Some animated filmmakers take special pride in declaring they do not make films for money. They’re artists, after all. They’re not filmmakers selling out for a profit. Let’s not kid ourselves because animated feature films was always about making money. It’s just that in the old days we simply weren’t that blatant about it. For us filmmakers, doing a good job was reward enough. Plus, if we were lucky enough to continue on and be blessed with another project, that was considered icing on the cake. Today, it’s about a whole lot more than simply making a motion picture. It’s all about making money. That’s because a hit animated feature film will pretty much guarantee a sequel and that sequel will engender another film. We’re no longer making movies - we’re building a franchise. And, nothing delights a corporation more than a product that will make them money forever.
It’s not that I have anything against sequels, mind you. I’ve worked on a few myself and one of them was especially good. On occasion, a sequel based on a darn good idea is more than welcome and that can be a win win for all concerned. These days, I’m afraid the opposite is true and more than a few sequels are simply cash grabs. I suppose one can hardly blame the studios. They’re just trying to squeeze the maximum out of their already sizable investment. Even in the old days, Walt Disney knew he had to make money. However, the Old Maestro had an agenda. Sizable profits simply enabled Walt to pour more cash into innovative new projects. Walt Disney wasn’t about profitability - he was about creativity. The gobs of money his films earned allowed that marvelous creativity to continue.
I’m an animation guy from another time and I continually grow weary of the “profit reports” from each new animated film being released. I would welcome a discussion about the new film and its effective production values or compelling storyline. Sadly, the discussion always begins with opening weekend box office numbers and how many millions the movie earned. What’s even sadder is, the impressive numbers really don’t mean much to the people who created the film. If you’re really, really lucky you might garner a bonus. However, unless you backed the movie with real hard cash you can pretty much forget about that new sporty Mercedes or the Malibu beach house. Animated feature films make bank these days. Yet in spite of the massive profits, Animation studios continue to struggle to stay alive. And, more than a few never make it. In the past few years I’ve seen a progression of savvy studio managers fall on their face. Why? Because it is tough working in a business where nobody really knows what they’re doing. In time, your luck and your money eventually runs out and you have to look for a real job.
If you think this is a diatribe against the studios, think again. We workers want studios to be successful. A healthy, profitable studio means more jobs for all of us and we take no delight when a production house begins to stumble. I’d also like to return the discussion to creating better product because if the product sucks there will be no profit and all will suffer. Perhaps it is time to get our minds off profits and focus instead on creating something special. The Old Maestro, Walt Disney was certainly aware of that. Create something unique and special and the dollars will follow. Perhaps it is time for studio bosses to start thinking like creators again. We already have more than enough studio bosses thinking like Wall Street brokers.