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Audiovisual Training Forum in Warsaw, Poland

Bob Swain reports back from CARTOONs Audiovisual Training Forum in Warsaw, Poland as eastern European animation producers join the EU. Swain surveys possible ramifications, as well as the decline in movie viewing and marked increase in TV consumption.

The Audiovisual Training Forum welcomes the 10 new members of the EU plus Bulgaria to this years conference. All photographs courtesy of Cartoon Movie.

On May 1, 2004 the European Union grows from 15 member states to 25 and its total population increases from 378 million to 453 million. This massive expansion brings eight former communist Eastern European countries into the fold along with the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.

The full list of accession states is: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta. All are now full members of the European Media program. In addition Bulgaria has negotiated a bilateral arrangement with Media, although it has not yet become a full member of the European Union.

Representatives from the audiovisual industries of these new partners countries were recently invited to a meeting in Warsaw in preparation for playing their part in the European media industry. The Audiovisual Training Forum provided a combination of training, networking and sharing experiences between experienced producers and newer participants. Although the event was organized by Cartoon the branch of the Media program specifically responsible for animation it covered the whole range of moving-image markets with sessions on feature films, interactive media, documentaries, television, scriptwriting and animation.

Jacques Delmoly (center), retiring head of European Media, speaks about issues facing the new EU countries at the opening session.

The new member countries currently represent only a small proportion of the value of the European industry. Cinema box office receipts in the 10 new countries account for only four per cent of the European total. Television advertising is only eight per cent of the total. But there is massive potential for growth something which is of great interest both to western European entrepreneurs and producers from the East. Also remember that Eastern Europe has a strong tradition in animation and filmmaking. The craft skills are already there but a new financial model is being put in place and a new breed of producers has a lot to learn if the former centralized systems are to be replaced.

There has been a massive decline in cinemas in the new countries since 1990 although cable television penetration is close to the European average, reported Tim Westott of the European Audiovisual Observatory.

Two-thirds of homes have more than just a basic terrestrial service, although VCR penetration is low and the DVD market is still very small. So far as the TV markets are concerned, Poland is far and away the most important, followed by Hungary and the Czech Republic.

There has been a massive decline in cinema admissions since 1990 in Poland down from over 90 million to 26 million; in Lithuania down from 49 million to just two million. There has been a major impact caused by the rise of television and the increase in cinema admission prices. There has also been a big drop in film production since 1990.

Attendees find time to socialize at the Forum.

The new countries watch fewer films in the cinema than the existing countries one film a year on average compared with 2.5 films. But they watch more television. The average in western Europe was 213 minutes a day in 2002. In Hungary it was 256 minutes, in the Czech Republic 238 minutes, in Poland 231, in Slovakia 224 minutes.

Jacques Delmoly about to stand down after nine years heading up the European Media programme said that there needs to be a greater awareness of issues facing producers from the accession countries and that he hoped the Audiovisual Training Forum would be repeated in future years. Media Desks have already been set up in each of the new countries to help support local media industries. A training assessment has been made of the region with the following preliminary assessment.

There is a lack of funding.

There are inadequate links with TV broadcasters there are no relationships between broadcasters and filmmakers and support is declining.

Training of producers should be a priority.

Producers would benefit from opportunities to meet producers from other states.

Filmmakers need a greater understanding of the markets.

A greater understanding is required of creative collaboration how writers, producers and directors work together on a project.

Basic directing skills are needed. Some countries like Poland and the Czech Republic have strong traditions but others still need basic skills. Script editing skills are lacking as a result scripts are taken into production too early.

There is a specific demand for training of assistant directors and directors of photography.

There is a need to train government officials in the economic importance of the audiovisual industries.

Educating the educators raising awareness of film among teachers.

Corinne Jenart, joint Cartoon md, takes great joy in announcing new scholarships for those from the new countries to attend Cartoon Masters or ETNA training courses.

But Stewart Till, chairman and ceo of UIP, said he believed the accession countries had very little to learn from western Europe. I think that the issues facing Eastern Europe are identical to those that are facing western Europe, he said.

It is more important to ask, what are the issues facing all of Europe and how can we make it more successful? In Europe as a whole, the way to solve our problems is through training and education.

Dariusz Jablonski, one of the first independent producers in Poland and president of the Polish Independent Film Foundation, believes that the current challenge is to focus on the politicians and ensure they focus on film.

From this co-operation we can benefit a lot from European film. It is not true that western films are necessarily better. There are filmmakers who are making beautiful films in both parts of Europe, he said.

But I also believe that we should now start a new Warsaw Pact that will protect the audio visual industries in this part of Europe. I believe that all the stories told should be European stories. The most important stories are those that are told in their own locality. I am not sentimental about the past. But the current reality is something we should be interested in. The new Warsaw Pact could be a kind of offensive against Brussels.

Poland has a very dynamic co-production tradition we have diversity. But when I look at the rest of eastern Europe the position is less optimistic After the collapse of state broadcasting, around 50 producers had to leave the market in the Czech Republic. It was much the same in Hungary, maybe a bit less in Slovakia.

A panel on the Animation Market draws a full crowd.

The animation section of proceedings were kicked off by joint Cartoon managing director Corinne Jenart, who announced a series of new scholarships to assist people from the new countries wishing to attend Cartoon Masters training courses or training within the European Training Network for Animation (ETNA).

Independent consultant Mike Robinson went on to give an overview of the European animation industry and a roadmap to the pitfalls for producers new to the sector. The most important fact continues to be the development of multi-channel TV, which divides up the market and has led to a greater demand for programming, he said.

There is a growing demand from broadcasters for home-produced product either because of regulation or of editorial policy. And there has been a dramatic increase in thematic channels branding themselves into something that is unique in order to compete with the others. The broadcaster is still the most important part of funding. Having a broadcaster on board even if its only for five per cent of the budget opens doors for the rest of the funding.

Dariusz Jablonski (left, with Jacques Delmoly) represented Poland at the Forum. He wants to get politicians to focus on film.

The BBCs Theresa Plummer-Andrews introduced the broadcaster landscape with particular reference to the U.K. She painfully pointed out just how tough the market is and gave detailed examples of the kind of co-production Hell that is necessary in order to cover the budgets.

So why do we do it? she asked. Because kids love animation. Broadcasters use it to drive their schedules. There is a real need for it.

The French experience was described by successful producer Dominique Boischot of Les Films de la Perrine. We are lucky in France, he said. It is the European country where most animation programs have been produced over the past five years. We have subsidy through the CNC. This is very important even if it only represents only 10-12% of the budget. We also learned early on how to develop co-production deals and this is equally important.

Independent consultant Mike Robinson spoke about the importance of securing broadcasters for project funding.

In Italy, they used to have very little animation production. But two or three years ago RAI decided to support the Italian industry. Now they give 30-40% of a budget where a project comes from Italy and the work is done in Italy. This is an important lesson for the new countries because there is no successful animation industry anywhere that has not been supported by its own industry.

Andras Erkel, formerly from Hungarian studio Varga, provided an eastern perspective. I am always surprised at how little people in animation think about getting things to the market none of us want to make something that just sits in the cupboard, he said.

I have never seen any other industry where people are led so much by their vision and so little by where they will place their product. I cant imagine such a thing with a shoemaker, for example. But I have met so many producers who blame everyone else for not getting their show on air. There are countries in this region where this didnt matter so much before because everything was state owned but those days have now gone.

Scriptwriter, author and editor, Bob Swain has been part of the international animation scene for longer than he cares to remember.