DeadlineNow Morning Report: World Cup Has Arrived, Los Angeles Film Festival Underway, Disney Lawsuit (Video)
The former director of the Story Department at Walt Disney Studios is taking the media giant to court with allegations of age discrimination and wrongful termination. In a complaint filed this week in LA Superior Court seeking unspecified damages, Kevin Brady says he was pink-slipped under false pretenses by Disney last June after nearly 26 seemingly successful years with the company. “While the Disney defendants claimed that Plaintiff’s position was eliminated, Plaintiff was actually replaced by an individual in her late 20s or early 30s,” says the 11-page complaint filed Tuesday (read it here) by the 48-year-old.
Being that Brady was making $135,000 a year according to the filing plus heath, pension and retirement benefits, and that he is seeking special and prospective damages due to lost future earnings, this could add up very quickly into the millions if it is calculated to age of retirement. “Additionally, to the extent the Disney defendants contend that Plaintiff’s replacement was hired for a newly created position, the Disney defendants failed to consider or hire Plaintiff for this position even though it is the same or substantially similar to the position that Plaintiff held for the past 10 years of his employment,” reads the filing, which seeks a jury trial. Brady’s apparent replacement in a renamed position was a former assistant of Disney Studios Motion Picture Production president Sean Bailey. And then there’s the kicker: “Further, the Disney defendants have a history and pattern of terminating long term employees and replacing them with younger employees who have less experience at the company.”
Idina Menzel continues to show star-power, with the release of the original Broadway cast album of If/Then opening on the Billboard 200 chart at number 19. It’s the best debut since the release of the cast album of Rent in 1996 — which also starred Menzel. That Pulitzer Prize-winning show also debuted at number 19, though the comparative numbers are revealing bout the state of the music industry: Rent sold 43,000 albums to achieve that number, while If/Then had to move only 15,000 units to achieve the same ranking, for the week ending June 8, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Menzel, the voice of Elsa and the hit song “Let It Go” from Disney‘s blockbuster Frozen, was a Tony nominee for If/Then (as she was for Rent) and won a huge following for her Tony-winning portrayal of green-visaged Elphaba in the original 2004 Broadway cast of Wicked (and that time, she won the Tony). The soundtrack to Frozen remains 2014′s top-selling album, with 2.6 million sold this year, of its 2.9 million to date according to Billboard.
Broadway had a healthy runup to Sunday’s Tony Awards, as the total box office hit $28.3 million, an increase of $445,000 over the week before. Disney’s Aladdin took in $1.28 million (and a Tony for Genie James Monroe Iglehart), its best week to date, and heads into the summer tourist season with a hefty $18 million advance, according to sources. Producer David Binder also had a great week: Not only did his hit Hedwig And The Angry Inch bring home four Tonys including best musical revival and best lead actor in a musical for Neil Patrick Harris, but his revival of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men, fueled by stars James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton, recouped its $3.8 million capitalizations with seven weeks to go on its limited run.
Disney Studios EVP Production Tony To is crossing over to Lucasfilm, which said today the veteran is joining the company as Head of Production and Development. He will report to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy after a three-year stint at Disney and will be tasked with overseeing all live-action and animation production. That includes six new projects on the studio’s slate including Star Wars: Episode VII, the upcoming Star Wars Rebels animated series, and two recently announced stand-alone Star Wars films from directors Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank.
As part of the deal, To will continue to oversee Disney’s recently announced co-development deal with China’s Shanghai Media Group, a multi-year partnership to co-develop Disney-branded movies for U.S.-China co-productions. As part of that initiative, U.S.-based writers team with locally based Chinese writers and filmmakers to develop scripts that combine Disney’s storytelling and Chinese elements.
It is the second big hire of a hot young director for the franchise. After the monster Godzilla opening, director Gareth Edwards was set for an untitled Star Wars 3D stand-alone film, which Disney has dated for a December 16, 2016 release. Going young like this makes me more bullish on what is happening here, because I felt that Lucas steered the last three films to a sense of complacency that I felt hobbled the franchise. Lucasfilm is lucky these directors grew up with the original groundbreaking trilogy, making these hot young shooters desperate to be involved here.
Next Time On Lonny, the satirical online video series executive produced by Ben Stiller‘s Red Hour Digital and Disney-owned Maker Studios, debuts the first three episodes of its second season on Maker.TV and, for today only, YouTube, with a raft of guest appearances by Hollywood notables including Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Kal Penn, Jerry O’Connell, Kathy Baker, Haley Joel Osment and Paul Scheer. The entire season is being sponsored by Verizon, with more episodes rolling out twice a week on Maker.TV and Maker’s comedy hub, Nacho Punch. The show is a satire of reality TV, blending sketch comedy and imaginary film preview segments. It was created by Alex Anfanger, who also stars, and Dan Schimpf, who directs. Besides Stiller, Anfanger and Schimpf, executive producers of the show include Stuart Cornfeld, Mike Rosenstein and Debbie Liebling. Brillstein Entertainment Partners represent Anfanger and Schimpf.
Yesterday, reports surfaced that about 10% of the company’s 380 employees had been laid off, part of a continuing restructuring in the fast-changing online-video space. A Maker spokesperson declined to comment on whether any layoffs had occurred, but said, “Maker’s business is constantly evolving, and we routinely reassess our internal resources and make strategic adjustments, reducing staff in some areas while actively hiring in others.” A source close to the company emphasized the company is continuing to hire in some areas of its business. “If there is at any point a reduction, it’s not tied to the Disney acquisition,” the source said. “Maker is in a very healthy place, given the acquisition. It’s aligning its resources to its goals.”
I spoke separately with Tom Schumacher, head of Disney Theatricals, and composer Alan Menken about Tony best-musical nominee Aladdin, which has taken over the company’s Times Square flagship, the New Amsterdam Theatre. Back in the day, the New Amsterdam was home to the Ziegfeld Follies, and there’s more than a dash of Busby Berkeley spectacle in the new show, which earned mostly damned-faint-praise from critics but which is doing great business and has an obvious future in various Disney iterations. It may not be The Lion King (really, what is?), but it ain’t The Little Mermaid, either.
With former Disney Studios chief Peter Schneider (now an independent producer), Schumacher — who started his career in L.A. working with such game-changers as director Peter Sellars and CalArts’s Bob Fitzpatrick — oversaw Disney’s animation renaissance beginning in the late 1980s and went exclusively to the theater division in 2002. The company now has three shows running on Broadway (with The Lion King and Newsies) and though he wouldn’t at all mind heading to the stage of Radio City Music Hall on June 8 to pick up a Tony, he’s pragmatic about the value of the nomination.
“The important period is the time between the nominations and the awards,” he said of the Tonys. “That’s the opportunity to sell our show to the audience, and our team is at the top of its game.” Disney doesn’t release figures but Schumacher said that Aladdin was produced on the “same scale as Mary Poppins,” the previous New Amsterdam tenant, which, all told, is probably in the $20 million range. Of course, few producers have either Disney’s pockets or it’s cross-platforming advantages (Mary Poppins has done big business in Australia, among other markets). He hasn’t lost his taste for the offbeat: “I cried twice during Here Lies Love,” Schumacher told me.
UPDATE, FRIDAY 10:20 AM: After bowing in a handful of territories on Wednesday, Angelina Jolie-starrer Maleficent expanded on Thursday to a total 35 markets including Russia, Germany, Korea, Brazil and Australia. Along with the UK, France, Italy and others which got the Disney movie on Wednesday, the total two-day overseas take is $20.1M. In the UK on Wednesday, Jolie had her best-ever opening at $2.5M (with Thursday added in, the UK now stands at $4.6M). Thursday’s $2.1M Germany opening was likewise a milestone for the actress who’s been absent from live-action movies since 2010. Russia opened to $2.4M on Thursday and France was a big No. 1 among new openers with $2.1M on Wednesday. Spain and Mexico open today with some smaller territories that will make for a total of 47 through the weekend. There will be numbers galore in the next few days as international rollouts also begin on Tom Cruise-starrer Edge Of Tomorrow and Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West.
PREVIOUS, THURSDAY 10:23 AM PT: Disney’s Maleficent is off to a strong start internationally. The Angelina Jolie starrer brought in $2.5M yesterday in the UK and Ireland, which the studio says was above expectations. The twist on the Sleeping Beauty tale largely shot in the UK, at London-adjacent Pinewood Studios, and also stars Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Sam Riley. The UK bow surpassed the first …
That’s the eyebrow raising conclusion Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz reaches today in a bracing in-depth analysis of Disney‘s profits. The analyst has been cool on Disney for years and remains so even as company shares touch new all-time highs (including one today). But he says that ESPN has been its “primary driver of growth over the last 10 years” and fueled “the expensive transformations that Disney has undergone since Bob Iger assumed the CEO role in 2005.” Despite the much-heralded outlays for Pixar, Marvel, and theme park upgrades, returns on invested capital (ROIC) during the past decade for the other broadcast, movie, digital, and theme park businesses “have been pretty pedestrian.”
Creutz says he has been trying to make this kind of analysis for about three years but was stymied by the scant details Disney offers about ESPN’s profits. He thinks he found a good work-around, though, by assuming that the sports net looks a lot like near-pure-play cable network companies including Discovery, Scripps Networks, and Viacom (where Paramount’s earnings “are a pittance compared to the cable network contribution”). That leads him to believe that ESPN consistently delivers a ROIC of about 48% because it “can set prices for its customers, and to a certain extent, for its suppliers” at the sports leagues. Pay TV subscribers pay about $5.50 a month for ESPN, even if they never watch it.
Just when you thought there were no more TV talk shows left on which President Obama could make his debut, Disney/ABC announced this morning he will make his first appearance on Live With Kelly And Michael this coming Friday. Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan will travel to Washington to sit down with Obama at the White House and talk about that day’s White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit. Disney’s portfolio of TV networks includes ESPN — but Friday Night Tykes, the controversial TV docu-series about 8-to-9- year-old Rookies division of the Texas Youth Football Association, has its home on Comcast’s Esquire Network. In its first season, one of two Tykes coaches got suspended after an episode in which he was seen telling his players to hit an opponent in the head. Despite that, and other, controversies, Tykes last month got a second-season order. Network programming chief Matt Hanna explained, “The first season of Friday Night Tykes sparked a national debate about competitive youth sports, and we think it’s important to continue that discussion with a second season of the series…At its heart [the program] is a series about parenting – and the question about hard we should push our children is an incredibly relevant one for parents across America.”
We’re hearing that the relationship between Marvel and Edgar Wright has been going south for about the past two weeks, though the parties said in a statement today that their Ant-Man split was “amicable.” Either way, the director of The World’s End and Shaun Of The Dead won’t be telling the tale of the superhero who can shrink and communicate with insects after all. The studio and the helmer said today in a joint announcement that — after three years including an unexpected postponement — they have parted ways “due to differences in their vision of the film.” Marvel said the move won’t affect the planned July 17, 2015, release date for the pic and that it will announce a replacement helmer soon. But no one is talking about today’s news on holiday getaway Friday.
Related: The History Of Marvel’s ‘Ant-Man’
Wright, known for his collaborations with actor-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, wowed the 2012 Comic-Con crowd with some early Ant-Man footage. But he then pushed the film — starring Paul Rudd as the diminutive title character along with Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Patrick Wilson, Corey Stoll and Michael Pena — to work on the pub-crawl pic World’s End, which grossed $46 million worldwide for Focus Features last summer. He explained the move during a Q&A with Deadline at Comic-Con last year:
Walt Disney Animation Studios has hit a home run (Wreck-It Ralph) and whatever comes after a grand slam (Frozen) with its last two pics. Next up for the studio is Big Hero 6, the Marvel comic-inspired comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and his closest companion, a robot named Baymax, who with their friends are thrown into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo. This one has mostly flown under the radar, with Alan Horn touting it to exhibs at CinemaCon in March. It’s due out November 7 in 3D from directors Don Hall (Winnie The Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt). Check out the first look:
J.J. Abrams has a message from the desert set of Star Wars: Episode VII. He’s offering fans a chance to appear in a cameo in the movie via a $10 contribution to Star Wars: Force For Change. The new initiative from Disney and Lucasfilm, in collaboration with Bad Robot, is dedicated to finding creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. The first Star Wars: Force for Change campaign will benefit UNICEF’s Innovation Labs and its programs aimed at helping the world’s most vulnerable children. Disney has committed $1 million to the project. Fans can contribute directly at Omaze.com/StarWars for a chance to appear in the film. For each $10 contribution, eligible participants will be automatically entered for a chance to win the cameo. The campaign runs through July 18. It looks like this is how Star Wars will be marketing itself in the social media era after tweeting out first cast photos and Abrams’ video on Star Wars Day on May 4. Pic is slated to be released December 18, 2015. Check out Abrams’ pitch:
Despite the hundreds of freebies dispensed last week to out-of-town Tony voters, the Broadway box office rebounded a bit from the previous stand. Total take for 36 shows in the penultimate week of the season was $30,013,854, versus $28,750,477 in week 50, according to figures released by trade group the Broadway League. All The Way, with Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson, improved $217,564 while still managing to achieve just 55% of its gross potential. Disney’s The Lion King was up $202,906 over the week before and was pretty much SRO. The Bridges Of Madison County gained $197,805, a bump attributable to its closing notice.
The Jason Robert Brown/Marsha Norman tuner starring Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara shuttered Sunday after an unexpectedly brief run. If/Then’s Tony nominee Idina Menzel missed four performances, as that show’s take fell to a still-respectable $812, 712, down $189,090 from the previous week. Neil Patrick Harris continued to pack the Belasco for Hedwig And The Angry Inch, grossing 118% of potential at $983,206 and playing to 102% of capacity with one of the Street’s highest average ticket prices at $136.29. Per usual, the costliest ducats were for The Book of Mormon, an average of $191.19, and Denzel Washington …
Disneyland visitors won’t be saving much bank now that Disney has once again raised the cost of admission. Today the price of a one-day, one park ticket for visitors 10 years and older increased $4 to $96, with the cost of a Disneyland/California Adventures Park-Hopper shooting up to $150 from $137 for adults. Disney also bumped up prices for SoCal Select (+$10 to $289), Deluxe (+$20 to $519), Premium (+$30 to $699), and Premier (+$50 to $1,029) passes. To control swelling crowds the company has suspended new sales of its SoCal Annual Passport which allows local weekend access, although current SoCal pass holders and those whose passes expired in the last three months may still renew. “Like any business, we periodically evaluate our pricing and make adjustments based on a variety of factors,” said Media Relations Director Suzi Brown. “A ticket to our theme parks represents a great value, particularly when you look at the breadth and quality of attractions and entertainment we offer and the special moments guests experience with our cast…Due to the popularity of our Annual Pass Program — and to preserve the Guest experience for our Annual Passholders and all Guests — future sales of all Annual Passes will be subject to availability.” Around this time last year Disney hiked ticket prices to its California and Florida parks.
Just over two weeks ago the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII was finally revealed with some new faces and also some very familiar names. Looks like they got to work very quickly on the Disney pic because today director JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot tweeted a photo from the first day of filming on a Star Wars movie in over a decade:
— Bad Robot (@bad_robot) May 16, 2014
With the first of three new movies from a galaxy far far away set to be released on December 18, 2015, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill; Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Adam Driver (Girls), John Boyega (Attack the Block), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, About Time), Oscar-nominee Max von Sydow, and UK actress Daisy Ridley and Anthony Daniels AKA C-3PO Peter Mayhew AKA Chewbacca and Kenny Baker AKA R2-D2 will have a very busy summer and beyond over there in the UK. But, of course, the Force will be with them as always.
Here’s our first look at Disney‘s live-action take on Cinderella — well, the first look at her footwear, at least. The new teaser for the Kenneth Branagh-helmed pic starring Lily James as the socially awkward, animal-loving title character is all prisms and Disney-fied musical flourishes, capped off with a metaphorical butterfly. The film co-starring Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden is set for release March 13. Take a look:
Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, who oversees worldwide operations for the company, has extended his contract for another four years to 2018. He was named chairman of the studio on May 31, 2012, after a long stint as the chairman of Warner Bros, and his first day at Disney was June 11, 2012. He oversees production, distribution, and marketing for live-action and animated films from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, as well as marketing and distribution for DreamWorks Studios films released under the Touchstone Pictures banner. He also oversees Disney’s music and theatrical groups.
Under his tutelage, the studio has been doing incredibly well. For the first three months of the year, the studio reported net income of $1.92B, an increase of 26.7% vs. the same period last year, on revenues of $11.65B (that’s up 10.4%). In fact, it topped analysts’ forecasts. The movie studio was the hero of the first quarter, with revenues up 35% to $1.8B and operating income up 302% to $475M. The company benefited not only from a $1.19B worldwide box office take for its sweet animated family film Frozen but also reported stellar sales in home entertainment for the pic. Thor: The Dark World also was a box office behemoth, with $644M worldwide, and a home entertainment winner. The success of Frozen has spawned talk of a Broadway show. Theme parks also exceeded analyst predictions with up 8% to $3.56B and operating income up 19% to $457M. The Walt Disney Studios set a company record for reaching $1B internationally in mid-April, thanks mostly to those films, and also $500M domestically on April 27 — becoming the first studio to do so in 2014.