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John Lasseter hire slammed by industry groups

The appointment by Skydance Media of the ex-Disney and Pixar head—who was ousted after misconduct claims—as its new animation boss has sparked backlash from anti-sexual harassment groups.
January 10, 2019

Following news that ousted Disney/Pixar chief John Lasseter has joined Skydance Media’s fledgling animation division, Hollywood activists including Time’s Up have denounced the hire.

Lasseter was announced as the new head of animation at Skydance yesterday by the California-based company’s CEO David Ellison, to whom Lasseter will report when he starts later this month. He replaces Skydance president of animation and family entertainment Bill Damaschke, who will transition out of the role, although it’s unclear in a memo to staff from Ellison whether he’ll remain at the company.

Disney parted ways with Lasseter last June after numerous allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior towards female employees were made against the former chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He had been on a leave of absence since November 2017, when he acknowledged “missteps” in his relationships with staffers. His subsequent consulting role with Disney ended on December 31, 2018.

In his staff memo, Ellison noted that Skydance has “not entered into this decision lightly” and addressed Lasseter’s past conduct, saying that “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.”

He added that Skydance hired an unnamed “outside counsel” to investigate the allegations against Lasseter prior to his appointment, and the “extensive investigation” was “carefully evaluated” by Ellison and the company’s senior leadership team. Ellison outlined the results to his colleagues, stating: “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.”

The appointment has resulted in strong criticism from women’s rights supporters, including Time’s Up, which launched last year after numerous sexual abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein were reported.

Here’s the movement’s full statement:

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. At a moment when we should be uplifting the many talented voices who are consistently underrepresented, Skydance Media is providing another position of power, prominence and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.
People often ask when a man who has abused his power “gets” to “come back.” There is no simple answer. But here are a few first steps:

1) Demonstrate true remorse.
2) Work deeply to reform your behavior.
3) Deliver restitution to those you harmed.

That’s the bare minimum.


Hiring decisions have consequences. And offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to do any of those things is condoning abuse.

In addition, Women in Film Los Angeles and Women and Hollywood also issued comments on the controversial hiring.

Women in Film LA:

Lasseter’s inappropriate touching and kissing has been reported by a number of women—from colleagues to subordinates. In the statement from Skydance, David Ellison says, “Lasseter 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.” He also says that Skydance had “employed outside counsel to investigate the allegations.”
What does this mean? For women in this industry to feel safe, we need more transparency than the above statement, and we need to know what the company plans to do to ensure that safety. By saying Skydance has conducted an independent investigation and then proceeded to hire Lasseter, do they mean to suggest that they are hiring him in spite of the numerous accounts of women and colleagues? We do think that people can learn and change, and we look forward to men who model this, but true reparation requires transparency.

And from Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein:

I was floored to read that John Lasseter has been hired to run Skydance Animation following his removal from Pixar. This is a horrible message to the women at Pixar who stood up and told their truths about their experiences. This is also a message to all that the bro culture is alive and well and thriving in Hollywood.

David Ellison should be ashamed of himself.

When contacted for comment on the backlash from the aforementioned groups, a representative from Skydance said the company has no further comment at this time, beyond its press release and Ellison’s memo to staff.

Here is David Ellison’s complete note to the Skydance team:

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

In Lasseter’s new role, he will be tasked with spearheading Skydance Animation’s overall strategy and creative direction, overseeing production and operations for division’s growing slate of animated film and TV properties.

Skydance Animation launched in 2017 and has since formed a multi-year partnership with Spanish CGI studio Ilion Animation Studios to develop and produce a slate of high-end animated feature films and television series. The first project to come out of the co-venture is an untitled fantasy-action movie for 2019, directed by Vicky Jenson and written by Linda Woolverton (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent). A second film, Luck, is a comedy about the way good and bad luck affect people’s daily lives. Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (Kung Fu Panda trilogy, Trolls) are writing and producing, with Alessandro Carloni on board as director.

To bolster the new division, Skydance hired four former DreamWorks Animation execs last March— Holly Edwards (head of animation production), Kim Mackey (head of talent acquisitions and development), Jessie Carbonaro (director of talent acquisitions and talent development) and Matthew Burke (finance director).

About The Author
Jeremy is the Features Editor of Kidscreen specializing in the content production, broadcasting and distribution aspects of the global children's entertainment industry. Contact Jeremy at jdickson@brunico.com.

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