August 20, 2006

Economics of Animated Movies: Writing and Residuals [10:03 am]

Eyeing a little more green - pdf

Writers of live-action features get royalties when their work is repackaged and sold. But writers of animation don’t. Their “ancillary profit participation,” as it’s known, is paid in multiples of zero.

It’s an industry standard evolved over a decades-long debate between the writers and their employers, and in a practical sense, it means that the writers of “Goldmember” get paid a small percentage of every sale of a video or DVD, which can add up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the writers of “Shrek 2″ receive nothing.

This disparity has its roots in the early days of animation, when storyboard artists and animators were the primary creative forces behind projects and screenwriters, if they were used at all, came in to add polish at the end.

Even though the rise of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation moved writers to the front of the process, as they are in live-action films, the financial divide remains. And it endures in a time when studios increasingly propel profits with billion-dollar, script-driven franchises such as “Toy Story,” “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo.”

[...] But even as the world of animation has made startling advances in technology and narrative and created astronomically successful multiplatform brands consumed by the whole family well beyond theatrical release, some of the best animation writers have abandoned the field, and other writers avoid taking animation assignments at all.

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