Billy the Cat is a set of 26 half-hour animation adventures about a boy who is turned into a cat by a wizard after he torments the wizard’s cat. The completed series cost $7.8 million to make.
EVA Entertainment (a group comprised of Sofidoc SA, Belgium; Cologne Cartoon, Germany; Siriol Productions, Wales; and La Fabrique, France)
Editions Dupuis, Belgium
WIC Western International Communications, Canada
Les Films du Triangle, France
France 3, France
How the partnership began:
As part of a plan to invigorate the European audiovisual industry, the European Commission launches a multitiered development program that includes an initiative for the animation industry called CARTOON. Four European animation studios, La Fabrique, Sofidoc SA, Cologne Cartoon and Siriol Productions unite under the CARTOON initiative. The setup allows the group to take advantage of their collective talents, of funds available through the CARTOON initiative, and of funds designed to encourage domestic production in each of their four home territories. The group calls itself EVA, a name chosen for its easy transfer between German, French and English.
In 1991, EVA invites veteran executive producer Steve Walsh to set up a dedicated distribution outfit called EVA Distribution.
Editions Dupuis, a Belgian comic book publisher, approaches EVA member Sofidoc with several of its comic book characters for possible animated projects. The EVA studios agree on Billy the Cat.
The CARTOON initiative and Dupuis provide development funds, and a three-minute animated short set in a circus is developed. The show is not well received. The international market regards the circus concept as too black, and EVA is unable to find anyone prepared to commit financial backing.
The development money provided by Dupuis and CARTOON is gone and EVA g’es back to the drawing board. New scripts are devised under the creative control of Siriol. In the new version, Billy is changed into a cat by an angry magician. Eva Distribution continues the search for more financing, but progress is slow.
Welsh-language broadcaster S4C and the U.K.’s Yorkshire Television throw Billy a financial lifeline that allows the creation of a one-minute pilot. They later decide not to back the project further.
Steve Walsh brings in Patric Moine, managing director of French production company Les Films du Triangle, as a co-production partner. He sorts out the necessary paperwork in France to secure bank financing. France 3 and Canal+ agree to put up approximately another 25 percent of the budget in return for the terrestrial and pay-TV rights in France.
Broadcast rights are also assigned to RTL/TVI of Belgium and pay-TV station Premiere in Germany. Money is raised from a variety of sources including Canada’s Centre National Du Cinéma and B.C. Film, Germany’s Filmstiftung NRW and the Ministère de la communauté Française de Belgique.
Mikael Shields joins EVA as joint managing director after leaving BBC Children’s International, where he was head of business development.
ZDF commits to finance 25 percent of the project. Canadian broadcaster WIC Western International Communications puts up another quarter of the budget in return for North American distribution rights.
The first half-hour episode is completed by MIP-TV in April, where it receives its first public outing. Twenty-six episodes are now complete in eight languages.
Billy the Cat will screen on pay-TV windows such as Premiere in Germany, BSkyB across Europe and Canal+ in France this month. Terrestrial broadcasters ZDF and FR3 will screen the show in either spring or autumn 1997.
International sales discussions will continue at MIPCOM. Walsh is now keen to crack the U.S. cable and syndication markets, and says talks have begun about the possibility of a new series.