Saturday, July 14, 2018

Blood-Sucking Box Office -- June 12-14

Much animation decorates the box office Top Ten (but why not? Kids are out of school so it's an ideal time to roll cartoons out...).


1) Hotel Transylvania 3 -- 4,267 -- $42.2M -- $43.6M (1st weekend)

2) Ant-Man & The Wasp -- 4,206 -- $28.1M (-63%) -- $132M

3) Skyscraper -- 3,782 -- $24.2M -- $24.2M (1st weekend)

4) Incredibles 2 -- 3,705 (-408) -- $14.5M (-49%) -- $534M

5) Jurassic World 2 -- 3,695 (-654) -- $14M (-51%) -- $361.8M

6) The First Purge -- 3,308 (+7) -- $9.5M (-45%) -- $49.8M

7) Sorry To Bother You -- 805 (+789) -- $4M (+450%) -- $5.1M

8) Sicario 2 -- 2,006 (-1,049) -- $3.4M (-55%) -- $42.7M

9) Uncle Drew -- 1,702 (-1,040) -- $3.1M (-53%) -- $36.5M

10) Ocean’s 8 -- 1,618 (-986) -- $2.9M (-42%) -- $132.2M

HT3 is tracking much like its two older sisters on their opening weekends. (HT1 pulled down $42.5 million and HT2 collected $48.4 million). The picture is playing well with its target audience and is big on social media. Hotel Transylvania 2 grossed $473,226,958 by the end of its global run. HT3 will likely earn similar money.

Incredibles 2 has now collected $792.7 million around the world, with 66% of that money coming from the United States and Canada. (Incredibles 1 made 59% of its worldwide gross of $633 million from abroad, sooo ... if the final percentages for the second installment end up being similar, look for more money coming in from foreign venues.)

Update: Hotel Transylvania ends the weekend at $44.1 million, stomping on Dwayne Johnson's new entry. This makes three successes in a row for Sony's vampire franchise.

The mice! The mice! Tales of Disney Animation in two exciting volumes ... Mouse in Transition and Mouse in Orbit. Available now! ... and into the future (we think)!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Disney's 1981 Animated Feature

Thirty-seven years ago this week, The Fox and the Hound rolled into theaters after a protracted production. It was the first animated feature from the House of Mouse since The Rescuers in 1977. And it had its share of milestones:

F & H was the last feature on which Disney veterans Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Larry Clemmons (Disney employees since Hyperion days) lent their talents.

Wolfgang Reitherman, longtime head of the department, stepped down. (He had worked as a supervisor on almost every animated feature since Snow White.)

Don Bluth, one of the younger directing animators, walked out with one third of the staff to make the indie feature The Secret of NIMH, setting the release of The Fox and the Hound back by a year.

It was the first Disney feature on which animation legend Glen Keane made a significant mark. Glen boarded and animated the climactic bear fight sequence, and went on to be a key player inside the department for the next thirty years.

The Fox and the Hound was the sole hand-drawn feature on which director Tim Burton worked.

And it was the first studio project during which the Cal Arts brigade (John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, John Musker, various others) would begin to come into their own.

Beyond everything else, The Fox and the Hound, started by Disney's old guard, completed by the new, represents the point in Disney history when you could stand on the mountainside and stare backward with the people who were around near the beginning, and also peer forward with the newcomers into a future yet to be.

From 1977 to 1981, while F & H was in production, the old and the new were gathered together, making one final/first animated feature as a single unit.

For more on the "The Fox and the Hound", see here and here. And thanks to Tom Sito for reminding me another anniversary of "F & H" has come.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Multi Talents = Multi Hyphenate

Nicole Dubuc doesn't seem to sleep.

She runs her dog in competitions on a regular basis. She horseback rides and runs. She climbs tall mountains (Mounts Whitney and kilimanjaro among others).

Added to those recreational pursuits, she produces, directs, writes numerous scripts (well into the hundreds), has served as story editor and show runner on multiple shows, and also (there's more?!) served for years as the Recording Secretary for the Animation Guild.

All the above makes me tired just thinking about it, let alone typing it. And if that weren't enough, Nicole writes Star Wars scripts for various iterations of the franchise (animated version) that appear on your home flat screen.

What was your introduction to "Star Wars"? Is there a film, TV series, book, or comic that was your favorite?

I first encountered "Star Wars" at a summer program at CalArts, in high school. One of my friends had the original trilogy on laserdisc, and we watched the whole thing in a theatre with a few of our friends. I was immediately hooked and wanted more. I started buying the books and burned through all of them. My favorites were Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy.

Your career started early as an actress on the TV series ALF and then more regularly on Our House and Major Dad. How was that experience overall and did you have any inkling that writing and producing for television would be in your future? When you went to Yale did you always think you would come back to Hollywood?

I am very grateful for my time in front of the camera, because I think it taught me script format and story structure at an early age. Also, I learned fast that no scripted joke is sacred, as we’d have to memorize punch ups on the fly. I knew I wanted to be involved in some form of the industry, but through high school I started to prefer behind the camera work. I had no idea what I would do after Yale – pre-med courses and an English degree helped me cover all my bases, LOL. But I’m glad I found my way back to Hollywood.

How did your career as a television writer start? Was your goal to write for animation?

I had always loved watching animation, but I fell into my career when the dot com I was working for went under. My co-workers, mostly from Disney animation, told me they could introduce me to some of their colleagues. The producers I met with very kindly read my work and gave me advice – letting me take a crack at writing a spec for their show with the promise that if they liked it, and they got a second season, I could write for them. They did, and they brought me on as an apprentice staff writer on Kim Possible. ...

Yup. Definitely not much sleeping being done.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Super-Hero Box Office -- July 6-8

The spandex-and-cape brigade is well-represented in the Big Box Office 10. Three out of ten movies are of the super hero persuasion...


1) Ant-Man & The Wasp -- 4,206 -- $82.4M -- $82.4M (1st week)

2) Incredibles 2 -- 4,113 (-297) -- $31.9M (-31%) -- $507.2M

3) Jurassic World 2 -- 4,349 (-136) -- $31.3M (-49%) -- $336M

4) The First Purge -- 3,031 -- $18.5M -- $32.4M

5) Sicario…Soldado -- 3,055 -- $7.9M (-58%) -- $35.9M

6) Uncle Drew -- 2,742 -- $7M (-54%) -- $30.3M

7) Ocean’s 8 -- 2,604 (-822) -- $5.8M (-30%) -- $127.3M

8) Tag -- 2,157 (-1,019) -- $3.2M (-45%) -- $48.4M

9) Won’t You…Neighbor? -- 893 (+239) $752K -- $2.6M (+9%) -- $12.4M

10) Deadpool 2 -- 1,267 (-583) -- $1.8M (-50%) -- $314.6M

Sequels are good business for our friendly, gargantuan, entertainment conglomerates.

Incredibles 2 has now made more money in the U.S. and Canada than any other Pixar release, and a grand total of $693.4 million worldwide.

Deadpool 2 has earned $722.6 million globally.

And Jurassic World 2 now stands at !,013.7 million on all of earth's continents.

Animation Militancy

... which comes from getting abused over multiple years.

SAG-AFTRA leaders are seeking a strike authorization from members working in TV animation with a July 18 deadline to respond.

The key issue for the union is the refusal of employers to provide scale wages or residuals in the fastest-growing area of animated performer’s work — animated programs made for subscription-based streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon. ...

How did these lesser terms get started? In the usual way: internet-delivered content was in its infancy, the Writers Guild of America and Directors Guild negotiated to get "New Media" (i.e., content via the world wide web) included under their jurisdictions, and SAG-AFTRA and the IATSE quickly followed.

The first three-year cycle of contract terms for "New Media"/"Subscription Video On Demand" (2008-2011) were bad. (The technical word would be "shitty".) But everybody swallowed the package, negotiating a "sunset clause" that insured the "New Media" language would lapse after three years. This way unions and guilds wouldn't be saddled with the same rancid deal For. Ever.

Over the next couple of contract cycles the terms for New Media got slowly better, but here in 2018 the patience of labor is wearing thin. Internet content is now a roaring business, with Netflix a dominant player that makes millions. (In a recent survey, Netflix outstripped cable and broadcast delivery; it ain't "small" and "experimental" any longer.)

Thus, it's understandable that SAG-AFTRA animation voice actors are being asked to authorize a strike to give their guild more leverage in negotiating better terms. Why the hell not? It's high freaking time*.

* A wee bit of history: Three years ago, the Animation Guild argued with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that "New Media" terms and rates in TAG's contract weren't remotely close to reality, that budget levels used in the agreement mirrored live-action, which were far higher than equivalent animation budgets. And that this insured that triggers for higher wages would never be met because contractual budget levels in the New Media clause would never be hit.

The AMPTP was unsympathetic, pointing out that SAG-AFTRA's animation voice actors accepted the live-action budget tiers, and that TAG would have to do likewise.

With its leverage reduced, TAG ultimately accepted the SAG-AFTRA package. This year, however, SAG-AFTRA's animation voice actors have refused to agree to sub-par terms and threaten to strike ... which presents the Animation Guild with the opportunity to get a better deal in its own collective bargaining agreement.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Steve Ditko, RIP

Another legend passes:

Artist Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee, has died at age 90. ... In 1961, Ditko and Lee created Spider-Man. Lee, the editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, gave Ditko the assignment after he wasn't satisfied with Jack Kirby's take on the idea of a teen superhero with spider powers. The look of Spider-Man — the costume, the web-shooters, the red and blue design — all came from Ditko. ...

The reclusive Ditko was known as the "J.D. Salinger" of comics. From the 1970s on, he rarely spoke on the record, declining almost every interview request. ...

Ditko left Marvel in 1966, allegedly over frustrations with Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee. Ditko, like other visual artists in comics (and other media), felt that many of his contribution got short shrift.

Mr. Ditko maintained a New York City studio until the end of his life. He was discovered dead in his apartment on June 29th, but likely died two days earlier.

Add On: The New Republic points out Ditko's formidable chops.

... Ditko was the only Marvel artist given the licence to not draw like Kirby because his signature style -- moody, off-kilter, wirey, and sometimes psychedelic -- possessed an originality that couldn’t be streamlined. Ditko, in the words of historian Sean Howe, “imbued Spider-Man with melancholy soul and Doctor Strange with hallucinatory verve.” At Marvel, Lee brought jazzy verve with his dialogue, Kirby a promethean cosmic imagination, and Ditko an idiosyncratic visual elan.

Marvel Comics had a unique production method. Artists didn’t work from a script, but rather were expected to draw out an issue (sometimes after a discussion with writer/editor Lee) to which dialogue was added after the fact. Especially after the first few issues, Ditko and Kirby were effectively the co-writers, coming up with the story and often providing detailed notes for Lee’s dialogue.

Ditko and Kirby increasingly felt that they were being taken advantage of by Lee and by Marvel Comics, since they were not just denied acknowledgement of their role as co-creators but also not given any royalties as Marvel Comics became a licensing bonanza. Ditko and Kirby were mere freelancers as they created characters and stories that would go on to make hundreds of billions of dollars for other people. ...

"Taken advantage of." Who would have thought?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Job Action Time?

Apparently, contract negotiations between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are not going swimmingly:

The first talk of a strike against the Hollywood film and TV industry surfaced [July 3] in the wake of stalled negotiations for a new IATSE contract covering some 43,000 West Coast below-the-line workers. Bargaining broke off Friday and isn’t scheduled to resume until a week before the July 31 expiration of the current contract. ...

“I wish I could say I am hopeful we will reach an acceptable agreement, but based on the direction this has been heading, I am skeptical at this time,” “If we are unable to reach agreement, the IA will send out a strike authorization vote.” [wrote Cathy Repola, executive director of the Editors Guild, part of the IA bargaining unit].

“The existing residual streams are no longer sufficient to secure the future viability of the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan as they are generated by decreasing secondary markets. We absolutely must replace that loss in revenue with enhanced residuals from streaming releases." ...

A wee bit of history: Back in the fifties and early sixties, the entertainment unions negotiated different residual formulas with motion picture studios. The above-the-line workers (screen writers, actors, movie and tv directors) negotiated re-use residuals that went into their individual pockets; the IATSE negotiated residuals from broadcast tv and secondary markets that flowed into its health and pension plans.

The forumla held for decades, but is now breaking down as pipelines for delivery of entertainment content changes. Broadcast TV is half-dead, Cable channels are shrinking, and DVDs are a quaint technology that fewer and fewer people purchase. (So you know, DVDs used to provide BIG money into the IA's health and pension plans.)

The above-the-line guilds had the kinds of residuals that made it easier for the producers to reach deals. For the IA the task is (seemingly) harder. If no agreement is reached, there will be a lot of IA members (including Animation Guild folks) out on the sidewalks with picket signs.

And in this era of new precedents, yet another precedent will be broken. The largest entertainment union in the United States will have struck over a long-standing contract, something it has never done before.