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Forum’s co-pro conundrum

With waning European financing opportunities making it difficult for producers to get new animated shows off the ground, it's not surprising that Cartoon Forum 2002's screening slate is jam-packed with 80 projects submitted by prodcos from 15 different countries. But even though Forum's reputation as a co-pro haven is drawing swarms of cash-hungry producers right now, many veteran execs caution that pitchers shouldn't expect their shows to come out fully funded and ready to go into production.
September 1, 2002

With waning European financing opportunities making it difficult for producers to get new animated shows off the ground, it’s not surprising that Cartoon Forum 2002′s screening slate is jam-packed with 80 projects submitted by prodcos from 15 different countries. But even though Forum’s reputation as a co-pro haven is drawing swarms of cash-hungry producers right now, many veteran execs caution that pitchers shouldn’t expect their shows to come out fully funded and ready to go into production.

While Entertainment Rights creative director Oliver Ellis thoroughly enjoys the event and feels it’s a boon to the industry, he warns that the first-blush impression that Forum equals instant financing is generally a false one. ’64 Zoo Lane was the toast of Forum in 1998, but it still took four years to make it happen,’ he says. Sarah Muller, executive producer for U.K.-based Elephant Productions, agrees: ‘Animation is slow, and it’s going to get even slower. Even fast-tracked shows are taking a long time.’

A year later, only a couple of projects from last year’s pitch roster have closed deals with parties that expressed interest at Cartoon Forum. Tell-Tale Productions’ Boo! picked up an international distributor (Universal) and a U.K. broadcast deal (BBC), while Collingwood O’Hare’s Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! attracted Gullane as a co-pro partner and was presold to CiTV for a 2003 debut.

A more cautious approach to spending is certainly the dominant factor contributing to the lower level of investment coming out of Forum, but the subtly changing nature of the event itself could also be playing a small part. ‘There are more projects that have much or all of their financing sewn up, and they use Forum as a showcase,’ says Ellis, who attended his first Forum in Finland eight years ago. The drawback is that interested investors looking for a wide range of rights might be shut out if some territories or ancillary categories are already snapped up.

Ginger Gibbons, managing director of Grand Slamm Children’s Films (the prodco that animates Angelina Ballerina and Bosom Pals), agrees that Forum has become more of an exhibition than a funding facilitation event, but she maintains that it’s no less valuable a tool for smaller prodcos in the end. ‘Gauging the response from a wide group of people–even if it’s negative–gives you a better sense of what you have and what you don’t have,’ says Gibbons. ‘It’s worth our while committing the development money if we know the pilot is going to be seen by all the right people,’ echoes Karl Woolley, managing director of Tell-Tale.

Shifts and challenges aside, Cartoon Forum 2002–as always–will give the industry a first look at some of the year’s most interesting new properties. Here’s a top-line preview of a few that seem poised to turn some heads.

WereKids

Producer: Telemagination (for TV-Loonland distribution)

Style: 2-D animation

Demographic: Six to nine

Format: 26 half hours

Synopsis: The WereKids are five supernaturally gifted elementary school kids whose world is fraught with paranormal danger (zombies, ghosts, witches, etc.) that threatens their school, their town and their lives.

Status: Seeking financing

Budget: US$300,000 per half hour

Dot

Producer: U.K.-based Grand Slamm Children’s Films

Style: 2-D animation

Demographic: Four to eight

Format: 26 x 10 minutes

Synopsis: Dot is a little girl inventor who creates a new ‘DotWat’ gadget from whatever odds and ends are in her Little Red Box each episode. The budding MacGyver has a vivid imagination and concocts stories and environments that make her DotWots come to life. She must invariably dismantle these inventions by the end of the show, though, to return a crucial household item that she’s borrowed. As an example, Dot might create an elephant and explore a make-believe jungle with her newfound friend until her mom makes her return the garden hose that is serving as the pachyderm’s trunk.

Status: In development

Budget: Roughly US$15,000 per minute

Candy Bird

Producer: Entertainment Rights (with the pilot produced by Siriol Productions)

Style: 2-D animation

Demographic: Five to eight

Format: 26 x 10 minutes

Synopsis: Protagonist Candy constantly begs her parents to go to the pet store and pick up a new breed of animal friend. Each one promises to be a winner, but its drawbacks are revealed to great comic effect as the episode progresses. Candy chooses an octopus, for instance, because she thinks an extra eight arms will get her chores done faster. The plan starts out OK, but the octopus gets a little too fastidious and ends up knocking things over and getting in everyone’s way with his incessant and feverish need to clean.

Status: In development

Budget: Around US$3 million

WARP

Producer: Tell-Tale Productions

Style: 2-D characters with 3-D space racers

Demographic: Six and up

Format: 13 half hours

Synopsis: Described as Wacky Races in space, each episode pits 10 teams of intergalactic speedsters against one another in a high-velocity, white-knuckle race that’s narrated as a sportscast from fictitious broadcaster KAK TV. The toon will feature a regular cast of good guys, as well as a baddie named Vallery who always loses because he feels compelled to cheat.

Status: In development

Budget: Just under US$4 million

Gordon Gnome

Producer: Collingwood O’Hare Entertainment, commissioned by CiTV

Style: 2-D animation

Demographic: Preschool and slightly older kids

Format: 26 x 10 minutes

Synopsis: Often mistaken for a plastic novelty garden gnome, Gordon is the real thing, and he uses his knowledge of and passion for plants and gardening to teach kids about environmental issues from his backyard homebase.

Status: In development

Budget: US$130,000 per episode

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