With the rapid expansion of new broadcast outlets around the world, the demand for television product continues to increase, as evidenced by the growth of markets such as MIPCOM and MIPCOM Junior. With this special report, we continue to follow the evolution of children’s television programming through a series of co-production diaries, as well as a snapshot view of the children’s television industry.
Also, for the second time, we present the KidScreen ‘Dream Block,’ the best two-hour block of children’s programs, according to a poll of senior programming executives. To find out which shows came out on top and why, turn to page 74.
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Li’l Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers is a 26 x 24-minute animated comedy adventure. Li’l Elvis has a gift for music, a talent for trouble and a desire for only one thing — to find out who he really is and be a normal kid again. With his friends Lionel on digeridoo, Janet on drums and himself on guitar, they create a sound so hot that nothing else compares. They call it Didgibilli Rock.
Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF), Australia; France Animation, France
How the partnership began
April 1994 (MIP-TV)
Dr. Patricia Edgar, director of the ACTF, tells Eve Baron, program director at Canal J in France, that the ACTF is thinking of moving into animation and is in need of a co-production partner experienced in that area. Baron introduces Edgar to Christian Davin, then-president of France Animation (now head of French production company Alphanim), and the pair discuss the idea of Li’l Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers.
‘We had never done animation of this dimension, so we set out to find a partner to work with right from the beginning,’ says Edgar. ‘Because of Eve Baron’s regard for us and for Christian Davin, we just accepted one another immediately as partners on the basis of her recommendation.’
France Animation takes an option to become the French co-producer, provided it can bring a French broadcaster to the table. France Animation likes the idea of broadening its horizons by working with a leading Australian production company. ‘I was very excited by the idea to work with an Australian company. It was a major opening in a new territory for us,’ says Davin.
Series development continues while France Animation pitches it to French broadcasters.
Christophe Izard, artistic director and script editor at France Animation, offers comments on the storylines and the scene breakdowns prepared by the Australian writers, who are more experienced in writing live action. ACTF’s creative director, Peter Viska, and the series producer, Susie Campbell, travel to Paris to meet with the creative team at France Animation.
Izard was key in helping develop the script, says Davin. ‘We sent him to Australia and he spent two weeks there. . . . When he came back, he was convinced that it was a good project. . . . I think it’s due to the work Christophe did in Australia that France 2 decided to go along with it.’
Jan Van Rijsselberge, co-director of the series at France Animation, travels to Australia to provide input into the design of the characters.
At the World Summit in Melbourne, further discussions take place among the ACTF, France Animation and Canal J. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) confirms its involvement — it will air the show in Australia. Although no French network has come on board, France Animation is considering all options. ‘We took it on faith that we would make it,’ says Edgar.
April 1995 (MIP-TV)
The ACTF and France Animation agree on a proposal in which they will each be responsible for raising 50 percent of the production budget. France Animation will bring Ravensburger Film + TV to the project as a partner and will presell the program within France. France Animation advises that if half of the production budget is to be provided by European partners, at least 30 percent of the budget must be spent in Europe. Edgar says that the ACTF (which has presold the show to the ABC) must apply to the Australian Film Finance Corporation (FFC) for investment capital, but the production must be an official co-production or a ‘qualifying Australian film’ before the FFC will consider investment.
All parties involved develop the overall budget, the parameters of the deal, distribution issues and so forth. ACTF stresses the kind of deal it must have to bring the FFC to the table and France Animation highlights what it needs to bring European partners on board. It is a delicate balancing act. ‘If it hadn’t been for the fact that Christian and I dealt with each other personally, and that anytime anything bogged down, we would get on the phone and get it sorted out . . . if it were not for that relationship, it couldn’t have happened, because so many things did get in the way,’ says Edgar.
It is decided that character design and scripts will continue to take place in Australia (with continued input from the French), storyboard layouts will be done in France and animation will be drawn in Australia.
France 2 signs on.
The FFC agrees to invest in the project.
Draft agreements start flowing as quickly as draft scripts, but it will take several months to resolve all issues.
Storyboard artists begin work in France. Pre-production work begins in Australia. ‘The traveling time is a lot longer,’ says Davin about the problems of collaborating between two countries not geographically close. ‘That is a piece of time that is significant and expensive. There is no way you can do art work or production work unless you commit someone to stay there three or four weeks.’
April 1996 (MIP-TV)
The co-production agreement is signed at last. ‘We had to negotiate quite hard to protect our interests, but we were always willing to give up things to make the deal work. I was personally extremely determined to make it work,’ says Davin.
Animation begins in Australia. The series will premiere in Australia in March 1998. French and German dubbed versions are being prepped.
The series is distributed by M5 for France Animation in all French-speaking territories; Ravensburger in all German-speaking territories, Benelux, Eastern Europe, Portugal, Portuguese-speaking Africa, Turkey, Taiwan and Hong Kong; and by the ACTF for the rest of the world.
Evaluating the Partnership
‘The partnership has been a good one,’ says Davin. ‘We’ve learned that it takes a lot of flexibility on both sides.’ He’s hoping to work with the ACTF in the future. ‘We’ve built so much in mutual understanding and production procedures that once you’ve done it once, you might as well just go on.’
Edgar agrees that the effort has been a positive learning experience. ‘I think successful co-productions are born out of personal relationships. You have to rely on a very good working relationship that is born out of trust and your experience of how the parties behave when you get in a crisis during the production. I developed a confidence and trust of how Christian Davin works and would be very happy to work with him again.’
With files from Jenny Buckland, general manager of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation