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.