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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The young turtle and his friends Bear, Snail, Rabbit, Beaver and Goose, who star in a popular line of children’s books, are making their television debut in an animated series consisting of 26 half-hour episodes.
How the partnership began:
It was a chance meeting between Emmanuèle Pétry, director of Nelvana’s Paris office, and Marc Minjauw, general manager of Belgium-based Neurones. Pétry overhears a gentleman speaking French at the NATPE convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, and quickly introduces herself.
Nelvana is searching for a European partner for its Franklin project, an animated program based on the series of popular children’s books about a friendly turtle.
Neurones, whose past co-productions include Dragon Flyz with Gaumont Multimedia and Little Hippo with Marina Productions, is looking to extend its reputation through a partnership with a non-European company.
Nelvana, the Toronto, Canada-based animator, had already been talking with a Spanish production company since fall 1996 about the Franklin project, but had not solidified the partnership because of creative concerns. But after a casual meeting with Minjauw, Pétry feels Neurones could do the job. ‘Marc Minjauw loved Franklin and was already familiar with the books,’ says Pétry. ‘We began talking about the business and we immediately hit it off.’
A formal meeting takes place in Paris. Nelvana already has lined up broadcast partners in Europe (Canal J and TF1) and in North America (The Family Channel and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Settling on a suitable production partner is the challenge.
‘I gave Marc copies of our Little Bear production to give him a feel for the quality of work we wanted,’ says Pétry. ‘We really felt that he understood what we were looking for, so we signed a deal.’
Nelvana will handle the storyboards, designs, color, key backgrounds and approvals from Franklin creators, Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark. Since the series is closely based on the books, the creative is already well established. Neurones will take over from there, working on the backgrounds, digital ink and paint and compositing. It will also bring 30 percent of the budget — US$350,000 per episode of the over US$10-million project — and prepare the French-language version of the series.
‘One of our major concerns was the quality of the animation, because Franklin was already a known property,’ says Pétry. ‘Neurones was attractive because it could do the work in its studios in France and Korea.’
The Belgian company also hires a supervisor to oversee the work in Asia.
Nelvana is equally attractive to Neurones. Working on Franklin hits two key targets for the company. Minjauw says the quality and reputation of the books make for an exciting project that will make Neurones a familiar name worldwide. ‘It also gave us the chance to work for the first time with a partner outside of Europe, and Nelvana has been ideal to work with,’ he says. Neurones’ investment will also enable it to benefit financially from the product distribution.
Production with Neurones begins, with the majority of the animation work taking place in the Korean office.
According to Minjauw, the process has been a smooth one since both sides were clear from the start about the creative direction of the project.
‘This helped speed up the production process, and I think co-productions can make the business quicker if the partnerships are good ones where each side knows exactly what the job is,’ he says.
Nelvana CEO Michael Hirsh agrees. ‘Having the Franklin character already in books has made the creative aspect a smoother one because there is little confusion about what we wanted,’ he says.
But Pétry attributes partnership success to more than just working with financially sound partners who understand the project.
‘I don’t know if you can put it on paper what works for us and why,’ she says. ‘Of course, the product quality is the most important thing to us, but I also like to go with my gut instinct as to whether I feel the people I am working with have a genuine interest in the property.’
Neurones and Nelvana meet to go over the creative. ‘Having seen the work they’ve done in the past, we knew we’d be happy with what we saw,’ says Pétry.
Work on Franklin is ongoing, and the project will be ready to launch early this season. Nelvana has an episode ready to show at MIPCOM.
Evaluating the Partnership
Evidently, it’s a happy marriage for both. ‘Co-production with Nelvana has been easy because it is a strong company with a professional approach, which made it easy for us,’ says Minjauw. ‘I don’t think we would really do anything differently.’
‘It also helps when you’re working with a cute little turtle like Franklin,’ says Hirsh.