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.


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. ...


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.


* 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:


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):


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.