Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hiccup of History

A high profile writer (Terry Rossio of "Shrek", "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Lone Ranger" fame) points out a discrepancy that's been around sine the 1930s.

So strange that literally tho only words spoken in the new "Aladdin" trailer happens to be a rhyme that my writing partner and I wrote and Disney offers zero compensation to us (or to any screenwriters on any of these live-action remakes) not even a t-shirt or pass to the park.

As I used to tell angry writers: the reason they get shafted is because of a hiccup in history. Back when entertainment guilds and unions were being formed and scrambling for jurisdiction, animated cartoons were not something the Screen Writers Guild thought much about. The stories, after all, were worked by people that DREW PICTURES.

But things changed as things so often do. Story work for animated features and shorts devolved to the Screen Cartoonists Guild and then The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists (now known as Tne Animation Guild), part of the IATSE, which represents below-the-line crafts in movies and television. And here we are.

Because of that hiccup, animation employees are shoe-horned in with grips, make-up artists and camera people (among others) and labeled "below-the-line" which is a lousy term to start with. Cartoonists have tried to get re-use residuals multiple times without result. Times being what they are, it might be a while before they achieve them.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Box Office of Middle October

Man on the moon

The super hero continues to charge along (though dropping by more more than half, weekend to weekend), while the space opera about the first man on the earth's orbiting orb lands at third.

Three Days of Grosses

1) Venom -- 4,250 -- $35.7M (-55%) -- $142.8M

2) A Star Is Born -- 3,708 (+22) -- $28M (-35%) -- $94.1M

3) First Man -- 3,640 -- $16.5M -- $16.5M (1st weekend)

4) Goosebumps 2 -- 3,521 -- $16.2M -- $16.2M (1st weekend)

5) Smallfoot -- 3,606 (-525) -- $9.3M (-35%) -- $57.6M

6) Night School -- 2,780 (-239) -- $8M (-36%) -- $59.8M

7) …El Royale -- 2,808 -- $7.2M -- $7.2M (1st weekend)

8) The House… -- 2,791 (-672) -- $3.9M (-46%) -- $62.2M

9) The Hate U Give -- 248 (+212) -- $1.76M (+245%) -- $2.4M

10) The Nun -- 1,174 (-1,090) -- $1.3M (-49%) -- $115.9M

Smallfoot (from Warners) has collected $14.5 million in international markets even as it collected $9.3 million from the U.S. an Canada. (Grand total to date: $110,208,221).

Hotel Transylvania 3, though pretty well over domestically, earner another $2.8 millio overseas. It now has a $350 million total in foreign markets, and a global gross of $516,735,989.

Friday, October 12, 2018

THE REBOOT

The removal of properties from the vault continues ...

Will any of the creators of the original blockbuster get any profit-sharing on this one?

Will Walt rise again?

The original's story director, an artist named Ed Gombert, told me how difficult it was to put together the first version, how Howard Ashman's treatment got changed, and then the whole plot had to be reworked in a short time span to meet the release date, and he had NO idea how they would hit the mark.

But they did.

Per director Ron Clements, when the crew moved into production after "Beauty and the Beast" wrapped, nothing was ready but two of the songs .... so the songs went into animation first.

And now comes the remake. All hail the Mouse.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What's Jeffrey K. Been Up To?

Mr. Katzenberg hasn't let the grass grow under his feet. He's been raking in bucks for his new "short content" enterprise.

Media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and veteran tech executive Meg Whitman used the prominent platform of Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit to announce the name of their new mobile video startup and drop the names of four high-profile Hollywood players who will create content for the subscription service.

Filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and noted producer Jason Blum will all create shows for the new mobile subscription service, which launches next year.

“These people are so excited about doing something new. They want to be the pioneers. They want to be able to show the path in doing this,” said Katzenberg. “We are going to do be able to do extraordinary storytelling.” ...

Jeffrey has come full circle.

Back in the early eighties at Paramount, he was overseeing live-action features. Then he moved with Michael Eisner to Disney, and supervised live-action and (as a side show) the studio' animated features.

Initially Mr. Katzenberg found success with both live-action and animated movies, but over his ten years at Disney, it was animated product that took flight. He was an unqualified success with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King but the offerings with flesh and blood actors foundered. In '94 Disney President Frank Wells died and Jeffrey grabbed for that brass ring. Michael Eisner pushed him overboard and he became the junionr partner of DreamWorks SKG.

For twenty years Jeffrey oversaw a string of animated features, then he sold out to Comcast Universal and dove back into live-action. Mr. Katzenberg is now a billionaire, but his day-to-day reality will be superintending (again) live-action. The difference this time around? The product will be 8 to 10 minutes in length, instead of two hours.

Progress. (I suppose).

IATSE Basic Agreement Ratified

Word went out within the last hour that twelve of thirteen unions in the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees' west coast bargaining unit ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement.

The 43,000 members in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts’ 13 West Coast Studio Local Unions ratified a new Producer-IATSE Basic Agreement with the AMPTP. Twelve of the thirteen Local Unions voted to ratify the contract.

The three-year contract—with wages, health and retirement benefits retroactive to July 31, 2018—includes broad gains in several key areas for workers, with no givebacks. ...

From reports, this was a hard-fought ratification. From the day agreement was reached, the Editors Guild Local 700 IATSE was against what came out of lengthy negotiations. The main issues for editors seemed to be the structure of new benefit payments by small companies, less turn-around time for editors thant other locals in the bargaing unit, and general unhappiness over funding for the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan.

In twenty-seven years of watching IA-AMPTP Basic Agreement deals, I have NEVER seen a more rancorous campaign to oppose the final agreement than this one. For its part, the International campaigned aggressively for a "YES" vote and achieved it. Overall, the deal was a good one. Will some of the dire predictions about the health and pension plan come true? Time will let plan participants know.

Add On: Here's Deadline's take on the ratification. (71% of the Editors Guild membership voted. The Guild spent time and effort turning out the vote.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Early October Box Office

Another effects-heavy super hero extravaganza lands at the top of The List.

The first full weekend of October movie receipts turns out to be highly venomous.

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Venom -- 4,250 -- $80M -- $80M (1st weekend)

2) A Star Is Born -- 3,686 -- $42.2M -- $43.5M (1st weekend)

3) Smallfoot -- 3,592 -- $14.55M (-40%) -- $42.4M

4) Night School -- 3,019 (+9) -- $11.9M (-55%) -- $39.1M

5) The House… -- 3,463 -- $7M (-44%) -- $54.7M

6) A Simple Favor -- 2,408 (-665) -- $3.5M (-46%) -- $49.1M

7) The Nun -- 2,264 (-1,067) -- $2.7M (-50%) -- $113.4M

8) Crazy Rich Asians -- 1,466 (-881) -- $2.1M (-48%) -- $169.2M

9) Hell Fest -- 2,297 -- $2M (-48%) -- $8.8M

10) The Predator -- 1,643 (-1,283) -- $900K (-77%) -- $49.9M

Venom opens north of $80 million in the U.S. and Canada. With a production budget of $110 million (after the Free Money is handed out via tax breaks and subsidies) it should climb rapidly into profits.

Smallfoot has the smallest PERCENTAGE decline of any movie in the Top Ten ... The Incredibles 2 remains in a couple of hundred theaters and now stands at $606.9 million domestic, $1.2 billion worldwide.

Hotel Transylvania 3 is now pretty much gone from neighborhood multiplexes, but has a global domestic gross of $511,661,024.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Power Fulcrum

Back during my working life (now twenty months distant) I wrote and talked a lot about "leverage". What I meant by that was the power to achieve things you believed were important. (Another way of framing it: What's the maximum point of lift on the fulcrum?)

Labor unions today have less power/leverage than they used to, but they still have some leverage. The question is, how much leverage?

I would submit to you that nobody ever knows precisely what leverage they possess, but the more information they have, the easier it is for them to judge. Here's an example:

Several months before I departed the Animation Guild, we were renegotiating Nick's Collective Bargaining Agreement (a.k.a. "the union contract"). The lawyer negotiating for Nick said the company was happy to agree to what other studios had gotten in recently concluded negotiations, but ... the company just had to get the ten sick days guaranteed in the Nickelodeon contract whittled down to five days, because that's what Nick's non-union employees were no getting. It just wasn't "fair" to those employees that union artists were getting double that number of days*.

I suggested a simple solution: just raise the non-union employees back up to ten sick days. Problem solved!

The lawyer told me (sadly) that was unfortunately out of the question. But in the name of fairness, justice and equity, the guild had to take five days instead of ten.

I told her no. There were ten sick days in the contract, and ten days were going to stay in the contract.

I also told her I didn't believe in "fair". I believed in keeping gains that were in the contract.

She said that Nick and the Animation Guild would never reach a deal if I had that kind of attitude.

I said "Okay then. We won't reach a deal."

At which point she hung up.

Over the next few months there were more phone calls, more bogus studio hand-wringing, more appeals to "fairness", and more not-gonna-happens from me. The refrains of "unfair" and "unreasonable" never stopped. Ultimately (and with the help of the I.A.) the Animation Guild achieved what it sought and kept the ten sick days. The question was never really in doubt, because we knew that Nick wasn't going to blow up the contract over a difference of five sick days.

We had knowledge of the power fulcrum (i.e., what we could achieve).

And now it's two years further on, and word reaches me out here in the desert that both the I.A. Basic Agreement and the Animation Guild's Master Agreement are the subjects of lively debates between the "Vote Yes on the contract!" proponents and the "Vote No! We can do better!" adherents.

Basically, it comes down to believing either 1) the negotiators used their leverage as well as they could, or 2) the negotiators loused up and could have achieved more, so they should go back and try again ... with a picket line out on the sidewalk to increase leverage.

That is pretty much it, but it's useful to examine the leverage thingie.

The IATSE has never done an industry-wide strike over the Basic Agreement, so the international has never fully tested where the power fulcrum is. But thirty-six years ago, the Animation Guild hit the bricks for the second time in three years to exert maximum leverage in its contract negotiations.

Three years before (1979), Local 839 had correctly judged where its power fulcrum was and achieved a contract that guaranteed employment for members before work could be sent out of Southern California.

Unfortunately in 1982 it misjudged its leverage, endured a long strike, and failed to achieve its goals.

So what happened?

In '82, the animation union thought it had more power than it actually did. It was facing down a medium-sized company named Hanna-Barbera, a bunch of smaller animation studios, and Walt Disney Productions, which was at the time a medium-sized movie studio attached to BIG amusement parks. But this second time around, the studios were prepared for a strike, and dug in. They were determined to get rid of the "runaway production clause" and held out until they achieved their goal.

So what about now?

The IATSE and the Animation Guild, (Local 839 IATSE) face large conglomerates that have resources and global reach. If the talent pools for live-action and/or animation in Southern California become unavailable, they can shift work to Australia, Canada, Georgia, Great Britain ... or Emeryville. They will calculate that union members won't be able to hold on much beyond five or six weeks, and so they can wait the work stoppage out.

Of course, the AMPTP can always renegotiate the agreement and give the striking unions a better deal, but (at least in my time), the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers' operating philosophy was: "They go out on strike, we give them a lesser deal, not a better deal."

Whether that motto still holds, I don't know. But if it doesn't, there is probably a close cousin to it back there in the AMPTP offices, waiting to be dusted off.

I've gotten a bunch of calls and messages asking me, "Do you think the contract will get approved?" Here's what an old fud who's close to two years out of the loop thinks:

1) Yes it will be approved ... because the negotiation committee did its homework, presented its arguments well, and achieved the best deal (or close to) that could be gotten.

2) The membership is wide, diverse, and most members are employed. Few will want to have the negotiation committee return to the table to achieve a "same as" or lesser result while they walk up and down a picket line earning no money.

Most people that I talk to get where the power fulcrum is.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Box Office of Animation

Warners has a new cartoon feature out, and it's landed at #2 on the Big List:

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Night School -- 3,010 -- $26.3M -- $26.3M (1st weekend)

2) Smallfoot -- 4,131 -- $23.6M -- $23.6M (1st weekend)

3) The House -- 3,592 -- $12.1M (-55%) -- $44.4M

4) A Simple Favor -- 3,073 (-29) -- $6.7M (-34%) -- $43.1M

5) The Nun -- 3,331 (-376) -- $5.4M (-46%) -- $108.9M

6) Hell Fest -- 2,298 -- $4.8M -- $4.8M (1st weekend)

7) Crazy Rich Asians -- 2,347 (-455) -- $4.1M (-36%) -- $165.6M

8) The Predator -- 2,926 (-1,114) -- $3.5M (-62%) -- $47.4M

9) White Boy Rick -- 2,017 (-487) -- $2.4M (-51%) -- $21.6M

10) Peppermint -- 2,002 (-678) -- $1.8M (-51%) -- $33.5M

Smallfoot, a Warner Animation Group production but animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks out of Vancouver, British Columbia (Free money! Free Money!) is, as of now, running neck-and-neck with Night School. It will either place first or second on the Big List for the weekend, depending on how it performs tomorrow.

Meantime, Increcibles 2 remains in a few hundred theaters and has now grossed $606,555,582 in the U.S. and Canada. It's well north of a billion on a worldwide basis.

Friday, September 21, 2018

When Animation Salaries Went Through The Roof

It was the mid nineties. Warner Bros. had launched a second animation studio to make feature films. Fox had opened a fully-equipped animation facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the driving force at Disney Feature Animation from 1985 to 1994, was charging full speed ahead with big-budget animated features at a new company named DreamWorks.

And the dear old House of Mouse? It had multiple projects in development.

Demand for experienced artists and designer far outstripped supply, and salaries (unsurprisingly) went up.*

At the same time, animation on cable networks and in syndicated packages on over-the-air TV was steadily expanding. And salaries for television animation jobs were also going up. So it was unsurprising when one of the Hollywood trade papers noted those facts:

Animation talent continued to enjoy a seller’s market in the past year, with rates for union staffers generally rising to record levels, according to an annual survey by the industry’s cartoonists guild.

The survey, conducted in April, showed especially strong increases in the median average salaries for story sketch artists, visual development designers and lead key assistant animators.

The median average for lead key assistants, for example, jumped from $1,370 a week in 1996 to $1,900 a week this year. The minimum in that category was $1,435; the maximum, $3,815. ...

If you didn't live through the L.A. animation boom in the middle 1990s, you can't fully understand the buoyant feelings that permeated the business. Jeffrey Katenberg and Michael Eisner, hating each other, opened a bidding war for feature animation talent. Katzenberg, recently of Disney Feature Animation, had the phone numbers for Disney talent and lured a lot of artists away to upstart DreamWorks with higher salaries. Michael Eisner ordered DFA management to keep animation employees in place "whatever it took." This resulted in elevated paychecks and signing bonuses. Long-term contracts with generous terms were offered to Disney assistants. Disney layout artists and (of course) Disney animators.

Warner Bros. Animation (tv branch) kept its entire staff on weekly salaries for months with nothing to do because it was worried that it wouldn't get laid-off employees back after production resumed. Everyone would have gone to other busy studios. The owner/operator of a smaller union studio told me:

"I had a deal with a board artist for twenty-two hundred a week. The guy comes back to me yesterday and says, 'Twenty-two hundred isn't good enough. I need twenty-four hundred.' What can I do? I told him I'll pay twenty-four hundred. I NEED him. But I'll REMEMBER this. ..."

Artists knew that times were good. Some of them even told me that union minimums had become irrelevant: "I'm making double union scale! I don't know what we even need minimums for."

High pay (along with lots of jobs) went on into the late '90s. But no boom time lasts forever. Syndicated animation became less lucrative, hand-drawn features got eclipsed by CGI features, Art schools and universities turned out hundreds (then thousands) of young artists eager to plunge into the cartoon industry and the suppply of talent caught up with demand.

And weekly checks steadily shrank.

Adam Smith wasn't wrong. Markets do go up and down. Fat times are followed by lean times (and the reverse). Today animation is a bigger business than it's ever been, with CG and hand-drawn product, with animated visual effects, with video games and television graphics and animation on the internet. But there is also a huge pool of talent that spans the globe. (Thouse art schools and colleges have been busy.) Plus, our fine, entertainment conglomerates are tight-fisted. For these reasons (and Ed Catmull's earlier handiwork?), the high wages of the 1990s has not been replicated.

* Dr. Catmull, happily, was not yet in a position to collude in the suppression of wages. That would come later.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Animated Repurposing, the Horror!

Every few years, an article crops up on the intertubes that goes like this:

So many plots have similarities, why can't scenes have them too? From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, many movies are on this list here which have the same scenes. Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of Disney. But when I noticed these differences, I was quite amazed. Not only they cheated and copied some scenes, but they got away with it! Such a cost-efficient and convenient way. ...

Etcetera.

Thirty-seven years ago, a Disney veteran told me: "Woolie [Reitherman} has repurposed animation for YEARS. We've used stuff from Bambi, Snow White, Pinocchio and a bunch of others. Whatever we could make work."

YouTube is replete with examles of this, and it went on straight into the Katzenberg era. Why create something from scratch when you can pull animation out of the Animation Research Library?

The era of do-over animation has come to an end in the age of CGI. Now computers can aid and abet creators, so who needs drawings from half-a-century ago? But the insatiable keeps bringing up the self-plagiarism committe by the Walt Disney Company over the course of decades.

Monday, September 17, 2018

New Animation Guild Contract Deal

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE came to a tentative agreement with the AMPTP a week back, and it is now hitting the trades...

The Animation Guild and management’s AMPTP have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year film and TV contract, although an actors’ strike against the TV animation industry is still a possibility. Members of SAG-AFTRA voted overwhelmingly in July to authorize a strike if their negotiators failed to reach a satisfactory agreement, although contract talks resumed last week. The key sticking point in those talks has been SAG-AFTRA’s demand for scale wages and residuals for shows aired on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

The Animation Guild will detail how the talks went and what was achieved at the General Membership Meeting (held at Burbank's Pickwick Gardens) the last Tuesday of September. My information is that significant improvements were made.

The guild spent over a year preparing for talks that came after the end of protracted IA-AMPTP negotiations for a new Basic Agreement. Negotiations ultimately took five long days (four were originally scheduled). From reports, there were no significant concessions on labor's side and TAG got improvements in rates and schedules in different job classifications.

When TAG releases details of the contract deal, I will put them up here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

CG News Graphics

We've come a long way from Pac-Man style news graphics.

Green screen, now of the wrap-around variety, and accompanying CG animation has improved by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. Three-color bar charts will soon be a quaint visual of the past.

... The visualization literally just shows what three, six, and nine feet of water looks like. But it’s showing that in a context most people have never experienced. ...

18 months ago, the broadcast industry at large started getting serious about the quality of graphics it could offer, thanks in part to the rising popularity of esports. Seeing potential for weather coverage, TWC invested in the use of Unreal Engine, the same suite of tools that powers countless video games....

The Weather Channel [which deployed the visual above] had previously worked with The Future Group to prep a water animation that they could place at different heights as needed. Having those elements ready to go ahead of time made the actual execution surprisingly seamless. ...

Reporters won't have to go out into the wet and wild anymore to get the story. They'll just step in front of the green screen and be at the center of the action.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Into The Specialty Theaters

This new European animated feature appears destined for an art house run.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired North America and Latin American rights to Milorad Krstic-directed Ruben Brandt, Collector. The English language animated film from Hungary played at the Locarno and Sarajevo Film Festivals. ...

Krstic wrote the script and pic was produced by P├ęter Miskolczi, Radmila Roczkov. Hermina Roczkov and Janos Kurdy-Feher.

Sony likely saw an opportunity to position RBC as a limited-release item that could pick up some money if marketed in a smart way.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Holy Box Office -- June 7-9

Warner Bros. has the #1 picture, a horror movie with a habit, and it bests the wealthy Asians partying in Singapore. (Warners currently has three of the top four movies at the American-Canadian box office, and an animated feature rolling into theaters the end of the month.)

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) The Nun -- 3,876 -- $50M -- $50M (1st weekend

2) Crazy Rich Asians -- 3,865 == $12.9M (-41%) -- $135.5M

3) Peppermint -- 2,980 -- $12M -- $12M (1st weekend)

4) The Meg -- 3,511 (-250) -- $5.2M (-51%) -- $130.7M

5) Searching -- 2,009 (+802) -- $4.5M (-25%) -- $14.3M

6) M:I – Fallout -- 2,334 (-305) -- $3.7M (-46%) -- $212M

7) Christopher Robin -- 2,518 (-407) -- $3.1M (-41%) -- $91.6M

8) Operation Finale -- 1,818 -- $3M (-50%) -- $14.1M

9) BlacKkKlansman -- 1,547 (-219) -- $2.6M (-26%) -- $43.4M

10) Alpha S8/Sony 2,521 (-360) -- $2.4M (-47%) -- $32.3M

Once again, the closest thing to animated characters in the Box Office Ten is Christopher Robin, slowly ascending toward $100 million domestic.

Both The Incredibles 2 and Hotel Transylvania 3 remain in more than a thousand theaters. TI2 has now racked up $604,397,505 domestic ($1,176,597,505 globally) while HT3 has collected $164,196,613 out of a worldwide total of $496,596,613.

The next three major animated releases are Smallfoot from the Warner Animation Group (September 28), followed by The Grinch out of the Illumination Entertainment/Universal shop (November 9) and Ralph Breaks the Internet from Walt Disney Animation Studios on November 21st.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Animation Guild (Local 839, IATSE) Reaches Tentative Contract Agreement With the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers

Early today word reached (out here in the far reaches of the high desert) that a long, arduous process between my old employer and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had come to a conclusion:

"We reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP last night on a new Animation Guild Master Agreement. ..."

The Negotiation Committee members I talked to over the course of contract talks said the negotiations were intense. Talks concluded at 11 P.M. last night, after five days at the table.

Labor negotiations, under the best of circumstances, are not easy. The entertainment industry is one of the last in the United States that is heavily unionized by non-public unions and guilds, a resilient vestige of the unionization that went on in mining, manufacturing and other industries during the '30s and '40s. The International Alliance of Motion Picture and Theatrical Employees is the umbrella labor organization under which the Animation Guild operates; over the past several contract cycles, IA representatives have been participants in the talk. This time around, IA Vice-President Mike Miller joined TAG Business Representative Jason MacLeod and the Guild's negotiation committee in the talks.

What I said about the talks on FaceBook:

Negotiations are NEVER easy, under the best of conditions. I know that the Guild did a LOT of preparation, and had a lot of dedicated, focused committee members. And that it achieved some goals but not all goals. (It is always thus.)

To Jason MacLeod, Mike Miller and TAG members who worked so hard on the contract: THANKS for getting down in the arena. THANKS for fighting for every animator, checker, board artist, designer, animation writer, technical and timing director, supervising director, story editor (and everyone else) who works on cartoons.

Just ... THANK YOU. Because of your efforts, lives will be better.

The agreement will run (retroactively) from August 1, 2018 to July 31, 2021. The Animation Guild put a lot of focus on preparing for negotiations, and (reportedly) the preparations paid off. As the Guild announces the specifics, I will post details of the new agreement here. They'll have an impact over the next three years on every active Animation Guild member.

"Rick and Morty's Emmy

First chance at bat, and ka-pow! Out of the park!

First-time Outstanding Animated Program Emmy nominee Rick and Morty won their first trophy at the Creative Arts Emmys Saturday.

Presented by Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon and Silicon Valley & Crazy Rich Asians star Jimmy O. Yang, co-creator Justin Roiland spoke for the group thanking everyone for “believing in this weird concept.” ...

So congratulations to the creators and the production team (still located, I assume, at their Olive Avenue headquarters in Burbank).

(A parenthetical note: Rick and Morty was a resolutely non-union show until ace organizer Steven Kaplan persuaded a disgrunted board and design crew to hit the bricks for a union contract. As soon as Cartoon Network/Adult Swim discovered that it's very popular hit series might have a problem delivering new shows, production topkicks hurriedly negotiated a contract with union wages and union health benefits that started without any wait time.

This is a prime example of a determined animation crew exerting the leverage it has to achieve its desired result.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Labor Day Final Box Office

Apparently a film about Adolf Eichmann does not align with the current national mood, because "Operation Finale" landed in fourth place during its debut weekend.

The closest thing to an animated feature in the Top Ten would be the hybrid Christopher Robin. Everything else is playing off overseas and in the "lo cost" theaters domestically.

FOUR DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Crazy Rich Asians -- 3,865 (+339) -- $28.3M -- $117M

2) The Meg WB -- 3,761 (-270) -- $13.4M --$123.4M

3) M:I – Fallout -- 2,639 (-413) -- $9M -- $206.3M

4) Operation Finale -- 1,818 -- $7.8M -- $9.5M (1st weekend)

5) Searching -- 1,207 (+1,198) -- $7.6M -- $8.1M

6) Christopher Robin -- 2,925 (-469) -- $6.7M -- $87.1M

7) Alpha -- 2,881 (+162) -- $6M -- $28.5M

8) Happytime Murders -- 3,256 -- $5.3M -- $18M

9) BlacKkKLansman -- 1,766 (-148) -- $5.3M -- $39.4M

10) Mile 22 -- 2,950 (-570) -- $4.8M -- $33M

Incredibles 2 now sits at #12, and has collected $602,840,972 domestically (worldwide: $1,166,859,123).

Hotel Transylvania 3 has now collected $162,979,411 in the U.S. and Canada; this is 1/3 of HT3's $486,961,546 worldwide take.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Record High

Sony Animation has a new sky-high pic:

The Drac Pack has reached a new milestone as Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation becomes Sony’s biggest animated film of all time globally. At $476.3M worldwide, it sailed past Hotel Transylvania 2 ($474.8M) on Friday. Combined, the three HT movies have now grossed in excess of $1.3B global.

... [I]t opened No. 1 in North America, and passed $100M domestically on its 12th day of release, faster than the previous two installments. The movie has a better RT score than those (at 59%) and a A- from CinemaScore.

Genndy Tartakovsky had a much freer hand with #3 than he did with earlier installments. There had been tussles over creative choices with voice-star Sandler on the first two iterations of Hotel Transylvania. We're told that wasn't the case this time around.

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)!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Long Goodbye?

Forbes speculates thusly:

... Though Fox has made billions from The Simpsons since the show debuted in 1989 from ad revenue, video games, movie tickets, and theme park rides among other things, the cash has dried up in recent years as viewership plummeted. Odds are slim that The Simpsons will ever be able to recapture the ground that it has lost though it continues to have legions of devoted fans. ...

Aren't the devoted fans the point?

Kantar Media's educated guess is that The Simpsons pulled in $94 million in ad revenue in '17, and the money flow is declining. But of course there are merchandise sales and ancillary rights, and the thirty-year-old cow still produces hundreds of millions of cash.

And of course there is one large rodent in the room: Disney didn't buy Fox so that the entertainment conglomerate could turn around and shutter the franchise. If a new Simpsons feature is actually in development, why not two or three or four? The Walt Disney Company has a history of squeezing acquired franchises until every last drop has leaked out; witness the Intellectual Property of Lucasfilm (purchased by Diz Co. for billions) as exhibit "A".

The Disney purchase should give pause to anyone who thinks The Simpsons will soon fade away. They might not keep making a half-hour sitcom, but there will be specials, there will be streamed shorts, and there will be features.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Weekend Box Office -- August 24-26

After a long while, there are no animated features (Hotel Transylvania 3 having just departed) in the Box Office Top Ten. Crazy Rich Asians has a single digit, weekend-to-weekend decline. This happens very seldom. The C.G.I. Christopher Robin and The Meg hold their own, while the new C.G.I. A.X.L. (debuting in 10th place) lands with a muted thud.

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Crazy Rich Asians -- 3,526 (+142) -- $25M (-6%) -- $76.8M

2) The Meg -- 4,031 (-87) -- $3.3M -- $12.2M (-42%) -- $104.4M

3) The Happytime Murders -- 3,256 -- $10.2M -- $10.2M (1st weekend)

4) M:I – Fallout -- 3,052 (-430) $2.2M (-27%) -- $8M (-25%) -- $193.9M

5) Mile 22 -- 3,520 -- $5.9M (-56%) -- $25M

6) Alpha -- 2,719 -- $5.8M (-44%) -- $20.4M

7) Christopher Robin -- 3,394 (-208) -- $5.6M (-37%) -- $76.8M

8) BlacKkKlansman -- 1,914 (+126) -- $5.1M (-31%) -- $31.8M

9) Slender Man -- 2,065 (-293) -- $2.6M (-46%) -- $25.2M

10) A.X.L. -- 1,710 -- $2.48M -- $2.48M (1st weekend)

Hotel Transylvania 3 (off the Big List a couple of days ago) has now earned $158 million and change domestically; its worldwide total: $434,745,420 (approx.)

Incredibles 2, still in a number of theaters, closes in on a $600M domestic total; the global accumulation is now $1,125,745,538 (or thereabouts).

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ellation in Burbank

From Forbes Magazine:

Ellation, the company behind anime streaming platform Crunchyroll and general geek streaming platform VRV, is about to do more than just serve others’’ content. Beginning this year, the newly developed Ellation Studios will produce and deliver “anime-inspired shows.”

Out of production studios in Burbank, California and Tokyo, Japan, Ellation will begin developing new original shows targeted toward its current, geeky audience—beginning with its audience for Japanese media specifically. The first installment in what the company is calling Crunchyroll Originals, High Guardian Spice, will have a Japanese anime-inspired story and visuals.

Asian studios setting up shop in Southern California is not new. The animation talent pool in Los Angeles and surrounding cities is wide and deep, so why not set up an outpost facility there and take advantage of it?

I had no idea that animation veteran Marge Dean had ankled Stoopid Buddies Studio to set this new operation up, but I get around so little...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Asians" Rule Box Office -- August 17-19

Warner Bros. owns the top two titles in the Big Box Office List -- Crazy Rich Asians, The Meg -- while Hotel Transylvania 3 declines 36% weekend to weekend at remains at #8. ...

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) Crazy Rich Asians -- 3,384 -- $25.2M -- $34M (1st weekend)

2) The Meg -- 4,118 -- $21.1M -- $83.7M

3) Mile 22 -- 3,520 -- $13.6M -- $13.6M (1st weekend)

4) M:I – Fallout -- 3,482 (-406) -- $10.5M (-46%) -- $180.7M

5) Alpha -- 2,719 -- $10.5M -- $10.5M (1st weekend)

6) Christopher Robin -- 3,602 -- $8.9M (-31%) -- $66.9M

7) BlacKkKlansman -- 1,788 (+276) -- $7M (-35%) -- $23M

8) Slender Man -- 2,358 -- $4.9M (-56%) -- $20.7M

9) Hotel Transylvania 3 -- 2,187 (-402) -- $3.6M (-36%) -- $153.8M

10) Mamma Mia 2 -- 2,270 (-542) -- $3.3M (-42%) -- $111.2M

A few notches under the Top Ten, Incredibles 2 (#14) has now collected $594.1 million domestically and $1,120,919,848 around the globe. (Teen Titans Go! To The Movies! (#18) has earned $27.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $32,561,352 worldwide.)

Globally, Hotel Transylvania 3 has now taken in $425,988,700

Friday, August 17, 2018

Oldest Living Animation Employee

Ruthie Tompson, now 108 years old, worked in animation from 1935 to 1975, at which point she retired.

Think about this: Ruthie ended her cartoon career before a lot of people who are now board artists, designers, and directors were born.

... “I just got in on the tail end of Snow White,” Tompson said. “I got in on the dirty work, more or less. It was at the end of it where you had to clean cels and patch up little things that might have popped off, and do legwork. I was a gopher, really.” ...

Ms. Tompson did a pack of different jobs during her four decades at the House of Mouse. She inked (for less than a week). She painted cels. She animation checked, and final checked. She was in Scene Planning for a long while, and this makes her today the oldest retired member of The Cinematographers Guild, since scene planners at Disney worked under the camera local.

She lives, as she has for several years, at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills.

(The oldest living animator? That would be 104-year-old Don Lusk. Don hired on at Walt Disney Productions in 1933, assisting on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and animating sections of "Fantasia". He left the studio in 1960 and worked as an animator and director for another thirty years. Don's interview with me is here, here and here.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Prime Time Animated Series That Went South

The A.V. club lists a host of prime-time shows that never made the full-season cut (though several had a full season produced).

...We pay tribute to the 18 animated programs that have appeared on network TV post-Simpsons that failed to make it through an entire season. These are the wannabes that never were, cut down before they had a chance to make a lasting impression—unless you count failure. With each one, we take stock and determine whether it was jettisoned too soon, or agree that a swift death was probably for the best. ...

Many of these specimens were written under WGA contracts (God, the Devil and Bob, Baby Blues and Bordertown being three examples.) Two were written under the Animation Guild's jurisdiction (Father of the Pride and Sit Down, Shut Up). A few times, there were jurisdiction fights between the two unions. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes wrestling matches, all the half-hours failed to connect with a sizable audience.

And one (Murder Police) fails to get a mention by A.V. at all, because while the Fox Broadcasting Network* ordered thirteen half-hours of the opus, after the thirteen were completed, the network decided not to air the series at all.

Yikes.

* Fox has been the only network that has made a strong investment in night-time animation over the years. Its Sunday line-up of animated half-hours has been a staple of network television for over two decades. Why ABC, NBC, and CBS have been skittish about putting prime-time cartoons on their schedules is a mystery known but to front-office execs and God, but there it is. Live-action in hourly and half-hour formats is the only type of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. entertainment in which the other three nets are interested.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sharky Weekend -- August 10-12

A big, fat, animated shark churns to the top of the box office list:

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) The Meg -- 4,118 -- $44.5M -- $44.5M (1st weekend)

2) M:I – Fallout -- 3,888 (-507) -- $20M (-43%) -- $161.9M

3) Christoper Robin -- 3,602 -- $12.4M (-49%) -- $50M

4) Slender Man -- 3,359 (-155) -- $11.3M -- $11.3M (1st weekend)

5) BlacKkKlansman -- 2,725 (-663) -- $10.8M -- $10.8M (1st weekend)

6) The Spy Who Dumped Me -- 3,111 -- $6.6M (-45%) -- $24.5M

7) Mamma Mia 2 -- 2,812 (-547) -- $5.8M (-35%) -- $103.8M

8) The Equalizer 2 -- 2,373 (-352) -- $5.5M (-37%) -- $89.6M

9) Hotel Transylvania 3 -- 2,589 (-573) -- $5.1M (-36%) -- $146.8M

10) Ant-Man & The Wasp -- 1,863 (-370) -- $4M (-37%) -- $203.5M

At present, only one pure animated feature -- Hotel Transylvania 3 (#9) remains on the Big List. It's made $146.8 million domestically and $378.3 million on a global basis.

Incredibles 2 sits at #11 with a domestic gross of $589.9 million and a worldwide take of $1,088,474,600.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies has dropped to #15 and has a domestic gross of $25.5 million. Around the globe it's collected $28.6 million.

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, August 10, 2018

Union Vs. Union

The ongoing battle of the Editors Guild, Local 700 IATSE and the mother international (the IATSE) is about as intense as any I can remember.

[Unionized film editors] find themselves the unlikely center of attention in an escalating labor dispute that threatens a new three-year contract [the IA-AMPTP "Basic Agreement"] covering compensation, benefits and working conditions for thousands of Hollywood crew members.

In a rare breaking of rank, the Motion Picture Editors Guild is recommending its members vote against ratification of a tentative deal recently negotiated by its parent union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE. The Local 700 editors guild said the contract with Hollywood studios and TV networks is flawed in several areas and doesn’t adequately address the effects of the streaming media boom on compensation and benefits. ...

Three decades back, when I was a fresh-faced union business representative attending one of his first biz rep meetings at IA headquarters, I witnessed a screaming match between the then-head of the Editors Guild and the then-President of the I.A, a gruff, no-nonsense Italian named Al DiTolla.

The issue was a big-budget (mostly) non-IA feature that DiTolla wanted the editors to help the international leverage into a collective bargaining agreement covering the movie's production workers. But the Editors Guild already had a contract with the post-production house editing the big feature, and said "no." A heated argument at high volume (in front of thirty union reps) then ensued.

There have been other disputes between the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees and various locals in the years since; mostly the IA has come out on the winning side. ("It's hard," a grizzled rep once told me, "to fight city hall."). The issues for this dust-up appear to be ...

A) The Editors Guild is getting nine hours between shifts ("turn-around time") while other unions are getting ten. (This comes about because the other unions started with a nine-hour turnaround time and had an hour added to the time allotment, while the editors had an eight-hour turnaround that also got a one-hour sweetener).

B) The Editors Guild finds the new benefit fees for small independent post-production houses to be exorbitant, and will make it harder for the small companies to stay in business. The editors point out that the conglomerates and their subsidiaries will only be paying a fraction of the increase.

C) The Editors Guild believes the new residual formula between the IA and AMPTP for streaming video will be inadequate for keeping the IA's pension and health plans healthy and solvent.

Regardless of who's "right" in all this, the feud has been acrimonious. And Twitter, Facebook and other social media has made the angry back-and-forth both broader and nastier than it would have been in simpler, by-gone days when there weren't armies of keyboard warriors slinging invective.

I'm delighted to be retired.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Jeffrey K.'s Next Act

He was a production head at Paramount, then ran Disney's movie studio, and then co-founded and ran DreamWorks Animation for twenty years. And now? ...

Jeffrey Katzenberg has a billion to play with for his new short-form video platform.

His holding company, WndrCo, announced on Tuesday that it had raised $1 billion in its initial investment round, including funds from 10 American media companies and the Chinese technology giant Alibaba.

The money will go toward the executive’s dream of upending the entertainment industry with high-quality bite-size content intended for mobile devices. His company, NewTV — which is the working title — will try to set itself apart from the competition by making and distributing programs mere minutes in length. ...

Mr. Katzenberg was never the type of Hollywood exec to let the grass grow under his feet ... or to dog it.

At Disney he was always in early and gone late (and his staff had to keep up). When he didn't like the way a story was shaping up for this-or-that animated feature, he let the crew know where he stood. (Re Aladdin, he yelled "Eighty-six the Mom!" when he wanted Aladdin's mother eliminated from the plot-line.)

In 1994, Walt Disney Company President Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash and Jeffrey was passed over for the post, ultimately getting pushed of the House of Mouse by Michael Eisner. But he landed on his feet as a co-founder of DreamWorks, and headed up DW's feature animation division for two decades, ultimately selling the company to Comcast-NBC-Universal for billions.

And now he's onto his next venture, and has raised a billion dollars to launch brief bits of entertainment on mobile devices. Other moguls are skeptical. The competition is stiff, they say. The field is crowded, they maintain. But Jeffrey has come up smelling like an expensive floral bouquet before. Maybe it's all those late nights and early mornings. ...

Monday, August 6, 2018

Trio of Animated Features -- August 3-5

Over the weekend, there were three (count 'em) animated features in the Big Box Office Ten. (Also, too, a near-fourth in the #2 position):

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) M:I – Fallout -- 4,395 (+9) -- $35M (-43%) -- $124.4M

2) Christopher Robin -- 3,602 -- $25M -- $25M (1st weekend)

3) Spy Who Dumped Me -- 3,111 -- $12.3M -- $12.3M (1st weekend)

4) Mamma Mia 2 -- 3,359 (-155) -- $9M (-40%) -- $91.3M

5) Equalizer 2 -- 2,725 (-663) -- $8.8M (-37%) -- $79.9M

6) Hotel Transylvania 3 -- 3,162 (-843) -- $8.2M (-33%) -- $136.4M

7) Ant-Man & The Wasp -- 2,233 (-780) -- $6.1M (-29%) -- $195.4M

8) The Darkest Minds -- 3,227 -- $5.8M -- $5.8M (1st weekend)

9) Incredibles 2 -- 1,802 (-814) -- $5M (-31%) -- $583.1M

10) Teen Titans Go! -- 3,188 -- $4.8M (-53%) -- $20.7M

Incredibles 2 has now gone well past the billion-dollar mark, with 1,048,347,092. Foreign box office makes up 44.4% of the gross.

Hotel Transylvania 3 has collected $338 million in worldwide grosses, 60% of the take coming from foreign lands.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies comes in at #10. To date its total gross is $23,101,332 (10% of that foreign).

The other flick of note is Christopher Robin, a live-action spinoff of the longtime Disney animation franchise. (Christopher Robin's stuffed-toy friends remain animated. Near the start of its theatrical run, CR has a total take of $29,717,275

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)!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Animated Drama

AMC (the cable network that used to show wall-to-wall old movies in times long ago) is doing nighttime animation:

AMC is looking to break new ground with a primetime animated drama series, Pantheon. The basic cable network has open writers rooms for two series projects, Pantheon, from Turn creator/executive producer Craig Silverstein, and drama St. Luke’s, from The Walking Dead co-executive producer Seth Hoffman. Both hail from AMC Studios. St. Luke’s also is from Channing Tatum’s Free Association.

Pantheon is based on a series of short stories by Ken Liu about uploaded intelligence. Because of the project’s unique nature... in addition to a writers room, which will produce multiple scripts, AMC has commissioned a five-minute animated presentation. ...

Ken Liu is a Harvard-trained lawyer who also writes (and translates) science fiction stories and novels. This would be his first animated series. He's published science-fiction since 2002, and has over a 100 short stories published, on top of multiple sci fi novels.

No word on where the five minutes of animation might be produced. AMC, as do other producers, will wait to see what the scripts created in the writers' room looks like before deciding on whether or not to take Pantheon to full series.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tucking Money Away

Animation artists are like a lot of other weekly employees in the United States. They live paycheck to paycheck. (Many can't even afford to fund a 401(k) because they need to pay rent and buy groceries.)

But maybe a number could kick in a tiny sliver of their net pay if they only had the right incentives, foregoing the Starbucks iced coffee or buyin a sit-down meal at lunchtime. So here's an incentive:

Fidelity, one of the largest index mutual fund providers, announced on Wednesday that it will introduce two no-fee funds, giving more investors access to both domestic and global markets.

The funds are called the Fidelity Zero Total Market Index Fund (FZROX) and the Fidelity Zero International Index Fund (FZILX). They are the industry’s “first self-indexed mutual funds with a zero expense ratio” and will be directly available to individual investors.

Investors will pay a zero percent fee regardless of how much they invest in the funds, while gaining exposure to nearly the entire global stock market, the Boston-based mutual fund said. There is no investment minimum, and no domestic money movement fees for investors.

The funds will launch the end of this week. Fidelity isn't paying a license fee to an established index (S & P, CRSP, etc.) so no cash outflows there. Also, too, there will be no minimum investments ... which will come in handy if you don't have a lot to invest. The Fidelity website proclaims:

2 Fidelity index mutual funds FZROX and FZILX with a zero expense ratio.

No minimums to invest in Fidelity mutual funds.

$0 for Fidelity funds and hundreds of other funds with no transaction fees.

If this deal holds up -- Fidelity is only just launching it, after all -- there are minimal reasons not to put $20 ... or $30 ... or $51.72 away every week or three and begin building a nest egg. Even if you feel you can't afford it, because, honest to God, everybody can trim something and start an investment account that requires next to nothing.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cruising For Big Grosses -- July 27-29

Three animated features decorate the Top Ten list; Mr. Cruise holds court at #1:

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

1) M:I – Fallout -- 4,386 -- $61.5M -- $61.5M (1st week)

2) Mamma Mia 2 -- 3,514 (+197) -- $15M (-57%) -- $70.4M

3) Equalizer 2 -- 3,388 -- $14M (-61%) -- $64.2M

4) Hotel Transylvania 3 -- 4,005 (-262) -- $12.3M (-48%) -- $119.2M

5) Teen Titans Go! -- 3,188 -- $10.5M -- $10.5M 1st weekend)

6) Ant-Man & The Wasp -- 3,013 (-765) -- $8.4M (-49%) -- $183.1M

7) Incredibles 2 -- 2,616 (-548) -- $7.1M (-40%) -- $572.7M

8) Jurassic World 2 -- 2,685(-696) -- $6.7M (-40%) -- $397.6M

9) Skyscraper -- 2,773 (-1,049) -- $5.4M (-52%) -- $59.1M

10) The First Purge Uni/Blumhouse --1,400 (-931) -- $2.2M (-56%) -- $65.4M

Incredibles 2, now at $996.5 million globally, breaks into the billion dollar club next week.

Hotel Transylvania 3 has earned $284.2 million worldwide.

Teen Titans Go! has made a million dollars in foreign markets and 10.5 million here. It won't be a major money-maker, but the WB should be in the black with this TV spinoff. (And the secondary and ancillary markets -- toys, TOYS, TOYS! should do quite well.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Mega Merger COMPLETE

Now part of the Disney entertainment empire...

So after a government review and a challenge from Comcast, Disney and Fox are now one:

Walt Disney and 21st Century Fox shareholders on Friday voted in favor of a $71.3 billion deal, in which Disney will acquire large parts of Fox, including the 20th Century Fox film and TV studios, Fox's entertainment cable networks and its international assets. ...

Disney expects to pay about $35.7 billion in cash and issue about 343 million New Disney shares to Fox stockholders so that when the transaction closes after final regulatory approval Fox stockholders will own about 17-20 percent of New Disney. ...

Robert Iger has generously agreed to put off his retirement and remain as Top Dog at the House of Mouse to oversea the merger of Fox assets with the Walt Disney Company. (There will likely be additional compensation.)

Walt's old studio now owns multiple animation assets

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Walt Disney Television Animation

Pixar

Marvel Animation

Fox Animation

Blue Sky Studios

DisneyToon Studios, launched during the heyday of VHS tapes, has recently gone the way of the Tasmanian Tiger and is no more. How long Blue Sky Studios sticks around* is known but to Bob Iger and his working group of Merger Specialists.

* Disney-owned studios have come and gone over the years. Disney had two studios in Canada, both specializing in home entertainment product, that were launched and then closed within three years. There was a thriving studio in Sydney, Australia -- purchased from Hanna-Barbera -- that specialized in the production of direct-to-video features. Then there was Walt Disney Animation, Florida, that grew from an amusement park walk-through in the 1980s to a full-blown theatrical animation studio in the '90s with one of the prettiest facilities in the history of Disney animation. Walt Disney Animation Florida closed its doors in 2004.

There are, of course, other studios that sprang briefly to life and then vanished. (Image Movers Digital, anyone?)No need to list them all in a footnote.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Teen Titans, Moneymakers

From Deadline:

Warner Bros. previewed Teen Titans Go! To the Movies last night and made $1M. Teen Titans Go! cost around $10M for the studio and they’re hoping for mid teens this weekend. Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail co-direct this feature take on the WBTV/Cartoon Network series. ...

Twenty-three years ago, Warner Brothers was spending huge sums on feature films that badly under-performed at the box office. (Quest For Camelot, anyone?) Two decades on it's had more success with approaches now different than Disney.

It takes TV properties and morphs the most popular of them into feature-length properties.

For original features, it uses its Southern California studios for pre-production, then sends the CG to offshore sub-contractors. (Animal Logic in Sydney is a favored destination).

It appears the company has resolved not to replicate its middle '90s missteps of sinking big money into L.A.-based studios and turning out a string of under-performers.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The IA and AMPTP Reach Agreement

Per Deadline (and some outside sources) the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have come to a deal for the industry-wide Basic Agreement:

IATSE and management’s AMPTP have reached an agreement on a new film and TV contract. The new three-year deal, which still has to be ratified by the 43,000 members of the union’s 13 Hollywood locals, averts a threatened strike that would have crippled film and TV production across the country.

[N]ot everyone is happy with it. Sources say that Cathy Repola, executive director of IATSE Editors Guild Local 700, is especially displeased with the deal. “It’s not a deal that Cathy would want,” said a Local 700 source. ...

So now it's ratification time and ballots will need to be sent out. And the campaigning for ratification (or not) will begin.

Update: Deadline has an update on the Editors Guild's unhappiness with the deal here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Cartoon Creator Dodges A Bullet

Dan Harmon, the co-author of Rick and Morty, one of the most successful comedy shows on cable ... which was recently picked up for an addition 70 half-hours) ... was caught out by some of the Thought Police who inhabit the internet:

Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon and Adult Swim on Monday night issued statements about the disturbing video that surfaced over the weekend. It featured a skit from a 2009 Harmon pilot called Daryl, a spoof of Showtime’s serial killer drama Dexter, in which he simulates raping a baby doll. ...

The network stopped short of reprimanding Harmon, noting that he “recognized his mistake at the time and has apologized.” I hear Harmon is continuing on the show. ...

This is good news for animation artists in Los Angeles, where pre-production of Rick and Morty is done, and where the shows provide a lot of work for union-repped employees.

Note:A few years ago, the Animation Guild organized R & M and the drive to provide pension and health benefits, not to mention wage minimums, hit a few bumps before a contract was ultimately signed. But Mr. Harmon and his partner Justin Roiland have been exemplary guild employers since, so I'm glad that this weird spasm of Political Correctness -- designed to take down Dan Harmon -- has not disrupted wildly successful pillar of Cartoon Network's programming.

Happily, Cartoon Network declined to shoot itself in the foot over this.

Vox covers the politics of this particular internet "Gotchya!" here.

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

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!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Send In The Clones

Star Wars fans got one of their longtime wishes granted when Disney announced a couple days back that they were restarting a well-loved TV series:

From 2008 to 2013, The Clone Wars ran on Cartoon Network, revealing the massive war that took place between the theatrical, live-action movies Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It featured existing characters such as Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as well as a number of original fan-favorite characters. ...

[T]he show will return with a new season of 12 additional episodes via Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, which is expected to launch sometime next year. When the service was first announced, Disney CEO Bob Iger noted that it would launch with new stories from the Star Wars universe, including a new, live-action Star Wars show, which will be written by Jon Favreau. ...

Somewhere on the internet, somebody knows what studio the Walt Disney Company is using to create the new episodes, but it's unknown to me. (I get around not very much.) If this batch goes over in a large way, no doubt there will be more installments beyond the new dozen.

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.

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...

THREE DAYS OF GROSSES

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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

One Popular Viewing Platform

The trade media tells us:

Financial firm Cowen Equity Research asked 2,500 U.S. consumers (in a regular, ongoing panel) which programming platform they watch on their TV set. Netflix led the pack at 27%, followed by basic cable at 20%, broadcast at 18% and YouTube at 11%.

"Among adults ages 18 to 34, the margin is far more dramatic — 40%, compared with the next-most-viewed, YouTube, at 17%. ..."

So Netflix continues to surge in popularity.

And Netflix, as it has for years, produces LOTS of animated content ... under the theory that if it ropes in lots of pre-school and elementary school eyeballs, those matched orbs will stay with the service well into adulthood.

(Sidenote: You might recall that Netflix -- almost singlehandedly -- plucked DreamWorks Animation's bacon from the flames when it cut a deal for the struggling animation studio to produce hundreds of hours cartoons for its service, thereby making DWA a much more desirable company in the eyes of the hungry conglomerate NBC-Universal-Comcast. And ultimately, making Jeffrey Katzenberg a whole lot richer.)

So far, Netflix's theory about viewership dominance seems to be working.