As kids TV and film producers prepare to descend on Italy this April for the 40th annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair, they should have a much easier time gauging the big- and small-screen adaptation potential of the thousands of titles that publishers plan to exhibit. That’s because they’ll be able to review many of the books well before the market begins.
Hoping to facilitate a stronger working relationship between media producers and publishers, Bologna organizers have established an on-line catalog (accessible via www.bookfair.bologna.fiere.it) as part of its TV & Film Rights Center that will map out which entertainment rights are available for participating publishers’ kidlit lineups.
For several years, Bologna has played host to an increasing number of entertainment professionals. Major kids producers including Fox Kids Europe, TV-Loonland and Scholastic Entertainment have attended, as have the licensing arms of Asian-based studios such as Innoform Media PTE. The problem is that not all of these players make it every year. ‘Our goal,’ says PR consultant Cristina Angelucci, ‘is to make Bologna into a event that TV and film professionals must attend in the same way they do MIPTV and MIPCOM.’
Bologna ran a pilot program of the catalog initiative last year, producing a tome-like, hard copy containing more than 1,000 publisher entries. Organizers also set up space in the main exhibition hall for a TV & Film Rights Center area where producers could work or hold meetings. Between 70 and 80 companies/individuals registered with the Rights Center, a figure Bologna’s organizers and KidScreen (which will partner with the event organizers to run the on-site hub) hope to double this year. As part of the US$960 Center registration fee, attendees will be able to access the on-line catalog, which organizers will update regularly throughout the year.
For publishers like London-based Andersen Press, the Center removes the hit-and-miss nature of trying to interest producers in their titles. ‘It allows us to focus on our core business at Bologna,’ which has traditionally been selling foreign publishing rights and finding partners to help co-publish new picture books, says Andersen rights manager Sara Pakenham. Though Pakenham reports that she hasn’t detected any new trends in terms of the type of books producers are scouting for these days, picture book series that feature lots of stories are generally popular because it’s easier for producers to visualize how they might translate into TV or film.
Though the rights to many of its picture books – including Max Velthuijs’s Frog (Zenith Entertainment) and Colin McNaughton’s Preston Pig (Varga/Link) – have been optioned, Andersen will showcase 40 books on the Center’s website this year. Among these is Little Princess by British author Tony Ross, a preschool book series that tells the story of a little girl who wishes her royal status didn’t turn normal toddler rites of passage such as losing one’s baby teeth and potty training into such grand events.
Also up for some spotlight time is Rabbit and Hedgehog, a series illustrated by U.K. newspaper cartoonist Chris Riddell and penned by Paul Stewart. The books concern the gentle adventures of two animal pals who must deal with the everyday challenges of belonging to the beastly realm – like trying to figure out when to celebrate their birthdays and how to accommodate each other’s different sleeping habits.
Of the eight to 10 titles Toronto, Canada-based Tundra Books plans to list with the Center, rights and special sales manager Catherine Mitchell expects middle-grade novels to garner the most attention from producers. Buzz is already building around Linda Holeman’s Mercy’s Birds, which Mitchell feels would be perfect for a movie-of-the-week treatment. Set in Winnipeg, the gritty book finds 15-year-old Mercy – an introverted teen who lives in a trailer park with her depressive mother and eccentric, fortune-telling aunt – trying to make sense of her unconventional family life.
Although Tundra has optioned several titles to producers in the past, none of these has been fully developed into a film or TV show yet. So although Mitchell feels that the Center will help to get her books in front of the right sets of eyes, she won’t be spending much time pursuing producers. ‘Bologna is first and foremost a [publishing] rights fair,’ she says. ‘Film and TV interest is great to have, but I’ll be more interested in learning about the latest book trends.’