is ...

Example Two:

The fight between the nation's largest theater chains and Walt Disney Studios over the upcoming release of "Iron Man 3" escalated on Thursday, when AMC Chief Executive Gerry Lopez took the studio to task for taking what he described as an unusually hard line in negotiations.

The dispute prompted AMC, the nation's second-largest theater chain, to announce Wednesday that it would stop selling advance tickets for the film. In another development, Regal, the nation's largest theater chain, also on Wednesday night decided to stop selling tickets for "Iron Man 3" because of objections over Disney's terms, a source close to the circuit said.

"We've been surprised at the ask," Lopez told The Times, referring to Disney's revenue demands. "The depth and the breadth of the ask puts us in a very, very uncomfortable situation ... clearly they are under some kind of financial pressure." ...

Sure Diz Co. is under financial pressure. Gobbling down Lucasfilm for $4.5 billion gave the Mouse chronic gastric upset.

So it's cutting staff.

And getting aggressive with movie distributors. (Hot company-on-company action!)

You have to claw back all those billions from somewhere, do you not?
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Half of X at Gallery 839, starts May 3

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On the Disney Cut-Backs

Now with honey-baked Add On.

It's widely known that some long-time Disney animation employees are being let go from the hat building, but lots of other departments on the Disney lot are also being impacted.

As of June 9, 114 employees will be laid off. They occupy a wide range of company positions, including Sr. Vice-Presidents and run-of-the-mill Vice Presidents, coordinators, directors, IT personnell, administrators, managers and lots of categories in between ...

The Mouse seems to be sweeping with a big broom. I guess Diz Co. has to pay for those billion-dollar acquisitions some way.

This looks like a sizable down payment.

Add On: I spent part of my morning inside the hat building. Overtime on Frozen is ramping up, and procedures are being altered for its authorization.

It seems that during the last picture, overtime authorization was hard to come by. Only a chosen few had the power to authorize o.t., and orders had been given that authorization had to be given prior overtime's commencement. Problem was that sometimes the official authorizing person couldn't be located.

So now, to avoid this horrid bottle-neck, more people with the power to grant overtime will be in place. (Sounds like a plan to me.)

Regarding the Disney layoffs cited above, a WDAS staffer related that a corporate Veep, when being told that his services were no longer required, had his company car and car keys taken away and was sent home in a cab.

Sounds a wee bit like hyperbole to me. But if true, remarkably cold, wouldn't you say?

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When in Doubt, Try Animation

... and sequels. Lots and lots of sequels.

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn told theater owners Wednesday that the company is focused on developing a slate packed with "Star Wars," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and animated adventures.

Horn said that going forward, Disney will premiere between 14 to 15 films a year. Eight of these films will be big-budget event films like the forthcoming sequels to "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Finding Nemo." ...

Interestingly, the founder of Diz Co. had a distaste for repetition.

I don't like to make sequels to my pictures; I like a new concept ...

-- W. Disney

Of course, Walt did produce sequels in his time, but you get the idea.

Walt's thinking is so 1960s, you want to scream. Sequels, prequels and spin-offs are what the smart Hollywood exec does in the 21st century. It's all about "building the brand." And if you're smart, you have a shitload of brands.

Besides, what teenager doesn't want three or four more sequels to Star Wars?
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Payment Problems

Not too long ago, TAG had an issue with one of our fine, signator studios over non-payment for moneys owed. (It was resolved after months of pulling and pushing.) Apparently another guild also has issues.

The Writers Guild of America West has demanded a $3 million bond from Nickelodeon because of “chronically late residuals payment and inadequate reporting practices.” In a March 8 dated letter I have obtained, the WGA West tells the Viacom-owned network that if the multi-million dollar bond is not posted by March 25, the guild could take further action. That action could include instructing “writers to withhold their services from any signatory Company for which Nickelodeon is the residuals payer.” ...

You can file grievances ... you can go to court ... you can withhold services.

One way of the other, you have to find some leverage and set about using it. Otherwise, the stone-walling goes on and on.
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So ... we could be wrong?!.

A Fox spokesperson has denied a report from an animation blog that the animated series from Seth MacFarlane had been canceled.

After a report on The Animation Guild's Tag Blog reported that Cleveland had been canceled, a network representative reaffirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the future of the series has not yet been determined. "Only Fox can dictate whether a show has been canceled," the network told THR. ...

But funny thing. When I walk around at the Fox Animation Studios on Wilshire Boulevard (a stone's throw from the La Brea tar pits), artists to the right and left say:

"Cleveland is over. Nobody's down there in the space. Just about everybody has been laid off." ... "Crew's onto other things, it ain't coming back." ... (etc.)

But who knows? Maybe the staff is wrong. Or lying to me for sport. Or misinformed. On the other hand, maybe all those Fox employees are accurate, and Fox News Corp. is toying with all of us.

We report ... YOU DECIDE.
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No grass is allowed to grow under the feet of successful properties.

DreamWorks Animation is moving ahead with a sequel to its prehistoric family comedy "The Croods," according to a spokeswoman at the Glendale studio.

Writers-directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders will return for the second installment, which does not yet have a release date. ...

I was over at DWA this afternoon and not a word of this was breathed to me. (Must have been an oversight. It was, after all, "Bring Your Kid to Work Day.")

As one DreamWorker in the Lakeside Building related to me:

Things are somewhat calmer around here now, but people are still worried ...

Another employee asked the perennial question: "Is it all going to India and China?"

And I gave my usual answer that some of it will and some of it won't, pointing out that there are still quality issues with offshoring the product, and that "Doing it cheap" mostly means "Getting puny box office."

Understand that I'm not saying some work won't go global, because some work will. But no high-grossing films have yet come out of Mumbai or Shanghai, and I believe there's a reason for this. Quality counts for something and sub-contracting studios don't have a lot of quality in their arsenals. (Sub-contractors' business models don't allow lingering over work to make it better, since "time is money." And ambitious, energetic employees at these studios soon leave for bigger and better opportunities.)

I've said all these things before, but it never hurts to say them again. Quality counts because

Quality = Box Office
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Middle Kingdom Viz Effx

The Daily relates:

With most visual effects companies in Hollywood suffering financially, doing business in China would seem to be a natural route to expansion, driven by the rapid growth of the world's second-largest film market.

"We will increase the number of our artists by 20 percent because we expect there will be more projects to work on this year," said Wu Yan, general manager of Technicolor (Beijing) Visual Technology Co. ...

Over the past few years, Technicolor (Beijing) has barely made a profit although it doesn't have to worry about getting orders from movie production companies.

Wu attributed the awkward situation to the high labor costs and innate uncertainty in the film industry.
"More than 60 percent of our operational costs go to artists, leaving the rest for technological upgrades, including the purchase of hardware and software," he said.

"The annual income of our top artist here is about $80,000, almost the same level as that in Hollywood," Wu said.
The monthly salaries of artists who only recently joined the company and who have been promoted to a middle-level position range between 2,000 yuan ($321) and 10,000 yuan. ...

The visual effects industry in California is passing through the same dark tunnel that animation for television went through forty years ago: Layoffs, work shifting overseas, and people wondering if the stateside business will survive.

American animation has (so far) continued in L.A., but dislocations have been painful. Ink and paint moved offshore, followed by animation. Artists who had animated at light boards shifted to storyboard work, layout and design. Some left the business.

Now, fifty years further on, layouts are seldom seen, but storyboard work remains a cornerstone of California animation, along with character and color design, as well as script writing. And animation in the form of flash has made a return to Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Watching the rise, fall and rise (again) of cartoon work gives a blue print of where computer generated visual effects could be going over the next several years. Yes, work will shift offshore or points north. But lots of it will remain in Southern California because the talent pool is wide and deep, many overseas supplier are unreliable, and studios are usually staring at hard release dates and so can't afford to have people who speak English as a second or third language make unforced errors on a movie designed to save American entertainment conglomerates from fourth quarter doldrums.

The work might be global, but energy, reliability and the capacity to get shots done will keep a chunk of production in and around Los Angeles.
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New Millenium

Rupert's conglomerate does an update.

News Corporation has chosen the name 21st Century Fox for its new media and entertainment company, which will include Fox News, Fox Broadcasting and its Hollywood television and movie studio. ...

Interesting facts about 20th Century Fox ...

Founded by film pioneer William Fox, the Fox Film Corporation was one of the biggest, most successful movie studios of the silent era. (Legendary directors John Ford and Raoul Walsh spent their formative years there. And Fox Film Corporation pioneered sound-on-film.)

In the sound era, Fox Film Corporation fell on tough times and by the mid-thirties was on the financial ropes. Twentieth Century Pictures, founded and run by the hard-charging Darryl F. Zanuck (who had earlier run Warner Bros.) merged with Fox Film Corporation. Though Fox was larger, Twentieth Century Pictures was dominant. (Over the previous two-and-a-half years, Twentieth had released twenty profitable features out of a total of twenty-one features released, and took top billing in the merger.)

Long story short: Twentieth Century-Fox was a dominant player in film production from 1935 until now. In 1985, Rupert and his minions scooped up the studio, making it a large part of the News. Corp. empire (and dropping the hyphen in the name.) Shortly thereafter, Fox Broadcasting was born.

Twentieth Century-Fox was one of the few Golden Age studios that didn't have a stake in animation. But today, Twentieth Century Fox (and soon-to-be Twenty-first Century Fox) are major players in animation, owning Blue Sky Studios and Fox Animation, and distributing DreamWorks Animation product.
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Monday, April 15, 2013

Quick Exits

A Nick president and vice-president depart.

Another influential programmer at Nickelodeon -- Margie Cohn -- is leaving the children's network as the operation struggles to remain relevant with pint-sized viewers who are watching content on different platforms.

Nickelodeon said Monday that Cohn, president of content development, as well as Alison Dexter, the Los Angeles-based executive vice president of production, were exiting the network immediately. ...

Monday's sudden departures of Cohn and Dexter are the latest management moves under Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon Group of channels.

After Nickelodeon's senior management came under fire last year by Wall Street analysts amid a dramatic ratings plunge, Zarghami began realigning the ranks by promoting managers viewed internally as loyal members of her team.

Cohn had been with Nickelodeon since the channel's early days, helping shepherd such shows as "SpongeBob," "iCarly," "Double Dare" and "Rugrats."

"Both Margie and Alison have made incredible and lasting contributions to Nickelodeon over the years, and I know you join me in wishing them both all the best," Zarghami wrote in an email to Nickelodeon staff announcing the news.

In August, another key programming executive, Brown Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive most responsible for the channel's bicultural hit "Dora the Explorer," was pushed out. Johnson was deeply involved with development of last year's CGI-animated reboot of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," which has enjoyed success on Saturday mornings. ...

But senior Nickelodeon executives being shoved overboard in a brisk, rude way isn't surprising when you consider this:

For the week of April 1, 2013, Disney Channel swept Total Day, ranking as cable TV’s #1 network in Total Viewers and TV’s #1 network across Kids 2-11, Kids 6-11 and Tweens. Hitting 13 week highs, Disney Channel levied its largest competitive advantage over Nickelodeon ever in Tweens and surpassed by double-digits for the 74th consecutive week in Kids 6-11.

In Hollywood, it's always a case of "What have you done for me lately?"

Ms. Dexter and I didn't particularly get along; still in all, I'm always sad to see people slipped the axe. So good luck to Alison Dexter and Margie Cohn in future endeavors.
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So the office top kick comes into my office two minutes ago and says:

We went down four members this quarter, from 2620 members to 2616 members. We seem to have a lot of people coming in, and people reactivating. We're holding steady. ...
For those keeping score at home, that would be

90 members to Honorable Withdrawal/suspension
54 new members
34 members reinstated.

And 2 members passed away.

I would have thought we'd have suffered a bigger drop over the past few months, what with all the recent turmoil and trouble.

Happy to be wrong (if only for now.)
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Offense and Defense

The bloggee known as David writes:

But Steve, how do people get assigned (marginalized) to be part of the "hand-drawn staff" ? Especially animators like Nik Ranieri, Brian Ferguson, Ruben Aquino, and James Lopez who have experience doing CG animation on features? Those guys have dual skills to do both CG and Hand-drawn. No one (especially the UNION) wants to broach the subject of age discrimination ? ...

It's not just an issue of young vs. old. There's this iron reality known as studio politics. It's always there, to a greater or lesser degree. It's about people fighting over turf. I encountered this reality at Disney in the seventies and eighties. I've encountered it (as an outside observer) in the 1990s and 2000s.

Nine years ago, Joe Grant (no stranger to studio politics himself) said to me:

All the maneuvering and infighting that went on back at Hyperion? I see the same kind of stuff going on around here now. The people are different and the building is different, but the politics? Pretty much the same." ...

Which brings me back to the question above.

Today I was at CTN's little outdoor expo on San Fernando Road in Burbank, and I ran into a (former) Disney animator who arrived at the Mouse House as a young, starry-eyed recruit in the early nineties, and left a year and a half ago. He's still fairly young, and he related:

"I made the switch from hand-drawn to CG a few years ago. I didn't have much time to learn Maya, but I managed what I could, and got tossed into production pretty fast. And I got my share of scenes, but the young CG animators resented that I could draw better than they could, and I got push back. After the picture finished, I decided the politics were too nasty, and I left." ...

I've talked to other artists who've told me much the same thing. There's a divide between many of the hand-drawn veterans and the CG artists; the CG artists have more leverage and clout than the animators who mainly draw (the studio is, after all, focused on CG animated features); a number of the paper-and-pencil veterans make no bones about the fact they prefer doing hand-drawn features.

So you've got different groups playing offense and defense. CG animators defending their perceived territory. Hand-drawn animators trying to protect their small patch of ground. And up above, studio management looking at grosses and making its decisions based on profits, losses and the current price of Disney stock.

It's always been this way.

In the late fifties, many heads rolled when Sleeping Beauty didn't make its production and marketing costs back. In the seventies, there was simmering resentment by some Feature Animation veterans against the upstarts coming in from the California Institute of the Arts (and points east.) Some of the newbies -- Brad Bird and John Lasseter among them -- got tossed out.

And in the last half of the 1990s, there was fear, resentment and lousy morale when the grosses of hand-drawn features went south and the studio sloughed off long-time staff to go chasing after CGI's magical brass ring.

So, David. All I can tell you is, it's not simply a matter of who has what skills, or who has the most time in as an animator, layout artist, or designer. Age discrimination has only a little to do with it. Mostly it's about who's perceived by management to have the strongest chops.

Those are the folks who have the most leverage with company executives. And those are the folks who will remain Walt Disney Animation Studio employees when the Chief Executive Officer of Diz Co. sends out orders to cull the herd.

It's shitty, but the way it's almost always been.
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The Foreign Take

With The Cave Family doing well.

The Croods ranked second in such key territories as France, the U.K., Australia, Brazil and Mexico. Its $25.5 million take represented a drop of just 26 percent from the previous weekend. Its international tally has grown to $244.8 million, putting its worldwide number at an estimated $387.3 million. ...

Meanwhile, Tom Cruise's live-action version of Wall-E claimed the top spot internationally, taking in $61.1 million. ....

After twenty-plus weeks of release Rise of the Guardians (DWA's last) earned $303,712,758.

After four weeks, The Croods has pulled down $84 million more than that.
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Not Likely To Receive a Wide Release

At least, not in the U.S. of A.

Battle of the Kings: Rostam and Sohrab will be screened in the United States and the United Arab Emirates within next three months, the director of Iran’s Documentary and Experimental Film Center (DEFC) Shafi Aqa Mohammadian announced.

Russia is also among the countries that bought the animation, Aqa Mohammadian noted.

Produced by Dalvand Brothers Company, the animation is based on the tragic story of ‘Rostam and Sohrab’ from the Persian epic poet Ferdowsi’s magnum opus The Shahnameh. ...

“The film was dubbed in Canada to make it comprehensible for the foreign filmgoers ...”

As I swim around the internet, I become increasingly aware that there is a LOT of animated product that never penetrates our consciousness.

Kings is one more specimen.
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Domestic B.O. In Springtime

The Croods keeps rolling along.

Friday Box Office Numbers

1) 42 -- $9,100,000

2) SCARY MOVIE 5 -- $5,515,000

3) EVIL DEAD (2013) -- $3,200,000 ($35,242,000)

4) THE CROODS -- $3,050,000 ($132,374,000)

5) G.I. JOE: RETALIATION -- $2,917,000 ($94,543,000)

6) JURASSIC PARK 3D -- $2,400,000 ($25,509,000)

7) OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN -- $2,048,000 ($76,655,000)

8) TYLER PERRY'S TEMPTATION -- $1,380,000 ($42,302,000)

10) OZ THE GREAT -- $1,221,000 ($215,742,000)

The cave Man movie will likely get to $160-$175 million before it's finished inthe U.S. of A. and Canada.


11) 42 -- $27,250,000

2) Scary Movie 5 -- $15,153,000

3) The Croods -- $13,200,000 ($142,524,000)

4) G.I. Joe: Retaliation -- $10,800,000 ($102,426,000)

5) Evil Dead (2013) -- $9,500,000 ($41,500,000)

6) Jurassic Park 3D -- $8,820,000 ($31,929,000)

7) Olympus Has Fallen -- $7,283,000 ($81,890,000)

8) Oz The Great and Powerful -- $4,923,000 ($219,444,000)

9) Tyler Perry's Temptation -- $4,500,000 ($45,422,000)

10) The Place Beyond the Pines -- $4,080,000 ($5,455,000)

The DreamWorks Animation offering had the second smallest drop of any contestant in the Top Ten. So it looks to be hanging in there.

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Billion Dollar Club

Fox News-Corp. is in it.

Fox International will cross the $1 billion in international box office on Friday, the first distributor to do so in 2013.

Three films with more than $200 million in foreign grosses led the way. "Life of Pi" was the big one, with $260 million of its $485 million overseas haul coming this year. "A Good Day to Die Hard" contributed $235 million and "The Croods" is at $225 million and still going.

And I predict that Fox will ... sooner or later ... buy DreamWorks Animation for its very own. Click here to read entire post

Friday, April 12, 2013

Closing the Door

Disney layoffs explained.

Mouse House cut 150 positions from several film studio divisions, nearly two percent of the division's 7,000 overall jobs, according to Bloomberg. ...

Disney announced the cuts as "part of an ongoing review to ensure that the Studios’ operational structure and economics align with the demands of the current marketplace" in a spokesperson statement. ...

During Disney's Q1 earning's call in February, Iger acknowledged an operating income decline in the home entertainment and theatrical businesses due to the poor retail performances of "Brave" and a re-release of "Cinderella."

Last September, Disney took a reported $50 million write-down on a stop-motion animation project set to debut fall 2013.

But here's what I know (and think) ...

I've watched the slow fade of Disney hand-drawn animation for a dozen years now.

The writing began to etch itself on the wall when the Pixar movies consistently outgrossed the Disney hand-drawn features in the late nineties. Outside of Tarzan and the under-appreciated Emperor's New Groove, Disney's other animated offerings were not huge crowd pleasers. Disney animators got nervous.

And the Animation Guild got busy offering training classes in computer animation. By the turn of the century, the guild was training hundreds of animators and assistants in classrooms in various Disney buildings. At the same time, division head Tom Schumacher held multiple meetings at the hat building, assuring a shrinking number of traditional artists that "You're jobs are safe."

That turned out to be at variance with the truth.

There were two waves of layoffs before the hand-drawn crew was gone. It took John Lasseter and his (brief?) enthusiasm for traditional animation to bring part of the old crew back from the wilderness. Sadly, the grosses from The Princess and the Frog (not to mention Winnie the Pooh) weren't high enough to keep his enthusiasm and support intact. A year and a half ago, surviving hand-drawn animation staffers were moved down to the first floor into smaller, darker offices. Animators were told that the company would keep them on for another couple of years, but after that, who knew?

So now nine traditional artists have been handed their walking papers, and others have been informed that wages will be lowered (again), with no long-term assurances positions will be there indefinitely. Walking around the hat building after the layoffs had been announced, I heard lots of speculation about why the downsizing occurred now:

"Wreck-It Ralph didn't perform well enough overseas, so Lasseter decided he couldn't carry the traditional animators anymore." ... "Iger is telling all the corporate divisions they need to cut back. We're not exempt." ... "The hand-drawn features haven't made money like CG has, so hand-drawn is over. Disney wants to maximize profits." ...

The last of the old-line animators have projects they're working on. When those end, I presume that more positions we'll be cut. Not a happy prospect, but Disney isn't concerned about happy. It wants to release high-profit pictures. It wants the stock price to go up. CGI, by the company's reckoning, offers the straightest and most lucrative route to that ultimate goal.
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Jonathan Winters, RIP

Cartoon voices were only a teeny, tiny part of his huge talent.

Jonathan Winters, the cherub-faced comedian whose breakneck improvisations and misfit characters inspired the likes of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, has died. He was 87.

The Ohio native died Thursday evening at his Montecito, Calif., home of natural causes, said Joe Petro III, a longtime friend. He was surrounded by family and friends.

Winters was a pioneer of improvisational standup comedy, with an exceptional gift for mimicry, a grab bag of eccentric personalities and a bottomless reservoir of creative energy. Facial contortions, sound effects, tall tales — all could be used in a matter of seconds to get a laugh.

"Jonathan Winters was the worthy custodian of a sparkling and childish comedic genius. He did God's work. I was lucky 2 know him," Carrey tweeted on Friday. ...

Winters was the reason I watched Jack Paar's Friday night prime-time show when I was a kid. Winters would be sitting there, conjuring up characters and worlds that were gut-bustingly funny. He was an originator, and an original.

He used to come to Disney to record. Walking down Animation Building halls, he would stop and do fifteen minutes of funny voices and bits for secretaries, assistant animators, and whoever else he encountered under the gold rotunda.

If he was a little late for the voice session, well ... he had entertained thirty people in the meantime. So what the hell.

Various comedians have followed in Mr. Winter's large footsteps, but he was among the first to do stream-of-consciousness improv comedy. A giant has boogied on.
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Calls to Action


LAS VEGAS -- The movement to rescue the troubled visual effects business is gathering momentum with VFX facility leaders planning to meet in May to discuss forming a global trade association, while artists are talking about the possibility of forming a union. ...

Industry leaders Scott Ross and Scott Squires addressed the issues surrounding the bankruptcy Tuesday night at the "Super Meet," an annual gathering held in Las Vegas during the NAB Show, which drew a crowd of more than 1,000. ...

On subsidies, Ross said, "You're spending $1 to $1.5 million to build a facility [in Vancouver], so the studios get a tax rebate. And the impact is on the digital worker, as well as the companies. [Artists] are uprooting their families, their kids, finding a home, then getting laid off."

Squires addressed work hours, saying, "Most countries have a cap of 60 hours a week. We typically start at 60 and go up from there. ... It can go up to 90 hours or more. It’s not unusual to work seven days a week.“ ...

If digital visual effects had been around in 1940 or 1950, the industry would now be unionized, top to bottom. But digital effects were born in the late 1980s and after, when organized labor was in decline, and here we are: smack in the middle of long, uncompensated work hours and spotty health and pension benefits.

Artists tell me that labor unions missed their chance to make special effects union. "Should have happened twenty-five years ago, when the industry was starting. Too late now."

I used to get the same line of dialogue about an animation studio named Film Roman. It's too big now. Too many Film Roman employees hate unions. Train's pulled out. Don't even bother ..."

We signed a contract with FR -- the production house making The Simpsons -- close to a decade ago, after more than a decade of performing face plants trying to organize the studio. All along the way we heard "Forget it ... forget ... won't ever happen. ...".

But it did happen, partly because we persevered, and partly because there was a need for better working conditions. Benefits had been cut, and wages stagnated, and employees ... after long hostility ... saw their lives would be better off under a TAG collective bargaining agreement.

I've known and worked with CG artists for close to twenty years. Many have a strong libertarian streak, many think unions aren't for them. CG artists and tech directors, however, are a long way from stupid. They know when they're getting shafted, which is why they are lots more open to being in a union or guild in 2013. (You get beaten about the shoulders and head with enough ferocity, your outlook changes.)

We're not to a union presence in visual effects yet, but we're way closer than we were a decade ago.
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Disney Animation Layoffs

This hit the whirling fan of breaking news yesterday.

As Disney's stock was touching another all-time high on Wednesday, about 150 employees at the conglomerate's filmed entertainment segment were getting word that their services were no longer needed.

The pink slips, insiders say, weren't unexpected, as published reports that began to surface last week indicated they were coming, and because word was out that CEO Robert Iger was looking for efficiencies and cost-cutting measures in areas where digital technologies were reshaping businesses, such as in home entertainment. ...

So who, exactly, is being slipped the axe? The L.A. Times reported:

... Disney declined to comment on the specific number of personnel affected. According to a 2012 filing with the Securities Exchange Commission, the company had 166,000 employees at the end of its last fiscal year. ...

Everybody suspected that Disney's animation departments were going to see cuts; nobody knew the specifics.

Yesterday TAG and the IATSE got some specifics from Disney Labor Relations. Walt Disney Animation Studios (a.k.a. Disney Feature) will be laying off nine veteran animators/artists, some of whom have been at the House of Mouse for decades.

I haven't talked to the artists getting pink slips, but this lay off has got to be wrenching. To be separated from a studio where you've spent a huge part of your working life is never easy. The questions Will I find new work? Will other studios be interested in what I have to offer? will be hanging there like thunderheads as they walk out the studio gates.

One consoling thought: There is life after Disney. Other artists have found this to be a fact; it will be true for this talented group as well.

(Just ask John Lasseter.)

Add On: Surviving hand-drawn animators have been called to meetings to discuss wage cuts and/or buyouts. Guess we'll wait to see where the downsizing ends.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Challengers To The Throne

Yesterday I was in a discussion with an artist at Disney about how Fox News-Corp. is the only fine entertainment conglomerate (outside of Team Mouse) that seems to take cartoons and animation seriously. And today I read this:

... Dreamworks (which has by far the most recognizable characters and potent animated franchises outside of Disney/Pixar) and 20th Century Fox have created a massive tag-team of sorts that combined are a very real threat to Disney/Pixar. And, most importantly, it leaves the would-be contenders on unequal footing, with Universal’s Illumination and Sony Pictures potentially fighting for scraps while they attempt to establish their foothold beyond one of two major successes. Dreamworks was always the likely top contender, with viable franchises and brands via the Madagascar animals, the Shrek universe, and the expanding mythologies of How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Now it’s not even a contest between Dreamworks and Fox. They are now, for the moment, one animated mini-empire.

Point being, the second and third-place animation studios just teamed up, which automatically makes them a strong bet to challenge the Mouse House. ...

I would go further than Forbes goes here.

Fox has long recognized the potency of animated features. They've owned Blue Sky Studios for over a decade, and have made a sizable fortune with their string of Ice Age movies. And they've got more in the hopper.

But Fox does something that no other conglomerate -- including the Mouse -- does. It creates blocks of prime time animation for its broadcast network, and makes large bushels of money with those enterprises, as well. Fox doesn't have as much animation on the cable side of its businesses as Disney, but it seems to be working on that shortcoming with its late-night Fox Animation Domination HD.

There are a lot of players in animation just now: producers of television product, producers of theatrical product, and the movies and shows come in at all price points. But when you are talking about the supreme heavy hitters, there are only two. The Walt Disney Company and Fox-News Corp.
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