Tuesday, May 16, 2006

IDT and Me

"We consider ourselves like a Pixar on steroids." - Morris Berger, CEO of IDT Entertainment, July 22, 2003.

Liberty Media to Buy IDT Entertainment - Associated Press.

There's something about the animation business that attracts certain types of business people. Many are egotistic enough to see themselves as the next Walt Disney. Others just see the profits and figure they're smart enough to get their share.

The problem is that these people know absolutely nothing about the animation business. They don't understand the film or television markets and they know less than nothing about how to organize a studio to produce a cartoon. Some of these people start up companies on a small scale, but occasionally you get somebody with real money. Those are the people who fail big and do the most damage.

I wouldn't be writing about IDT except that I had a personal experience with them early on in their quest to become players in animation. We were trying to complete the financing to make another 26 half hours of the cgi show I created called Monster By Mistake. IDT was a telecom company looking to buy their way into the animation business. They had deep pockets, but they didn't just want to invest; they wanted their studios to do work on the show.

In co-productions, the partners divvy up the work based on the size of their investment. IDT was to build whatever new characters and sets we needed and then light the 26 half hours. Their character models were unusable; I spent weeks trying to patch some of them up.

After dithering for months on lighting issues, IDT bailed out on us. They never lit a single episode. We had to locate a subcontractor to take on the work and the show delivered five months late as a result. If you've ever worked in TV, you know that the cardinal sin is delivering late.

In addition to ruining Monster By Mistake, they went on a buying spree. They bought into Mainframe in Vancouver. They bought into Vanguard. They became minority investors in Archie Comics. They bought Anchor Bay, a home video distributor. They bought Dan Krech Productions and fired the management. They bought Film Roman, but the artists were no fools. Seeing how freely IDT was spending money, they voted to unionize, which is perhaps the only good thing that ever came out of IDT.

They managed to subcontract the feature Happily N'ever After when the producers decided to ditch their pencil animation crew (which included Disney veterans) and go the 3D route. Several months later, IDT no longer had the project and it was subcontracted to several other studios. I'm guessing that they once again failed to deliver.

Recently, they created a new studio in Vancouver to do Space Chimps, even though they already own Mainframe there and even though their Toronto studio just finished Everybody's Hero. Why build a new studio when you already own a local studio that could do the work? Why build a studio when you already have an experienced feature crew ready to start another picture?

Now they've sold IDT Entertainment to Liberty Media for $186 million and Liberty Media assumes an undisclosed amount of IDT's debt. So much for "Pixar on steroids." When I read that quote, I immediately said that IDT was closer to Filmation on laxatives. IDT is, by far, the worst company I have ever seen in my 29 years in the business. While I couldn't go public while I was working with them for obvious reasons, I sent emails to everyone I knew in the business warning them to avoid IDT.

You have to believe that they lost a lot of money or why would they bother to sell? You also have to believe that they have no faith in Everybody's Hero. If they believed it was going to be a hit, they could have taken the profits before selling or used it to raise the company's price.

I know people who work at several IDT facilities and I wish them the best of luck with their new owners. But so far as IDT is concerned, good riddance to bad rubbish.

9 comments:

Michael Amos said...

WOW! That is a great, but horrible story! Such a pity what they did to you and your series. Thanks for a very interesting read!

Cooked Art said...

No kidding...

I didn't even know IDT had anything to do with animation at all...

Justin Barrett said...

Sorry to hear about your bad experience w/ IDT. I had my own "interesting" time with them a little while back. I was hired in the summer of '03 by their small animation sub-company, DPS (Digital Production Solutions), which was housed in the main IDT building in Newark, NJ, and was there during all the crazy studio-buying you mentioned. Left the following spring for various and sundry reasons, and I'm glad I got out when I did. Six months later they completely shut down both DPS and its much-larger counterpart in Israel, DPSI, laying off hundreds of artists. I could tell some interesting stories about my time there, but let's just that I know exactly where you're coming from.

Anonymous said...

On a side note, "Everybody's Hero" isn't actually finished yet.......

Nic Kramer said...

Is your show Monster by Mistake on any channels in the US? I would like to see the show after all the trouble you went through.

Mark Mayerson said...

The only place I'm aware that Monster By Mistake ran on U.S. TV was on Telemundo in Spanish. I know that they had the rights to the first 26, but I don't know if they ever bought the second 26, which are the ones that IDT was involved in.

Personally, I consider the show a disappointment with the occasional bright spot. I have to take my share of the blame, but there were questionable decisions made by the broadcasters and our production partner CCI.

Having created the show, I learned a lot about the nature of the TV business and what I saw did not encourage me.

Anonymous said...

It's so nice to be vindicated by professionally sound opinion once in awhile. IDT was the worst job I ever had; the rules changed every day and their budgets are a joke. I kid you not when I say even their copier machines rarely worked. I'm convinced they're just laundering money until they're bought..oh wait, they're now bought...

Anonymous said...

So what is your opinion on Film Roman/Starz today since they (Starz) now have bought IDT. Do you think they have their act together today to pull something off like Blue Sky's Horton?

Mark Mayerson said...

I have no idea what's happening with Starz these days.