Rumors are tearing up the web that Imagi's CG animated Astro Boy movie has stopped production. But don't start a robo-gladiator stampede. We talked to Imagi U.S. president Erin Corbett, who set the record straight.
Astro Boy is the story of a scientist who creates a robot kid to replace his dead son. But the robot kid can't fulfill the grieving father's expectations, so he journeys off in search of acceptance, entering a netherworld of betrayal and robot gladiators. Eventually, he returns home to save the father who rejected him. The film stars the vocal talent of Freddie Highmore, Nicholas Cage, Eugene Levy, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland and Kristen Bell.
Earlier today, Slashfilm reported that Astro Boy had shut down production. There have been reports for a while that Imagi was having financial difficulties — in December, auditors Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu cast doubt on Imagi's financial resources going forward.
But Corbett says Imagi definitely has the money to finish making Astro Boy, which already has distribution with Summit Entertainment and a release date of Oct. 23, 2009. She says the film remains on course to make that release date.
In a nutshell, here's what happened: Imagi is funded by private equity firms, and the company had received some funding last year. A new round of funding was set to kick in on Feb 3, but in the meantime the company was counting on some "bridge financing" to cover expenses between now and early February.
When that "bridge financing" looked like it might not materialize, the only responsible thing to do was shut down the company's U.S. offices for a week, says Corbett. Everyone, including the animators, was put on "mandatory unpaid leave," until the new round of financing comes in on Feb. 3. (Union rules require the company to let everyone go if they don't have money on hand to pay salaries.)
We had this money secured in the late fall. We had bridge money to take us through February, when we knew that bridge money was not going to [materialize]... we could not have people come in and not be sure [we'd be able to pay them.]
This only affects the company's U.S. office — the Hong Kong office is closed down too, but that's for Chinese New Year, when everything in Hong Kong shuts down anyway.
So where does that leave Astro Boy? "Our number one objective is to get back on the rails," says Corbett. "We want to do everything to get Astro Boy out the door." The film is entirely storyboarded and planned out. The animation is about 50 percent rendered and completed at this point, and almost all of the film's vocal talent has already been recorded. Most importantly, the company already has enough money coming in, in February, to finish off work on Astro Boy.
Meanwhile, the company is continuing to raise money for upcoming projects. Corbett wants to put out a CG Gatchaman movie in November 2010. "We're trying to do a film every year to 18 months," Corbett says. Right now, Corbett is in Chicago working on sponsorship opportunities. McDonald's and American Greetings are already involved with Astro Boy, and she's pitching additional partners like Kraft and General Mills for Gatchaman. Astro Boy tie-ins will include everything from action figures to greeting cards.
Meanwhile, what about that trailer we showed you recently for T-28, the movie based on the franchise known in the U.S. as Gigantor? That was a trial balloon, explains Corbett. T-28 is a property that Imagi founder Francis Kao has been interested in working on for several years, and the company decided to release a teaser trailer to see if people would be interested in a full-length film. They were blown away by the interest, but there are no immediate plans to do a T-28/Gigantor movie.