The truism that ‘no two deals are ever the same’ has never been more accurate than in today’s climate of intricate production partnerships linking companies from around the world. The main feature in our MIP-TV special report traces the evolution of these partnerships through the complex deals that led to new children’s television shows that are now being marketed at MIP-TV. The report also includes a discussion with U.S. studios on television programming trends, as well as a glimpse into the television markets of Germany, England and France.
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A live-action 13 x 30-minute comedy series with shades of The Prince and the Pauper.
Teenage Australian soap opera and pop star Minty Sullivan meets her double in ordinary English school girl Melanie Jones. When the two switch identities, chaos, confusion and misunderstandings become the order of the day.
Partners: Scottish Television Enterprises, U.K., RT Films, Australia
How the partnership began:
Sue Taylor, an executive producer at RT Films in Perth, Australia, is looking for a co-production partner for an Australian-based series with a Scottish component. She seeks out Sandy Ross, deputy chief executive of Scottish Television Enterprises.
RT Films has never worked on an international co-production before and Taylor has turned to Scottish Television because she thinks it will be more accessible than some of the larger British companies.
Taylor and Ross meet and Taylor pitches her idea. When she is done, Ross suggests one of his projects, Minty’s Double. ‘They brought some ideas, we had some, and we agreed that, of all the ideas, Minty’s Double was the one we thought we could cooperate on,’ says Ross.
Scottish Television was searching for a partner for the project because the concept of Minty’s Double lent itself to co-production. ‘This is not a co-production that’s deal-driven like many others,’ he says. ‘The reason we’re doing it with an Australian company is because the story is an Australian and British story.’
The two companies agree in principle to develop the concept of Minty’s Double. The major stumbling block to overcome is agreeing to the number of episodes. Scottish Television’s original proposal calls for a six-part series ‘the standard British order’ to be offered to Children’s ITV in Britain. RT Films pushes for 13 episodes, because the likelihood of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) agreeing to purchase anything less would be ‘nearly impossible,’ according to Taylor.
Ross begins working to convince ITV to greenlight the 13 half-hours, based on the fact that half the episodes would be shot and financed in Australia.
Late 1996/Early 1997
ITV gives approval for 13 episodes. While ABC has not given the final OK to the deal in Australia, it has made a verbal commitment that will become final upon completion of the series bible. ‘They are so far in that they can’t get out,’ Taylor adds optimistically.
With financing apparently cleared up, work begins in earnest on developing the bible. Since the series is half-British and half-Australian, writers from both countries work on script development and story concepts.
Taylor finds the confluence of Australian and British writers an interesting creative experience. ‘It took a while to get used to, because they have different methods of approaching their work.’
Ross’s major concern is smoothing out cultural differences in a live-action co-production. With animation, local cultural sensibilities can be taken care of during the dubbing process, he explains. In live action, the writers must be more aware of cultural differences.
Taylor, who has spent half her life in each country, serves as a sort of referee. ‘I’m both Australian and English,’ she says. ‘Because it is a cross-cultural project, I can happily sit on the fence and say what’s not going to work where.’
The companies plan to bring the series bible, the first script and other materials to MIP-TV, where they hope to shop it to potential markets. The long-range plan is to shoot the Australian segments in late 1997, the British elements in the spring of 1998, and to have the series ready for air for the fall of 1998.
‘I think the main thing is that it’s been kicking along in second gear for about five or six months,’ says Ross. ‘You reach stages when you think this isn’t going to happen, and suddenly, you kick it in top gear and look at the time scale and you think, do we have enough time to do this? It’s amazing how once something gets a green light, it all starts to happen so fast.’
Evaluating the partnership
Ross says the partnership has been clear sailing, but he admits that the physical distance between the two countries has been problematic. ‘I knew Australia was a long way away, but I didn’t realize how far away it was,’ he says, referring to the fact that the countries’ business hours barely overlap, as well as the logistical problems of physically moving cast and crew from one side of the world to the other.
Taylor agrees it has been going extremely well. ‘We haven’t had to make too many compromises because this idea works across two cultures.’