Saturday, December 31, 2016

The One True Frog

The esteemed Tom Sito regales us:

Dec 31, 1955 - Chuck Jone's 'One Froggy Evening' premieres.

Director Steven Spielberg called it the "Citizen Kane of Cartoons." If you wonder why you never heard the old time ditty 'The Michigan Rag' anywhere else but here, was because Chuck Jones & Mike Maltese wrote it specifically for the cartoon. For years no one was sure who the singing voice was. Its been suggested he was a local night club baritone named Bill Roberts.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Tyrus Wong, RIP

Tyrus Wong, who lived a long, full life bursting with creativity, passed away today at age 106. He's remembered for his sublime art direction for "Bambi", but he also did fine art, Christmas cards, and decades of artistic work on live-action films. He also had a tough childhood ... due to Chinese exclusion laws a century ago. It's important to remember that for all the prejudice we endure today against the "other", it is nothing new.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cartoon Strength

So ... this:

Grosses from January 1 through Monday tallied $11,059,624,118 so far, and the box office was up 2.3% from a year earlier. ...

PG-rated movies made their mark in 2016 with Finding Dory ($486.29M), The Secret Life of Pets ($368.3M), The Jungle Book ($364M), Zootopia ($341.26M), Moana ($184M-$185M) and now Sing ($76.7M-$78M+) all contributing substantially to the year’s success, according to ComScore’s senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. ...

There is no evidence, none, that "too many animated features in the marketplace depress their box office".

It's like saying, "Too many live-action features depress the grosses of live-action features. Good movies produced on budgets that aren't insane will generally find their audience and turn a profit. And yeah, sometimes it takes a while, since revenue streams come from many sources.

But it's not true, and has never been true, that animated movies are a "genre". Westerns are a genre. World War II combat movies are a genre, but animated features are simply a style of presentation for a wide range of subject matter. Odd how many analysts and commentators don't get this.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Moving to Buena Vista

Brother Tom Sito informs us:
Dec 26, 1939 - Over the holiday break, Walt Disney Animation moved from Hyperion to their new air-conditioned Burbank Studio lot. The buildings are designed like hospital wards, so in case he hit economic trouble, Disney could sell them to the planned St. Joseph's Hospital across the street. Animator Ward Kimball said it was the first time he worked in a studio where all the furniture matched. The old Hyperion Studio was bulldozed in 1966, the year of Walt Disney’s death.
Camera was among the first department to travel to Burbank, after which other departments followed. Animator Don Lusk's future wife was the person in coordinating and choreographic the move from Hyperion to Buena Vista Street. Almost two years later, the soon-to-be Mrs. Lusk found out from Walt Disney that Don, one of the strikers in the 1941 job action at WDP, was on Walt's naughty list and destined for eventual layoff. That layoff took another twenty years to happen due to a World War and repeated interventions by Don's friend Eric Larson, but finally, after the completion of 101 Dalmations, Don was dismissed from Disney. There is, however, a happy ending. After his separation separation from the House of Mouse, Mr. Lusk spent twenty contented years at Hanna-Barbera, working as a director. Today he's the last of the pre-war Disney animators, age 103.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Crowding At The Top

For the last ten years (at least), there has been pissing and moaning about how the cascade of animated features are "cannibalizing" one another.

Me, I don't want to even THINK about a Polynesian girl gnawing on a singing pig's leg, but there isn't a whole lot of evidence that animated features are destroying each other THIS holiday season.

Moana now sits in the middle of the Box Office Ten with $184 million in domestic grosses after sitting on top of it for the better part of a month.

Sing, the newest animated entrant, will likely end up with $74 million at the end of its initial weekend, coming in #2 to Disney's latest Star Wars juggernaut.

And let's not forget Trolls, now in domestic release for 52 days, has grossed $148,451,158.

Pattern Bargaining!

Grizzled old negotiators inside the entertainment business know what the term "pattern bargaining" means: the first labor organization into the new contract cycle gets to mark off the field for unions that follow. The Directors Guild of America, first union up in the new round of negotiations, has now done some marking:

Just in time for the holidays, the DGA and management’s AMPTP have reached an agreement on terms for a new three-year film and TV contract. Details of the deal aren’t being released until after it’s been seen by the guild’s national board. The two sides began talks on Dec. 5 and wrapped on the eve of Christmas Eve. The DGA’s current three-year contract runs through June 30, 2017, but the guild is famous for starting — and finishing — negotiations well in advance of the expiration of its major contracts. ...

Nobody knows what the new deal is, but breaths are no doubt bated all over town.

There is New Media, there are wage increases. There are pension benefits and health benefits and nobody yet knows (outside of hte bargaining parties) what the details are. New Media is going to be a BIG deal in every contract over the next two years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mr. Anderson's #2

Deadline informs us:

Wes Anderson surprised today with the announcement of the start of production on his next film, a stop-motion animated pic he’s calling Isle Of Dogs. ...

It looks to be another stop-motion production, as was Mr. Anderson's first, The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Fox received solid reviews, but the pic's box office take was under-powered, taking in just $46 million. (Happily, the production cost came in at $40 million, but the theatrical take let The Fantastic Mr. Fox in the red).

Hopefully, Mr. Anderson will have better results with Isle of Dogs

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Handicapping the Weekend

Our friends at Deadline tell us:

... Illumination/Universal’s animated animal-jukebox musical Sing is expected to come up strong with $70M in six days thanks to the studio beating the drum continually since its Toronto Film Festival premiere, with mini-concerts and screenings to stoke awards-season voters. Pic opens tonight at 6 PM at 2,275 venues before expanding to 4,022 — the fourth-widest opening ever for December after Rogue One, Force Awakens, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Sing currently has a 76% fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating. ...
It looks as though Sing will open with half the box office of Moana ($24 million vs. $56.6 million) but most Illumination Entertainment pictures perform steadily over the long haul. And even if it doesn't put up Disney blockbuster numbers, it should still go comfortably into the black, since (as with other IE pictures) this one has a production cost of $75 million. Sing has already launched in some some overseas venues, collecting $17 million. Whether it collects half a billion dollars or more? We should have some projections in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Tucking It Away

... for a rainy day. Or retirement. Because you don't want to end your days as a Walmart greeter eating Alpo for your evening meal.

I once thought that having a clever investment advisor was the key to riches. But I found out that clver investment advisors mainly make themselves rich, and you get the table scraps and cold leftovers.

My guy charged me 2% off the top, and in my infant-like naivete, I thought this was a bargain. But actually no. Because 2% per year over 25 years ends up being half the take.

You can keep most of the victuals for yourself if you invest in low-cost index funds that cost a fraction of percent instead of the idiotic two of my foolish youth. And if you keep with it, and don't freak out when the markets go south (as markets inevitably do). So how to be a smart investor?

Avoid the stupid crap:

Twenty Ways To Tell If You're A Lousy Investor

You look at your portfolio more often than you wash your car.

 You talk about investing like it's something exciting; using smart sounding words that you probably can't define.

 You're a reactive, not pro-active investor - changing your portfolio allocation in response to the latest headlines.

 You spend more time focusing on what you can’t control instead of what you can control.

 You own individual stocks.

 You think that variable annuities are investments, not insurance products.

 You consider market volatility to be abnormal and believe that volatility and risk are synonymous.

 You let your political beliefs determine your portfolio allocation.

 You think that the financial media provides actionable information; not relatively useless entertainment.

 You cannot explain your portfolio's composition in 60 seconds or less.

 You are attracted to investments that promise returns that are too good to be true.

 You don’t understand that investment success is more about not making errors than hitting home runs.

 You think that complexity is the secret to successful investing when it's simplicity that you need.

 You are focused on the short-term even though successful investing can only be measured over the long-term.

 You are more interested in tactics than in long-term planning.

 You can't sit on your hands and do nothing during times of market volatility.

You are overconfident. This comes from having an opinion about everything and confusing your opinions with insight.

 You 're optimistic at the wrong time. Optimism isn't tested during boom or normal times. The real optimist is someone who can stay positive during the bad times.

 You're constantly looking for shortcuts, seeking the non-existent Holy Grail of investing – an investment that yields stock market returns without stock market volatility.

 You chase past performance and own a portfolio that worked well last year but is unlikely to do so next year.

It's incredibly easy to be dumb about investing. You just have to get roped into a financial advisor who moves your money around in complicated transactions while taking 2% off the top. Simplicity and low cost are way kinder to your pocket book.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Roundtable: Why Did These Cartoons Get Made?

This is last year's roundtable. 2016 is down there at the link.

The Reporter does its film creators' chat fests every year: directors, actors, writers, and animators sitting around a table and relating how their movies came to be.

For 2016, they had the creators of big and small budget animated features -- among them, Byron Howard ('Zootopia), Garth Jennings ('Sing'), Travis Knight ('Kubo and the Two Strings'), Mike Mitchell ('Trolls'), John Musker ('Moana') and Mark Osborne ('The Little Prince') -- talking about the long investments in time and energy doing eighty minutes of animation actually takes.

The live-action folks sitting there (admitted animation novices), marveled at how looong cartoon features, start to finish, actually took.

The animation veterans knew all about the "years in the making" thingie and just laughed. (John Musker has been in the game long enough to know that animators and animation directors were never invited to forums like these, back in the long ago.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

So What's Going On Here?

A quick explanation.

I stepped down from my job at the Animation Guild last week. Also, too, I walked away from the task of writing daily entries in the Guild's blog.

A week away from blogging about animation tells me that I want to keep shooting my mouth off in the blogosphere, at least a little. This time around, the entries will be more sporadic because I'm now a retired person and the idea of getting x number of posts up seven days a week does not jazz me.

Look at it this way. The world will be a richer place with fewer posts from Yours Truly. There will be a bunch of stuff about animation (features, television, the struggles of artists/writers/technicians to earn a living, and the in-built reflex of large corporations to ape whatever the "hot trend" is), since that was my bag for thirty-odd years. But also stuff about investing, history, mild doses of politics, and how the world is a strange, wondrous place.

Oh. And the format and layout of this space? Bank on it being haphazard and kinda dull, because I'm as technologically oriented as a greased pig on ice, and there's no knowledgable person at hand to spiff things up. Now it's just me on the living room couch, beating my head against a cushioned arm in red-faced frustration. And I learn slooowly.

So apologies in advance. And good afternoon to you.

#1 Means Excellent Leverage

Clearly, when you're hot, you've got lots of options.

In a week where Lin-Manuel Miranda had the number one movie in Moana, the number one album with The Hamilton Mixtape and the top Broadway show in Hamilton, he has set a big animated film project to follow Moana. Sony Pictures Animation chief Kristine Belson has fast tracked Vivo, a film that will be anchored by 11 songs written by Miranda. ...

Success begets success. Mr. Miranda is young, but most inhabitants of the entertainment biz (and we'll include animation in this) who own a smash hit or three, have studios waggling contracts and waving money in their faces. This is the way it's been for, like, a century.

And if you're one of the troopers down in the trenches, doing great work, and the project on which you're riding crashes and burns, you'll have to scramble to find the next gig.

You somebody in their fifties? Sixties? Then that scramble might be up a vertical wall of "Sorry, we don't need you right now, but thanks for your interest. We'll keep your resume on file." The gray-listing diesease isn't as chronic in Cartoonland as it is in live-action, but it's there.