Europe Strikes Back

What is CARTOON and just what are they doing in Arles? Heikki Jokinen answers all of our questions as he outlines the European Union's MEDIA program, CARTOON, the European Association of Animated Film.

Editor's Note: This month Heikki Jokinen is providing an overview of Europe's CARTOON. Next month he will review the events of the Cartoon Forum which is happening in Arles, France from September 18 - 20. The European animation market is growing fast. In 1989, European television channels screened 18,800 hours of animation, while in 1992, 29,200 hours were shown. The animation industry has responded to the growing demand. In 1986, European studios produced 60 hours of animation. By 1995 the figure was over 700 hours. One reason for the growth in production is CARTOON, the European Association of Animated Film. CARTOON started in February, 1988 as part of the MEDIA program of the European Union. The European Union (EU) is a community of 15 European nations, who work together on a common basis in many areas of politics and economics. MEDIA also has three additional member states that do not belong to the EU. MEDIA is a major project of the EU, helping to keep the European audiovisual industry fit in the struggle against strong film and television studios in the United States and Asia. MEDIA's work is actually protectionism, but not through building fences rather by introducing positive measures. The EU's television directive helps to achieve the goal. It demands that in Europe at least 50% of television programs have to be of European origin. After the five year period of MEDIA I from 1991-95, a newly organized MEDIA II started in 1996. It will work for five years with the total budget of 310 million Ecu (which stands for European Currency Unit, the official EU monetary unit which is roughly equivalent to U.S. $1.09). Last year MEDIA II's budget was 60 million Ecu, and some four million Ecu was dedicated to animation. The major areas of MEDIA's work are in training, development and distribution.

The Cartoon Forum Collects the Financiers CARTOON works in many ways. The main event is the annual Cartoon Forum, held every autumn in a different corner of the continent. The idea is simple: to invite producers and financiers for an effective three-day gathering. Some 70 ready-to-be-produced animation projects are presented and 70 broadcasters plus 60 investors turn their thumbs either up or down. The results have been quite impressive since the first Cartoon Forum which was held in 1990 on the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Out of the 376 projects presented at the first six Forums, 110 were completed. This equals 435 hours of animation. At last year's Cartoon Forum, which was held in Ireland's Connemara region, 19 out of the 67 animation projects presented received immediate guarantees to go into production. As usual, most of these were French, German and British. 21 other projects received sufficient interest to go on and probably collect enough money to begin production at a later date. CARTOON is interested in television serials and features. It does not defend animation as an art form, but rather as an important and creative part of the audiovisual industry. Every project presented at the Cartoon Forum must total at least 26 minutes, which makes it suitable for television. Through CARTOON there is no money directly given to support actual production. MEDIA II can grant some loans, but these have to be paid back. Twice a year CARTOON gives aid for pre-production, either for graphic design, a pilot film or script writing. The amounts vary from 5,000 Ecu to 40,000 Ecu.

Cooperation Across the Borders

The main idea of CARTOON's work is to get the European producers and animators to work together across national borders. European studios are usually very small in comparison with the big U.S. and Asian companies. The projects accepted at the Cartoon Forum must stem from a European cooperation venture between partners in two or three countries.

One part of the CARTOON policy has been to form studio groupings. These are studio chains of at least three studios in different European countries that work together on joint projects. Studio groupings are an answer to the growing demand for television series. It might take three years for one studio to do a long series, but three studios can complete the project in one year. When working together with other studios, down time between productions can also be shortened. During the MEDIA I years of 1988-95, ten studio groupings were formed, with some financial help from CARTOON. These groupings included 38 different studios in ten countries. Support for studio groupings is still in the CARTOON agenda. It believes firmly that "the growth of European animation will have to be developed by constituting large industrial groups," as the CARTOON magazine states in its May, 1997 issue. Training and the Job Bank Another key area of CARTOON's work is training, which is also one of the main areas of the entire MEDIA II program. Nearly 3,000 professionals participated in the 102 different courses and seminars organized by CARTOON during the years 1988-95. This year, CARTOON is packaging together ten seminars under the title CARTOON Business School. The chain of seminars covers management, training for trainers, script writing and multimedia. For studios about to go into production CARTOON offers in-house training. 21 different courses, many of them related to new technologies, are available. There are, however, voices that are concerned about the flow of well educated animation artists to U.S. studios. The reason is simple: a steady job and often a better salary. This was visible at the last Annecy festival - the recruiting staffs of big U.S. studios had long lines of animators at their doors.

CARTOON works to find jobs for animators as well. The CARTOON Job Bank is a database with hundreds of jobs on offer. During the past two years, the Bank has provided access to over 1,000 employment opportunities. Cartoon d'Or is CARTOON's annual prize of 35,000 Ecu given to a short animation. The winner is selected from films that have received prizes in one of the eight European animation festivals cooperating with CARTOON. The prize money has to be used on a new film and this time, the length has to be suitable for a normal television programming slot. On the top of all these activities, CARTOON has initiated several surveys, pilot projects, publications and competitions. Currently, they are working on proposals for a film to promote the Euro, the future joint EU-currency. To be continued... Heikki Jokinen is a freelance journalist and critic specializing in animation, short film and comics. He lives in Helsinki, Finland and is a board member of ASIFA-Nordic, the ASIFA regional organization for the five Nordic and three Baltic states. The next Cartoon Forum will be the fifth one in which he has participated.