By Catherine Morrissey
An upbeat Cartoon Forum, recently ended September 16th in Sopot, Poland- seems to have made a tremendous impact on the European animation business scene. Sixty-six new animation series from 19 European countries were presented to over 800 participants at this year’ three-day event. “The best Cartoon Forum in years” reverberates in post-Forum conversations with broadcasters, co-producers, distributors, investors and creators. It’s unanimous. Everyone loved Poland, and has had little time to go home and catch their collective breaths before heading to Cannes, France.
Cartoon Forum participants will “continue the Poland conversations” in the south of France, during MIP Junior (October 1 and 2) and MIPCOM (October 3-6). Many producers are optimistic about securing significant, tangible results for Cartoon Forum animation projects. Making new deals needs to be done quickly all agree, due to the scary economic climate everybody’s facing today across Europe, and the rest of the globe.
TV networks are buying more selectively than ever, budgets are tighter, but nonetheless, there’s a resounding unanimous impression that this year’s Cartoon Forum was better than many of the recent ones. Still, as producer Dominique Boischot observes “there’s becoming less and less kids shows on public television broadcast channels, and the cable/satellites are not nearly at the [necessary] price levels… really it’s the audience who is deciding, and [they] are migrating away from all TV channels to IPTV, internet, mobile, where there’s really not yet any business model [outside of television] that works.”
While post-event responses normally vary widely, many Forum participants shared similar observations:
THIS YEAR’S VENUE - unanimously ranked SUPER high with all interviewed! How unusual to hear praise, about location, when I asked about “your top impressions” about this year’s Cartoon Forum. The services, how well-organized, the ease of use, the politeness of the Polish people, etc. NOT ONE COMPLAINT! Now that’s the way to keep the focus on the content being pitched, although a challenge to see everything since each session had three rooms with individual pitch presentations going on. And, another compliment to the organizers: not too many side trips like prior Forums. The two visits to nearby Gdansk were just perfect.
Another source of praise: Polish animation. A press conference during Cartoon Forum highlighted how huge strides were made in Poland’s animation sector over the past five years, thanks very much to the support from national and local funding agencies, many of which also supported this year’s Cartoon Forum in Poland’s popular seaside town of Sopot. Special thanks were made to several Polish organizations including The Polish Film Institute and the Polish Minister of Culture.
All in all, a very robust Cartoon Forum that presented a wide range of styles, techniques and approaches for the next generation of European-originated animation series. Several industry trends were spotted at Cartoon Forum (across categories, a little less CGI and a 2D comeback):
PRE-SCHOOL - typically the most saturated age category, true to form, there were plenty presented this year [statistically, only a third of the projects presented were pre-school]. More than one pre-school pitch included live action footage of 3 to 6 year olds reacting to the producers’ short cartoon samples. We watched 5 year olds, watching new cartoons. Sweet and fairly convincing.
A lot of the pre-school pitches were done “with very sensitive storytelling, tender characters that connect with young kids so they can learn about, their emotions… connecting [this way] with kids gives great appeal” reflected Eve Baron Charlton of Mondo TV France. She added that overall, this year’s Forum was “a good crop.” Genevieve Dexter of Serious Lunch! concurred, saying the content is more age appropriate than ever before, yet added “there’s a disproportionate amount of pre-school for the amount that the market needs.”
During one pre-school pitch, OSCAR AND HOO, the grownup audience was asked to participate and guess what feelings were being described in the cartoon vignettes (luckily, most of us guessed right, but only the first to raise his/her hand, won the t-shirt!). Overall, a fundamental quality for pre-school seemed to remain intact: a lot of book-based content.
While I didn’t see all pre-school pitches, of the ones I did see my personal favorite hit the emotional sweet spots but also teaches kids the very basics of astronomy. COSMO’s creators from Ireland’s Monster Animation believe their 60% pre-Forum has been hugely bolstered by being at the Forum, and they have over 10 new MIPCOM meetings as a result, with a mix of players that should bring their project to a “take-off production-go countdown” before the end of 2011. “I suppose winning Cartoon Forum’s Producer of the Year tribute may have had a small impact as well” says Monster’s delighted producer Gerard O’Rourke. Most attended PRE-SCHOOL pitches probably also experienced good upticks in meaningful Forum follow ups, including: OSCAR AND HOO (about a boy and his best friend, a cloud); BURNEY THE LITTLE DRAGON (lives in a cave, loneliness spurs him to travel the world, to find a friend); and DIMITRI (tiny bird from Europe gets lost in Africa, but befriends others there who are also different). KIDS 6 to 9 is the most sought after target group by TV buyers, yet Europe’s pre-school buyers seemed more open for new shows than for the past few years. Genre demand for 6-9 year olds is heavily weighted by a majority of European TV channels. They want only three things: Comedy, Comedy and [more] Comedy. Yes, it’s important to have daily life aspects of this age group, and some fantasy still allowed. 33% of Cartoon Forum projects focused on this target group, whereas pre-school held 29% of the total.
The balance of projects were split among KIDS 9-12, 16+ and the producers who were brave enough to label their new shows as [made for] ALL AGES. THE ADVENTURES OF GLORIA SCOTT generated the most buzz across these “older” categories. Dr. Michaela Haberlander of German investor FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, commented “GLORIA SCOTT was so refreshing, for a change. Still, I wonder will there be timeslots for these animations made for older audiences?” If Forum pitch attendance is any indication, then these series have the best chances for getting fully financed: ROGER, HUBERT & TAKAKO, THE CRUMPETS, SECRET RANCH, CRAZY CAVEMEN, THE COOKIE AND CRIME CLUB and ORI & GAMI. And the overwhelming majority of these fall into the 9-12 age group (kids/tweens).
While some in the world of making cartoons for kids might be slightly envious (OK, maybe very envious) of the governmental supports provided European producers, it’s no easy task to wrangle funds and deals with channels. “Besides, there are other countries that actively co-produce with Europe,” says Telegael Media Group’s Paul Cummins, continuing by pointing out that “Asia, the U.S. and Australia – we all need co-production as [our] the business model in most cases now.”
Thankfully, the European Commission’s annual CARTOON events (Cartoon Forum, Cartoon Movie, Cartoon Masters and Cartoon Connection) look certain to continue receiving support from the EC’s MEDIA Programme. This helps [the Europeans] and makes it easier to reach the right players, to finalize project financing. An important concluding announcement in Poland by Marc Vandeweyer, the EC’s General Director of CARTOON, may be a leading indicator for future attendees: Cartoon Forum will no longer change venues each year. Instead, for the next three years, Cartoon Forum will take place in Toulouse, France. “We’re facing today’s realities,” he added.