When Leo Nielsen, David McKee and Clive Juster formed U.K. animation house King Rollo Films 25 years ago, rumor has it Juster was chosen to head up business affairs because he was the only one who owned a tie. But business development has always taken a backseat to toon creative at the company – until now.
To help celebrate its quarter-century birthday and better exploit a growing catalogue of properties that includes Wide Eye and Paz, King Rollo Films spun off a new subsidiary this past October. Owned jointly by managing director Juster and partner McKee, Rollo Rights will manage all existing IP, as well as any new projects the shop churns out. Leo Nielsen, meanwhile, has assumed sole ownership of King Rollo Films.
The group will start off by building on Rollo’s first-ever animated project Mr. Benn. Nielsen says the 13 x 15-minute program about a man who enters a secret world through the change room of a costume shop has been a constant fixture of the BBC schedule for the past 27 years. An animated one-off based on Mr. Benn book The Gladiator just aired on Nickelodeon UK this past December. And looking ahead, at least one production company has expressed interest in optioning the rights to produce a Mr. Benn live-action feature film.
Juster is also hoping to move one of his pipedreams to the top of the priority list now that brand-building is his sole goal. Within the next five years, he plans to open an indoor kids entertainment complex featuring games and activities that showcase King Rollo properties near his home in the west of England.
At King Rollo proper, Nielsen is hard at work courting co-producers for three new kids series in development. Preschool shows are literally pet projects, and first up is Panama Cat, a 52 x five-minuter that stars a musically inclined feline with a knack for solving other people’s problems. Sporting the same format, Hovig is a slapstick-heavy toon about a cat, dog and mouse trio that was inspired by Tom & Jerry. Nielsen is also recruiting partners to help produce Seriously Silly Stories, a show for seven- to nine-year-olds that’s based on a book series by U.K. scribe Laurence Anholt. (To give you a taste of the foolish prose, in Daft Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and his mother were so poor, they lived under a cow in a field. His mother slept at the front end and Jack slept at the udder end.)
Nielsen stresses that King Rollo plans to maintain its strategy of splitting all property equity with the original artists, and he’s always keen to meet new creative talent.