Today finds several interesting bits of work related news. First, on the non-Wild Brain front the href=“http://movies.yahoo.com/movies/feature/robots.html”>Robots trailer was released today. My friend KP has href=“http://speak.pushmedia.com/archives/2004/09/30/robots.php”>more information on it all. I’m glad to see it looks so great and that I actually laughed at the trailer. Of course having worked on it I want it to do well. I’ll be there in March to see it, that’s for sure. Now, on to the Wild Brain goodness. Today the news that I’ve been holding on to for months was finally released. Wild Brain has a multi-picture co-production deal with Miramax. The press stories have more information so here you go:
CGI ‘Opus’ blooms at Dimension Variety September 30, 2004 By MICHAEL FLEMING Miramax and Dimension Films have inked a multi-year agreement with San Francisco-based animation company Wild Brain to co-finance and co-produce CGI-animated films. The venture will get under way with “Opus,” based on the cynical wisecracking penguin character from Berkeley Breathed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comicstrip “Bloom County.” The timing of the Wild Brain alliance with Miramax and Dimension seems curious given the stalemate between those studios and Disney, as well as the impending exit of Disney’s primary CGI provider, Pixar. Miramax and Dimension would not comment on that issue, or whether Wild Brain would follow Harvey and Bob Weinstein if they make films elsewhere. In a statement, Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein said the deal was an outgrowth of its interest in family fare. “There is a tremendous demand for animated family films,” Weinstein said. “We’re impressed by Wild Brain’s creativity, storytelling prowess and sheer imagination and look forward to working together.” Dimension co-prexys Andrew Rona and Brad Weston will oversee the deal for the studio. While the gestation period for animated films is usually long, “Opus” will likely happen quickly. A script by “Scary Movie 3” scribe Craig Mazin is due next week, and Breathed has already done animatronic tests and character designs. Each party will provide 50% of production financing for projects they agree upon. Wild Brain will animate them; Miramax/Dimension will distribute worldwide. The studios will also distribute Wild Brain’s self-financed direct-to-video productions over the next three years, with Wild Brain also able to use the Miramax/Dimension distribution pipeline for its self-financed and produced films, with Wild Brain paying releasing costs. The alliance gives Miramax and Dimension its first foothold in CGI animation family fare, and the game plan is to make viable product for a reasonable price. Financed by Europe-based private equity firm Syntek Capital, Wild Brain has produced commercials for the likes of Coca-Cola and Nike, such short films as “Hubert’s Brain” and 15 animated TV series that includes the new CGI Disney Channel series “Higglytown Heroes.” Wild Brain was founded by creatives Jeff Fino, John Hays and Phil Robinson, and they brought in as chairman Jim Miller, who spent 21 years at Warner Bros., supervising the studio’s relationship with production companies such as Village Roadshow Pictures, New Regency and Morgan Creek. “This is similar to the business model I used at Warners, only we’re the guys raising money and making a deal with a major for as low a fee as we can get,” Miller said. “This is about putting all our money into content and building a portfolio of pictures. Family entertainment is the biggest seller in DVD, and so you can have economic success without a ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘Shrek.’ ” Wild Brain will do its animation from its 38,000-square-foot facility in San Francisco. Fino, Hays and Robinson said they will start recruiting talent, eventually raising their creative staff from 100 to as many as 175. Miller said having the Miramax/Dimension affiliation should help the recruitment of animators, as well as stars that are becoming increasing staples of CGI films. “At Pixar and DreamWorks, there is an oversupply of talent waiting for that day when they can be lead animator and director,” Miller said. “And Bob and Harvey will enable us to get great actors to be part of our films right away.”
Wild Brain: Toe Fungus to Tinseltown BusinessWeek SEPTEMBER 30, 2004 By Peter Burrows The digital animator’s biggest credit has been a TV ad. Now a deal with Miramax and a low-cost strategy have put it in the big leagues Pixar Animation Studios (PIXR ) is known for its digital animation virtuosity — masterful storytelling (Toy Story, Finding Nemo), with memorable characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Nemo, the clownfish. Rival DreamWorks SKG has the loveable troll Shrek, the biggest animated box-office star of all time. Then there’s Wild Brain of San Francisco. Never heard of it? Perhaps you’ve seen its best-known character on TV — Digger, the cretinous microbe burrowing under toenails in ads for Novartis’ (NVS ) foot-fungus treatment. BALLOONING BUDGETS. Now Wild Brain has landed a big movie deal with Miramax — a deal that suggests the business of digitally animated movies is maturing. For years, Hollywood has known that the market for such films is a gold mine that has just barely been tapped. That’s why six such flicks will be released in the next six months. Parents know full well the appeal such technologically sophisticated, cartoon-like cinema holds for their children. Profit potential is huge — not only because digital characters can be easily recycled, but because these films produce hugely lucrative video sales. Indeed, seven of the all-time top-selling videos are digitally animated movies. Wild Brain figures it can help Hollywood fill the pipeline, and do so in a far more efficient manner. Pixar and DreamWorks take a high-cost approach, spending more than $70 million per film. DreamWorks’ Shark Tale, due out on Nov. 1, will cost north of $80 million, while Pixar’s upcoming The Incredibles and Warner Bros.‘ The Polar Express will top $120 million. LITTLE KIDS, BIG MONEY. All that moola pays for development of advanced animation technologies and cadres of high-priced animators creating sumptuous, detail-filled scenes — not to mention free lunches and other perks. Every Pixar employee, for example, can take acting classes to hone their craft and get the occasional on-site massage. Wild Brain will take a very different approach. Their deal with Miramax calls for the production of five films, each at a total budget of less than $50 million. The outfit will share production costs, as in Pixar’s deal with Disney (DIS ), with Miramax taking a 12%-plus distribution fee off the top. And while Pixar says it may never try to make more than one film a year to maintains its quality standards, Wild Brain CEO Jim Miller hopes to make as many as possible. He figures his team will be able to crank a new flick every nine months, including direct-to-video fare for toddlers. Miller, a 30-year Warner Bros. veteran who joined Wild Brain in early 2002, makes no secret of his strategy: “I believe in portfolios.” Besides making films, Wild Brain also will continue producing animations for TV shows, commercials, and will look to work with other studios that want to field their own movies. “If you do it right,” he says, “this business should be relatively risk-free, with huge upside — if you control your costs.” FOX FORMULA. How to do it? Certainly, Wild Brain has successfully met its budgets during a 10-year history of producing animation for the likes of Coca-Cola (KO ), McDonalds (MCD ) and the Wall Street Journal (DJ ). While Wild Brain’s executives admire the complex artistry of Pixar and DreamWorks films, they argue that it’s not necessary for commercial success. By having fewer characters, more close-ups rather than sprawling landscapes, and scripts that don’t require any epic battles with casts of thousands, they can hold down costs and still engage audiences. They cite Ice Age, a Fox hit in 2002 that featured a tiny cast of animated players against an icy backdrop that was pretty much detail-free. Miller’s formula will require crafty marketing to succeed. That’s where Dimension, run by Miramax co-founder Bob Weinstein, comes in. Responsible for three trilogies with pop-culture appeal — Scream, Spy Kids, and Scary Movie — Dimension has a reputation for making the most of its content. And Wild Brain also must prove it can make good movies, which is a far different task than producing TV ads. ROMANCING THE MOUSE? That’s a very high bar, but insiders say Wild Brain has the right stuff. Talks of a deal began after Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein saw a short pilot film by Wild Brain called Hubert’s Brain, says the animation outfit’s co-founder, John Hays, who pitched to Weinstein. After coming up with movie ideas that lent themselves to animation, Miramax got serious about doing a deal. “Wild Brain has an extraordinarily talented team, a proven track record for bringing projects in on time, and they brought money to the table,” says Charles Layton, Miramax executive vice-president. And when it comes to the most difficult element of movie-making — telling a good story — Wild Brain plans to lean heavily on Miramax. “Bob [Weinstein] and Harvey are going to make sure the stories are top quality,” says the outfit’s co-founder, Phil Robinson. Striking a deal with Miramax raises another question: What role may Wild Brain have in Disney’s future? Pixar has announced plans to end its lucrative partnership with Disney. While many Hollywood insiders think the pair will find a way to get back together, Pixar’s departure could create a golden opportunity for Wild Brain. Disney has 500 employees in its own animation group and will be releasing Chicken Little next June. Disney also has deals with other small studios, such as Vanguard Films. “SINGLES AND DOUBLES.” No doubt, denizens of the Magic Kingdom will be watching Wild Brain’s work closely in the months ahead. Indeed, Wild Brain’s first movie — most likely based on Opus, the duck-billed platypus from the Bloom County comic strip — could be ready in 2006. That would be just months after Cars, Pixar’s last release for Disney, hits theaters. Wild Brain’s third co-founder, Jeff Fino, says all dealings have been with Miramax, and he denies his team is looking to replace Pixar. “We’re just an up-and-coming company. We have no right to compare ourselves to Pixar. Those guys are heroes,” he says. But he does point out that Disney is aware of Wild Brain’s work, via a Higgleytown Heroes cartoon that has been earning good ratings on the Disney Channel since it debuted on Sept. 12. Nor do the folks at Wild Brain rule out the possibility that someday they, too, may turn out a Pixar-style classic — one that earns boffo results both financially and creatively. That would be nice — but not necessary. “We can build a very successful company by hitting singles and doubles,” says Miller. Time for Wild Brain to go to bat.