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 shaggy dog named Waldo, a mouse called Zelda, and their owner, 12-year-old Michael, discover that they can travel through time and space. When the trio share these adventures, Waldo and Zelda are transformed into creatures that talk and walk upright. Waldo, the leader of the pack, encourages his friends to find non-violent solutions to conflicts.
This animated 26 x 26-minute series, based on the young children’s books by Hans Wilhelm, is targeted at children age seven to 12.
Partners: Cologne Cartoon, Germany; EVA Entertainment, U.K.; Les Films du Triangle, France; VIDEAL, Germany
How the partnership began:
Jürgen Egenolf, co-owner of Cologne Cartoon in charge of development and production, is charmed by ‘the cuddly character of Waldo’ in the books by the German author/illustrator Hans Wilhelm.
With the idea in mind of creating a television series, Egenolf tracks down Wilhelm, who is residing in Connecticut. The two begin discussions.
Norman Hudis comes on as story editor. Wilhelm, Egenolf and Hudis start to hammer out the series bible and sample scripts.
Egenolf presents Wilhelm’s books at a meeting of EVA Entertainment and the four animation studios La Fabrique of France, Sofidoc of Belgium and Siriol Productions of Wales, as well as Cologne Cartoon that hold shares in EVA.
The shaggy dog wins over EVA Entertainment. ‘Waldo is a wonderful character, and has a huge amount of personality,’ says Steve Walsh, managing director with EVA Entertainment. Waldo’s non-violent nature also appeals to EVA.
Cologne and EVA enter formal negotiations with Wilhelm mid-year. The two producers agree that Wilhelm’s characters should be adapted for an older audience, and Waldo should become more involved in the action. Initially, Wilhelm is reluctant to make changes to his characters. Egenolf, Walsh and Wilhelm meet to discuss the project in Germany in the summer and in Connecticut in the fall.
EVA persuades French broadcaster TF1 to join the team on a development basis.
After a time-consuming process of negotiations, Wilhelm signs a deal in June.
German broadcaster ARD prebuys the series, with rights to a share of the profits. While the money from ARD makes up ‘a sizable chunk of our budget,’ says Walsh, EVA is in need of other financing.
‘Even though we didn’t have the financing in place, the production sort of moved inexorably forward as though we couldn’t stop it,’ says Walsh.
In anticipation that a French company would contribute a portion of the financing, Cologne Cartoon brings on board French director Jean-Pierre Jacquet early in the year. Jacquet begins pre-production, including background design, model sheets and storyboards, out of Cologne Cartoon’s office.
Les Films du Triangle climbs on board as the third co-production partner. With Cologne Cartoon acting as ‘the lead studio creatively’ and EVA raising financing and participating in the show’s development, says Walsh, Les Films du Triangle takes on the role of ‘the lead hands-on organizer of the production.’
EVA and TF1 are unable to agree on the terms of a development deal. In June, TF1 commits to prebuy the series on the condition that EVA can come up with the outstanding financing to meet its budget of US$7 million. Walsh is concerned about adding ‘so many partners around the table that we’d never be able to agree on anything.’
As it is, says Egenolf, the co-production partners bring different cultural points of view to the table. ‘Creatively, we do not always agree on what is a good joke, for example.’
During the summer and fall, EVA pursues Canadian-based Ocean Studios, which had provided the soundtrack for another EVA co-production, Billy the Cat, as a co-producer. The partnership d’esn’t get off the ground, partly because the writers that Ocean suggests lack experience in writing for this age group.
Les Films du Triangle enters a production agreement with La Fabrique, also an EVA studio.
The co-production partners are finally relieved of their financing worries in December, when German investor VIDEAL, which has worked with EVA on previous projects, agrees to provide the full deficit. For their part, the producing studios had deferred some of their earnings, and Wilhelm had already deferred part of the payment for rights to his characters to help fund the series.
The partners are ready to begin production. ‘Very rarely have I seen a series that has been so well prepared,’ says Egenolf. The model sheets and storyboards are done, all 26 scripts have been written, and the voices for 18 episodes have been recorded. Egenolf says he’s glad for the extra time for pre-production because ‘it’s not easy to develop a series around characters that would rather use brains than bullets.’
Jacquet moves to France to oversee production from the office of Les Films du Triangle. Animation begins in March, and will be completed by North Korean studio SEK. Pipangai, a paint and trace facility located on the island of La Réunion, which is considered French territory, will also participate in production.
The partners are aiming to complete the series by March 1998 for a spring launch in Germany and a fall launch in France.
The series will make its first appearance at MIP-TV. Brochures promoting the program will be available, but Walsh d’es not expect to close many deals since the show has just entered production.
Evaluating the partnership
‘I’m very pleased with the look of the series and the scripts,’ says Egenolf.
Despite ‘the heartache of getting it financed,’ Walsh says the co-production has gone ‘pretty smoothly.’ Since the pre-production has been handled in Germany and the production is taking place mostly in France, the process of dividing the work has been easier than on other co-productions.
‘In the end,’ says Walsh, ‘I think it’s going to be a very nice series.’