When the credits roll next month on Walt Disney Co.'s computer-animated feature “Toy Story,” a familiar name will be listed as an executive producer: Steven P. Jobs.
The celebrity computer entrepreneur--who co-founded Apple Computer in 1977 and left the company in a bitter falling out in 1985--recently asked for, and got, a credit on the film, sources at Disney say.
His main contribution: He owns Pixar, the Richmond, Calif.-based digital animation studio that teamed with Disney to make the movie.
The credit issue, according to studio sources, initially irked some of the people who labored on the movie, which had a gestation of about four years. They see Jobs as increasingly using the film--which some in Hollywood believe will be one of the biggest holiday hits this year (due in no small part to the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen)--to promote himself and Pixar, which recently filed for an initial public offering of stock.
“He came to the project late and got on the bandwagon late, and is trying to use it to make his public offering,” said one high-level Disney executive. Other executives at Disney say they have been bothered by some media accounts of the movie that seemingly give Jobs the bulk of the credit.
Few have ever questioned the promotional skills of Jobs, 40. Because of Securities and Exchange Commission rules mandating silence during a public stock offering, he’s not talking publicly about Pixar now.
But Pixar’s press consultant, Deborah Stapleton, says that it’s a bum rap to suggest that Jobs is out to grab credit for “Toy Story.”
“Steve goes out of his way to direct the credit to the team who worked day-to-day on the film,” Stapleton said. “He’s the first to tell you that. Before we started this, he said he wanted to try to move it away from a Steve Jobs story into a Pixar story.”
According to SEC documents filed by Pixar, Disney has “ultimate creative control” over the film. Most of the credit on the film, Disney sources say, belongs to such people as John Lasseter, a Pixar vice president for creative development and former Disney animator, as well as Ralph J. Guggenheim, Pixar’s vice president for feature film production. Another is Bonnie Arnold, a Disney executive working at Pixar.
As for press accounts focusing on Jobs, Stapleton said: “The reality is, you have somebody who is as well known as Steve is, and who is as controversial as Steve is, especially in the [Silicon] Valley.”
For his part, Peter Schneider, head of Disney’s feature animation unit, said: “We’ve had a great collaboration. We went there for the artists, and found a great company.” Other Disney sources say that the company liked the technology so much that it tried to buy Pixar at one point.
Purportedly the first feature animation film created entirely on computers, “Toy Story” involves toys in a boy’s bedroom that come to life when humans aren’t around. Cowboy puppet “Woody” (Hanks provides the voice) is the child’s favorite until his status is threatened by the arrival of the high-tech space toy “Buzz Lightyear” (Allen’s voice).
So what’s at stake for Pixar and Jobs when “Toy Story” is released on Nov. 22?
For one thing, Pixar this month filed with the SEC to raise $96.6 million by selling 6.9 million shares of stock at a proposed maximum offering price of $14 a share. After the offering, Jobs will own 80%. Assuming the $14 a share price, his stake would be worth about $420 million on paper. Jobs, who takes no salary at the company, according to documents, has bankrolled the company since buying it in 1986.
Documents and interviews suggest Pixar’s goal is mainly gaining a firm foothold in what may develop as a major new industry, rather than any immediate payoff, using its proprietary computers and software.
Indeed, it doesn’t look as if Pixar is expecting a lot of revenue from “Toy Story” to trickle down.
Under its agreement with Disney, the documents say, “even if Pixar’s animated feature films were critically acclaimed and extraordinary box office successes, Pixar’s compensation would be very small compared to that of Disney, and it is possible that Pixar would not achieve any significant revenue at all.”
The company has an exclusive movie-making relationship with Disney--which controls the movie characters and presumably aims to make a fortune selling “Toy Story” merchandise--for up to two more films beyond “Toy Story,” which are expected to take another five years or so. Disney recently exercised the option on one about insects, tentatively called “Bugs.”
Some Hollywood sources noted that giving Jobs an executive producer credit isn’t such a crime considering that they are seemingly handed out freely on films these days.
One Disney executive sees it as a good sign that Jobs wanted it, “For us, it’s the surest sign its a big hit. This should only happen on a flop.”