THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
October 4, 2018 posted by Steve Stanchfield

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Today – some stories on the perils and rewards of attempting to license or borrow classic animation and films!

Happy October, die-hard animation folks.

It’s been a pretty interesting year here, and, if I can get past the exhaustion of everything currently, internally and externally, it’s also clearly of the most productive years in terms of amount of work going on, and, hopefully, getting finished. Work continues at Thunderbean, and I’ll give an update on progress of everything next week rather than the usual. The one thing I can say is that Grotesqueries is attempting to get to the finish line this week, and we’re attempting to get the discs for the set out well before Halloween.

I was at the Ottawa Animation Festival this past week for a few days, with two of the four days just in traveling there and back. It was nice to see some old friends and some spectacular films.

I think we’re in such an interesting time right now in terms of classic animated films; on one hand, there’s much more accessibility to many of the older films, and many things have been released (on DVD and Blu-ray) that were just never available before to the general public. The last 15 years or so have seen things from major studios show up that I honestly thought wouldn’t. On the other hand, the biggest window for *who* wants to see them has been slowly closing for many, many years, and now there’s a smaller audience for much of it.

We all have the lists of things we want to see of course— but many things are stuck in a form of permanent withdrawal from the public view. For many, many films, the owners either don’t know they have a film or have no interest in releasing it, and, very likely, won’t ever, unless the material is worth the efforts *monetarily* to release it. It’s an odd situation in that some* things will see the light of day, with others, including a lot of animation and old children’s shows, seem to be in a special form of purgatory.

My own battles to try and release many things have been at least partially documented here, but the *actual* list is quite huge. This little boat that is Thunderbean is tiny while sailing on the same waters as many giant tankers, and sometimes even getting enough respect to get a dialogue going is difficult. At other times it’s quite easy, but getting to the point of actual deals can of course become difficult as well, in many different ways.

From “Swing You Sinners”- one of a zillion on my “should-be-released” wish list

Even releasing things are are in the public domain has its perils of course, from making a deal to borrow films to not stepping on anyone else’s toes that would like to release something that you’d like to as well. Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve stepped on someone’s foot in this way; what I’ve learned this year is to be diligent in communication and ask very specific questions so everyone’s on the same page. Borrowing films from collectors really depends on how willing the collector is to lend, and to become trustworthy enough to take care of their rare materials. I lost a few films more recently, lent to a friend of a friend. I’ve now learned my lesson on being much more on top of who has each thing and for how long.

To me, the accessibility of the films is the most important thing; The existence of Thunderbean serves that purpose above all else. I do hope to expand the business more, with the main intention of just being able to do bigger things; the growing pains of it financially and otherwise, have made decisions difficult at times, but I very much enjoy the things we’ve been so lucky to be able to do, and want to help make so many more sets happen as well.

Our own homes at this point will need to suffice for showings of classic films since there’s less of a chance to see them in public venues, and physical media still seems to be the best way to have an actual copy in your collection in a more permanent way. Don’t get me wrong, I do like my digital collections of stuff, but it’s much easier to organize and find what I’m looking for all the time on the shelves of discs.

Laugh Felix, laugh! I have you in my sights!

There are basically two types of deals I make with Thunderbean. Some are for licensing materials (often with a residual attached) and others are making a deal to borrow things to help cobble together a collection. Some of the most difficult ‘deals’ remain ongoing currently. There are some projects that have dragged on for years in just trying to get rights, some that have various roadblocks to accessibilities of materials, some that are just a ridiculous amount of work to get rights, some that are just a ridiculous amount of money to do so. One project looked like it was going, only to be scuttled by one missed phone call (ironically while I was teaching an animation history class!).

Another deal involves a character that was sold—for the first time since the 50s, to one company, then another, scuttling a signed contract and the majority of Thunderbean’s profit for several years. Happily, that project seems to have a light at the end of its tunnel. Another project hinges on the owners of the material finally just making the decision to move forward (with very little, if any, work on their part). The reluctance seems to be caused more from it just not being a priority, while it’s likely things are deteriorating, suffering from Vinegar Syndrome. This particular thing kills me the most since it’s material not seen since the late 40s and early 50s, and much of it are likely the only prints in existence.

One of my good collector friends was used to putting whole series of 16mm cartoons on the same reel, stored sometimes in a 35mm can with two 16mm reels full of cartoons together. In many cases, one of the films in those cans started to show signs of vinegar syndrome, drying out and curling many of the other films in the can from the exposure. I did a lot of soaking to soften some of those prints from scanning since many were better than any other materials I’ve found.

I’ve got my eye on putting this out next year – but many hurdles lie ahead.

I tried to license one film from a country in Asia years back, only to be told that an American would not be allowed to license that particular title! It was related to World War II, but I never imagined there would still be those particular restrictions.

I once made a deal to borrow some films from a collector, and he agreed to the lend as long as he was present at the transfers. That was fine, but when he saw the telecine scanner (at the professional facility) he was afraid the film may all shred or break and refused to scan *any* of it! I had cleaned and prepped all of them, but his fears had the best of him. Those prints remain unscanned.

One collector buried some of his films after lending them, another managed to (by accident) toss a key film I wanted to borrow to make an hd scan. Another tossed a bunch of films purposely, thinking that all his films were deteriorating and therefore useless. They weren’t.

One collector I knew passed a few years back; this has left his other half still has a ton of Nitrate films in sheds in their backyard! The collector had films since the mid-40s, and I had met him after a large fire destroyed one of the three sheds containing hundreds of reels. I made sure nothing else was still in sealed cans. Many 20s Felix the Cat cartoons went up in smoke in that fire— perhaps even some lost ones.

There are many, many more stories of collectors that have been incredibly generous than anything else. I can’t begin to thank them really; they are as much responsible for saving the past artist’s efforts as any of the archives and companies.

This is another film I’m trying to release via Thunderbean. Maybe in 2019?

The large corporations do need support when the do move the arrow forward and take a chance on things knowing they will be difficult to make a profit from. I do wish the business model would just consider making money in the overall business, with some titles making a lot more than others rather than the worry about *all* things making a big profit. Other things are presumed to have rights issues, so even dealing with that can of worms has been deemed not worth it for a larger company.

Warner Archive keeps the faith by offering a lot of otherwise unavailable feature films, and has made a lot of their cartoons available as well (and more to come).

Overall, the folks at the film archives and the folks we have licenses with have been absolutely stellar in helping to make the Thunderbean projects happen, and so many other projects for other small labels. They’re all film and animation fans as well, so often their hearts are in the same place.

So, there’s a few little stories. If you have a few that involve collecting films or making a deal to either buy or license films, feel free to post them!

Have a great week everyone!

13 Comments

  • When you state “On the other hand, the biggest window for *who* wants to see them has been slowly closing for many, many years, and now there’s a smaller audience for much of it”, I completely agree and can tell you from personal experience that any book I write about classic animation, even Disney, is usually a poor seller. People just don’t seem as educated about animation and animation history as they once were.

    I grew up in a time when people when absolutely crazy about buying cels (even the limited edition produced ones) or knew who I was talking about when I said “Frank and Ollie” or literally longed to see some Tex Avery cartoon but that is not the case today. Maybe animation has become just too common where a new feature film seems to come out each week and any hour of the day you can turn on your television and have several options of animated shows to watch. Long ago, Disney stopped promoting its animators as superstars. I doubt even one Disney fan who loved FROZEN can mention even one animator who worked on Olaf.

    Also, I think more and more some people who own an older cartoon have decided that if they have something old, it is not only rare but must be worth A LOT of money…or they simply do not realize what they have which is how some of those missing Laugh O Grams were eventually found.

    So I, and a lot of the other readers at this site as well as elsewhere, are thankful that you are still struggling through the “good fight” to get a quality product out there. Persistence does sometimes pay off big time…although I never discount the benefit of a little luck as well. Thanks.

    • Reading this depressed me greatly. I’m in my mid 30s, and I find your books fascinating! It makes me sad that seems to be a dying passion. I’m doing my best to keep it alive. I’m an elementary teacher by trade, and I have been known to screen classic animation on 16mm for the students on occasion!

      Do you think it’s the lack of exposure to these films? Classic Disney, Warner Bros., Fleischer, etc. shorts were more frequently shown on TV when I was younger, and I think kids have so many more options for entertainment in absence of these great, timeless cartoons. It also saddens me Disney doesn’t promote its great animators anymore, either

      Keep up the good work, Jim (and Steve, of course)! We all appreciate what you guys do for us!

    • Scott,
      It’s definitely the lack of exposure. The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show has been off the air for 18 years now, classic animation was just not part of Gen Z’s childhood unless their parents went out of their way to expose them to it.

  • Steve, thanks for sharing the trials and tribulations of the good ship Thunderbean! I think sometimes customer hopes can exceed the realities of what is fiscally possible for a cottage industry such as yours. When we do receive that special Blu-ray we’ve been hearing about, there is no denying the quality, and attention to detail you’ve put into your effort. As for obtaining films for transfer I certainly can sympathize, film collecting is a lot like antique collecting, most everyone has a heightened sense of value for what they’ve collected over decades. There’s certainly an amount of “flakiness” in the community, (and I oughta know, I’m on of ’em!)

    As you already know, I did make a honest effort to license from Universal the rights to produced a special collection of Oswald cartoons from the early Lantz era, 1929-35 in 2006-07. The timing was really unfortunate, as the Disney deal with NBC/Universal and Mr. Michaels dropped at the same time, throwing extra uncertainty into the effort. Final deal breaker came in the form Universal insisting that whatever work I did in development, even if they chose not to authorize the final product for release, was theirs in perpetuity, including the extra features, and any other images of materials I obtained in producing the DVD such as the Universal Weekly magazines and Oswald toy merchandise items.

    I will always be thankful that we did get the Public Domain set out through your company, ( be nice to do a re-release / updated Blu-ray version some day..) but you and I both know the original collection as planned would have been the much better release, and likely a milestone towards getting other rights holders of classic animation to consider licensing out their material. Ultimately the mantra is the same, it takes MONEY to do these things, and classic animation is a niche that while fervent for us, does seem to be fading with the passage of time.

  • “Another deal involves a character that was sold—for the first time since the 50s, to one company, then another, scuttling a signed contract and the majority of Thunderbean’s profit for several years. Happily, that project seems to have a light at the end of its tunnel.”

    Does this character’s name rhyme with Helix? In any case, I’m glad to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

  • What is the busiest forum for information on cartoons these days? I was a member of Jerry Beck’s old forum which appears to be gone, Toonzone before it became sort of a different animal, and goldenagecartoons. I’ve been out of the loop basically since the recession.

  • Steve let’s hope that Warner Archive (or Warner Brothers) has one project upcoming soon…of course I am talking about the DVD release of the Popeye theatrical cartoons made in color…and soon. Considering when Paramount switched Popeye to full color from 1943 onward (75 years ago!!) many of the titles were printed on nitrate film stock and then from 1950 on acetate film stock, Now they don’t have to be very perfect prints just as long as they are splice free, original titles intact. I just found this link to one of 1930’s two reel specials held in the Library of Congress. Now this one done has the correct music & picture at the end but the film has seen better days. Hope Warners (or even Paramount) has better materials for these color gems. BTW keep up the good work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-bBQAInNo4

    • Steve, is this the same copy you will include in the ‘Popeye in technicolor’ set? Thanks.

    • The three Popeye specials got official releases in the Popeye sets, so I think that leaves:
      — Raggedy Ann and Andy
      — The Raven
      — Poor Cinderella (Betty Boop)
      Are there any other Fleischer two-reelers or specials?

      My fantasy is a Warner Archive Tex Avery set, MGM years at least. Even without any “Censored 11” titles.

    • DBENSON: ‘Poor Cinderella’ was officially released on Volume Four of Olive Films Betty Boop collection in 2014.

  • To Steve Stanchfield,
    & to the medium called “Animation” itself,

    Remember this:
    “Never, never, never give up.”
    – Winston Churchill.

  • Then, after all that investment, you see your titles up on youtube…
    You can’t make back your investment let alone a profit to fund more work while everyone thanks the idjit that killed you.

  • Steve Stanchfield:
    “I’ve got my eye on putting this (“Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977)”)
    out next year – but many hurdles lie ahead.”.

    How’s about Thunderbean team up with Criterion
    & release “Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure”
    on “The Criterion Collection” Blu-ray (& DVD).

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