Sunday, December 9, 2018

Still At The Top

There will, of course, be yet another superhero movie out on December 21st ...

For a second week, Disney and Illumination Entertainment entries remain at the pinnacle of The Box Office Ten. (But the Grinch is gaining on Ralphie boy) ...

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Ralph Breaks Internet -- 3,795 (-222) -- $16.1M (-37%) -- $140.8M

2) The Grinch -- 3,841 (-93) -- $15.1M (-15%) -- $223.4M

3) Creed II -- 3,572 (+176) -- $10.3M (-38%) -- $96.4M

4) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 3,541 (-400) -- $6.8M (-40%) -- $145.2M

5) Bohemian Rhapsody Fox/NR/GK -- 2,953 (-54) -- $6M (-25%) -- $173.5M

6) Instant Family -- 3,426 (+50) -- $5.6M (-22%) -- $54.1M

7) Green Book -- 1,181 (+116) -- $3.9M (0%) -- $19.9M

8) Robin Hood -- 2,573 (-254) -- $3.5M (-25%) -- $27.2M

9) …Hannah Grace -- 2,298 (+233) -- $3.18M (-50%) -- $11.5M

10) Widows -- 2,161 (-232) -- $3.1M (-30%) -- $38.1M

The Grinch now has a worldwide box office total of $322,363,175, while Ralph weighs in with $258,158,885.

And in a few days the well-reviewed Spider-Man/Spider-verse swings into theaters with opening weekend projections of $30-$40 million. (Some, including moi, think it will be higher. Is $50,000,000 too optimistic?)

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Kimball On Kimball

Mr. Kimball and Mr. Tom Snyder converse at Grizzly Flats railway.

A new biography entitled "The Life and Times of Ward Kimball", authored by Todd James Pierce, rolls out in the next several weeks. Mr. Kimball, of course, was a Disney story artist, director and animator for forty years, also a musician who fronted "The Firehouse Five Plus 2" a best-selling jazz band in the late forties and early fifties. The tome covers his early years, his career at Disney, his hobbies and personal life. Also his mischief-making at the Hyperion studio:

When Walt set up a volleyball court next to the bullpen, Kimball played every day. ... One animator remembers that Kimball loved to play with senior storyman Jack Kinney. Sometimes at the height of the volley, Kimball would perform very well, then suddenly take the ball ... hold it lazily in his hands, drop it to the ground, and walk off with a mischievous grin as Jack Kinney and other devotees danced with rage. ...

And like that.

Mr. Pierce uses a wide variety of sources to bring Kimball's life and multi-faceted career into focus.

"Multi-faceted" is probably one of the more accurate labels attached to Mr. Kimball. He had a wide range of interests (see above), and he was focused and efficient in pursuing all of them. He was also opinionated, as in this forty-year-old interview:

"Gerry Geronomi [an early WDP director] was one of the prime (expletive)s at Disney's. Walt had a way or retaining someone like that, because he figured if there was conflict it brought the best out of all of us.

But Gerry was a crude man. I had a woman assistant named (blank) who was very well constructed. She drove Jerry crazy and finally he couldn't stand it. And one day he came up behind her and he went "Rhhhrr!"... I heard this scream and the chair flew back and the desk got knocked over. And I went running in there and said "What the hell?" I knew Gerry had just left my room... Vince said that Gerry had grabbed Mary... I mean, that's terrible. That's not a class act.

Finally we boycotted Geronomi, said we weren't going to work for him. We told Ken Peterson, who was head of the animation department, and nothing was done about it until Geronomi said: "How come I can't get this guy Kimball?" Peterson told him that Kimball "doesn't want to work for you."

"What the hell is Kimball talking about?" Geronomi says. "Who does he think he is? Son of a b*tch."

And Milt Kahl told him about everybody, and finally the straw that helped break the back was John Lounsbery, the nicest guy you would ever want to meet, who was patient, and didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, who finally went to Walt and said: "I don't want to work with this man anymore."

And Walt thinks, if Lounsbery goes, there must be something wrong. And of course the end came when Walt decided to take Geronomi out of the animation room for a number of reasons, one of which was TV, and he wanted him to go to Germany and kind of produce some live action ... Like all the kids from the lower eastside who had been beaten up every day of their lives for being small or something, Gerry thought he was in some alien surroundings, there with the "Krauts." In other words he was in Germany and here were these "Krauts." See, he wanted to be picked up in a big limousine, he wanted to play director, just like Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Capra.

Gerry wasn't in sympathy with the whole project; he mistrusted everybody and made an ass out of himself. Finally Walt had to go over there and see what the matter was. And at a meeting he gave Gerry his choice. Gerry said "I want to go back to work on animation! I don't like this sh*t." Well, that's when they let him go.

Yeah, he was a prime (expletive). Outside the studio there were stories you can't repeat because most people say it's just gossip. Of course, they happen, and they didn't help him one bit.

If Mr. Pierce captures the full essence of Ward Kimball, the new biography should be well worth buying.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Number One & Number Two

The animated features on the Box Office Top Ten list finish in the Win and Place positions... and another high profile animated feature hits on December 14th. ...

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Ralph Breaks Internet -- 4,017 -- $25.8M (-54%) -- $119.2

2) The Grinch -- 3,934 (-26) -- $17.7M (-42%) -- $203.5M

3) Creed II -- 3,576 (+135) -- $16.8M (-53%) -- $81.1M

4) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 3,851 (-312) -- $11.2M (-62%) -- $134.3M

5) Bohemian Rhapsody -- 3,007 (+80) -- $8.1M (-42%) -- $164.4M

6) Instant Family -- 3,376 (+90) -- $7.1M (-42%) -- $45.9M

7) …Hannah Grace -- 2,065 -- $6.5M -- $6.5M (1st weekend)

8) Robin Hood -- 2,827 -- $4.7M (-49%) -- $21.7M

9) Widows -- 2,393 (-410) -- $4.4M (-47%) -- $33M

10) Green Book -- 1,065 (+2) --$3.9M (-29%) -- $14M

As of Sunday, Ralph Breaks the Internet has pulled down $206,994,233 on a worldwide basis, and The Grinch has earned $268,307,195. Both features have made more domestically than overseas. That will likely change.

The highly anticipated Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse rolls out wide on December 14th. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the guiding forces behind the new iteration of Spidey. Look for it to do rather well (the number of views for the trailers on YouTube are ... up there.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Five Days of Holiday Grosses

The new version of the thief with bow and arrow seems to get little love and even less box office traction.

Two animated features appear to be doing well in the box office department. The Disney movie nests at #1 and the Universal-Illumination offering resides at #3:

FIVE DAYS OF (PROJECTED) BOX OFFICE MONEY

1) Wreck-It Ralph 2 -- $88.5 million -- $88.5 million

3) The Grinch -- $41 million -- $179.4 million

Meantime, the opening of a freshly-minted Robin Hood landed in 5th place and seems to be going the way of other recent Hood epics: into the trash bin of large-budget flops. The Kevin Costner offering from 1991 did brisk business in its time, but there has been little to get excited about over the ones produced since.

The industry keeps making flicks about the bandit from Sherwood Forest, and audiences keep going to other movies. (Kind of like The Three Musketeers. Newer versions keep being produced ... and failing. It's been forty-plus years since one of those did big box office.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Get Rich Slowly

When I was forty, I was pretty much broke. I had a house, mortgage, four-year-old, and a wife who kept the family afloat (sort of) with a semi-steady job in animation. At the time, I was not holding up my end of the family finances. I had eight jobs in a span of three-and-a-half years, the longest of which was a staff position teaching English in a private school for $350 per week.

I promised myself that if I ever secured employment that paid a living wage (i.e., more than $350/week), I would get serious about saving.

A month shy of my 41st birthday, I got a job that paid enough so my spouse and I could save a little money ... and boy did we save. Year in and year out, we tucked money away in stocks, in savings bonds, in bank accounts. We took unlavish vacations and drove old cars. We sent our kids to public schools and public universities. And when we retired two years ago, we had enough salted away to (finally!) afford retirement.

So what's the secret? The roadmap to success? The numbered guide below (from a millenial called Badger1754 at bogleheads.org) is more useful than many:

Some Rules For Creating Wealth:

1) Live within your means.

2) Pay yourself first.

3) Put aside money for emergencies (actual emergencies).

4) Ignore the “noise” (CNBC, “financial advisors” trying to sell you stuff). This might be actually a healthier way to live life. I get my news from the NYTimes and the WSJ. My wife gets her news from Facebook and cable TV. I am infinitely calmer during elections. :D

5) Keep things in perspective.

6) Don’t let sentiment, emotion, or a “gut feeling” cloud your judgment when there are facts that can be relied upon. In particular, I’ve found that having a basic facility with finance and math (e.g. able to build an Excel model) helps streamline the decision-making process which as in turn helped me avoid several potentially bad decisions.

7) Invest in the future (monetarily, educationally, philanthropically).

8) Remember: Sic transit gloria mundinothing good lasts forever, so don’t expect it to.

9) There is still a greater concentration of talent, hunger, entrepreneurialism, chutzpah, grit, accessibility, and freedom in the US economy than anywhere else in the world that attracts the aforementioned attributes like moths to a flame. So, while nothing good lasts forever, Rome took over a thousand years to fall.)

10) Stay active (physically, intellectually, economically) — idle hands do the devil’s work; idle money does no work. Take ownership and responsibility for your own success.

11) No one aside from your parents will give you anything. In fact, there is a large population of people who would freely and shamelessly take advantage of you. But it is up to you (and only you) to find and pursue those opportunities that will lead to success.

12) A piece of advice I wish all millennials would reflect upon: remember that you can’t save the world if you become a casualty in the process.

13) Don’t reinvent the wheel — stand on the shoulders of giants!

I ladled out a lot of advice in my old job in the cartoon business. The advice encompassed employment, what kinds of investments to put money in, how the cartoon business works. Here's the gist of it (most of which dovetails with badger1754's advice directly above.

Surviving (And Prospering) In The Animation Industry

1) The cartoon job market goes up and down -- Twenty-plus years ago, salaries and job opportunities in animation went through the roof. But within half a decade the supply of talent overtook the supply of jobs, and salaries went down ... and more people were out of work. (Sic transit gloria mundi -- badger's #8).

2) Invest in yourself -- hone your skills, improve your skills. Constantly train, learn, improve; it's the only way to stay relevant in a changing business. Remember there are always hungry 22-year-olds coming up behind you (badger's #7).

3) Even if you don't think you can afford it, put something in your 401(k) ... and IRA ... and Roth IRA. (If you're under an IA/TAG contract, you'll also be having your employer put money on your behalf into a pension fund. -- badger's #2)

4) The animation business has always underpaid workers. Artists were taking free tests in 1933 ... 1967 ... 2016. Artists were working free overtime during the same time periods. My artist father made $15/week at Disney in 1939. Animator Don Lusk made more clerking in a liquor store near Big Bear Lake in 1941 than he did as a Disney artist in Burbank during the same year. (Union sign painters in the building trades averaged $1.47/hr during this time.)

In the present era, Disney exec Ed Catmull -- soon to retire as a wealthy man -- suppressed animation and tech wages; non-union studios pay below union minimums with scanty benefits; union studios distributing work on the internet are allowed to undercut contract minimums. It's useful for artists to know the industry's past as they push to make the industry's future better (badger's #5 & #6 & #12).

5) The TV animation business has always had periods of work followed by periods of layoff. It was that way in the 1960s and 1970s when Saturday morning cartoons provided seven months of employment followed by five (and sometimes six) months of layoff. There were "hiatuses" then, there are "hiatuses" (aka unemployment) now.

5) Best investing advice I ever got? -- keep it simple, keep it constant, and know your threshold of pain. You can't be an effective investor if you react emotionally to markets' ups and downs and pull cash out at the wrong time. If you're unable to endure financial pain without panicking, if you have only a sketchy knowledge about stocks and bonds, read one or two good books on the subject; if you don't have time for math, calculators and slide rules, set up an asset allocation with an all-in-one fund that has both stocks and bonds with the amount of risk you are comfortable with, and let the pros handle your investment stash. Then feed money into it week by week, and only look at how the fund is doing every seven years*.

* A Fidelity Investments study found that the best Fidelity investors were people who forgot they had investments there.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mid-November Movie Grosses

The Grinch holds reasonably well one week to the next, while Fantastic Beasts 2 performs better overseas than in the U.S. and Canada.

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 4,163 -- $62.2M -- $62.2M (1st weekend)

2) The Grinch -- 4,141 -- $38.1M (-44%) -- $38.1M -- $126.5M

3) Bohemian Rhapsody -- 3,810 (-190) -- $15.7M (-50%) -- $127.8M

4) Instant Family -- 3,286 -- $14.7M -- $14.7M (1st weekend)

5) Widows -- 2,803 -- $12.3M -- $12.3M (1st weekend)

6) The Nutcracker… -- 2,635 (-1,131) $1.1M -- $4.6M (-54%) -- $43.8M

7) A Star Is Born -- 2,010 (-838) -- $4.3M (-46%) -- $185.8M

8) Overlord -- 2,859 -- $3.8M (-62%) -- $17.7M

9) …Spider’s Web -- 2,929 -- $2.5M (-68%) $13.2M 2

10) Nobody’s Fool -- 1,301 (-1167) -- $2.2M (-66%) -- $28.8M

Fantastic Beasts 2 collected $191 million from 79 foreign markets. Coupled with domestic grosses, it's earned a quarter billion in its first weekend. Not bad, but critics don't love it the way they loved the first installment.

Meantime, The Grinch has now grossed 425.2 million abroad and is rolling out slowly. To date, its worldwide total is $152,163,410.

On Wednesday next, Wreck-It Ralph 2 makes its debut.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Goodbye To A Story Teller

William Goldman has died. You might not know who he is, but you know his work. He wrote novels ("The Temple of Gold", "The Princess Bride", numerous others). And screenplays. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Harper, All the President's Men, Misery) And he crafted memorable lines of dialogue:

"Follow the money."

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

"Why, are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya." [see above]

Mr. Goldman was born in Illinois and writing ran in the family. His older brother James grew up to write "The Lion in Winter" (among other works). Like younger brother William, he won an Academy Award for one of his screenplays.

William Goldman claimed not to think he wrote particularly well, but the claim is undercut by two Academy Awards and a career that was over a half-century long (Among his last assignments was adapting Stephen King's novel "Misery" for the Broadway stage.) One of the lesser-known facts of Mr. Goldman's career is that he wrote a script for Universal's animated feature Curious George, though ultimately it wasn't used.

He leaves two daughters (Jenny and Susanna) from a thirty-year marriage that ended in 1991. Rest in Peace, Mr. Goldman.