Re: your ball, bruce


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Posted by Bruce Woodside on June 08, 1999 at 10:53:21:

In Reply to: your ball, bruce posted by Sam on June 08, 1999 at 06:58:41:

Somebody named “Sam” wrote:

>bruce. if you want to steer the the topic back
>to budgets, then please move ahead. what's your
>view on venture capital for funding projects and
>do you have any suggestions for people moving in
>that direction. it takes a creative mind to move
>in this direction too, although the motivation may
>be different. funding has to be dealt with for
>large and small projects.

I haven’t had to deal with budgets (except to get bitten by them) for some time now, since I work for one of those big fat corrupt companies that can quietly absorb my creative cost overruns. (Heh heh. Joke.) My hunch is that, with regard to the problem posed by Brian Mitchell in an earlier post, there is as much creative bookkeeping going on in the animation business as there is in the rest of the film industry. I’m not sure where Mr. Mitchell got the figures he quotes (e.g., an average cost of $3000 for a foot of finished 35 mm film), and I’m not even sure what that figure means. What kind of animation is he talking about? Where’s it being done? What’s been figured into that cost? Overhead and maintenance of the facility? Sales staff? Coffee in the lunch room?

I’m not trying to be facetious here; I’m just recollecting my days of trying to estimate the costs of production for the piddling little things I produced -- and I always underestimated the actual costs, sometimes by some pretty substantial amounts. That may be a clue as to why I no longer produce; it is most certainly a warning that I should not be listened to on the subject of budgets. (And, for those of you who want to give it a try, here’s my rule of thumb for doing estimates: no matter how long you think it will take to do your project, it will always take twice as long. Even if you take this rule into account. There. Go figure.)

I will say, however, that I think there is always venture capital available. You know, because there’s one born every minute, and he might as well be yours as opposed to somebody else’s. It’s out there, somewhere; and it’s probably more available now than it has ever been for the animation business -- because so much animation appears (and that’s the operative word) to be making money. It used to be the case that only Disney could make money at it (that is, that was the investment community’s perception.) Now it’s apparent that others can do it, too -- witness last year’s animation box office.

The catch is how much you may have to invest in order to make some money, and that in my opinion, is an unknown -- again, based on what made money last year. “Prince of Egypt” made money; but so did “Rugrats.” What’s the connection? Does anybody really know how much either of those films actually cost? All we do know is that the companies that made them are still in business, and are still making more films.

So “how much” may not be a problem. “Space Jam” started out as a $60 million dollar movie; was advertised in the press, ultimately, as a $90-95 million dollar film; but actually cost (who can we believe?) somewhere in the vicinity of $120 million. And that doesn't take into account the costs of marketing the film. According to the trades (can we believe them?) it made money, and Warners is considering two or three other Looney Tunes-live action features. If it’s a hit, it doesn’t seem to matter how much the damn thing cost. And if you can promote your project (somehow) as the next “Space Jam,” no backer is going to think, “Yeah, but that one was only supposed to cost $60 million, and it actually ended up costing . . .?” When I was at Warners, watching money flow down the toilet, I kept wondering when the stockholders were going to show up in an angry mob, storm the place and demand to see the books. To my knowledge, they never did. Apparently investing in movies is like shooting craps in Vegas: people are playing with funny money, and if they lose -- hey, it’s part of the game.

I am not saying, however, that as an artist, you should entertain the same attitudes with regard to the investment. I believe artists have a responsibility to their patrons (read: investors) to make the best possible use of the funds granted them for exercising their art.
Getting and keeping the attentions of an audience is not a right, it’s a privilege bestowed on an artist, and one’s investors make up a small portion of that audience. Investment is an act of trust, an endorsement of your talent, and that endorsement should be something you prize. However, as far as I’m concerned, if they’re planning on losing their money anyway, they might as well lose it in the direction of some good animation that we can all watch and enjoy, eh?

Now, “Sam,” I’ve got this great idea for an animated film, and if you’ve got a little extra cash you’d like to dispose of, maybe we could do lunch.


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