With German production companies still struggling in the aftermath of the Neuer market crisis, Germany wouldn’t seem to be the most receptive market for a new kids entertainment company right now.
But that hasn’t deterred Berliner Film Company (BFC), which launched in December 2002. BFC took over the assets of the Greenlight Animation, a subsidiary of Greenlight Media that was sold off in order to finance Greenlight Media’s purchase of distribution outfit peppermint. Greenlight Animation’s slate was originally backed by the Berlin Animation Fund, set up by Dresdner Allianz Group in 1999 to the tune of $100 million. That funding has been redirected to BFC.
BFC has spent the last 18 months evaluating and fixing up the Greenlight projects, in some cases almost starting from scratch, says senior VP of production Michael Hefferon, who formerly founded Canadian prodco Phoenix Animation in the early 90s. This turnaround was accomplished by bringing in top talent from the U.S., including Mitch Schauer, who hails from Nickelodeon, and David Simon, who has done stints at both Disney and DreamWorks.
BFC was able to reintroduce four completed Greenlight series for six- to 12-year-olds at MIPCOM in October, with a few new broadcast deals in tow. Mission Odyssey, a retelling of Ulysses, is a co-pro with France’s Marathon and M6 that has sold to Canal J and Disney Channel France; Adventurers Masters of Time, the tale of four students who use time-continuum software to go back in time and search for their missing computer professor, has gone to Disney Channel France and Super RTL in Germany; Altair in Starland, the story of a young boy growing up in the world of the Starish people, has also been picked up by Disney Channel France; and Shadow of the Elves, a good-versus-evil epic set in a miniature fairyland, has been picked up by Super RTL and Canal J.
Still in the pipeline is Sherm! (26 x 11 minutes), about a botched lab experiment that leaves a teenager sporting mutated germs that think they are his best friends, and an as-yet-untitled series about four kids with sonic superpowers. The company is also working to secure a distributor for Happily N’Ever After, a 75-minute CGI feature film that’s being produced by John H. Williams (Shrek) and features the voices of Sigourney Weaver, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr.
Once the Greenlight-initiated projects are finished, Berliner will get to work on its own projects, which it’s keeping under wraps for now. Ideally, the prodco will have two series and a film in simultaneous production, as well as four to six more in development. Hefferon says BFC is in discussions for rights to a well-known book property and is on the lookout for more potential co-production partners.