Iain Harvey reports on Europe's 2003 Cartoon Movie, covering the hot properties and how the event has progressed in five years to support European animated film producers.
Having one good idea doesnt necessarily lead to two not all sequels succeed!
With the success of Cartoon Forum, the exclusive market for European producers and the key buyers from European broadcasting, CARTOON (the Brussels based organization charged with developing animation produced in Europe) was keen to extend the idea to animated features. The purpose is to ease the path of European producers to obtain financing for features. Unless backed by an American studio, no European animated feature is likely to find financing from one source. Some films list as many as 20 sources of finance in their contractual credits. It is considered lucky or successful if a producer can limit their financial partners to less than five. An inevitable result is that co-productions are a key element in financing European animated features, that is collaborations with two or more studios from different countries. Thankfully this is something animation production is well able to handle.
So, very tentatively, the first Cartoon Movie was held in 1999 at the Babelsberg studios in Potsdam near Berlin, Germany. The intention was to follow the format of the successful Forums very closely, but it was quickly realized that movies are completely different creatures, requiring an entirely different approach to their development and financing.
After five years, CARTOON believes it has just about got the format right: separate presentations for features at the concept stage (equivalent to a first toe in the water pitch), the opportunity to give more detailed presentations for films already in development, as well as opportunities to present films already in production (and therefore presumably financed). Finally there are exclusive screenings of completed films.
The figures, at least, suggest CARTOON timed its new presentation well. From the two completed animated movies (from all of Europe) screened in 1999, this has increased to six features in 2002 and seven features in March 2003.
The most recent Cartoon Movie had a definitely more business-like air to its proceedings. Whilst there were undoubtedly projects that should not have got even as far as the concept stage, most new feature ideas were well developed, with some expensive and reasonably exciting or comic trailers. More importantly, there were some serious financiers present, and the whole three-day event involved extensive rounds of consultations and meetings.
Some 30 projects were presented as concepts or in development. Of these, Jumping Green Things from Assorted Nuts Animation Studio, Sweden (the name says it all), Rumbo from Radar Film in Denmark and The Ugly Duckling and Me (A Film), based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, all attracted strong interest. A Film from Denmark has highly experienced producers (credits include Help, Im a Fish and the Oscar-nominated When Life Departs) and I understand that this feature is now in development, with offers of full financing attached. Other impressive presentations included Robota from Sparx* studio in Paris (the promo for this feature won an award at Annecy), The Midsummer Nights Dream from Dygra Films in Spain and Xylacom the Secret of the Wooden House (change the title please!), also from Spain. All these films are planned as CGI, and, without a doubt, this was the main trend noticeable at this year's presentations.
Of films already in production, Nocturna from Filmax in Spain and Tolo Sapore from Lanterna Magica in Italy stood out. Both should be reaching the screens next year but will have to fight to secure U.S. theatrical releases.
Filmaxs El Cid (without Charlton Heston) was previewed. Its strong graphic style and powerful story should ensure strong theatrical in its home territories and, at the least, strong video elsewhere.
Of completed films screened, The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear, directed by Jannik Hastrup, and based on an Innuit tale, proved masterful at utilizing limited resources. It had already deservedly been selected for the Berlin International Film Festival, but is unlikely to be considered suitable for American children. Studio Ellipses Corto Maltese was impressive with its dramatic range and strong visual style.
[To declare my interest, I was presenting in development Greyfriars Bobby, directed by Jimmy Murakami. This presentation, complete with trailer, attracted various levels of interest as well as potential co-production partners. We are now in pre-production.]
Lessons had been learnt features really do demand different financial planning from low risk (for financiers, being as they are usually the broadcasters) television productions. They have to have an instant appeal the one-line pitch that attracts and holds attention. Budgets have to be in line with market realities. If you do not anticipate a U.S. pre-sale then budgets above 10 to 12 million euros (or dollars) are unlikely to attract sufficient finance. There are many who would argue even this is too high.
All this has been helped by the recent success of European animated features at least within European boundaries (with the occasional rare exception breaking out more widely). The Little Polar Bear (screened last year) was a commercial success in Germany and elsewhere for Warner Bros., and is likely to earn good revenues from video/DVD all over Europe. There is tremendous anticipation for Sylvain Chomets Bellevilles Rendez-Vous (I predict it will be better known by its French title Les Triplettes de Belleville) a French-Belgium-Canadian co-production, which premiered at the Cannes international film festival. This is likely to prove a massive popular success, not just in its home territories. Also due for release in December 2003 is JacquesRemy Girerds Raining Cats & Frog. Two strong French titles, but both with the ability to break out into other European territories. As ever, the key question will be to what extent they succeed in breaking down barriers in North America.
Apart from these high profile titles (at least in European animation circles), Aardman from the U.K. is in pre-production on two features, including the long anticipated Wallace & Gromit movie. Pathe, a leading distribution and production force in Europe (we have very few outside the studio system) is backing the Anglo-French co-production of The Magic Roundabout.
But listing all these forthcoming features and there are many more due to hit the screens, at least in the producers home town also reveals one problem still facing CARTOON in its desire to develop Cartoon Movie as a one-stop financing market. None of the high profile features mentioned, apart from The Little Polar Bear, went through Cartoon Forum to raise its finance. With Aardman this is understandable as its features are fully financed by DreamWorks, but it would greatly boost CARTOONs efforts to build Cartoon Movie if more studios and distributors perceived Cartoon Movie to be a first port of call for animated features.
This is, without doubt, the biggest issue facing Cartoon Movie. If CARTOON succeeds in the way that it has with Cartoon Forum for television productions, this will prove a highly successful sequel.
Following a career in publishing, Iain Harvey entered the world of animation as executive producer on The Snowman. In 1993, he formed The Illuminated Film Company, and produced such award-winning projects as The Very Hunger Caterpillar & Other Stories, T.R.A.N.S.I.T., A Christmas Carol: The Movie and War Game. Iain is the vp of CARTOON. The views expressed in this story are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CARTOON as an organization.