Laika Rolling Stone

There is no place more dangerous place to be in Hollywood than on a dilettante’s payroll. However well-intentioned the dilettante, however talented, however, driven they might be–at some point if it isn’t at least 30% about the money, this business just gets too hard. Making, marketing, financing, and selling movies is a business that will break and humiliate you in a zillion ways. Not to mention dealing every day with the heartwarming group of geniuses who staff this business.

If you don’t on some level need to be doing it, the day will come when you get tired or broken, or sick of fighting. When whatever genuine creative inspiration you brought to Hollywood has been trampled on by the whims of fate and undeserving popcorn eaters and you finally turn the card over in your head: There has to be a better way.

Too bad then if you’re one of the people who followed a dilettante down his path and your livelihood depends on him staying inspired.

Of all the dilletantes who have come to dump their money, or their family’s money, into the industry, Travis Knight has had one of the more impressive and interesting careers. Not content to simply write checks for other people’s films, he has built actual movies with his bare hands. Not only that, but they’re movies in an interesting, highly creative niche no less.

But eventually, as it always does, the day will come when the interests of a dilettante and his Hollywood flock no longer align. The employees at Laika, Knight’s stop-motion animation studio, are right now facing up to the reality that Knight’s good fortune may not translate into their gain.

Laika’s history has never been easy. Founded as Will Vinton Studios in 1978 by the Father of Claymation, the Portland-based company rode to success on the back of the California Raisins campaign among other triumphs. But as is the case time eternal, success led to heated dreams of conquering Hollywood, which led to wild spending, which led to insolvency when the inevitable first misses came along (in this case, in the form of Eddie Murphy’s short-lived series The PJ’s). Which led to Vinton seeking benefactors who had reasons to make a crazy bet on an animation company that was a step away from debtor’s prison.

In this case, the benefactor came in the form of Nike founder Phil Knight, currently the 18th richest man in America, who initially put $5 million into his fellow Oregonian’s local animation studio to help keep it afloat. (The Vinton/Laika history is laid out in detail in this piece.) When he first invested, Knight asked the company’s CEO to find an internship for son Travis. Knight would later admit he had made the investment with an eye on the future of his son, whom at that point was seeking gainful employment performing as a rapper under the name Chilly Tee.

To read the rest of the story about Laika’s unexpected turning point, and how Travis Knight’s Transformers success may be the animators’ loss, subscribe to The Ankler today.

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