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CASE STUDY: “Richard the Stork”. Background of a successful European co-production.

The producer of the film “Richard the Stork” Kristine Knudsen was among the speakers at the international co-production workshop organised by the Association of Czech Animation Film in Prague from 25th October to 26th October 2018.

A colourful co-production of four European countries (Germany, Belgium, Norway, and Luxembourg) was screened last summer in the Czech distribution of Bontonfilm. The creators have devised an adventurous story of an orphan sparrow that grows up in a family of storks, who the sparrow decides to follow on their long journey to Africa. The film was sold to 155 countries and seen by over 3.6 million viewers.
Kristine Knudsen, who in her own words devoted 9 years of her life to the film, told the audience – consisting mainly of professional producers – what was behind its success and what the criteria and pitfalls of European distribution are.

CRITERIA OF SUCCESS AND CHALLENGES FROM DEVELOPMENT TO DISTRIBUTION

Can you define the biggest challenge of the project?
Right from the very beginning it was the theme: we came up with an original topic that nobody knew. In addition, Germany is a fairly conservative market. But we were lucky that our script was written from the heart and could catch people’s interest. The screenwriter Reza Memari grew up in Germany as the son of immigrants from Iran, which was where his story was inspired from – a hero who feels different but wishes to become integrated. In addition to Reza, there were external consultants from the USA collaborating on the scripts, who fine-tuned the comedic points. On the whole, 6 versions of the script were created in the development stage.

Did the visual style develop as well, or did you stick to your initial idea?
The visual style changed several times, always based on testing and feedback. Focus group testing was one of the conditions for distribution, and even though you believe in your own idea, this eventually turned out to be very inspiring. It was done via focus groups where children were shown the characters to determine how much they like and identify with them. We also received valuable feedback from our sales agents, who were out in the field with excerpts of the film before it was finished as a whole.

How did the co-production and division of work function among the four countries?
The biggest challenge for international co-productions is that you work in several teams which may never meet in person. You need a very strong team spirit. At the same time, the diversity of creators ensures the quality of film and that it communicates in several cultures. When approaching partners, the key question is the content: is it interesting for the other side, can they imagine co-operation on the topic, and does it have a chance to find a place in their hearts as it has in yours?
In the end, our project had 5 co-producers: two from Germany – Knudsen & Streuber Medienmanufaktur and Ulysses Filmproduction, the Belgian Walking the Dog studio, Melusine Productions from Luxembourg and my Norwegian Company Den Siste Skilling. We tried to achieve balanced co-production shares: 34% Germany, 33% Belgium, 20% Luxembourg, 13% Norway.
You naturally divide the roles according to the strengths of each studio. But the division of work between countries must be fair – it is impossible to do the animation exclusively in one country, post-production in another, etc. We’re all in the same boat. Storyboards were designed in two countries, and animation was prepared simultaneously in three countries. It obviously has its pitfalls, for example when two studios do the rendering with different software …

Will you tell us what the project budget was and what was your funding strategy?
In the beginning we started from comparable, already-produced feature-length animated films. The budget eventually climbed to about 10 million euros. A total of 25 different partners were involved in the funding and 65% of it was covered with public funds.
It turned out to be a good strategy to approach the same players for both the development of the project and the production where it was in their interest to bring the project to successful completion. For us, the support of FFA (Filmförderungsanstalt = German Federal Film Board) was crucial – it is a prestigious organization that opened doors to other resources. For international projects, the rule is that 50% of the budget needs to be secured at a national level before foreign co-productions are to be negotiated.

How challenging is the handling of applications and the grant administration?
Very. Not only the administration itself but also the time it consumes. It took 24 months, which is similar to the production itself, which takes 2-3 years on average.

Do you have any recommendations on marketing?
Plan the production of attractive assets from the film in advance which can be used for marketing (teaser, posters, work in progress samples). Animated movies for families have a great potential as the family entertainment segment will always be in demand.
It paid off not to splurge on the teaser – a good preview is what sells the project.
Next, it is definitely good to use other sales promotion channels such as children’s books, mascots, brand clothing or mobile gaming applications. We have to count on separate funding for gaming and mobile applications and have a prepared strategy for their use.

And finally, any recommendations for distribution and sales?
The role of the sales agent is key: it must be a person you trust. This sounds like a cliché, but it’s really good to choose someone with experience with a similar type of film who knows the territories where you want to sell the project. It is also important to start selling in time. In our case it was two years before the start of production. Sales to foreign markets are arranged territorially (e.g. if you sell for example to France, it includes African countries that used to be french colonies). Of course, you want to occupy densely populated markets – Richard the Stork had the highest viewer attendance in France, Latin- America and Russia.


Interview was led by Mirka Reifová

Kristine Knudsen
producer, Knudsen & Streuber Medienmanufaktur

  • Vice President of the European Animation Awards, Member of the European Film Academy and German Film Academy and holds lectures and workshops around Europe.
  • studied Film theory in Lillehammer (Norway) and graduated in Film production at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg (Germany) followed by training at MEGA – Master in Audiovisual Management at Media Business School in Ronda (Spain) and EAVE – European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs.
  • in 2006, she co-founded Knudsen & Streuber Medienmanufaktur GmbH in Berlin and in 2010 she founded Den siste skilling AS in Bergen, both boutique production companies for film. Her track record includes the feature films Nade/Mercy (dir.: Matthias Glasner, Drama, Berlinale Competition 2012, GER, NOR) and Hevn / Revenge (dir: Kjersti G. Steinsbø, Thriller, 2015, NOR, CAN) as well as the original story animated feature Richard the Stork (dir.: Toby Genkel & Reza Memari, Family Entertainment, Berlinale Generation 2017, GER, BEL, LUX, NOR).
  • was nominated for “European Animation Producer of the year 2017” at Cartoon Movie and was awarded the Bavarian Film Award for “Best German Childrens Film” 2018.
  • Currently she is executive producing Titina (dir.: Kajsa Næss, Mikrofilm, NOR, BEL, FR ) as well as financing Richard the Stork 2 and developing Checkmate.

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