If the French experience is anything to go by, animation is clearly the film and television genre most open to international co-production. It accounts for about 31 percent of all French film and TV exports. International co-production in animation is growing, and in many cases, French companies are taking the lead on new projects.
According to the Centre national de la cinématographie (CNC), foreign financing, either in the form of co-productions or pre-sales, still represents the main financing source for animation programming. The need for foreign partners is the result of a decrease in domestic broadcaster funding (16 percent on average for animation programs compared to up to 60 percent in the case of live-action adult drama).
International co-productions have focused mainly on 26-minute series.
Today, foreign funding comes largely from the United States (26.6 percent) and Canada (25 percent). U.S. producers working with France can take advantage of public funding from the CNC, as well as having their co-productions qualify as European content and thus avoid being caught up in quota limitations.
Canada, which has become known for its expertise and efficiency as a co-production partner, benefits from a mini-treaty signed in 1985 with France. The partners can share financing, creative and technical services. Nelvana, Cinar and Cine Groupe are three of the leading Canadian co-production partners.
Partnerships with other European countries now represent less than half of French animation co-productions. Germany is the leader with almost a 50 percent investment in 16 shows, while French-speaking territories like Switzerland and Belgium participate through pre-sales because of the limited resources of their domestic broadcasters.
Europe is also taking advantage of the Cartoon Forum for co-productions that has been running for the past five years through the European Media Program.
Co-production means sharing work and controlling a complex system, and French producers have, over the past several years, become increasingly familiar with how it works.
Following are some of France’s key players:
Created in May 1995, the Gaumont TV subsidiary headed by Marc du Pontavice is out to become a leading European studio. Du Pontavice started by financing his first series through co-production. He wants to position his studio on the international market as a producer and supplier of mainstream action-adventure series and fresh, provocative sitcom-like original cartoons, for more-adult audiences.
For Gaumont Multimedia, the lucrative U.S. market is a key in its growth plans, even though the company is closely looking at cooperating with Great Britain and Germany as well.
Gaumont Multimedia was behind the series Highlander: The Animated Series (40 x 26 minutes) budgeted at US$14.5 million, and co-produced with M6 and financed in part by Bohbot Entertainment for syndication. The Olympic Show (52 x 26 minutes), with a budget of US$9 million, is co-produced by Gaumont TV, Nelvana and Mate Productions in cooperation with the CIO. More recent shows include: Home To Rent (52 x 13 minutes), which is a mix of traditional U.S. animation, and a fresh sitcom (to air next September) with a budget of US$10 million, co-produced with France 3, Germany’s Pro 7 and developed with CBS.
Abrams Gentile Entertainment (AGE) in the U.S. and Gaumont Multimedia are co-producing two 26 x 26-minute series: Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz. Both projects are produced in France and each episode is budgeted at about US$360,000 to $375,000. As part of the agreement, both companies are financing the series, with AGE handling domestic syndication and Gaumont taking all international rights.
Gaumont Multimedia is now moving full steam ahead with three series each year. Co-productions also include the development of animated video games.
When Saban International in Paris was founded in 1977, the company aimed to produce French music titles for television series, including children’s programs. In late 1990, Saban built an animation production studio with the objective of creating and producing animated series for the European market, as well as for broadcast in the U.S.
Now, Saban ranks among the largest French animation companies with successful co-production relationships with European producers and broadcasters. The company is developing European characters with international appeal and strong licensing potential.
Since 1992, Saban has co-produced Around the World in 80 Dreams (26 x 26 minutes); Saban’s Gulliver’s Travels with Reteitalia, Telecinco in Spain, TF1 and Canal+ in France; Journey to the Heart of the World (26 x 26 minutes) with Media Films TV, France 3 and Canal+ in France and ZDF in Germany; Iznogoud (53 x 13 minutes) with Canal+ and France 2, RTL in Holland, Belvision studio in Belgium and RTL in Germany.
The studio’s slate of programs in development or production also includes The Why Why Family (130 x 5 minutes) for France 3 and Rai; Walter Melon (26 x 26 minutes) with France 2, Canal+ and the BBC; Princesse Sissi (52 x 26 minutes) with France 3 and Rai; and Jim Button (26 x 26 minutes).
In addition to series for the European market, Saban, in association with European broadcasters, two years ago began producing programs primarily intended for the U.S. market, like Space Strikers for UPN and Creepy Crawlers for syndication.
Formerly a toy manufacturer, Claude Berthier is accustomed to working within the global market. When he created Marina Productions in 1990, dedicated to the development and production of youth and family TV programs-60 percent of which is animated-he gave the company the means to position itself on the global market by cooperating with major players in Europe and North America.
Berthier says successful international co-productions need to be carefully targeted to their audiences.
‘Animation is much more expensive than fiction and it has become essential to finance a project through co-production. But one of the conditions for success is a marketing one: to produce with a perfect idea of who the target will be. My priority is to feel the pulse in the United States because what happens there is good for the rest of the world. In Europe, Germany is also a valuable ally as well as Great Britain.’
According to Berthier, the international co-production market is bound to grow, especially for those companies producing 13- or 26-episode series.
One of Berthier’s strategic partners is Canadian Henri Desclez. The two got together in April 1994 to develop common projects and to help Berthier become more familiar with the North American market.
Among 4D/Marina’s leading series are Bamboo Bears co-produced with TF1, Telescreen in Holland, ZDF in Germany and Mitsui in Japan; Dog Tracer, which is airing in syndication, and backed by Rysher, Bertelsmann and TF1; and Little Hippo, a pre-school series co-produced with France 3, Germany, Great Britain and Canada.
At the moment, the company is working on a 26 x 26-minute, US$8.7-million educational series, The Queen of the Nile, that may find partners in Japan.
The company, founded by Michel Noll, is producing both youth live-action and animation shorts. Live-action youth series like Mission Top Secret and Molly are both big-budget shows, relative to the genre, that are forced to find funding from foreign partners. ‘You must co-produce abroad if you want to tell good stories,’ says Noll.
‘Four countries with particular expertise in youth programming are Germany, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. We have thus succeeded in producing Mission Top Secret, a 24 x 25-minute series and more recently Molly with Germany, Great Britain and Poland. The international financing varies from 60 percent to 80 percent with pre-sales reaching 30 percent. We hardly ever enter into co-productions with the U.S., because they always want to keep editorial control.’
Quartier Latin has been working in the global market for 10 years. All the agreements are drafted in three languages. Doing the necessary research to conform to international standards, formats and working relations is an essential, but tiresome process, especially for live-action shows, says Noll.
There are probably no more than 15 companies in the world that are major players in live-action youth programming and there do not appear to be many new companies on the horizon, he adds.
Finding financing is always very difficult. Animation projects can get off the ground with as few as two partners. Youth live-action often requires three to five associates, and it takes time, says Noll.
At MIP-TV, Quartier Latin will launch The Door to the Stars, a French-Canadian 24 x 26-minute series shot in six countries and co-produced with Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa.
Like Quartier Latin, Marathon Production is an important supplier of animated and youth live-action series.
The first live-action co-production launched was Les Intrepides, a 26 x 26-minute series with Cinar, Canal J and France 3. This was followed by Lycée Alpin produced with Condor and ZDF.
‘Co-production is always a question of budget,’ says Marathon’s managing director Oliver Bremond. ‘Without Cinar’s participation, we would not have done the [Les Intrepides] series,’ says Bremond.
‘But our strategy is not to make as many international co-productions as possible. It depends on the project concerned. In fiction, we prefer to keep artistic leadership.’
Marathon will become involved as a minority partner in co-productions, with the exception of recent projects, Alice and The Hardy Boys, in which Marathon played an equal role with Nelvana and New Line Television. Marathon is working at developing a second season with 52 x 26 minutes of new episodes for a budget amounting 90 million francs (US$18 million).
As to the future of co-productions on youth live-action programming, Bremond is pessimistic. He d’es not see a lot of quality work. Networks are reluctant to pay the kind of money necessary to make quality programs and the market has become quite limited, compared to that of animation.
‘We are tending towards generalist fiction, which d’es not need international cooperation,’ he says.
In animation, co-production has become necessary and is simpler. Usually, Marathon produces three 26 x 26-minute series every year, like Samba and Leuk, co-produced with France 2, Canal J, Lacewood of Canada and a Korean studio.
‘The success of a series and of the company depends on co-productions. When we launch a new project, we have in mind the global market. Canada has become an active partner, like the United States now, and Germany remains an investor. Of course, there are low points and high points, like delays to get onto the market; on the other hand, advantages are economic, artistic and cultural,’ says Bremond.
Even before it started active co-production on Spirou, Dupuis Audiovisuel was already engaged in the process of co-production, partnering with Hanna-Barbera on The Smurfs as a financial investor. Things have changed since 1992 with the creation of its own studio.
Last year, Dupuis Audiovisuel, headed by Leon Perahia, partnered with its main associate on Spirou, Astral Programming Enterprises, to establish a common subsidiary called Mediatoon. This entity is charged with researching new partnerships, organizing and completing co-production deals.
For Flash Gordon, Mediatoon coordinated a partnership with Hearst Entertainment, with Dupuis and Canada’s Lacewood Productions as the co-producers.
‘The mini-treaty with Canada is not the main reason for our choice to team up with Astral,’ says Perahia. ‘But we had a special relationship and there was a complementarity between us. The approach is very different between a European group and a North American one. Partners have to find balance. Besides, a Canadian or American partner knows what their networks require. It helps to improve your chances of success on the international market and it is less risky. Other countries we are working with are Germany, Great Britain, Italy sometimes and Spain.’
Besides Mediatoon, Dupuis is thinking about signing an agreement with the CLT group for international distribution and catalogue investment. The three partners are already working together on Papyrus, a 26 x 26-minute show for TF1.
The independent Canal+ subsidiary has been engaged in co-productions for about eight years, first with the Canadian company Nelvana on Babar, Tintin and Rupert, and more recently with UFA on Mot.
Co-productions are a collaborative effort, involving an exchange in financing and production services on a creative level, says Ellipse’s Stephane Bernasconi.
Ellipse is finishing up production on The Neverending Story, for Canal+ and France 3, co-produced with Nelvana (30 percent) and Cinevox (40 percent). The company has also just teamed up under a Cdn$100-million project involving Canada’s Coscient and its new studio Cactus Animation to finalize nine series within three years. Among them, Blake and Mortimer and Bob Morane will be produced in France, while Canada will work on Becassine and Fennec.
Says Bernasconi: ‘As one of the leading producers, we need, just like the Canadians, to create volume (one to one-and-a-half series a year) and quality. On every new project, we try to get a North American partner. Canada is interesting for economic reasons and because it opens the door to the U.S.
‘Co-productions will not decrease in the coming years. Even Americans are interested in co-producing with us because they cannot find the financing they need in their country and because their mentalities are changing with respect to the technical capabilities of European studios. But it’s better is to attain balance with both European and Canadian partners.’
Last year, France Animation, headed by Christian Davin, who is also president of the French Association of Animation Producers, celebrated 10 years and made big announcements on new international projects and strategic alliances.
The French company, which produces four 26 x 26-minute series per year, is now considering international expansion.
In its early stages, France Animation dealt mostly with Canadian producers such as Cinar, then developed contacts with Great Britain and Germany.
New series in production include Ivanh’e (with France 2, M6 and Ravensburger), and Merlin and the Funny Witches and Lil Elvis with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. France Animation is also working on new partnerships with Film Roman for the second season of Night Hood and Arsene Lupin, and with Nelvana on The Rocky Horror Picture Show (13 x 26 minutes).
Roch Lener’s company has been engaged in co-productions for about two years.
The first project, Caroline and her Friends, was with France 2, distributor Europe Images, Belgian Odec Kid cartoons and the Polish studio Dacodac.
Millimages is now working on Dig Squad with Beta Taurus and Archibald the Koala with Ravensburger.
Taking advantage of the Cartoon Forum of co-productions initiated by the European Community, the company is more likely to co-produce with familiar European partners. Millimages works either as an associate producer or an executive producer when the initiative comes from abroad.
Co-productions are also more and more important for the educational CD-ROM activity in which Millimages is involved.
This small company, located in Valence in the south of France, specializes in traditional puppet, ink (Folimage has produced world-acclaimed short The Monk and the Fish) and clay animation. Unlike others who are embracing the co-production market, Folimage’s desire to maintain total control over development, production and post-production is preventing the production company from finding co-production partners.