Animation World Magazine, Issue 1.11, February 1997

Heard at NATPE 97

by Wendy Jackson

At the 1997 Convention and Conference of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), our reporter on the scene, asked animation distributors: "What are some of the considerations involved in developing, producing, and ultimately distributing animation to the international market?" Herein are a selection of answers followed by some comments drawn from a panel discussion "Animation: The Universal Language," moderated by Cartoon Network President Betty Cohen , which discussed the realities of the much-hyped global marketplace for animation.

Joel AndrycJoel Andryc, Saban's Senior Vice President of Development.

Joel Andryc, Senior Vice President of Development, Saban Entertainment, says he looks for properties that "transcend cultural boundaries" by having evergreen appeal, or universal animal characters, citing as examples the Saban shows The Adventures of Oliver Twist based on the classic literature of Charles Dickens, and 20,000 Leagues in Outer Space a modern adaptation of the Jules Verne classic. "Most importantly," adds Andryc "a show has to have compelling characters and stories. If you don't have those elements, you have a show that won't entertain and won't sell internationally or domestically." Andryc attributes the success of Saban as a global company to the vision of its founder, noting that, "Ten years ago, when most production companies were developing only for the US market, Haim Saban had the foresight to be international in scope and predict today's global economy. As you can see here at NATPE, the world really has become one market."

Nadia Nardonnet, Executive Vice President of Bohbot International discussed some of the challenges involved in producing animation for an international audience: "Bohbot distributes product in over 55 countries, and animation is the product that sells well internationally, having the most transferable cultural content. But the international market is a very complex market, and their demands are often contradictory. They want an animation series that has notoriety, yet at the same time they want something new. They want non-violence, but they also want action. They want ratings as well as educational content. You have to balance all of these issues in developing animation product for the international market."

Nancy SteingardNancy Steingard, Executive Vice President, Universal Cartoon Studios.

Nancy Steingard, Executive Vice President of Universal Cartoon Studio, noted that "a big focus of what Universal is trying to do is to capitalize on our franchise properties." She attributes the international success of their animated show Casper, to its quality and the fact that the property is already established, having gained wide recognition with the recent feature film. Additionally, she points out that the international market is very receptive to comedy. Anticipating international success for one of the new shows in development at Universal, Steingard said "Woody Woodpecker is a property that we have on the drawing board right now, and it has already been very big in the international market. We have a lot of great plans on the drawing board for Woody for the upcoming year, and we have some really amazing talent working on it."

Linda Simensky, recently appointed Vice President of Original Animation for the Cartoon Network responded: "If I thought about what every different Cartoon Network wanted, it would be difficult because everybody wants something else. In Asia, they like family-oriented shows, in some places they only like funny animals, and in other places they like sarcasm. What I really try to do is to just not make shows feel too American. I look for the universal gag, the universal sense of humor. I think the reason slapstick works is because it's funny everywhere. Whatever motivates the characters should not be specific to American life. I try to stay away from American jokes, although I'm seeing a lot more of them now. Why not just come up with some human personality traits that are universal?"

On the second day of the conference, NATPE presented a panel discussion entitled "Animation: The Universal Language". With Cartoon Network President Betty Cohen moderating, panelists discussed the realities of the much-hyped global marketplace for animation.

Michel Welter of Saban Enterprises International, one of the panelists on the "Animation: The Universal Language," pointed out that the so-called global marketplace for animation consists mostly of American shows traveling worldwide, not the other way around. He noted that, "Out of the 125 new shows which were produced and shown in the United States in 1995-96, only 17 of them originated from another country. Fourteen of those 17 were from Canada and the 3 others were from Gaumont in France, who had a co-production agreement with a Hollywood studio. The only way to get a European concept produced and shown in America is either to practically sell your concept to an American company that's going to change it, or to go through Canada, which has a unique position to understand both the US and Europe."

Nelvana is one Canadian company which is very familiar with European co-productions created for the US market. Nelvana Chairman Michael Hirsh, in the course of the panel discussion, described the company's unique positioning in the marketplace: "Nelvana has been very successful in producing European projects with a more North American spirit, which then allows them to travel. We have a proximity to the US market, so we understand the culture. At the same time, Canada has a heritage that is a little more European, so we can appreciate where our European partners are coming from. Working with European companies, we've been able to take characters from one part of the world and adapt them so that they work all over the world. That marriage between Canadian and European companies also has another force behind it. Canada has official co-production treaties with those European companies. Producing these shows qualifies us for various incentive programs in Canada and also qualifies the European co-producers for incentive programs in those countries. The combination of those incentives, plus the license fees that we can get in our respective countries on presales allows us to produce those shows without any US presale. In a good co-production, one plus one equals three."

Wendy Jackson is Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine.

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