A.S. #594: DELGO: The Hard Lessons of Reaching For The Sky

Animated Shorts #594: DELGO

Last December, Marc Adler and his company, the Atlanta-based Fathom Studios, tried to do something in animation that hasn’t been done in ages; independently produce and release an animated feature film.

It ended up, as the industry report put it, the biggest bust of 2008. Box Office Mojo estimated it cost $40 million to produce, and the venerable web site says it only brought in over $500,000. The site By The Numbers was a little kinder, saying it brought in over $900,000. Adler himself, while never exactly saying the precise numbers, does say it cost a lot less than that $40 million.

No matter how you do the numbers, was one very expensive lesson for Fathom.

“Yeah, was disappointing at the box office,” Adler, who produced, directed and wrote the movie, agrees. “It was tough. It wasn’t a Christmas I was hoping to have.

“But you know what? When you look back at this, if there was something in your life you wanted to do, and then you don’t do it, when you look back on it you’ll always wonder what would have happened forever. In my case, I guess the question is, which is worse? Should I have not done it or that I did do it. At least I had the opportunity to still pursue my dream despite the outcome.”

Not that the film didn’t have some things going for it. It truly was a very original science fiction story. The animation, utilizing a lot of CGI tech that was off the shelf, was solid. It included a very solid list of marquis names in its voice cast, including Lou Gossett Jr, Burt Reynolds, Freddie Prinze Jr, Eric Idle, Jennifer Love Hewitt and the late, great Anne Bancroft in her last film role.

It also got into a lot of theaters, well over 2,000 according to Box Office Mojo. There were proper theatrical displays and even an ad budget used for newspapers and such cable channels as the SciFi Channel and Cartoon Network.

Obviously though, it doesn’t work when the film only brings in about $200 a theater.

“There are so many factors as to why the film didn’t do well in terms of theatrical release,” says Adler. “It could have been the weekend. It could have been the marketing. It could have even been the kind of marketing, from the budget of the marketing to where it was done. It could have just been that theater-going people didn’t like the movie.

“I think one thing is you have to give a movie like a chance to for people to not like it, and we didn’t even get that.

“The critical mistake was starting the movie without a distributor [ED NOTE: The film was distributed by a company called Freestyle Releasing]. Really, you make a film, and even if you think it’s great, you’ll have to go beg and plead with distributors to pick it up. Also, with a lot of distributors, when they do, you’re not allowed to have any input into that process at all from that point.

“It’s a really hard world for the independent these days, and that’s not just me. There are a lot of brilliant films you’ll see at Sundance that still have a hard time getting out there. That’s due to the people who control the system right now.

“Yes, there’s a system setting up on the internet, but there’s no way to truly monetize it yet. You still have to do marketing, even if you have lightning in a bottle. When you are an independent you are going to have a hard time making the money back. In the end, you have to be satisfied with it being a passion project.”

As it stands, the film has just been released as a DVD through Fox Home Entertainment. Adler just got the first retail report and has been pleased with what he read.  

“The good news is the DVD had great sales so far,” he reports. “It went well beyond expectations. I don’t fully understand it because it uses a lot of retail terminology I’m certainly not familiar with, but they are happy. In fact, they are very enthusiastic. It’s surpassed every projection they had. Most stores that took it sold out.”

So could end up the next in the line of initial busts that turned around afterwards? Could you say he’s hoping his ends up standing tall like a certain ?

“I love ,” he admits. “I think it was also a victim of bad marketing. I can’t see how anyone can not like that movie, and time has proven it.

I’m hoping, in the end, that people will finally see and see it for what it was. I mean, it’s not $180 million Pixar film. Our budget never even came close to that. Even if we had a fraction of the $40 million Box Office Mojo says we had, what we had to work with was really a small fraction of what Pixar or Dreamworks works with.”

Adler had some other promising news, too.

“Cartoon Network has also picked up the rights to the movie,” he said. “They have four-year rights, starting six months after the DVD release. Fox has also picked up the movie for international and local pay-per-view, DVD and what not.”

In the meantime, the DVD does have what could be a peep into Fathom’s future.

“We have a short, entitled ‘Chromo Chameleon,’” he notes. “It’s more Hollywood formula with funny animals. Yes, it has cute creatures. It has to be comedy. is none of that. So, yes, we decided to not fight the Hollywood system and do something we know works, tried and true.

“So what we did was come up with this storyline and extracted this short from it. It also let us try some new technology we hadn’t used. So it’s a test. We’re now taking it around to studios and we do have some initial interest to do it as a feature.”

There was one other interesting side effect of putting out the movie. Doors that hadn’t been open to Adler before are now starting to let him in.

“What’s interesting is there’s a club,” he says. “You are in the club if you’ve completed at least one feature length film. If you’ve never made a movie, you are not in the club.

“What then happens is when you go around to the studios, the first question they ask is ‘have you ever made a movie.’ In their mind, if you never have, they have to sit and wonder if you have what it takes to pull it off and they very well just might not take the risk on you.

“I can go around and say, ‘yes, I have made a movie.’ So we have the requisite experience. That now puts us in a league we weren’t in before. It doesn’t matter if it was poorly marketed, because the studio feels it’s going to do the marketing. So that’s not a concern. Also, if they like the story, then that concern is out the window. So, if they like the short and the animation, then it’s a matter of making the right kind of deal.”

As for lessons learned? Let Adler sum it up.

“I will say that I was steadfast about the film,” he says. “It was the way I wanted it to be fulfilled.

“The question that I think about now is if I had the chance to do it all over again; A) would I have? And B) I wish I knew then what I know now. I have learned so much. It’s amazing what you learn just doing one film.

“Actually, I’m hoping I will be granted the ability to learn a lot more. I admit we made a lot of mistakes. We also didn’t make a lot of mistakes we could have made. We did get the thing done, and I’m still really proud about what we made.”

So maybe it was a hard lesson for Adler, Fathom and all involved. Let’s hope the future grants him the opportunity to use this tough education to its full effect.

DREAMWORKS ANNOUNCES OOBERMIND CAST

Dreamworks announced it rounded up many more of the usual suspects for its animated feature film, . Among them are Will Farrell, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Tina Fey had previously signed.

As the press notes say: “When super villain Oobermind (Will Ferrell) defeats his archrival Metro Man (Brad Pitt), the world should be his oyster.  But instead, Oobermind falls into total despair.  It turns out that life without a rival is life without a point for him.  So, he creates a new superhero rival, Titan (Jonah Hill).  Unfortunately, the new hero wants to be a super villain, too.  Caught in the middle, star reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) asks the tough questions:  Who can we turn to?  Who has what it takes to stand up to this menace?  Who will defend the innocent?  Oobermind!  That’s who.

“We are thrilled to welcome Will, Brad and Jonah to ,” said Bill Damaschke, Co-President of Production & President of Live Theatrical for DreamWorks Animation. “Together, our all-star cast will set the comedic tone for this exciting new twist on the superhero genre.”

is being directed by Tom McGrath () and produced by Lara Breay and Denise Nolan Cascino. The best news is McGrath, who’s also the voice of Skipper of the Madagascar Penguins, is on board. The film is slated for a November, 2010 release.

CN GREEN LIGHTS TWO NEW TOONS

While we’re spreading good news, Cartoon Network has apparently come to its senses and has green lit two new animated series (as opposed to the slew of live action series and movies they've been working on lately).

The first is entitled and is created by J. G. Quintel. It was developed as a short for Cartoon Network’s Cartoonstitute. Two bored groundskeepers, Mordecai (a six-foot-tall blue jay) and Rigby (a hyperactive raccoon) are best friends who spend their days trying to entertain themselves by any means necessary, much to the displeasure of Benson (their boss, who is a gumball machine) and to the delight of Pops (an older, lollipop-headed gentleman). Their everyday pursuits often lead to things spiraling out of control and into the surreal: they open portals to other dimensions, summon demons via an ‘80s arcade game and accidentally use choreographed dance moves to send co-workers to the moon. All in a typical day’s work on Regular Show. J.G. Quintel served as creative director of for two seasons and was a storyboard artist on the Emmy-winning animated series . It will be produced at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, CA.

tells the story of Thrasher and Blastus, two outsider teenage droids who are only slightly less horrific than the ultra-powerful robots that populate their planet, Killglobe.  Now they face their greatest challenge yet: high school. Armed with a desire to fit in, Thrasher and Blastus navigate their lives with varying degrees of success. Created by Michael Buckley and Joe Deasy and co-executive produced by Christy Karacas (), Horrorbots will be produced in New York.

Cartoon Networks also announced they have put in a requisition for more episodes of and . Now when are they going to renew ?

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