Re: Is this corporate in-fighting?

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Posted by Bruce on August 11, 1999 at 09:42:06:

In Reply to: Is this corporate in-fighting? posted by Jon on August 11, 1999 at 08:02:22:

: Is it possible that these guys know EXACTLY what they're doing?

I don't believe this is the case. Granted that the leadership of the company has changed over the past few months, the corporate in-fighting is still, in all probablity, precisely the same. Warners started its feature animation division (and I am quoting Terry Semel here, from an October, 1994, pitch meeting) in order to "put merchandise on the studio store shelves." That was his vision of what we could do for his company. It was not about making great films, except insofar as that would impact the marketability of the merchandise.

In other words, there wasn't a clue at the highest level of management as to what sort of films we should be making. Hence, "Quest", which was made pretty much because it was just the last thing left standing after a year of managerial waste and indecision. Management was convinced that if they spent a lot of money setting up the facility and purchasing animation talent, new animation franchises would follow automatically (i.e., without their having to make a creative decision), and with them, merchandising profits.

Well, some of management felt that way. Jim Miller (head of finanacial) believed in making the films cheaply and, in fact, going to outside producers (like Rick Rich) for product; and after "Quest", he had his way with "King & I". Clearly, both strategies have failed miserably (although I'd be willing to bet that we will eventually hear that "King & I" made back its production costs in video, which was all Mr. Miller was hoping for.)

Warners seemed to be on the right track with "Iron Giant," (that is, they allowed a filmmaker to make his film) but they still don't know how to bring an animated film to market or "place" it with its target audience. As others have pointed out, the campaign for "Giant" is roughly similar to those for "Quest" and "King & I." If the pattern continues, we can expect to see Warners pull back its ads for the film in the next couple of weeks (citing a low opening weekend take), letting the movie quietly fade away. Then they'll try to recoup their costs quickly in video.

: Now, we may face the new shocking reality that Time-Warner is either A) completely incompetent at promoting good films (unlikely, really), or B) corporate heads are maneuvering for the failure of the animation department, for personal reasons, or C) they really are making a move, costly as it is, against the American animation industry. I believe Option 'B' is fairly likely, and Option 'C' - more sinister, but still plausible - is also an unthinkable possibility. Why would they do this? I get a headache even trying to get into that mindset ...

As I've already said, I think A) comes closest to the truth. Warners knows how to market certain kinds of films, but "animated feature" is not one of them. There could be a bit of B) going on as well, given the chaos that seems to have spread through Warners TV division in the past year, rumored to have been an attempt on someone's part to "clean house" in upper management levels. The mystery to me is, why anyone would want to actively work to undermine the product for the company that pays his or her salary. But that is precisely the spectacle we're being treated to here, and, as you have written, it is the animation artists who will pay the price for this sorry show.

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