Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sharon Morrill

By now, everyone has heard Sharon Morrill has been removed. It has been published on just about every animation website. However, there doesn’t seem to be anyone telling the whole story.

I must preface the following by saying it is all rumor. I’m hearing much of this information second and sometimes third hand. Take any of this with a grain of salt because it is probably 100% false.

Not many of the artists at Disney liked Sharon. At least that is what most of them told John and Ed when they interviewed a chunk of the staff while Sharon was away in India. Upon return, she was told bluntly, “Your staff doesn’t respect you.”

My source (my best Jim Hill impression) tells me that Sharon is still under contract and will continue to pull in her mid six figure salary until it expires. Half a million a year for doing nothing. I'm told that she wasn't put into any other real position, rather put somewhere to wait our her time. Many of you are probably thinking that would be a sweet deal. However, I imagine for Sharon, someone who loved her job and was so wrapped up in that Tinerbell movie… it is absolutely devastating.

I don’t imagine she will sit out the rest of her contract at Disney. This is pure speculation on my part, but I think Sharon will end up at Warner Brothers as President of animation. Sure, Lisa Judson has just filled that spot, but I think she will either be “moved” somewhere else or Sharon will magically become her superior.

Back to what went down between John and Sharon. Lasseter hasn’t been happy with the Toons studio. It was watering down the Disney brand. For a while, he has wanted to either get rid of it entirely or redirect the efforts to something else. The division has had all sorts of problems with the shows, however the latest, Tinkerbell, seems to be especially troublesome.

This faeries movie is Sharon’s baby; she has fired and hired so many directors trying to find someone who can adapt her ideas properly (is that really her job responsibility?). As soon as she felt they weren’t doing her version justice, they were removed. A while back, when Lasseter asked the current director’s opinion, he gave his take on fixing the problems. John agreed and decided that was the way to go. Sure, they would have to scrap some of the movie, but it would be stronger in the end. Sharon wasn’t happy. She liked her version and rumor has it – she ordered two versions of the movie to be made. Hers and the Lasseter supported director version. I’m skipping a whole lot of what went down, but at some point recently, Sharon tried to push for her version again and Lasseter wasn’t happy about it. When she went away to India, the Pixar boys talked to the staff and concreted their decision to remove her and speed the redirection of the division.

Again, all second or third hand information. I’m sure I’m missing quite a bit. Whatever went down, it is safe to say John wasn’t happy and Sharon wasn’t the right person for the job. It seems that a lot of people at Disney are thrilled about her removal, especially the artists. I guess that is what happens when you aren’t respected.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Financing Animated Films -- Part 1

Now that Box Office returns for animated films are coming down from stratosphere like heights, reality is setting in for many studios. The days of money being thrown around left and right have slowed. Those that missed the boat during the frenzy are going to have a harder time making a go at it.

When decent films like Surf’s Up and Meet the Robinson’s aren’t getting a lot of attention from potential audiences, you have to wonder what some of these people are thinking that invest in projects like The Missing Lynx.

I can’t see movies like this doing well in the theaters at all. As a direct to video, it may have a chance. But come on, that thing is going to bomb if released to theaters. It reminds me of another hard-to-watch CG film, Happily Never After that I recently sat through. I could be wrong though. After all, I hated Happy Feet despite how many people enjoyed it.

With all of the bad films doing poorly, combined with the good ones doing moderately, you have to wonder what the investors and distributors are thinking. It is really difficult to get an animated film going right now. I recently heard about the antics of a studio in San Francisco that is trying to get a CG feature off the ground. They are an established company with a proven track record (in commercials), financial backing, and developed stories. They just cannot find a distributor. It is just another example of people being more apprehensive. If they were this prepared a few years ago, it would have been much easier.

Occasionally, I get an email asking me exactly what I do for a living or what I’m currently working on. While I won’t go into details, I’m involved with a film fund. This investment vehicle will co-finance more than a dozen movies. Worth several hundred million dollars, it is mostly geared towards live-action. A while back I was asked to consult on it to see if it was worth including an animated film or two in the mix.

While this fund is currently in limbo, I’m given a ring side seat to some of the financing action going on around Hollywood. It is more than obvious that the money for animated films is slowing. Now that investors are starting to see that it may no longer be the golden ticket, they are choosing to be more careful about their choices...

In part 2, I will discuss current financing schemes that studios are using.