The Myth Men: Guardians of the Legend, based on the best-selling paperback series written by Laura Geringer, is the latest co-production series between Nelvana Limited of Toronto and Marathon International of Paris. (A co-production with Hong Guang Animation of China is pending.) The action-packed series, aimed at seven- to 14-year-olds, takes place on a modernized Mount Olympus, complete with punk haircuts and a master kickboxer. Announced in January of this year, Nelvana signed a two-year agreement to produce six animated series for CBS’s Saturday morning children’s programming lineup, to be aired beginning in the fall of 1998. The Myth Men is one of the six series for the network. A deal with broadcaster France 3 is pending.
Nelvana Limited, Canada
Marathon International, France
How the partnership began:
The co-production partnership between Nelvana and Marathon begins in 1995 with the live-action series Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Nelvana, primarily an animation company, teams up with Marathon International. According to Emmanuèle Pétry, director of co-productions at Nelvana, the pairing was ‘a natural fit because Marathon has specialized in France in live-action series,’ and ‘I brought the project, with the broadcaster involved financially, to Marathon.’ Marathon signs on. Seven episodes of the series are shot in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.
In any co-production in which creative aspects are shared between companies, a natural process of selection occurs through discussions, broad in scope to begin, narrowing to arrive at an agreed upon, focused vision of the final product. As Vince Commisso, executive producer at Nelvana, explains, ‘sometimes you have to talk about the entire world to know what street you want to walk down.’ Given that, it’s evident why familiar co-production partners, now on common ground, speaking a streamlined language, would continue the partnership. After their successful partnership on the Nancy Drew series, Marathon and Nelvana agree that they would like to collaborate on an animated project.
Mireille Chalvon, former head of children’s programming at France 3, suggests a children’s animated series based on mythology to Olivier Brémond and Pascal Breton, both managing directors of Marathon.
Breton takes it to Pétry at Nelvana. In a twist, the live-action company brings an animated project to its longtime partner with proven strengths in animation. Nelvana also has a history with Chalvon, having co-produced the series Babar in 1988 with her. Nelvana loves the mythology idea, but admits that it will be difficult to find financing for the project. Nelvana suggests attaching an American name to the series. According to Michael Hirsch, co-CEO of Nelvana Entertainment, ‘we felt that having [Laura Geringer's] successful books to tie in with would be helpful.’ Geringer’s books suited a television series in particular because ‘her approach to myth is popular with children.’
Nelvana approaches Scholastic to acquire the rights to adapt the books into a series, with merchandising rights attached.
Toper Taylor, president of Nelvana Communications Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary of Nelvana Limited), approaches CBS with Nelvana’s projects in development, including The Myth Men. CBS expresses a great deal of interest in the mythology series, realizing its dual potential for fulfilling the FCC requirements of educational programming-mythology is part of the official curriculum of U.S. schools-and for gaining a wide audience. Fueling CBS’s enthusiasm is the success of Geringer’s books themselves and, admits Hirsch, ‘the success of the Hercules [live-action] shows can’t hurt.’
CBS announces that Nelvana will produce six programs for its Saturday morning lineup. Nelvana and Marathon gear up for production.
Most production deals are based on a ‘hurry up and wait syndrome,’ meaning wait for the broadcaster, then gear up into massive production. With a co-production, this syndrome is multiplied-the financing often comes from a number of broadcasters and, when finally sold, the production is often split among countries. The Nelvana/Marathon co-production is a clear example. As Brémond expresses, ‘[we've been] waiting for three years, and now we have to move in five hours.’
With a fall delivery date for The Myth Men, production is divided among the two companies. Nelvana writes the scripts and is responsible for casting. It shares design responsibilities with Marathon. Marathon will execute 25 of the 26 storyboards (Nelvana will do one storyboard), the ink and paint, and the French versioning. They are, essentially, co-directing. Marathon will contribute 50 percent to the budget of US$375,000 per episode. For Pétry, it is a ‘true co-production, with the work . . . split 50/50.’ (This division of labor and financing may change, pending a deal with Hong Guang Animation. Should the deal be signed, Hong Guang would contribute 15 percent to the budget of the series, pursuant to the Canadian-Chinese co-production agreement, and participate in the production of The Myth Men. It would also bring in a Chinese broadcaster and be responsible for a Chinese-language version of the series.)
Author Laura Geringer works closely with Nelvana to give script input. She maintains consultation approval of the visuals and assures that the integrity of the series is preserved.
The master will be sent back to Nelvana for post-production. Voices will be recorded, music will be added, and the soundtrack will be created. The primary version will be done in English and the master, with stripped voice track, will be sent back to Marathon to record a French-language version.
The Myth Men will be presented at the Annecy Film Festival and Market and at MIPCOM Junior later this year. The series name may be changed to Myth Warriors.
(Last month, Scottish Television Enterprises also signed on to co-produce the six animated series for CBS’s fall 1998 schedule (see story page 36). It was unclear at press time how this would affect this co-production.)
Evaluating the Partnership
The collaboration of a live-action company and an animation company has allowed the two partners to utilize the strengths of each company. The fact that each company brings an equal amount of the budget and the production tasks to the table means, for Pétry, that the two companies have a ‘true partnership, where we bear the responsibility in an equal way.’ For Brémond, the challenge lies in the subject matter. ‘Because we only started production five weeks ago, . . . the beginning is always difficult,’ he says, particularly because ‘everyone has a specific opinion about mythology and the way to adapt it.’ He adds, ‘I’m sure it will work well.’
In this report:
- Kids reality shows sell ‘edutainment’
- They’ve got the whole world in their plans
- Local programmers emphasize local character
- Sonic Underground
- Bob Morane
- The Myth Men: Guardians of the Legend
- Mumble Bumble
- Fix & Foxi
- Princess of the Nile
- MIP-TV Roundup