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‘Animal Crackers’: Making The Film Was Hard, Finding Distribution Is Even Harder

Everyone already knows that making an animated feature is hard, but sometimes distributing it is even harder.

That’s the case with independently-produced cg feature Animal Crackers, written and co-directed by Scott Christian Sava, which has been sitting around collecting figurative dust since the end of 2016, when it wrapped production.

Release dates have come and gone, and distributors attached to the project have been many. Back in December, Cartoon Brew announced a 2018 release, but there hasn’t been any official confirmation from the current distributor, producer Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures (ESMP), regarding a specific date.

Having grown tired of Allen dragging his feet, Scott Christian Sava took it upon himself to make an announcement of his own. On April 25, the official Facebook page for Animal Crackers posted a single sentence to its 16,000 fans and the world: “In theaters August 10!”

“That’s me pushing Byron Allen’s buttons,” Sava tells Cartoon Brew. “That’s the date I’ve been asking for. Social media’s been my only outlet and leverage.”

This isn’t the first time that Sava has encountered resistance, but it’s unlikely that his misfortune has anything to do with a lack of big names attached to Animal Crackers. Sava’s determination and connections enabled him to bring director Tony Bancroft (Mulan) and writer Dean Lorey (Arrested Development) on board. He also engaged the services of character designer Carter Goodrich, who has worked on everything from Despicable Me to Coco. The cast boasts real-life couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, who just scored a big hit with A Quiet Place, along with supporting characters voiced by Danny DeVito, Ian McKellen, and Sylvester Stallone.

Animal Crackers has never found itself wanting for accolades or interest. After its debut in competition at Annecy animation festival in June 2017, Variety lauded the “delightfully inventive” script based on a “downright clever idea.” And Sava says he and his team have been at the negotiating table with everyone from Lionsgate to Fox.

“We’ve met with almost every single studio and I think we’ve had an offer from every studio,” he says. “But the offers are, for the most part, ‘We get to keep all the money, and you don’t. But this will be great for your career, Scott.’”

Sava says a one-sided contract wouldn’t necessarily have been a dealbreaker if it weren’t for the need to repay his investors. In 2014, when production began, Animal Crackers received tremendous support—to the tune of $19.5 million—from investors in Seattle, South Korea, and China, including Beijing Wenhua Dongrun Investment Company. For Sava, it’s an issue of fidelity.

“I can’t not pay my investors back. If the deal was, ‘Hey, we’ll pay your investors back and you don’t get any money, Scott,’ I would have probably said yes,” says Sava. “I never made a movie before and people gave me $20 million. They trusted me. How do you betray that trust?”

In early 2016, as production on Animal Crackers was nearing completion, Sava was determined to find a distributor who could help him fulfill his promise. His producers connected him with Ryan Kavanaugh and Relativity Media, which had just resurfaced from its 2015 bankruptcy. (The company has, ironically, just declared bankruptcy again.) Sava was justifiably nervous, but decided to hear the offer out.

The Animal Crackers team ended up signing a term sheet with Relativity and scheduled a release for April 21, 2017. Needless to say, that date came and went without a U.S. premiere. According to Sava, the situation deteriorated dramatically. So dramatically, in fact, that Sava isn’t legally allowed to divulge any detailed information concerning the film’s relationship with Relativity until 2019.

“Long story short, that didn’t work out,” is all Sava can reveal. “That ate up six months of our lives.”

At the beginning of 2017, Sava and company found themselves with a finished film and no distributor. Desperate, they signed another term sheet with Serafini Releasing, a startup with only one film under its belt. They had until September 1 of that year to put out Animal Crackers, and they weren’t able to manage it, either.

Sava says he has actually presold distribution rights to several international territories with the help of Odin’s Eye Entertainment—the only catch being that Animal Crackers has to have its U.S. premiere first. The only exception to this is China, where the film is being released on 12,000 screens by China Film Group, one of the project’s early investors, on July 6.

Unsurprisingly, this whole process has left Sava with a sour taste in his mouth.

“To be perfectly honest, it’s very frustrating to have a finished film for 15 months sitting here, and you can’t even get a release date,” he complains. “In Hollywood, all you get is words. Unfortunately, I can’t release a film on promises. I can’t pay people on promises.”

As a result of not having the proper support from distributors, cast and crew had to make do without some of the luxuries of a larger production. According to Sava, stars John Krasinski and Emily Blunt accepted a fraction of the payment they might have received for a similar project with a bigger budget. For his part, Sava got so frustrated waiting on distributors that he arranged to have the trailer made himself.

“I was so tired of waiting on studios that I Googled ‘best trailer houses’ and Aspect Ratio came up, and they’ve done like every movie. I contacted them; I said, ‘Look, I’ve only got this very small budget, but this is my film, and could you help me out?’ And they said, ‘Sure!’”

In order to post the finished trailer, Sava then created a Youtube account, which he manages by himself, just like the film’s Facebook page and other social media accounts. With a limited marketing budget at his disposal, social media has been a saving grace for him to garner interest and interact with fans.

Despite all his discouraging experiences, Sava expects that the tide will turn soon. He signed another term sheet, but not a contract, with Byron Allen’s company this past November, and hopes that the entertainment mogul will make good on his promise of a summer premiere.

“[Byron Allen] loved the film. He’s doing everything he can to try to hit a summer release. It’s hard to tell with people, but I think he really wants to get this film out and he wants it to be big,” Sava says. “My reaction at this point is just, ‘Pick a date. Pick a date, let’s put it out there!’”

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