Saturday, November 24, 2018

Five Days of Holiday Grosses

The new version of the thief with bow and arrow seems to get little love and even less box office traction.

Two animated features appear to be doing well in the box office department. The Disney movie nests at #1 and the Universal-Illumination offering resides at #3:


1) Wreck-It Ralph 2 -- $88.5 million -- $88.5 million

3) The Grinch -- $41 million -- $179.4 million

Meantime, the opening of a freshly-minted Robin Hood landed in 5th place and seems to be going the way of other recent Hood epics: into the trash bin of large-budget flops. The Kevin Costner offering from 1991 did brisk business in its time, but there has been little to get excited about over the ones produced since.

The industry keeps making flicks about the bandit from Sherwood Forest, and audiences keep going to other movies. (Kind of like The Three Musketeers. Newer versions keep being produced ... and failing. It's been forty-plus years since one of those did big box office.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Get Rich Slowly

When I was forty, I was pretty much broke. I had a house, mortgage, four-year-old, and a wife who kept the family afloat (sort of) with a semi-steady job in animation. At the time, I was not holding up my end of the family finances. I had eight jobs in a span of three-and-a-half years, the longest of which was a staff position teaching English in a private school for $350 per week.

I promised myself that if I ever secured employment that paid a living wage (i.e., more than $350/week), I would get serious about saving.

A month shy of my 41st birthday, I got a job that paid enough so my spouse and I could save a little money ... and boy did we save. Year in and year out, we tucked money away in stocks, in savings bonds, in bank accounts. We took unlavish vacations and drove old cars. We sent our kids to public schools and public universities. And when we retired two years ago, we had enough salted away to (finally!) afford retirement.

So what's the secret? The roadmap to success? The numbered guide below (from a millenial called Badger1754 at is more useful than many:

Some Rules For Creating Wealth:

1) Live within your means.

2) Pay yourself first.

3) Put aside money for emergencies (actual emergencies).

4) Ignore the “noise” (CNBC, “financial advisors” trying to sell you stuff). This might be actually a healthier way to live life. I get my news from the NYTimes and the WSJ. My wife gets her news from Facebook and cable TV. I am infinitely calmer during elections. :D

5) Keep things in perspective.

6) Don’t let sentiment, emotion, or a “gut feeling” cloud your judgment when there are facts that can be relied upon. In particular, I’ve found that having a basic facility with finance and math (e.g. able to build an Excel model) helps streamline the decision-making process which as in turn helped me avoid several potentially bad decisions.

7) Invest in the future (monetarily, educationally, philanthropically).

8) Remember: Sic transit gloria mundinothing good lasts forever, so don’t expect it to.

9) There is still a greater concentration of talent, hunger, entrepreneurialism, chutzpah, grit, accessibility, and freedom in the US economy than anywhere else in the world that attracts the aforementioned attributes like moths to a flame. So, while nothing good lasts forever, Rome took over a thousand years to fall.)

10) Stay active (physically, intellectually, economically) — idle hands do the devil’s work; idle money does no work. Take ownership and responsibility for your own success.

11) No one aside from your parents will give you anything. In fact, there is a large population of people who would freely and shamelessly take advantage of you. But it is up to you (and only you) to find and pursue those opportunities that will lead to success.

12) A piece of advice I wish all millennials would reflect upon: remember that you can’t save the world if you become a casualty in the process.

13) Don’t reinvent the wheel — stand on the shoulders of giants!

I ladled out a lot of advice in my old job in the cartoon business. The advice encompassed employment, what kinds of investments to put money in, how the cartoon business works. Here's the gist of it (most of which dovetails with badger1754's advice directly above.

Surviving (And Prospering) In The Animation Industry

1) The cartoon job market goes up and down -- Twenty-plus years ago, salaries and job opportunities in animation went through the roof. But within half a decade the supply of talent overtook the supply of jobs, and salaries went down ... and more people were out of work. (Sic transit gloria mundi -- badger's #8).

2) Invest in yourself -- hone your skills, improve your skills. Constantly train, learn, improve; it's the only way to stay relevant in a changing business. Remember there are always hungry 22-year-olds coming up behind you (badger's #7).

3) Even if you don't think you can afford it, put something in your 401(k) ... and IRA ... and Roth IRA. (If you're under an IA/TAG contract, you'll also be having your employer put money on your behalf into a pension fund. -- badger's #2)

4) The animation business has always underpaid workers. Artists were taking free tests in 1933 ... 1967 ... 2016. Artists were working free overtime during the same time periods. My artist father made $15/week at Disney in 1939. Animator Don Lusk made more clerking in a liquor store near Big Bear Lake in 1941 than he did as a Disney artist in Burbank during the same year. (Union sign painters in the building trades averaged $1.47/hr during this time.)

In the present era, Disney exec Ed Catmull -- soon to retire as a wealthy man -- suppressed animation and tech wages; non-union studios pay below union minimums with scanty benefits; union studios distributing work on the internet are allowed to undercut contract minimums. It's useful for artists to know the industry's past as they push to make the industry's future better (badger's #5 & #6 & #12).

5) The TV animation business has always had periods of work followed by periods of layoff. It was that way in the 1960s and 1970s when Saturday morning cartoons provided seven months of employment followed by five (and sometimes six) months of layoff. There were "hiatuses" then, there are "hiatuses" (aka unemployment) now.

5) Best investing advice I ever got? -- keep it simple, keep it constant, and know your threshold of pain. You can't be an effective investor if you react emotionally to markets' ups and downs and pull cash out at the wrong time. If you're unable to endure financial pain without panicking, if you have only a sketchy knowledge about stocks and bonds, read one or two good books on the subject; if you don't have time for math, calculators and slide rules, set up an asset allocation with an all-in-one fund that has both stocks and bonds with the amount of risk you are comfortable with, and let the pros handle your investment stash. Then feed money into it week by week, and only look at how the fund is doing every seven years*.

* A Fidelity Investments study found that the best Fidelity investors were people who forgot they had investments there.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mid-November Movie Grosses

The Grinch holds reasonably well one week to the next, while Fantastic Beasts 2 performs better overseas than in the U.S. and Canada.


1) Fantastic Beasts 2 -- 4,163 -- $62.2M -- $62.2M (1st weekend)

2) The Grinch -- 4,141 -- $38.1M (-44%) -- $38.1M -- $126.5M

3) Bohemian Rhapsody -- 3,810 (-190) -- $15.7M (-50%) -- $127.8M

4) Instant Family -- 3,286 -- $14.7M -- $14.7M (1st weekend)

5) Widows -- 2,803 -- $12.3M -- $12.3M (1st weekend)

6) The Nutcracker… -- 2,635 (-1,131) $1.1M -- $4.6M (-54%) -- $43.8M

7) A Star Is Born -- 2,010 (-838) -- $4.3M (-46%) -- $185.8M

8) Overlord -- 2,859 -- $3.8M (-62%) -- $17.7M

9) …Spider’s Web -- 2,929 -- $2.5M (-68%) $13.2M 2

10) Nobody’s Fool -- 1,301 (-1167) -- $2.2M (-66%) -- $28.8M

Fantastic Beasts 2 collected $191 million from 79 foreign markets. Coupled with domestic grosses, it's earned a quarter billion in its first weekend. Not bad, but critics don't love it the way they loved the first installment.

Meantime, The Grinch has now grossed 425.2 million abroad and is rolling out slowly. To date, its worldwide total is $152,163,410.

On Wednesday next, Wreck-It Ralph 2 makes its debut.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Goodbye To A Story Teller

William Goldman has died. You might not know who he is, but you know his work. He wrote novels ("The Temple of Gold", "The Princess Bride", numerous others). And screenplays. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Harper, All the President's Men, Misery) And he crafted memorable lines of dialogue:

"Follow the money."

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

"Why, are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya." [see above]

Mr. Goldman was born in Illinois and writing ran in the family. His older brother James grew up to write "The Lion in Winter" (among other works). Like younger brother William, he won an Academy Award for one of his screenplays.

William Goldman claimed not to think he wrote particularly well, but the claim is undercut by two Academy Awards and a career that was over a half-century long (Among his last assignments was adapting Stephen King's novel "Misery" for the Broadway stage.) One of the lesser-known facts of Mr. Goldman's career is that he wrote a script for Universal's animated feature Curious George, though ultimately it wasn't used.

He leaves two daughters (Jenny and Susanna) from a thirty-year marriage that ended in 1991. Rest in Peace, Mr. Goldman.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The ReBoot

Slick as a ringmater's polished silver whistle, but will audiences buy in to a new version of a beloved classic? Of a monster conglomerate messing with their childhood memories? (And granted, for the elementary school set, this iteration WILL be their childhood memory, not the 1941 film.)

I honestly don't know the answer, but we'll find out soon enough. But whether the new movie is good, bad or indifferent, it isn't about new ideas or old ideas. It's about about properties tucked away in the corporate library that can generate major cash flow.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Grinch's B.O.

Illumination Entertainment scored a #1 with its new iteration of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas while Warner Bros's Smallfoot quietly left the Top Ten.


1) The Grinch -- 4,141 -- $66M -- $66M (1st weekend)

2) Bohemian Rhapsody -- 3,766 -- $30.8M (-40%) -- $100M

3) Overlord -- 2,859 -- $10.1M -- $10.1M (1st weekend)

4) The Nutcracker -- 3,766 -- $9.5M (-53%) -- $35.2M

5) A Star Is Born -- 2,848 (-583) -- $8M (-27%) -- $178M

5) ….Spider’s Web -- 2,929 -- $8M -- $8M (1st weekend)

7) Nobody’s Fool -- 2,468 -- $6.5M (-53%) --$24.2M

8) Venom -- 2,351 (-716) -- $4.8M (-38%) -- $206.2M

9) Halloween -- 2,717 (-1,058) -- $3.8M (-65%) -- $156.8M

10) Hate You Give -- 1,108 (-399) -- $2M (-38%) --$26.7M

The recently-departed Smallfoot now perches at #11, with a domestic total of $80,306,553 and $203,906,553 globally.

Incredibles 2, despite moving to other platforms on your home viewing devices, remains in 140 theaters. The pic collected $144,000 over the weekend, and now has a domestic total of $608,297,459 (worldwide the gross is $1,238,553,699).

Lsstly, the animation hybrid Disney's Christopher Robin remains in 132 theaters, picked up some small change, and now stands at $99,118,784 in domestic grosses. Globally, the take is almost evenly split between the U.S./Canada and everywhere else; world total is $196,116,581.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Ever-Changing Cartoon Biz

Now with healthful, gluten-free Add On (see below).

Ed Catmull retires next month. John Lasseter is looking to make a comeback in Cartoonland (at a studio not named Disney). Animation, in ways similar to live-aCtion, has become a roiling sea.

Companies are beset by mergers, or #MeToo scandals. Studios are wedded to big ambitions, or shackled to past successes.

And internal questions are only the start. Leaders such as Disney and Pixar are trying to maintain dominance over the field, while close competitors like Illumination are closing in. Once-great studios such as DreamWorks are struggling to find their way back. And well-funded upstarts from Sony to Netflix are seeking to knock them all off.

“We are witnessing fundamental change right before our eyes,” said Dan Sarto, editor at the industry-watching Animation World Network and a close observer of the category. “It’s totally unprecedented. Everything is subject to disruption.” ...

A big reason animation is in flux is, it isn't a sleepy little corner of the movie business anymore. (Truth be told, it hasn't been small or sleepy for years.) Every entertainment conglomerate produces and releases animated features. Every conglomerate produces and distributes TV cartoons. Netflix and Amazon, to upstart pretenders to the Hollywood throne, produce animation because the formate draws LOTS of eyeballs. And well-watched content is the ane of the game.

Standard rule of thumb: the higher the stakes, the more vicious the in-fighting. That's why there is more back-stabbing and maneuvering at higher levels than there ever was before. That's why fewer big-shots talk to the mainstream media. (Kindly note that highly-placed animation execs delivered quotes to the Washington Post story directly above. They have more to lose than gain from press accessibility.)

Yes, the industry is going through Big Change, but it has gone through change and upheaval before. (Television, labor strife, cable networks, etc.) The difference now is the profits are far bigger and the stakes far higher. Internal turmoil is one thing when cartoons are a sleepy sideshow, quite another when the money is big and the competition fierce. The business is not just Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and a few small upstart studios anymore. Now it's seven hungry corporations with very long knives.

Add On: But, of course, it isn't just the animation biz in turmoil. The wider live-action industry is also going through painful change, as one of our major metroploitan dailies details here.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Merry Times at Walt's Place

The House of Mouse (otherwise known as the Walt Disney Company) had a very good quarter...

... The company reported adjusted per-share earnings of $1.48, topping analysts forecasts of $1.34 for the fiscal fourth quarter. It booked record revenues of $14.3 billion, exceeding Wall Street’s projections of $13.73 billion.

The film studio’s revenue jumped 50% in the quarter to $2.2 billion, buoyed by the box office success of Incredibles 2, which rang in more than $1.2 billion globally, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, at $622 million in worldwide ticket sales.

The media networks group, which includes broadcast and cable television, saw revenues rise 9% to nearly $6 billion in the quarter ending September 29. ...

Disney will complete its integration (digestion?) of Fox assets early in the new year. The Mouse's new streaming services will shortly be up and running. How well will Diz Co. complete against Netflix and Amazon? Should be interesting to find out.

In the meanwhile, most of its subsidiaries are ticking along, contributing to the bottom line. And Disney stockholders will no dout be hoping that Chairman Robert Iger stays beyond his current employment contract, even though he's getting a bit long in the tooth.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Bohemian Box Office

Rock-and-roll rules the turnstiles as Warner's animated feature makes ready to leave the Top Ten, and make way for Illumination Entertainment's Grinch.


1) Bohemian Rhapsody -- 4,000 -- $48.9M -- $48.9M (1st weekend)

2) Nutcracker… -- 3,766 -- $20.2M -- $20.2M (1st weekend)

3) Nobody’s Fool -- 2,468 -- $13.8M -- $13.8M (1st weekend)

4) Halloween -- 3,775 (-215) -- $11.1M (-65%) -- $150.4M

5) A Star Is Born -- 3,431 (-473) -- $10.7M (-24%) -- $165.2M

6) Venom -- 3,067 (-500) -- $7.5M (-30%) -- $198.3M

7) Hunter Killer -- 2,720 -- $4.1M (-37%) -- $13.6M

8) Goosebumps 2 -- 2,828 (-895) -- $3.6M (-50%) -- $44M

9) The Hate U Give -- 1,507 (-868) -- $3.5M (-31%) -- $23.5M

10) Smallfoot -- 2,002 (-660) -- $3.1M (-35%) -- $76.7M

Smallfoot has now made $192,684,301 around the world. Not one of Warner Bros. larger hits, but since it's still playing off in lots of market and cost less than $100 million, (it was made in Canada at Sony Picture Imageworks Vancouver studio), it might eke out a profit by the time all cash streams are exhausted.

Incredibles 2 remains in 150 theaters domestically and has taken in $608,113,568 domestically. Worldwide Brad Bird's feature has taken in $1,238,213,568, good enough for #15 on the all-time grossers list.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Mickey! Merchandise!!

The rodent in the red shorts (there on the left with two other corporate mascots) turns ninety.

... Disney is using Mickey’s 90th birthday as a monstrous marketing moment, with the company’s cross-promotional machine revved up to what may be its highest level yet. Every corner of the $168 billion company is contributing to the campaign, which will intensify on Sunday when ABC runs “Mickey’s 90th Spectacular.” ...

By the early 1930s, Mickey was a merchandising machine. Look at early studio photographs, there is Mickey. He became a doll, became a watch, became a comic strip. The company was raking a $100 million in royalties on the Mouse by the second decade of its corporate existence.

As American copyright goes, Mickey frolicks into the public domain five years hence. Look for the Walt Disney Company to extend copyright AGAIN before the clock runs out. There is GOLD in that rodent with the bright red shorts.

Second Tier Product Reaches For Top Rung

Spain and South America combine forces on an animated feature they want to take worldwide:

Argentinian firms FilmSharks and Vista Sur, Peru’s Golem and Zentropa’s Spain-based animation arm Doce are launching the animated film Dalia Y El Libro Rojo 3D (Dalia and the Red Book 3D) at the American Film Market.

According to the producers, this is among the first Spanish-language animations to combine CGI characters, stop motion and classic 2D animation. Production is underway. ...

Few Americans notice, but there is a lively foreign market for lower budget animated features, most of which don't get any kind of meaningful release in the U.S. of A.

They come out of Europe.

They come out of South America.

Some come from Africa, the Middle East, and India.

The majority of these flicks make $15 million, $25 million, sometimes $60 million at the global box office. Those kinds of grosses would be disastrous for Pixar, Disney, or DreamWorks Animation, but they're fine for pictures coming in at $8 or $10 million. They're made on a shoe-string but when the features find an audience (and some of them do), they turn a nice profit. (Nothing that Robert Iger would fid comforting, but quite handsome for a small Spanish or Argentine studio.)

Will Dalia and the Red Book find favor in the United States and Canada? Probably not, but a domestic launch might help its prospects elsewhere.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Disney Keeps ON Monetizing Its Expanding Animation Empire

The Mouse, currently digesting most of the company formerly known as 20th Century Fox (which goes back to 1935 when Fox and 2oth Century studios merged) is making sure that every corner of its cartoon empire is making money:

Hulu has locked down streaming rights to a host of animated series, including new addition King of the Hill.

All 13 seasons of the Fox series from Mike Judge, which ran from 1997-20 are available to stream on the service as of Thursday. Hulu has also acquired exclusive streaming rights to Bob's Burgers, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. ...

All of the series in the new deal are produced by 20th Century Fox TV, which is in the process of being absorbed by Disney. The latter will also be the majority owner of Hulu when the deal closes. ...

More than 10 new animated series have debuted in 2018 thus far, and Netflix and CBS TV Studios are each starting in-house animation arms. Though Hulu doesn't release viewing data for individual shows, the company has said animated shows are among the most-streamed content on the service: Viewers watch nearly 20 hours of animation on Hulu per month.

If you're keeping track at home, Disney will be the majority owner of the streaming service Hulu, even as it launches a Disney-branded streaming service for Disney-branded animated product.

The Mouse is keeping all streaming bets covered, the better to fight Netflix, Amazon, and other upstarts. Animation, as always, is a major component of its plans.