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From the high to 'Alvin and the Chipmunks'


The end of UPA
Jules Engel Film-maker
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And so we sailed on for 15 years, practically, when things were going down, down, quite a bit down. Then, because everybody was turning out such bad things, that almost all the contracts were not renewed. So there we were sitting without a contract, although we still had pretty good stuff but not as good as we did at the beginning. But we were enormously lucky because we didn't have a new contract and what happened, the building we were in, we were paid like $3500 a month rent or something like. And all of a sudden, we had no income. And then some people came, they wanted the building. My God, they wanted that building, it was a three-story building in Burbank and naturally we sold immediately. That took us off, we owed like a couple of thousand dollars. So we were on the street, but we were free and we didn't owe any money to anybody. So that was a good thing, you know. But we did extremely well, you know, because Mr Magoo still can be picked up by some studio and do well. But Universal, that we dealt with, they didn't like the films. They didn't like... regardless of it, there was the Unicorn in the Garden or Madeline, they didn't like it. All they liked was [Mr] Magoo. But we had a contract with them and the contract was such that there's nothing they can do about unless they change… just close the studio, let us go, fire everybody. And that's what more or less came about, came to. But by that time we had another deal, we had another deal. Now this is going to the pits, from all the things we have. Alvin and the Chipmunks. Well, what happened that there was a chance to get Alvin and the Chipmunks and we got it to a friend, a good friend, who was working behind the scene. And so we signed a deal and we were off on Alvin and the Chipmunks. And the good thing about Alvin and the Chipmunks was that we had a deal with Ross Bagdasarian. He owned the property, you see? And so what happened, we made a deal with him, which he did not know business. We had 25% in perpetuity. The 25%, whatever it takes comes, we got 25% from each deal. Now that was tremendous, tremendous. I mean, not only we had a job, we had to do 25, 24, half-an-hour show but what 21-, 25% perpetuity, beside of our pay, that we got. So that was a goodie. So that lasted for a couple of years. Then he died, his son took over and that was a mess. But still, even till five years ago, I was still receiving a couple of thousand dollar because they sold a portion of it always to somewhere, somebody. So that was our way to the end.

The late Hungarian-American film-maker Jules Engel is best known for his contribution to the field of animation. His work includes the dance sequences in Walt Disney's 'Fantasia' and the creation of 'Mr Magoo'. His films and lithographs are housed in museums all over the world and have won many awards.

Listeners: Bill Moritz Tamara Tracz

William Moritz received his doctorate from USC and pursues parallel careers as filmmaker and writer. His forty-four experimental and animation films have been screened at museums in Paris, Amsterdam and Tokyo, among others. He published widely on Oskar Fischinger, James Whitney, Bruce Conner, the Fleischers and 200 pages of animation history for an AbsolutVodka website. He wrote chapters for the "Oxford History of Cinema", appeared in several television documentaries, curated art exhibits and received a lifetime achievement trophy from the Netherlands Royal Academy for his work with visual music. He has served on film festival juries and received an American Film Institute filmmaking grant. His poetry and plays are also performed and published. He is a leading expert of Oskar Fischinger and recently published a biography of him. He teaches at The California Institute of the Arts.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Mr Magoo, Unicorn in the Garden, Madeline, Alvin and the Chipmunks, United Productions of America, Universal, Ross Bagdasarian

Duration: 3 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008