Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guild Members Ratify New Agreement

The members of The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, have ratified the new 2015-2018 contract, which the Guild negotiated with animation studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) from June 29 to July 1st of this year. The Guild, though one of the West Coast production locals in the IATSE, negotiates separately from the IA’s west coast bargaining unit. Percentage-wise, the Animation Guild’s overall ratification vote ran 68% higher than in 2012.

The new collective bargaining agreement includes 3% annual wage increases to contract minimums, a 10% pension increase, and 30% increases for contribution hours under Animation Guild’s unit rates. Additionally, a new pay structure and higher benefit contributions were negotiated for freelance Timing Directors.

Add On:

The members have spoken. We had higher voter participation in the contract ratification than three years ago. Something like 50% higher.

One of the reasons this contract was approved by a goodly margin was, animation has the wind at its back. Animation is doing huge business across every platform: Theatrical features. Subscription Video on Demand. Cable networks. Broadcast networks. And animation continues to be one of the most profitable corners of the motion picture industry.

With cash flows as wide as the Mississippi, it's hard for companies to argue that they need relief. To their credit (for once), they didn't.

-- Steve Hulett



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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Goings ...

In the latest executive shakeup at DreamWorks Animation, the Glendale-based studio said Michael Francis is stepping down from his role as the company's chief branding officer.

Francis, a former president of J.C. Penney who has overseen all of the company's branding, licensing and consumer products divisions since 2013, will leave his job at the end of December, DreamWorks Animation said in a statement.

His duties will be handled by Jim Fielding, the current head of global consumer products and former president of Disney Stores. Fielding also was a longtime senior executive at Claire's Stores. ...

And comings ...

Eric Coleman has gotten a title bump to Senior Vice President, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Television Animation; Jonathan Schneider has been promoted to VP, Strategy; Aaron Simpson has joined the company as VP, Development; Shane Prigmore has been appointed VP, Creative Affairs; and Bonnie Lemon has joined the company as VP, Production. ...

Simpson joins Disney from Mondo Media where he served as Head of Development and executive-produced Fusion TV sketch series Like, Share, Die. He has also produced animation for Warner Brothers, Kids WB, Jib Jab and Sony...

Lemon joins Disney from DreamWorks Animation where she most recently served as production executive on feature films including Kung Fu Panda 3, How to Train Your Dragon 3 and The Penguins of Madagascar. ...

Animation execs are much like animation artists, they bounce from studio to studio, chasing after the newest gigs.

Very similar. Except that the Veeps make more money than the artists, writers and technicians who create the work.

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Frederick B. Avery

On this day, thirty-six years ago:

August 26, 1980 - Director Tex Avery dies after collapsing in the parking lot of Hanna-Barbera.

Two weeks before he was asked by a friend why he was working in Hanna & Barbera. Tex laughed:" Hey, Don’t you know? this is where all the elephants come to die!"

-- Tom Sito

You look around the internet, you find that Avery passed away from liver cancer, or lung cancer or ... something. And maybe he died at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Burbank and not Hanna-Barbera.

But two things are clear: He died on this date, and he had a large impact on American animation.

Tex was a key player at Leon Schlesinger's studio, helping to mold Bugs, Elmer and the rest into the characters we know today.

Tex turned out dozens and dozens of classic shorts at M-G-M through the 1940s "Red Hot Riding Hood" is the godmother of Jessica Rabbit. The Raid termites, the (politically incorrect Frito Bandito, thos were his.

Tex created commercials during the Eisenhower fifties. The Raid termites, the (politically incorrect) Frito Bandito, those were his.

And he died after a two-year stint at Hanna-Barbera, the studio where many veteran animation hands, not cut to the mold that Disney required, went to work.

"I was as ignorant of his genius as I suppose Michelangelo's apprentices were oblivious to the fact that they, too, were working with a genius."

-- Chuck Jones

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Record Breaker

The crystal ball, apparently, is clear.

When Disney revives the long slumbering Star Wars franchise on December 18, The Force Awakens will take the global tentpole opening to a history-making high. How high? Many are already predicting a record $615M worldwide opening. ...

In a digital world where screen counts can be increased at a last moment’s notice to meet theater demand of walk-up business, a record opening of $300M stateside and $315M abroad is possible for Force Awakens.

Ordinarily I would be skeptical of one of our fine conglomerates counting its hens and roosters before they flap into the global marketplace. But since Star Wars I, Star Wars II,, and Star Wars III made boatloads of money, it's a relatively safe bet that J.J. Abrams' offering Will perform as well or better.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

BASIC AGREEMENT RATIFIED

The IA locals that comprise the bargaining unit for the Basic Agreement, have spoken.

Members of 13 Hollywood locals of the IATSE have ratified a new film and TV contract. The deal with management’s AMPTP, which was reached in April, provides for 3% pay raises in each year of the three-year contract, as well as what the union is calling “major improvements” for members working in new media.

Covering some 43,000 workers, the new pact also calls for employer contributions to the union’s pension plan to increase by 18 cents per hour worked in each year of the contract. Pensioners who retired prior to Aug. 1, 2009, will also receive two extra pension checks on or about November 1 of each year of the contract so long as the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan remains on sound financial footing.

For the first time, employers will also make contributions to the union’s Entertainment and Exhibition Industries Training Trust Fund, which provides safety training for motion picture workers covered by the contract.

“The new contract represents significant gains and continued security for the welfare and livelihood of the members it covers,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb. ...

TAG ain't in the bargaining unit referenced above.

The Animation Guild was kicked out of the Big Room 32 years ago and ever since has bargained its own contracts separately. (This was because of two animation industry strikes over three years. The second one, which occurred in 1982, was long and not pretty. For some reason, the AMPTP was annoyed, and decided it didn't want us at the party anymore.)

If you want to know what we achieved in our June-July negotiations, which happened a couple of months after the Basic Agreement talks wrapped up, go here.

The vote on TAG's Collective Bargaining Agreement ends tomorrow, and we'll report on the results Thursday.

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Kids' Streaming

Work under TAG's contracts keep growing. This explains a lot of it.

... U.S. digital video penetration among children ages 11 and under is expected to jump to 74% by 2019 from 68% in 2013, according to research firm EMarketer. At stake will be millions of dollars in subscription fees for streaming services that have the best offerings. ...

One reason why children are a target audience is because they are natural binge-watchers, prone to viewing the same episode over and over. Parents, who once sat their kids down in front of DVDs, are discovering that streaming services offer more varied programming and are more convenient in a pinch.

About 20% of TV content (both acquired programming and originals) on Netflix and Amazon is aimed at children, according to SNL Kagan data from October 2014. Hulu, which has only dipped a toe in creating originals for kids, has a smaller slice of the pie with just 5% of its library consisting of licensed children's shows. ...

"Kids are growing up straddling the computer, tablet and smartphone," Naomi Hupert, senior research associate at the Center for Children and Technology, said. "All these technologies are relatively new, and how we see kids use them is still new. It can be sort of overwhelming to think where it can go from here, but we're still in the beginning stages."

Content providers keep discovering that animation is

A) A continuous kid pleaser.

B) Relatively inexpensive to produce.

C) Ever green.

And of course:

Animation Still Decade's Most Profitable Movie Genre: SNL Kagan

... Judged just by genre, average revenues for the decade’s 101 animated films ran 108.4% ahead of costs. DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 led the category with a 462% margin. The 71 sci-fi/fantasy films had a margin of 108.1%. Fox’s Avatar is the winner here with revenues 554% ahead of costs. ...

Deadline is talking about theatrical animation, but the smaller screen variety is also profitable. And one overlooked tidbit, that sci fi movie they talk about? Avatar?

It's mostly an animated feature.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Fourth Installment

Touching.

Like most people, I'd assumed that Pixar's Toy Story series was done and dusted with the heart-wrenching third film tying up, what was at the time, a neat little trilogy. ...

But no. ...

Katie Granger, the author of the above, clearly has just fallen off the turnip truck. Or been hit in the head with a blunt object. Or is five years old.

Because series that make major money are never done. No matter what the producers say at the time.

They're bringing back Duck Tales for gob's sake. Spongebob Squarepants and The Simpsons and Scooby Freaking Doo, they have no end to them. I won't burden you with the silly-ass rhetorical question of "Why?" You know damn well why.

These titles make hundreds of millions of dollars for their respective studios. The Simpsons are up in the billions, and all the early stakeholders, who were on board when the Yellow Family was nothing more than three-minute interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show, have long-since become independently wealthy.

No conglomerate leaves money on the table if it an help it. So no matter how many uplifting platitudes Mr. Lasseter may unspool about Toy Story 3's "completeness," there is still the matter of more money to be made.

Don't misunderstand me. Artistic ideals have their place. But commerce is what drives the Tinseltown train.


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The Fading Borders

... between live-action and animation.

Turning Frances McDormand Into Elephant Is New Territory For VFX Studio

... On HBO’s four-part limited series Olive Kitteridge, Shade VFX designed various animals for the project, including snakes and birds — “expanding character creation abilities really quickly,” CEO Bryan Godwin says — one of the most discussed moments in the series was the elephant scene, when one of the main characters experiences a hallucination and sees McDormand’s title character as an elephant. ...

“We settled on an Asian elephant because it had a little bit of a softer look, a little bit of a smaller head and could be a little bit more feminine than other varieties,” ....

Shades of Dumbo. (Note the video at the link.)

But the movie differences between CG animation and the real world continue to shrink. When an HBO series builds animated creatures into the presentation, using the same hardware, software and skill sets that go into making Frozen or Inside Out, the elding of two formats is complete.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Eternal Cartoon Website




In the mid 1990s, Warner Bros. Feature Animation released its first ... and most successful ... feature. It was a hybrid specimen named Space Jam, and a website was created to help promote it. ...

... The Space Jam website didn't exactly blow up online when it was launched, but studio execs also didn't care. The film raked in just over $90 million by the end of its theatrical run in North America, as well as another $140 million or so overseas. It remains, to this day, the highest-grossing basketball movie ever made. Jordan and Bugs had carried the day and the site was soon forgotten, just another relic of an evolutionary moment in early web design, when code that couldn't load fast enough through a 56K modem wasn't code worth writing.

The site lay more-or-less dormant for the next 14 years. But that changed for good in late 2010, when the Internet, exponentially bigger than it was in 1996, rediscovered the site – almost entirely unchanged from its initial launch. It was reborn as a viral sensation, the web's equivalent of a recently discovered cave painting. We laughed at the site because we couldn't believe anything was ever designed this way, but also because it still existed. It remains one of the most faithful living documents of early web design that anyone can access online.

Today, the Space Jam site's popularity has outlived almost everything to which it has been connected. The Fifth Avenue store shuttered in 2001. Both stars of the movie's stars made forgettable exits in 2003 – Jordan with the Washington Wizards, Bugs with Looney Tunes: Back in Action. And every person directly associated with the site's creation has now left the studio.

But the site lives on, aging for 19 years but free from influence, to our enduring delight. ...

Space Jam was born out of chaos ... and more than a bit of desperation.

In the middle 1990s, Warner Bros. set up a new animation division to compete with Disney's feature unit. The studio was headquartered on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, and had a rocky beginning. The facility had a sizable staff developing a number of projects, most of which studio chief Bob Daly was less than totally thrilled.

One project after another was reviewed by Daly, then rejected for being not quite right. People were sitting around collecting large salaries and twiddling their thumbs. Morale was sagging. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Ivan Reitman (producer/director of Ghostbusters and a host of other comedy features) brought in Space Jam a project developed under his Northern Lights shingle.

The picture got a greenlight from Warners and a release date of November 15, 1996. Ivan R. was slow reviewing designs and color setups, but new studio head Max Howard (fresh from Disney) understood that the production had to kick into high gear if it was going to hit its release date, less than a year away.

And all of a sudden, things got moving. Multiple studios were set up in Glendale, Sherman Oaks, and outside the country. Crews were working six and seven day weeks, month after month. People were sleeping under their desks in Sherman Oaks and Glendale; additional sub-contracting studios clambered above to get the work done. Space Jam ultimately made its release date, but it was a close thing. The movie did good business statewide and performed well overseas. making the WB a nice profit.

SJ was really the last hand-drawn hybrid film of its type that made good money. Cool World from Ralph Bakshi was a flop, even with Brad Pitt, and the Bugs Bunny followup Back In Action under-performed at the box office, despite energetic direction of Bugs and the gang by Eric Goldberg.

Today Space Jam (the movie) is a fading memory of the way things were nineteen years ago, when hand-drawn animation still had punch at the box office, so it's a good thing that Space Jam (the internet address) enjoys a robust after-life.


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World Box Office

Here are the animated features, hybrid and otherwise, that now inhabit the world market.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Mission Impossible -- $25,200,000 -- ($438,563,039)

Terminator Genisys -- $27,400,000 -- ($353,089,591)

Fantastic Four -- $16,200,000 -- ($130,425,362)

Minions -- $8,800,000 -- ($989,361,615)

Inside Out -- $10,700,000 -- ($689,923,715)

Pixels -- $7,700,000 -- ($173,882,189)

Ant-Man -- $2,900,000 -- ($361,024,370)

Jurassic World -- $5,700,000 -- ($1,622,868,080)

Monster Hunt -- $6,500,000 -- ($365,000,000)

Ted 2 -- $3,000,000 -- ($179,653,595) ...

Arnold and Co. get a second wind, as the trades note:

... Terminator Genisys generated $27.4M at 25,000 locations in China, in one day, which was enough to land it at the top of the overall chart. Behind it, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation added another $25.2M (-45%) in its 4th frame for a $280.8M offshore cume. ...

[T]his week Minions becomes the studio’s 3rd title of the year to cross $1B worldwide. After an $8.8M international frame, the Illumination animation is at $669.4M international and $989.4M globally. ...

After reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the UK last week, Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out maintained the position with a drop of just 35%. This is its 5th week of release there where the cume is $47.5M. ...

Sony’s Pixels has crossed the $100M mark overseas with $7.7M in extra arcade coins this frame. Playing on nearly 5,000 screens in 82 territories, the cume on the Adam Sandler video-game invasion pic is $105.3M. ...

[I]n Japan Jurassic World is No. 1 for the 3rd frame in a row with a local total of $48M. ...

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Top 2016 Features?

Some of these are obvious, but others? Maybe not.

The Big Six?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — Opening in March, the full kickoff of the DC Comics shared cinematic universe is going to do monster business. ...

Captain America: Civil War — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this will be Marvel’s biggest film yet. ...

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — There are probably only two films that might sneak past the superhero battle royal movies mentioned above and steal the title of highest grossing film of the year, and a Harry Potter spinoff is probably one of them. ...

Finding Dory - ... The first Finding Nemo made $864 million… in 2003… without 3D tickets. When it got a 3D rerelease a few years ago, it added $72 million to its coffers, raising its all-time total to $936 million. That’s $1.2 billion in today’s dollars, folks. ...

The Jungle Book -- ... Nothing you’ve seen in visual effects and CGI work for animals, creatures, and outdoor settings will prepare you for what you’ll see in this film, if the sizzle reel Disney unveiled is any hint of what to expect. ...

X-Men: Apocalypse — The X-Men franchise finally found the path to true box office glory last year with X-Men: Days of Future Past, by far the highest grossing entry in the superhero franchise at $748 million. That was a massive leap not only financially, but also for the size of the series’ fanbase. ...

The BIG movie for 2016 is going to be the one that opens Friday, December 18, 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That's the picture that runs the table in 2016, because the bulk of its box office receipts are going to roll in next year, not this year. So yeah, it's a 2015 release, but only barely. And it should be the top grosser next year.

As for animated features, I think Forbes is under-estimating Kung Fu Panda 3 (January 29, 2016), and Ice Age: Collision Course (July 15, 2016). Both of these, I think, are going to be BIG performers in the global marketplace. In fact, I could see either (or both) of these out-performing Finding Dory.



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Your American Box Office

Rolling along with those so-so, end-of-summer returns.

DOMESTIC WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

1) Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 2,757 theaters / $8.3M Fri. (-66%) / 3-day cume: $27.5M (-54%)/Total cume: $112.2M/ Wk 2

2) Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,442 theaters (-258) / $3.36M Fri. (-32%) / 3-day cume: $11.9M (-31%)/ Total Cume: $157.96/ Wk 4

3) Sinister 2 (Gramercy/Focus), 2,766 theaters / $4.67M Fri.*/ 3-day cume: $11M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $850K.

4) Hitman: Agent 47 (20th Century Fox), 3,261 theaters / $3.085M Fri.**/ 3-day cume: $8.3M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $600K.

5) Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 3,673 theaters (+35) / $2.18M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $7.36M (-45%)/Total cume: $26.6M/ Wk 2

6) American Ultra (Lionsgate), 2,778 theaters / $2.1M Fri.+/ 3-day cume: $5.6M / Wk 1
+includes Thursday previews of $425K.

7/8/9) The Gift (STX), 2,303 theaters (-200) / $1.27M Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $4.29M(-34%)/ Total Cume: $31M /Wk 3

Ant-Man (DIS), 2,016 theaters (-290) / $1.17MFri. (-24%) / 3-day cume: $4.2M(-23%)/Total cume: $164.6M / Wk 6

Minions (UNI), 2,226 theaters (-414)/ $1.07M Fri. (-26%)/ 3-day cume: $3.87M (-25%)/Total Cume: $320.1M / Wk 7

10) Fantastic Four (FOX), 2,581 theaters (-1,423)/ $1.068M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $3.6M (-56%)/ Total Cume: $49.6M /Wk 3 ...

Among animated titles: Shaun the Sheep fell out of the Top Ten on Friday (it had been clinging to the bottom rung of the list) and now stands with a gross of $13,400,000 box office gross. Apparently when you have been available in other formats -- like for instance little silver disks -- it puts a nick in your overall box office.

Inside Out has now grossed north of $341 million dollars, but Minions, still in the Top Ten, continues to close the gap between the two animated features.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Motion Picture Industry Pensions Statements

Now with Mentholated Add On!

The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plans has mailed out financial statements for 2014, which contain the following:


Name -- Birthdate
Vested years as of 2013
Vested Years as of 2014
Accrued Monthly Benefits as of 2013
Accrued Monthly Benefits as of 2014

2013 Individual Account Plan Balance
-- 2014 Investment Earnings
-- 2014 Compensation Related Contributions
2014 Individual Account Plan Balance

"When are the statements coming out?" is one of Guild members' most frequently asked questions.

Answer: They're in the mail ... or in your mailbox ... NOW.

Another question: "What does it all mean?"

Happy to answer: The Accrued Monthly Benefit is part of the Defined Benefit Plan run by the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan since its founding in the mid-fifties. There were lots of Defined Benefit Plans then (where retirees got a monthly payment until they died), but relatively few now.

Defined Benefit Plans were expensive. So corporations got out of them.

More common today is a Defined Contribution Plan, which is a set amount of money contributed to a pool of investments (bonds, stocks, and real estate) that will grow even as the participant adds more money through work. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan has a Defined Contribution Plan called the "Individual Account Plan." and the old-style Defined Benefit Plan (see above).

Both of these plans are funded by the companies that TAG has under contract. There is also a third plan, funded by participants, called "The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan". This plan is funded directly by the participants on a voluntary basis, and all the money in it is contributed by employees, not the employer.

The 401(k) plan is NOT part of the MPI Pensions statement described above. It's got a different administration and oversight committee, and all the assets parked inside of it are invested by participants, not the plan.

So, to sum up: TAG has three different pension plans. Two of them are automatic and summarized by the just-mailed statement. The other is an optional plan and accessed on the Vanguard website.

Add On: The mailing also contains how the billions in the MPIPP are allocated:

Asset Allocations -- Defined Benefit -- Dec. '14

U.S. Core Equity -- 5.5%
U.S. Growth Equity -- 3.8%
U.S. Value Equity -- 2.1%
Global Equity -- 20.8%
Emerging Market -- 4.4%

Total Equity -- 36.6%

Fixed Income -- 22.8%
Alternative Investments -- 33.3%
Real Estate -- 7.3%

Total Plan -- 100%

* * * * * *

Asset Allocation -- IAP

U.S. Core Equity -- 4.5%
U.S. Growth Equity -- 4.0%
U.S. Value Equity -- 1.9%
Global Equity -- 14.8%
Emerging Market -- 2.3%

Total Equity -- 27.5%

Fixed Income -- 32.6%
Alternative Investments -- 34.7%
Real Estate -- 5.2%

Total Plan -- 100%




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Anti-Poaching Plot Thickens

A new twist in the conspiracy to suppress wages:

... A California federal judge has handed DreamWorks Animation, The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures and Blue Sky Studios a big setback in an antitrust lawsuit that examines the way that studios allegedly colluded to deny workers in the visual effects community better work opportunities and better compensation.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh denied defendants' motion to dismiss an amended complaint just four months after she ruled that claims were barred by the statute of limitations. This time, she determines that the plaintiffs have sufficiently added details to their complaint to have adequately pled that the conspiracy was fraudulently concealed.

I get asked from time to time what I think of the wage suppression thingie. My answer:

Yeah, I believe the studios were colluding. Ed Catmull and George Lucas are on record in depositions acknowledging that the practice went on. My experience with studios is they work to hold down wages all the time, in a variety of ways. Having a pact with other studios would just be one of the ways, one of the arrows in their big, fat quivers.

I don't believe that management, by and large, thinks there's anything much wrong with this. Years back, when Human Resource people at Disney Feature were telling individual employees that it was forbidden to share wage information, they only (slightly) backed off when some employees pointed out this was against state law: "Okay, I ... ahm ... hear what you're saying. Well we would prefer and really appreciate if you would keep your salary to yourself."

When I went to management to complain (this was in the early 90s), the Veep that I whined to said: "Hey, until somebody takes us to court, we're fine with doing this."

Happily, the policy changed when a Vice-President -- who was a lawyer -- later called me to say: "Okay, we're taking the wage disclosure prohibition out of Personal Service Contracts. You're right about that."

The name of the game, always, is to get the most work for the least cost. The wage conspiracy is just an extension of the overarching policy that is always in place. ...

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Still-Born Development

Jurassic World is one of the monster hits of moviedom, and Jurassic Park didn't do badly twenty-plus years ago. There were plenty of live-action sequels, but no animated spin-offs. But it appears they worked on one.


... The vision for the show was “a mature primetime series with top writers and state-of-the-art television animation augmented with quite a bit of CG animation. Universal Cartoon Studios wanted a 'graphic-novel look' to the series," [says illustrator William Stout.] "I came in, showed my portfolio and was hired.” ...

And you see one of his illustrations directly above.

What the series would have looked like, and how it would have performed if it had actually been greenlit? Who can tell two decades later? The television and theatrical landscapes are littered with projects that never made it to production, or made it halfway and then died.

There will no doubt be interest in plenty of spin-offs to the latest $1.5 billion Jurassic blockbuster. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that an animated series might be one of them.

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Awards

A person can never have enough shiny gold statues and/or plaques.

The American Cinematheque will honor DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg with the first-ever Sid Grauman Award at the group’s annual benefit gala October 30. The award was started this year to honor an individual who has made a significant contribution to the Hollywood film industry in the continuing advancement of theatrical exhibition. It will be bestowed alongside the American Cinematheque’s usual honor, this year going to actor-producer Reese Witherspoon. ...

Jeffrey has been in the movie game a long time. There was Paramount, there was Disney, there was DreamWorks SKG and finally DreamWorks Animation. When Michael Eisner pushed over the side of the SS Mous in 1994, I had no idea that, two decades later, Jeffrey would decades into his run as head of a mini-major. And that Mr. Eisner would be retired from Disney and 87% out of the game.

So kudos to J.K. for building a studio and making a lot of iconic movies. If his cheer-leading for Moving View-Master (otherwise known as 3-D) was a trifle over the top, well, that's the nature of the man. He gets behind something, he is enthusiastic about it.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Every Conglomerate Has a Groove

The Mouse has Pixar and the original feature studio named "Disney". Warner Bros. knows their niche: Super Heroes and Legos.



Although they made a fortune with their Lego theatrical feature, this one goes out on DVD and Blu Ray.

...It’s hard to take Lego heroes and villains fighting seriously, but there is plenty of nice action that will delight the 6 and up gang. Jim Krieg’s script keeps things moving along and juggles the large cast without confusing the younger segment. Rick Morales’ direction is also a plus as things never bog down. ...

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The Latest Announced Cartoon

There are always projects in development, but cartoon studios and the conglomerates who own them tend to get testy if some internet upstart announced them before the corporate mouth is ready to speak. So here's the new announcement.

Nickelodeon has greenlighted 20 episodes of original animated series Pinky Malinky for premiere in 2016.

Co-created and co-executive produced by Chris Garbutt and Rikke Asbjoern (The Amazing World of Gumball)and executive produced by Scott Kreamer (Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness), Pinky Malinky follows the everyday life of Pinky, an infectiously positive hotdog living in a human world who, along with his two best friends, navigates school and life with a unique perspective. ... It will be produced at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank.

Using the tropes of a mockumentary and reality show format, Pinky and his friends will talk directly to the camera and the audience to share their absurd and silly take on real life. ...

Nickelodeon has been exploring new directions the last few years. Execs have risen and fallen. Formats have changed. Old standbys are coming back with new episode orders.

A lot of this stems from the happenings of four years ago:

After 16 years of dominating children's television, the [Nickelodeon] network finds itself in the midst of a mysterious ratings slide serious enough to drive concerns about its parent company's stock and prompt an investigation with Nielsen.

In just-released November ratings, Nickelodeon was down 19 percent year-over-year in ratings for viewers age 2 and older. In October, its ratings fell 13 percent. ...

After sitting in the high seat for a decade and a half, Nickelodeon was more than a little disconcerted that the Mouse was suddenly eating its lunch ... and Cartoon Network began stealing the dessert tray. But the kids' TV landscape is changing. Five-year-olds now binge watch original cartoons on Netflix, and viewing shows on mobile devices expand at an exponential rate.

It's a sad new world out there, with old pipelines rusting away and new ones not yet fully monetized. Like every other entertainment company, Nick will have to adapt to the fresh realities.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

California Tax Credits

Last year, the Animation Guild was part of a labor consortium pushing for tax credits for motion picture and visual effects work produced in the Golden State. Today, the results of California's 2014 law were announced.
Dax Shepard’s untitled movie based on the TV series CHiPs, Conjuring 2 and films from major studios including Paramount, Fox and Warner Bros are getting help from the Golden State. More than two weeks after the first application period for feature films ended, the California Film Commission revealed that 11 movies — seven studio pics and three indies — will be getting a piece of the expanded $330 million-a-year program that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last year.

“We’re fighting back and winning thanks to our newly expanded tax credit program,” said California Film Commission executive director Amy Lemisch in the announcement. “We were losing projects that were set here at home, and now we’re back to doubling for other locales. ...
The only animation work to find its way into the new tax subsidy law was live-action visual effects. Animated features and TV shows, as well as live-action sitcoms, were excluded from subsidies because much of that work has consistently remained in the state. Only high-budget features, long-form dramas, and VFX production that had earlier fled the state were awarded tax credits.

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Shakeup

It seems an executive head has rolled:

An internal restructuring has left Paramount’s Executive VIce President of production for animation Bob Bacon out of a job. He had been at the studio since 2011.

Sources said that all physical production, live action and animation, will now come under the auspices of Lee Rosenthal, and as a result, Bacon’s position is being eliminated. This news comes at a time when the studio’s highest grossing film of the year is an animated title: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water which made $163M at the domestic B.O. and $311.6M worldwide. The other animated film put into production during Bacon’s reign has been Chris Wedge’s Monster Trucks, which in May was pushed back a second time to March 18, 2016. ...

Hm. Maybe Monster Trucks has more issues than Paramount/Viacom lets on. Or maybe Mr. Bacon's exit is the result of turf wars that Mr. Bacon lost. Hard to know in a situation like this, because the Top Dogs are generally closed mouthed.

Feature animation development is going on in various spaces on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. They have several features in different phases of work. Perhaps the development progress of these animated properties didn't please higher ups?

Whatever it was, Something happened.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Lion Guard

The Mouse has released a longer trailer.



It's got cute animation, and a nice "look" that mimics the original feature. There's some light criticism about TLG, saying the series is too "juvenile", but it's important to know how Diz Channel works.

The Channel knows its market. And before any television half-hour goes on the air, Diz Channel gives copious notes and focus groups the sucker. Then hands out more notes. Then focus groups the newer version, then creates still more notes and testing.

Get the idea?

By the time Disney Channel products get onto cable, Diz Co. has beaten, poked and prodded potential series to fare thee wells, and knows what it's got, and (pretty much) how each series will perform. Management leaves very little to chance. They want shows that will own enough young eyeballs to become global franchises. And they usually achieve shows that will get them there.

When you're a big conglomerate that's clawed its way to Number One, you like to protect your turf.

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The Old Mail Bag

The morning e-mail brings the following*:

Steve,

What is it you do exactly for the Union?

The more I speak to other members the more I ask myself this question. It's not a question in haste or anger etc but an honest one. I hear of lack of compassion and empathy for the struggling members and desire to "not get involved" with legit mistreatment of members due to political ties etc etc...

This is extremely hard to understand. Is it a faction to only collect money from members offering no real protection to matters you state are "the Unions" responsibility??. Dues should come with iron clad promises given us by the "union" and we as members need to make officers in charge responsible for promises unkept, no?...

How is it that you stay in your position with years of unhappiness from members about what the "Union" does not nor will not do to help members??...Sad to see that this establishment is just as topsy turvy as our state's and country's government!!!!...Plus, I see and hear some officers are using their positions to stay employed. Very maddening!!!...

Sorry to go off course a bit but I feel we need to address many , many more problems that are currently being overlooked because of personal agendas. ...

To which Steve replied*:

Thanks for the inquiries. I’ll try to answer them as best I can. My day to day, week to week work around here looks like this:

I go to three to five studios a week, doing walk-throughs, asking if anyone has problems, questions about the 401(k) Plan, Health Plan, Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan, etc. (We have three pension plans). That’s been Job #1 for the past twenty years. The other purpose of the walk throughs is to check on contract violations.

Recently at [redacted], I went through the studio late at night looking for artists doing uncompensated overtime and filed grievances when I found some. The same thing occurred last year at [redacted]. People were working without pay on a Saturday, and we got those artists paid for the work. We also got the crew on [redacted] dismissal pay that the studio was not paying.

I also spend a lot of time advising new artists about how to get into the business, talk to members about strategies for getting jobs and staying employed, that kind of thing. I started in the biz in 1976, when I was hired by Disney as a trainee in the feature story department. I’ve been serving on the Animation Guild’s executive board as Vice-President, board member and Business Representative since 1983.

Other things the Guild does? We review immigration visas, we do lots of 401(k) enrollment meetings. But a lot of what we do around here is education. We have a huge number of people taking storyboard, life drawing and animation classes here at the Guild. And Steve Kaplan, Guild organizer, has set up lots of subsidized classes for active members through CSATF, and we regularly send out job listings to members on our e-mail list. We also hold regular “new member lunches” to explain the pension and health plans, so that newbies know how to choose the best health coverage for themselves. We just wrapped up a new contract.

[A Guild member], who you might remember from [studio name redacted], was instrumental in getting big improvements (30%) in the contribution hours for freelance board artists and [improvements for] timing directors. We also got a 10% bump-up in the pension payouts, as well as 9+% pay increases over three years. (We started planning these negotiation[s] nine months before they were held. We had multiple craft meetings from January to May, negotiation committee meetings that started in September and ended when the contract talks ended on July 1st. By the way, we invited every member, active or not active, to participate on the committee, and thirty folks participated in the planning and/or the talks themselves.)

How do I stay in my position? I guess it’s because a lot of members know me and vote for me at election time, but you’d be correct that some members are unhappy with me at any given moment in time. So you know, I’ve run against an executive board member and a former Guild President and beat both of them by 20-30%. I’m elected by the entire active membership, got elected the first time in 1989 when I ran against the incumbent business representative and beat him by a wide margin. I’ve been running for this office, elected by the membership, for 25+ years but won’t be running again, as I’m retiring next year.

Lastly: I would disagree that serving as a union officer helps anybody get or keep a job. Several ex-presidents of the Animation Guild would tell you it’s hurt them in the business, but I don’t want to put words in their mouths so I’ll leave it at that. ...

I’ve said for years that members who want to make a difference in the running of the Guild can have a big impact by coming to General Membership Meetings and letting their voices be heard. They can run for office, they can volunteer for committees. It’s my observation that members get out of the organization what they put into it. You’re certainly free to attend membership meetings, even though your currently inactive.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Feel free to call me if you want more information.

Steve Hulett

* Individual names and studio names redacted, some text re-paragraphed for ease of reading, and one cut (...) in Hulett's response has been made. Kindly ignore Hulett's lackluster prose. He was banging out an e-mail and didn't revise much. (Obviously).
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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sito Speaks

Mr. Sito and Mr. Asner.

TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito was at D23 in Anaheim today. He relates:

A dream come true meeting the great Ed Asner! I said to him how much I admired his union work. I said like him, I was president of my union, for three terms.

Ed smiled at me and said "You sad son-of-a-bitch!" ...

I know precisely whereof Tom speaks. Twenty years ago, he fought for the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan (and got it); was the first union rep in the IA to propose shared union health benefits for same-sex couples (the coverage eventually happened), and generally pushed and shoved for the betterment of animators, board artists, and everybody else the Guild represents.

But he didn't preside over a perfect world or workplace. And when, at the turn of the century, animation work left L.A. during one of the industry's multiple downturns, he took flak for it. As animator Charlie Downs (a founder of the Animation Guild and one of TAG's presidents) once said: "You serve in a union position, you have a target on your back, because anything bad that happens you get blamed for it."

"Sad son-of-a-bitch." Pretty much sums it up. But Tom goes on:

He [Ed Asner] told me he wants to run for the SAG board again. " I wanna shake things up." I'd vote for him immediately!


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The Morphing Chinese Animation Biz

As in America, Chinese companies are into mergers and acquisitions.

Guangdong Alpha Animation & Culture Company Ltd. announced last week that it is spending 904 million yuan ($141 million) to acquire U17.com, a top Chinese platform for original Internet comics.

The move represents an unorthodox move by the animation firm, which owns the rights to “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf,” one of China’s most-beloved cartoons.

U17.com owns a slate of adult comics, including one called “100,000 Bad Jokes.” The popular series is laced with adult comedy and witty wordplay and spoofs characters from classic Chinese and Western tales, such as Snow White and Superman. ...

The acquisition comes amid rising enthusiasm among investors for domestically-produced, family-friendly cartoons, sparked by the success of the recent animated feature “Monkey King: Hero is Back.” The film bested a record set by the second installment of DreamWorks Animation’s 2011 “Kung Fu Panda” to become the highest-grossing animated film in China. ...

The swallowing of entertainment companies by other entertainment companies happens in the Middle Kingdom, just as it does stateside: As News Corporation buys Blue Sky Studios, so Disney gobbles up Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilms.

Right now animation work is surging as animated features and television shows generate big profits for conglomerates, but veterans know too well how good times can become bad in the wink of an eye. Today a studio is hiring staff for new projects; tomorrow (when one of the projects tanks) that same studio is laying off employees.

Los Angeles has been blessed with a talent-heavy workforce that's in high demand, but there is always the threat of Free Money luring production to other states and countries (Sony ImageWorks, anyone?) So it's good to be aware that while boom times are good for the soul and pocketbook, they never last forever.

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World Box Office

Animation in all its forms, making money.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Fantastic Four -- $16,200,000 -- ($102,061,218)

Minions -- $15,000,000 -- ($957,429,910)

Pixels -- $12,000,000 -- ($155,632,781)

Inside Out -- $11,400,000 -- $666,954,797

Monster Hunt -- $11,600,000 -- ($349,500,000)

Ant-Man -- $5,600,000 -- ($347,067,253)

Jurassic World -- $8,900,000 -- ($1,606,278,860)

Ted 2 -- $5,500,000 -- ($173,719,540)

Shaun the Sheep -- $400,000 -- ($70,117,271)

Seems as though stop motion animation doesn't perform as well as CG animation, but maybe I'm reading the data wrong.

The trades tell us:

... Universal/Illumination’s Minions added $15M and will this week pass Toy Story 3 to become the 4th highest-grossing film ever overseas. ... Inside Out's current frame added $11.4M to advance to $327.6M abroad and $666.96M worldwide. ...

Ted 2’s stuffed legs carried the bold bear to $5.5M in 46 territories for an international total of $92.6M this session. The worldwide total on the Universal comedy sequel is now $173.7M. ... Paramount’s The Little Prince has been enjoying a steady run in a competitive France where the cume is now $7.3M. In its 3rd frame, the Cannes Official Selection added $1.3M at 800 locations.

Paramount’s Terminator: Genisys grossed $722K from 49 international territories this frame. The international cume is now $234.7M. ...

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Your American Box Office

The young men from Compton dominate the B.O.

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

1). Straight Outta Compton (UNI), 2,757 theaters / $24.3M Fri.* / 3-day cume: $59.4M / Wk 1
*includes Thursday previews of $4.96M

2). Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (PAR), 3,700 theaters (-288) / $4.89M Fri. (-40%) / 3-day cume: $17M (-40%)/ Total Cume: $138.1/ Wk 3

3). Man From U.N.C.L.E (WB), 3,638 theaters / $4.8M Fri.**/ 3-day cume: $13.6M / Wk 1
**includes Thursday previews of $900K.

4). Fantastic Four (FOX), 4,004 theaters (+9)/ $2.4M Fri. (-79%)/ 3-day cume: $7.9M (-69%)/ Total Cume: $41.8M /Wk 2

5). The Gift (STX), 2,503 theaters (0) / $1.92M Fri. (-53%) / 3-day cume: $6.15M (-48%)/ Total Cume: $23.2M /Wk 2

6). Ant-Man (DIS), 2,306 theaters (-604) / $1.5Fri. (-34%) / 3-day cume: $5.35M (-32%)/Total cume: $153.6M / Wk 5

7). Vacation (WB), 3,088 theaters (-342)/ $1.5M Fri. (-45%) / 3-day cume: $5.1M (-43%) / Total cume: $46.6M /Wk 3

8). Minions (UNI), 2,640 theaters (-483)/ $1.4M Fri. (-36%)/ 3-day cume: $4.8M (-35%)/Total Cume: $312.6M / Wk 6

9). Ricki And The Flash (SONY), 2,064 theaters (+461) / $1.3M Fri. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $4.4M (-33%)/Total cume: $14.4M / Wk 2

10). Trainwreck (UNI), 1,998 theaters (-527)/ $1.18M Fri. (-38%) / 3-day cume: $3.8M (-38%)/Total cume: $97.9M/ Wk 5

Minions, now cruising north of $300 million in domestic box office, is the only animated feature now in the Top Ten.

Inside Out, now above $338 million, was at #12 on Thursday but was pushed further down the List by the cluster of new arrivals.

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New Disneyland Land

Walt's Theme Parks are always in the process of becoming.

Disney has announced it is creating a 14-acre space dedicated to “Star Wars” in both its Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California theme parks that will transport guests to an immersive new planet inhabited by humanoids, aliens and droids.

It will be the largest single-themed park expansion ever for Disney Parks, it was announced by Bob Iger, who promised a wholly unique experience. ....


And by the by: Look for $135 admission tickets, coming soon to a Magic Kingdom near you.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

The Anaheim Version

... of Comic-Con, presented by Diz Co.

Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda is working on Moana original music, Disney announced the hoped-to-be “definitive” take on Jack And The Beanstalk, Rashida Jones is co-writing Toy Story 4, Ed O’Neill is in Finding Dory, and Shakira is acting, writing and singing in Zootopia. ... Those are just some of the highlights from the start of D23, which kicked off this afternoon with a presentation focused on inbound Walt Disney Animation and Pixar projects. ...

Concrete details were dropped about Moana, Disney’s upcoming ode to Polynesian culture set 2,000 years ago, among them some absolutely touching test footage from the still-in-early-production film.

Dwayne Johnson, who voices the demigod Maui in the film, made an appearance onstage along with the film’s director and producer and, as usual, was both inspirational and awesome, explaining how Samoa is “in my blood” and that one of his earliest dreams was to be a part of the Disney animation family.
The big reveal, however, was the rock star team Disney assembled to create Moana‘s music. The soundtrack will come from Polynesian artist Opetaia Foa’i; The Lion King arranger Mark Mancina; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind the Broadway smash Hamilton. ...

The thing that strikes home when reading about upcoming projects from the Mouse is, the depth of talent inside every feature.

Diz Co. isn't fooling around with upcoming soundtracks. Disney knocked the ball out of the park when they engaged the composer/songwriters of Broadway's "Book of Mormon" for Frozen. The company is using the same gambit for Moana, which makes perfect sense. If a winning formula makes a billion, by all means use the formula again.

Add On: Our fine trade papers cover the D23 extravaganza here with the Lasseter Live Blog, here with new Disney Legends (Johny Depp, Johnny Depp, JOHNNY DEPP!), and here with Jack and the Beanstalk (the company's second animated interpretation of the tale.)

All the new movies coming at us will have to carry more of the company's profit-making machinery, because the Mouse's cable and broadcast networks (ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC) continue to be undercut by newer entertainment delivery systems.


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