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The Blog Flume is a three-times a week opinion column looking at theme park-related news from around the Web.

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The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Kevin Baxter (via 172.194.235.114) on May 17, 2004 at 9:40 AM (MST)

A NEW EISNER BASHER ENTERS THE FRAY
LA Times - May 15

In a deposition for yet another upcoming Disney trial, former President Michael Ovitz said some interesting things about his former boss and the man who took over his job. Nothing is really new about the Eisner comments: he micromanages and pisses people off. Ovitz stated he was forced to spend more time soothing egos and mediating problems that were created by Michael Eisner and Robert Iger than he did accomplishing anything. Several of the problems are mentioned, like those involving Robin Williams and Tim Allen. A Disney spokesflunky denies these events, which is pretty stupid since the Williams and Allen problems are widely known. I wouldn't doubt Ovitz was the one to unruffle their feathers since mollycoddling stars was what made him Hollywood's top agent.

What's more surprising about the testimony? Ovitz claimed Iger actually wanted to quit at one point too and blamed - here it comes - Eisner's micromanaging. It was Ovitz who claimed he calmed Iger down, so I guess we should all thank Ovitz for keeping on one of the people who is helping keep Disney down. (Iger's main focus appears to be ABC, which is where he was promoted from.) Ovitz also claimed Eisner told him he didn't think Iger was creative enough and, in his own deposition, accused Ovitz of being the cause of Iger's difficulties.

So who to believe? Disney claims there was never any problems between Iger and Eisner and points out that Iger was promoted to Ovitz's job. Disney really should just stick to denials since every time they give a reason it comes off as lame. Problems between the two have circulated for almost a decade now. Iger was promoted because no one else would work under Eisner and Iger's promotion was probably one way to fill the job and keep another top Disney exec from leaving the company. Also, Ovitz doesn't have as much reason to lie as Disney, since he certainly isn't going to be forced to return his golden parachute.


HOW TO RUN A COMPANY MORE SMOOTHLY
Orlando Sentinel - May 13
Orlando Sentinel - May 13
Orlando Sentinel - May 14

While Disney is having problems with current management, NBC Universal seems to be doing just fine dealing with their new shakeup. NBC merchandise has quickly appeared in the theme parks and the new company has decided current park management is doing fine. Damn right! We throw around the names of Disney park bigwigs like Jay Rasulo, Matt Ouimet and Al Weiss quite a bit on TPI but Tom Williams, Universal's answer to Rasulo, has actually done a much better job and should be mentioned here more often. Which we will do the second he stops authorizing clones!

Anyhow, NBC parent company General Electric has shown much more interest in the parks than they did last year. Execs have been told to find ways to get NBC properties into the parks, which is a good sign. Also, of the 500 jobs the new company promises to eliminate, almost all will come from the film and television sectors. Analysts still don't believe GE will hold onto the parks for long, since theme park growth is a slow process, but the parks will have to sell for billions, which mostly everybody sees as cost-prohibitive. Blackstone Group, owner of half of Universal Orlando and the only company to try to buy the parks from Vivendi, bought its half in 2000 for a measly $275M, so full ownership would be out of its reach unless it found partners.

Even more exciting for theme park fans is NBC Universal's desire to buy MGM. With Universal, MGM and DreamWorks films for attraction ideas, not to mention NBC television shows, Universal parks would probably never have to seek other sources again. Unless they win the Pixar distribution lottery!


SEMI-INCREDIBLE
Incredibles trailer site

A longer trailer is out for Pixar's upcoming The Incredibles and I have to say I am incredibly underwhelmed. The original teaser trailer was hilarious, but this one plays up the X-Men qualities of the film, which I think is a mistake. There is only one semi-funny part, and a few others that are probably meant to be funny, but aren't. Not that it is a bad trailer, but it doesn't seem like a Pixar movie. None of this may have anything to do with the finished product, though, since Finding Nemo's trailers had very little humor and a whole lotta action in them also.

Still, with DreamWorks' Shark Tale out at the same time, there is going to be more competition than Pixar is used to. Especially with Shark Tale trailers undoubtedly appearing before Shrek 2 all summer. Shark Tale, with its more recognizable voice cast and a trailer that will certainly be humorous, might end up seeming more Pixar than the film Pixar is releasing. Another trailer is coming soon, so hopefully this one will be funnier, like the teaser, and less like another comic book movie.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Brad Watson (via 65.248.203.126) on May 17, 2004 at 2:21 PM (MST)

I truly think the cost of the Uni Parks would stop Anyone from buying them--except Paramount or Dreamworks. Dreamworks would love to have homebase in one of the complex, I'm sure and they have plenty of product to spread around. I don't understand the pointed resistance towards even the notion of buying the parks from both Katzenburg and Geffen. Even Spielberg, the daddy of these great parks hasn't one opinion on whether he wants them or not. I don't get that--is it pressure from the other two not wanting to sign on for the park business or is it his maturing into a "serious" filmmaker that is to blame?
What am I thinking--noone will ever buy the parks for what they're worth. I just hope NBC stays hands-off with them, because I can't imagine a Uni without HHN or cutbacks in employees to heighten profits.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Robert Niles (via 144.142.21.6) on May 17, 2004 at 3:54 PM (MST)

Spielberg's got a huge financial incentive not to buy the parks -- the terms of his contract allow him a massive chunk of money off the top w/o him being exposed to the financial risk of actually owning the things. If he (or a company he owns a large share of) buys Universal Resorts, he throws down billions to get in debt to himself. Where's the upside?

The only way I see him moving is if the parks are tanking, and he can get the things at a low price in an effort to protect his royalty income. Or, to do the Mario Lemieux thing, he takes ownership in lieu of owed payments.

Given how well the parks seem to be doing recently, I don't see either scenario happening.

Still, rich people do foolish things all the time, when their hearts are involved.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Russell Meyer (via 68.106.110.145) on May 17, 2004 at 7:50 PM (MST)

More recognizeable cast???
Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Craig T. Nelson, and Jason Lee are pretty recognizeable names the last time I checked.

I still find the Pixar annimation more crisp and realistic than anything that the Dreamworks team has put out to date.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Robert OGrosky (via 169.207.92.219) on May 17, 2004 at 8:36 PM (MST)

I for one DONT want to see any NBC crap in the universal theme parks!!!! And for some who think every thing is going fine between universal/GE may be wrong as this info from jim hill's web site indicates.


How does Universal Studios get ready for a red letter day? By handing out pink slips.
With just days 'til Universal Orlando's sure-to-be smash hit attraction, "Revenge of the Mummy" officially opens to the public, Jim Hill wonders: How is Universal ever going to top this attraction? Particularly since the company has just laid off most of the people who actually designs ride & shows for its theme parks?

According to Friday's headline in the "Orlando Sentinel," "It's just business as usual" at Universal's theme parks. That virtually nothing has changed since General Electric formally completed its acquisition of Vivendi Universal this past Wednesday. Which resulted in the creation of one huge, brand-new mega-media conglomerate: NBC Universal.

Well, it certainly wasn't "business as usual" for some 24 members of the Universal Creative team (I.E. The folks who actually design all the rides & attractions for the Universal theme parks). For these folks got calls at home late last Tuesday night, saying (in essence) "Don't come into work tomorrow. You don't work for Universal Creative anymore."

Mind you, Universal management immediately tried to put the best possible face on this after-hours massacre. Insisting that it wasn't anything special. That it was strictly a coincidence that all of these Universal Creative workers were being laid off just hours before the NBC / G.E. acquisition was complete. That the real reason that all these folks -- who had been working on Universal Studios Shanghai -- were being let go was because the Chinese government had yet to provide the corporation with the necessary permits to go forward with construction of that theme park.

However, those who are familiar with what's REALLY been going with Universal's theme park division insist that it wasn't the Chinese government that was at fault here. But -- rather -- the Universal Parks & Resorts management team. Who are determined to do whatever they have to in order to Universal's theme park division look good to G.E. management. Even if it means getting rid of the very artists & engineers who actually create all the rides, shows & attractions for the parks.

According to one Universal insider:

"It's all about keeping the numbers up and the head count down. Making sure the books look good to our new bosses at NBC. Which will hopefully convince the folks at General Electric that it would really be worth their while to hang onto the Universal theme parks."

Mind you, last Tuesday's after-hours cutback wasn't the only "reduction in force" that Universal Creative has had to endure. Just five months ago, over 100 people worked for this division of the company. Now there are fewer than 20 staffers working for Universal Creative. And most of these folks are veteran managers & their assistants. I.E. The paper pushers. Not the hard-core creatives who actually do most of the heavy lifting on the theme park projects.

The real irony here is that Universal Creative is coming off one hell of a winning streak. Just in the last 12 months, they've successfully opened "Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast" and "Shrek 4-D." Two film-driven attractions that have proven to be huge hits with visitors to the Universal theme park.

And this coming Friday, Universal Orlando opens "The Revenge of the Mummy." The new thrill ride which was getting rave reviews from theme park enthusiasts even during its test-and-adjust period last month. Even though key effects & animatronics had yet to be installed.

Folks who had ridden USF's "Mummy" attraction over this past weekend (now that all the ride's effects & figures are finally in place) say that it's the very best thing that Universal Creative has ever done. That this attraction is destined to become Universal's "Pirates of the Caribbean." As in: It's the attraction that will redefine what you think of the Universal theme parks.

Normally, news like this would be a cause for celebration. But -- given that there's virtually no one left in Universal's Creative department -- what's the point of celebrating now?

Don't get me wrong, folks. Universal Studios' "Revenge of the Mummy" ride is a wonder. (And just wait 'til tomorrow, when you get to see the pictures that Chuck Oberleitner took during his recent walk-through of Universal Studios Hollywood's soon-to-be-opening "Revenge of the Mummy" ride.) But -- as any serious theme park fan will tell you (And -- yes -- I realize that "serious theme park fan" is kind of an oxymoron) -- great shows & attractions don't grow on trees.

And to be celebrating this great new addition to Universal Studios Florida just as the folks who actually created "Revenge of the Mummy" are out there, brushing up their resumes ... All because their old bosses at Universal want to look good for their new bosses at G.E. ... Just seems a trifle bizarre to me.




Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Kevin Baxter (via 172.197.9.157) on May 18, 2004 at 1:05 AM (MST)

Jim Hill has always been a bit of a doomsdayer. Regardless of the reasoning, the laying off of the recent UC staff doesn't affect anything but the proposed Shanghai park. One of these articles do mention that, but I'm not sure if it means anything. The park isn't a big financial burden on Orlando, but maybe the parks divisions decided that money would be better spent in our parks. Who knows, not that important.

As for the rest, it would be nice if THC would shed some light on it, but since he has been so tightlipped about his own departure, I'm not holding my breath. Maybe Universal is following the Disney lead and will contract ride designers as needed. Obviously the parks can't survive without people creating new stuff. Though I wouldn't be surprised if next year saw no new rides until NBC and GE start to understand what makes theme parks work.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Kevin Baxter (via 172.197.253.156) on May 18, 2004 at 2:02 PM (MST)

Russell, I said a more recognizable VOICE CAST. I love Holly Hunter and Samuel L Jackson but I had to look up who did their voices. Craig T Nelson and Jason Lee? Please!

Meanwhile over at Shark Tale they've got Will Smith, whose voice is easily recognizable AND who is bigger than the entire Incredibles cast combined. Add to that Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Jack Black, Peter Falk and part of The Sopranos cast and not only are these voices more recognizable but they are way more popular too. And DreamWorks is already selling the stars, while Disney hasn't.

Also, what does crispness have to do with anything? (Not that I think it is true, since Shrek was a beautiful movie.) Isn't the whole argument about the death of traditional animation allegedly about story and not what it looks like? If one looks better but has a weaker story, should it do better? Of course not.

Anyhow, how can you know exactly what Shark Tale will look like? This is DreamWorks Animation's first CG film. The two Shrek films were produced by PDI, an outside source. Yeah, it probably won't look as good, since Pixar has had a major head start. But that doesn't mean it won't be better. Remember that Shrek made more money domestically AND won the Oscar. Pixar's sitcommy Monsters Inc didn't.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Kenny Hitt (via 12.214.229.69) on May 18, 2004 at 4:53 AM (MST)

The problem I see here is that Disney just doesn't have any theme-park-worthy properties...hell, we're talking about a company that, for the past decade, hasn't even shown cartoons on its channel on Saturday mornings.

Makeover shows and legal dramas do not thrills make.

Where the real synergy is going to come in is in merchandising...NBC hawking the Univeral parks and films, Universal hawking NBC show tees and DVDs.

Universal Studios park is probably where you're gonna see the most difference, with new expansions based on the look of a TV studio in addition to movie.

Re: The BLOG FLUME - Disorder in the Court
Message posted by Themepark Guy (via 67.8.250.167) on May 18, 2004 at 5:37 AM (MST)

There has (and should)always been "lay-offs" of creative staff after the project is complete- It doesn't make much sense to have a guy around doing nothing and not being able to charge him to any project. It's like keeping the construction guy on-board, just in case something else MIGHT need to get built. Contracting talent is the way to go-cost effective-people are fresh-you take people OFF your payroll, you are able to put resources back into the park that 'creative types' don't necessarily have or want to provide-i.e., the daily grind of keeping the parks going-best left to the more pragmatic folks.

There are two types in the industry-those that OPEN, and those that OPERATE. Very rarely are they one-in-the-same!


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