A Look At Europe's Cartoon Forum
with John Bullivant

by Heather Kenyon

John Bullivant. Photo courtesy of TV-Loonland AG.

From September 20 — 23, 2000 Europe's animation movers and shakers arrived in the tiny Swedish village of Visby, a beautifully picturesque patch, to pitch and perhaps fund the latest in animation programs. An initiative of CARTOON, a part of the EU's MEDIA II program which is designed to promote the production of animation in Europe, The Cartoon Forum is a vitally important place for projects to get off the ground. For an inside look on this past year's Forum and how it fits into the rising tide of European production, Animation World managed to catch up with TV-Loonland´s Director of Programmes John Bullivant.

John has spent the past months traveling the globe as he attempts to keep up with TV-Loonland AG's aggressive expansion. Here's a brief recap: it all began in April of last year one month after the company went public on Germany's booming stock market. TV-Loonland announced a partnership with Canadian-based television and film company Alliance Atlantis Communications to co-create up to nine new children's series. The German producer then went on to purchase Paris-based distribution house Salsa Distribution, a leader in the Latin market; British animation company Telemagination; and German family Internet service provider As if that wasn't enough at MIPCOM in the fall, the company purchased the television production and distribution activities of Sony Wonder, the children's production arm of Sony Music Entertainment. This transaction included the purchase of New York City's Sunbow Entertainment, which Sony wonder had bought in 1998. But wait! There's more... In December, 2000 a 65% stake in Seoul distribution firm Saerom Entertainment was bought. Saerom is the third-largest video and DVD distributor in Korea and controls a leading Internet film portal, which it has been leveraging as a new means of distribution. Many wondered if the company was spreading itself thin until on Monday, November 6, 2000, TV-Loonland announced that the company expects annual sales to top DM127 million (US$55.9 million) for 2000 -- which is almost four times its original estimate when the company went public.

Now, I am sure you can see why I telephoned three different continents before finally reaching John as he conducted business in Telemagination's new London offices...

Heather Kenyon: What were a few of the most interesting projects you saw pitched at Cartoon Forum?

John Bullivant: In no particular order, there was a project called Dominion that was produced by a U.K. live-action comedy writing partnership called Fireside Favorites. It was terrific. It's a primetime 15 to 35 year-old audience show that had a very strong design style and good comedy writing. It came from writing originators rather than from an animation studio. For me, it was a kind of Red Dwarf meets Black Adder, both of which are hugely successful live-action sitcoms in the U.K. It had good character-based comedy elements in a very distinctive visual style and was well presented. Also, it was a strong team that put it together. They had a very entertaining past number of short films that they'd already produced for Channel 4.

All other photos and images courtesy of Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film.

HK: And they have a track record if they've already produced.

JB: They have a track record in comedy. Fireside Favorites is one of the most sought after comedy writing companies in the U.K. at the moment for sort of Channel 4 and BBC 2, which is where that kind of prime time animation or late night animation places. It is more likely to be driven by comedy writers than it is by animation studios because the people who ultimately commission that kind of programming usually run live-action comedy departments. As in the States and a number of other countries, comedy is driven usually by strong writing teams or production companies that have strong writers within them. Therefore when you introduce animation into those kind of slots they're more interested in your comedy credentials than they are in your animation credentials. The medium becomes second to the originators and the comedy talent. At the other end of the spectrum was The Koala Brothers, a pre-school project, in model animation from Famous Flying Films. I think that was one of the strongest pre-school shows presented, beautiful designs, very, very stylish sets, slick presentation, charmingly animated. There was no dialogue presented in the animation but just the way the characters were characterized in the animation made it instantly appealing. That would be number two. Number three was a show called Johnny Casanova.

HK: Andy Wyatt.

JB: Yes, which was highly entertaining and amusing in terms of a teenage boy's struggling to come together with his body, sexuality, life, girls and all that kind of thing. The interesting debate was where it would play. What kind of slot it would fit into because your protagonist hero was probably 13-years-old and the argument was he was too near the knuckle in terms of the language and what was actually talked about. The boy ended up with a hamster down his trousers and a girl goes looking for it physically. Girls putting hands down boys' trousers is not something you can show to a younger audience, but the question was would your target audience of 15 to 35 year-olds find it amusing or is it too close to their own sort of experiences? It's funny for those people who have moved out of that phase of their life but is it still going to be found as amusing for those people who are seeing their stresses and angst played out on screen? But the pilot had a number of people laughing in the aisles. Very simple designs. It was going to be produced in Flash animation by the production company Fictitious Egg and was sponsored by Channel 4. Again if you make people laugh they sit up and pay attention. It was just a debate as to how you would get that placed in broadcasters and around the world especially since it is predominantly a children's market. A lot of the people there wouldn't have been able to schedule it in their air time.

And there's a show called C.O.W.S., which stands for Covert Operatives With Style, which is basically three bovines, very sort of glamorous, who are given special missions in the same way that the three Charlie's Angels get their missions. You know secretly communicated to them. These three very strong characters were amusingly presented and it seems like a very character-based comedy from France Animation. It captured part of the trend of the moment for strong girl driven properties. Girl power is very strong at the moment. Those I would say are my top four.


1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5