World Magazine, Issue 2.10, January 1998
Working the Floor at International Program Markets
by Dominic Schreiber
This month, thousands of distributors and television
program executives will wheel and deal on the
showroom floor at NATPE `98, January 19-22
in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of and © NATPE
So, after weeks and months of slaving over your drawing board you've finally come up with the highly original concept that you just know is going to be the next Rugrats, Tom and Jerry or The Simpsons. What's more, after knocking on the doors of every television network in the country for the past year, you've finally got someone interested in paying you some money to make the show. The problem is, they can only put up about a quarter of the financing, and even if you're lucky enough to live in a country where the government offers grants and subsidies for animation producers (i.e. France or Canada), you're still going to be short several million dollars.
The Hard Slog
So what next? Well, you can always follow independent filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's example and fund the series by selling your body to medical science. But perhaps a less dangerous, if not necessarily less painful option, is to hit the international program markets - MIP, MIPCOM and NATPE - in search of foreign partners who can patch together the rest of the financing. On paper that might look simple enough. Indeed, the idea of jetting off to Cannes for a week of schmoozing with the likes of Linda Simensky might sound very appealing. However, a week of back to back appointments trapped inside a convention center with 10,000 other participants is no holiday. Plus, with an ever-growing number of companies looking to exploit the strong international appeal of animation, and even well-established players such as Film Roman and Sunbow seeking international partners to fund new projects, getting results at the international markets can be a hard slog.
"In the early `90s, if you picked up a MIP preview you'd struggle to find more than a dozen adverts for animation," observes Mikael Shields, managing director at EVA Entertainment, one of Europe's busiest co-producers and distributors. "If you look at it now you'll find that there's 30 or 40 or 50. As well as the Cinars, NELVANAs and EVAs, you'll find that X documentary producer has suddenly tried to develop a 26 half-hour animated series and lo and behold, he's finding its much more commercial than his other stuff."
Knowing the names and faces of production partners and programming decision-makers is an
important part of making the most of a market. From left to right: Linda Simensky, Vice President
of Original Animation, Cartoon Network; Theresa Plummer-Andrews, Head of Acquisitions & Creative
Development for the BBC; Abby Terkuhle, President of MTV Animation and Creative Director of MTV.
Even animation festivals, such as Annecy, now an annual event complete with its own International Animated Film Market (MIFA), and Cardiff and Ottawa, are attracting a growing number of producers looking to tie up deals with international distributors and foreign TV nets. "MIFA has grown immensely over the years," says Abby Terkuhle, president, MTV Animation, who has been attending Annecy for the last decade. "I used to go just to hang with the animators and find new talent. Now people are looking for financing there so we're looking to acquire and to co-produce."
Preparation is Key
So how do you stand out on this increasingly crowded playing field? Half the trick is in the preparation, as Fran Barlow, head of marketing at EVA Entertainment, and former festival director of the Cardiff International Animation Festival, explains: "Once upon a time everyone knew each other at these events but times are changing. Now MIPCOM attracts over 10,000 people. The first thing you need to do is pre-book. The people you want to see usually have a very busy schedule so you need to be booking two to three weeks before the market." Of course, it helps if you make your appointment with the head of children's programming and not the commissioning editor for wildlife documentaries. "At MIP and MIPCOM animation is just a very small area of the market so you need to do your research," adds Barlow. "You need to find out who the buyers and players you need to see are."
One way to get to know the key players is to enlist the services of a deal-broker or co-production consultant, which is exactly what Burbank-based animation studio Film Roman did, when it went searching for international partners to develop its own proprietary series such as C-Bear and Jamal. "About three years ago we got an international consultant, Neil Court, who is an experienced person in Europe," says company president Phil Roman. "He took us to MIP, showed us around and introduced us to all the major players from all the different countries. It was fairly easy making a lot of these meetings because they already knew who we were, they knew the shows that we had produced. It made our job easier when we had to go and say can we make a deal, where we can finance some of the show up front."
Unfortunately, not many newcomers at MIP or MIPCOM can boast the kind of track record that Phil Roman has, so once you get your schedule of back-to-back appointments booked, it's important that you turn up with something to show. "Have a really well-structured pitch," says C.J. Kettler, President of New York-based producer and distributor Sunbow Entertainment. "The more we see of a property that's really fully-fledged and we can visualize it ourselves the more likely we would be interested in it as partners. The best thing is to really think it through and visualize it, get story lines and characters fleshed out and certainly have some artwork as well."
Also, think about the age group you're targeting. "What really drives us crazy is when people haven't done the marketing," says Maureen Serry, executive vice president at France's Marina, whose Mr. Men series is currently airing in U.S. syndication. "Think about who the audience is you're aiming for. That's essential for a TV station."
Marc du Pontavice, president of Gaumont Multimedia, goes one step further, recommending producers bring a trailer: "Without a trailer you're dead in Europe. There are so many indie producers from all over the world trying to get money from Europe so it's very tough." Du Pontavice knows all too well the effort required to put together a series. Back in 1993 he came up with the idea of Home To Rent, a comedy about a group of aliens who get abandoned on earth. He spent the next couple of years trying to sell it to the U.S. networks. "All the networks would say, 'Great concept, great characters, lovely story but the Europeans just cannot do this kind of show.' So we decided to go ahead with the backing of France 3 and Pro Seiben in Germany." In 1996 du Pontavice was back at MIPCOM with the first episode of the series. This time Fox picked up the series (and subsequently named it Space Goofs) and Gaumont became one of the first European producers to sell an animated series to a U.S. network.
Besides the show itself, marketing materials are also an important element when you're looking to stand out. "It's very, very important to brand yourself and every single thing to do with EVA is branded," says Mikael Shields. "It's trying to differentiate us as much as possible from the rest of the market. If you've only got time to visit 15 suppliers out of a potential 100, you must visit us."
The Sunbow Entertainment booth at MIPCOM. Sunbow
staffers, from left to right: Janet Scardino, senior vice
president of International Sales & Co-Production; Bernadette
Madlangbayan, manager of Press & Marketing and
Carrie Romeo, director of Sales & Acquisitions.
Photo by Alisa Anderson.
Raising the Profile
One way to ensure you attract visitors at a market is the offer of free alcohol and a party can really help create a buzz. Klasky Csupo's parties at Annecy, Cardiff and the World Animation Celebration are now legendary. However, for a smaller player, it's tough to compete against the lavish receptions thrown by the likes of Time Warner and MTV. "We don't do parties at MIP and MIPCOM because there's so many going on, you just get swamped," says Fran Barlow. As a relatively new company, EVA doesn't advertise at the markets either, although it does hold screenings; last MIP it attracted a full house for two showings of Daniel Greaves' Flatworld. EVA also sponsors events such as Cardiff, Annecy and the World Summit for Children's Programming. "It's a way of putting money back into the business and it's proved very successful for raising our profile," adds Barlow.
Taking a booth at a market is another way of raising your profile. "We've been taking a stand for eleven years now and we're soundly positioned as a niche player in children's, family and teen programming," says C.J. Kettler. "Our regular buyers as well as new buyers know where to come to at the markets." However, taking a stand can also have its drawbacks, especially for a smaller player. "My advice would be don't take a stand - get out there and visit other people's stands," says Maureen Serry. "When you take a stand you have to wait for people to come to you. We only started taking a stand a couple of years ago."
Markets Are A Beginning
Finally, it's important to remember that the markets are all about building relationships. You might not come away with a deal signed for your new series but you will hopefully have forged some valuable friendships. "Sales of shows are done, but if you're pitching a new show, you don't conclude deals at a market," says du Pontavice. "You're better off going straight to see a broadcaster."
C.J. Kettler echoes that view: "The markets are just another way to stay in touch. The sales team really does most of its selling by visiting clients. The product announcements are geared towards the markets but that is by no means the only time the sales team will see our clients. We're out there seeing them four or five times a year."
Dominic Schreiber is a senior publicist for K Media Relations and a contributor to Television Business International and Animation Magazine. He is currently completing an extensive report on the international television animation industry for the publishers of the UK's Financial Times newspaper.
Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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