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John Lasseter to head Animation for Skydance


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  • John Lasseter to head Animation for Skydance

    From the Hollywood Reporter:

    The former Disney and Pixar animation chief will report directly to Skydance Media CEO David Ellison and will be based in Los Angeles.

    Lasseter, who will report directly to Ellison, will be based in Los Angeles and start later this month.

    “John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Ellison said in making the announcement. “He was responsible for leading animation into the digital age, while telling incomparable stories that continue to inspire and entertain audiences around the globe.”

    The bombshell announcement comes more than a year after Lasseter took a leave of absence from Disney in November 2017, following an admission that he committed unspecified "missteps" that left some employees feeling "disrespected or uncomfortable." The Pixar co-founder never returned to the studio, which said in June that he would retire at the end of 2018.

    Time's Up immediately criticized Lasseter's hiring, saying Skydance is "providing a position of power, prominence and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment." Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, told The Hollywood Reporter, "This is a horrible message to the women at Pixar who stood up and told their truths about their experiences. This is also a message to all that the bro culture is alive and well and thriving in Hollywood."

    Ellison said the decision to hire Lasseter was not taken lightly, saying in the memo, “John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”

    Bill Damaschke, the former DreamWorks Animation chief creative officer, has been serving as president of animation and family entertainment at Skydance Media since October 2017. Ellison said that with Lasseter's hire, Damaschke "will be transitioning from his current role, and we are hopeful he will choose to remain with the Skydance family."

    Said Lasseter in a statement: "I'm grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility. It is a distinct privilege that I will relish. I have spent the last year away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader."

    He continued: "I want nothing more than the opportunity to return to my creative and entrepreneurial roots, to build and invent again. I join Skydance with the same enthusiasm that drove me to help build Pixar, with a firm desire to tell original and diverse stories for audiences everywhere. With what I have learned and how I have grown in the past year, I am resolute in my commitment to build an animation studio upon a foundation of quality, safety, trust and mutual respect."

    Ellison sent a memo to employees where he addressed potential concerns, adding the company even hired outside counsel to "thoroughly investigate the allegations."

    Skydance, which has focused on big-scale action efforts like the recent Mission: Impossible – Fallout and the upcoming Terminator and Top Gun: Maverick movies, has only recently begun to venture into animation. In 2017, it formed Skydance Animation and struck a multiyear partnership with Ilion Animation Studios, a dedicated CGI feature animation studio based in Madrid, to develop and produce a slate of animated feature films and television series....
    "Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because
    it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning,
    together with every variety of recreation and fun,
    designed to appeal to everyone."

    - Walt Disney

    "Disneyland is all about turning movies into rides."
    - Michael Eisner

  • #2

    LA Times Op-Ed: John Lasseter’s return proves that Hollywood still does not understand the damage he did

    It is so reassuring to discover that David Ellison’s recent decision to hire former Pixar chief, Disney executive and billionaire frat house-atmosphere generator John Lasseter to head his company, Skydance Animation, was not one he made lightly.

    We know this is so because Ellison said it, right in the middle of the memo he issued explaining his decision — Let me be clear: we have not entered into this decision lightly. As you can see, he said it in ital. So obviously he means it.

    Even so, the protests began almost immediately, for obvious reasons: There are not enough “Toy Story” films in the world to outweigh the damage of behavior like that ascribed to Lasseter that’s been done to the film industry, or the culture at large.

    Indeed, because Lasseter has been so influential and publicly beloved for so long, his self-described “missteps” are possibly more damaging than those of Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein may have remade the Oscar campaign, but Lasseter reinvented animation, and created the basis for new rides at Disneyland.

    When the Weinstein scandal broke, Lasseter was, in fact, one of the names that often appeared in “who will be next” conversations. As David Ng reported in The Times last year, rumors of Lasseter’s inappropriate behavior had circulated for years, while the dearth of women in positions of creative authority at Pixar, with the few who were often leaving abruptly, was simply fact. Brenda Chapman, who in 2010 became the first female director hired at Pixar to make “Brave,” the first Pixar film with a female lead, was fired mid-production due to “creative differences” with Lasseter.

    And #MeToo caught up with him fairly quickly; in November 2017 after Rashida Jones and her writing partner Will McCormack bailed on “Toy Story 4” and several female Pixar employees complained of being victim to his inappropriate touching and remarks, Lasseter “took” a six-month leave.

    As Disney conducted its investigation, many other women came forward, some anonymously for fear of retribution in the still very male world of animation, with stories of surreptitious groping, overly intimate hugs, inappropriate comments and behavior that, if not describing a talented filmmaker who inarguably changed the nature of animation and made many people very rich, could easily be termed “lecherous.”

    Lasseter’s pattern of behavior was so well known that according to more than a few employees, including two who spoke with The Times, certain young women were told point blank that they could not attend meetings with Lasseter because they would only distract him.

    Which is, of course, the time-honored way of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace — keep women out of the workplace.

    Last June, Disney announced that Lasseter would be leaving Disney and Pixar, with Disney president and CEO Bob Iger adding, among many superlatives, that the company was “profoundly grateful for his contributions.”

    A few months later, Pixar hired its second female director, Domee Shi, who had made the celebrated short “Bao,” which was the first Pixar short directed by a woman.

    In justifying his decision to hire Lasseter even as yet another study decried the lack of female directors, Ellison assures us that he is “certain that John has learned valuable lessons and is ready to prove his capabilities as a leader and a colleague. And he has given his assurance that he will comport himself in a wholly professional manner.”

    Well, OK, then.

    Never mind the absurdity of appointing as a no-doubt highly paid executive a man who must first promise to “COMPORT HIMSELF IN A WHOLLY PROFESSIONAL MANNER” (emphasis mine). But that, apparently, is the bar set by Skydance for its executives and they must really insist. Honestly, hands to yourself and no bottomless cocktails for you, mister, because what would Dory say?

    It is difficult not to see Ellison’s decision as a cynical assumption that Hollywood is returning to “normal.” The once near-daily fall of men in power has decreased to merely occasional levels and serial sexual harasser Louis C.K. has been applauded at least in some circles for his stealthy return to comedy. With Lasseter’s return, Hollywood can finally get back to the business of celebrating all those geniuses who just happen to be male because so many of the women have left the room to avoid being groped and/or ejaculated in front of.

    Yet everyone was shocked, shocked I say, to discover that, according to the latest USC Annenberg study, the percentage of female directors of major films declined in 2018, falling to a mere 3.6% from the already paltry 7.3% in 2017.

    Sexual harassment, misconduct, or in Lasseter’s case “missteps” isn’t the only reason there are still so few women in the upper echelons of Hollywood, or politics, or corporate America, but it is absolutely one of them.

    Whether using assault and as a tool for power and revenge, which Weinstein allegedly did, or creating a “frat house-like atmosphere” as Lasseter is accused of doing, sexual misconduct is a way of systematically controlling a workplace, and in Lasseter’s case, an industry. Of ensuring that a specific group of people, most usually women, are kept below decks in a status cage marked “sexual.”

    The horrifying allegations that women were told not to go to meetings lest they distract these great men is what so many women feel keeps them from succeeding in the entertainment industry — they are literally barred from the conversations that would help them advance their careers because they are women and the people in positions of power are men.

    Also, having to come up with defensive tactics, as Pixar employees say they were forced to do, can really take it out of you, cutting into the time and energy that might otherwise be spent on generating ideas, asking advice or generally doing actual work.

    As for the men Lasseter led, well, what do they take from the fact that his behavior was an open secret that went on for years with no repercussions?

    Maybe that this is a perk of the job? The spoils of war? That if women don’t want to be groped they should stop wearing skirts/smelling nice/being women?

    Or maybe just that female members of the team are to be treated differently than male members, their physicality a bigger factor than their talent.

    Whatever the answer, it’s not anything that resembles the leadership or vision that Ellison touts in his memo.

    Every year we gape at the lack of women in positions of power in Hollywood and wonder why, despite all the studies and advocacy groups and mentorship programs, it does not appear to be improving.

    Well, the fact that John Lasseter just got another job less than a year after being forced out of his old one is one very good, terribly bad, reason.
    "Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because
    it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning,
    together with every variety of recreation and fun,
    designed to appeal to everyone."

    - Walt Disney

    "Disneyland is all about turning movies into rides."
    - Michael Eisner


    • #3
      LA Times: John Lasseter asks Skydance employees for a chance to prove he’s changed, amid backlash

      In a tense and emotional meeting on Monday morning, former Pixar and Disney executive John Lasseter asked Skydance Animation employees for a chance to show that he’d changed his ways, after multiple women accused him of inappropriate workplace behavior at his old job.

      The hour-and-a-half meeting at Skydance Media’s Mid-Wilshire offices came just days after the company’s chief executive, David Ellison, shocked the industry by hiring Lasseter as the new head of its budding animation division.

      The computer animation pioneer was pushed out of his duties at Pixar and Disney in June, following a prolonged leave of absence in response to what he characterized as “missteps.” Lasseter, the former chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, oversaw the creation of family blockbusters such as “Toy Story” and “Frozen.”

      Lasseter’s appointment at Skydance sparked fierce protests in the entertainment industry from people who work in animation, as well as prominent groups such as Time’s Up and Women in Film. Women have accused Lasseter of inappropriate touching, overly intimate hugs and comments that made them uncomfortable. Former employees told The Times last year that Lasseter presided over a culture that made it difficult for women to thrive.

      Facing the 65 employees of Skydance Animation, Lasseter was asked if he had truly atoned for his behavior and what actions he’d taken to change his ways, according to one attendee, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some of the toughest questions came from younger female workers. Lasseter said he was sorry for his past behavior, and talked about working with a therapist and personal coach since stepping down from Disney, the person said.

      “I’m not expecting anyone to forgive me in this room," Lasseter told staff. “But I am asking for you to give me the chance” to prove himself.

      At the meeting, Ellison emphasized the company’s zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and acknowledged the weight the Lasseter hiring had put on employees, the person familiar with the matter said. Ellison asked employees for patience in the wake of the backlash. Ellison is the son of Oracle Corp. billionaire Larry Ellison.

      In a memo to employees last week announcing the hire, Ellison defended the move, saying the company employed outside counsel to investigate the allegations against Lasseter. He did not share specifics about the findings of the lawyers’ inquiry. At the staff meeting, a pair of attorneys discussed the investigation, the person familiar with the matter said. They said there had been no charges of sexual assault filed against Lasseter and that there were no settlements made by Lasseter or on his behalf.

      “Let me be clear: We have not entered into this decision lightly,” Ellison wrote in the memo sent Wednesday. “While we would never minimize anyone’s subjective views on behavior, we are confident after many substantive conversations with John, and as the investigation has affirmed, that his mistakes have been recognized.”

      That statement, and the slim details about Skydance’s investigation, did little to assuage women in the animation industry, who worry that Lasseter’s return to a prominent executive post will mark a significant setback for female employees in Hollywood since the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light.

      Women in Animation President Marge Dean, in a letter posted Monday on the group’s Facebook page, expressed her dismay at the hiring of Lasseter by Skydance.

      “The single biggest effect of the events last year is that we saw men experiencing consequences for their bad behavior,” said Dean, a longtime animation studio executive, in the letter. “The Lasseter decision seems to have weakened that giant step forward, and I felt panic that our progress was being undermined. The sense of security that women didn’t need to be afraid to be in the workplace was shaken.”

      She continued her letter by calling on studios to work harder to create a safe environment for women by hiring more female employees and executives. “Fighting to keep work environments free of predators is important, but it’s not as effective a strategy as empowering women to take care of themselves and each other,” Dean wrote.
      "Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because
      it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning,
      together with every variety of recreation and fun,
      designed to appeal to everyone."

      - Walt Disney

      "Disneyland is all about turning movies into rides."
      - Michael Eisner


      • #4
        Posted on the Women in Animation Facebook page:

        A Letter from WIA President Marge Dean

        Dear friends and colleagues,

        Last week’s announcement regarding the hiring of John Lasseter by Skydance has sent shockwaves throughout the industry. While many have asked WIA to comment on the news, to be honest, I’d much rather talk about the amazing Margie Cohn who was just made president of Dreamworks Animation. I wish our attention could stay more on the positive accomplishments of brilliant women than the bad behavior of some men.

        Like everyone else, I was shocked and distressed by the decision of Skydance to bring John Lasseter back into the community and reward him so well. I went through a roller coaster of emotions that have taken a few days to sort through. The announcement triggered in me the same feelings that I’ve had in abuse situations. Fundamentally, I felt disregarded and trivialized. Harassment has been allowed to exist (and some would say flourish) in the creative industries because talent always takes precedence over everything else…where the safety of an individual is deemed less important than the success of the greater goals; where the feelings of violation and fear are seen as an over-reaction to what has happened; where there is outright denial of someone’s very personal, painful experiences.

        The single biggest effect of the events last year is that we saw men experiencing consequences for their bad behavior. We had never seen that on such a scale before. It empowered us and gave us hope that things could be different. The Lasseter decision seems to have weakened that giant step forward, and I felt panic that our progress was being undermined. The sense of security that women didn’t need to be afraid to be in the workplace was shaken.

        When I came out the other side of being upset and pretty freaked out, I realized that we can’t control who corporations hire no matter how much we protest, make statements in the press, get companies to commit to zero tolerance for harassment, or the myriad other proactive things that are being done. Fighting to keep work environments free of predators is important, but it’s not as effective a strategy as empowering women to take care of themselves and each other.

        Most stories that I’ve heard about sexual harassment happen in secret moments when no one else is around. Deniability is usually a key component. In talking with supervisors, I usually hear distressed and remorseful stories that they were unaware that something was going on under their noses. Companies are responsible for how they react after the fact--Do they believe the victim? Do they fire the perpetrator no matter how important he is to their bottom line? But what if we could stop it before it happens? What if we have an empowered workforce that will not allow the mistreatment to happen to themselves or co-workers? Maybe that would be more effective.

        It’s critical that we take responsibility for protecting ourselves and our colleagues, especially for women. This will include requiring our employers to build safe workplaces, to have no tolerance for harassment, and to sacrifice their golden ticket if required. But more importantly, we need to speak up for ourselves and others. We need to engage in the discussion in places that we can have impact. We need to know what resources are out there for us. We need to get stronger both emotionally and physically. We need to not be afraid.

        As an advocacy group, WIA is committed to pushing for a safe working place for all people in animation, especially women of all shades and people of color, and others who are easily targeted. If you are subjected to harassment and need information, you can find resources on our website.

        And as a final thought for those people who run studios and build animation production teams: if you really want to help fight sexual harassment (or just not get bad press anymore), then hire more women. If you have a workforce that is 50% female, those secret moments of vulnerability become harder to find. There will be more invested and aware eyes in the workplace. On the surface, WIA’s call to action of 50-50 by 2025 seems like it’s just about equity, but the truth is that a more balanced workforce will change everything, from the content that is made to the culture of the studios. More women in a studio is the best prevention for harassment.

        And then, hopefully, we’ll get to talk more about the amazing women of animation and less about misbehaving men.


        Marge Dean

        Women in Animation
        "Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because
        it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning,
        together with every variety of recreation and fun,
        designed to appeal to everyone."

        - Walt Disney

        "Disneyland is all about turning movies into rides."
        - Michael Eisner