Thursday, February 26, 2015

More Trouble: DreamWorks To Sell Studio, 'Penguins' Declared a Flop, and More

These past couple of months have been rough for the moon boy studio...

2014 began rather badly for them, as Mr. Peabody & Sherman became their third post-2006 money-loser, grossing $272 million against a $145 million budget, failing to double that cost. It was a real shame, for it was well-received. How To Train Your Dragon 2 picked things back up the following summer, but then Penguins of Madagascar opened the following autumn and it wasn't smooth sailing from there.

As this year began, they named the experienced Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria the new presidents of the studio, indicating that change was coming. Big change. Unfortunately, that big change was massive layoffs. Approximately 500 people were let go, and the Pacific Data Images campus - a pioneering CGI studio that's been around for 35 years that DreamWorks scooped up in the 90s - was shut down. It shocked and shook the animation industry inside and out...

Now, DreamWorks intends to sell and leaseback its main Glendale campus, which will earn then $185 million. Who it's going to, we don't know yet. They also announced a shocking fourth quarter net loss of $263 million, as Penguins of Madagascar has now been deemed a flop... A film that made 2.7x its production budget. Seriously, I don't understand DreamWorks' math and what their films have to make in order to be anything but a flop. I already dissected the performances of Rise of the Guardians, Turbo (which didn't even double its budget, but they took a roughly $13 million write down on that), and Peabody, looked at the write downs, I don't need another headache. Maybe it has something to do with marketing and consumer products, especially in Penguins' case considering that's from a franchise whose entries each cleared $500 million worldwide.

CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg had this to say...

"Although 2014 was a challenging year for our company, I am confident that our recent announcement to restructure our feature film business will enable us to deliver great films and better box office results, while improving the overall financial performance of our business."

He's also gung-ho about next year's Trolls, based on the classic troll dolls. In fact, they own the company that's behind said dolls. He said the film is "probably going to be the greatest opportunity that we’ve had of any movie since we started the company. Having a team in place that can actually fully exploit and get value out of that is essential for us." He then added that the consumer products division "is a nice business, growing very strongly for us …the lift off moment for them I think is going to be driven by Trolls." Man, could those statements sound any more corporate?

Katzenberg also feels that this year will be a turnaround year for the studio. He predicts that if the upcoming Home is a success, then the studio will enjoy a "break-even year or better". He's also highly optimistic about the company's upcoming Netflix shows Dinotrux and Voltron (they own the rights to the latter, since they bought Classic Media back in 2012), and the possible amounts of merchandise that will come from those.

Perhaps the most interesting bit from all of this negative news is this... An unheard-of 2018 release and its cast will be announced some time this year. A film that will apparently debut in China only in the first quarter of that year, and then get an international release shortly afterwards. It's said to be an original film. I'm guessing this will be an Oriental DreamWorks production, or co-production. Will it be an animated film? Because Oriental DreamWorks is also going to invest in live-action films, so that makes me wonder. Is it that Tibet Code film that they began working on a few years back?

DreamWorks' current plan is to release two films every calendar year as opposed to three, though they are finding ways to get more than two films out. Three films are pegged for 2017: Boss Baby, Captain Underpants, and The Croods 2. Captain Underpants, unlike the other two, will be produced at a studio in Canada called Mikros Image for a much smaller budget. Now that's a good idea, one that I praised back when it was announced. This is similar to what Illumination does. The studio that actually does most of the animation for Illumination's films is a French animation studio/vfx house called Mac Guff. Illumination then acquired the animation half of the company, and they produce good quality work for nearly half of what DreamWorks spent on their recent films. So I'm guessing this mystery 2018 release will be made outside of the main studio. Maybe Mikros Image, Oriental DreamWorks, maybe some other studio. Who knows!

In other DreamWorks news, Kung Fu Panda 3 now has a co-director. The film may be due out in a year, but Alessandro Carloni is now set to co-pilot the ship with Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who directed the second film. A long-time DreamWorks story artist, he is a great pick for co-director. His directorial debut, the ambitious Me and My Shadow, was unexpectedly halted back in early 2013 and put back in development. At least this gives him some work to do before he goes back to that film, which is still on the docket. I've heard that it's definitely going to be made, now that the story has been rewritten and re-imagined (the usual for troubled animated productions that get out of the ditch), but given their current slate, it won't open until after 2018. My friend Iry, who writes for Impero Disney and often interviews people within the industry, spoke with Carloni a while ago, and he told her that the film would be out after 2017. But that was then, the slate's different now, so we'll have to wait a little while longer for the 2D/CG hybrid film.

It could very well be that mystery 2018 film, but the fact that it's opening in China first makes me think otherwise. But you never know. All I hope for is that Home is a success in DreamWorks' eyes, but the best scenario would be this: It performs similarly to The Croods. DreamWorks needs the morale boost and whatnot, and if it's a success, it'll help get them through the year.

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