Mumble Bumble is a 26 x five-minute co-production between Egmont Imagination and Cinar. It follows the adventures of an imaginative blue hippopotamus and his best friends, Chic’o, the inquisitive chicken, and Greens, the busy frog who never looks before he leaps. The idea, which is designed to be both educational and entertaining for a preschool audience, was devised by an architect called Christian Skjott.
Egmont Imagination, Denmark
How the partnership began:
Denmark’s Egmont is one of the world’s largest children’s publishers, with offices in nearly 30 countries. Until recently, it was primarily known for publications based on licenses from the likes of Disney, Warner and Mattel. In 1992, it merged with Nordisk Film, a 93-year-old feature film producer that, like Egmont, had been founded as a charity. All profits from the two operations go to help children in need.
Christian Skjott brings the idea for Mumble Bumble to book publisher Egmont, which is immediately interested. Egmont sees potential to make both a book and a television series. At this time, however, it doesn’t have the infrastructure to produce high-quality animation, so it concentrates on designing artwork for publishing.
Egmont/Nordisk buys a 50 percent stake in a highly respected Copenhagen-based animation studio called A Film. A Film begins to work on concepts such as Jungle Jack under the auspices of Nordisk Film.
Egmont decides to make a concerted move into the origination of children’s characters for television, publishing and merchandising. It forms a subsidiary called Egmont Imagination, which is headed by Ulla Brockenhuus-Schack. Immediately, the decision is taken to put Mumble Bumble into development under the creative control of A Film partner and animation director Karsten Kiilerech.
Egmont Imagination takes an eight-minute pilot to Cartoon Forum in Galway, Ireland, where it is well received ‘but too long,’ according to Brockenhuus-Schack. Initial meetings with Cinar’s top management, Ronald Weinberg and Micheline Charest, generate a very positive reaction.
October 1996 (MIPCOM)
Egmont and Cinar confirm plans to enter production together. ‘We got along really well,’ says Brockenhuus-Schack. ‘It quickly became apparent that we shared the same inspiration and philosophy about children, even though we were a charity and they were a public company.’
Things move quickly. There is a meeting in Montreal at which the details of the deal are forged and a creative structure is laid out. ‘We went to Montreal armed with arguments to protect our baby,’ recalls Brockenhuus-Schack, ‘but they were happy to leave the concept alone except for a few minor changes.’ A Film’s Kiilerech is given overall control of the production to ensure creative consistency. However, the input from the Cinar side is highly influential. Vice president of animation, production and development Cassandra Schafhausen is involved in shaping stories early on before handing the creative lead to vice president of animation and operations Lesley Taylor.
The development process begins with the two creative teams in regular communication by e-mail on the outlines for 26 stories. The decision is taken not to use the material from the pilot in the series or as a marketing tool. Cinar’s view is that the colors need to be brighter and it would be a help if Chic’o the chicken become a girl instead of a boy. At the same time, a decision is made not to wait for any more financing partners before greenlighting production.
Production begins. Although Egmont is experienced in the children’s market, it finds Cinar’s know-how invaluable. ‘They had much more experience in producing a large series than us,’ says Brockenhuus-Schack. ‘They helped us move from being an arthouse animation studio to more of an industrial process.’
Key personnel changes take place. Brockenhuus-Schack moves to Nordisk Film as head of business development. She gradually hands over responsibility to the new managing director, Poul Kofod. Meanwhile, Cinar beefs up its presence in Europe and appoints former Nelvana man David Ferguson as boss of the operation.
Late September 1997
The distribution rights are split. Egmont takes Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern Europe, while Cinar takes the rest of the world. Ferguson stresses, however, that the arrangement is such that the partners will share revenues minus a commission for each territory sold. ‘This prevents any wrangling over territories during the preliminary negotiations,’ he says. Kofod is introduced to buyers at the market, and they are given an update on the progress of Mumble Bumble. With no episodes available, however, the partners hold off from a major launch.
October 1997-April 1998
Behind-the-scenes discussions go on with potential presale partners. Ferguson says he optimistic about deals in the U.K., Germany and Canada.
There will be episodes available to view, and there are plans to push the series up to 65 episodes, primarily to attract a buyer in the U.S. market. ‘It looks like a really great property, so we are talking about doing 39 more [episodes],’ says Kofod. ‘Twenty-six is fine for a first run in Europe, but the U.S. market has demand for long-running series so it can reformat them as half-hours.’ Ferguson agrees that, ‘preschool is very hot in the U.S. right now. There are a lot of short-run animations, but not many with large volumes of episodes.’
Evaluating the Partnership
Completion is due later this year. There are plans for the two partners to work together again, perhaps with Cinar taking the creative lead next time. ‘It is the first time we’ve done a co-production together and it is working,’ says Ferguson, though he makes a few key observations. First, ‘there is a risk in putting up money for someone else’s project, particularly if they present you with a pilot as a fait accompli. If it isn’t used, it has to be written off as a development cost.’ The positive side is that a co-production allows a company like Cinar to recoup a greater percentage of the budget than if it did a post-sale in Scandinavia further down the line. Second, ‘you have to try and ensure you have a similar time frame for recoupment so as not to put pressure on the marketing of the property.’
Egmont agrees that the project has worked well, and is currently coordinating its activities so that books can be launched as the TV series goes to air in each territory. ‘Being a publisher is an advantage,’ says Brockenhuus-Schack. ‘We are in 28 markets and know the ideal publishers to work with in other territories. The danger is that if you have not prepared a publishing style guide beforehand, you enter the market too late.’
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