Thursday, May 30, 2019

Creating The Original Aladdin -- Part I

With the new version of Aladdin now riding atop the box office charts, let's step back in time and revisit how the animated feature was put together. From the book "Mouse In Orbit" ...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

... Director John Musker recalled:

"Ron Clements and I had a movie we wanted to make called We're Back, that we thought could be really fun. But [the studio] told us, 'You know the rights are tied up? Spielberg has them, it's his kids' favorite book.'

"So we had to do something else. The studio said it had three ideas we might be interested in. One of them was Swan Lake, doing that as a musical. The other thing was King of the Jungle, about lions in Africa. (We said, 'Who's going to go see a movie about THAT?!') And the third one was Aladdin which Howard Ashman had pitched to the studio before we ever got on it.

"Howard had written a treatment, had written songs. They had developed a script based on that treatment, but they didn't like that script. ... But we liked Howard's stuff and said we'd like to do Aladdin.

Disney Feature management had started using "story directors", who were usually veteran board artists, on the features. Ed Gombert, who had worked as a supervising animator and a storyboard artist ... and also had a puckish sense of humor ... was tapped for the position.

Gombert remembered:

"They asked if I wanted to be head of story and I jumped at it. One of the first things I did was [magic] carpet exploration. We didn't have any real story to start doing yet, so I started exploring what kinds of attitudes you get get out of a rectangle. When I pitched all these ideas, I challenged myself to think of as many attitudes as I could. I snuck one in; at the time, Roseanne Barr had sung the national anthem at a ball game and everyone was booing. And she flipped off the audience and grabbed her crotch. Somewhere in that collection of drawings is the carpet grabbing its crotch and flipping off the audience. Even Ron and John said, 'Gee, we never thought of the carpet as more than just an 'S' curve.'"

As director Ron Clements recalled, he and co-director Musker commenced working from Howard Ashman's original treatment:

"There were aspects of the story we had a different take on, but there were aspects of the story we liked a lot. We did a new version ... but we wanted to keep as many of Howard's songs as we could. ... One of the big changes was Aladdin [being] part of a street gang, so we didn't use that. So some of the songs went, though they were really fun songs. And Howard's Genie was more of a Cab Calloway Genie, which is reflected in the Genie song that's still in the movie.

"Our idea was to take advantage of animation, so the new Genie would be shape-changing and you would have Robin Williams do the [character] because he was a vocal shape-shifter, and with all his improv you could do something really fun that you could only do with animation. So that was kind of our animation hook: Robin Williams as the Genie.

"Jeffrey was not as high on our Aladdin version as he was with our Mermaid script. Even though he had some problems, he let us go with it ... and we boarded it and met with Howard again, and Howard wrote some new songs: "Prince Ali" and a Jafar villain song, which is probably the darkest song he ever wrote."

Despite Jeffrey Katzenberg's reservations, the Aladdin team cast voices, put the entire story up on reels, completed scratch tracks for Howard Ashman's songs. And in the spring of 1991, they presented the fruits of their labors to the head of the Disney studio.

Clements again:

"That screening for Jeffrey of our first version of Aladdin was disastrous. He hated it, just hated it. Robin Williams was in that version but Jeffrey said, 'You've got to start over, this isn't working at all.'

"That was a more extreme reaction than we expected, though we felt the story had problems and some of the things didn't work. In that first version, Aladdin had a mother but the whole relationship of Aladdin and his mother was not working well.

"We had talked about needing to cut the mother, but Jeffrey was more blunt: 'The Mom's a ZERO! Eighty-six the Mom!'"

Without a mother in the story, the song that everyone liked, "Proud of Your Boy", was not salvageable. And Howard Ashman couldn't pen a replacement, because s short time before the screening for Jeffrey, he died.

"That song went away," John Musker said. "Aladdin became an orphan, he became kind of older. He went from being Michael J. Fox to Tom Cruise."

Ed Gombert recalled:

"We went through two sets of story crews. The first crew put the whole film up, which was a unique experience, getting it up before Jeffrey pronounced yay or nay, thumbs up or thumbs down.

"Jeffrey said, 'We're not going to make this movie.' And we had to figure out how we were going to fix it. I walked back into the building, and I just walked around and saw all the storyboards all over the place and it just felt like a thousand tons weighing on me, that we had to change all of those drawings. It was just so obvious how much work was ahead of us."

Jeffrey Katzenberg was adamant that Aladdin had to be torn down and rebuilt from its foundation. He was also insistent that the release date for the feature would not be changing. It had been scheduled to come out in the last quarter of '92, and that release window didn't budge.

"That was a crisis, Ron Clements said. "Beauty and the Beast" would be finishing animation in three months, and all the animators would be coming on to our movie. And if we didn't have anything for them to work on, they would just be sitting. What saved us was the songs. We still had the Genie song and the Prince Ali song and we could put those in production. So while we're trying to get the rest of the movie figured out, those two songs went into production."

According to Gombert, however, there were other hurdles and water hazards to get over, none of them simple:

"It became obvious that Ron and John were not going to be able to write Aladdin and direct Aladdin. As soon as the crew gets put on [a production], directors are too busy to do any writing. So we interviewed three sets of writers. And the first two, professional Hollywood writers, were kind of distant and preferred to think things over and get back to us. But when Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were in the room, they were animation buffs just like we were, and familiar with all the old M-G-M cartoons and stuff like that. And they jumped in and started throwing around ideas, exactly the way animation works best."

So now there were writers on board who meshed with the story crew and had animation mindsets to boot, but as Gombert pointed out, there remained a story to be licked, one that the boss found woefully lacking. Ed Gombert continued:

"In the original pass, there were three sections to the opening: there was the introduction of Aladdin and his mother, and he was given a carpet to get some money, and he goes to sell that carpet but he loses it. He gets chased by police, and ends up in the princess's garden and then gets chased again and wanders off and sings a song about his future.

"It became clear that we needed to combine these three concepts into one sequence. Ted, Terry and I thought of this the same day, I just got the idea out of my mouth first. Ron and John were skeptical, so I went home over the weekend and took one of Alan Menken's original songs and my wife reworked some lyrics for me, based on the storyboard I was doing. I basically boarded how I saw the introduction of Aladdin while he's singing and being chased, trying to tie it all up in one great thing. And the next Monday I pitched it to Ron and John and one of the executives.

"I sat down prior to the meeting, timed out my pitch, and said 'This will cut two minutes out of the picture,' getting us two minutes closer to the Genie, which is the one thing we were constantly being told: 'It's taking too long to get to the Genie!" We gotta get to the Genie sooner!'

"Jeffrey said, 'Let's see what Ed's got,' and I played back the Menken song while trying to shout the new lyrics over the top of it while pitching Aladdin being chased. And when it was done Jeffrey said: 'That's it. This is great.'"

But the schedule was getting tighter and tighter. Both directors were aware that their movie had to be in theaters within a year-and-a-half, so speed and focus were dire necessities.

Ed Gombert and the story artists re-boarded a large part of the picture in the space of a few weeks. Burny Mattinson, a veteran of sixty-plus years at the studio who worked closely with Mr. Gombert on Aladdin, recalled:

"Ed's success is, he works to hone [scenes and sequences] down to their essence. Ed and I did that often on Aladdin. We'd put up a storyboard, and he'd say 'What do you think?' And I would say, 'Well, this [drawing] is good' and put a sticker on it. 'And this drawing down here.'

"And we'd sit back and look at it and think, 'Okay, how can we put all these good things together, and take all those other things out?' We would cut [the board] down by three quarters or half, and that sequence would come alive. It was a great way to work.'"

Gombert stated:

"Working on Aladdin was strenuous. When it was over, all I wanted to do was relax. I was asked if I wanted to co-direct Pocahontas. I just said, 'No way!' I was just too tired to even think about it. Being on an animated feature's story development a year-and-a-half seems to be my limit. It takes you six months to learn the characters and the story ... and then another six months where you're doing your best work, and then a final six months were you're just being beaten to death, changing things and changing things."

... Creating the Original Aladdin, Part II, tomorrow ...

Monday, May 27, 2019

Digging the Money

On this date in 1933, Warner Bros. released Gold Diggers of 1933. Chock full of singing, dancing, Busby Berkeley choreograpy and social commentary, the musical became one of the biggest hits of the year. (And six decades later, Disney animated features were aping Berkeley's production numbers. Also too, a Disney remake of a Disney animated feature is currently in release aping them.)

Gold Diggers followed close on the heels of another Warner Bros. hit entitled 42nd Street, which had been released in March. Like Gold Diggers, it featured Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers and Ruby Keeler, and its success prompted Warners to add Berkeley dance routines to the newer musical.

Unlike Street, Gold Diggers was an old chestnut from the Broadway stage that had been filmed twice before. The difference this time was the country was in Depression, with a 25% unemployment rate, and the grim national realities found their way into Gold Diggers of 1933. What didn't show up onscreen were the tensions and fights roiling Warner Bros. as the picture was being made. The studio had instituted temporary pay cuts for all studio employees in support of President Franklin Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration policies, and when Harry Warner wouldn't allow production topkick Darryl Zanuck to reinstate old salaries, Zanuck resigned and formed his own production company.

Despite the stresses and strains of the time (or maybe because of them), Gold Diggers struck a responsive chord with the movie-going public. By the time it completed its domestic and international runs, the picture had taken in $3,231,000 against a production budget of $433,000.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Remake Time At The Box Office

The "Aladdin" remake is coming in for its share of brickbats and back-handed compliments from mainstream reviewers (and many reviews mention how un-PC and insensitive the original animated feature was, forgetting ... I guess ... that movies are a reflection, and a product, of the times in which they're made).

Despite various "meh" reviews, Disney's live-action redo of its 1992 animated blockbuster is carrying the day...


1) Aladdin -- 4,476 -- (4-day) $105M (1st weekend)

2) John Wick: Chapter 3 -- 3,850 -- (4-day) $30.5M -- $107.1M

3) Avengers: Endgame -- 3,810 (-410) -- (4-day) $21.9M -- $803.2M

4) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 3824 -- (4-day) $17.2M -- $120M

5) Brightburn -- 2,607 -- (4-day) $9M (1st weekend)

6) Booksmart -- 2,505 -- (4-day) $8M (1st weekend)

7) Dog’s Journey -- 3,279 -- (4-day) $5.4Md -- $16.2M

8) The Hustle -- 2,377 (-700) -- (4-day) $4.8M -- $30.8M

9) The Intruder -- 1,612 (-619) -- (4-day) $2.9M -- $32.8M

10) Long Shot -- 1,358 (-752) -- (4-day) $2M -- $29.1M

Overseas, Aladdin has made $121,000,000 which runs its worldwide total up to $230 million (give or take).

And the rest of the animated contingent? Dumbo, now perching at #11 on the Big List, has earned $112.7 million domestic and $348 million on a worldwide basis.

Uglydolls, who's time in the Top Ten was short, now sits at #14 and has earned $18.8 million, ($20.5 million worldwide).

How To Train Your Dragon 3, in release for 13.4 weeks, is #29 at the domestic box office. To date, it's earned $160.5 million domestically and $517.8 million on a global basis.

Thursday, May 23, 2019


Netflix greenlights another animated series (hardly a surprise) ...

Netflix has ordered a new kids animated series, City of Ghosts, from first-time showrunner Elizabeth Ito (Adventure Time, Welcome to My Life).

City of Ghosts is described as a hybrid documentary and animated series in which a group of kids discover stories around their city by communicating directly with the ghosts who inhabit it.

Ito, an Emmy-winning director and writer on Cartoon Network’s animated series Adventure Time and creator of the Cartoon Network short Welcome to My Life, will executive produce and serve as showrunner.

Kindly note that the new colossus in town Netflix, has poached Ms. Ito away from Cartoon Network.

This can be considered a trend.

Netflix is building nw animation facilities like mad, there in downtwon Hollywood (cheek by jowl to the old Warners/KTLA studio). Netflix knows it has to be in animation long-term, and that the Mouse named Mickey will shortly be breathing down its corporate neck in the cartoon department. So speed and aggressiveness is a high priority.

Naturally, this will be a great boon to animation employees working in Los Angeles. More jobs are better than fewer jobs.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"Wild Bill"

Not Mr. Hickok, but William A. Wellman, one of Hollywood's iconic "Golden Age" directors. Wellman was born in Brookline, MA in 1896, and lived up to his nickname. He was expelled from high school for dropping a stink bomb on the principal's head, and he was noted as a ferociously competitive ice hockey player. (Douglas Fairbanks Sr. once watched him play ... and remembered him. Wellman, the story goes, was not reluctant to brawl with opponents.)

Before the U.S. entered World War I, Bill Wellman was off to Europe as an ambulance driver, but soon joined the French Foreign Legion and the Lafayette Flying Corps. He flew in combat for four months and was credited with three official "kills" and five more "probables" before getting shot down ("by ground fire!" he once said disdainfully) and breaking lots of bones ... which left him with a limp and -- years later -- crippling arthritis. Bill W. left the foreign legion in 1918 and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, but the war ended before he could return to combat. Training new pilots in San Diego, he would fly to L.A. on weekends at the invitation of Doug Fairbanks. Doug got Wellman an acting job in movies after he was discharged, but Wild Bill hated emoting before a camera and soon quit, working his way up through the studio system to director.

Wellman directed live-action features for the next thirty-five years. His most notable silent film is "Wings" ("Best Picture" Oscar, 1927). A sampling of his sound movies would include "A Star is Born" (which won him the Academy Award for Best Story), "Nothing Sacred", "Beau Geste", "Island In the Sky", and "The High and the Mighty". (And Wild Bill's last screen credit? "Story by" on the 2018 "Star is Born" remake.)

But TWO of W.B.'s more notable works, both released in the month of May, were ...

"THE PUBLIC ENEMY" (May 15, 1931)

The movie that made James Cagney a star. Wellman promised Warners production chief Darryl Zanuck the most violent, slam-bang gangster picture yet made, and delivered the goods. Shootings, beatings, and James Cagney falling through the front door stone dead at the end. The scene where Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face was concocted by Wellman. The writers had written a scene where cooked eggs were used, but Wellman decided that was too messy. (Mae Clarke -- the victim -- wasn't crazy about EITHER breakfast food being smashed into her face, but ... you know ... 1931.)

"THE OX-BOW INCIDENT" (May 21, 1943)

Bill Wellman had wanted to direct Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel about a lynching in the old West for years, but a producer at Paramount held the rights. When the producer got fired and needed money, Wellman bought rights to the book for $6,500.

And then he couldn't get the story made, because no studio head wanted to do it. (Apparently nobody thought a grim story about multiple hangings was commercial. Who would have guessed?)

Darryl Zanuck, now head of 20th-Century Fox, didn't like the property any better than the other moguls, but he agreed to do it with a half-million dollar budget ... IF Bill Wellman would agree to make two other movies at Fox. Which Wellman did.

And, in case you're wondering, those other two pictures that Wild Bill got roped into directing were "Thunder Birds", a Technicolor World War II aviation picture that received so-so reviews but made money ... and "Buffalo Bill", a big-budget Western. Wellman didn't care for it, nor did Maureen O'Hara and many of the other actors. But that didn't prevent the movie from being one of Fox's highest grossing features of 1944.

And "The Ox-Bow Incident"? Despite the low budget, the black-and-white Western starring Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan and Jane Darwell failed to turn a profit. Some of that was due to the subject matter, but the other reason is that Zanuck gave the movie a mediocre release. It only turned a profit after it was theatrically re-issued. And today, of course, is considered a classic.

Regarding Index Funds

Why anyone invests in individual stocks or high-cost, actively-managed mutual funds is a bewilderment. And as financial advisor Rick Ferri points out:

The truth about index funds must be repeated over and over because lies are constantly being told. Index funds are not evil, they are not destroying the markets, and will not blow-up your portfolio. ... The critics of index investing range from big fund companies to small investment advisers who claim to have strategies that perform better. ... The research cited, when there is any, is often conjured up by an active fund company that’s trying to hold onto their dwindling market share.

A small investment adviser from Wisconsin who favors active strategies wrote the Forbes article [about "Why Index Funds Are Not Good Investments".] His conclusions about index funds were far different than the evidence available in all the mainstream studies of passive versus active investing.

[Journalist Jason] Zweig talked with the adviser and investigated his data source. He found a slanted Fidelity internal report for adviser use only that claimed active managers outperformed index funds in most styles. However, in the back of the report, in small print, was a note stating the active fund data Fidelity used to make this claim was incomplete. High fee active funds and poor performing active funds were excluded. ...

And whattayaknow! As soon as Zweig wrote an article about the above in the Wall Street Journal, Fidelity tucked their "report" away where no civilian's prying eyes could see it.

But let's cut to, as My Aunt Betty often says, the chase. Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors on the planet, recommends the Vanguard's S & P 500 Index Fund. Vanguard builds many of its asset-allocation funds with Total Stock Indexes. The late John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, advocated indexing.

With recommendations and endorsements like that, why would anyone put most of their investment money in higher cost active funds?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Wick End Box Office

Keanu Reeves threequel action movie comes in at the top of the Big List, while also doing well overseas...


1) John Wick: Chapter 3 -- 3,850 -- $57M -- $57M (1st weekend)

2) Avengers: Endgame -- 4,220 (-442) -- $29.4M (-53%) -- $770.8M

3) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 4,248 (+46) -- $24.8M (-54%) -- $94M

4) A Dog’s Journey -- 3,267 -- $8M -- $8M

5) The Hustle -- 3,077 -- $6.1M (-53%) -- $23.1M

6) The Intruder -- 2,231 (+9) -- $4M (-44%) -- $28M

7) Long Shot -- 2,110 -- $3.4M(-46%) -- $25.7M

8) The Sun Is Also A Star -- 2,073 -- $2.6M -- $2.6M (1st weekend)

9) Poms -- 2,750 -- $2.1M (-61%) -- $10M

10) UglyDolls -- 2,030 (-1,622) -- $1.6M (-62%) -- $17.2M

And outside of Mr. Wick's energetic killing, Pokemon declines 54% while The Avengers: Endgame drops 53%, and UglyDollstumbles 62% and now clings to the tenth position. It will likely be gone from the Big List next week.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

401(k) Investing

... or simply, investing in general.

I'm a believer in "tilting" away from the broad equities markets (Total [Domestic] Stock Market Index; Total International Stock Market Index; etc.) but it's of limited value if you don't stick with it.

Because if you have a stake in Small Cap Value funds (say), you have to understand they can underperform the broad market indices like the Total Stock Market for freaking YEARS. And when that happens, people usually bail out. They get discouraged, they get panicked, they LEAVE. Often at exactly the wrong time.

... When the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index hits a record high ... we ought to be reminding ourselves of the near certainty of stock market declines that will test us just as the ones that began in 2000 and 2007 did. ...

Check your account statements as seldom as possible, especially when markets are falling.

We humans tend to experience pain from losses much more acutely than whatever joy we might experience from an equal-size gain. “If you’re watching as the markets go down, you are twice as unhappy as you would be happy if they went up by the same amount,” Professor Pagel said. “So looking at the market is, on average, painful.” ...

After years of investing, I've figured out there's a lot to be said for playing your investment stash down the middle and plunking your dough into an asset allocation fund. Vanguard's LifeStrategy Funds and Target Date Funds are both good choices; I'm sure there are others.

But if you want to deviate from the market, buying more small cap or mid cap or maybe even more Emerging Market funds, strive, to the best of your ability, to avoid tinkering with them. The easiest, least painful way to do that? Put the contributions into the funds on autopilot, and don't look at them on a daily or weekly basis. Don't even look at them once a month. Looking at your stash of investments every year or two is all that you'll need.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Russkies

Russia has become one of the lower cost providers of theatrical and television animation:

... Growing interest in new Russian animation work — just one indicator is Netflix’s buy of the series “Leo and Tig” and “Be-Be Bears” from Moscow-based Parovoz ... The two seasons of shorts, about animal adventurers, have done well with kids worldwide. ...

Dmitry Pleshkov of Russia’s Licensing Brands says business is brisk for his company as well. Their previous animated 3D feature, “Two Tails,” scored $3.4 million at the international box office, “a very good result for an independent, relatively small-budget, production.”

Their new film, the 3D feature “The Big Trip,” now out on Russian screens and just released theatrically in Turkey, set records for a non-franchise animated pic, Pleshkov says. ...

Russia has created and sold animated tv shows and features on the international market for years.

In the Soviet era, Soyuzmultfilm was a major producer of animation, creating hand-drawn shorts and features, also puppet animation. Its feature The Snow Queen (1957) had a worldwide release that included the United States.

Today, Russian animation studios such as Wizart, Paravoz and Animaccord are the new up-and-comers in Russia. Product for TV finds it way on to various global platforms; theatrical features are distributed to global markets mostly outside north America, grossing considerably less than American and European long-form cartoons.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Hybrid Box Office

The 100% animated feature UglyDolls resides at #7 in its second week, but there are three other hybrid and super hero movies (with animated effects aplenty) doing brisk business ...


1) Avengers: Endgame -- 4,662 -- $63.1M (-57%) -- $723.4M

2) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 4,202 -- $58M -- $58M (1st weekend)

3) The Hustle -- 3,007 -- $13.5M -- $13.5M (1st weekend)

4) The Intruder -- 2,222 -- $6.6M (-39%) -- $20.9M

5) Long Shot -- 3,230 (-192) -- $6.1M (-37%) -- $19.7M

6) Poms -- 2,750 -- $5.1M --$5.1M (1st weekend)

7) UglyDolls -- 3,652 -- $3.9M (-54%) -- $14.2M

8) Breakthrough -- $546K -- $2.4M (-37%) -- $37.1M

9) Tolkien -- 1,495 -- $2.1M -- $2.1M (1st weekend)

10) Captain Marvel -- 1,504 (-739) -- $1.8M (-58%) -- $423.8M

Pokemon Detective Pikachu, title character voiced by global wiseacre Ryan Reynolds, took in $103 million overseas, running its global weekend total up to $166,765,242. Avengers: Endgame has now gathered in $2,489,617,092, and Captain Marvel the other superhero movie in the Top Ten (after ten weeks!) has accumulated $1,124,614,676.

UglyDolls has made $16,127,888 on a global basis.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Wage Information

What people make has long been a touchy subject. If you're of a certain age, you were taught it wasn't polite to ask about somebody's weekly salary.

But think about it: if you've got no idea what others at the studio/company/plant are making, how're you gonna know what YOU should be asking for? The New York Times has noted of late how the hunger for salary information has grown:

... [Columnist Alison] Green recently asked readers of her “Ask A Manager” website to share their job title, where they live and how much they make each year. Answers were anonymous; the data was compiled in a spreadsheet on Ms. Green’s website so people could sort through the data.

Within a half-hour, she had 1,000 responses. A day later, so many people posted their salaries her website froze. So far, three weeks later, she has more than 26,000 responses, everything from an accountant in Chicago who makes $90,000 to a librarian in Austin who earns $39,000. She was surprised by the overwhelming response: Previous surveys in 2014 and 2017 garnered a fraction of interest, fewer than 2,700 comments apiece. ...

Liz Dolan, the host of the podcast “Safe for Work” and a former marketing chief at Nike and the Oprah Winfrey Network, said she used to believe that salary information should be private.

“Now I see it is about secrecy, and that is a bad thing,” she said. ...

Some states and cities protect the sharing of wage information. California enshrined the right of employees to publish and share salary information decades ago, yet for a long time in the 1990s Disney required that salaries of animation artists be kept confidential, and studio administrators instructed employees not to let other employees know what they made.

The practice only ended when the Animation Guild pushed back on the practice and made an issue of it.

Los Angeles animators, writers, bord artists and technicians have shared wage details for years, and the Animation Guild has published them. Why fly blind about where salaries are in t he cartoon bi if you don't have to? Knowledge is power. And in times like these, working stiffs can use all the power they can get.

Catch 22

The biggest catch there is. ...

When I was in the 11th grade, I ran across a paperback on a drugstore book rack that had a bomber and airman on a bright blue cover, and the title "Catch 22".

I had never heard of the book, but it looked like a novel about World War II derring do. So I bought the tome and took it home to read. And QUICKLY discovered "Catch 22" was something WAY different than an adventure novel. Like for instance:

... "I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us."

"I won't punish you," Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.

"He says he won't punish me," said Clevinger.

"He'll castrate you," said Yossarian. ...

And so on and so forth.

"Catch 22" is one of the great, wise novels of the 20th century, highlighting the insanity of war, the insanities of life. Some critics think it's over the top, but funny thing: I've run across veteran after veteran who's said to me, "yup, that's just what the Army/Navy/Air Force is like ..." But then, author Joseph Heller flew sixty combat missions in B-25s during World War II, so he knew what he was writing about.

Me? I recognized Heller's military after I'd been on active duty for six months. I was attending my third group meeting held by an amiable warrant officer. His standard response to every complaint and unhappy question was: "I hear what you're saying, but I can't do anything about that ..."

A petty officer in the back of the room finally said, "So what are these meetings FOR then?" The warrant officer smiled, shrugged and said, "Command wants me to hold them, and answer questions."

(The words "CATCH 22" flashed through my E-3 brain.)

Hollywood is taking another run at Heller's novel with a six-hour miniseries that drops on Hulu in a week. The trailers I've seen look good, but reviews have been mixed. Several critics give the six-hour series an "A" for effort, but say that it hasn't captured the full width and breadth of the novel.

But that makes sense. Because there is likely no way in hell that it could.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Eight Grand

Disney CEO Bob Iger speaks the the Wall Street analysts:

... “When we bought Marvel, we started studying their characters and when we got to about 8,000, we stopped,” Iger said. “There are many, many different directions that we could go. We’ve obviously laid a lot of pipe in terms of character and story.” ...

So the Mouse owns a LOT more Marvel characters.

All it has to do now is find the ones who will do as well as Iron Man, Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy (etc.)

Should be simple.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Manhattan Melodrama"

On May 4,1934 (eighty-fiveyears ago, yesterday), "Manhattan Melodrama" is released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. A low-budget programmer featuring MGM contract players, it becomes a substantial hit.

"Melodrama" is notable for a whole host of reasons:

It wins writer Arthur Caesar an Academy Award for "Best Original Story" ... and its plot-line bears strong similarities to Warner Bros. "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938). (Warners didn't pay any money for story writes, so far as I know, it just did a little friendly plagiarism. And it's probably far enough from Caesar's story to get by. ...)

It is the only time that Clark Gable and William Powell (who were both married to Carole Lombard at different times) co-starred in a feature together.

It's the FIRST time that Myrna Loy co-stars with either Clark Gable or William Powell, both of whom go on to team with her multiple times over the next decade.

"Melodrama" is directed by W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, known as "one-take" Van Dyke. Shot from mid-March to early April, 1934, Van Dyke is filming "The Thin Man" when retakes and additional material for "MM" are helmed by George Cukor, (who will go on to direct the first three weeks of a Civil War picture starring Gable in 1939, then let go in favor of director Victor Fleming). Re: "The Thin Man", Van Dyke has to fight to get Myrna Loy her co-starring role with Powell. M-G-M brass don't see her as being right for the part.

And (of course) "Manhattan Melodrama" is the last film viewed by gangster John Dillinger before being gunned down by the Feds. (M-G-M's publicity department mkes much of this while promoting the picture, which Myrna Loy finds extremely tacky.)

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Challenges of Unionizing Animation

Bojack Horseman has been a successful animated comedy for years. Also for years, the California crew making it has been non-union, even though ...:

... Artists working on Bojack have wanted to unionize since the show’s first season was in production, but back then their intentions were discouraged by their employers. At the same time, Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company, which owns the show, employed writers and voice-over talent who have been unionized from the beginning through WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the respective unions covering those crafts. This has caused friction for the Bojack crew, which believes that there is a tier system of unionization that values some of the talent more than others. ...

Rule of thumb: the more leverage, the more results. (SAG-AFTRA often has traction, the WGA less so, the Animation Guild often-times less than that. But sometimes the dynamics are different. I've known instances where TAG got a contract with a new cartoon studio and other unions didn't.)

Another rule of thumb: when non-union employees are paid well and get good benefits, they are more reluctant to rock the corporate boat and unionize. However, this happens but seldom. From most a company's perspective, why the hell be non-union if you don't low-ball pay and skimp on benefits? Might as well sign a union contract.

Happily, in recent years many animation employees have gotten more militant about working under a union contract. They're aware that every week they don't get union benefits, they damage their future pension earnings and make it harder to quickly return to union health coverage. (When a group of employees makes less than most others in the same business and know it, a union organizer's job is already half done: "An abusive non-union employer is the best unon organizer there is.")

The reality of the L.A. animation business in 2019? Entertainment conglomerates and Amazon and Netflix pay for production work and the produced shows that people watch. Small studios in Los Angeles and abroad do the front-to-back production, and often have incentives to keep employees' pay low, but the bill -- ultimately -- is footed by giant businesses with deep pockets. So there is no reason any artist, writer or tech director should be paid less than her unionized peers.