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2013 Most Valuable Blockbuster – How The Minions Came To Rule Hollywood

Mike Fleming

Well, now that Universal‘s Despicable Me 2 has proven itself 2013′s Most Valuable Blockbuster, the film’s impresario, Illumination Entertainment founder Chris Meledandri (below), deserves to take a victory lap. More seriously, the tournament was conducted to give a clearer idea, beyond the weekend and annual box office standings, of the profits and Total Cash on Cash returns that films generate. These are the factors that keep studios in business and keep co-financiers coming back for more. As a final cap, Deadline Hollywood provides readers with the revenue and costs charts of all 16 films that participated in the inaugural tournament. This data was always expected to be the most memorable part of this exercise.

Despicable Me 2 Chris Meledandri Profit

As a refresher, here’s how our tournament played out, with links to each game: Read More »

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Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Sets Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet And Kevin Hart For 3D Animated ‘Pets’ Pic At Universal

Mike Fleming

UNTITLED_PET_PROJECT_Image_(2)EXCLUSIVE: Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures have been reserving prime release date real estate for secret family film projects. Deadline has the details on the one that will be released on February 12, 2016. Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri has set Louis C.K., Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet and Ride Along’s Kevin Hart to voice the main characters in what is being called the Untitled Pets Movie. Meledandri is producing the 3D animated film with longtime collaborator Janet Healy. Chris Renaud, who helmed the first two Despicable Me films for Illumination, will direct this one, and the co-director is Yarrow Cheney, who helmed a short that will be part of The Minions DVD release. The script was written by Despicable Me scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.

louisericThis becomes the fifth animated film for Illumination and a return to an original property, and the Pets pic marks the first animated studio feature that Louis C.K, Stonestreet and Hart have taken part in. Here’s the logline: the action comedy is set in a Manhattan apartment building. After the two-legged residents head for work and school, their pets gather to start their day, which consists of hanging out, trading humiliating stories about their owners, and helping each other work up adorable looks that will lead to more snacks. The head hound is a quick-witted terrier rescue (Louis C.K.), whose position at the epicenter of his master’s universe is suddenly threatened when she comes home with Duke (Stonestreet), a sloppy mongrel with no polish. The two soon find themselves on the mean streets of New York, where they meet the adorable white bunny Snowball (Hart). It turns out that Snowball is the leader of an army of pets that were abandoned and are determined to get back at humanity and every owner-loving pet. The dogs must thwart this plot and make it back in time for dinner. Read More »

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‘Despicable Me 2′ Breaks Blu-Ray, Digital Sales Records In $80M Home Vid Debut

despicable_me_2Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment‘s Despicable Me 2 took in $80 million in physical and digital sales and sold roughly 4.5 million units in its first week of home entertainment release, the companies announced today. The animated sequel has now become the best-selling animated Blu-ray title in its first week, surpassing 2010′s Despicable Me which previously held that distinction. Digital consumption is also strong, as Despicable Me 2 additionally hit #1 as the best first-week digital sales of all time. Theatrically the pic, starring Steve Carell as the lovable supervillain Gru, has raked in over $918 worldwide. The Despicable Me franchise is nearing $1.5 billion in worldwide box office.

Related: ‘Despicable Me 2′s’ Chris Meledandri Talks Humor, Heart, Minions And The Future Of Illumination: Video

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The Contenders 2013: ‘Despicable Me 2′s’ Chris Meledandri Talks Humor, Heart, Minions And The Future Of Illumination (Video)

By | Friday November 15, 2013 @ 4:05pm PST
Pete Hammond

Illumination’s Chris Meledandri shows up on the Universal panel at Deadline’s THE CONTENDERS event to talk about the formula for success that has made his Despicable Me 2 not only the year’s top animated grosser not too far under a billion dollars worldwide at the box office but also the most successful film in the studio’s history.  Universal is doing a big push to see that it also gets Oscar recognition, something that eluded the original film. Not only are they hoping for an Animated Feature mention but also Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” is in contention. As for future sequels Meledandri shares the current plan.

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PHOTOS: Contenders 2013 Gallery

Deadline’s sold-out award season kick-off The Contenders unspooled Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Take a look at our special guest panelists from this year’s crop of Oscar hopefuls from The Weinstein Company, Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate, Focus, CBS Films, Paramount, Fox Searchlight, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Walt Disney Pictures, Universal and Dreamworks Animation. Click through for the updated gallery:

Related: Deadline’s ‘The Contenders’ Event To Kick Off Awards Season And New Annenberg Center Today

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Chris Meledandri To Receive PGA’s 2014 Visionary Award

By | Monday October 28, 2013 @ 10:26am PDT

Related: Studio Executives Past And Present Gather To Honor Chris Meledandri

LOS ANGELES (October 28, 2013) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today that Chris Meledandri, Founder and CEO of Illumination Entertainment, will receive the 2014 Visionary Award. The award will be presented to Meledandri at the 25th Anniversary Producers Guild Awards ceremony on Sunday, January 19, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Producers Guild Visionary Award recognizes a television, film or new media producer for his or her unique or uplifting contributions to our culture through inspiring storytelling or performance.

Meledandri is being recognized with the Visionary Award as one of the definitive producers of contemporary animation. He receives this award just as the latest blockbuster hit that he has produced, Universal and Illumination’s DESPICABLE ME 2, becomes the 5th highest-grossing animated film of all time worldwide at the global box office.

“I have spent my career working alongside brilliant, passionate filmmakers to tell the types of stories that move audiences, and to receive recognition for this from the peers whose work I deeply admire makes this award all that more meaningful,” said Meledandri.

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Universal, Fox Executives – Past And Present – Gather To Honor Chris Meledandri At Fulfillment Fund Dinner

By | Thursday October 24, 2013 @ 1:05pm PDT
Pete Hammond

“I feel sort of a disconnect. It’s overwhelming. Very surreal,” the Fulfillment Fund Stars 2013 benefit gala honoree Chris Meledandri told me as he made his way around the Beverly Hilton ballroom last night. “There are some very interesting machinations intertwined in the room.”

It seems like every studio executive — current, fired or in limbo — that had great success with Meledandri’s brand of filmmaking was there. There was a Fox contingent honoring the man who brought them the Ice Age franchise including Chairman Jim Gianopulos, former co-Chair Tom Rothman, Peter Chernin  and creative advertising whiz Tony Sella who may, or may not, be staying at Fox under the new re-structure. And of course a Universal contingent that included Ron Meyer, Donna Langley, new Chairman Jeff Shell, old Chairman Adam Fogelson, and Comcast’s Steve Burke among others.

Meledandri’s latest hit is Despicable Me 2, and when your movie makes over $800 million it’s not surprising to see thankful executives turn out in force. But as Meledandri said it was an “interesting machination”: Fogelson was one of the event co-chairs with Chernin, Meyer and Langley (among others) but sat a few tables away from the Uni power center. Another former Universal chairman, Marc Shmuger, was also in the room making for one of those uniquely ironic Hollywood nights — but a fun one with Ed Helms hosting. Presenter Steve Carell, who voices Gru in DM2, got the biggest laugh of the night in introducing Meledandri. “Chris now enjoys a successful partnership with Universal Studios and has provided them with a string of hits. Conventional wisdom tells us that he will soon be fired,” he said. I checked: The Universal table was laughing too. Read More »

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Illumination’s Chris Meledandri To Re-Animate ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’

By | Thursday February 7, 2013 @ 5:51pm PST

Chris Meledandri‘s Illumination Entertainment is working on a new animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas for Universal Pictures. Pete Candeland is set to direct with Meledandri producing. A writer has not yet been named. The Grinch‘s most recent screen appearance was Universal’s 2000 live-action version with Jim Carrey but Chuck Jones’ animated version from 1966 remains one of the most popular Seuss adaptations. The new version of The Grinch is Meledandri’s third Dr. Seuss project, and Illumination has developed a good relationship with Dr. Seuss author Theodor Geisel’s widow Audrey Geisel who will again serve as executive producer. Meledandri previously made Horton Hears A Who through Fox and Blue Sky Studios and The Lorax via Illumination for Universal.

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Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Names Natalie Fischer COO

By | Tuesday August 7, 2012 @ 10:49am PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri has named Natalie Fischer to be the company’s first Chief Operating Officer. The move was made as the company’s creative output continues to grow from one film every two years to one film per year. The move gives Meledandri the opportunity to focus on the creative and production side with Janet Healy, who’s based in Paris and who oversees production on all the films. Fischer had been Illumination’s Head Of Business Development after moving over in 2009 from Universal, where she had been senior vice president, Business Development and Strategy. She’d worked closely with Meledandri as the original business plan took shape before Illumination launched in 2007.

As COO, Fischer will be responsible for all key business operations of Illumination, while helping shape the overall strategic direction of a company which has grown to 35 full-time employees. She reports to Meledandri, overseeing finance, strategy, and administrative functions for the company and managing its relationship with Universal Pictures and Illumination Mac Guff, the 300-personal animation facility in Paris acquired to handle Illumination’s growing volume of family fare. Fischer, a Harvard MBA, previously held senior posts at UK’s Channel 4 and at Monitor Company.

Meledandri just set as Illumination’s fifth feature project an untitled film about The Minions, the adorable yellow creatures who served as Gru’s henchmen in Despicable Me. That film comes out in 2014, a year after the Despicable Me sequel … Read More »

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Illumination And Universal Hatch ‘Despicable Me’ Spinoff About The Minions

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After coming right out of the gate with the animated hit Despicable Me and turning it into a sequel and a just-opened 3D theme park ride at Universal Studios Orlando, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment has set an untitled feature spinoff based on The Minions as its fifth feature film with Universal. The adorable yellow-colored critters that began as henchmen for Groo in Despicable Me are now leading men (?) for a film Universal will release in 2014.

Despicable Me SequelThe film is an original story that will introduce new characters and reprise others that originated in Despicable Me, but the focus is on the antics of the yellow fellows as they interact with human characters. The script is already written by Brian Lynch, and Pierre Coffin will direct and Kyle Balda will co-direct. Coffin co-directed Despicable Me and is helming the sequel with Chris Renaud, and the two of them also do the voices for The Minions. Balda co-directed Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax with Renaud for Illumination. Read More »

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Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Cat In The Hat’ Get Another Life At Chris Meledandri’s Illumination

By | Thursday March 15, 2012 @ 3:25pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After topping the box office the past two weeks with Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri, and Audrey Geisel will tap the Dr. Seuss library for another classic title, and this one is a surprise. They will begin developing a 3D CG-animated feature based on The Cat in the Hat. Rob Lieber has just been set to write the script. Meledandri will produce and Geisel will be executive producer.

Aside from Green Eggs And Ham and How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat In the Hat is arguably the most famous story generated by Theodor Dr. Seuss Geisel. The surprise comes from the fact that Universal turned it into a live action film in 2003. That film grossed $101 million domestic and $133 million worldwide, it cost about $109 million to make and was considered a big disappointment. While a live action Grinch was a big hit for Universal, Meledandri and Mrs. Geisel believe that the Cat has more than one life on the big screen. It is a very popular ride in Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, a ride that was always based on Dr. Seuss’s original drawings. The feeling among Meledranadi, Mrs. Geisel, and Universal Films chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley is that Seuss’s works connect better in animation, prompting Universal’s decision to make this the next project.

Read More »

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Hot Trailer: Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’

Mike Fleming

Universal has released a new trailer for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the third film from Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment. The film opens March 2, 2012.

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Universal Pictures Buys Paris Animation Unit For Chris Meledandri’s Illumination

By | Monday November 14, 2011 @ 3:15pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment established itself as a reliable provider of family films for Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley, the studio has expanded its commitment to the division by acquiring the French animation unit of Mac Guff Ligne. That’s the Paris-based concern that has animated such Illumination films as Despicable Me and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. The animators there will work full time on Illumination fare and Universal has also taken a long term lease on the the 35,000 square foot animation facility–housed above an Aston Martin dealership right near the Eiffel Tower–where the staff works. The animation unit is being renamed Illumination Mac Guff. The move gives Meledandri a dedicated staff and the equipment needed to grow its family film output. It is somewhat reminiscent of the strategy used by Fox and Meledandri when he was president of Fox Animation and the studio acquired Blue Sky Studios, the Connecticut-based generator of Fox’s CG animated films like Ice Age.

“In acquiring an animation studio located half way around the world, we are evolving our filmmaking model; one that is creating entertainment despite borders, boundaries and languages,” Meledandri said in a statement. “This is possible because of the exceptional leadership provided by Janet Healy in running our films and by Jacques Bled in having been one of the key founders of MGL. Above … Read More »

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Hot Teaser Trailer: ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’

Mike Fleming

Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment have posted the first teaser trailer for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the third film by Chris Meledandri’s Universal-based family film division. Meledandri cultivated a relationship with Audrey Geisel, the widow of Theodor Geisel, when he ran Fox Animation and they turned Horton Hears a Who into an animated film. Dr Seuss’ The Lorax, featuring Danny DeVito as the voice of the title character, will be released March 2, 2012.

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TOLDJA! Paramount Taps Ex-Disney Exec David Stainton To Run New Animation Unit

Mike Fleming

UPDATE, 10:47 AM: Paramount Pictures has confirmed that David Stainton is its new head of animation. The press release is below Deadline’s original break.

EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, 10:23 AM: Paramount Pictures is hiring David Stainton to be head of Paramount Animation, the division it launched during the summer to generate one toon a year starting in 2014. Paramount’s launch coincided with speculation that Jeffrey Katzenberg and Paramount would have a parting of the ways when the DreamWorks Animation distribution deal ends December 31, 2012. Stainton is a good get. He spent 17 years at Disney, rose to president of Walt Disney Feature Animation and oversaw the studio’s animation facilities in Paris. Most recently, he had been CEO of Henry’s World Media, a family film producer. I’m told that Stainton will report to Paramount Motion Picture Group president Adam Goodman. The studio’s goal is to build a family film/CG animation unit from scratch, the way that Chris Meledandri did with Fox Animation and most recently for Universal with Illumination Entertainment. Paramount’s first homegrown foray into CG animation came with the Gore Verbinski-directed Rango with Johnny Depp. That was a pricey film, but it is looking good in the Best Animated Film category at the upcoming Oscars. Building an animation unit takes time and an executive with vision, and clearly Paramount brass thinks it has found that person in Stainton. Expect an announcement perhaps today. Read More »

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Illumination Hires Brooke Breton, Kit Giordano, Promotes Kristin Wong-Ward

By | Tuesday September 27, 2011 @ 11:22am PDT
Mike Fleming

Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment is continuing to ramp up its infrastructure by bringing two crucial hires onto its leadership team. The four-year-old company made several additions earlier this year, and now, Meledandri has announced the hirings of Brooke Breton as a senior production executive and Kit Giordano as Director of Development. Simultaneously, Kristin Wong-Ward has been promoted into the creative executive role.

Read More »

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Universal, Illumination, And Escape Artists To Film Harlem Teen Gospel Story

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures and Illuminaton Entertainment have acquired the rights package to make a film based on the 60 Minutes segment Gospel for Teens. Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri has made the project his company’s first live action family film deal, and he will produce with Escape Artists’ Todd Black. The script will be written by Stephen Belber, who is currently adapting the book Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun, as a potential starring vehicle for Jamie Foxx. Belber most recently sold The Long Run to Sony and Overbrook Entertainment, and he wrote and directed the Jennifer Aniston-Steve Zahn-starrer Management. The rights package was brokered by ICM. Read More »

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Chris Meledandri’s Illumination To Turn Uglydoll Into Animated Film

By | Thursday May 26, 2011 @ 7:04am PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri has acquired rights to turn the Uglydoll franchise into an animated feature film. Universal Pictures and Illumination will develop the film based on the global line of Uglydoll characters launched by husband-wife artist team David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. Meet the Fockers scribe Larry Stuckey will write the script, inspired by the dolls and stories created by Horvath and Kim. Meledandri will produce, and Horvath and Kim will be executive producers through their Pretty Ugly LLC banner. The plan is to start with the feature and then branch into a wider range of media opportunities.

Meledandri told me he first started seeing the designs at the Giant Robot store near his home over a decade ago, and “I remember the immediate appeal and connection that the characters had for me. They are simple in design, expressive in personality, and once I got to know David and Sun-Min, I learned there was a mythology and a world behind this,” he said. “The personality and level of wit reminded me of the illustrated work I saw from Matt Groening before he did The Simpsons. The characters have a cult following, and they’ve been very restrictive in where and how they’ve sold them. It has been a small cottage industry, but it seems just right for us in terms of the potential for a growth curve. Most importantly, the strength cuts to the heart of our strategy, which … Read More »

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Chris Meledandri Adds Exec Pair As Illumination Entertainment Expands

By | Wednesday March 16, 2011 @ 2:27pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri has hired Ashley Kramer to be EVP of Production and Gail Harrison to oversee Creative Marketing. The move signals expansion plans for the 4-year-old Universal Pictures-based company, whose first release Despicable Me grossed $540 million worldwide. At a time when recent underwhelming results from animation releases like Mars Needs Moms has some second-guessing the animated feature game all the way down to 3D prices, Meledandri is adding executives with the intention of doubling Illumination’s output to two films per year by 2012 or 2013. The company’s next release, the live action/CG mix Hop, will be released by Universal on April 1.

“With Despicable Me behind us, the impending release of Hop, The Lorax in production and a Despicable Me sequel in early stages, it was time to properly scale the company and begin to solidify the team that will lead us as we move forward,” Meledandri told me. “With our output rising from our current schedule of one movie per year, it became imperative that we supplement the staff with additional key executives who can help the company grow. These two new hires are the first of a few key positions we will be filling.”

Meledandri said that Harrison will be helpful in what he sees as a major priority for Illumination: bolstering the efforts of Universal’s marketing team and brand building on each family film release. Part of that is an emphasis on supplying “vast amounts of content generated in the films to exist outside the films themselves.” Meledandri noted that Despicable Me yielded over 15 minutes of extra original content. “Some of it was used for DVD, some for interstitial material that ran on the NBC networks, and some we used in conjunction with our promotional partners,” he said. There will also be a greater emphasis on promotional tie-ins like the one announced this morning by Universal, which tied in Walmart to promote Hop.

As for Kramer’s hire, it signals that Illumination will acquire more projects, but not that many. Meledandri is determined to keep a development ratio of 3.5 projects bought for each one made. “That’s dramatically different from the studio average, and it makes it harder for people submitting projects because we are extremely selective,” Meledandri said. “The good thing is, their chances of a film getting made from something we’re developing is very high.”

Meledandri said when Illumination ups its output, the second film won’t be another 3D CG animated feature. “We can’t make two fully animated films year in and out; we’re not set up to do it and the films are too work-intensive,” he said. “We’ll get to our two pictures per year target from all sources combined. That means one could be stop-motion, a hybrid, or live action that bolsters our steady flow of fully animated films.” Read More »

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