Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bad Moon Rising

I see a bad moon arisin'
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin'
I see bad times today

Lest I have this blog look like the animation industry is all puppy dogs and unicorns frolicking around the studio...it's time to take stock of the last month here at ol' DreamWorks.

A)  How to Train Your Dragon 2 Underperforms at Box Office:
Well, so much for our great summer sequel hope.  Going into summer, most analysts thought that Dragon 2 would likely be the top grossing film of the season - somewhere about 300 million domestic gross, half a billion worldwide.  We were all optimistic at work...its a sequel to the one film everyone (even our critics) agree is a great movie, it has almost no competition in the family market, and got an impressive 92% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  But then...it comes out with a relatively weak opening weekend.  And the falloff week to week has been higher than everyone anticipated.  Forecast are now that it'll end up between 150-180 million domestically.  While this is a respectable number, and arguable a hit - we needed something epic to make up for our latest string of misses.  It's more of a double when we wanted a home run.  To put it in perspective, in adjusted ticket prices, Over the Hedge and Shark Tale are more successful DreamWorks films.
Forbes has a great article asking "Why Didn't How To Train Your Dragon 2 Fly Higher?" that has some great thoughts and conclusions.

B) Layoffs:
About 40-50 folks were let go in the weeks after Dragon 2's opening.  While this is supposedly unrelated, it's hard to imagine the weak opening didn't have some impact.  Some were folks who's contract was up, and with a new show schedule, the timing just didn't work out.  Some were the most senior people in their department.  Including the Animation Guild's current union president.

C)  Show Swapping Schedules:
With basically no notice, the studio announced it was swapping "Home" with "Penguins of Madagascar"  This also means the crews on these films, as well as the others in production, are all swapping around like crazy.  It also meant we had about 3 weeks of slowdown while the management figured out how to organize all this.  Because if there's one thing you want to give nervous employees, it's three weeks of sitting around twiddling their thumbs.  If you compare our now announced release dates...a bunch of other films has moved around as well.  

D) Wage Fixing Controversy:
Where to start with this one.  A lawsuit from last year accussed Google, Apple, Pixar, and ILM of breaking anti-trust laws by entering into "no poaching" agreements with each other.  This was intended to keep employee salaries lower than what the free market would pay for their skill naturally.  So far it was reported as a Bay Area/Sillicon Valley issue.  Well news broke this week that DreamWorks was possibly also involved.  You can read the great article over at PandoDaily, as well as a follow up about Sony resistance.  

Anecdotally, most folk around have stories of interviews with competing studios coming to a dead stop when they learn of the current employer.  And it's just accepted in this industry that ILM, Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks pay way less than other studios.  But it's always been chalked up to "well, everyone wants to work there, so I'll take a pay cut for better films / hours / environment"  It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out...

But last Friday they brought in puppies!!!  No, really.  A local pet adoption group had a pen of about 10 puppies frolicking in the grass during lunchtime.  They were, needless to say, adorable.  And then some celebrity - Lassie also came for lunch.  She posed for some gesture drawing, and then posed for pictures.  So, the business model may be crumbling, but hey we got puppies!  Let's see if we get a unicorn on campus next week....