News on Wednesday (9) that John Lasseter has been hired to run Skydance Animation after leaving Disney amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour has sparked a social media backlash and dismay from advocacy groups Time’s Up and Women And Hollywood.
Lasseter, whose personal directing credits include Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Cars and Cars 2, officially parted ways with Disney on December 31 2018 following a six-month break after complaints surfaced in late 2017 about his behaviour towards women in the workplace.
Wednesday’s development marks a stunning change in fortune for Lasseter in the #MeToo era at a time when other high-profile figures accused of improper behaviour are facing Hollywood exile, wide opprobrium, and in some cases legal action.
The news puts Skydance’s co-fi and distribution partner Paramount Pictures in a tough spot. It remained unclear at time of writing how much the studio’s chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos knew of Skydance Media CEO David Ellison’s decision to hire Lasseter. Paramount struck a four-year deal with Skydance in August 2017 to co-finance select films from each other’s slate, and for Paramount to distribute certain titles including animation.
In a memo to staff on Wednesday, Ellison said he had employed outside counsel to investigate allegations against Lasseter, adding, ”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.”
Former president of Skydance animation and family entertainment Bill Damaschke will transition from his role and Ellison said he hoped the executive would remain at the company. Lasseter will commence his new job later this month and will be based in Los Angeles.
In a statement Lasseter said: “I’m grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility. It is a distinct privilege that I will relish. I have spent the last year away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.
“I want nothing more than the opportunity to return to my creative and entrepreneurial roots, to build and invent again. I join Skydance with the same enthusiasm that drove me to help build Pixar, with a firm desire to tell original and diverse stories for audiences everywhere. With what I have learned and how I have grown in the past year, I am resolute in my commitment to build an animation studio upon a foundation of quality, safety, trust and mutual respect.”
Both Time’s Up and Women And Hollywood spoke to media and denounced or expressed reservations about the hire. Social media erupted after the news broke. ”Being a woman in an industry where known repeated abusers are hired back to their high positions after a handful of months because they’re “irreplaceable” is as terrifying as it is infuriating,” @faith_schaffer posted on Twitter. “I have no words.”
@TraceyKent wrote, “In a world full of talented human beings, how come the same old guys keep getting second (3rd?) chances? Is there no WOMEN to fill this position???”
”It’s only the 9th day of 2019 and already this happened,” wrote @AniMat505. ”I don’t know which emotions to describe what I’m feeling about this, but I know uncomfortable is one of them.”
Lasseter, the Oscar-winning co-founder of Pixar Animation who until last year served as chief creative officer at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, admitted in late 2017 to “missteps” when allegations first emerged.
Skydance Animation launched in 2017 and struck a multi-year partnership with Madrid-based Ilion Animation Studios to develop and produce a slate of high-end features and TV series. The first two announced features are Luck, and an Untitled Action Fantasy..
Ellison’s memo to Skydance staff appears below:
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.