Monday, September 15, 2014

Speaking of Corporate Anti-Unionism ...

There is this:

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

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

Rick and Morty II

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two cents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We then negotiated with the company through the weekend. Bright and early Monday morning, the company’s representative again asked us to not pull the crew. Again we said no, saying if we had reached a proposal by noon-time we would take it to the staff and see if they wanted to hit the bricks or not. Happily, the company and guild reached a tentative agreement at 11:00, and Steve Kaplan and I drove it to the “Rick and Morty” crew around 11:20. They were out on the sidewalk waiting for us, and we went through the deal points. When we finished, the staff voted to ratify the deal. There was no strike.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

Going Disney

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

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

Transforming from a studio into a global branded family entertainment company

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Newer Platforms

TV morphs before our eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

Making Inroads

As the Mouse expands its operations.

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

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

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

Your International Box Office

Early autumn animated features are doing well.

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Foreign Box Office -- (World Totals)

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

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Marvel and Animation

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty much a separate entity.

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

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

Click here to read entire post

A Brief History of Stop Motion Animation

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

All American Box Office

Theatrical grosses slow down as they move into the Fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End-of-Release Features -- Domestic Totals

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

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rick and Morty

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

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

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

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

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

The way this went down:

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) The Era of Good Feeling begins.

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

Click here to read entire post

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Macro Labor Trends in Show Biz

Employment in movies and television moves in a downward direction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read entire post

Forget You Own Investment Accounts ...

... and get rich.

... On Bloomberg Radio, Barry Ritholtz talked with James O'Shaughnessy of O'Shaughnessy Asset Management.

Ritholtz and O'Shaughnessy spent much of their discussion talking about the ways people screw themselves when investing, because nothing gets in the way of returns quite like someone who thinks they have a great idea.

O'Shaughnessy discussed a number of interesting analyses he had done with regard to the length of holding periods (spoiler: the shorter you hold a stock, the more likely you are to lose money) among other things.

But O'Shaughnessy relayed one anecdote from an employee who recently joined his firm that really makes one's head spin.

O'Shaughnessy: "Fidelity had done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity. And what they found was..."

Ritholtz: "They were dead."

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

Think about it. If you don't remember you have money stashed in a boring index fund, you won't sell the boring fund when it goes down. (As it invariably will). So you don't end up "selling at the bottom."

Case in point: A couple of decades ago, I put little bits of money into a Total Stock Index fund for my youngest son. When he was ten, I stopped putting cash in. At that point, the total of the account was eight or nine thousand dollars. I stopped putting more money in because the family didn't have money to spare, but I didn't take anything out.

Essentially, I forgot the account existed.

So now it's fourteen years later, the ten-year-old is an adult, and the forgotten mutual fund? It's now worth $33,000. And this money total comes after a couple of market crashes, coupled with total neglect.

I'm telling you, the best way to grow your wealth is to put a chunk of money in a broad-based index fund and develop amnesia for fifteen or twenty years. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Click here to read entire post

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Co-Production Deals

... mean co-production risks.

Shanghai Hippo Animation Design and Australia’s Vue Group are expanding their 3D animation co-venture.

Last December the two entities unveiled plans to co-produce three films with aggregate budgets of more than $57 million.

This week Shanghai Hippo Animation Design CEO Kerr Xu and Vue Group MD Alan Lindsay told IF they will collaborate on four to five films a year. They say they are able to produce 3D animation much faster and far more cheaply than the US studios.

“We don’t need 20 executive producers. We do the character design in- house and I direct, produce and write," Kerr tells IF on a visit to Vue’s VFX facility in Bunbury WA. “We save an awful lot of money.” ...

It's not just about saving money. You must also have a movie that film-goers want to see. Without that, you're nowhere. Because you bring in a really inexpensive movie that nobody goes to see, you still lose money. And you're not just dead in the water, you're circling the drain. Witness this from early 2009:

... Trade sources confirm that Bollywood has had a bad run with animation this year. Between Hanuman Returns, Krishna, Roadside Romeo, Dashavatar, Ghatotkach and My Friend Ganesha parts 1 and 2, insiders estimate animation losses will total up to about Rs 70 crore.

"Indian animation has suffered quite a few hiccups,'' says a trade source. "What's worse is that many animation films that are complete and awaiting release have no takers.'' ...

Memo to Hippo Animation Design and Vue Group: It's not enough to make an animated feature with a lower budget, you must make a picture that people want to see.

On the other hand, despite the sad box office results for Indian animated features a half-dozen years ago, the demand for animation is growing, not shrinking. South America has produced profitable animated features, also France, also Russia. Just because many of these specimens don't get a release in the United States doesn't mean that they don't prosper in other parts of the globe.

It isn't just Pixar .... or Disney ... or DreamWorks that does well with cartoons. Wrapped up in domestic product the way we are, it's easy to lose sight of that reality.

Click here to read entire post

Disney CFO Speaks

Goldman Sachs held its Communicopia Conference today, and Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo held forth on what strategic moves the Mouse has been making lately, and why (transcript from Seeking Alpha):

... There are three key elements that make us [Disney] different. First is under Bob Iger’s leadership and incessant focus on franchises. And its really evolved over the last 5 to 8 years, five years more specifically when we made the Marvel acquisition, really anchored it. But everything we do is about brands and franchises and that wasn’t true 10 years ago. And 10 years ago we were more like other media companies, more broad based, big movie slate 20 something pictures, some franchise some not franchise. If you look at our slates strategy now, our television strategy, almost every aspect of the company we’re oriented around brands and franchises and I think we’re very unique in that regard.

Second piece, is that that’s not only on the creative side but every part of our outreach to consumers, every part of our eco-system is also focused around that same orientation. So if you look at our consumer products business Bob Chapek over the last five years has absolutely reoriented that business to be franchise focused and franchise run consistent with that overall strategy and thirdly I think the experience of the management team, their ability to work together to rally behind a core strategy for the company, the core brands and the franchises of the company is unique. Other companies have not figured out how to do that in our space and I think it really sets us apart from by the way as you said not only broad consumer discretionary companies but certainly everyone else in the media space. ...

As previously stated, Diz Co. has become the Berkshire Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates. Amusement parks, animated features, super hero and space opera franchises, monster amounts of merchandising, non-stop sports. You name it, the House of Mouse has got it.

And you can see that the company has morphed and changed multiple times, from a dinky spittle studio making cartoon shorts, to a bigger studio making cartoon features, to live-action and amusement parks.

Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg turned it into a major entertainment conglomerate, and Robert Iger has made it into a global powerhouse with multiple facets, divisions, and franchises, all contributing to the grown bottom line.

It's particularly amazing, when you consider what a weak sister the company was in the middle 1980s. And how it came close to disappearing in the early 1940s.

Click here to read entire post

Animation Contracts

This just in:

SAG-AFTRA concluded four days of talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and have reached tentative agreement on two new contracts covering animated production: the 2014 SAG-AFTRA TV Animation Agreement and SAG-AFTRA Basic Cable Animation Agreement. Terms of the deals — said to be similar to those contained in the new SAG-AFTRA TV/theatrical contract ratified by union’s members last month — will be presented to the guild’s National Board of Directors on October 12.

TAG will be having it's first planning meeting with the Guild's negotiation committee in mid-September. As best we can determine, Animation Guild-AMPTP negotiations will start sometime between May and July of next year. (This would be after the IATSE-AMPTP talks about a new Basic Agreement.)

Click here to read entire post

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Hotbed of Animation

It's up -- if smiling studio representatives are believed -- above the northern border.

... “There’s great talent in America on the animation side,” says Irene Weibel, head of Nelvana Studio, which has produced such toddlerdom faves as “Bubble Guppies,” “Max & Ruby” and the recent Disney Junior co-production, “Lucky Duck.” “I think that the key difference is the environment of funding animation as an industry in Canada. The government of Canada provides support in the way of tax benefits and subsidies to animation that is produced in Canada and that doesn’t exist in the U.S., and that gives the Canadian industry that kind of leg up.”

So desired are animators at Ottawa-based Mercury Filmworks that Disney TV Animation creators frequently request to partner with them when cooking up new series. ...

I think we need to be clear about the dynamics operating here.

Canadian animators are top-notch. As President Emeritus Tom Sito has long noted, Canadian artists can be found working in Southern California and on almost every continent on the globe. They're talented, they're prolific, they get around.

But if Canada wasn't handing out Free Money by the carload, Ottawa ... or Toronto ... or Vancouver ... wouldn't be teaming centers for cartoon and visual effects work.

Because what drives all this frenzied activity are subsidies and tax incentives. The instant any geographic locality stops spooning out its corporate dole, the Welfare Kings otherwise known as Diz Co., Viacom, Fox-News Corp. (etc.) move on.

That's the way we now roll in this brave new era of free enterprise corporate welfare.

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To hear Seeking Alpha (a financial website) tell it, Diz Co. is actually entertainment's Godzilla:

... The Walt Disney Company is the King and Queen of entertainment. It dominates the movie, TV, toys and theme parks business by owning 6 of the top 10 franchises in the world. Favorites such as Disney Princess, Star Wars, Winnie the Pooh, Cars, Mickey and Toy Story. Disney owns the licensing entertainment category with 80% market share. Disney also entertains sports fans around the world with its ownership of ESPN. [The Mouse] is a monopoly in entertainment helping to keep both adults and kids glued to its screens and products. ...

Disney has successfully integrated its acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel and they appear to be doing the same with Lucasfilm. Like the Marvel acquisition, Lucasfilm and Star Wars provides a literally rich universe that Disney can develop and monetize. Disney has announced that they will launch a new Star Wars film every year starting in 2015. Alternating between three new episode films with standalones based on characters rumoured to be Yoda, Boba Fett and Han Solo. Marvel's relatively unknown Guardians of the Galaxy movie has already grossed nearly $600 million. ...

Just goes to show you. When I was a tot, I would go to the Disney lot because that's where my dad worked. The place was a small, sleepy movie studio then, a very minor player in Hollywood. Profit-wise, it was hanging on by a thread.

When I went to work there a quarter-century later, Walt Disney Productions was still a sleepy movie studio connected to highly lucrative amusement parks. But it still wasn't big enough, or powerful enough to prevent attempts at hostile takeovers. Sol Steinberg came very close to breaking the company into pieces.

Enter Eisner and Katzenberg, and the place was transformed. Diz Co. went mainstream Hollywood, and began acquiring outside businesses. Today it's the Berkshire-Hathaway of entertainment conglomerates, rampaging through (and dominating) its business sector.

What a difference sixty years makes.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Animation in the Era of Putin

Although we don't hear much about it, Russia creates a fair amount of animated product.

The russian animation sector is booming. Some 30 toon studios operate in the country, including Melnitsa Animation Studio, Riki Productions and Wizart Animation, and there are a range of high-quality animated features in the pipeline.

The government is a major source of funding, with up to 900 million rubles ($25 million) allocated to the sector a year, of which $14.5 million is assigned to features. The television channel 2×2, which is dedicated to animated shows, is another major source of funding.

Much of the output is for TV, with 15 Russian toon series on air last year. ... Some of these, like SKA St. Petersburg’s “Kikoriki,” have then been spun off as feature films. The second “Kikoriki” movie, “Kikoriki: Legend of the Golden Dragon,” is now in production, with a theatrical release set for autumn 2015. Like the first pic, it will be shot in stereoscopic 3D.

Between three and five Russian animated feature films are released in theaters a year, and there are usually one or two releases of compilations of animated shorts in theaters also. Box office for Russian animated features has doubled over the past five years. Much of this rise can be attributed to the success of Melnitsa, whose film “Three Heroes on Distant Shores” earned a record $26 million last year. ...

Some Russian cartoons get exported. I've had phone calls and visits from Russian animation artists who've worked on CG television animation that has been translated and distributed abroad. There's a global appetite for animated shorts and animated features, and Russia has a long history with animation.

They produced their own Frozen fifty-seven years ago.

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Newer Lawsuits

... of the class-action variety.

Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Pixar and Lucasfilm were named as defendants in a class action lawsuit filed Monday in San Jose, Calif., that alleges the companies sought to suppress wages by agreeing not to poach each other's workers, according to legal documents obtained by TheWrap.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Nitsch, who was a senior character effects artist at DreamWorks Animation from 2007 to 2011.

“Visual effects and animation companies have conspired to systematically suppress the wages and salaries of those who they claim to prize as their greatest assets — their own workers,” the lawsuit stated. ”The leaders and most senior executives of defendants Pixar, Lucasfilm and its division Industrial Light & Magic, DreamWorks Animation, The Walt Disney Company and its division Walt Disney Animation Studios, Digital Domain and others secretly agreed to work together to deprive thousands of their workers of better wages and opportunities to advance their careers at other companies.” ...

Because free enterprise, free labor, and blah and blah and blah.

But hey. It's for a good cause: keeping costs down and profits up.

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Potentially Lucrative Spin Off

I calculate that, long-term, this will amount to something.

La Jolla Playhouse has announced casting for its upcoming U.S. premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, featuring the Disney film score by Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. The production, which is produced by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, will run from October 26-December 7 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre. ...

Probably the deal is, launch in La Jolla, tinker with it a bit, take it to Broadway.

The Mouse has had good luck turning its animated features into Broadway (and national tour) gold. They've got a pre-built score and book, and a lot of the spade work is already done, so what's not to like? The stockholders will be pleased.

H/t Don Hahn

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Animation's International Box Office

The Weekend Take for Animation and Semi-Animation.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Galaxy Guardians -- $11,500,000 -- ($586,167,000)

Dawn of Apes -- $16,600,000 -- $643,821,534)

Teenage Mutant Turtles -- $8,700,000 -- ($300,246,529)

How To Train Dragon 2 -- $3,000,000 -- ($607,121,658) ...

As a trade journal tells us:

Fox’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes bulked up with another $16.6M this frame playing on 6,187 screens in 19 markets. Now with a local cume of $72.1M, DOTPOTA added $13.5M in China this session, its 2nd. ...

Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age Of Extinction is still playing at 792 international dates and took another $1.9M this frame. Cume is now $833M overseas. ...

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cowabunga’d their way to an extra $8.7M from 4,899 dates in 48 territories, bringing the overseas total to $125.6M. ...

Guardians of the Galaxy grossed a further $11.5M to pass The Wolverine’s $282M with an offshore cume of $291.6M. Globally, it’s now at $586.17M. ...

So even though domestic box office has sagged during the summer, the big franchises are doing well across the planet.

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Sito's Animation History

Time once again for TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito to tell us of significant Cartoonland events occurring in the month of September.

Notable Cartoon Happenings - September

Sept. 1, 1919 - Pat Sullivan’s "Feline Follies” cartoon staring Felix the Cat debuts. Felix is the first true animated star, not depended on a previous newspaper comic strip. His body prototype, a black peanut shape with four fingers, will be the standard for years to come. By 1926 he was the most popular star in Hollywood after Chaplin and Valentino. Lindbergh had a Felix doll in his plane, and it has been speculated that Groucho Marx copied his famous strut. The first television image broadcast by scientists in 1926 was of a Felix doll.

Sept. 1, 1928 - Paul Terry premiered his sound cartoon RCA Photophone system for a short called “Dinner Time”. Young studio head Walt Disney came by train out from Los Angeles to see it. He telephoned his studio back in L.A.: "My Gosh, Terrible! A Lot of Racket and Nothing Else!” He said they could continue to complete their first sound cartoon “Steamboat Willie”.

Sept 3, 1939 - British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s war with Germany announcement interrupted a Disney Cartoon “Mickey’s Gala Premiere” showing on the nascent BBC television service. Television shuts down for the duration of the war.
In 1946, eight years after the war, the BBC television service resumed and an announcer said: “Well now, where were we?” They continue the Mickey cartoon from the point where it was stopped.

Sept 3, 1950 - Mort Walker’s “Beetle Bailey” comic strip first appeared.

Sept 3, 1960 - The Hanna-Barbera show “Lippy the Lion and Hardy-Harr-Harr” premiered.

Sept 6, 1958 - The "Spunky and Tadpole" show debuts.

Sept 6, 1968 - “H.R. Pufnstuf” premiered this day. Witchipoo, Orson and the Vroom Broom are among its most famous characters.

Sept 6, 1969 - DePatie-Freleng’s the “Pink Panther TV Show” premiered.

Sept. 7, 1963 - Mushi productions cartoon series.”Tetsuan Atomo” debuts in the U.S as “AstroBoy”. ...

And the rest of Mr. Sito's September:

Sept. 7, 1984 -The Walt Disney Company's Borad of Directors formally replaced CEO Ron Miller with Michael Eisner.

Sept. 9, 1967 - Jay Ward’s show "George of the Jungle" premiered, with Super Chicken and Tom Slick sequences.

Sept. 10, 1966 – Hannah-Barbera’s “Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles” debuts.

Sept. 10, 1968- Hanna-Barbera’s “Space Ghost” and “Dino Boy” debut.

Sept 11,1960 - Terrytoon’s “Deputy Dawg” TV show debuts.

Sept 11, 1966 - “Kimba the White Lion” debuts in the U.S.

Sept. 11, 1971 - The “Jackson Five” Saturday morning cartoon show debuts.

Sept, 12, 1941 - The Animators Strike at the Walt Disney Studio, which had been going on since May 30th, finally ended. Everyone goes back to work after the NLRB, with a lot of behind the scenes arm-twisting from the Bank of America, settled the dispute. Walt Disney had to recognize the Screen Cartoonists Guild, give screen credits, double the salaries of low paid workers retroactive to May 29th and re-hire animator Art Babbitt. Walt immediately got on a train to Washington to try and convince the feds to reverse the decision or get an injunction in court. He failed. Ironically, within a few months, World War II would break out and artists who had been bitter foes would be compelled to work side by side in the U.S. Army Picture Unit.

[This was a longer and more bitter strike than the job action of the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists in 1982. Artists held grudges for years. And Walt Disney, according to animator/director Don Lusk, kept a list of strikers in a special file, telling Lusk's future wife: "The people who are in here aren't going to be working at the studio after awhile. And they won't be rehired." -- Steve Hulett]

Sept. 12, 2005 - Disneyland Hong Kong opened.

Sept. 13, 1969 - Hanna Barbera’s “Scooby-Doo, Where are You?” and “Dastardly & Mutley and their Flying Machines” premieres.

Sept. 13, 1979 - On his birthday, animator Don Bluth quit the Walt Disney Studios taking a third of the top artists with him. Bluth becomes Disney’s most serious rival since Max Fleischer and so helps spark the animation renaissance of the 1990s. A whole new group of young talent, “Bluthies”, exert great influence throughout the animation business.

Sept 14, 1968 - Filmation's “The Archies Show” debuts.

Sept. 14, 1985 - Disney’s TV show “Gummi Bears” debuts.

Sept 15, 1973 - "Star Trek: The Animated Series" by Filmation premieres. This was the first time Kirk, Spock, Sulu and Uhura were united again with a Roddenberry script since the original series was canceled.

Sept. 15, 2008 - THE GREAT RECESSION - The US Stock Market went into a panic nosedive after two of the nation’s oldest investment banks (Merrill Lynch and Lehman Bros.) collapsed. Lehmans was $613 billion in debt. This shock added to the news of the government taking over mortgage insurers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and spiraling gas prices suppressing car sales. The American financial crisis panicked stock markets around the world. It was the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression of 1929.

Sept. 16, 1949 - Chuck Jones’ “Fast and Furry-ous”, the first Road Runner-Coyote cartoon, debuts.

Sept 17, 1972 - Filmation’s “The Groovy Ghoulies” show premieres.

Sept. 18, 1895 - In Davenport Iowa, Daniel David Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment session. Animation artists rejoice!

Sept. 18, 1987 - Walt Disney’s TV show “Ducktales” premieres.

Sept. 19, 1942 - Chuck Jones cartoon “The Dover Boys” is released.

Sept. 20, 1947 - Tex Avery’s MGM cartoon “Slap Happy Lion” debuts.

Sept. 20, 200 1- Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” released in the US.

Sept. 22,1979 - Hanna Barbera’s “Super Globetrotter’s Show”, featuring Multi-Man, Sphere Man, Gizmo-Man, Spaghetti-Man and Fluid-Man debuts.

Sept. 22, 1984 - Michael Eisner is named CEO of the Walt Disney Corporation.

Sept 23, 1962 – Hanna-Barbera’s show “The Jetsons” premiered in prime time. It was the first ABC show to be presented in color.

Sept. 24, 1938 - Bob Clampett’s cartoon “Porky in Wackyland” debuts. In 1994 it was voted #8 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field and in 2000 was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected the short for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Sept. 25, 1984 - THE RUBBERHEADS STRIKE - Disneyland workers, including the actors who stroll the park in big Mickey and Goofy heads, go on strike.

Sept. 26, 1941 - Max Fleischer’s “Superman” cartoon debuts. Max warned the human movement would be much more expensive that the usual short cartoons- $90,000 to the usual $34,000, but Paramount wanted them. After a dozen shorts, Paramount accused the Fleischers of spending too much money.

Sept. 26, 1983 - Filmation’s “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” opens in syndication.

Sept. 27, 1937 - J R R Tolkiens’ “The Hobbit” first appears in bookshops.

Sept 27, 1961 – Hanna-Barbera’s show “Top Cat” premieres.

Sept. 27, 1977 - Warner Bros animator-director Bob McKimson falls dead of a heart failure in front of Friz Freleng and Yosemite Sam animator Gerry Chiniquy while having lunch.

Sept. 28, 1967 – “Speed Racer” premieres in the U.S.

Sept. 29, 1959 – Hanna-Barbera’s “Quick Draw McGraw” TV show debuts. Ba ba Louie and El Kabong!

Sept 30, 1919 - The Fleischer brothers' first "Out of the Inkwell" cartoon featuring Koko the Clown debuts. Koko was rotoscoped, meaning traced from live-action like Motion Capture does today. Dave Fleischer put on the clown suit and was filmed by his brother Max. Dave had originally bought the clown suit, in case their business went under, and he needed to work.

Sept 30, 1928 - Walt Disney and his crew recorded the soundtrack and music for the first Mickey Mouse short, Steamboat Willie.

Sept. 30, 1960 - Hanna Barbera’s “The Flintstones” debuts. For six seasons in prime time the inhabitants of 301 Cobblestone Lane, Bedrock, became one of the most iconic TV series ever. Originally going to be named the Flagstones, then Gladstones, before Flintstones. It was the first TV show to dare show a visibly pregnant Wilma Flintstone.

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Congratulations President Loofbourrow!

Congratulations to our sitting President on the birth of his daughter! According to Facebook posts, she was born September 6th. Mom, Dad and baby are doing well.

* Above picture taken from Nathan's Facebook timeline without permission.

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Speaking of Warner Bros. ...

They're more serious about animation than they used to be.

Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes spinoff film is finally making some progress after spending years in development. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio has officially brought on X-Men: First Class scribes Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz to write the script and is working on filling the rest of the team.

In addition to hiring the writing duo to pen the still-untitled Acme film, the studio is reportedly in early negotiations with Crazy Stupid Love directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa to helm the project. As for possible cast members, Steve Carell (who also starred in Crazy Stupid Love) is reportedly attached to lead the project. ...

Warner Bros. has had a spotty record with cartoons.

The company failed to re-copyright a bunch of its classic forties shorts, so they're now public domain. (This has never happened to the ever-vigilant Diz Co.) Warners jumped into hand-drawn animated features during the nineties, and fell on its face, losing millions. Even the Iron Giant, now considered a masterpiece, tanked.

In the go-go nineties, the only area where the WB was competitive was in its television animation divisions. Warner Bros. Animation churned out hit after hit, and its direct-to-video operation turned a tidy profit. Now, however, the distribution gods have smiled on the big corporation and gifted it with The Lego Movie, one of the year's top domestic grossers. Warners is excited about Acme because ...

... Kevin and Dan Hageman (writers of The Lego Movie) sold the original pitch. ...

And nothing, absolutely nothing, puts a gleam in a front-office exec's eye like a blockbuster derived from a small-budget animated feature.

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Our American Box Office

Summer is over, but the usual suspects still sit atop the Box Office Ten.

The Big Ten

1). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 3,221 theaters (-241) / $2.7 M Fri. / 3-day cume: $10.2M (-40%) / Total cume: $294.6M / Wk 6

2). If I Stay (WB), 3,157 theaters (+154) / $1.6M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.39 (-42%)/Total cume: $39.3M/ Wk 3

3). Let’s Be Cops (FOX), 2,932 theaters (-78) /$1.57M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.32M (-36%) / Total cume: $66.5M /Wk 4

4). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PAR), 3,273 theaters (-270) / $1.5M Friday / 3-day est. cume: $5.78M (-52%) / Total est. cume: $173.89M / Wk 5

5.) The November Man (Relativity), 2,776 theaters (–) / $1.238M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.28 (-46%) / Total cume: $17.9M / Wk 2

6.) As Above, So Below (UNI), 2,650 theaters (+10) / $1.149M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.8M (-56%) / Total cume: $15.66M / Wk 2

7). The Giver (TWC), 2,576 theaters (-229)/ $970K Fri./ 3-day cume: $3.472M (-34%)/Total cume: $37.7M/ Wk 4

8). When the Game Stands Tall (Tri-Star), 2,766 theaters (+93) / $958K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.35M (-44%) / Total cume: $23.15M / Wk 3

9). The Hundred-Foot Journey (DIS), 2,167 theaters (+249)/ $888K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.205M (-33%) / Total cume: $45.7M / Wk 5

10). Lucy (UNI), 1,171 theaters (-122)/ $528K Fri. / 3-day cume: $1.89M (-32%)/ Total cume: $121.06M/Wk 7

The animated brigade that still is in release ... in anywhere from a handful to 500 theaters, have running totals as follows:

Animated Features

17) How To Train Your Dragon 2 -- $174,181,658

27) Planes: Fire and Rescue -- $57,983,850

48) Rio 2 -- $131,538,435

57) Mr. Peabody and Sherman -- $11,506,430

Of the pictures above, Dragon 2 landed about where it was bound to land based on its opening weekend numbers. Planes is likely a sizable disappointment for Diz Co., since this follow-up is in wide-screen, has a stronger story, and yet has pretty much tanked with the AMC and family trade. (And its under-performance is likely the reason there have been layoffs at DisneyToons Studio.)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman was a write-off for DreamWorks, and Rio 2 has performed okay globally, even if it was a see bit underwhelming in the domestic theatrical marketplace.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

WB Chief Executive Speaks

Or more accurately, sends an e-mail:

I wanted you to hear directly from me about our plans for the Studio. In recent days, we have started to hear rumors here at the company and to read misinformation in the press, so I’d like to set the record straight. ...

Since I became CEO, I’ve been working with the Studio’s senior management team to create a plan to position Warner Bros. for future growth, maintaining our position as the industry’s leader in quality and scale—all while safeguarding our traditions and legacy. This will require us to reduce costs and reallocate resources to our high-growth businesses.

We are doing our best to minimize staff reductions. However, and it pains me to say this, positions will be eliminated—at every level—across the Studio. In making these decisions, we will follow all applicable protocols. Your divisional and departmental leadership will share more information with you about these changes in the months ahead. ...

Warm regards

And sorry about the cold, cold steel of the axe now swinging down. ...

Usually when a memo like this gets circulated, upper management is trying to get ahead of the expectations game. And expectations have been grim:

August 25, 2015 -- The next breaking news story at CNN could be layoffs.

“We are going to do less and have to do it with less,” CNN president Jeff Zucker told employees at a call-in to a news meeting last Tuesday.

He did not specify that layoffs were planned, but acknowledged it was “difficult” news for CNN, which has been struggling to regain its former preeminence among cable news networks. ...

And tales from other divisions of the conglomerate aren't cheerful either:

Sept. 3, 2014 ... On the heels of Rupert Murdoch’s spurned $80 billion offer to buy Time Warner, Warner Bros. is downsizing. Sources have told Bloomberg that the Burbank studio plans to offer buyouts to an unspecified number of employees in a bid to decrease costs and increase profit. If it doesn’t get enough takers, Warners may start issuing pinkslips as well. The staff reductions will affect the company’s film, TV and home-entertainment divisions, and budget cuts will extend beyond personnel. ...

No word yet how this will impact Warner Bros. Animation, but when we find out information, we'll pass it along.

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This from Deadline:

... Dinner parties, luncheons, retreats and holiday get-togethers are good ways for union leaders to connect with their members and staff and for members to meet their leaders. Some of the money spent is charitable or educational, some of it is celebratory or promotional and all of it is well-meaning. ...

TAG's big expenditure each year is our holiday mixer, which draws 1000 to 2000 members each year. We're not big spenders on anything else, but the January party comes in at the $50k range.

(Like every other labor organization, we are transparent about where the money is. And what it goes for)

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Thursday, September 04, 2014


Here's a toy company that really makes animation work.

Licenses to “Star Wars,” “The Simpsons,” DC and Marvel’s superheroes, and its own films like “The Lego Movie” have helped make Lego the world’s largest toy company when it comes to revenue and profits, beating Mattel and Hasbro.

At least that’s for the first six months of the year.

Lego attributed much of this year’s success so far to “The Lego Movie,” which helped boost sales by 11% during the first six months of the year, the company said.

“The Lego Movie,” which was produced for $60 million, went on to earn more than $468 million worldwide, and was backed by 17 playsets, minifigures, a videogame, theme park attraction, and slew of branded merchandise. The film is also available on homevideo platforms. ...

The cash flow from merchandise sales constituted a nice pile of money.

[Lego's] net profit in the period was up 14 percent compared with the first half of 2013, at 2.7 billion kroner ($480 million), on sales of 11.5 billion kroner.

Sounds like the cartoon business is helping Lego's profit margins. Small wonder that companies keep crowding into the cartoon business.

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The OTHER DreamWorks

DWA and DW used to be one, but SKG's live-action studio has long been the weak sister of the duo. And now ...

Steven Spielberg’s struggling live-action movie company, DreamWorks Studios, announced on Thursday that it would part ways with its longtime chief and named a former television executive to succeed her.

The new chief, Michael Wright, 52, will join DreamWorks Studios in early January, taking the reins from Stacey Snider, who has worked beside Mr. Spielberg since 2006 to critical if inconsistent commercial acclaim. Ms. Snider, 53, is widely expected to move to a senior movie job at 20th Century Fox.

Mr. Wright, who spent the last 14 years at Turner Broadcasting, has limited movie experience. But Mr. Spielberg joked in a telephone interview that Mr. Wright “has something I call O.C.S., which stands for obsessive-compulsive student.” ...

In DreamWorks first few years, (like the turn of the century) the live-action movies were unstoppable. American Beauty. The Gladiator. A Beautiful Mind won back-to-back-to-back best picture Oscars, but then the studio went off the rails and is today a shadow of its original self. Sad.

DreamWorks Animation spun off into its own corporate entity, and spun out sixteen straight hits before mimicking its live-action sibling and hitting choppy financial seas. At the feature animation studio in Glendale, there have been two rounds of layoffs in as many years. I walked through the facility today, and there are numerous empty cubicle. As DWA staffers tell it:

"The morale isn't near where it was a few years ago." ... People worry if they're the next to go. People with 11 years ... 14 years experience get laid off when their picture wraps." ... "The company is working to get costs down. I think there's going to be more layoffs so they can get the features down to $125 in costs." ...

I suppose we'll have to wait to find out. Just now a lot of employees are working on Penguins of Madagascar to get it ready for a Fall release. Then Home will need work. After that, perhaps more pink slips.

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Found Object Assemblages Opens Tomorrow!

"Found Object Assemblages", select artwork by Carolyn Gair opens tomorrow in Gallery 839. Opening reception from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Gallery 839 is located on the first floor at the Animation Guild.

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What? There's somebody out there who got an Oscar who didn't deserve the Oscar?!

... Visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull says his 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick was a master who didn't get his due when it came to the Oscars. But his only Oscar, for visual effects for 2001, didn't rightfully belong to him.

"Kubrick did not create the visual effects. He directed them," says Trumbull. "There was a certain level of inappropriateness to taking that Oscar." ...

News flash to Doug: There have been lots of inappropriate awards handed out, depending on your point of view. Actors who didn't get the nod. (Like for instance, Clark Gable for Gone With the Wind. Hattie McDaniel got a supporting Little Gold Man. Vivien Leigh got best actress. But Clark getting passed over for Robert Donat in Goodbye Mr. Chips? All because Chips was an M-G-M picture and Louis B. Mayer mounted a campaign?)

Then there was Jack L. Warner running to the stage to accept the Best Picture Oscar for Casablanca, thereby pissing off the actual producer Hal B. Wallis, who'd supervised the film under his company "Hal B. Wallis Productions." Wallis was so angry about it, in fact, that he left the WB and moved to Paramount.)

And then there's this Tinsel Town producer:

...Walt Disney accepting the Oscar for Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom and getting it confused with one of his (award-winning) nature films. But when you pick up four Little Gold Men in an evening, it's easy to get the subjects of each confused.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Cable Cartoons

Still doing good after all these years.

... Adult Swim’s Emmy Award-winning original series Robot Chicken (Sunday, 11:30 p.m.) ranked #1 in its time period throughout August among adults 18-34 and men 18-24 & 18-34. ...

Among programming standouts in August, Cartoon Network original series – including Regular Show, Teen Titans Go!, The Amazing World of Gumball, Adventure Time and Clarence – claimed 18 of the Top 20 telecasts of the month among boys 6-11. ...

Saturday Morning programming earned solid delivery gains among targeted kids 2-11 (+32%), Kids 6-11 (up +39%) and kids 9-14 (up +5%), as well as boys 2-11 (up 12%) and boys 6-11 (up +20%). ...

Time-Warner/Turner try to keep a lot of Adult Swim cartoon shows non-union, while many lower-rated Cartoon Network specimens are created under a TAG contract.

Go figure.

Naturally enough, we're working to change that. Adult Swim shows, Warner Bros. Animation shows, and Cartoon Network shows are all under-written out of the same big pool of money controlled by our friends at Time-Warner. As we've said for years: Whether artists work for small studios ... or big studios named Disney, Fox, Pixar (etc.), the story boarders, designers, directors and everyone else work for one of the fine entertainment conglomerates that own and control our cartoons, and the distribution thereof.

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Big Hero Reveal

I spend too much time on the phone. The New York Times, which was among the journals at the Hat Building presentation for Big Hero 6, rolls out its story:

... “Big Hero 6” ... centers on a moody teenage orphan, Hiro, who lives with his aunt in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo and must cope with the sudden death of his older brother, Tadashi. The arrival of puberty doesn’t help — and, at first, neither does an inflatable white robot named Baymax, Hiro’s “personal health care companion.”

When Hiro, a robotics prodigy, discovers that a madman is threatening San Fransokyo — and using one of his own inventions, mind-controlled “microbots,” to do so — he builds an Iron Man-style suit for Baymax. Hiro then recruits four friends to his crime-fighting mission. ...

[T]he movie was approved by the only guy that ultimately matters: Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive. When using the Marvel comic as inspiration was pitched up the Disney ladder, Mr. Lasseter said, “Bob Iger was like, ‘Heck yeah.’ ” ...

The Mouse is mixing up its pitches: Princess Movie; boy-kid movie; princess movie; boy-kid movie. And so on.

You think about it a minute, it's a pretty smart way to go.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Walking in DeMille's Footsteps

To paraphrase* Darryl Zanuck, "When you wrap a good animal story in biblical garb, you can open your own mint" ...

... Sony Pictures Animation is developing “The Lamb,” an animated movie inspired by the Nativity story that DeVon Franklin will produce under his newly-minted company Franklin Entertainment.

Based on an original pitch by Tom Sheridan, the film will feature both laughs and heart, as well as an all-animal cast. ...

Mel Gibson has had good luck with biblical movies, and DreamWorks Animation didn't do badly with one. No reason that SPA can't prosper in the same way. But they have to create a feature that people want to go see.

* Zanuck was referring to C.B. DeMille's uncanny ability to spin gold from holy scripture. The quote is "When you get a sex story in biblical garb, you can open your own mint", and refers to "Samson and Delilah", a huge hit in 1949. But it could also have applied to DeMille's "Sign of the Cross" or "King of Kings" or "Ten Commandments". Sony Picture Animation is going to give the biblical part of the equation a trail run.

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More of A Good Thing

... means extra piles of money.

... [The Walt Disney Company] announced Tuesday that it will release a new animated short that brings back the characters from its Oscar-winning mega-hit, which earned $1.274 billion at the global box office and has become a force in the ancillary markets.

The log line released by the studio promises more fun than drama: “In ‘Frozen Fever,’ it's Anna's birthday and Elsa and Kristoff are determined to give her the best celebration ever, but Elsa's icy powers may put more than just the party at risk.”

The short will return directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, and will feature a new song from Oscar winners Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. ...

And I'm going to crawl waaay out on a limb here: There's a Frozen II in our future. Click here to read entire post

Time Change

Apparently more time was needed.

While announcing that this summer's sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2 has crossed the $600 million mark over the weekend, DreamWorks Animation has also revealed that they will push back the release of How to Train Your Dragon 3 by a year. The third installment in the fantasy adventure franchise was slated to arrive on June 17th, 2016, but now the sequel will arrive on June 9th, 2017. It'll arrive just a couple weeks after The LEGO Movie sequel and one week before some unknown Pixar Animation film. ...

Here's an educated guess: That June 17th '16 date could wiggle around some. Two years out, it's likely not all that firm.

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