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High-pressure pitching pays off at Forum

Since launching in the early '80s to provide European programmers with homegrown alternatives to the oft-violent Japanese series that were filling their toon skeds, Cartoon Forum has grown into a cornerstone facilitator of financing and co-production relationships in the Euro animation community. More than 250 of its showcased projects--amounting to a budgetary total of over US$300 million--have secured financing and are either in production or on the air. One of many annual TV markets, Cartoon Forum--in Garmisch, Germany this year--is often viewed as a barometer for whether a European property will make it through to broadcast or not.
September 1, 2001

Since launching in the early ’80s to provide European programmers with homegrown alternatives to the oft-violent Japanese series that were filling their toon skeds, Cartoon Forum has grown into a cornerstone facilitator of financing and co-production relationships in the Euro animation community. More than 250 of its showcased projects–amounting to a budgetary total of over US$300 million–have secured financing and are either in production or on the air. One of many annual TV markets, Cartoon Forum–in Garmisch, Germany this year–is often viewed as a barometer for whether a European property will make it through to broadcast or not.

‘If the project has a European feel to it and nothing happens at Cartoon Forum, then there’s no point bringing it to other markets,’ affirms Charles Falzon, president of Gullane Entertainment. This make-or-break environment does have an upside though–if all goes well, producers can walk into MIPCOM with half of a project’s financing out of the way.

And since budgets for European productions are high, this kind of help is integral. According to Steven Heyland, a producer for U.K.- and Germany-based Igel Media, more than one partner is generally needed to get an animated series project off the ground because costs often run over US$7 million. As a result, he says many companies will only go to Cartoon Forum if they’ve already established 50% to 60% of their financing.

The pitching process itself can be very high-pressure. Three concepts are pitched at the same time in a 45-minute format, so producers never really know how many of the Forum’s 600-odd attendees are going to show until right before the pitch. Each morning, silent portions of all the day’s pilots are shown to the Forum assemblage, so attendees generally choose to go to a given screening based on visual merit alone.

Eric Garnet, GM of France’s Antefilms International, describes the Cartoon Forum pitch as high-risk, but with a lot of benefits. ‘It’s the most efficient process if you really believe in your product and it is well developed,’ he explains. Flight Squad, one of Antefilms’ earlier Cartoon debuts, only attracted 12 show-goers, while Fred the Caveman drew 180 attendees. Ironically, the less-attended pitch took only six months to finance, whereas the latter took two years.

Jonathan Peel, GM of Millimages in the U.K., says that there’s usually quite a variety of animation styles, with a lot of preschool shows and fare for six- to eight-year-olds. However, he says that Millimages isn’t bothering to pitch preschool this year because it’s a crowded demo and most broadcasters are looking for older-skewing programming. Peel starts getting material ready for Cartoon Forum almost a year in advance to make sure that it is developed enough to withstand the close scrutiny it will undergo at the event. ‘Most of the shows we bring there get produced,’ he states. ‘It’s really a good way of finding presales or co-producers.’

Soul Warrior
Producer: Isle of Man-based Lough House Animation
Premise: A combination of sci-fi, myth and legend, Soul Warriors stars a self-appointed guardian of an ancient artifact called The Soul Angel. In order to appeal to the older end of its target demo, the original concept has incorporated a liberal dollop of humor.
Demo: Seven to 14
Style: 2-D with some
3-D elements
Format: 13 half hours
Budget: US$4 million

Sprogs!

Producer: Gullane Entertainment and U.K.-based Tell-Tale Productions

Premise: The perfect world of Lucy and Luis is rudely interrupted by the arrival of their baby brother. The series offers a comical and animated look at the real-life kid issue of dealing with newborn siblings.

Demo: Seven and up

Style: 2-D

Format: 13 half hours

Budget: US$250,000 to US$300,000 per half hour

Plotter

Producers and partners:

Igel Media, Mondo TV and Hahn Shin Studios out of Korea

Broadcaster: Interest from Germany’s ZDF

Premise: Plotter is a little dog who uses his imagination to discover the world around him a little at a time. He’s joined on his adventures by Polly, who calls him on everything; Barbara, who looks after him; and Robby, his sports hero. All characters in the series are drawn as animals with human traits.

Demo: Preschool

Style: 2-D

Format: 26 x 10 minutes

Budget: US$90,000 to US$110,000 per episode

Garage Kids

Producer: Paris-based Antefilms

Premise: This anime-influenced series revolves around Xanadu,

a universe that forms a nexus of communication networks and media. Ten kids who have banded together because of their special powers stumble across an abandoned auto plant that’s really the abandoned research complex used to create Xanadu. Somehow, it’s been left running, and the kids are able to use it to journey into the virtual universe and back. Each character will have a ‘regular world’ cel-animated rendering and a 3-D rendering to represent their persona in Xanadu.

Demo: six to 10

Style: 2-D and 3-D

Format: 26 half hours

Budget: US$7 million

Corneil & Bernie

Producer: Millimages

Premise: With the ability to talk and grapple with chaos theory math, Corneil is a little smarter than the average dog. Understandably, he’s trying to keep his super-intelligence under wraps so as to avoid scrutiny from the scientific community and the media. However, he’s eventually found out by a dogsitter named Bernie, and his life is subsequently turned upside down.

Demo: Eight to 12

Style: 2-D

Format: 52 x 13 minutes

Budget: Around US$6 million

Nutty Neighbours

Producer: Millimages

Premise: The neighbors of Nutty Town are… you guessed it, absolutely bonkers. Their psychotic reactions to one another are what drive the story line, while a group of crows that sits high atop the city acts as a chorus, cutting down on the need for narration and focusing the action.

Demo: six to nine

Style: 2-D

Format: 52 x 13 minutes

Budget: Roughly US$3 million

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