Saturday, January 24, 2015

At DreamWorks Animation

Friday afternoon I was at DreamWorks Animation to answer questions. ....

I was mostly in the Lakeside building on different floors. There were groups of subdued artists talking quietly. Most everyone I encountered was waiting to hear whether they would be kept on. Demeanors were subdued, but attitudes were remarkably good. (Maybe it's simply stressed people showing a stiff upper lip, but I was impressed.)

The studio started talking to individuals who were getting laid off a week and a half ago. (At least, that's when the Guild started hearing about it.) The studio officially told us they were talking to people one-on-one after the press release was issued. From walking around, it was evident that a lot of people haven't yet gotten information about their status.

Management has told me they'd started interviews with employees the past week, and that those interviews will go through the middle of next week, at which time all employees should know if they're leaving or staying. The Animation Guild will be getting pension and health coverage information out to DWA employees the start of the week, and everyone in TAG's office will be fielding questions that come their way from DWA employees. We've already gotten quite a few.

And I've gotten asked about PDI, but the guild and IA have no contractual relationship with the Redwood City Studio so I don't know a lot of the particulars about the facility. I do know that as recently as five or six weeks ago, we were processing letters for immigration petitions for artists that PDI/DreamWorks desired to employ there.

So when was the decision made to close PDI's doors? Somebody with a lot more knowledge than I have will have to clue you to that.

I've been through a lot of hiring sprees and mass layoffs in the time I've been associated with the animation business, and the hiring sprees are one hell of a lot nicer. My father survived a big layoff at Disney in the late 1950s, my wife survived two in the early 2000s but not a third. I was was tossed out on the street in front of Filmation in 1989 along with 150 other artists, writers and executives because the new owner closed the company's doors the day after purchase was finalized.

The animation business is a roller coaster, and always has been. Market forces push it up, then pull it down. In recent times, tax subsidies foreign and domestic have distorted it into ugly shapes. Still in all, making cartoon entertainment is an exhilarating business.

I just wish it wasn't so damn heartbreaking at the same time.

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Change At Top

Isn't just DreamWorks Animation that's shaking things up.

Michelle Raimo Kouyate, production president of Sony Pictures Animation, is leaving the slot and taking a first-look producing deal with the studio.

Her new deal will cover animation and live action at Sony. Kouyate will also become a producer on the animated comedy “Medusa” and will oversee the transition to a yet-unnamed new head for the animation division. ...

Sony Pictures Animation has gone through a bunch of executives during its existence. Michelle Raimo Kouyate is the latest in the line. But it isn't a huge shock, since Sony hasn't had a big back-log of high grossers.

And it isn't just execs that leave for other pastures. The division has gone through creative leads who have had more success at other places after the departed Sony. Chris Buck directed the well-reviewed but under-performing Surf's Up as Sony, then moved on to develop and direct the blockbusters Frozen at Disney.

Story veteran Ed Gombert (and story director of Aladdin) moved around to different projects at SPA before departing for DreamWorks Animation and a story director gig on The Croods, DWA's recent unalloyed hits.

Over the years a number of folks on SPA's creative staff have griped about the leadership at the animation division (some of which has leaked out to the press), though to be fair, some recent features have done relatively well at the box office.

Given the strains that Sony has gone through recently, maybe M. Raimo Kouyate's exit shouldn't come as an unmitigated surprise.

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Your U.S. Box Office

One hybrid animated feature lives in the Top Five.

The Weekend

1). American Sniper (WB), 3,705 theaters (+150)/ $18M Fri. (-40%) /3-Day: $61.2M (-31)/Total cume: $197.7M/ Wk 5

2). The Boy Next Door (UNI), 2,602 theaters / $5.56M Fri./ 3-Day: $15.3M/ Wk 1

3). Paddington (TWC), 3,355 theaters (+52) / $2.57M Fri. (-45%) / 3-Day: $11.8M (-37%) / Total cume: $39.5M /Wk 2

4). The Wedding Ringer (Sony), 3,003 theaters (0)/ $3.2M Fri. (-53%) / 3-Day: $10.95M (-47%)/ Total cume: $38.9M /Wk 2

5). Taken 3 (Fox), 2,909 theaters (-685)/$2M Fri (-51%). / 3-Day: $6.9M (-53%)/Total cume: $75.1M/ Wk 3

6). The Imitation Game (TWC), 2,025 theaters (+414) / $1.8M Fri. (-2%) / 3-Day: $6.5M (-3%)/Total cume: $59.68M / Wk 9

7). Selma (Par), 2,046 theaters (-189) / $1.5M Fri. (-%)/ 3-Day: $5.49M (-37%)/Total cume: $39.45M / Wk 5

8). Mortdecai (LGF), 2,648 theaters / $1.6M Fri./ 3-Day: $4.6M/Wk 1

9). Strange Magic (DIS), 3,020 theaters / $1.2M Fri./ 3-Day: $4.3M/ Wk 1

10). Into The Woods (DIS), 2,270 theaters (-488) / $1M Fri. (-39%)/ 3-Day: $3.8M (-43%)/Total cume: $121.29M / Wk 5 ...

The latest Johnny Depp release arrives still-born. Meantime, far off the chart, Big Hero 6 remains in several hundred theaters ($217 million domestic total) and Penguins of Madagascar occupies a few hundred screens, ($81 million total).

But let's be real, both movies are over theatrically and poised to step into the world of little silver disks. Last week they were both making the same money on a per screen basis, sort of interesting considering Penguins launched weeks after Big Hero.


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Friday, January 23, 2015

Family of the Future

Knock me over with a baby Volkswagen. A fifty-three-year-old TV series is new again.

Warners Bros is looking to turn the Hanna-Barbera series The Jetsons into an animated theatrical feature. The studio has hired Matt Lieberman to write the script. There was a flurry of rumors sometime back about a live-action version that might somehow involve Kanye West. Not sure what happened there, but I’m told that Lieberman is working from scratch on a fully animated version.

Warner Bros owns that library, which was acquired by Ted Turner before he sold his company to Warner Bros. Lieberman got the job after his script work on the animated Scooby-Doo movie for Warner Bros and Atlas that the studio has put on a fast track. ...

The Jetsons didn't last long in prime time during the early sixties, but the half-hours that got made, plus the fifty or so episodes produced decades later for syndication, have had a loong after-life.

Just because a script is being written, doesn't mean it gets the greenlight for production. If and when it does, I'm guessing Warners will once again go to Animal Logic in Australia. (With script, boards, and some design work done in California.)

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Co-Production

The Chubby Panda won't be totally made in California.

China’s State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has confirmed on its website that DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 will receive official co-production status. The news means the film will be treated as a domestic film and bypass the quota system usually imposed upon foreign films. The filmmakers also receive a larger share of box office receipts- 43%- than if they were deemed a foreign film. ...

There's nothing earth-wrenching about the news above. This co-production thingie has been on the drawing boards for a long time. I was told about it a year or more ago, so I don't know if it even qualifies as "news" or not.

Regarding China, DreamWorks Animation is also creating animated features that are designed for (and produced in) the Middle Kingdom. And I haven't the foggiest idea what kind of production time-line those projects are on, but they will no doubt get made in due course.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Analysts (Critics?) Weigh In

... regarding DreamWorks Animation.

... “They have a very risky business model,” said Philip Schuman of financial consultant firm FTI. “They don’t put out a lot of product. What they do put out has to work.” ...

“You have some very smart people making the calls there, but they are executives who have had the greatest success in old business models,” [valuation analyst Seth Willenson] said. “The question is, can they change their approach to make it work in the new models?” ...

“They’re making tentpoles, and those are expensive,” Schuman said. “Concentrating efforts from three to two films a year is a smart business move.” ...

One studio B.O. analyst says, “I don’t think the movie [Penguins of Madagascar] was compelling enough to make people want to go see it in a theater when they can stay home and watch the TV show for free.” ...

Since opinions are as numerous as eyeballs, here's mine:

When you run a stand-alone cartoon company that's not a monster entertainment conglomerate, it's good to avoid big administrative staffs, a plethora of executives, free lunches, and luxurious digs. Those things add to the overhead but are only marginally useful in getting your movie made. DreamWorks Animation is dependent on its products making a profit, so it's wise to make those products for less than $145 million a pop.

(Shrek, a wacky, off-beat animated feature, cost $60 million in 2001. The final installment Shrek Forever After, released nine years later, cost $160 million. Costs went up a $100 million in those nine years? Really?)

Give key creative staff more say in what creative decisions get made, and executives/administrators less. ("Brain trusts" anyone?)

Do make movies at different price points. Disney produced Dumbo for a fraction of Pinocchio's cost. Dumbo made a profit in its first release; the wooden puppet stayed in the red.

Diversification is a good thing, so do as much of it as possible. Not just amusement centers, merchandising and television, but also hybrid live-action/animated movies. And (if circumstances are right) live-action movies.

A lot of these things DreamWorks is now doing, but it has a hard, uphill slog ahead of it. Depending on every animated feature being a hit is an unsustainable business model.


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Restructuring

Now with Add On!!

The DWA Press Release:

/PRNewswire/ -- DreamWorks Animation (NASDAQ: DWA) is implementing a new strategic plan to restructure its core feature animation business to ensure the consistent and profitable delivery of the high quality films that audiences have come to expect from the studio. Following a full review of the business, the company will focus its feature production from three films per year down to two, maximize its creative talent and resources, reduce costs, and drive profitability.

Under the leadership of newly appointed Co-Presidents of Feature Animation Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria, the studio's core feature animation production will now focus on six specific movies for the next three years - one original film and one sequel each year - including Kung Fu Panda 3 (March 18, 2016), Trolls (Nov. 4, 2016), Boss Baby (Jan. 13, 2017), The Croods 2 (Dec. 22, 2017), Larrikins (Feb. 16, 2018) and How to Train Your Dragon 3 (June 29, 2018). Captain Underpants, which will be produced outside of the studio's pipeline at a significantly lower cost, is scheduled for release in 2017. The company's 2015 release, Home, will premiere domestically on March 27.

"The number one priority for DreamWorks Animation's core film business is to deliver consistent creative and financial success," said DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg. "I am confident that this strategic plan will deliver great films, better box office results, and growing profitability across our complementary businesses."

The overall reduction of DreamWorks Animation's feature production output will result in a loss of approximately 500 jobs across all locations and all divisions of the studio. DreamWorks expects to incur a pre-tax charge of approximately $290 million in connection with the restructuring and related items. These costs are expected to be incurred primarily in the quarter ended December 31, 2014, with the remainder in 2015 and 2016. The plan will result in total cash payments of approximately $110 million incurred primarily in 2015. The restructuring plan is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2015 and expected to result in annualized pre-tax cost savings of approximately $30 million in 2015, growing to roughly $60 million by 2017.

Conference Call Information
DreamWorks Animation will host a conference call to discuss today's announcement at 1:45 p.m. (PT) / 4:45 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. The call will be available via live webcast at www.dreamworksanimation.com. To join the conference call by phone, please dial (800) 230-1766 in the U.S. and (612) 332-0430 internationally and identify "DreamWorks Animation Restructures Core Feature Film Business" to the operator. A replay of the conference call will be available shortly after the call ends on Thursday, January 22, 2015. To access the replay, dial (800) 475-6701 in the U.S. and (320) 365-3844 internationally and enter 351097 as the conference ID number. Both the press release and archived webcast will be available on the Company's website at www.dreamworksanimation.com.

About DreamWorks Animation
DreamWorks Animation (Nasdaq: DWA) creates high-quality entertainment, including CG animated feature films, television specials and series and live entertainment properties, meant for audiences around the world. The company has world-class creative talent, a strong and experienced management team and advanced filmmaking technology and techniques. DreamWorks Animation has been named one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" by FORTUNE® Magazine for five consecutive years. In 2013, DreamWorks Animation ranked #12 on the list. All of DreamWorks Animation's feature films are produced in 3D. The Company has theatrically released a total of 30 animated feature films, including the franchise properties of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, Puss In Boots, and The Croods.

Additional Information
The Company is concurrently filing a Current Report on Form 8-K with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission describing the restructuring, as well as certain other charges that the Company expects to record during the quarter ended December 31, 2014. A copy of this Form 8-K filing is available on the Company's website at www.dreamworksanimation.com. ...

This explains why DreamWorks hasn't returned our calls.

The reductions referenced above are devastating for a lot of artists and technicians who've worked long and hard to make DreamWorks Animation a success. Even though PDI doesn't fall under a guild or IATSE contract, we're sorry to see the company's doors close. Pacific Data Images has been a northern California institution for years, and its absence will create yet another hole in California's digital effects/animation industry.

As for the rest of the restructure, we anticipate more down-sizing at DreamWorks Animation's Glendale campus, and a shift toward the Disney/ Visual Effects model: hire people for a project when needed, lay off people when they're no longer needed. Naturally, there will be core staff that gets retained, but from all reports, the days of guaranteed long-term employment are over.

(Re guaranteed employment: Three-year Personal Service Contracts were instituted at Disney Feature Animation by Katzenberg during the early '90s, and Jeffrey kept doing them after launching DreamWorks. Ed Catmull eliminated Personal Service Contracts altogether at Walt Disney Animation Studios years ago; our best guess is DWA contracts that guarantee a defined length of employment will also be gone.)

Every once in a while I get asked what working in the animation business is like. I always, "Well, it's a roller coaster. Up and up during the good times, then head-snapping drops during the bad." For DreamWorks Animation right now, one of the queasy drops is now in progress.

Add On: DreamWorks Animation has now called and told me the following:

1) There will be equal force reductions at PDI and Glendale (500 employees total; PDI is closing, and a number of employees will be offered positions at the Glendale campus. There will likely not be exactly equal numbers laid off from each campus.)

2) Employees being separated from DreamWorks Animation and Pacific Data Images will be paid an additional sixty calendar days of wages after layoff.

3) The company will be talking to DWA employees about the restructuring in the days ahead.

This is a rough time for company employees; if anybody needs information and/or assistance from TAG, please let us know.

Add On Too: In after hours trading, DreamWorks Animation stock is up 3.2%. Nothing succeeds like staff cuts.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New VES Chair

The Visual Effets Society has elected a new chair.

Mike Chambers was elected chair of the Visual Effects Society board of directors, succeeding VFX supervisor Jeff Okun.

Chambers is an independent VFX producer and freelance VFX consultant, whose credits include The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. He is currently in postproduction on Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, and most recently completed work on Transcendence. ...

Several years ago, there was a move for the International Alliance (of which were a member) to work with the VES Society. Sadly, it didn't work out, but for a time hopes were high. Click here to read entire post

At DisneyToon Studios


But "At Walt Disney Animation Studios In A New Location" would be closer to the truth.

I was over there today, doing my rounds, spreading TAG joy. The building (which looks like a small cousin of Emeryville's Pixar) is in Glendale, and is now filled with a lot of feature animation staff, many of them busily working on a Theatrical Feature Which Must Not Be Named because (you know) Diz Co. hasn't announced the feature yet, even though news of its existence bubbles up in various places on the internet.

One artist said to me:

"We drew the long straw! Much better to be here than in the Tujunga Avenue building!" ...

What this gent is talking about is, now that the hat building is under interior renovation, different feature units have been shipped off to different Disney owned buildings in the Valley.

The majority of people were sent to what is actually on okay structure in a less-than-scintillating part of North Hollywood -- the wilds of Manufacturing Land on the west side of Bob Hope Airport's major runway. (And anybody who's anybody wants to live and work under the landing patterns of a metropolitan airport. Yes indeedy!)

But it isn't the building that's a problem. It's the down-scaleness of the neighborhood, and the lack of eating establishments. Ah, well. At least it's temporary.

But back to Disney-Feature-in-Glendale. Cubicles are now filled again with feature artists/technicians, and more cars are parked in the big lot in back of DTS. During the last half of 2014, most of the office spaces emptied out as Disney's home video business model was put on ice, projects were cancelled, and several waves of layoffs emptied out the Glendale studio.

But now, happily, the facility is in use again*, thanks to the remodeling that is starting on Riverside Drive.

* DisneyToon Studios is also occupied by Disney Educational and the DisneyToon shorts program, which is (last time I checked) still in business. But newer Direct-To-Video features? Not so much.

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Animation Resources


In 1982, UCLA design student Stephen Worth attended an event hosted by The International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood. There he spoke with the organization’s President, legendary cartoon Producer, Story Man and Voice Artist Bill Scott. At the meeting, Scott described his plans to create an “Animateque” - a research facility for animation professionals and students.

Steve never forgot that meeting. “The resources weren’t there to pull it off during Bill’s tenure as President of ASIFA-Hollywood. A few years ago, I realized that computers had made organizing educational material much easier. The concept of a “digital Animateque” excited me. After 20 years as an animation Producer, Stephen Worth decided it was time to give back to the muse. He went to work full time at ASIFA-Hollywood to try to build support for Bill’s concept of the Animateque. “The animation business is in dire need of inspiration and new ideas. The technology is just a tool. The artist is the one who creates. We need to invest in artists.”

In January of 2011, ASIFA-Hollywood informed Worth that regrettably they were no longer able to sponsor his project. Worth wasn’t willing to let Bill Scott’s dream end there, so he scrambled to create a permanent organizational umbrella for the collection. He established Animation Resources, a 501(c)(3) California non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and encouraging animation education. The core of Animation Resources’ offerings is Stephen Worth’s valuable research and curation efforts and the generous efforts of the dozens of dedicated volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to creating this resource.

To learn more about Animation Resources, visit their website at http://animationresources.org/

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Snub

As The Guardian puts it.


It was the highest-grossing film of 2014 in the UK, holds a staggering rating of 96% “fresh” on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes and has been widely praised as a pioneering example of how to mine movie gold from the most unlikely of corporate sources. But The Lego Movie still wasn’t good enough to make the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ list of nominees for the best animated film Oscar.

In one of the biggest snubs of this year’s award season, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s flamboyant tale lost out to Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Boxtrolls, as well as Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. ...

We need to get over "The Lego Movie was snubbed snubbed/screwed over/ignored" line of thinking. It's actually just simple math. A committee voted for the nominees. The votes were counted. And the top five nominees won.

Really simple.

Further, the votes were/are all subjective, held captive by the opinions/whims/prejudices of voting members. (Side note: This is why an animated feature will never, ever win a Best Picture Oscar. The voting members of the Motion Picture Academy, most of them working in live-action, would never allow such a thing to happen.)

My guess is The Lego Movie finished just out of the money. But it's only a guess. I don't know Best Animated Feature nominees' vote totals and I don't think it's particularly important. The Academy Awards are among the oldest, most "prestigious" gold trophies out there and actual movie makers create and vote on the different slates, but plenty of lacklustre films have bee nominated over the years, and too many iconic films have been left out. Just how seriously are we to take this exclusion? (We know which movie's going to win, right? How to Train Your Dragon 2 of Big Hero 6. Simple math.)

So is the Academy's overlook of The Lego Movie something to get upset about? Maybe a little. But certainly not a lot. After all, it's just another movie award*.


* More important than the Golden Globes. (Way more important.) Less important than the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Prime Time Animation

I was over at Film Roman today, and the crew is working away on the end of the currents season's orders:

"We have one more show in the cycle to do, then there's work on six holdovers for the next season."

The problem is, Fox hasn't yet announced it's actually doing another season, so it's possible the extra six shows are for naught. Hard to believe but some Film Roman artists are a wee bit ... uptight?

But I don't think there's much question that the Yellow Family will go on. ...

Because the ratings are holding up (though coming in way behind the big football game).

Sunday Night TV -- Ratings -- Share

8:00 - The Simpsons (#2) -- 1.2 -- 3.0

9:00 -- Family Guy (#2) -- 1.1 -- 3.0

9:30 -- Bob's Burgers -- 1.0 -- 2.0

With The Simpsons, I believe we'll see a multi-year pickup that will take the show to its 30th season.

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"Sundance" Animation

Deadline calls this



...an indie animated series. ...

... Animals. – about the downtrodden creatures native to Earth’s least habitable environment: New York City — bypassed the traditional development and was financed with private equity money. The creators were able to make the show exactly how they wanted on a timetable that suited them. ...

But it's really closer (I think) to an indie animatic. I've seen Disney animatics that were just as elaborate, if not more.
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Monday, January 19, 2015

Speaking of DreamWorks Animation

The L.A. Times says:

... DreamWorks Animation plans a substantial number of layoffs, two people familiar with the matter said..

In a move to cut operating costs, the Glendale studio intends to significantly reduce the size of its workforce, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the plans.

While the precise number of people who will lose their jobs has yet to be finalized, the number is expected to exceed the 350 layoffs that occurred in 2013 after the studio shelved production of the movie "Me and My Shadow."

Layoffs are expected to include animators, story-board artists and other production personnel and support staff at the studio's Glendale and Redwood City facilities, which employ about 2,200 workers. ...

Besides the Los Angeles Times, there have been the same kinds of articles here, here, and over here (among other places). ...

I've gotten a lot of calls from reporters after this story broke. What I've told them is

1) Last week, I started getting calls from DreamWorkers who were getting laid off;

2) The employees said there were other people getting laid off besides them, but nobody could tell me what the number of folks were.

3) Third parties (not DreamWorks Animation workers) have told me that upwards of 300 to 400 people will be let go over the next several months.

To date, I have no way of confirming number 3. I contacted DreamWorks Animation last week about the layoffs, but as of this writing I have not gotten a response from anyone acting in an official capacity. As more becomes known, we will pass it along. (And so will a plethora of newspapers and industry publications.)

Add On (Tuesday night): I continue to get phone calls regarding DreamWorks, but know nothing new. I called the studio today for info, but heard nothing back. And so it goes.

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Editing TV Cartoons -- Part II



In this second installment of "Film Editing TV Cartoons", Robert Birchard describes Disney Television Animation's rapid growth and growing corporate structure. ...

TAG Interview with Bob Birchard

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link


Mr Birchard tells of meetings that didn't start until company executives had entered the conference room in the right pecking order, and a bureaucracy that became steadily larger as the division gained more success.

Note: You'll find the complete interview on video (above). The audio version is divided in half: Part One ran on October 16th; Part Two runs here today.

Robert Birchard, besides being a crackerjack editor, is a writer and film historian of the first rank. For instance ...

Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood

... Drawing extensively on DeMille’s personal archives and other primary sources, Robert S. Birchard offers a revealing portrait of DeMille the filmmaker that goes behind studio gates and beyond DeMille’s legendary persona. In his forty-five-year career DeMille's box-office record was unsurpassed, and his swaggering style established the public image for movie directors. DeMille had a profound impact on the way movies tell stories and brought greater attention to the elements of decor, lighting, and cinematography. Best remembered today for screen spectacles such as The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah, DeMille also created Westerns, realistic “chamber dramas,” and a series of daring and highly influential social comedies. He set the standard for Hollywood filmmakers and demanded absolute devotion to his creative vision from his writers, artists, actors, and technicians. ...

"Far and away the best film book published so far this year. . . . He [Birchard] had full access to DeMille's papers and records, and draws on this archival material like a true cinematic archaeologist." -- National Board of Review

Click here to read entire post

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Corporate Dynamics

The Fool (not me) thinks DWA has work to do.

... Since 2012, [DreamWorks Animation] has taken an expensive writedown on at least one film each year. "Rise of the Guardians" did the damage three years ago, "Turbo" hurt results in 2013, and "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" whacked earnings last year -- nearly $160 million of writedowns for the three films. We'll find out whether investors can add "Penguins of Madagascar" to that list when the company reports results for its fiscal fourth quarter in a few weeks.

The low batting average for box office hits has crushed DreamWorks' stock, sending it more than 30% lower in 2014 and down nearly 50% in the past five years. ...

The DreamWorks management team has been talking about evolving the company into a "diversified entertainment giant" for years. Diversification is an important goal for any company. But it's even more critical here, when any one of DreamWorks' three annual movie releases has the potential to tank, bringing the entire year's financial results down with it.

The problem is that the company's other major business lines -- consumer products and television -- haven't stepped up their production. Last quarter, feature film revenue accounted for the same huge proportion of sales as it did a year ago, almost 80%. ...

I've been concerned for years about DWA's business model of "Make a hit movie. Repeat. Make a hit movie. Repeat. Make a hit ..." etc. It's a fine corporate dream, but it's a dream that's unsustainable.

The long-term solution: Get the company diversified, then find a corporate suitor and merge with some conglomerate or other. But another company paying a premium for DWA stock? Especially if the corporation isn't firing on all cylinders? In all likelihood, that won't be happening.

The short-term solution: A big, brassy new installment of the Shrek franchise, with songs and dancing.

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Your Foreign Box Office

American soldiers are on top this week. As for the rest ...

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Paddington $4,000,000 -- ($154,287,000)

Night At The Museum 3 -- $17,800,000 -- ($284,673,106)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $16,300,000 -- ($306,190,248)

Hobbit 3 -- $9,800,000 -- ($803,137,115)

Into the Woods -- $7,300,000 -- ($140,295,669)

Exodus: Gods and Kings -- $10,900,000 -- ($250,055,030)

Big Hero 6 -- $7,200,000 -- ($428,289,530)

The DreamWorks Animation feature continues to frolic abroad.

... Penguins Of Madagascar hatched another $16.3M helped along by seven No. 1 openings for a cume of $225.64M. Brazil led with a huge $5.07M from 911 screens.

It's a mystery to me why the flick has so chrnoically under-performed in the U.S. of A., but what do you do? As for some of the other features out there:

Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb dug up another $17.8M this weekend, lifting the cume to $179.9M. ... The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies added a further $9.8M this frame with nearly 1.2M admissions from 6,701 screens in 62 markets. Germany continues to lead the pack of Hobbit faithfuls with $76.7M to date. ...

Japan keeps flocking to San Fransokyo with Big Hero 6 maintaining the No. 1 slot there for a 3rd consecutive frame that dropped only 25% from last weekend. The No. 1 Western release in Japan for five weeks, it’s earned $51.6M there. ...

Click here to read entire post

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Your American Box Office

Prospective weekend totals look good for Mr. Eastwood.

1). American Sniper (WB), 3,555 theaters (+3,551)/ $29.1M Fri. (+18,537%) /3-Day:$66.8M (+11,427%)/4-Day:$75.4M /Total cume: $78.8M/ Wk 3

2). The Wedding Ringer (Sony), 3,003 theaters/ $6.9M Fri./ 3-Day: $20.5M/ 4-Day: $23.8M /Wk 1

3). Paddington (TWC), 3,303 theaters / $4.8M Fri./ 3-Day: $19.3M / 4-Day: $24.1M /Wk 1

4). Taken 3 (Fox), 3,594 theaters (0)/$4.3M Fri(-71%). / 3-Day: $14.5M (-63%)/4-Day: $17.3M /Total cume: $66M/ Wk 2

5). Selma (Par), 2,235 theaters (+56) / $2.49M Fri. (-34%)/ 3-Day: $9.1M (-19%)/4-Day: $11.2M /Total cume: $28.8M / Wk 4

6). Into The Woods (DIS), 2,758 theaters (-75) / $1.7M Fri. (-31%)/ 3-Day: $6.8M (-29%)/4-Day: $8.9M /Total cume:$116.7M / Wk 4

7). The Imitation Game (TWC), 1,611 theaters (+45) / $1.8M Fri. (-14%) / 3-Day: $6.4M (-11%)/4-Day: $7.7M /Total cume: $51.3M / Wk 8

8). The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (WB), 2,220 theaters (-1182)/$1.3M (-47%)Fri./ 3-Day: $5.2M (-44%) /4-Day: $6.7M /Total cume: $245.9M/ Wk 5

9). Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb (FOX), 2,437 theaters (-934) / $975K Fri. (-40%) / 3-Day: $4.3M(-35%)/4-Day: $5.7M /Total cume: $106.7M / Wk 5


10). Unbroken (UNI), 2,602 theaters (-699) / $1.2M Fri. (-51%)/ 3-Day: $4.1M (-49%)/4-Day: $4.8M/Total cume: $109.1M / Wk 4

11). Blackhat (UNI), 2,567 theaters / $1.4M Fri./ 3-Day: $4M/4-Day: $4.8M / Wk 1

For the cuddly bear picture, Mojo projects:

Paddington took third place with an estimated $4.66 million. That's just below last year's The Nut Job; if Paddington follows that movie's trajectory, it will wind up with around $25 million by Monday.

The partially-animated Night at the Museum has held up remarkably well after a (relatively) slow start.


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Batman Rollout


Warner Bros. isn't going to leave the super-hero field wide open to Marve/Diz Co. Therefore ...



Movie #23 from the WB of Animation: Batman vs. Robin based on "Batman: Court of Owls."

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Walt Peregoy - RIP


Goodbye, Mr. Peregoy.

Prez Emeritus Tom Sito writes:

The wonderful Walt Peregoy has left us.

One of the last great designers on 101 Dalmatians. He was fun to be around. He ran counter to the image of that disney artist " Aw-shucks, gee-whiz" gentility. A real salty dog, whose language could make a sailor blush, which is probably why he was not interviewed more.

But he was proud to be a Disney artist, proud of his achievements, and demanded respect for his talent. He encouraged other young artists not to feel bad or be intimidated because they had talent. If you're good, dammit, let the world know,

RIP Walt, a well deserved rest.

I knew Mr. Peregoy as a kid (he came to my folks' house quite a lot) and he never changed: feisty, outspoken, highly opinionated, that was Walt.

Like for instance here. And here. Also here.

When I walked into Walt's house four years ago to record the interchange directly above, I hadn't seen Mr. Peregoy in years and didn't know what to expect. But I found out real fast.

I had been in his sunny den for all of ninety seconds. We exchanged pleasantries, I snapped on my recorder, and off Walt went.

You can hear the results for yourself.

I was doing a lot of interviews with animation artists right then, all of which are still up on line. Mr. Peregoy's Q & A, hands down, is the one that has elicited the most reaction and comment these past four years.

Listen to ten minutes of it, you'll understand why.

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At Disney-Tujunga

And what the hell is "Disney-Tujunga", you ask?

Has the Mouse moved up to the small Crescenta Valley community below the Angeles Crest? Where bikers, and those who can't afford to live in La Canada, frolic?

Actually, no. It's a large Diz Co.-owned building west of the Bob Hope Airport (the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena flight facility) on Tujunga Avenue in North Hollywood. I was there for the first time today. ...

The neighborhood is a long way from the Ranch District of Burbank, the location of the Hat Building. Disney-Tujumga sits in the middle of an industrial area with lots of movie supply warehouses, car repair shops, and other lower-rent establishments you would expect to find clustered near one end of an airport runway.

The Disney building is actually pretty nice. It sits behind fences and a guard shack, and houses Disney Imagineering, storage areas, and now Walt Disney Animation Studios. The staffs for two upcoming features began moving in a couple of weeks back, and a productioneer told me there is room for upwards of 400+ people.

Disney-Tujunga is on two floors. (The building is two-story, so kind of makes sense, no?) There aren't a lot of enclosed offices, but plenty of wide open floor-space and airy cubicles. There don't appear to be many eating establishments nearby, but nobody voiced discontent over this reality. As one person said, "It is what it is. We have nice jobs." There were food trucks out in the parking lot.

Walt-Disney-Animation-Studios-On-Tujunga-Avenue will probably be in existence for the next eighteen to twenty-eight months. The setup will continue while the Hat Building on scenic Riverside Drive is getting refurbished. Features will also have a unit or two (but smaller) at DisneyToon Studios in Glendale, though there's a lot less space over there, so more production action will take place in North Hollywood.

Artists and administrators will be working at the Hat through the entire renovation, just not a whole lot of them. Hopefully drifting dust will be kept to a minimum.



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2015 Afternoon of Remembrance

* click image for larger view


The Animation Guild will be hosting the 2015 Afternoon of Remembrance on Saturday, February 7th starting at 12:00pm in the Guild's meeting hall. The event is open to anyone who wishes to attend.


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Editing TV Cartoons - Part I

Robert Birchard, speaking at Cinecon.

TAG Interview with Bob Birchard

Find all TAG Interviews on the TAG website at this link

Roberts S. Birchard has been an editor of television cartoons for almost forty years. In the early eighties, he broke into the animation business at a studio called Hanna-Barbera, and soon moved on to DIC Animation (where he found the hectic schedules and tight deadlines to be an interesting challenge). Bob was the supervisor of DIC's editorial department, but seven-day workweeks eventually wore him down a bit, and he jumped to a small, embryonic outfit named Walt Disney Television Animation. ...

In its early days (which would be the middle of the 1980s) Disney TVA was a small, tight-knit organization getting its feet wet with The Gummi Bears and Duck Tales as it navigated a new world of television syndication. As Mr. Birchard describes it, small-screen cartoons were a product that the Disney Company wanted to get right, and a lot of time and money was spent delivering a quality product.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Golden Reel Nominees


There might not be reels involved in editing anymore, but the Motion Picture Sound Editors still hand out shiny statues.

"Birdman," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" are among Wednesday's nominees for the 62nd Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards in feature film.

Nominated for sound editing -- sound effects and foley in a feature film: "American Sniper," "Birdman," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Fury," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Interstellar" and "Unbroken."

Vying for sound editing -- dialogue and additional dialogue recording (ADR) in a feature film: "Birdman," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "Still Alice," "The Theory of Everything," "Unbroken" and "Whiplash."

Nominees for sound editing -- sound effects, foley, dialogue and ADR in an animated feature: "Big Hero 6," "Book of Life," "The Boxtrolls," "How to Train Your Dragon 2" and "The Lego Movie." ...

This time of year, there is one awards bash after another: SAG, Oscars, Golden Globes, Annies, the list seems endless.

The Motion Picture Sound Editors is an honorary society that's been around for 51 years. They've been awarding prizes for Best Sound Editing: Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue and ADR for long-form cartoons since 1989.

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Animation Guild Housekeeping


We've been getting a smattering of concerned phone calls from member because the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan has been sending out a statement that starts:

"NOTICE TO INTERESTED PARTIES"

1. Notice to:
All present employees eligible to participate in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan and the Motion Picture Industry Individual Account Plan. ...

And so on. ...

But what the MPIPHP failed to put in with the statement was a note explaining:

"This is a document the IRS has us send out to participants in the Plan every year. It's routine. Nothing that's a big deal. THERE IS NO ACTION REQUIRED ON YOUR PART. THIS STATEMENT IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. SO RELAX."

Etcetera.

To let you know, the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan is going through the same rigamarole that the bigger Motion Picture Industry plan is. The Feds are reviewing it because that's the standard practice.

And it happens every year.

On a slightly different subject, the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan is doing well. It now has

$8 billion in total Plan assets.

Investments are allocated to bonds, stocks, "alternative investments" and real estate. Recent returns are

4.8% -- Defined Pension Plan

5.2% -- Individual Account Plan


The returns over the past twenty years have been north of 8%.

There are 43,000+ people who participate in the Plan, which has been in existence since the early 1950s.

Hope you find the above helpful.

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And the Nominees Are ...

These six from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

And the front-runners would be How To Train Your Dragon and Big Hero 6 for all the obvious reasons:

Big Hero is from a monster conglomerate named Disney. (On the other hand, Frozen won last year and the Academy usually doesn't go to the same well in successive years.)

How To Train Your Dragon 2 picked up a Golden Globe for "Best Animated Feature", will likely win an Annie (maybe?), and DreamWorks hasn't won a "Best Animated Feature" statuette in a while.

I don't think you can rule out the other nominees, but the academy's voting members are tilted toward the major California animation studios, and I think it's foolish to pretend otherwise.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Animation News Links


The animated feature titled Avatar II happening in '17:

Director James Cameron said Wednesday that writing three "Avatar" sequels is such a complex job he's delaying the first new film a year and it will now be released in late 2017. ...

No tall blue people animated feature for another two years. ...

* * * * * * *

Re The Simpsons' C. Hebdo tribute:

"Simpsons" executive producer Al Jean said the idea started last Thursday when one of the show’s original producers, James L. Brooks, suggested making a statement in defense of free speech.

“We looked online and saw the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ posters and thought the ideal person to hold the flag would be Maggie, who doesn’t speak,” Jean said.

Longtime director David Silverman was in charge of crafting the image. ...


* * * * * * *

What to expect with Toy Story 4:

"Toy Story 4" is pencilled in for 2017, with John Lasseter and company getting very excited about the story they've dreamt up, ... a love story. Just like "Toy Story 3's" prison break, that means a genre that we haven't really seen the series tackle before. That could mean that Barbie and Ken are back, or that we're going to see a "Before Midnight" style drop-in on Mrs Potato Head, but perhaps "Toy Story That Time Forgot" points elsewhere.

(Rashida Jones of Parks and Recreation is one of the writers on TS4.)

* * * * * * *

Lastly, movies are moving:

... Disney has pushed the release of its Jon Favreau-helmed redo of "The Jungle Book" out of 2015. The 3D pic with an all-star voice cast including Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba and Johansson had been set for October 9 but now will open April 15, 2016. It trades dates with "The Finest Hours", the Chris Pine-Casey Affleck-Eric Bana ocean-rescue tale, which now will arrive October 9.

The moves put the 3D "Ghost In The Shell" into an as-yet-unoccupied slot and pits "Pete’s Dragon" against the Lionsgate comedy "Bad Grandpa", Sony’s raunchy toon "Sausage Party" and Universal’s thriller "Spectral". The live-action/VFX "Jungle Book" will face off with Universal sequel "The Best Man Wedding" and Sony’s kids-book adaptation "Goosebumps". ...


You will note that there are a LOT of animated (or partial animated) features bumping other animated features.



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Prime Time Cartoons


As always, Fox has the night-time animation market to itself.

... On FOX, The Simpsons earned a 2.0 adults 18-49 rating, down from last week's football inflated 4.7 adults 18-49 rating. Brooklyn Nine-Nine garnered a 1.5, down from last week's football-boosted 3.0 adults 18-49 rating. Family Guy earned a 2.0, down from last week's 2.8, adults 18-49 rating. Bob’s Burgers notched a 1.6, down from last week's 2.0 adults 18-49 rating. ...

The Simpsons is still pulling in solid ratings; the rumor around the artists' cubicles? There are negotiations upstairs to take the Yellow Family all the way to thirty seasons.

Makes sense to me. Let's see if the rumor becomes reality.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Shadow's Prospects

Back from the nearly cancelled?


Though Dreamworks Animation and 20th Century Fox previously removed the CG and hand-drawn animation hybrid Me & My Shadow from their official release schedule, we understand work on the film was still underway as recently as the last couple of months of 2014. ...

To give a bit of history on Shadow: the movie was in development in 2011, when Mark Dindal was developing the feature from an idea by one J. Katzenberg. Mark started work on the picture in 2010.

I saw some of the early art and test animation, and it looked promising. Different. Mark was nice enough to sit down for a TAG blog interview when he was slammed with work on the film (we talked in a DWA conference room and cut the session short when he had to get to a meeting); seven months later he had departed the project due to creative differences. (From accounts these were actual, 24-karat creative differences. Not the fake press release kind designed to cover a firing.)

Alessandro Carloni, a DWA veteran, has been listed as director of Me and My Shoulder for some time. There was a long stretch where not much work was happening on Shadow; reamWorks staffers told me there was a skeleton crew and the word was out and about that the picture would most likely die a quiet death in its crib.

Now Film Divider and others say that's not the case, and I hope it's true. I haven't paid close attention to MAMS's current status, but the picture always struck me as a different kind of project and definitely worth making.

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Seven Reduced to One

Lawsuits, it seems, are being consolidated.

A motion to combine all legal filings went unopposed by embattled studio [Sony}.

A California federal judge has approved a motion to combine seven class action lawsuits filed by Sony Pictures employees into one. ... The suits came after November’s studio hack, that dumped thousands of personal employee documents on filesharing sites including their medical records, social security numbers and emails.

“Consolidation will eliminate duplication of effort and make litigating the case more convenient and efficient for the parties and the Court,” the papers read. Sony, referred to as SPE, did not oppose the ruling.

There are also wage suppression lawsuits being wrestled with, so it's not a happy season for Sony.

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Get your tickets to the Day At The Races!

* click image for a larger view


The 2015 IATSE and MPTF Day At The Races will be held on Saturday, January 31st. The Day At The Races is a family oriented fund raising event benefiting the Motion Picture Television Fund (MPTF). The MPTF has provided a safety net of programs and social services to the entertainment community for almost 100 years.

See the video made from last year's event.

Get your tickets on MPTF's Day At The Races Page. Your ticket buys admission, parking, a lunch buffet and access to the racing, raffles, silent auction and children's activities.

Join fellow members and their families in an afternoon filled with fun and frivolity that helps to keep MPTF the charity organization that keeps Hollywood "Taking Care of it's Own".

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Comic Book New-Comers

The rival conglomerate across town won't be sitting on its Spandex while Marvel sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

Mark Pedowitz, speaking at the Television Critics Association, remarked on plans to expand with even more DC Comics themed programming. When asked about the possibility of an Atom spinoff starring Brandon Routh, Arrow executive producer Greg Berlanti said that the network is in "very early talks on a very general idea that we haven't gone deeper on yet." ...

Ah, but it ain't just about the live-action. ...

Vixen is going to join Arrow and The Flash on the CW this Fall...just not in the way we might have expected. The former Suicide Squad and occasional Justice League member is getting an animated series on CW Seed, the network's home for digital only series. Vixen (Mari Jiwe McCabe) has the ability to mimic animal powers, and her Suicide Squad background should make for an easy introduction into the Arrow-verse. ...

Marc Guggenheim told Comic Book Resources that the Vixen animated series is a six-part origin story, set in Detroit. He promises that since animation doesn't have the kind of budgetary restrictions that live-action TV does, they will have "a much larger production value" to work with. ...

Warner Bros./D.C. has had a bit more success, comparatively speaking, with animated caped heroes than it's achieved in the live-action universe*. But then, it's had a long head-start against the Diz Co. up-and-comers.

* Not counting the Christopher Nolan pictures.

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Newest Marvel Animated Hybrid

The super heroes frolic.



The last Avengers raked in over a billion dollars. Undoubtedly the Mouse expects big things from #2.

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The Empires Strike Back


The Mouse and Associates aren't taking the wage suppression lawsuits in a recumbent position.

Just over a month after the trio of class-action lawsuits against Disney, Sony, DreamWorks Animation and other animation studios were consolidated into a single complaint, some of the heavyweight defendants in the alleged anti-poaching and wage-fixing case have struck back – on several fronts.

The first line of attack is a dense filing in federal court late last week by the studios seeking to have the amended class action from digital artists David Wentworth, Robert Nitsch Jr. and Georgia Cano dismissed “in its entirety with prejudice” (read it here). The primary thrust of their argument is that the statute of limitations has expired on the trio’s claims. ...

It's not surprising that Our Fine Entertainment Conglomerates are responding to the lawsuits alleging wage suppression with Uzis blazing. Freezing forward movement on the case or ... better yet ... shutting the suits down would be a good thing.

So they're taking a multi-pronged approach: 1) The suits are untimely ("Hey, good try, but the statutes of limitations has kicked in!"). And 2) The wage disputes should have been arbitrated, per the plaintiffs Personal Service Contracts.

By and by, we'll see which way Judge Koh rules.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Gaston Phenomenon


The things that go viral ....



This went up on YouTube January 2nd. My wife, who is all-knowing and all-seeing regarding Le Internet, pointed the video out to me three days later.

Hardly anybody had looked at it at that point. Only 3.5 million people.

So now here we are on Day 9, and the damn thing has 8,115,693 views. I find this intriguing because there appears to be a whole YouTube subset of Gaston (Disney World version) of which the citizens of the World Wide Web canNOT get enough.

It's gratifying that it's tied (albeit distantly) to one of my favorite animated features, but there is truly no accounting for taste.

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The Globes' Best

The best animated feature is ... How to Train Your Dragon II.

And director Dean DeBlois thanks the out-going Bill Damaschke and incoming Bonnie Arnold (by happy coincidence the producer of the feature). As Jeffrey K. looks on.

Well-deserved win.

Add On: Mr DeBlois talks about HTTYD2:

...What was your process in constructing this successful sequel?

It comes from a general allergy to sequels and the sense that they often feel so unnecessary and lack the integrity of the original. I pitched the idea of a trilogy with a larger architecture to it, where threads that were set up in the first film would be carried forward in the second and paid off in a very finite way come third. ...

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World Box Office

Animated movies continue to rake in coin.

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Night at the Museum -- $46,200,000 -- ($248,123,488)

The Hobbit -- $21,800,000 -- ($781,817,487)

Into the Woods -- $7,600,000 -- ($120,571,929

Exodus: Gods and Kings -- $15,000,000 -- ($231,752,105)

Big Hero 6 -- $12,600,000 -- ($408,958,958)

Unbroken -- $5,700,000 -- ($115,602,305)

Penguins of Madagascar -- $9,000,000 -- ($287,777,626)

Paddington -- %6,500,000 -- ($120,000,000)

As an entertainment journal notes:

... Big Hero 6 has become the 8th Walt Disney Animation Studios’ title to cross the $400M threshold at the global box office, with $214M domestically and $195M internationally for a total $408.96M. ...

Fox’s Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb unearthed $26.72M in its first China week. The final installment of the franchise opened in the Middle Kingdom last Sunday and played on 3,887 screens reaching the No. 1 spot and outpacing the last Night At The Museum by 287%. ...

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies entrenched for another $21.8M in 65 markets this frame. The international total is now $545.3M with China yet to go. ...

Paddington has already had successful runs in different overseas markets and now unspools stateside.

PoM has had solid openings overseas, and the pic should have global earnings over $300 million by the end of next weekend, and a couple of weeks after? It should pass Rise of the Guardians' $307 million total. Sadly, Penguins hasn't been a barn-burner in the U.S. and Canada; this, also sadly, is impacting the worldwide accumulation, but what can you do?

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