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Skydance Animators Grill CEO David Ellison on John Lasseter Hire

Skydance CEO David Ellison reaffirmed his company’s zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment during a series of town halls about his controversial decision to hire John Lasseter to head his animation division. Lasseter was pushed out at Disney after a long run running its animation division and transforming the company’s Pixar brand into one of the preeminent forces in family entertainment. He was accused of touching female staffers inappropriately and kissing them without their consent.

A meeting with Skydance’s animation team at their at Mid-Wilshire offices was described by attendees as the most raw and emotional. A visibly moved Ellison reassured the roughly 60 staffers in attendance that he was committed to creating a safe working environment, reminding them about Skydance’s 800-line to report offenses anonymously and stressing that he would not have hired Lasseter if he abused women in the way that Harvey Weinstein and are powerful figures are alleged to have done.

One attendee said Ellison asked staff to “give us time” and allow John a chance to prove that he can “comport himself professionally.”

But Ellison was on the receiving end of several pointed questions from staff who demanded that he walk them through his thought process when it came to hiring Lasseter. They were particularly interested in learning about whether or not female members of the senior leadership, which includes Chief Marketing Officer Anne Globe and Chief Creative Officer Dana Goldberg, had signed off on the decision. Ellison said they were on board with the move.

Some animators also expressed concern that bringing Lasseter on board would hurt Skydance’s ability to attract creative talent. Ellison urged them to give Lasseter time to prove that he has reformed and counseled patience. He also stressed that Lasseter’s employment agreement clearly states that he will be fired if he engages in future inappropriate conduct or if past misdeeds that he has not shared come to light.

Before hiring Lasseter, Skydance tapped a law firm to investigate the claims against the executive. Ellison didn’t share all the conclusions, but said the report found that Disney made no financial settlements on Lasseter’s behalf and no criminal charges were ever filed against him.

Other concerns were less about the possible stain that Lasseter’s hire could put on the Skydance brand and were more procedural in nature. Skydance Animation has two projects in the works, “Split” and “Luck,” and animators were curious to know if they would continue under a new regime. Many staffers also expressed concern about their own future, noting that they had been hired by Bill Damaschke, a former DreamWorks Animation executive, who is expected to depart as head of the division now that Lasseter is in place.

The company held similar town halls on Wednesday afternoon at Skydance Interactive in Marina del Rey and at its corporate offices in Santa Monica. Lasseter is expected to address a town hall of animators next week and will meet with other employees across the company in the coming days.

Deadline first reported on Skydance’s townhalls.

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