DIC, RAI and the Project In-between

by Russell Bekins

A tired but happy Robby London reflects on the tribulations of co-production. Photo by Russell Bekins.

Robby London, Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs at DIC Entertainment, has known a few troubles getting productions off the ground, but this one was a doozy. Several years ago, as they were negotiating the rights to the song "Monster Mash," executives at DIC saw a short by Italian cartoonist Guido Manuli Chi Ha Paura (Who's Afraid). They found the horror-comedy tone and characters to be just right, met with Manuli, and married song to project.

The first problem was that Robby London didn't speak Italian and Guido Manuli didn't speak English. Still, they managed to communicate in French, and Guido's wife Daniela speaks flawless English, so most of the work that followed was in English. When RAI funding was finalized, however, an enthusiastic Manuli sent London an e-mail in their common language, "Marchons!" (the battle cry from the French national anthem).

Then RAI went though one of its periodic political upheavals, and the Italian end of the deal fell apart. London and Manuli continued developing the script, adding American story know-how to Manuli's quirky characters. Writer Judy Rothman-Rofè went through endless revisions, and London praises her flexibility. "In the situation of co-production," London asserts, "and particularly one where he (Manuli) doesn't speak English, I felt it was important to have a writer who was very collaborative. This was not going to be the case where DIC takes Guido's work and unilaterally changes it." London cites ethical, business, and creative reasons for this remarkable attitude.

Finally, with RAI funding back in place, the project was a go. "Marchons!" the e-mails again sang.

Then, two weeks later, the American end of the deal fell apart. By the time it was back in place, the Italian end had come undone again. And so it went - develop, deal, "marchons," disappointment - for nearly four years. "Guido, bless his creative soul," London sighs, "stuck with the program and believed in it."

This year, everything finally came together. The script and storyboard is complete, and model design and voice recording are next.

Among the myriad of DIC projects, London places this one in the category of a "labor of love." "We believe in Guido," London declares. "We wanted this to be a true co-production, not a nominal co-production where we had done most of the creative work."

Russell Bekins is a disgruntled expatriate of the film industry, now living in Bologna, Italy. Serving his apprenticeship as story and multimedia analyst for Creative Artists Agency, he went on to be a creative executive for Tidewater Entertainment at Disney Studios, where he achieved his level of incompetence in studio politics. He is now working on theme park attractions and consulting on multi-media projects, as well as struggling with the subjunctive tense in Italian.

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