Thursday, October 2, 2008

E-mail interaction...

... between myself and animation director Gary Goldman (he works with Don Bluth).

Me: I just heard the news that Morris Sullivan has passed away. Can you tell us a little about him, and the contributions he made to Bluth's early films. Also was the character "Sullivan" in The Secret of NIMH named after him? All the best.

Goldman: Brandon, Thank you for writing. In the fall of 1982, after the dismal performance in theaters by The Secret of NIMH. We were feeling pretty low. At the end of July, 1982, the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists went on a 73 day strike (we were a union studio, including Don, John and me). More negative: the financiers for the film in production, East of the Moon: West of the Moon, were fearful that the strike would cause wage increases for the artists, and seriously affect the $11.5 M budget for that film - they walked away after spending almost $500,000 on development. So there we sat -Don, John, me, our production manager, Fred Craig and the receptionist, Carolyn Warren. In October, one of the female animators, feeling pretty low, went to a phrenologist and had her fortune told. She came back to the studio with the following story: She was told that she was an artist. Something to do with a group of artists were are some sort of "crusade" to save their art. She was told to stick with them. That there would be a "silver-haired gentleman" who would come into their lives and take them away to a far away island, where they would become very successful. Very weird, to say the least. We all had a good laugh. However, four months later, in January of 1983, we met Morris Sullivan. Our attorney brought him by the studio to see if he could help find financing for the Dragon's Lair game. He was an acquisitions and merger expert, with many wealthy associates. He was silver-haired, and 21 years older than Don. We found that the number of years difference interesting because Don, I and John are all 7 years apart, age-wise, John being the youngest. (Morris was three times the difference in our ages.) Are we superstitious or what? We did a presentation for Morris and showed him a few minutes of The Secret of NIMH. When we were done, he thanked us for a "very impressive presentation". He said that he would love to help but at the time he was involved with a very big and important merger, something to do with large companies on Wall Street. He left. We didn't see Morris again until late September of 1983, when we were almost finished with the production of our second arcade game, Space Ace. By this time he was done with his merger and came back to see how we were doing. We were sailing and all was looking good, though we were being to have business issues with the manufacturer/distributor of the first game, Dragon's Lair. We hired Morris to consult business with us, and took him with us to the 1983 New Orleans Arcade Game convention. He guided us thru the turbulent relationship with our partners and while our company fought thru a lawsuit with the manufacturer, Morris set up a company to handle our collaboration with Steven Spielberg on An American Tail and The Land Before Time. It took 5 years to settle the lawsuit. By that time Morris had moved us to Ireland with our American/Canadian crew of 87 artists and technicians. Huh?! The silver-haired gentleman moved us to a far away island? How's that for a prophecy? Well, within a year of the move, we were half-way thru the production of The Land Before Time and already had become the largest animation studio in Europe with almost 400 artists, technicians and management staff. Morris WAS the silver-haired gentleman. A good businessman and an honest partner to what we were trying to achieve. Morris recognized that we would always have difficulty getting financing at a level to satisfy the needs of production, that is why he suggested that we move to Ireland, there were tax benefits, low interest loans for infrastructure, equipment, training grants and rent subsidies. Plus, a lower salary expectation in a foreign country. The issue was going to be training of artists that had no knowledge of classical animation. Morris never blinked an eye. He reminded us that we had a lot to do with the training of the staff we had in California and most of those were going to Ireland with us. They can assist in the training of new staff. And, that's what we did. Morris stayed with the company, running the business side from offices in Burbank, until the last financial funding, in 1991, with a Belgium company, when he was bought out by the financing company. He went into retirement. But his business influence is what helped us finance five films, all to be made in Ireland, some, after 1988, with a satellite company of 88 artists and technicians at Don Bluth Animation in Burbank, a company that was set up as some of the American animators decided to return to the USA. The name on the Irish company was changed to Don Bluth Entertainment, Ireland, LTD. But, all those that made the trip and those who became part of that super crew will all remember, Sullivan Bluth Studios...and to answer the other question: No, Morris Sullivan was not the namesake of Sullivan in that film. Thanks again for writing. Regards, Gary

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