Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Working for Free

In the New York Times, Tim Kreider writes a terrific essay on working for free.
"People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it.  “Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to offer compensation to our contributors...” is how the pertinent line usually starts. But just as often, they simply omit any mention of payment.

"A familiar figure in one’s 20s is the club owner or event promoter who explains to your band that they won’t be paying you in money, man, because you’re getting paid in the far more valuable currency of exposure. This same figure reappears over the years, like the devil, in different guises — with shorter hair, a better suit — as the editor of a Web site or magazine, dismissing the issue of payment as an irrelevant quibble and impressing upon you how many hits they get per day, how many eyeballs, what great exposure it’ll offer. “Artist Dies of Exposure” goes the rueful joke."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Coming Copyright Battle

Timothy B. Lee, writing in the Washington Post, has an excellent summary of the evolution of copyright in the United States.  In a little over 5 years from now, assuming the copyright law isn't changed, works will once again begin to fall into the public domain.  However, it is likely that major corporations such as Disney will be heavily lobbying to extend the length of copyright once again.  Lee suggests that the existence of the internet, which rallied to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act, may be a countervailing force.
"The big question now is whether incumbent copyright holders will try to get yet another extension of copyright terms before works begin falling into the public domain again on January 1, 2019.

"For now, Hollywood is staying mum; a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America declined to comment on its plans. We weren't able to find any sign the topic has come up on Capitol Hill. But most of the experts we spoke to said the stakes are so high that a renewed lobbying push is almost inevitable.

"'If Hollywood and their allies want to do this, they're going to have to start doing it now,' says Chris Sprigman, a legal scholar at New York University. "I would imagine there are discussions going on." Sprigman predicts a debate over term extension over the next five years will look very different than it did in the 1990s. "People are paying attention," he says. "There's a coalition now" that's likely to oppose longer terms."
(Link via Mark Evanier)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Pixar Canada and Money

I don't for a minute buy the official reason for shutting Pixar Canada down.  No other part of the Disney empire is concerned about having everything under one roof.  Certainly, Disney TV animation had no problem having Planes produced overseas, and if Pixar was having problems with the Vancouver facility, there are people within Disney who could easily troubleshoot any problems.

There are several potential reasons why the facility is shutting down, and they all relate to money.  As Disney is a public company, it reports its earnings quarterly.  It always makes a profit, the only question is how much?  If there are money losers for a quarter, the only way to compensate for that is to be making profits elsewhere in the company or to cut costs.

It's possible that the failure of The Lone Ranger, forcing Disney to write off up to $190 million,  may be one of the things motivating Pixar Canada's closure.  That money has to be made up somewhere, and closing a studio will certainly cut costs.

Another possibility is the delay of The Good Dinosaur.  Having replaced the director, the film is now delayed from it's original release date.  That means that Pixar's revenues will be less than expected due to the delay.  Again, a way to compensate for that is to cut costs.

Variety claims that that British Columbia's tax credits are not as lucrative as those offered by Ontario and Quebec.  While British Columbia may no longer seem lucrative enough to warrant Disney's presence, their tax credits have not changed so far as I know.  Whatever discount Disney was receiving before is still in place, so I doubt that tax credits were a big part of the decision.

Finally, there is the difficulty of putting a revenue figure on the short films that Pixar's Canadian studio made.  If a short is in front of a feature, how much of the box office can be attributed to the presence of the short?  If a short is an extra on a Blu-ray, how many more units are sold due to the inclusion of the short?  When the short shows up on TV, what part of the ratings can be credited to the short?  What percentage of sales of Toy Story merchandise can be attributed directly to the existence of the shorts?

When costs can be figured precisely but revenue cannot,  the costs carry more weight on a balance sheet. 

Note that none of the above reasons have anything to do with the work produced by the studio or the competence of the staff.  That's the tragedy of it.  A bean counter, charged with projecting profits for the quarter, decided that closing the studio was a good way to goose the numbers.  The layoffs are just collateral damage.  Robert Iger's job is to maintain the profits and the stock price.  Animation is just a means to that end and not necessarily the best one either.  A hundred artists are a tiny percentage of the tens of thousands of people who work for Disney, and their livelihoods pale beside the needs of shareholders and executives. 

Disney marches on.  Just don't get in the way.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pixar Canada Shuts Down

Adios, Amigos

The Province is reporting that Pixar Canada has shut its doors and laid off its staff.
 Close to 100 employees at Pixar Canada’s Gastown animation studio lost their jobs Tuesday as the company decided to pack up the three-year-old operation and concentrate its operations in Emeryville, California.

 “A decision was made to refocus operations and resources under the one roof,” Barb Matheson, a spokesman for Pixar parent company Disney, said from Toronto. “Staff were just told today. Not great news, obviously. It was just a refocussing of efforts and resources to the one facility.”
The facility opened in the Spring of 2010.  This is the third studio that Disney has opened and closed in Canada and the second in Vancouver.  As recently as August 20, Pixar Canada was advertising for a layout artist and animators, so it appears that this decision was fairly sudden.

 It is important for animation artists and students to realize that while companies like Disney/Pixar appeal to a person's love for their characters and the status of joining a winning team, that branch plants are nothing more than economic calculations.  At the time it opened, Pixar Vancouver made economic sense; now, for some reason, it doesn't.  The Pixar dust that was liberally spread throughout Canada was a marketing opportunity to gain the company good will and bait for prospective employees.

It wouldn't surprise me if in five or ten years Disney/Pixar opens yet another studio in Canada.  I hope that people wake up to the fact that a job in a branch plant is just a job.  It might be a good job in terms of pay or opportunity, but in fundamental ways, it is no different than any other kind of job.  If they no longer want you, you're gone.

(If anyone from Pixar Canada would care to comment, I'd be interested in an employee's view of the shut down.  Did employees receive notice or severance?  What happens to projects that are still in progress?)

Friday, October 04, 2013


You knew it was coming, didn't you?

Thanks to my student Ali for bringing this to my attention.