EXCLUSIVE: Ridley Scott has optioned screen rights to Fae, the young adult fantasy bestseller written by sibling authors Colet and Jasmine Abedi. The title was published last summer by Diversion Books and is the first in a trilogy. Protagonist Caroline Ellis reaches 16, a birthday that triggers the battle fated for centuries between the Dark and Light Fae, forcing her to confront who she is and discover whether her tumultuous relationship with Devilyn Reilly, who’s battling the power of the Dark within him, will destroy them both along with humanity. Scott and Giannina Facio will produce. The book has been a big bestseller in digital, and become a Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest phenomenon. The authors have completed the first sequel, The Dark King. They are repped by lit agent Lisa Gallagher from Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.
The opening part of four-hour miniseries Bonnie & Clyde last night delivered 9.8 million total viewers and 4.2 million Adults 25-54 viewers in simulcast on Lifetime, A&E and History. That was a respectable showing though it fell short of the meteoric highs of History’s first two miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, which opened with 13.9 million viewers, and The Bible, which premiered with 13.1 million viewers. Both aired only on History, for which Bonnie & Clyde was originally developed. History led the A+E simulcast viewership pack last night with 3.7 million viewers, followed by Lifetime (3.1 million) and A&E (3 million).
Marking A+E Networks’ first-ever simulcast across Lifetime, A&E and History, Bonnie & Clyde will conclude tonight at 9 PM, immediately following an encore of part one.
That would be huge if Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman’s prediction is accurate — although he declined to elaborate in his presentation today at the UBS Global Media and Commmunications Conference. Viacom reportedly has talked with Sony about teaming up to offer an online service that would include the same kind of channels that now are only available to cable and satellite TV subscribers. Many programmers fear that a national online service could undermine their ability to sell their channels in bundles that require people to pay for services that they don’t watch. Intel met stiff resistance from cable networks when it proposed to introduce what’s known as an over-the-top service, and now wants to sell its technology.
Meanwhile, Dauman told the UBS attendees that Paramount is in “a lot of good discussions with a number of players” preparing to order studio-produced TV shows, but “I will let them make announcements.” He noted that some “will be made for pay outlets and not just our own” and the list could “potentially [include] some broadcast networks as well.” With the growth of global streaming services such as Netflix and AmazonPrime, “there is an opportunity today…to greenlight series with less risk.” Paramount has been “a strong strategic play for us” by exploiting franchises such as Transformers, propelling channels including EPIX and Paramount Channel, and promoting sales of licensed merchandise.
For the most part Dauman told investors what they wanted to hear. Viacom can raise its spending on programming by mid-to-high single digits next year and invest in overseas initiatives — and still “continue to return a lot of capital to shareholders.” Nickelodeon is no longer Viacom’s problem child, with ratings up this year. Dauman is optimistic about efforts to boost animation — including a spin-off of Dora The Explorer for pre-teens, Dora And Friends — that he says will help sell licensed products and provide “fuel for us to expand Nickelodeon around the world.” Viacom is developing scripted shows for MTV and plans to do so for Spike. CMT is also “a great opportunity for us” as Viacom seeks to “de-emphasize acquired third-party programming.” Like most media execs, Dauman is enthusiastic about overseas growth opportunities. He plans to introduce the Paramount Channel in several countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Over the next three years it will be “widely distributed around the world.” Viacom also expects to profit from price hikes, as its pay TV fees grow by high single digit to low double digit rates.
EXCLUSIVE: Greg Mooradian is joining Fox 2000 as EVP Production. He reports to Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler. Mooradian joins from Paramount, where he was SVP Production and helped initiate Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters and helped reinvigorate the G.I. Joe franchise with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a sequel reconstructed at a lower price point. Before joining Paramount in 2009, he ran his own production shingle making youth-driven pictures that included the Screen Gems remake Stepfather, the Percy Jackson films for Fox 2000, and the Twilight Saga films for Summit. Mooradian started as a development exec for producer Arnold Kopelson on films like The Fugitive and Falling Down before becoming production president for Wendy Finerman and working on such films as The Fan and Drumline, the latter for Fox 2000. ”We are elated that Greg is now a part of our team at Fox 2000 Pictures,” said Gabler. “His ability to recognize compelling and commercial material from an early stage and his skill and experience in working with filmmakers are exemplary and I am proud to welcome him as a colleague.”
Mark Burnett and Roma Downey — the new It Couple of TV Miniseries/Event Series — have landed CBS‘ first announced project from its new limited series and event programming unit. And yes, it’s an historical series with religious overtones. The Dovekeepers is a four-hour miniseries based in Alice Hoffman’s historical novel about the Siege of Masada, and it will air on CBS in 2015. The mini will focus on “four extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada,” the network said. Masada is the mountaintop fortress near the Dead Sea where the Romans found the last pocket of resistance after they conquered Jerusalem in 70 CE.
CBS, in its announcement, noted The Dovekeepers hails from the team behind the Emmy-nominated 10-hour miniseries The Bible, which scored big ratings for History in March, ranking as the top cable entertainment telecast of the year to date and helping make History the No. 1-ranked cable network for that month. The Bible opened with 13 million tuned in — which, CBS execs no doubt noted at the time, is about as many people as watched the opening of their Stephen King project Under The Dome (before factoring in DVR viewing on subsequent days) last summer. In its first week of home video release, The Bible was the top-selling miniseries of all time and the No. 1 ranked TV series on DVD and Blu-ray over the past five years — surpassing 1 million units sold in the past three months. It also spawned a feature film version to be released by Fox in February (check out that trailer here). In addition to its broadcast on CBS, The Dovekeepers will be distributed to countries around the world by CBS Studios International.
In this morning’s announcement, CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler noted The Dovekeepers is “a compelling, beautifully written novel that combines history and fiction, ” adding, “Mark and Roma possess an amazing passion for telling biblical stories and for producing entertaining television on an event scale.”
It’s conceivable that, with a broadcast platform, The Dovekeepers (and The Bible sequel that NBC bought in July) could attract an even bigger crowd. Heck, ABC’s bazillionth broadcast of the 1956 Charlton Heston/Cecil B. DeMille Old Testament extravaganza The Ten Commandments still manages to pop about 6 million viewers every year. Unclear whether it’ll clock as big an audience as did NBC’s live remake of The Sound Of Music last week, which logged nearly 19 million viewers in its premiere.
Burnett gained press attention for his unusual marketing campaign on The Bible, which included screenings at mega-churches. TV critics, on the other hand, gave it a cold shoulder, calling it more action flick than spiritual journey like they meant it to sting. Burnett told CBS Sunday Morning, back around the time it launched that TV critics didn’t matter on this one. “If the TV critics were so good, they’d be making TV themselves, wouldn’t they?” (Sound Of Music star Carrie Underwood took a different tack with bad reviews, tweeting that “mean people need Jesus”.)
In that interview, Burnett said making The Bible was a “spiritual,” not a commercial, calling, and has been for him “such a growth, and maybe that’s the biggest blessing of all.” It’s also was a great way to resurrect wife Roma Downey’s career — the former Touched By An Angel star played Mary. Downey has said in interviews that the idea for that miniseries was “God’s idea placed in my heart.” No word in re whether Downey will play one of the female leads in The Dovekeepers.
“This novel is a testament to the human spirit and how love can rise from the ashes of war. It is, quite simply, an amazing story of heroism and hope, and a story that must be seen not just with the eyes but felt with the heart,” she said in today’s announcement.
“I am thrilled that my novel The Dovekeepers, produced by Roma Downey, who I so admire for her vision and strong commitment to the stories of women of the ancient world, will be at CBS with Nina Tassler, who is dedicated to storytelling at the highest level,” added Hoffman, who will also serve as a consultant on the miniseries. The Dovekeepers is a co-production between CBS Television Studios and LightWorkers Media. Downey and Burnett are executive producers. The CBS executive overseeing production is VP Limited Series & Event Programming Stacey Mandelberg. LightWorkers Media is repped by WME.
Days before its sophomore-season finale, the weekly send-up of low-budget public access programs has been greenlighted for a third run. The Eric Andre Show, which airs Thursday nights as part of Turner’s Adult Swim programming block, stars comic Eric Andre and his sidekick Hannibal Buress. It’s produced by Abso Lutely Prods. and executive produced by Andre, Andrew Barchilon, Kitao Sakurai and Dave Kneebone.
The Rolling Stones: Sweet Summer Sun – Return To Hyde Park chronicles the band’s return to the spot where it played its iconic free concert in July 1969. The concert, held in the summer of 2013, features the Stones’ greatest hits and an appearance by former guitarist Mick Taylor. The docu, which will air at 9 PM on December 20, includes never-before-seen backstage footage. Paul Dugdale directed and it was executive produced by Joyce Smyth, Julie Jakobek, and Geoff Kempin and Terry Shand for Eagle Rock Entertainment.
ABC’s Once Upon A Time finally wrapped the Neverland-set storyline that was not received well by viewers, leading to ratings erosion and a string of series lows. The downward trend was reversed last night when action returned to the show’s original Storybrook setting. Once logged 2.2 in 18-49, up 16% from last week’s series low. Let’s hear it for America’s Funniest Home Videos. The series, which just marked its 24th anniversary, logged a season high in 18-49 last night with a 1.5. Despite airing at 7 PM, the low-cost clip show matched the performance of high-end ABC dramas Revenge (1.5 even with its last original 3 weeks ago) and Betrayal (0.8, down 11% from 2 weeks ago to tie a series low).
Following a football overrun, The Simpsons (3.0) matched the 18-49 result for its most recent original. Bob’s Burgers (2.1) perked up 31% from last week when its lead-in, The Simpsons, was a repeat. Ditto for American Dad (2.1), up 24% following an original Family Guy (2.6, up 18% from its last original 2 weeks ago.) Family Guy seems to be benefiting from the Is Brian Gone? mystery, helping Fox’s animated block to post its best rating (2.5) in over a year.
CBS’ fast nationals will undergo adjustments as its primetime was delayed 27 minutes by a football overrun in 11 markets, including Top 10 markets Philadelphia,Washington DC, Atlanta and Houston. For now, the two-hour finale of The Amazing Race (2.1) was down 19% from last year’s fall finale to log the venerable franchise’s lowest rated closer ever (In total viewers, Amazing Race is on par with the most recent spring finale.) The Mentalist (1.7) was even with last week, when it started at 10:51 PM.
NBC is poised to win the night with Sunday Night Football. In the time zone adjusted metered-market results, last night’s Carolina Panthers-New Orleans Saints game averaged a 12.7 rating, up 5% from last week’s Giants-Redskins matchup.
Palm Springs, CA (December 9, 2013) – The 25th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) will present Lupita Nyong’o with the Breakthrough Performance Award for 12 Years a Slave and Thomas Newman with the Frederick Loewe Award for Film Composing for Saving Mr. Banks at its annual Awards Gala. The Gala will also present awards to previously announced honorees Sandra Bullock, Bruce Dern, Matthew McConaughey, Steve McQueen and Julia Roberts. Presented by Cartier and hosted by Mary Hart, the Awards Gala will be held Saturday, January 4 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The Festival runs January 3-13, 2014.
LOS ANGELES – Dec. 9, 2013 – IMAX Corporation (NYSE:IMAX; TSX:IMX) and Sony Pictures Entertainment today announced that The Amazing Spider-Man 2™, the highly anticipated next chapter in the story of Peter Parker, will be digitally re-mastered into the immersive IMAX® 3D format and released in IMAX® theatres. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be released in theaters internationally beginning April 16, 2014, and domestically on May 2, 2014.
I’m surprised that Time Warner Cable COO Rob Marcus — who becomes CEO at year-end — was surprised last week when Bloomberg reported from an interview with him that he’s willing to sell the No. 2 cable operator at the right price. The story was “frustrating” and used a “sexy headline” that misled readers and took him “out of context,” he said today at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. “Our management team is completely focusing on running Time Warner Cable for the long haul” and sees “opportunities to generate great experiences for customers and a whole lot of value for shareholders.” So was Bloomberg wrong when it said that he’d sell at the right price to potential buyers such as Charter, Comcast, or Cox? Of course not. “My job as CEO is to maximize value for shareholders,” he says. Indeed he “is and always has been 100% driven by what’s in the interests of shareholders.” That would have to include a sale if the price is high enough.He also says that consolidation might bring benefits if it lowers content costs and expenses. Marcus for the most part reiterated company positions in response to other questions. He’d consider offering streaming video services such as Netflix on his company’s set top boxes. “Overall we continue to view online video viewing as a positive for the broadband business” and he hasn’t seen much video cord-cutting. Marcus also likes the idea of expanding usage-based pricing for broadband. TWC has some usage-based offers and “the uptake has been relatively light” although “the principle is an important one…We see no reason why the light users should subsidize the heavy ones.”
NBC announced how it intends to handle coverage of Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law during its coverage of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi: guest commentary. Sorry, Bob Costas. The network announced this morning it has hired New Yorker editor (and former Washington Post Moscow bureau chief) David Remnick to provide guest commentary on the network’s air during its coverage of the Games. Remnick, will contribute to NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony and will offer commentary for NBC News in Sochi, the network said.
“We are facing an Olympics that have a number of issues around them — substantial, meaty, news issues,” NBC’s Olympics exec producer Jim Bell told Sports Illustrated over the weekend. “For us to be able to have an opportunity to address them with someone like David made perfect sense. We would be remiss not to rely on some of the best and brightest minds to help present this to our viewers the right way.”
Added Remnick: “I think they want to have someone who has a familiarity with Russian politics and culture, various controversies, Vladimir Putin and all these questions I have stepped in for a very long time.” Bell said Remnick will kick off his in-Games commentary during the “creative part” of the opening ceremonies. Remnick served as a Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post and he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his book Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days Of The Soviet Empire.
NBC’s Costas, who’s known for his outspoken commentary, the other day told the Associated Press he won’t comment on Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law because he’s hoping to land an interview with what AP called “responsible people” (read: Russian President Vladimir Putin).
NBC’s already been getting commentary, of sorts, on the law and the network’s Games coverage, from retired Olympian Johnny Weir who in November signed on as part of NBC’s team covering the Games. Weir had already asserted the Games “are not the place to make a political statement,” and, earlier this month, characterized Russia’s new anti-gay law as “no anal sex in front of libraries,” adding he would not boycott the Games because “just to piss off Putin is not a reason not to field a team.” Protesters at that event included some holding a sign that read: “Weir: Russian Olympic Clown; NBC: Naïve Bloody Collaborators,” and one told the NYC paper Gay City News that Weir was “selling out millions of people to satisfy his desire not to forgo his income or status,” adding, “Is this what he would have done in Germany in 1936?” Weir dismissed the protesters as “idiots like the ones outside dumping vodka in the street.” He apologized in print the next morning and NBC issued a statement saying “We’re supportive of Johnny’s apology for his choice of words last night in an emotional setting,” noting, “As we’ve previously stated, NBC will cover all newsworthy issues as they are relevant to the Games, including the LGBT law.”
TV networks should be encouraged by the ad forecasts presented this morning at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. Global spending on the medium will grow 7.7% in 2014, up from 1.8% this year, Magna Global EVP Vincent Letang says, In the U.S., broadcast TV will benefit most from the mid-term elections and Winter Olympics. Spending will increase 9.3%, in contrast to this year’s 5.7% drop. Cable will be +7.8% vs. +4.4% in 2013. Much of the growth will come from technology and telecom companies as they introduce game consoles and gadgets — but auto and pharmaceutical spending will rise. Entertainment, however, will be down in 2014, due in part to efforts by studios to trim their release slates. Political spending likely will be about a third higher than it was in 2010 at $3B, Letang says. He also expects about $600M in spending around the Winter Olympics. Generally speaking “television and digital media are sharing the eyeballs and dollars that print and radio are losing,” Letang says.
USA Network has set a midseason schedule, which includes drama Suits returning to Thursdays to lead into new comedy Sirens, USA’s first original half-hour comedy in a long time. White Collar also will air on Thursdays, while Psych‘s eighth season, expected to be the hourlong comedy’s last, will air on Wednesdays. The midseason premiere of Suits will be on Thursday, March 6 at 9 PM, followed by the debut of medical comedy Sirens, executive produced by Denis Leary, at 10 PM. (trailer below) Sirens will launch with two back-to-back episodes before switching to a single episode at 10 PM the following week, paired with a Modern Family repeat at 10:30 PM. Suits started on Thursday before moving to Tuesday. White Collar will start things off on Thursday, returning on hiatus on January 9, paired with Law & Order: SVU reruns. Season 8 of Psych will air on on Wednesdays, beginning on January 8. It is somewhat surprising that USA chose a drama, Suits, instead of a comedy like Psych or Modern Family as a lead-in for new comedy Sirens. “As a top cable drama, Suits has a massive and incredibly young audience that is the perfect fit for fans of Denis Leary and Bob Fisher’s unique brand of comedy,” said Jackie de Crinis, executive vice president of original programming, USA Network. “Both series feature dynamic male leads, sharp and entertaining banter, and a strong storytelling point of view.”
A few weeks after American and Dutch researchers found that violence in PG-13 films has now exceeded R-rated levels, the Parents Television Council has come up with a violence scorecard for broadcast vs cable. In a new study (read it: here), the PTC says, “The volume and degree of violent content shown on broadcast and cable television are virtually indistinguishable,” and that broadcast TV shows “consistently underrated graphically-violent content as appropriate for 14-year-old children, even though similar content on the cable networks was rated for mature audiences only.” The PTC is especially concerned with NBC’s Revolution, which, it says, contained an average 91.5 acts of violence per episode over four installments considered.
Among cable shows included in the study were American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Sons Of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Copper, Justified, and Bullet In The Face. They were compared with broadcast dramas like Criminal Minds, Revolution, The Blacklist, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, CSI, and Law & Order: SVU. According to the findings, 37% of all graphic violence in the study aired on broadcast.
About a year ago, the watchdog blasted ABC’s Scandal for what it termed a “brutal” torture scene during an episode that was rated TV-14. At the time, PTC president Tim Winter argued, “It is sickening just how quickly the entertainment industry was able to move past the tragedy of Newtown and get back to business as usual.” Today, Winter blasted the industry for having done “virtually nothing to reduce the flow of graphically violent media to children” since those events. Piggybacking the recent PG-13 v R film study, Winter said, “It is clear that the entire ratings system borders on being fraudulent and requires a massive overhaul.”
Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester will play Curley’s wife in Of Mice And Men, joining James Franco & Chris O’Dowd in the first Broadway stage production of the John Steinbeck tale in 40 years. This one’s directed by Tony winner Anna D. Shapiro and produced by David Binder.
Meester started her career in regional theatre before getting the Gossip Girl gig. She also starred with Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw in Country Strong. The play officially opens April 16 at the Longacre Theatre, and will run through July 27.
Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill and Darlene Love, the backup singers who get the spotlight in RADiUS-TWC‘s Oscar documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, will sing the National Anthem at the 100th Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 2014. The special performance during the Stanford-Michigan State game marks the first time in a century that one of the Rose Bowl participants’ band is not performing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” That’s about the flashiest PR stunt conceivable for this year’s heated Oscar docu race, and shrewd timing – nominations voting ends just a week later on January 8.
The history of special effects and CG in film and their close relationship with today’s top-notch digital animation is the focus of author Christopher Finch’s new lavish 368-page book The CG Story: Computer Generated Animation and Special Effects, which peels the curtain back on CG pioneers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, and Pixar founders John Lasseter and Ed Catmull and their respective contributions to film. As part of Deadline’s weekend programming, read an exclusive excerpt from The CG Story, available now via The Monacelli Press ($75), detailing the near-disaster that almost was when the upstarts at Pixar pacted with Disney to make their first feature: Toy Story.
Go motion may have been extinct overnight, as if by a meteor bombardment, but Phil Tippet reinvented himself as the head of a CG studio, and many of his go-motion animators were quick to retrain as CG animators, adapting their old skills with relative ease to the new way of working. During the early 1990s the shift to computer-generated animation was seen as a matter of urgency in many sections of the industry. Technologies such as motion control remained in use where they were cost effective, but this was the period when CGI began to take on the dominant role in visual effects. In the world of pure animation, it was about to make its mark with even greater decisiveness.
Ed Catmull explains that at Pixar there was a plan to progress from making commercials to producing a television special and then eventually a feature film. Having developed the CAPS system for Disney, Pixar had extensive contact with the feature-animation department there, but in fact they shopped their ideas around to everyone but Disney. One bone of contention was the fact that Disney had made efforts to hire John Lasseter away from the company. Jeffrey Katzenberg, then Disney studio head, had been impressed by the shorts he had seen and was convinced that Lasseter, by then Pixar’s creative director, was the secret to the company’s success. Lasseter, however, turned down the offers because of his belief in Pixar’s future, and because of his bitter memories of his previous tenure at Disney. Those memories were also why he had been adamant about not wanting to take ideas to Disney. “It wasn’t until [then],” Catmull remembers, “that I found out the real problem. For years he wouldn’t let anybody know he’d been fired… On the Queen Mary he had acknowledged that his project had been turned down, but not that he had been fired.”
The fact that Disney now saw Lasseter as a golden boy did nothing to alter his point of view, but finally, after no other studio had taken the bait, Pixar had no alternative but to consider working with Disney. The initial approach, in fact, came from Disney. In 1991 Catmull received a call from Peter Schneider, president of Feature Animation, suggesting that Pixar make a CG feature that Disney would finance and distribute. It should be remembered that Disney’s animation renaissance was in full bloom at the time — Aladdin would shortly be released and The Lion King was in preproduction. Disney Feature Animation had always been a strictly in-house operation, and the idea of turning to an outside production studio, especially in those glory days, was shocking. Lasseter believes it was Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s stop-motion movie The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) — acquired for distribution by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures — that had cracked the door open. Coincidentally, as noted earlier, Burton and Selick had been contemporaries of Lasseter at CalArts, and Burton had also been at Disney as an animator during Lasseter’s ill-fated stay there in the 1980s. It was, however, Burton’s success with live-action films like Beetlejuice (1988) and Batman (1989) that had made him a box-office icon and had convinced Disney to take on the distribution of Nightmare. Lasseter suggests that Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, then at the studio’s helm, saw CG animation as something that, like stop motion, might find a niche audience.
The deal entered into by Pixar was provisionally for three features, but everything was contingent on the first being a success, and that was a tall order. Nobody had ever made a wholly animated CG feature, and nobody on the Pixar team had any experience of feature-film production in any capacity other than technical input for brief visual-effects scenes. It was much like the situation in which Walt Disney found himself in 1934 when he committed to making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. If anything, Pixar’s task was even more intimidating. When Disney launched his feature-film career, he had already created a world-famous cartoon character and had made scores of innovative and commercially successful short cartoons. Pixar had produced four very short shorts and a handful of commercials. The challenge was akin to attempt¬ing to swim the English Channel having trained in a backyard swimming pool.
Central to this challenge was coming up with a story that could carry a feature-length movie. The core creative team initially consisted of Lasseter, who would direct the as-yet-unnamed film, and the two newcomers, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, whose experience was, to put it mildly, minimal. Luckily, the ideal person to complete the team was just across the bay in San Francisco, at Skellington Studios, where he had been working as storyboard supervisor on The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Often described by his contemporaries as a gentle giant, Joe Ranft had attended CalArts at the same time as Lasseter and like Lasseter had been recruited by Disney, where he worked as an assistant animator on The Fox and the Hound (1981), as a con¬cept artist on The Black Cauldron (1985), as a story-board artist on Basil of Baker Street (1986), and as story supervisor on The Rescuers Down Under (1990). Among storyboard artists and gag men Ranft had few peers. He was the kind of draftsman who could convey the essence of an idea with a few quickly sketched lines, then develop it with the succinct thoroughness that is the marrow of animated films. As a story supervisor he had the ability to oversee the artists on his team with firmness, humor, and an intuitive sense of tact. It was small wonder that Tim Burton had invited him to take charge of the storyboards for Nightmare.
While they were both at Disney, Ranft had helped Lasseter develop the story ideas for The Brave Little Toaster, and the two had remained friends. Now they found themselves practically neighbors in Redwood City, south of San Francisco on the fringe of Silicon Valley. Inevitably Ranft visited Pixar, where he became involved in early discussions about a proposed Christmas television special that would have expanded on the ideas and characters in Tin Toy. When the Toy Story project was launched, Ranft was still engaged on Nightmare, but from the outset he met regularly with Lasseter, Stanton, and Docter on his days off and whenever else he could, intending to join Pixar when his work at Skellington was complete.
After a few months, Ranft became a full-time member of the core group — dubbed the Brain Trust — bringing to it his own offbeat brilliance and the one thing it was missing: experience with the processes and vicissitudes of producing feature animation.
John Lasseter has said that the first thing they did when they began thinking about Toy Story was to make a list of things that they did not want to be in it. Foremost among these was anything that resembled the ingredients of Disney movies of the period. Pixar would not attempt to top The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. There would be no soaring musical numbers, no larger-than-life caricature villains, no cute comic-relief animals. The Toy Story Brain Trust had grown up with movies, television situation comedies, and action shows rather than Broadway extravaganzas. They decided to make a buddy picture, “along the lines,” says Lasseter, “of The Odd Couple and Midnight Run.”
Their point of departure was still Tin Toy, and the key setting would be a child’s playroom, so a buddy for Tinny had to be found. The initial idea was to pair him with a ventriloquist’s dummy. It didn’t take long, however, to see that such old-fashioned toys would be very hard to endow with the kind of personalities that would keep audiences glued to their seats for an hour and a half. Tinny and the ventriloquist’s dummy were consigned to the archives, and a new search for an unlikely pair of buddies was launched.
An action figure of some sort seemed to be a logical choice, but it took some time for the Brain Trust to settle on the idea of an astronaut with an almost psychotic sense of mission and self-worth. And so Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger, came into being and was given a reluctant buddy in the form of Sheriff Woody, a pull-string rag doll souvenir of an imaginary early black-and-white television series. They would prove to be superb choices, but there would be a long period of growing pains before they evolved their final, satisfyingly interlocking personalities.
The first few months of development were a period of noisy to-and-fro discussion — sometimes raucously funny, sometimes argumentative — around a table littered with a Toys “R” Us–like inventory consisting of action figures, dinosaurs, Slinky Dogs, G.I. Joes, and Mr. Potato Heads, some of whom would be reborn as characters in the movie. Here were four grown men feeling their way back to childhood, but there was one rule in place that was distinctly adult. There would be no complacency. Nobody’s ideas were immune to criticism. On the contrary, every effort should be made to shoot holes in each other’s ideas, however sound they might seem on first inspection. This was in fact more than a rule, it was a creed, and the license to criticize, combined with the ability to take criticism, became a strong bond between the members of the Brain Trust. Not that this way of working was always easy. As someone who does his writing alone, seated in front of a computer, I once told Pete Docter that I envied his situation of developing a story in a group situation. He laughed and said, “You should try it sometime. It can be brutal.”
Brutal maybe, but enormously effective. It was this Pixar creed that would make Toy Story work so well, and it would stand the company in good stead for the movies that followed. For the moment, though, Lasseter and the others could not look beyond their first feature, knowing that unless it was a success it would probably be the only one they would ever get to make.
Even though the deal was in place, there was still some skepticism surrounding the project at Disney, both in Feature Animation and in the brand-new Michael Graves–designed Team Disney Building, where top executives fretted about grosses behind a fascia that prominently featured larger-than-life replicas of the Seven Dwarfs. Despite the symbolism of this playful architectural motif, there was concern that a film set in a small boy’s playroom would not have any appeal for key segments of what was perceived as the target market — teenagers, for example. A movie about toys would be just a kids’ movie. Lasseter felt that this point of view was completely misguided.
“When Andy, the kid, goes to sleep, the toys come to life, and they behave like adults. . . . They have personalities that adults can identify with. We were making a film that was a movie that we would want to see, and we’re adults. We wanted to capture a children’s world too, but we felt we were aiming for a very broad audience.” To placate the doubters, it was decided that a short reel of completed animation should be prepared, to demonstrate the viability of the relationship between Buzz and Woody.
By this juncture the two characters had taken on something close to their final form. This involved many processes, as is the case with all CG animated characters. First comes work by character designers and concept artists. Lasseter gives credit for Woody’s appearance to veteran animator, cartoonist, illustrator, commercials director, musician, and voice talent (Rick Dicker in The Incredibles, Eeyore in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh) Bud Luckey, who had the idea of pairing Buzz with a cowboy and who produced key concept drawings (p. 84). After character design comes the preparation of fully volumetric models. These begin life as wireframes that can be generated entirely in the computer, though at Pixar it is also commonplace to have fully detailed clay, plaster, or resin sculptures of characters prepared that can be measured and translated into the database.
The basic wireframe model, once it meets the director’s approval, is then ready to be “rigged,” which means that it is outfitted with a digital skeleton, digital musculature, and even a digital nervous system. This allows the animator to manipulate the figure electronically, much as a puppeteer manipulates a marionette by means of strings attached to control bars. Pixar in fact uses proprietary software dubbed Marionette for precisely this purpose.
For characters in a film such as Toy Story, there is a hierarchy of layers of rigging, ranging from those that control broader motor functions (turning the head, bending a knee), to those that handle finer motor skills (crooking a finger), and finally delicate rigging used to produce the almost imperceptible motions that help change a character’s facial expressions (narrowing the eyes, teasing the corners of the lips). Repetitious ana¬tomical functions such as running can be programmed, and it’s even possible to program tics, so that, for example, a character might blink according to some randomized pattern without the animator having to think about it.
An advantage that CG animation has over hand-drawn animation is that working with rigged models guarantees a degree of consistency, whoever is animating the character. With hand-drawn animation, characters can change significantly when drawn by two different animators, even if both are equally skilled draftsmen. What remains the same in both techniques is the need for acting ability on the part of the animator.
The character’s virtual skeleton — which, of course, is not visible, even at the wireframe stage — is used to determine the position of key points scattered around the model, densely in some areas, less so in others. These are properly called animation variables but usually are referred to as “avars.” They correspond to the “markers” employed when using motion-capture technology, which, when scanned into the database, effectively become avars. Avars mark the control points at which the virtual strings of Pixar’s Marionette software “tug” at the digital model in the database and permit the animator to bring the character to life. Woody was supplied with over seven hundred, of which more than a hundred were needed for his face, fifty-eight of them for his mouth alone.
To complete the Woody model, it had to be clad, both with a skin and with clothing. The wireframe model becomes a kind of armature, to which the illusion of a skin is digitally applied and detail added until the final likeness of the character begins to materialize. (The basic process is analogous to the way a “stretch-wrap” metal cladding is applied to a sculptural building such as Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, in Los Angeles, which features randomly contoured, organic intersecting forms generated by means of computer simulations.) In the final phases, the textures of clothing are mapped and rendered, so that a hat appears to be made of felt, a shirt of cotton, and boots of imitation leather.
Even before the model is completed, the director and his closest collaborators will have discussed the question of voice talent. In the case of Woody, Lasseter knew from the outset that he wanted Tom Hanks. Instead of approaching the star cold, Pixar created footage of Woody animated to dialogue spoken by Hanks in Turner and Hooch. That convinced Hanks to commit to the movie. For Buzz Lightyear, Lasseter had hoped for Billy Crystal, but Crystal passed on the project. Instead, Lasseter turned to Tim Allen, which proved to be a smart move. Hanks and Allen recorded some dialogue, which was animated and fully rendered and shown to the Disney bosses, who were impressed. Doubts about Pixar’s ability to make a feature-length film were shelved — for the moment.
While the Buzz and Woody test seems to have satisfied Disney executives about Pixar’s technical capabilities, they were not so sanguine about the way the story was developing. The key figures at Disney, so far as Toy Story was concerned, were Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Schneider, and Tom Schumacher. Before coming to Disney, Katzenberg had been at Paramount, where he had helped revive the Star Trek franchise. Schneider and Schumacher — then Schneider’s number two — had backgrounds in the theater (and would go on to supervise the creation of Disney’s successful theater franchise on Broadway and around the world). All three had learned most of what they knew about animation while on the job at Disney Feature Animation. They had overseen the Disney animation renaissance, which, as noted by Lasseter, was rooted in the traditions of American musical comedy in both its stage and cinematic guises, and in the tradition of the early Disney features, which were essentially animated musical comedies. The storyboards and animatics that were coming from Pixar had something very different to offer, and it threw the Disney executives off balance.
Even the way the Pixar team presented their work was different. They prepared their animatics — animated storyboards — in video form on Avid nonlinear editing machines, by far the most logical and inexpensive way of achieving the results they were after. They intended to show these to Disney in video but were informed that they had to be presented on 35 millimeter film stock, apparently because that was the way things had been done for as long as anyone could remember.* This lasted, says Ed Catmull, until Katzenberg accidently happened to see an animatic running on an Avid. The next day he bought five Avids.
That was one small victory, but still the Disney team didn’t quite understand what the Pixar movie was aiming at. Katzenberg was convinced, according to Lasseter, that it lacked “edginess,” a word he used repeatedly that was picked up by his subordinates. The Pixar group found itself taking notes from three levels of executives, all of which they were expected to act upon or else explain why they hadn’t. It was a frustrating way to work, and it began to have an effect on how the Pixar team thought about the story and the characters. “They wanted edgy,” says Lasseter, “and that’s what we tried to give them, with the result that Buzz and Woody began to seem mean-spirited, or worse.”
The idea of making an animated buddy movie was a good one, but buddy movies call for a delicate balance. It’s a given that the protagonists start out by getting on one another’s nerves, but if that is pushed too far and descends into ugly personal attacks, then it will be difficult if not impossible to make the characters sympathetic and to resolve the relationship satisfactorily later in the film. Ugliness was beginning to insinuate itself into the relationship between Buzz and Woody, but the Brain Trust didn’t quite realize it. They had set out to make their own movie, but the present opportunity was far too important to sabotage through arrogance, and so they forced themselves to accommodate the barrage of frequently misguided criticism emanating from Burbank.
Another problem, in Catmull’s estimation, was that Disney tended to see the project as belonging to Lasseter, who after all was the director and the creative star — the man who had convinced them that the movie could be made. As an old Disney hand with some solid credits to his name, Joe Ranft carried some weight too, but Disney utterly failed to understand the way that Pixar functioned as an entity, the creative team working in step with the technical team, which had an equal right to be thought of as a generative force.
November 17, 1993, is a date that among Pixar veterans ranks alongside Pearl Harbor Day. That morning Lasseter, Ranft, Stanton, and Docter reported to the Disney Feature Animation Building, where they screened a substantial section of their work in progress for Katzenberg, Schneider, Schumacher, and a small entourage of executives. The screening was met with dismay verging on horror, and the Pixar team was told that the film was a disaster.
To make things worse, Lasseter and his colleagues agreed. Seeing their work under these circumstances, they woke up to the fact that they had gone badly off track. Lasseter freely admits to being embarrassed by what he saw on-screen that day. Trying to make the characters edgy, they had made them repellent.
For Lasseter, this was a personal disaster, bringing back ugly memories of what had happened to him at Disney ten years earlier, when he had presented his Where the Wild Things Are test and pitched the idea for The Brave Little Toaster. History seemed about to repeat itself when Peter Schneider ordered an immediate shutdown of the production, pending a script rewrite that would involve bringing in writers of Disney’s choice. If that rewrite was accepted, then the production would resume, but in Burbank, and under close supervision. In short, control would be taken away from Pixar, who would supply little more than the basic story idea and their CG expertise.
Katzenberg, meanwhile, had taken Tom Schumacher aside and asked him what had gone wrong. Schumacher, sympathetic toward Lasseter and his crew, told him that Disney had taken the movie away from Pixar by butting in too much.
It was crunch time. Lasseter was determined not to give in without a fight and asked for two weeks to turn the project around. Without enthusiasm, the Disney brass acquiesced, perhaps because those two weeks would include the Thanksgiving holi¬day period, so that not much time would be lost. The Brain Trust returned to Point Richmond and worked around the clock with newly hired editor Lee Unkrich added to the mix, fiercely revising the story to get it back to the movie that they had wanted to make in the first place. Pete Docter recalls that Joe Ranft’s contribution was critical at this stage, because he had been through the grinder before, and — perhaps for that reason — because he was not afraid to take risks, expressing himself with an emotional intensity that inspired the others.
The key shift was to make Woody a more sympathetic character. Buzz needed less work, since his pompous sense of self-worth was indispensable to the narrative (he does not even realize he is a toy). In what could be seen as a response to Disney’s concerns about the film being too much of a kid’s movie, there was a major rewrite of a scene in which the toys in Andy’s room have a kind of town-hall meeting to discuss the situation between Buzz and Woody. In the version presented to Disney on November 17, this had the air of a bunch of children prattling in the playground, but now it took on the tone of an adult debate.
At the end of the two weeks the Pixar team returned to Burbank and made their presentation to an initially skeptical group of Disney executives, who were astonished and quickly won over by the thoroughness of the turnaround. The production was reinstated. Disney continued to send notes and insisted on adding experienced screenwriters to the story team, selecting Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, and Joss Whedon, ace script doctor, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and future director of The Avengers (2012). Happily, these additions meshed well with the existing members of the team, who, after their traumatic experience, knew how to deal with notes without being trapped into betraying their vision.
The film that was eventually premiered on November 19, 1995 — two years almost to the day after the disastrous presentation to the Disney executives — was brilliantly original in several different ways. Under Lasseter’s direction Pixar had fashioned a film that would have been a breakthrough even if it had been made as a conventional 2D animated feature. This was not a cartoon, or a fantasy with palaces and princesses, or even a stylized situation comedy with an exotic or period setting like Lady and the Tramp or The Aristocats. There were no larger-than-life good guys and bad guys. Toy Story was a buddy movie set in an everyday American suburbia, inhabited by realistic characters like Andy, the boy who cherishes Woody and Buzz and the other toys, and Sid, the not-so-nice kid next door (p. 90). It was a film where the human characters ate at fast-food outlets with names like Pizza Planet, and the cars in the movie’s parking lot were just like the actual cars parked outside the movie theater. The almost magical ordinariness of the animated human environment made it possible to believe in the toys and the ways in which they interacted with that environment.
That magic and believability depended in equal parts on the imaginations of the story team and on the creative achievements of the technical team, which quite simply blew audiences away. No one had experienced anything like it before. This was a world that was alive and, in Lasseter’s words, possessed “a sense of history. So the doors are banged up, the floors are scuffed.” The characters who moved through this world were as “solid” as actors in a live-action movie, and the sets were as three-dimensional as the sets for a live-action movie. Wood looked like wood, plastic looked like plastic, metal looked like metal and, even more remarkably, hair looked like hair. The virtual camera movements were stunning and had the ability to give theatergoers a toy’s-eye view of the world.
From a technical point of view, the story that so captivated audiences came wrapped in a crazy quilt of interlocking algorithms. It had taken eight hundred thousand computer hours to complete this film, and 114,240 frames of animation, with some individual frames requiring as many as fifteen hours to render, but finally Ed Catmull’s dream had come true. He and his collaborators had created the means to produce a computer-generated animated feature film. It was a triumph artistically and an enormous box-office hit. The world of animation had changed forever.
3rd UPDATE, 5:17 PM: The funeral for Nelson Mandela is scheduled for December 15 but at least one network will have its anchor on the ground in South Africa days beforehand. Brian Williams will anchor the NBC Nightly News from Pretoria starting on Monday, then network’s Lester Holt announced on Sunday’s broadcast. A memorial for the former South Africa president will be held in Johannesburg on Tuesday withPresident Obama and the First Lady among those in attendance. Unlike Williams, Diane Sawyer is set right now to remain in NYC to helm ABC’s World News Tonight, the network says. Though sources do indicate that could change in the next few days. CBS have not yet announced their plans.
Related: R.I.P. Nelson Mandela
2nd UPDATE, Dec. 6 PM: Instead of The Rachel Maddow Show tonight at 9PM, MSNBC are going to air a Headliners and Legends: Nelson Mandela special in the slot.
UPDATE, 10:50 AM: Programs on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will take their place in ABC and CBS’ primetime lineups this weekend, but there won’t be any changes to their schedules. ABC said today that tonight’s 20/20 will be a special Nelson Mandela: A Man Who Changed The World broadcast following the human rights icon’s death yesterday. However, the telecast hosted by David Muir and Robin Roberts won’t cause alterations to ABC’s Friday primetime lineup — it will still air in its regular 10 PM slot. NBC tells me that right now Friday’s 8PM Dateline will stay with its previously scheduled report on a missing CIA employee. On Saturday at 9PM, CBS’ 48 Hours will air a special Nelson Mandela: Father Of A Nation hosted by CBS news anchor Scott Pelley and in its regular time slot. None of the evening news broadcasts are set to expand as NBC and ABC did Thursday.
On cable, History will air an encore of its Miracle Rising: South Africa documentary tonight at 5 PM ET with H2 playing the film Sunday at 5PM ET. None of the cable news networks have special coverage planned this weekend at this point but will continue to focus on Mandela in their regularly scheduled programming. I’ll update if that other outlets shift or add more Mandela programming.
PREVIOUS, THURSDAY PM: The passing of the former South African president today has lead to extended news programming on both the cable news and broadcast networks.
Soon after Nelson Mandela‘s death at the age of 95 was officially announced NBC said that the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams would be expanding for a special one-hour broadcast tonight. ”The second half hour is optional to stations,” NBC said in a statement. ABC World News With Diane Sawyer will also go to an hour tonight, the network said. CBS tells Deadline that they currently have no plans to extend their Scott Pelley-anchored news broadcasts tonight. All of the Big 4 cut into their regular programming this afternoon to go live to President Obama‘s remarks from the White House at about 2:24 PM. However, none of the networks plan any change to their primetime schedules with Mandela specials tonight.
On the other hand, CNN is giving over all of its Thursday primetime to Mandela. As a part of that, the cable news network says it not be showing the TV debut CNN Films’ An Unreal Dream : The Michael Morton Story tonight at 9PM ET as previously scheduled because of the statesman’s death. Instead the cable news network will have an Anderson Cooper-hosted special report on Mandela’s life and death from 8 PM-11PM, including a one-hour docu titled Nelson Remembered at 9 PM. The Al Reinert-directed Michael Morton documentary will be shown at a later date, says CNN.
Fox News Channel pre-empted The Five for Shep Smith to report on Mandela’s death. At 6PM, Special Report with Bret Baier will continue the network’s live coverage. FNC has no plans to make changes to its primetime schedule at this point but says it will stay on the story throughout the night. MSNBC intends to air the interview President Obama taped earlier today with Chris Matthews at 7 PM ET but will go live with more Mandela coverage at 10 PM ET where they usually have a pre-tape Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. O’Donnell will host the live 10 PM coverage. BET said that they would extend tonight’s 106 &Park to two hours to 8PM-10PM for Mandela coverage and air a hour-long news special Mandela: Freedom’s Father at 8PM. Earlier, ESPN moved Pardon The Interruption over to ESPN 2 to concentrate on the news of Mandela’s death.
Catch up on Deadline’s best film stories of the week:
Emerging Star Gal Gadot Set To Play Wonder Woman In ‘Batman Vs. Superman’
By Mike Fleming Jr. – Warner Bros and Zack Snyder have found their Wonder Woman. They’ve cast Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot in the iconic role and she will be part of Batman Vs. Superman, the film that will see Henry Cavill square off with Ben Affleck.
Paul Walker’s Manager Matt Luber Looks Back On 18 Years Growing Up Together
By Mike Fleming Jr. – EXCLUSIVE: When they help build a Hollywood star career, agents and managers know it can all end in a moment. That usually comes in the form of a phone call, informing them that client has dropped them for another rep. While that is hard to bear, I have been imagining how much worse it has been for Luber Rocklin Entertainment’s Matt Luber. His 18-year run with Paul Walker ended with a Saturday phone call as Luber and his daughter were leaving a sports bar to attend a college football game in Phoenix. That is when Luber learned that Walker had died instantly at age 40 in a tragic car crash.
Ben Affleck On Playing Batman, And How Not To Accept An Academy Award
By Mike Fleming Jr. – For Playboy’s 60th anniversary issue, the magazine needed an iconic subject for the Playboy Interview, and I hit the lottery. I got to talk with actor-writer-director-producer Ben Affleck about his life and the remarkable second act that he wrote for himself as writer-director of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, which culminated in the Best Picture Oscar for Argo.
BOX OFFICE: ‘Frozen’ Catches Heat And Fire To Lead The Weekend; Coens’ ‘Llewyn Davis’ Soars
By Anita Busch – Walt Disney’s Frozen and Lionsgate’s power franchise Hunger Games: Catching Fire warmed the box office this weekend as most of the nation was under a deep freeze. Traditionally, also, the weekend after Thanksgiving is slow and percentage drop-offs were not unexpected.
Disney Gets Full Rights To Future ‘Indiana Jones’ Pics In Deal With Paramount
By Dominic Patten – Walt Disney Studios and Paramount Pictures said today that they’ve reached a marketing and distribution deal for the Indiana Jones franchise. Among other things, this agreement removes the last hurdle for Disney in moving forward with future Indiana Jones movies, which the company acquired when it purchased Lucasfilm in a multibillion-dollar deal late last year.
OSCARS: Drafthouse Films Embracing Risks – And Hoping For Change – With Genocide Documentary ‘The Act Of Killing’
By Jen Yamato – Specialty distributor Drafthouse Films opened shop in 2010 and scored a surprise Oscar nomination with its third release, the Belgian Best Foreign Pic contender Bullhead. Now Drafthouse is back in the awards game with Joshua Oppenheimer’s startling Indonesian genocide documentary The Act Of Killing, a provocative pic backed by Werner Herzog and Errol Morris that has already racked up dozens of awards and made the Oscar documentary shortlist in a notably competitive year for nonfiction.
Jerry Bruckheimer And Paramount Ink First-Look Deal; Brett Ratner Attached To Direct ‘Beverly Hills Cop’
By Anita Busch – Paramount Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer are back in business together, with the free-agent producer and his Bruckheimer Films finalizing a three-year first-look deal with the studio that will begin in April 2014.
Universal Formalizes ‘Fast & Furious 7′ Postponement, But There Are No Plans To End Franchise
By Mike Fleming Jr. and Anita Busch – Sources involved in Fast & Furious 7 said there are no plans to scrap the franchise after star Paul Walker‘s tragic death Saturday in a car crash. And that makes business sense: The franchise is one of the most lucrative in Hollywood, having already made more than $2.4 billion for Universal.
‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Taps Dylan Neal As Anastasia Steele’s Stepfather
By The Deadline Team – Dylan Neal is the latest actor to join the cast of Universal Pictures and Focus Features’ adaptation of EL James’ bestselling Fifty Shades Of Grey. He’ll play Bob, Anastasia Steele’s (Dakota Johnson) stepfather and husband of Carla Adams (Jennifer Ehle).
CBS Films Nabs ‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ Pitch From ‘Saw’ Scribes
By Jen Yamato – EXCLUSIVE: CBS Films has sprung for a pitch from Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan, who wrote the last four Saw films, to adapt Alvin Schwartz’s classic spooky tale collection Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I’m told it was a competitive bidding for the project, which will see Melton and Dunstan adapt some of the Scary short stories into a screenplay about a group of outcast kids who stand up to their fears to save their town when nightmares come to life.