Will Pixar Bring Magic Back to the Magic Kingdom?

If you missed it on Sunday, there was a terrific article on the very different way Pixar does Business in the NYT:

"Since 1995, with the release of "Toy Story," Pixar’s films have reinvented the art of animation, won 19 Academy Awards and grossed more than $3 billion at the box office. But the secret to the success of Pixar Animation Studios is its utterly distinctive approach to the workplace. The company doesn’t just make films that perform better than standard fare. It also makes its films differently — and, in the process, defies many familiar, and dysfunctional, industry conventions. Pixar has become the envy of Hollywood because it never went Hollywood.

More than a few business pundits have drawn parallels between the flat, decentralized "corporation of the future" and the ad-hoc collection of actors, producers and technicians that come together around a film and disband once it is finished. In the Hollywood model, the energy and investment revolves around the big idea — the script — and the fine print of the deal. Highly talented people agree to terms, do their jobs, and move on to the next project. The model allows for maximum flexibility, to be sure, but it inspires minimum loyalty and endless jockeying for advantage.

Turn that model on its head and you get the Pixar version: a tightknit company of long-term collaborators who stick together, learn from one another and strive to improve with every production. Consider the case of Brad Bird, writer and director of "The Incredibles," who spent the first decades of his career shuttling around the business as an ever-promising, never-quite-recognized animator. (He worked on "The Simpsons" and directed one feature, the critically acclaimed but commercial dud, "Iron Giant.") When Pixar recruited him, Mr. Bird went to work immediately on "The Incredibles," which went on to win two Academy Awards and a nomination for best original screenplay."

Given that most mergers are unsuccessful — at least when measured by how much value they create for shareholders — the big question is not whether Disney can integrate Pixar into their corporate culture, but vice-versa:  Can Disney adapt Pixar’s looser style and methods to their other creative departments; can they port that formula within the company?

There are definitely risks: The upside is bringing some magic back to the Magic Kingdom; the downside is killing a terrific franchise.

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Source:

How Pixar Adds a New School of Thought to Disney
WILLIAM C. TAYLOR and POLLY LaBARRE
NYT, January 29, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/business/yourmoney/29pixar.html

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Economists React to GDP

The always excellent online Journal collect lots of econo-geek comments on yesterday’s GDP stinkeroo: I didn’t feel the need to pile on, but I do dig the difference between the excuse makers and those genuinely shaken by the awful data:

WSJ: "After the economy navigated a brutal hurricane season to post robust growth in the third quarter of 2005, growth cooled considerably in the fourth quarter. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of U.S. economic output, increased at just a 1.1% seasonally adjusted annual rate as free-spending consumers became more cautious and the gaping trade deficit continued to provide a drag on the expansion. For all of 2005, GDP growth averaged a 3.5% annual rate. What does the slowdown in the fourth quarter mean for the economy in the months ahead?

Economists weigh in with their reactions:

"In both its overall appearance and underlying detail, the 1.1% fourth quarter growth in real GDP ranks as the most perplexing report in memory. At face value, such weakness would seem to make it more difficult for the Fed to tighten monetary policy again. But the underlying details reinforce — if not increase — perceptions that much faster growth lies ahead. Nonetheless, the confusing and conflicting contradictions with other data make it difficult to be confident in any inferences about the outlook."

– David Resler and Gerald Zukowski, Nomura Securities International

* * *

"Consumer spending was actually a little better than expected, rising by 1.1% in the quarter vs. our forecast of +0.3%. I think more of the decline in auto sales was apportioned to the business sector (fleet sales) and less to the retail side than we expected. Housing posted a reasonable gain of 3.5%, but this was less than half of our assumed rise. The monthly source data pointed to a bigger gain, so this is a bit puzzling."

– Stephen Stanley, RBS Greenwich Capital

* * *

"The consensus was a bit optimistic but this is a big surprise. The softness against our 2.6% forecast is explained by two components, fixed investment and government consumption. The former rose only 3.0%, with equipment and software up only 3.5%. This is baffling, given the 19.5% annualized leap in the value of capital goods production and the 14.9% rise in shipments of core nondefense capital goods. We expect big upward revisions."

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