Sunday, July 22, 2018

American Box Office -- June 20-22

Two animated features remain in the Big Box Office Ten, but take sizable hits as sequels dominate mid-summer box office:

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Equalizer 2 -- 3,388 -- $35.8M -- $35.8M (1st week)

2) Mamma Mia 2 -- 3,317 -- $34.3M -- $34.3M (1st week)

3) Hotel Transylvania 3 -- 4,267 -- $23.1M (-48%) -- $91.1M

4) Ant-Man And The Wasp -- 3,778 (-428) -- $16.1M (-44%) -- $164.6M

5) Incredibles 2 -- 3,164 (-541) -- $11.5M (-29%) -- $557.3M

6) Jurassic World 2 -- 3,381 (-314) -- $11M (-32%) -- $383.9M

7) Skyscraper -- 3,822 (+40) -- $10.96M (-56%) -- $46.7M

8) The First Purge -- 2,331(-707) -- $4.98M (-47%) -- $60.1M

9) Unfriended: Dark Web -- 1,546 -- $3.5M -- $3.5M (1st week)

10) Sorry To Bother You -- 1,050 (+245) -- $2.8M (-33%) -- $10.2M

You will note that the first six positions in the box office list are sequels to earlier hits (and #7 is another formula action film from Dwayne Johnson, which is -- apparently -- garnering scanty public enthusiasm.)

HT3 grossed $37.7 million in overseas markets. Box office total are now $115.6M in foreign lands and $206.7M worldwide.

Brad Bird's Incredibles 2 is now close to being a billion dollar baby. It's made $383.1M in foreign lands and $940.4M worldwide. With several large foreign markets still to come, the pic will roll across the billion marker sooner rather than later.

The mice! The mice! Tales of the House of Mickey. Available this very day!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Residual Wrestling Match

IndieWire has a good summary of the issues on the line for IATSE movie and television crews whose Collective Bargaining Agreement is now being negotiated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers:

... The primary complaint [of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees in contract negotiations] stems from the decline in its pension, which is funded by residuals. In the expanding world of original content made for streaming, traditional residuals ... don’t exist; there is no financial second act for a show like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” or Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” since they will always be free for subscribers. ...

The AMPTP has been careful to emphasize that they agree the pension needs to be fully funded; it’s proposed a “New Media Residual” plan, details of which haven’t been made public. However, it also questions if residuals are a) the real source of the pension funds’ precipitous drop (as opposed to poor investment returns), b) the right mechanism for funding the pensions, and c) who should pay for the increases....

IW points out that residuals for IA crews (termed "below the line") are derived from different revenue streams than residuals for "above the line" talent, and end up in different places. Above-the-line guilds receive "mail-box" residuals that go directly to their members; IA employees see residuals flow into their union pension and health plans.

But the rough parity of money flows for different unions (WGA, DGA, IATSE, etc.) has been knocked in a three-cornered hat by the rise of big streaming platforms like NetFlix and Amazon Prime, where the cash comes from on-line subscribers; older money-generators like DVDs and BuRay disks have pretty much shriveled away to almost nothing. And cable and broadcast networks (with their old payment structures) are foundering.

Where contract negotiations, scheduled to re-start near the end of this month, end up is an open question. There could be a prolonged strike; there could be an eleventh-hour agreement. (And individual IA locals, the Animation Guild among them, have their own separate issues). The only thing that's certain is, thanks to rapidly evolving technologies, the power players and distribution methods have changed ... and ways need to be found to wages and the funding of pension and health plans.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Hitting The Bricks ...

SAG-AFTRA wrapped up its strike authorization vote for cartoon voice-over actors yesterday, and the vote wasn't close.

Members voted 98.27 percent YES in favor of a TV Animation strike authorization. Voting closed July 18, and ballots were tabulated by Integrity Voting Systems. ... It gives the National Board the authority to declare a strike if absolutely necessary. We will keep negotiating with producers for a contract that guarantees members scale wages and residuals for animated programs made for streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

This vote sends a message that we are united and puts our negotiators in the best position possible. ...

For those keeping tabs on what's going on here, it's really pretty simple. The unionized animation industry is becoming divided between product delivered via cable networks and broadcast entities (with wage minimums and residuals), and product that is streamed over the internet. (Netflix, Amazon, and soon Disney). Internet delivery falls under SAG-AFTRA's and TAG's "New Media" contract clauses, where for all practical purposes there are few wage minimums or residual streams. As SAG-AFTRA explained in a letter to members:

... “Approximately 80 percent of live-action programs made for subscription-based streaming platforms are covered by terms that provide scale wages and residuals,” (i.e., the high-budget SVOD terms. ....

In contrast, ... “the producer’s last offer will cover less than half” of animated programs made for SVOD, and even that comes with various required concessions the union deems unacceptable." ...

For the Animation Guild, the contract for which ends at the end of this month, the situation is similar. Because of the high budget thresholds for animated product, no employee working on streamed television shows is covered by TAG's wage minimums.

SAG-AFTRA's animation contract ended months ago; the Animation Guild's collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of July. Whether TAG will join the actors' union with a strike vote of its own within the next several weeks is, at this point, an open question.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Inventing Amusements

Sixty-three years ago this day, Disneyland (the amusement park) opened for business. Walt Disney's playland rose up out of Anaheim orange groves and went on to change the way earthlings think of amusement parks. They aren't merely roller coasters and merry-go-rounds anymore, but themed environments that enfold visitors who walk through their gates with cinematic-style experiences.

The summer of 1955, the day "the park" opened, temperature were hot and attractions unfinished, but the public was enthralled anyway. Walt's employees -- particularly his animation staff -- played a large part in making Disneyland happen. One of them was the son of movie legend Francis X. Bushman:

... Bruce [Bushman] was a layout artist on Pinocchio (1940), co-art directed the Nutcracker Suite sequence in Fantasia (1940), and laid out many short cartoons. ... As the studio's attention turned to Disneyland in 1954, Bruce was one of the leading magicians. ...

Bruce sketched a pink elephant ride where the children would be in control—raising and lowering their elephant as they pleased. Look at me! ... Bushman studied successful rides from parks around the country and imagined Disneyfied versions. Susie the Little Blue Coupe, a 1952 short, could inspire a child's roundabout; Little Pedro, the airplane from Saludos Amigos (1942), might soar over Fantasyland. A commercially-available mirror maze could be re-themed as the scene in the queen's garden in Alice in Wonderland (1951). ...

What's little remembered today: Disney cartoon staffers spent multiple days and nights in Anaheim, working to get Disneyland ready for opening. Layout artists and designer Ken Anderson was there, background artists Claude Coats and Ralph Hulett (and numerous others) were in attendance. For a while it looked as though there was no way the July opening could be met, but somehow it was. And amusement park history was made.

NOTE: After that first frantic rush, after the park had turned into a monster success, a seaparate corporate subsidy was set up to create new Disneyland attractions. Initially called WEK (Walter Elias Disney), it's now known as "Disney Imagineering". The animation department stopped being called on to lend its talent, but animation employees like Claude Coats and Marc Davis, along with several others, left the animation department to work full time on Disneyland.

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...).

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

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.