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John Lasseter to Head Skydance Animation

After more than a year since he took his leave of absence from Disney and Pixar back in November of 2017, John Lasseter has been named head of the newly formed Skydance Animation.

 

Skydance is a production company that is probably best known for producing the recent installments of franchises like Mission: Impossible or Star Trek. And while they have produced some modest hits like Jack Reacher, they are also responsible for bombs like Baywatch and Geostorm. Currently, Skydance only has six films in production throughout 2020, including this year’s Terminator reboot, next year’s Top Gun: Maverick, and an eventual World War Z sequel.

 

On March 16, 2017, Skydance launched an animation division by forming a multi-year partnership with Ilion Animation Studios. Four films have been announced under the animation division since that time; Luck, being helmed by Kung Fu Panda 3 director Alessandro Carloni; Split, being helmed by Shrek director Vicky Jenson; Powerless, to be helmed by Tangled director Nathan Greno; and The Fourteenth Goldfish, which currently does not have any filmmaker attached.

 

 

But it looks as though Skydance wanted to have someone spearhead all of these projects, since CEO David Ellison has personally named John Lasseter head of the animation division. Lasseter obviously helped turn Pixar into a massive animation studio since the debut of Toy Story, so Skydance Animation is probably just trying to best position itself against its own competition. Lasseter is a huge name in the industry, and his talents will likely bring Skydance towards financial and critical success. But whether or not Skydance Animation should have hired John Lasseter is more of an ethical debate.

 

John Lasseter left Disney and Pixar following an admission that he had committed unspecified “missteps” that left some of his employees feeling “disrespected or uncomfortable.” This of course was in response to several sexual harassment allegations that came out against Lasseter, claiming that he had a history of harassment and misconduct throughout his tenure. Variety reports that Lasseter had been trying to “drum up” interest with other studios over the past few months, but that they were all wary of partnering with him due to these allegations. So his hiring at Skydance was thus immediately criticized by movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo.

 

An official statement from Time’s Up claims that “Skydance Media’s decision to hire John Lasseter as head of animation endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.” Other similar sentiments can be found online as well.

 

 

Yet, Ellison stands firm in his decision, and claims that choice to hire Lasseter was not taken lightly. Ellison even wrote a lengthy memo trying to explain his decision to personally hire Lasseter, which you can read in-full below:

Dear Colleagues:

I wanted to share with you first some news that we are announcing today. 

Industry visionary John Lasseter is joining us to lead Skydance Animation. John will be based in Los Angeles and will report directly to me. 

Bill Damaschke will be transitioning from his current role, and we are hopeful he will choose to remain within the Skydance family.

The attached press release outlines the news more fully, but I wanted to share a few things that have informed our decision to bring John on board.

First, no one can dispute John’s legacy building Pixar and Walt Disney Animation into the leadership position they now enjoy. His creative vision and forward-looking approach to animation has transformed the entire industry. At his heart, John is a storyteller – with a unique ability to tell beautiful and emotionally-driven tales that resonate and inspire audiences around the globe. 

Second, I know many of you are aware of John’s admitted mistakes in his prior role helming those studios. John has been forthright in taking ownership of his behavior, apologized for his actions and has spent the past year on sabbatical analyzing and improving his workplace behavior.

Third, we employed outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which we considered serious and have warranted our full attention as we made this important decision.The senior leadership team and I have all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation. 

Let me be clear: we have not entered into this decision lightly.

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. We are 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 that is the expectation of every Skydance colleague and partner. 

We are very hopeful and excited about what the coming years will bring, as John’s art transcends generations and cultures, while deeply resonating on a fundamental level with what makes us uniquely human. 

The senior leadership team and I will be hosting a town hall for all Skydance Animation colleagues shortly to speak with you directly about this transition. Additional town halls at SDM and SDI will take place today and tomorrow.

Skydance Animation colleagues, please be on the lookout for a call-to-gather email. I look forward to speaking with you in person.

Thanks,

David

 

Lasseter also released a statement claiming that he was grateful to Ellison and the Skydance team for the position, that he had spent last year in deep reflection, that he regrets and apologizes for the mistakes he has made, and that wishes to build the new studio on a foundation of safety, trust, and mutual respect. Only time will tell if this decision was a good one for both John Lasseter and Skydance Animation.

 

 

Lasseter will report directly to Skydance CEO David Ellison himself.

 

Luck, the first film production by Skydance Animation, is currently set for a March 19, 2021 release date.

 

 
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