Friday, July 31, 2015

Top Twenty-Five

Schools of feature-making. (We can't really cal them "film schools" anymore. That's so ... twentieth century.)

BEST MOVIE-TRAINING COLLEGES

1) University of Southern California

2) New York University

3) American Film Institute

4) University of California at Los Angeles

5) California Institute of the Arts

6) Columbia University

7) Chapman University

8) Loyola Marymount University

9) Wesleyan University

10) Emerson College

... 25) Ithaca College

Today there are hundreds of art schools, colleges and universities that have live-action and animated movie curriculums. A quarter-century ago there existed but a handful; that reality has changed drastically in the last three decades. Now junior colleges, high schools, trade schools and universities large and small have film programs.

Animation graduates come from all parts of the country (and world) to work in Los Angeles. Starting in the 1970s, young artists were leaving Cal Arts in mid-curriculum by the bus-load, off to work at Disney or one of the TV production houses.

That still happens now, but the competition is ten times tougher. Cal Arts students intern at Nick and Cartoon Network. USC undergrads drop out to take work at mid-sized L.A. animation studios. Few want to pass up an opportunity to score an industry job, even when they're two semesters away from a diploma.

The movie industry has always been a tough business to break into; that's now also true of the cartoon segment. Though the business is booming, the fight for entry-level jobs is fiercer than ever.

(H/t Tom Sito.)

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Also Too, the Rise of the Middle Kingdom

Bloomberg tells us:

China’s Film Industry Is Gaining on Hollywood

Chinese audiences are growing, more theaters are being built, and the movies are getting better


Since mid-July, the biggest movie outside the U.S. hasn’t featured a Marvel superhero or dinosaurs from a revamped franchise or even an American action star. It hasn’t been an American film at all, but a Chinese animation/live-action fantasy, Monster Hunt, about a baby monster smuggled through ancient China. ...

With its mix of government-controlled enterprises and independent companies, the Chinese system looks very little like Hollywood. Longtime Hong Kong producers such as Edko regularly collaborate and compete with mainland giants Wanda, Huayi Brothers Media, and Bona Film Group, as well as the powerful state-owned entities such as China Film Group, which controls the importing and distribution of foreign films and produces its own. Internet companies Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and others are getting in on the action as producers and distributors.

All this investment and integration has led to improved scripts and greater diversity in an industry known for martial arts films and period spectacles. Today, feel-good fantasies such as Monster Hunt, which one Hollywood Reporter critic dubbed “a sentimental dollop of easily digestible moral storytelling,” succeed alongside comedies like Pancake Man, with Jean-Claude Van Damme as a villain. “There’s a growing commercial value and slickness to the Chinese films,” Pow says. ...

In what may be a sign of things to come, China’s monthly box office receipts for February passed those of the U.S. for the first time. Powered by the Lunar New Year holiday, the biggest time for moviegoing in China, February’s total box office hit $650 million, compared with $640 million in the U.S., according to Chinese research firm ENT Group.

I think the way this shakes out is, our fine American entertainment conglomerates will more and more play in the Chinese sand box, not the other way around.

The Chinese population is getting wealthier, day by day, and so Middle Kingdom companies are building new theaters, hand over fist, also constructing new production centers and making more movies that the Chinese audiences want to see.

And American entertainment execs know if they want to participate in this growing market, they have to play ball with the Communist party and its fellow travelers. They are happy to oblige. And even staunch anti-communists in congress have gotten the memo. The thundering right wingers who think the President is something that should have been flushed three days ago save their collective wrath for the Spanish-speaking communists in the Caribbean, who have no money and so are safe to jump up and down on (so far).

So Warners, DreamWorks and Disney (with Shanghai Disneyland!) are now building companies in China, the better to participate in all the lucre that is showering down. I mean, come on already. There are commies, and then there are commies you do business with because they make you rich.

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The Rise of Harry Potter Jr.

Interesting press release today:

July 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- 1986 cult classic film "TROLL" to be reprised as an animated film and television series titled "TROLL: The Rise of Harry Potter, Jr."

Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette has been signed for the voice of the witch, and up and coming child actor Baxter Bartlett is slated to be the voice of young Harry Potter, Jr. Plans are underway to round out the remainder of the characters. Cast members in the original 1986 live-action feature included Noah Hathaway, as Harry Potter, Jr., along with Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, June Lockhart and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The film is being represented and distributed internationally by London-based SC Films International, a sales, distribution, production and finance company. SC Films International confirmed they are also in final negotiations with 3D animation studios in Canada and China to provide production services for the project.

The new animated feature will revisit the world of the wizardry originally created in the 1986 TROLL movie in which a wicked, magical troll wizard envisages taking over the world. Only Harry Potter, Jr., with the help of a magical witch, can save the planet from the clutches of the troll wizard and his evil force. ...

I read "Harry Potter Jr." and my brain snapped to attention.

"Whaaaa??"

But then, further down, there is this snippet: ...

The reprise of "TROLL: The Rise of Harry Potter, Jr." has not been prepared, approved or licensed by any entity that created or produced the J.K Rowling series of Harry Potter books or the Warner Bros. series of Harry Potter motion pictures. TROLL: the Movie LLC is not affiliated with J.K.Rowling or Warner Bros nor has this motion picture been endorsed or authorized by J.K.Rowling or Warner Bros. The characters "Harry Potter" and "Harry Potter, Jr." depicted in TROLL are not related to, or inspired by, the book and film characters of J.K.Rowling and Warner Bros. ...

So it would seem everything is ship-shape and nicely battened down, lawsuit wise. The name HP Jr. was (apparently) part of the 1986 property, so the WB and Ms. Rowling have no claim on that.

But hey. Through the greatest stroke of good luck and boffo box office (not to mention towering book sales), "Harry Potter Jr." has some real bankability in this modern age. Which likely goes a long way to explaining why this particular property is being launched at this particular time.

Or am I too cynical by half?

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sony's Woes

The Culver City Studio has seen better times.

... More than halfway through 2015, Sony barely is hanging on at the box office.

The studio has fallen to seventh place in domestic market share — behind the five other majors and Lionsgate — with a mere $247 million in grosses, just 3.74 percent of the total pie. Globally, Sony has made a weak $564 million. (By comparison, leader Universal Pictures has pulled in $1.8 billion domestically and more than $5 billion worldwide.)

As its peers all have released at least one film that has earned $300 million worldwide, Sony's highest-grossing movie, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, topped out at only $104 million. Its latest attempt to create a homegrown tentpole, Adam Sandler's Pixels, isn't reversing that downward trajectory.

Happily, Sony Pictures Animation, after years as one of the weaker players creating feature-length animation, has had a turnaround of late. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballss did well, although the directors who helped make it a hit opted to move on to other studios. And Hotel Transylvania, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, was a crowd pleaser.

HT2 rolls out September 25th, and might turn Sony's sorry fortunes around. We can certainly hope so.

Add On: The trades tell of the specific financials:

Sony beat analyst estimates with a 38.8% increase in operating profit for the first quarter of 2015, but its pictures division incurred a $96M loss with no breakout hits released during the period. Revenues overall were flat, largely down to a decrease in smartphopne and LCD TV sales which were offset by foreign exchange rates.

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Seven Difficulties

Since I'm diving into new 401(k) enrollment meetings, here are seven inherent human problems and limitations that impede our ability to make good decisions generally ... and especially about money.

1. Connecting Correlation with Causation.

2. Confusing Luck and Skill.

3. We *love* shiny objects. We *love* shiny objects … often to our detriment.

4. We’re lousy at math.

5. We overrate our ability to impact the future.

6. We are beset by cognitive flaws.

7. Our personal insight is extremely limited.

A few years back, I ran across an artist who disdained investing the slow and steady way. No 401(k) contributions for him, no sir! He was going to make a pile quickly, and commenced buying rental houses in Arizona.

Everything was going swimmingly. He leveraged one house, then another house. And yet another. But then the real estate market went south, and that, as General Lee said at Appomattox, was the end of that.

But then, that's the point of the linked article up above. People get very convident of their own skills when things go well. They get a false idea of their own competence. As noted here before, investors who do the least often do the best:

"Fidelity has done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity. And what they found was..."

"They were dead."

"No, that's close though! They're the accounts of people who forgot they had an account at Fidelity." ...

The key to investing is, don't overthink it. If you have a broadly diversified asset allocation plan, and lower costs, you will (by and by) get rich. You just have to put money into stocks and bonds, and stick with it. (The toughest part is sticking with it.)

TAG 401(K) MEETINGS

DreamWorks TV -- Thursday, July 30th, 10 A.M. -- Conf. Rm 2508

Sony Pictures Anim. -- Wed., August 5th, 11 A.M. -- Conf. Rm.

Cartoon Network -- Tuesday, August 11, 2 P.M. -- Main Conf. Rm

Marvel Animation (Glendale) -- Wed., Aug 12th, 2 P.M. -- Conf. Rm

Marvel Animation (Prospect Ave.) -- Thurs., August 13, 2 P.M. - Prod. Serv. Bldg.

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Netflix Animation

Lots of subscription animation on demand coming over the internet.

New original kids & family series [on Netflix] include DreamWorks Animation’s Dinotrux (Aug. 14), Cartoon Saloon’s Puffin Rock (Sept. 1); and the revamps of ’80s classics Popples (November) from Saban Brands and Care Bears & Cousins from Moonscoop (December) for young audiences.

Animated fare for older kids will be augmented with Way Too Wonderland (Aug. 14) — the next chapter for the charming characters of Mattel’s Ever After High franchise. ...

Some older favorites will probably get pickups. For instance, staffers tell me there's a high likelihood that more episodes of Riders of Berk will be happening. Netflix has told investors that Riders has done well and helped build their viewer base. That would tend to indicate that more half-hours are soon to be ordered.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Money From Fictional Characters

George Lucas knew about the magic (and moolah) involved with licensing characters from movies early in his career. And others figured it out long before Mr. Lucas.

... The lucrative business of licensing imaginary friends can be traced back to the Buster Brown era of the early 1900s, when books, games, toys and especially shoes derived from the popular comic-strip character began showing up in stores. ...

Walt Disney, a young Kansas City filmmaker who ventured to California in the mid-1920s, recognized early on the power of merchandising. He made his breakthrough deal for the first of his cartoon creations, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Mickey (formerly Mortimer) Mouse came next, followed by Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Clarabelle Cow, Snow White and Goofy (originally Dippy Dawg). Over time other animation studios jumped into the business with their ever growing menagerie of characters eager to invade theaters and funny papers: Warner Bros. licensed Porky Pig; MGM farmed out Tom and Jerry; Universal shopped Woody Woodpecker. ...

Licensing of merchandise has made many creators rich, and kept more than a few studios afloat when movie receipts were thin.

One of the reasons our fine entertainment conglomerates eagerly produce so much animation is -- besides the movies and television shows being profitable -- the dolls, games, action figures and books -- are gobbled up by the elementary school set, who twenty years later introduce their children to the cartoon characters of their own formative years.

Which is why animation is ever-green and a perpetual money-making machine. One-season wonder The Jetsons has gone on decade after decade, spinning off cereal and lunch boxes (among other things) as it rockets through time. Name another network half-hour show from 1962 that's managed to do that. There aren't any.


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Storyboards of the Cork Variety

So I'm ambling through one of our fine conglomerates animation studios yesterday and encounter a veteran storyboard artist, who tells me this:

Jeffrey [Katzenberg] is getting much more hands on at DWA. He's getting more involved in development again, and doing more meetings.

He likes the drawings up on boards with the boards spread around the room so he can reference other drawings in the presentation, go back to the setup, see it right then. Everybody still draws digitally, but they print the drawings out and pin them up. ...

So maybe I'm totally out of the 21st-century loop, but this all makes perfect sense. Storyboards are handy. Storyboards are good.

To be clear: I see boards pinned with drawings scattered about in various cartoon factories, but there are way fewer storyboards littering hallways or stacked in artists' rooms than in the olden days. "Paperless workplaces" are the summits to which many are climbing. But not too many years ago (1999? 1989?) it was way different.

Then, everybody drew on paper with pencils of carbon or grease, or Mont Blancs. They pinned their handiwork on cork boards and there were a lot of failed drawings on the floor. Now, artists are bent over Cintiqs, tongues protruding from pursed lips, putting their styluses to pixelated screens. And there's way less trash.

So it's reassuring to hear about producers who actually look at drawings on storyboards, who follow the action drawing to drawing and refer back and don't whine about "not understanding" storyboards. These are the types who demand to see an animatic, otherwise their wee little heads start to throb.

Didn't any of these people read comic books as kids? Or are we so deep into the digital age that the idea of looking at drawings on a flat surface is totally alien?


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Monday, July 27, 2015

The BIG Question

... to nobody but geeks.

DID PIXAR KILL HAND-DRAWN ANIMATION??

No, Brandon my lad. Bad hand-drawn animation, uninspired and limp, killed hand-drawn animation.

Think about it. There was Quest for Camelot. There was Atlantis and Home on the Range and any number of other tepid, hand-drawn candidates from Disney and DreamWorks Animation .. and from which audiences stayed away in droves.

Is this because Pixar's CG films were all that people wanted to see? I think not, because when a zesty, older-style offering like Tarzan rolled down the pike, audiences flocked to see it. This wasn't so much because CG was the medium of choice, but that Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc. were better made and owned more interesting characters and stories.

Because, Brandon old top, it ain't the medium, but the quality of the tale that lies beneath the textures and surfaces. Tangled would have done well whether it was hand-drawn or CG. Hell, with Glen Keane supervising the animation, it was the closest thing we've had to hand-drawn in years.

But at that point, hand-drawn feature animation was O-VER.

Produce a picture that the public wants to see, and it won't matter whether it's CG or hand-drawn. Except that studios won't sink money into hand-drawn features anymore because they view CGI as a far better bet. (And the box office keeps proving it.)

The market for hand-drawn animated features withered away a long time ago, when a string of stinkers left a bad smell in movie-goers nostrils. Sad, but the way it is.

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Cavalcade of Animation

... announced via time-honored press releases.

“South Park” (Season 19 Premiere) – 10:00 p.m.

Five-time Emmy® Award-winner “South Park” returns in its 19th season with 10 all-new episodes. Last season, the foul-mouthed fourth-graders launched a Kickstarter campaign, discovered Randy’s true passion, flew a drone and explored the world of virtual reality. ...

“Moonbeam City” (Series Premiere) – 10:30 p.m.

“Moonbeam City” is an absurdist, retro-futuristic 80s cop extravaganza. Comedy Central’s new animated series follows Dazzle Novak (voiced by Rob Lowe), a handsome, idiotic detective who commits more crimes than most criminals. His sexy, tyrannical chief Pizzaz Miller (Elizabeth Banks) won’t get off his back. His obnoxious rival Rad Cunningham (Will Forte) will stop at nothing to destroy him. ...

“TripTank” (Season Two Premiere) – 11:00 p.m.

“TripTank” showcases a wide range of fast-paced, hard-hitting animated comedy shorts presented in an anthology style, weaving together stand-alone and recurring narrative pieces. Executive produced by ShadowMachine’s Alex Bulkley and Corey Campodonico, “TripTank” season two takes things just a little bit further through a variety of mind-bending animation styles, featuring a broad range of formats including 2D, stop-motion and CGI. ...

The point here is that animation is increasingly ubiquitous across cable, on Netflix, and does better than most programming on Little Silver Disks.

Comedy Central, like Adult Swim, likes "edgy programming that's produced non-Guild. Moonbeam City lists Titmouse and Olive Bridge Entertainment as joint production companies. We have a contract with neither of them, but hope to change that equation soon.



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Sunday, July 26, 2015

75th Anniversary

President Emeritus Tom Sito recounts:

1940 - HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY BUGS BUNNY.

Tex Avery’s short - "The Wild Hare”

There were several earlier prototypes of the famous rabbit, white with a different voice, but this is the short that launched his career. Bugs says “Whats Up Doc?” for the first time, co-opting a line uttered by Clark Gable while chewing a carrot in the 1934 Frank Capra film “It Happened One Night”.

Interestingly, voice actor Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots, and kept a bucket nearby to spit them out after chewing. ...



I always thought that the Disney Silly Symphony "The Tortoise and the Hare" contained a Bugs prototype in the Diz rabbit. But several old-timers said to me that this wasn't so.

Still in all, the Disney short came out in 1934, years prior to "Hare". There was never any copyright battles about it, but what do you think?

-- Hulett




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Foreign Box Office

Wherein the Pixar movie is doing well and the Illumination Entertainment movie with the little yellow guys is crushing it.

Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Minions -- $44,000,000 -- ($759,378,460)

Ant-Man -- $35,400,000 -- ($226,475,529)

Monster Hunt -- $46,000,000 -- ($211,000,000)

Pixels -- $21,400,000 -- ($49,400,000)

Monkey King: Hero Is Back -- $17,000,000 -- ($95,000,000)

Jurassic World -- $7,600,000 -- ($1,541,453,325)

Terminator Genisys -- $10,700,000 -- ($305,065,614)

Ted 2 -- $4,000,000 -- ($153,575,210)

The trades break the story down:

... The biggest studio player overseas is Minions by a wide margin. Universal and Illumination’s dedicated henchmen dutifully scooped up another $44M in overseas green this frame. ... Ant-Man now has an offshore colony of $120.4M. The 2nd session for the little insect with big powers had new openings in Germany and Spain, along with Scandinavia, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, India and Vietnam. ...

Inside Out brought another $28.3M to the total in its 6th frame during what has been a staggered release. The international cume is $229.8M for a $550.14M worldwide brain trust. ... Jurassic World this week became the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time behind Avatar and Titanic when it hit $1.522B to overtake The Avengers. ...

And so on.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

China Rising

So the Middle Kingdom is (finally?) creating animated entertainment that its citizens want to see:

This has been the summer that wasn’t for Hollywood’s major studios in China, their largest overseas market. ... China’s State Administration of Print, Publishing, Radio, Film and Television (“SAPPRFT”, or more commonly “SARFT”) imposed the crushing blow of its annual summer ‘domestic film protection period.’ More commonly referred to as the ‘blackout’ period in Hollywood circles, this is a stretch of typically six to eight weeks when imported ‘quota’ films are barred from mainland theaters in order to open up more screen time for Chinese movies. ...

Chinese distributors have rolled out several huge audience pleasers in the past few weeks, with family fantasy epic Monster Hunt leading the way. Directed by Shrek the 3rd co-director Raman Hui and produced by Edko’s Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero). ...

Another local film, the animated family adventure The Monkey King: Hero is Back, has succeeded beyond all expectations. This week it will roll past the long-standing $92 million record held by 2011 Dreamworks Animation’s release Kung Fu Panda 2 to set a new record for highest grossing animated film in China.

In years gone by, China couldn't coax Chinese audiences into theaters with its own product. Many stated away, because nothing was offered that people wanted to see.

But over time everything changes. And Chinese have now found the right combination of ingredients that the locals want to slap down money to see. It helps that American films have been blacked out for two months, but that hasn't been the determining factor in the past. This time, domestic studios have cooked up two big winners. So congrats!

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Your Weekend Box Office

Seems to be two animated movies doing well, and the usual slew of big effects tent-poles, with the one with Arnold doing less well.

NORTH AMERICAN TICKET SALES

1). Ant-Man (DIS), 3,868 theaters (+12) / $7.2M Fri. (-68%) / 3-day cume: $25.6M (-54%)/Total cume: $107.1M/Wk 2

2). Pixels (SONY), 3,723 theaters / $9.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $23.7M / Wk 1

3). Minions (UNI), 4,066 theaters (-245)/ $6.6M Fri. (-55%)/ 3-day cume: $22.3M (-55%)/Total Cume: $261.8M / Wk 3

4). Trainwreck (UNI), 3,171 theaters (+13)/ $5.3M Fri. (-50%) / 3-day cume: $17.1M (-43%)/Total cume: $61.5M/ Wk 2

5). Southpaw (TWC), 2,772 theaters / $6.19M Fri. / 3-day cume: $16.98M / Wk 1

6). Paper Towns (FOX), 3,031 theaters / $6.46M Fri. / 3-day cume: $15.25M / Wk 1

7). Inside Out (DIS), 2,717 theaters (-546)/ $2.1M Fri. (-36%)/ 3-day cume: $7.4M (-36%) /Total cume: $320.2M/ Wk 6

8). Jurassic World (UNI), 2,645theaters (-472) / $1.98M Fri. (-39%) / 3-day cume: $6.9M (-40%) /Total cume: $623.9M/ Wk 7

9). Mr. Holmes (RSA/Miramax), 686 theaters (+325) / $778K Fri. (+20%) / 3-day cume: $2.8M (+15%)/ Total cume: $6.4/Wk 2

10). Terminator: Genisys (PAR), 1,702 theaters (-1,112) / $658K Fri. (-60%) / 3-day cume: $2.38M (-46%) / Total cume: $85.6M/ Wk 4 ...

Once again, a mentally deranged specimen bought himself a firearm and used a movie theater as a shooting gallery. How this will impact weekend ticket sales remains to be seen, but the boys and girls in the conglomerates' front offices are concerned about it. Gunmen roaming through multi-plexes aren't good for business.


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Friday, July 24, 2015

Tangled By Emoji

The Diz Co. it know how to market.



Tangled the TV series is coming out, and the Walt Disney Company is making sure it markets the property on every possible media platform, through each and every pipeline. .

This, of course, is one of those pipelines. Smart conglomerate, I'd say.

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Contract Negotiations & Frequently Asked Questions

To catch folks up, we negotiated a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers just shy of a month ago. Good fun was had by all. (And if you believe that, I bring you world peace on an engraved silver platter.)

Actually, the negotiations were relatively uncontentious after a contentious first day. The Animation Guild came in with a robust set of proposals, got some of them and didn't get others.

We finally reached agreement and wrapped up the talks at 10:45 p.m. on July 1st. Here's a quick overview of what was achieved in question and answer form. (The Memorandum of Agreement was a whale of a lot longer, so we boil it down.) ...

2015-2018 ANIMATION GUILD CONTRACT FAQ

Q: There’s a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo in the included “Memorandum of Agreement.” Can you give me the highlights?

A: Here you go.

WAGES: Minimum wage rates will be 3% higher in each of the next three years, compounded each year. For example:
The current minimum rate for Production Boards is $1,987.44.

Under the new contract that rate would go up to:

Production Board (Journey):

8/02/15 - 7/30/16: $51.18/hour -- $2,047.20/week
7/31/16 - 7/29/17: $52.72/hour -- $2,108.80/week
7/30/17 - 7/31/18: $54.30/hour -- $2,172.00/week

HEALTH AND PENSION: The Health Plan is unchanged (same coverage, same premiums). Defined Benefit Pension payouts are going up 10%. However, new members, (anyone who does not have a qualified year (worked at least 400 union hours) by January 1, 2016 will now need 20 years of service to qualify for Retiree Health Benefits. Anyone with one or more qualified years still only needs 15 years.

UNIT RATE INCREASES:

Freelance Storyboard Artists will receive a 30% increase in MPI hour minimums. (Remember you can always ask for more.)

There is a new minimum unit rate for Freelance Timing Directors:

8/02/15 – 7/30/16 -- $3.25/foot
7/31/16 – 7/29/17 -- $3.35/foot
7/30/17 – 7/31/18 -- $3.45/foot

For every 100 feet of work, there will be 8 hours of Pension and Health contributions. So working at the accepted 500 feet/wk will give you the expected 40 hours of MPI contributions.

SICK LEAVE: The California Sick Leave Law is now incorporated into the TAG Collective Bargaining Agreement. The law requires three days of sick leave per year. Three days of leave can be carried over to a second year. Studios can continue established sick leave policies, provided they’re above the three-day threshold.

NEW MEDIA: New language has been added that follows the New Media language for the DGA, WGA, IATSE, and SAG-AFTRA agreements regarding union pay scales on high budget New Media shows. It is our estimation that none of the animated programs currently in production meet the budget levels described in the additional contract language.

Therefore, all current conditions will apply for any production made for New Media, but we now have the ability to request and review the current program budgets. This information will be extremely useful for our research and further bargaining in this category.

MANDATORY HARASSMENT TRAINING: All members will be expected to take an online harassment prevention training course. They will be paid $20 an hour to complete it. Failing to complete the course may be a factor in hiring and/or reason for dismissal. This was done to comply with California state law.

Q: Aren’t we past the contract deadline? Are we still in an agreement with the studios?

A: No, the old contract still has until August 1 to run. And since the union and the studios have reached an agreement for a successor contract, all terms and conditions are in effect.

Q: What do the Guild officers and the Negotiation Committee recommend that members do?

A: Your union officers and the Negotiation Committee members strongly recommend a “YES” vote on the 2015 contract. Though we did not achieve everything we wanted (no bargaining party ever does), this is the BEST contract achieved over the past four negotiating cycles.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wage Transparency

One thing I know: Cartoon studios don't like employees knowing what other employees are making. You've no doubt heard about the alleged wage collusion between animation employers, so I won't beat that particular horse beyond linking to a story about it.

But here's a related tale with a (kind of) happy ending:

When thousands of Google employees organized to share their salaries internally — allegedly highlighting troubling patterns in the way people were paid — Google got angry, according to a former Google engineer who wrote about the incident on Twitter on Friday.

The employee, Erica Baker, who is now an engineer at the workplace messaging company Slack, said on Twitter that “one Sunday” at her previous company, she and some coworkers “were bored” and decided to put their salaries in a spreadsheet.

“It got reshared all over the place,” she tweeted. As it spread through the company, thousands of employees added their salaries and it allegedly revealed “not great things regarding pay.” ...

As the spreadsheet kept growing, Baker’s co-workers began giving her “peer bonuses” —a $150 award Googlers can dole out to colleagues they think have done good work — for her work opening up the discussion about wages at Google. Baker said that her employers reprimanded her by repeatedly not approving the bonuses co-workers were sending to her. ...

I bring this tale up because A) my former assistant Jeff Massie sent it to me, and B) it fits in beautifully with our ongoing wage survey. (And if you haven't send in your salary info to us, get cracking. We're already up to 25% of membership, so what are you waiting for?)

Years back, Disney Feature Animation put confidentially clauses in all its Personal Service Contracts. They told me they didn't want anyone sharing wage information; when I (helpfully) pointed out that the paragraph in the contract was against California law, the exec to whom I was talking gave me a long, thoughtful pause and said:

"Well, the lawyers tell us that so long as nobody takes us to court, we're good keeping the language in."

I argued his inane point vociferously. Eventually I took my argument up with an enlightened lawyer in Disney Labor Relations. (They do have a few, believe it or not.) She said: "You're right, shouldn't be there. We'll take it out." And out it finally, (happily) came.

But it was a struggle.

I offer this history as a reminder that companies always and forever want to keep information that might hit their profit margins as close to the vest as legally possible. It's the way they roll. But the American culture that used to discourage employees from sharing wage information now erodes year by year, largely because (I think) of the way 21st American companies roll.

Couldn't come a minute too soon.


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Predictable as the Rising Sun

Universal says:

Universal has announced that a sequel to Jurassic World will be released on Friday, June 22, 2018.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard will return to star. Jurassic World helmer Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who did a rewrite on World, will write the script for the sequel. ...

And after that, there will likely (inevitably?) be a Jurassic World III ... IV ... V ... etc.

And Mr. Spielberg will add new billions to those he already has.


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ReSale

And with it comes More Money.

DreamWorks Animation’s big picture brightened considerably Thursday, with news that its headquarters has been sold for $215 million to Griffin Capital.

The sale of the 14.7-acre facility was a key part of the recovery strategy detailed by chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg in January, along with 500 jobs cut and scaling back of its 2015 slate to just one film, following a $263 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The sale, which should net DWA around $107 million after it splits the proceeds with Sun Trust, to whom it sold the property in February for $185 million with the provision that the animation studio would share in proceeds from a subsequent transaction. ...

Five months back, I wondered about DreamWorks Animation selling its main campus. I thought: "Oh, this can't be good. DWA is now a renter, with no stake in the property."

Stupid me. The studio goes back on the market, and DWA collects more money now that Sun Trust has sold it. I would love to have that kind of deal with my house. Sell, and make money. And when the buyer sells, make money again.

But I guess this is why Mr. Katzenberg is rich, and I am ... something other than rich.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Space Jam Deux?

That's the speculation, at any rate.

LeBron James has a new deal with Warner Bros., with the NBA superstar collaborating with the studio on potential TV, film and digital projects. ... Back in February of last year Warner Bros. filed for new “Space Jam” trademarks just last month.

Warner Bros. is at least keeping its options open for something new involving “Space Jam,” and LeBron James — who plays a well-reviewed supporting role in new comedy “Trainwreck,” which opened last week — is now in the fold for a variety of potential projects. ...

We suppose/predict two things:

1) Warner Bros. is definitely thinking about a Space Jam sequel, and

2) The next edition will have a CG Bugs, CG Daffy, and CG versions of all the other classic Warner characters.

The boys and girls in the executive suites will stay far away from hand-drawn characters. This isn't because execs hate hand-drawn animation, but because Looney Tunes: Back In Action, the SJ sequel that nobody talks about, made $68,514,844 worldwide.

And Back in Action's production costs, before prints and advertising, was $80 million.

Which is too bad. Because the animation, under the masterful supervision of Eric Goldberg, was excellent. But nobody came to theaters to see it. So my guess is, Warners won't be going down the hand-drawn road a third time.

So bank on Computer Generated Imagery. Because everyone knows that CGI is the entertainment road to riches.

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New Topkick

A big cartoon studio names a new Senior Veep.

Nickelodeon has filled the vacuum in its top animation ranks, expanding the nick responsibilities of James Stephenson who has been named to the newly created position of SVP, Animation and Games. He will be adding animation production and development to his current duties of digital content creation. Stephenson will be based at Nickelodeon’s animation studio in Burbank, Calif., reporting to Russell Hicks, President, Content Development and Production, Nickelodeon Group.

The promotion follows the March company-wide Viacom layoffs, which saw three top Nickelodeon animation executives depart: Rich Magallanes, SVP, current series; Jenna Boyd, SVP, animation development; and Jill Sanford, VP, animation development.

When you're a studio that's fallen from the high perch of Numero Uno, you at some point shake things up.

Nickelodeon is long past that point.

They've swept out three Vice Presidents a few months ago. And they were lopping off management heads long before that. But desperate times require desperate measures.

We wish Mr. Stephenson all the best in his new position. And hope that his neck is long spared the "It's Not Personal, It's Business" chopping block.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sony Outbids

From the trades.

Sony Pictures Animation won a three-studio auction for an animated movie pitch centering on the Emoji, those lovable round headed figures that are as much a staple of social media correspondence as adverbs and adjectives. The project will be co-written by Eric Siegel and Anthony Leondis, with the latter directing the feature. ...

I read the above and for two eye blinks thought:

Eric Siegel! Getting into animation again after "Yellow Submarine"! After "Love story"!

But of course, that's stupid. Because the other Eric Siegel is spelled Erich Segal. And besides writing the Beatles' hit movie, that other Siegel wrote Love Story and multiple academic texts.

But Erich Segal couldn't be involved in writing the Sony movie. Because he's dead. Which I figured out after thinking about it a few moments. The mind plays tricks.

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Pixar New, Pixar Ripped Off

You can seldom go wrong with a dinosaur picture, especially dinosaurs in the north woods.



And apparently a studio in the Middle Kingdom has decided "you can never go wrong with a Pixar picture":

Made-in-China movie draws fire as a copycat of Pixar's 'Cars'

The movie in question [is] “The Autobots,” produced by the animation studio Blue MTV in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen. Although the plot of “The Autobots” is not like “Cars,” its protagonist bears a striking resemblance to the lead character from the Pixar film: ... Lightning McQueen.

The movie has become the topic of a heated debate, with many Chinese film fans accusing the director of plagiarism.

“What the heck is this? Please try to compare your poster to the original one of ‘Cars’ from Disney,” Lu Hengyu, an animation director, wrote in a mocking post on his official account on the social media platform Weibo. “You call these ‘The Autobots’? Then I will make one called ‘The Decepticons’!” ...

Disney is not enthused about "The Autobots." A Disney spokesperson said: "We believe 'The Autobots' picture blatantly infringes on Disney's intellectual property rights from our 'Cars' and 'Cars 2' movies and intend vigorously to protect our copyright." ...

Sadly for The Autobots, imitating high-end American animation hasn't resulted in blockbusterhood. This particular Chinese cartoon feature has laid an egg at the Chinese box office.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Ratings Topper

The Mouse doesn't seem to hit sour notes with large or small screen cartoons.

Disney XD’s Gravity Falls midseason debut has clocked that network’s biggest audience to date for a regular series telecast, in Live + 3 ratings. The episode that premiered last Monday averaged 2.319 million viewers. It also logged a network best among kids 2-11 (1.036 million/2.6 rating), boys 2-11 (686,000/3.4 rating).

Overall, Gravity Falls now accounts for Disney XD’s Top 7 regular animated series telecasts of all time in kids 6-11, the Top 4 in boys 6-11 and Top 5 in kids 2-11.

Gravity Falls ranked as the No. 1 program in its Monday 8:30 PM time period in all of television, across all kids and boys 2-11, 6-11 and 6-14 demographics. It was cable TV’s No. 1 scripted telecast in total viewers. ...

Creator and exec producer Alex Hirsch will likely see his baby go way beyond the three season arc he originally envisioned.

Big ratings generally cause our friendly conglomerates to extend the lives of TV shows under their purview. Because the ringing of cash registers is a sweet sound that they are extend ... and extend.

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The Never-Ending Story

Well, not never-ending, in point of fact. One day the tale will come to a screeching halt because Diz Co. will run out of animated features to remake.

Disney is revisiting its 1963 animated fantasy The Sword in the Stone, putting into development a live-action remake.

Bryan Cogman, a writer-producer on HBO’s fantasy Game of Thrones, has been tapped to pen the script for the project, which will be produced by Brigham Taylor.

Stone, the final movie released before Walt Disney’s death, told of a young King Arthur who is being mentored by Merlin. ...



Vance Gerry (beloved and highly-skilled Disney story artist) told me that they never quite licked the story on this feature. The story crew added lots of comedy business to expository scenes, hoping to distract the audience from all the ... ahm ... exposition.

But it didn't quite work.

Vance said that a long explanation near the front of movie got dolled up with antics from a wolf that kept trying (and failing) to grab Wart, the future King Arthur. Vance told me: "We thought that breaking up all the explaining with comedic gags involving the wolf would help the scenes. But it really didn't."

Now Bryan Cogman can take another stab at it.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

The International Accumulations

The totals show that animation (n all its forms) is booming right along.

Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

Monster Hunt -- $72,000,000 -- ($99,000,000)

Minions -- $66,200,000 -- ($625,836,415)

Ant Man -- $56,000,000 -- $114,440,000)

Inside Out -- $21,300,000 -- ($490,162,966)

Monkey King: Hero Is Back -- $22,500,000 -- ($70,000,000)

Terminator Genisys -- $22,200,000 -- ($277,440,125)

Jurassic World -- $12,300,000 -- ($1,513,435,300)

Ted 2 -- $7,500,000 -- ($143,438,350)

SO what is Monster Hunt, which much of American hasn't heard of, pulling down $72 million? Simple. It's a Chinese hybrid feature that's done boffo box office in the Middle Kingdom's home market (ditto for the animated Monkey King).

In the meantime, Illumination Entertainment's Minions continues to vacuum up cash around the globe, and Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World continue to do large business in overseas markets.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fred Speaks

Adventure Time won a Peabody last week. Fred Seibert launched the show a hundred episodes ago, and the award tells us something about Fred Seibert and his philosophy of shepherding cartoon creators.

Fred relates that he has no creative ideas himself, but he recognizes the talent (ideas?) in others.

... "Great cartoons are funny, short, and they have great characters. I'm less interested in the story than the characters." ...

Mr. Siebert's business model fur nurturing cartoon pitches into shorts and then full-blown series has been effective. He thinks that cartoon executives need to find new creative voices, then get out of the way and let them speak.

One of the things I find most amusing/enlightening (choose one) is that Adventure Time, the hit Cartoon Network show, started life as a Nickelodeon project, and Nick execs turned it down as a series, and gave it back to Fred Seibert to shop elsewhere.

Which he did. And Cartoon Network picked it up. And this explains* why those Nick execs no longer work for Nick.



* Okay, partially explains. There was also the issue of falling ratings and Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel eating their lunch.

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American Box Office

Full of animation and another Marvel super hero.

WEEKEND THEATER RECEIPTS

1). Ant-Man (DIS), 3,856 theaters / $23.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $58M / Wk 1

2). Minions (UNI), 4,311 theaters (+10)/ $14.5M Fri. (-68%)/ 3-day cume: $47.3M (59%)/Total Cume: $213.8M / Wk 2

3). Trainwreck (UNI), 3,158 theaters / $10.75M Fri. / 3-day cume: $28.4M / Wk 1

4). Jurassic World (UNI), 3,117 theaters (-324) / $3.1M Fri. (-42%) / 3-day cume: $10.6M (-42%) /Total cume: $610.4M/ Wk 6

5). Inside Out (DIS), 3,263 theaters (-381)/ $3.3M Fri. (-40%)/ 3-day cume: $10.57M (-40%) /Total cume: $305.3M/ Wk 5

6). Terminator: Genisys (PAR), 2,814 theaters (-969) / $1.45M Fri. (-64%) / 3-day cume: $5M (-64%) / Total cume: $80.2M/ Wk 3

7). Magic Mike XXL (WB), 2,577 theaters (-799)/ $1.64M Fri. (-54%)/ 3-day cume: $4.5M (-53%) /Total cume: $58.6M/ Wk 3

8). The Gallows (WB), 2,720 theaters (0) / $1.3M Fri. (-71%)/ 3-day cume: $3.9M (-60%) / Total cume: $17.9M /Wk 2

9). Ted 2 (UNI), 1,582 theaters (-589)/ $762K Fri. (-57%) / 3-day cume: $2.35M (-59%)/ Total cume: $77.1M /Wk 4

10.) Bajrangdi Bhaijaan (ERO), 256 theaters / $743K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.26M /Wk 1

11). Mr. Holmes (RSA/Miramax), 363 theaters / $649K Fri. / 3-day cume: $2.25M / Wk 1

12) Self/Less (FOC), 2,353 theaters (0)/ $660K Fri. (-66%) / 3-day cume: $2.17M (-60%)/ Total cume: $10.2M /Wk 2

Comparing Minions and Inside Out accumulations and second weekend drops:

Inside Out earned $90.4 million ($22,919 per screen) in its debut, while Minions collected $115.7 million with a per screen average of $26,905. Inside Out dropped 42% in its second weekend, while Minions is heading toward a 59% decline.

Regardless, both pictures are sizable hits for their respective conglomerates.

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