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:


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


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:


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...).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Disney's 1981 Animated Feature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Multi Talents = Multi Hyphenate

Nicole Dubuc doesn't seem to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. Definitely not much sleeping being done.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Super-Hero Box Office -- July 6-8

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadpool 2 has earned $722.6 million globally.

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

Animation Militancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

Steve Ditko, RIP

Another legend passes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Taken advantage of." Who would have thought?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Job Action Time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A Veteran Reflects on a Cartoon Career

Professor Tom Sito, who teaches animation but has also animated, written, directed, and storyboarded cartoon features, shorts and commercials, imparts this:

One thing about reaching your Sixties, is that you now seriously begin to review the fruition of the plans you made at the beginning of your career. To see if all the nuts you squirreled away over the years were going to last you through the Autumn of your life. I never seriously imagined I'd be the next Walt Disney and have theme parks in my name, or be Seth McFarlane and make millions. But I did buy into the Frank & Ollie model. That when you became an elder statesman animator, you would be more sought after then when a young man. That cherished ideal, unfortunately, has gone the way of the rotary phone.

So be it. As Ovid said "Omnias Mutantor" All things change.

I have my union pension, my USC pension, 401K, IAP, investments, and my tenure. And I love to teach and write. So God willing, as long as I am vertical, I will continue to do both.

I confess, I do think back to when I was Guild President, of all the non-union animators who thundered against me because I wanted their jobs to be unionized. I wanted all animation to be covered by union contracts across North America. For that I got such hateful e-mails, and passionate outrage. I was threatened with lawsuits, and I even got a death threat. Now Klasky Csupo, Saban and DIC are but footnotes in a TV history book. Those artists who are my age, many are now my friends. I can only hope they had set aside enough nuts for their own autumns.

You who are young and newly entering your professional life, If I can teach you anything, it is this. If you can't join a union, set aside something while you are in your key earning years, a retirement plan against the time you no longer are able to earn. It will creep up on you, unexpectedly. And don't rely on any one company to "reward" your years of loyalty. As they say in the Book of Elijah " Put not your trust in the word of Princes..."

Good Luck to you all.

When you jump into a career, you sometimes think that the trajectory will be ever upward. Unfortunately, sometimes it shoots sideways ... and occasionally (ach!) plummets. But the building blocks for job sustainability are straightforward:

Constantly train. Constantly strive for your best. Play well with others. (Because like it or not, studio politics are a constant. Take it from one who argued and shot his mouth off WAY too much.) When somebody tells you: "I don't play politics, nod amiably and remember that everyone plays ... whether they want to or not. It's like breathing air.

And when good times arrive, keep in mind that they are Tran. Si. Tory.

An old writer said to me a long time ago: "You sweat and struggle to make it, and then one day you have a job, future and a sustainable income, and you think: 'Ha! THIS is the way it was meant to be, and THIS is the way it's going to be!' Except it isn't. You're on top one day and then not on top three years later. And you take to heart the old maxim, 'Be nice to people on the way up because you'll meet them again on the way down.'"

When employees in the animation business hit their middle fifties, employment gets tougher. (Yes, there are exceptions and outliers). But I saw it happen to lots of folks - they hit fifty-six and suddenly they're unemployed for long stretches of time. I got lots of calls that went, "I worked steadily for thirty years and now I can't find work! What's up with that?"

What's up is high competition and the studios never-ending quest to keep wages as low as possible. In TV work, un-comped overtime is rampant. The supply of talent is higher than it's been in forever and, though the industry is bigger than it's ever been, thousands are clawing to get into it. Studio managers hire new college grads and many veterans suffer.

But quality and experience still win out much of the time. Veterans who bring a lot to the table get called after the project has blown up in the company's face and they need qualified people to pick up the pieces and glue the whole enterprise back together. Still, it's frustrating.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Summer of Animated Box Office

The next big animated release ...

Two high-profile motion pictures -- one called "live action with animated VFX", and the other a straight-ahead animated feature -- remain at the top of the Big List.


1) JW: Fallen Kingdom -- 4,485 (+10) -- $60.3M (-59%) -- $265M

2) Incredibles 2 -- 4,410 -- $45M (-44%) -- $439.7M

3) Sicario…Soldado -- 3,055 -- $19.4M -- $19.4M (1st weekend)

4) Uncle Drew -- 2,742 -- $16.7M -- $16.7M (1st weekend)

5) Ocean’s 8 -- 3,426 (-230) -- $8.1M (-30%) -- $114.8M

6) Tag -- 3,176 (-206) -- $5.8M (-29%) -- $41.1M

7) Deadpool 2 -- 2,094 (-326) -- $3.5M (-33%) -- $310M

8) Solo -- 1,654 (-684) -- $2.55M -- $207.5M

9) Sanju -- 356 -- $2.48M -- $2.48M (1st weekend)

10) Hereditary -- 1,424 (-578) -- $2.1M (-40%) -- $39.3M

To date, Incredibles 2 has pulled in $564,711,514 around the globe, while Fallen Kingdom has a worldwide cume of $826,454,064.

Next animated feature in wide release: Hotel Transylvania 3, which opens on July 13th. HT1 made $358.4 million and HT2 collected $473.2 million in global box office receipts.) In November there are two major releases: How the Grinch Stole Christmas on November 9th (the third incarnation of the Seuss book), and Wreck-It Ralph 2 on November 21st.

The mice! The mice! Inside stories of Disney Animation (from the people who lived it. Ward Kimball speaks! John Musker reflects! Ron Clements tells of the trials and tribulation getting "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" made!)) all in two exciting volumes ... Mouse in Transition and Mouse in Orbit. Available now! ... and into the future (we trust)!