Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Winning the Lottery might have better odds...

OK, now I'm not one to knock folks for trying something new, but color me skeptical on this one.

I'm talking about the latest entrant to the CG Animated Feature Film Bonzo Bonanza Derby, Raven Moon Entertainment. According to a recent press release on their website (which was reported over at Animation World Network) they
"... plan to produce three ``Disney/Pixar style'' fully animated low-budget theatrical films with the same technology used in ``Toy Story'', ``Shrek'' and ``The Incredibles'' with a budget of only $1,500,000 per film for the G-Rated movie marketplace, where parents and kids can't wait to buy the next movie ticket."
Aside from the tragic comparisons to films like Toy Story, Shrek and The Incredibles... Sounds reasonable, right? I mean, heck, $1.5mil is a lot of beer money. You can get a bunch of stuff done for $1.5mil.
Well... not exactly. I'm sure they can make 70+ minutes of film res footage in 14 months. The question that remains is will it be worth looking at? Will the story be any more engaging than your average TV episodic pablum? And the most important of all- Will tens of thousands of parents be excited enough about the idea to fork over $40+ to take their 2.5 kids to go see it with a tub of artery clogging popcorn (payable in 3 easy monthly payments) on the opening Friday night just because it exists? Are parents and kids SO desperate that they'll go see anything? And mind you, I'm not a "big budget is the only way to go" snob. There's no way in the world that every animated feature film needs to cost $100+mil. If you're spending that much on a movie there's a better than average chance that you're wasting some somewhere. There's room in the market place for lower budget features. But there's low budget and then there's walking dangerously close to not dealing in reality.

Last year I worked as an animation supervisor on one direct to video feature length project that had an "alleged" budget of $3.5-4mil. Then I directed another direct to video feature length movie for an "alleged" budget of just $2.5mil. I'll be honest- these projects didn't look so hot. Not bad considering the budget and deadlines- certainly servicable in the direct to video toy merchandising market for which they were created. But on the whole they were nothing to write home about visually or story wise despite the talent applied to the task. The most talented artists and writers in the world can only do so much with a given budget. And I certainly wouldn't expect anyone in their right mind to plunk down $8 a seat to watch these things in a darkened cinema. That kind of monetary output for a family demands at least the illusion of a quality exprience. There's a point where if your movie is not up to snuff (ie: more than an extra long outsourced TV show) you can't even think about playing at that level. People wouldn't even come close to getting their money's worth.

In the animation biz $1.5mil for a film resolution feature length project doesn't go very far at all. I'd be willing to bet Dreamworks spends that much on food alone for one of their films. (if you've ever visited the Glendale campus and seen the cafeteria you wouldn't doubt it at all. Great food, though. Yum!) Spending only $1.5mil means you're gonna be hard pressed to get anything worth even showing on a big screen, even if you get the entire project done in India. And I won't even get into the hidden insidious costs of the current theatrical distribution system. Basically even among the smallest boutique distributors a theatrical release these days has a significant price of entry, especially if you're gunning for a $25mil return. If they were making direct to video, then I think their plan has a sliver of hope. But if these folks at RM insist on going the theatrical route with these things, well... let's just say I'd be selling that stock.

But hey, I've been wrong plenty of times before in my life. And who knows? If they make it work you can bet I'll be the first guy to cheer their success. It'd be great to see something like this work. So in that spirit of hopeful (foolhardy?) support, I wish the good folks at Raven Moon all the luck in the world with this. They're probably gonna need it.


Anonymous said...

I don't know how things work in the industry for such budgets, but does that 1.5 million include payroll?

Is 3d work THAT cheap overseas?

Keith Lango said...

Yes, it includes payroll, plus all pre and post production (voices, audio, sound design, score, mixing, film out, master, etc.) Can you get it done for $1.5mil? Maybe. Barely. Can you get it done well? Even if you're charitiable with the definition of the word "well", not likely.

Lars van Schagen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam Green said...

But you know, the biggest issue I have with them is that they are focusing on return on investment, not quality filmmaking. The entire PR statement revolves around how much they are going to spend vs. how much they are going to make. Its almost as if they are publically announcing it so that they can convince their shareholders or investors that it can be done, making them obligated to meet it.

But where are the words "quality filmmaking," or "tell a good story," or "entertaining and wholesome," or "groundbreaking new technology?" No, instead it says, 'Kids and parents LOVE Toy Story, so lets get a piece of that pie you guys!' (guys in suits patting themselves on the back) Well why do you THINK they love Toy Story, huh? Because they have a good story to tell and tell it well (which costs money, btw). What Raven has committed to is Dora the Explorer infecting our movie theaters. Do our theaters have no more sanctity?? Pathetic.

Darrin Hofmeyr said...

Oh dear... oh dear.
Somebody is wearing their necktie too tight.

Steve Gould said...

Hey Guys and Girls (well no ladies here yet),

This is a classic move like the famouse British privatisation. When you have a service going privatised it gets companies bidding and the cheapist bid gets the job, but what the public get is so little in return for there money, look at our glorious UK Transport service, enough said.

You really cant hide quality when it comes in front of your face to be watched.

I also remember Brad Bird (incredibles and iron giant creator, but all you cg gods already known that) say in some article that developing a character takes time. You cant commercialize character than send it out the door to make money after 12 months of project development, was Rome built in a day?

Only time will tell and it will end in tears, but I'm willing to forgive. :0)

Just before I go (than I hear you all cheer).

I work for a big games company and we use a 3rd party company regully to do some FMV work on our sport title. The work was good and professional but at a price. So our project leaders decided to save some money and use a company that charged half the cost. We got in return work flow hassle and an FMV that was terrible, they went back to our orignal company in the end.

Anonymous said...

Raven Moon's off their rocker. The possibilities of indipendent low-budget animated films are really exciting, but even a low-budget film of any kind of quality is going to cost a lot more then 1.5 million. It sounds to me like they're just trying to make a lot of noise with a press release.

There is this French company Oniria Pictures, who are genuinely off doing indipendent low budget features for theatrical distribution....and the animation doesn't look bad. They seem to be doing it partly by painting rather then modeling all of their backgrounds, producing each shot more like a traditional animated film even though the characters are CG.

Nothing they're doing is gonna compete with Pixar, but they're not claiming to, either. I wish I knew what their budget was. I'm sure it was far, far less then the average American animated film, but I don't know by how much (I don't think being overseas would give them any kind of advantage when doing this sort of thing, because currently the Euro is worth more then the dollar). I'm dead sure they had more then 1.5 mil, though.

jeff said...

"Disney/Pixar style fully animated low-budget theatrical film"

is that an oxymoron right there?