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BTTF# 20: Reseda's Filmation Studios and A Tribute To Louis Scheimer, The Legend Behind Saturday Morning Cartoons

Image courtesy Logopedia
Image courtesy Flipanimation
Welcome aboard the Delorean! 

Marty McFly here to take you on a journey to the former Filmation Studios at 18107 Sherman Way Reseda. The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to September 1962 (actual date unknown) and the flux capacitor is......fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time.

This post is written in honor of Louis Scheimer who was one of the original founders of Filmation who recently passed away on October 17, 2013 at the age of 84 (two days shy of his 85th birthday) from Parkinson's disease at his Tarzana home. 

Image courtesy Animatedviews.com
For every child growing up in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, watching cartoons on a Saturday morning became a ritual. That reality was made possible with a select few animation powerhouses surprisingly all based in the SFV including Hanna-Barbera in Universal City, Warner Brothers, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and Walt Disney in Burbank, and last but not least, Filmation in Reseda which is the last place you think of when it comes to animation studios which is the subject of this post. 

Image courtesy Animatedviews.com
Filmation came about from the collaboration of Louis Scheimer, Hal Sutherland, and Norm Prescott in September 1962 which was headquartered in Reseda at the corner of Sherman Way and Lindley. I am not sure why an animation company would chose Reseda other than the typical reason that the land was plentiful and cheap in the 1960's SFV versus setting up shop in Hollywood, Burbank, or Universal City where the other filming companies were based and the talent was more abundant. I am also not sure why they picked Reseda and if they had purchased the land and constructed the building? Please do share if you know as I am extremely curious on this one. 

Image courtesy Animatedviews.com
The Filmation name was derived from "we were working on film, but doing animation"; so putting them together yielded "Filmation" according to Wikipedia

Image courtesy Animatedviews.com
The Filmation studio produced many popular hits that still have a lasting appeal today starting in the 60's with (I recommend viewing the filmography list at Wikipedia): 
  • Aquaman
  • The Adventures of Batman
  • The New Adventures of Superman
  • and The Archie Comedy Hour
The 70's would bring:
  • Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series
  • Shazam!, The Ghost Busters
  • and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
Lastly, the 80's would bring my favorite cartoons like:
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
  • The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
  • and The Original Ghostbusters
Filmation also produced live-action films and specials like The Secrets of Isis, The Ghost Busters, He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special, and Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All to name a few. In developing the storyline for many of its shows, Filmation used simple life lessons explained by a key character in a child friendly manner.  Filmation also re-used animation and employed rotoscopoing which looked like the same images were used over and over again which it was but they did with class and looked professional. Filmation also believed in keeping their production based in the US except for Zorro rather than produce in a foreign country which was becoming more common with other animation studios. 

The Filmation work ambiance and culture was a great place to work with high morale and motivated employees attending holiday parties, pot lucks, and various work related outings. Across the street, employees would hang out at the Bunker Bar which is still present today (a great dive bar) and its been said that any production questions needed to be addressed before lunch because no one was around later to answer them because everyone was hanging out at The Bunker. 

Image courtesy Yelp
Filmation owners changed hands numerous times with the first sale to the TelePrompTer Corporation in 1969 who sold to Westinghouse Electric Corporation through its Group W Productions division in 1981. In 1989, Westinghouse sold Filmation to an investment consortium led by the L'Oreal Company. Before the sale was complete, Westinghouse closed the film studio on February 3, 1989 which left L'Oreal with the Filmation library only. Also, this closure happened a day before a new law went into effect requiring companies to give employees 60 days notice before a mass termination. Gotta love corporate America. 

Image courtesy geektyrant.com
Although the company folded in 1989, its shows still remain somewhat. At some point, Hallmark Cards acquired a majority of Filmation's library while those cartoons that were based on characters licensed from other companies were under control of other studios like Warner Bros. In March 2004, Entertainment Rights acquired the Filmation Library and revealed that Hallmark  converted all of its shows to digital format in the 1990's into PAL-format for the international market with the original film prints discarded. Doh! These PAL-formate shows exhibit the "576i speedup" effect where the soundtrack plays 4% too fast resulting in the ptich being a half step higher than original. On April 1, 2009, Entertainment Rights was acquired by Boomerang Media and on May 11, 2009, Boomerang absorbed Entertainment Rights and its subsidiaries under the name Classic Media. In 2012, Classic Media was acquired by DreamWorks Animation which employs many former employees of Filmation. In fact, many former Filmation employees would end up working at the other top animation studios like Warner Brothers and Disney today. 

The Filmation office at Canoga Avenue and Victory taken on July 4, 1986 just prior to the move from Reseda to Woodland Hills for select production employees. Image courtesy Terry Guy Flickr page. 
Today, you can view many of the Filmation shows through Bounce TV and Retro TV, DVD's, and Youtube. 

Moving on to Louis Scheimer who was the leader of Filmation especially after Hal retired in 1974 and Norm followed in 1982 when the company was bought out. Lou had humble beginnings and lost his father when he was 14 years old. Lou attended Carnegie Tech to study fine arts. Up graduation, he married his girlfriend, Jay, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in animation and the rest is they say history. There are various stories and accounts written about Lou and his helm at Filmation. 

Image courtesy Memory Alpha Wikia
But his most notable accomplishments are winning an Emmy for Star Trek five years after NBC canceled it because of poor ratings. He proved that a mostly black show, Fat Albert, could survive on Saturday mornings which was Filmation's longest running show. He was a true family man that would employ his daughter and wife for voicework. And last but not least, he believed in the American people and fought to keep jobs in Reseda when everything was being farmed out. When Filmation was dismantled, Lou made the announcement to his employees who gave him a round of applause after he left the podium. Lou was last publicly seen at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con promoting a new book about Filmation with Andy Mangels. At Comic Con, Lou looked fragile and spoke very little as I am guessing he was mustering enough energy to make his appearance while fighting Parkinson's Disease but he still had his sense of humor throwing out one liners to the audience. I found an interview that Lou's daughter, Erika, conducted for a college project which ended with a very inspirational quote: 
As for my future, I don’t really know. I think that’s one of the nice things. I mean, if I really knew what the hell I was going to be doing ten years from now, I might not even want to do it. One of the interesting things is that you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. There‘s always some other challenge out there. There’s always some possibility of doing something more interesting, something better, something more worthwhile. (Web Archive)
The Lou Scheimer book by Andy Mangels
Obituary from LA Times on October 20, 2013
Some other random notes about Lou Scheimer, he lived up the street in Tarzana in a home designed by Dion Neutra, son of famed architect Richard Neutra. The home measures 4 Beds/5 Baths on 5,226 sqft on a total lot size of 2.88 acres built in 1972 which I am guessing was commissioned by Scheimer but not really sure about that. At any rate, he lived in a cool house sited on top of hill overlooking the SFV. Usually after the owner of a home passes away, the surviving members sell the home so we will keep a close eye on this property to see if it hits the market. 

Image courtesy Google Maps
And now its time to fire up the Delorean and go back to the future to the present day site of Filmation which has become a commerical office but still standing. Unfortunately the sign is gone and I imagine its been trashed. I would do anything for that sign. Just behind this building is St. Catherine's of Siena Church where Boogie Nights was filmed with the infamous scene of Dirk Diggler (Mark Whalberg) taking a beating along with Buck Swopes (Don Cheadle) walking out with a bag full of cash from the doughnut store after the gun battle. 



You can view more SFV history and Back To The Future series here

Sources:

Wikipedia - Filmation

Terry Guy's Flickr Page......picture of Woodland Hills building

Flipanimation.net.......Former employee stories

Youtube of Lou Scheimer at 2012 San Diego Comic Con.....Lou's last public appearance

Filmation Logos

Robert Writer......Former employee page dedicated to Filmation

Erika Scheimer interview of Lou

Animated Views....a look back at Filmation and Part 2

Youtube channel of select Filmation cartoons

Bee-otch of the Day....tribute to Lou Scheimer

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

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