Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Happy Belated to Mr. Lusk

Five years and two days ago, I put up an interview with THIS fine man. ...

Cartoon veteran Don Lusk (animator, story man, and director .. from Disney on Hyperion to Hanna-Barbera on Cahuenga) turns turns ten decades old today.

To celebrate, we present you with the Don Lusk 100th birthday interview, which covers his career from Disney in 1933, to Hanna-Barbera in 1993. (Sixty years of work seems to be sufficient, wouldn't you say?) ...

Don is now 105 years old, and the last of Disney's "Golden Age" animators.

He started at Disney-Hyperion in 1933, departed in 1960 (and let's be upfront about this: Don was fired. He went out on strike in 1941 and Walt never forgave him.)

Don went on to a long career at Hanna-Barbera. He retired at age eighty in 1993, and has been busy for the twenty-five years that have elapsed since then. Happy 105th, Don. May your next 105 years be eqully memorable.

You will find Parts II and III of this interview here and here.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Halloweenie Box Office

Jamie Lee Curtis perches at the top of the box office, while Lady Gaga's Star continues to shine at #2. And the animated feature clinging to a spot on the Big List is fading a bit, but fading slooowly.

Three Days of Grosses

1) Halloween -- 3,990 (+62) -- $32M (-58%) -- $126.7M

2) A Star Is Born -- 3,904 (+20) -- $14.1M (-26%) -- $148.7M

3) Venom -- 3,567 (-320) -- $10.8M (-40%) -- $187.2M

4) Goosebumps 2 -- 3,723 (+202) -- $7.5M (-23%) -- $38.3M

5) Hunter Killer -- 2,720 $2.5M -- $6.6M -- $6.6M (1st weekend)

6) The Hate U Give -- 2,375 (+72) -- $5.1M (-33%) -- $18.3M

7) First Man -- 2,959 (-681) -- $4.9M (-31%) -- $37.8M

8) Smallfoot -- 2,662 (-370) -- $4.75M (-28%) -- $72.5M

9) Night School -- 1,991 (-305) -- $3.2M (-33%) -- $71.4M

10) Mid 90s A24 -- 1,206 (+1,202) -- $3M (+1063%) -- $3.3M

Remakes and sequels currently rule the roost (and, of course, the usual super hero movie). The well-reviewed Smallfoot has been only a mild performer at the U.S. and Canadian box office. The bulk of its revenue (over 56%) has come from overseas. Its worldwide total now comes to $167,591,050

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Animation Guild Ratifies New Contract

Slightly old news (but still) ...

Members of the Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839, have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new film and TV contract. The vote to approve the three-year deal with management’s AMPTP was 868-213 – an approval margin of 80.3% to 19.7%.

Of the guild’s 3,695 eligible members, 1,081 (29.3%) cast ballots. ...

There was campaigning between pro-ratification and anti-ratification Guild members during the ratification process. In the end the "Yes" votes were in line with previous ratifications. The number of ratification participants was similar to earlier election cycles, though the vote totals were higher because the membership of TAG has grown over the previous decade and a half.

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 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.


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.