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Case Study: The benefits and pitfalls of international co-productions

One of the most inspiring international speakers at this year’s Visegrad Animation Forum conference in Třeboň was Frédéric Puech, director of the French film production company Planet Nemo. The company, which has been operating on the market for 11 years and is part of the larger corporation ANKAMA, has produced over 15 successful television series with 2D, 3D, and interactive content and exports its works to more than 130 countries worldwide. In light of his position, Frédéric Puech will discuss his experience with large international projects and their distribution abroad.

A successful strategy is to move simultaneously in the field of animation and digital content,” Frédéric stated in the introduction to his presentation. In addition to various television series, his company also develops animated computer games, interactive books, and mobile phone applications. The greatest demand for this media is in Asia, where Planet Nemo does most of its sales. The demand for European partners with their own themes is enormous, primarily in China, Japan, and South Korea.

In cooperation with our Japanese partners we have developed several series for preschool children, who as a target group form an immense market while constantly demanding new and original approaches. An example might be the show “What’s the big idea” for preschoolers, which is focused on philosophy and critical thinking and was nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award 2013.

In addition to proper targeting and original themes, distribution is also an important factor for success. Frédéric Puech is a regular guest at various European and international film festivals, where he personally negotiates business opportunities directly with both creators and distributors.

For instance, the 13-piece series of 7-minute animated episodes of the Slovak production “Mimi & Lisa“, with an originally “hard-to-sell” format, has become an internationally successful project – also because of a cooperation with French distributor and sales-agent. One of the two girl heroines is blind, but together as friends they overcome the pitfalls of the outside world and learn from each other’s differences. This was an example of a project offered to TV companies that used a powerful theme and unusual format that eventually became the project’s greatest advantage.

What are the biggest benefits and pitfalls of international projects?

The obvious benefit is the size of the target audience, which in the case of successful co-productions multiplies viewer ratings and revenue. During production, the production costs are shared. Here it pays off to plan well in terms of which country is assigned which part of the production. Some companies tend to focus more on creativity, while others are more capable of providing post-production.

It is important to compare financial schemes and look for co-production partners in countries with similar backgrounds. If somebody contributes 50% of the production costs, they should logically also perform 50% of the work unless the parties involved reach a different agreement. In this case, however, not every Euro is worth the same. Even if the amount of work is divided equitably between countries with very different financial backgrounds, even funding will still never be achieved. Therefore, Frédéric Puech recommends avoiding partnerships where the approval of financing will take longer on one side (as waiting for approval also increases the costs for the other side), or between countries that are financially incomparable, such as France and the Czech Republic. If we have significantly cheaper production in the Czech Republic, we will contribute a smaller amount to the overall budget and the partner will then probably not want to accept equal rights in decision-making, the share in the revenue from the sale, or the same number of broadcasts in both countries.

sbb_firebrigadeLet’s look at a specific case study of a tripartite co-production project. In the case of the children’s series “Silly Bitty Bunny” made by Planet Nemo, the project involved a French-Canadian-Singaporean co-production with an overall budget of $25 million. The contribution made by France was 50%, Canada 25%, and Singapore 25%. French animators came up with the creative concept and half of the script, while the Canadian studio took care of the post-production, music, story boards, and the other half of the script.

Here, however, we face another challenge that joint projects often face. Distributors’ expectations in terms of content differed across continents. While the French broadcasting company accentuated playfulness and fun, in Canada much greater attention was given to safety, including concerns about children imitating undesirable behaviour that appeared in the series. This resulted in a compromise.

In addition to the sharing of costs, risks, and markets, another advantage of collaboration is gaining access to special funds. In France and some other countries, co-productions are given special tax exemptions.

In conclusion to his frank presentation, which offered much valuable insight, Frédéric Puech noted that it is crucial to choose a suitable partner in terms of willingness to collaborate, openness of communication, and the will to share problems and prevent conflicts.

 

Frederick_PuechFrédéric Puech is one of the few producers in Western Europe with extensive experience in co-production with countries outside the region. Frédéric also sells selected animation projects from Eastern Europe to broadcasters in the West.

Planet Nemo is an independent production and distribution company, with its own studios in Paris and Lille. Its main activities include creative development, production investment insurance, and the production and co-production of animated and interactive works. The company focuses on 2D, 3D, and flash production. In 2010 and 2011, Planet Nemo was nominated for the “TV Producer of the Year” award by the French Producers Association PROCIREP, and in 2011 for the “European animation producer of the year” by the Cartoon Professional Association.

 

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