Sunday, November 25, 2007

Drek the Third

After my Bee Movie comments that I hope to post soon, I'm sure going to sound like a DreamWorks hater. Fact of the matter is, I've always pulled for DWA, but they're really trying hard to change that.

I watched Shrek the Third over the weekend and all I have to say is, "WOW". What a piece of crap. The story was almost unwatchable. I really tried hard to like it, but it just was difficult. Maybe I'm reacting a little harshly. But, I just had high hopes and was looking forward to another Shrek movie only to be utterly disgusted.

I'm a Shrek fan, or at least I was. I enjoy the films - farts and all. That cow has just been milked. Please leave it alone. Unfortunately for me, Shrek the Fourth is on its way and even Shrek the Halls is going to be on TV this week.

The story was disjointed and uninteresting. Arthur was a boring character, as were Snow White, Rapunzel, and the rest of the crew. I couldn't even find myself laughing and interested in Shrek himself.

The animation in this one has also taken a downturn. The humans are badly animated for the most part. Their faces are stiff and hard to watch, the body movement awkward. Don't get me wrong, there were a few moments of nice animation (especially of Shrek and Fiona), however, generally speaking I was really disappointed. I'm not sure if this was a budgetary issue or what. We know that the DreamWorks animators are more than capable of turning out good performances, but something went sour here.

Unfortunately, these Shrek movies will continue to get made until people stop seeing them. That's too bad, because they've definitely run their course. Come to think of it, what the heck do I know? The box office was good and most people must be just fine with what they are seeing.

I'm really hoping that Kung Fu Panda changes my perception of DWA around. Right now, they are taking a nose dive on my radar.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Everyone can make an animated film!!

Let's take a moment to brainstorm about how the average person could make their own profitable animated film. Okay, well maybe that is a bit oversimplification. However, for the sake of discussion, let's talk about micro budgeted animated films.

What exactly would be the definition of a micro-budget-animated-film? Well, I'm not sure that there is an accepted one out there. For now, let's pretend it is anything under $1 million.

Huh? How could you create an animated film over 60 minutes for less than a million? That is the typical response from all of us that are used to hearing about $140 million dollar Pixar films, or $270 million dollar Bee Movies. But, if you think about it, most animated television shows are produced for even fewer dollars per minute. If you write the script and design the characters keeping that budget in mind, anything is possible.

Why am I even bringing this up? After all, I'm someone who craps on studios that try to create a feature for $20 million. The reason is that I think that this is an untapped market. Studios attempting features for $20 million often have their eyes so wide that finishing within that budget is laughable. Elaborate sets, fancy characters, a high paid staff of show runners, on and on. What I'm proposing is animated guerilla filmmaking at its finest.

We aren't even talking theatrical releases here. Straight to video is the goal, a theatrical release is unlikely, but if it happens, it would just be icing on the cake. Since we are talking budgets so small, financing starts to become more realistic. Finding someone to put up a million is far easier than twenty. I'm not saying it is easy, just easier. One wealthy person, savings from a few people, or if you were really adventurous - a loan.

Even though this won't be a studio project trying to stay as mainstream as possible and you have the ability to make whatever kind of movie you want; I suggest sticking to what sells. You are entering into a business and you need to keep sales in mind. Don't take chances, make the most commercial product you can and you'll have the best chance at landing a distributor that will give you the best chance at profitability.

Speaking of distributors. I normally think it is a huge mistake to make an animated film without locking in distribution FIRST. However, these micro budget projects are the exception. Honestly, a distributor will probably ignore you anyway until you have a finished product to show them. Frankly, theatrical release is unlikely. However, don't ever count it out. Anything is possible. I just wouldn't go into this assuming it would make the theaters. If you do land a theatrical release, it will make it that much nicer. Far better than expecting it and only being disappointed when it never happens.

If I were about to embark on a micro budget project, here is what I'd do:

My concept would involve few/simple environments and uncomplicated characters. The storyline would be aimed at under 10 years old with some humor to entertain parents. However, my goal would be that baby-sitting-device that sells so well at Walmart. After completion, I'd enter it into appropriate film festivals that are looking for that type of material. If you're lucky, distributors would see it and approach you for a DVD and potentially a theatrical release. At the same time I'd call around to the distributors and arrange to have a DVD sent to them for their review. Not everyone is going to see it at a festival, and you need to get it out there in front of those that can help you sell it. Lastly, I would attend any TV and film markets I could afford to visit.

If none of these work, I'd cry myself into the next decade. Seriously, if you didn't fund this yourself, hopefully you got a decent salary so that even a failure is a success. Meaning, you have learned some valuable lessons and have aligned your career for something much bigger than you would of gotten otherwise.

Some people are just fine sitting at a desk or at the computer working for a studio their whole lives. For others, there is a tremendous drive to be a filmmaker, a director, or something more than just doing what you're told. You want to do things YOUR way. For those people, maybe micro-budget-animated-films are the way to go. And possibly, a profitable way to go.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Disney and Pixar

I watched Meet the Robinsons last night and was reminded how behind the eightball Disney is at the moment. I was disappointed when the two came together, because I wanted to see the mouse turn the corner themselves without Pixar's involvement. However, after watching MTR, I'm not sure how soon that would of happened, if ever.

MTR was visually acceptable. In fact, I thought the lighting was really well done in "present day". It was soft and warm and visually inviting. On the other hand, "the future" was too bright perfect. I'm sure it was done on purpose, but it just didn't feel right. (Overall, I'd give the art direction a B-. ) As expected, the animation was well done. Not great. But well done. Bowler Hat was especially fun to watch, even if I feel that he was often over acted. The models and character design were okay, but didn't have that big budget feel.

The story is where this movie fell apart. It was boring and uninteresting. I feel like they were trying too hard and forcing us to sad for Lewis. However, by the time it was over, I actually could care less for him and his plight. The idea had a lot of potential, but it just wasn't carried out very well, imo.

This is where I'm doing an about-face from months past. Now I really feel glad that Pixar and Disney are together. Maybe the stories will be better from here on out. When you look at Ratatouille and MTR side by side, it is night and day. A carefully crafted story compared to something that felt rushed and forced.

MTR didn't get the full Pixar treatment since it was in production before the two companies came together. It will be interesting to see the first WDFA film that was created after the buyout. Will we see an immediate improvement?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It Takes a Perfect Storm

With all of the terrible animated movies out there getting made, you would think that getting funding to put one of these together is easy. To the contrary, it is extremely difficult and time consuming. Most never are successful. The days of money flying around left and right for CG features has died out.

DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Disney, and Pixar (last two being the same now) are set. They have the cash, infrastructure, crew, and reputation to continue to make films. But even Sony Imageworks is having trouble - a company that you would think would easily make that list.

I'm constantly being barraged by business plans (btw- I enjoy reading them, keep them coming!) that producers and executives have put together trying to find financing for their films. It is just plain hard to break into this area. Sometimes you look around and think that everyone and their mother is making animated films, but if you knew how many were trying and failing or floundering, you'd realize just how rare it is.

Take for instance that company I've talked about in the past for years now. It continues to have difficulty getting over the hump. No matter who is behind it and how well thought out the business plan is. It just flounders (the latest reasons are almost laughable it is so silly). Think about established studios like Wildbrain in San Francisco who have been rumored to be pitching a CG feature of their own to everyone in Hollywood. Word on the street? No takers so far. The history of the company and the financial backing seems to matter not. Some people either don't have the connections, have bad luck, or are just have bad timing. Even mega company - Universal has been trying to get their CG films going for years now. I've heard that they are still moving forward, but are tripping up as well.

I'll occasionally get an email from someone pitching their business plan or presenting their pet project. Sometimes the ideas are fantastic and something that I honestly feel would make a boatload of money or become an extremely popular franchise. They just don't have the contacts or business background to draw in financing. Sometimes they are just civilians (to use a Soprano's term) with a great idea but no clue where to go with it. Other times the business plan is almost amazing and has obviously been written by someone that has put in the time and research, yet the stories are bad, or they have unrealistic expectations about how easy it will be to get distribution or how much a good film will cost.

It takes a perfect storm.

Meaning, the companies that not only get funding, finish production and find distribution takes a huge stroke of luck and hard work that few can achieve. And those that somehow pull it off, can easily become a one-hit-wonder and never achieve elite multi-film-status.

It all has to come together; great story, business plan, sound production team, and real distribution from a legit company. Something almost always breaks down in the process.

If only these groups knew about each other. If the executives that put together this awesome business plan with realistic numbers and forecasts could hook up with a writer with a great story, and they knew about these artists that could supervise the project, and they had this producer/director team to lead the project, a distributor that recognizes the genious before them, and finally an investor looking for the perfect project stumbles across this group.

Good luck with that one.

More on the Sony Imageworks/SPA partial sale.

Articles have surfaced that Sony Imageworks and SPA are going up for sale. Or at least a portion of them. This obviously is a result of a shortage of cash. Surf's Up and Open Season didn't do as well financially as expected. Their for-hire work on various films have slowed to a trickle. The company needs money to stay afloat. Layoffs have already happened and you can only assume more will take place unless something happens quick. Two of their CG feature films are still in development, but a ways off and realistically, they may never see the light of day. The moral at this studio must be low.

I know of one group that is seriously contemplating sending money their way. Whether it will surface or not depends on a lot of factors. Mostly it depends on what they would get out of it. Let's assume that it does happen and this company comes in with a wad of cash, what happens then? Will the company continue as it has been? Or will new management take over and clean house and streamline the company? The latter choice would suggest more layoffs as they try to start somewhat fresh. The first choice would suggest continued problems.

If I were in charge of several hundred million dollars and had the option of either buying part of Sony Imageworks/SPA or starting a brand new animation studio... It would be a hard decision. On one hand you can start completely fresh without the baggage. On the other, you are able to get into a company with decent infrastructure and more importantly, a well known name. My choice would all come down to what where in the details of the contract. I have a feeling that Sony would want a high dollar figure for not a (relatively speaking) lot in return and make it very unattractive.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

WGA Strike

I won't pretend to know all the details regarding the writer's strike. I'd just like to say thanks. Nothing like an excuse for more reality shows.

I've caught myself going over to the TAG union blog several times a day to get an update on the whole thing. I just cannot seem to fall asleep at night until I've read the latest. (sarcasm) What's my opinion on the whole union thing? Bleh. I'm not much for the union. But that's just me. To each their own. However, I can see the value in it, especially when trying to get something like residuals. Something animators and artists will never get.

Someone on Animation Nation brought up a good point. Did the WGA honor the Animator Union Strike? Would they honor an IATSE strike? Kevin from the union replied no and probably no. Therefore, I've decided not to honor the WGA strike.

I will not honk for support as I drive by in my limo.

New Look

I'd like to take credit for the website's new look. But really, all I did is select a new template. However, I was smart enough to add some items to the left hand column.

Be sure to answer the poll questions that will rotate here and there. And of course, check out my "Current Mood". My wife says I turn on a dime. I'll try to reflect that here in the blog.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

First weekend for Bee Movie

The latest film from DWA received a little over 39 million this opening weekend. Not bad. I forgot to put up my prediction for its debut, although I could lie, I'll be honest and say I would of guessed a little lower.

I'm surprised it did this well. I haven't seen the movie yet, and probably will wait for a DVD release, but congrats are in order. Seinfeld was a good show, Seinfeld the person... Not so much. I think the success was more due to the writers than the guy who brought the name. I can live without Jerry as a bumbling bee.

Like many others in Hollywood, Jerry seems to hold animators and animation in a much lower class. I secretly hoped the film would bomb because of this. Oh well, maybe next time.

Sony Pondering Sale

Click on the title for a link to a story that appeared in the New York Times on Halloween. In short, it says that not only Sony Imageworks, but SPA are possibly up for a partial sale.

I'm not sure what to make of this. If you can believe what is written, I guess Sony is looking for some financial relief. For years, Imageworks has been having a more and more difficult time keeping afloat with the under bidding going on the for-hire effects jobs. And with SPA's films not performing as high as hoped, I guess there is some consideration being given to selling portions of the companies.

I don't really have any comments other than it doesn't really surprise me. From what little I've heard over the last year, these guys are hurting. They are looking for ways to cut costs (India and New Mexico) and selling portions off is a quick way to bring in some money.

Space Chimps and Kung Fu Panda

I'm in the process of writing an article about financing animated films. The idea for this came about as I viewed the teaser trailer for Space Chimps a few days ago. As I sat watching this teaser, I wondered to myself, how, how, I mean HOW! could this project get backing? Watch it for yourself and let me know if I'm insane for thinking this was a waste of someone's money.

I'm glad that the folks at DWA decided to post a hidef trailer for Kung Fu Panda. It is so much more pleasing to watch than the postage stamp sized video posted a few days back. I'm still not convinced that this is nothing more than Karate Kid with animals, but it looks somewhat entertaining!