Veggie Tales film eats into profits

Lombard-based Big Idea Productions, makers of the popular Veggie Tales video series, laid off 30 employees during the last week of September, just a week before the company's first feature film was released. reported concerns from former Big Idea employees that cost overruns from the film had "crippled the company," putting its future in jeopardy.

"Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie," which opened Friday, received positive reviews in the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Reporter and took in an estimated $6.5 million at the box office this past weekend. Big Idea executives have said that the film has to make $20 million at the box office to break even.

In response to the story, Big Idea CEO and founder Phil Vischer called the staff layoffs a "correct sizing" that would enable the company to be at "the levels that are required for upcoming productions." He said a weakened market and a gap in the studio's production schedule meant Big Idea could not keep a full production crew in place. "This was a heartbreaking reality that we had to face," he said.

Vischer, who started the company in 1993 in his home and has watched become the Midwest's largest animation studio, said that he was aware of the risks involved with making a feature film. If the film doesn't succeed, "it's not just me risking my life savings and the money I borrowed from my parents." he said. "It means that 200 people will have [to] find a new way to feed their families."

—Religion News Service

Argerich returns: One of the world's foremost pianists, Martha Argerich, will return to Symphony Center after an absence of more than a decade to perform as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in subscription concerts Jan. 16-18. The Argentine-born artist will play Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, with Charles Dutoit as guest conductor. The rest of the program holds Berlioz's "Beatrice and Benedict" Overture and Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."

Argerich's penchant for cancellations has kept her a shadowy figure in downtown Chicago. She canceled a duo recital here last year because of the illness of her partner, pianist Nelson Freire. She also pulled the plug on a concert with violinist Gidon Kremer at Orchestra Hall in 1995 and a series of concerts and recording sessions with Daniel Barenboim and the CSO the following season.

—John von Rhein

Jeff awards: Mike Nussbaum will be honored with a special Joseph Jefferson Award for his lifetime of service to the Chicago theater, the awards committee announced Wednesday. The veteran actor will share the dais with the City of Chicago.

In an unusual move apparently intended as a way of jointly honoring the service to the local theater of Cultural Commissioner Lois Weisberg and mayoral spouse Maggie Daley, it's a second special Jeff will go to the city, for what it describes as "unflagging support for the cultural arts."

This year's Jefferson Awards will he handed out on Nov. 4 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

—Chris Jones

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