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Industry Report: Distribution and exhibition

The international distribution of Niko - The way to the Stars


- Irina Ignatiew is Executive Vice President International of Telepool GmbH München. She heads the world sales division of international distributor Telepool, and is responsible for the sales of more than 20.000 hours and growing TV library including the vast catalog of Germany’s No. 1 commercial broadcaster RTL, as well as a variety of theatrical feature films, including international animation hit Niko and The Way to the Stars, Walt Disney Germany’s Lilly the Witch, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Angelface and Marleen Gorries’ Within the Whirlwind starring Oscar Nominee Emily Watson.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

When and why did you get involved in the feature film Niko and The Way to the Stars?
It really started in the Cartoon Movie in March 2006. My colleagues saw these crazy guys with reindeer antlers in the top of their heads and they thought “oh! That’s must be something special, we should investigate that further”. And we very happily get involved in the production as sales agents and co-producers since 2006.

We organised with the producers a little press conference at the Cannes Festival to officially sign the contract. We were already actively pitching the project to the international market places.

I think Petteri Pasanen (the Finnish producer) did a very good walkthrough in terms of the selling process. We always rely on the material the producer creates for us, so that we can use that for our international pitch. Sometimes we get terribly on the producer’s nerves and say “look, we have a deadline, we need to produce the flyer, we need the trailer to show it to the international market, we need to show the improvement of any animation process”.

It took us two years in pitching, until we finally were able to screen the final cut in Cannes in 2008.

Which elements did you used to pitch the project?
We started in Cannes with an initial script, pitching the story to the clients, sending out the script with a short trailer DVD. Very quickly we were able to secure some territories. We have been lucky to pick up on the fabulous presentation the producers had made in the Cartoon Movie to maximize the minimum guarantee that we get out of our territory.

Filmax bought the film in 2006 before AFM. They are releasing it this year, it took them three years to make a decision on when to launch it!

In the AFM 2006, we continued with the extended video footage. I think it’s a difficult way to approach the international market place, you can’t show this kind of footage to everybody. You can show it to people who know the animation process, who has experience in releasing animated films and know how long it takes to render it.

In Berlin 2007 we wanted to have a creative flyer, but we were too early in the production process. Usually a flyer has four pages: the artwork in the front, two pages with the synopsis and a couple of pictures from the film in the middle and contact information, cast and credit in the backside. We didn’t think at that early point that it would be a good idea to do that because we just didn’t have glossy enough pictures from the film and the characters weren’t fully developed. We decided to use the scribbles of the art directors and use that for a sketchbook. We had the trailer and the script on the top of it. This was a good package for the international clients. This was so popular that we had to reprint the sketchbook four times. It worked fairly well on an early stage of the presentation pitch.

In the Cannes Festival 2007, we reprinted the artwork with more information. We were finally able to show much more formed characters and turnarounds. We showed the trailer where Niko and Julius are having a conversation and presenting their story to the audience, which really worked in terms of sales.

How did you sell the film in the English speaking territories?
In AFM 2007 we concluded a deal for all the English speaking territories with Weinstein Company. I was sitting in my booth at AFM and suddenly I have a representative of Weinstein Company coming. He just said “you are the sales person?”, “Yes” and “Do you know the film?” “Yes!” “Pitch it”.

I pitched the film and he like it. He tried to check me out, to know if I knew what I was doing. He made a very simple comment: “Irina, I want you to know that we want this film, we want to distribute it and we are willing to pay a lot of money for it and I will make sure that we get it”. He get up and leave.

Did you sell the film in France?
The deal was very easy, I was called by Roch Lener of Bac Films and we concluded the contract very soon.

What did you do in Berlin 2008?
We organised a distributor meeting. This is very important to market a film. It is very useful to bring all the partners - producers, distributors, potential distributors - to a presentation where the producers can present new visuals and answer questions from distributors.

And finally, after two years of development, you arrived in Cannes 2008…
In Cannes 2008 we had a full house screening with applause from the audience.

Did you spend a lot of money in marketing this project?
No, the marketing campaign was simple, we believed that we do not have to spend a lot of money to promote the film, because the characters and the story were adorable themselves. The selling was done by travelling and talking to people and showing them every single step in the production process and keeping them updated.

What are the inputs you gave to the production?
We had a long discussion about the name of the protagonist at very early stage. The main character used to be called Rusty. We felt that Rusty was a little overused for a little reindeer. We then though about Miko, with an M, but the sales agent says “Oh, no, because Miko is an ice-cream in Italy and it’s a girl name in Japan!”. This is the kind of feedback we gave on very early stages.

Did you sold the film in many territories?
Yes, we sold it to a hundred of territories. In China and India we sold it twice. One territory that remains unsold is Japan. We believe in Japan Christmas is not a priority, and they are more into a different type of animation.

Did the film worked well in terms of admissions?
In terms of admission it was very successful in France and Scandinavia, enormously successful in the Benelux. I do want to point out the distributor we chose wasn’t the one who paid the highest minimum guarantee. It’s something that producers need to know: sometimes it’s better to get a smaller MG and spend a little more passion into the project and into the release of the film, and to be able to generate high figures.

In Russia, it didn’t do so well, South Korea was pretty much of a flop, the same goes for Slovakia and Check Republic.

This Christmas 2009 in Germany the film is going out on more than 400 prints; in Spain with 270 prints; in Italy it’s going to be a very small platform release, because we sold it to Media Set and only after theatrical and video right to a smaller distributor, so about 50 prints; and there is also Easter Europe, Latin America and Indonesia.

How did you work the artwork with local distributors?
I think it’s very important to give the distributor as much possibilities as possible to adapt the artwork. We took a very close look together with the producers and approved all the artwork, but we want to give the distributor the possibility to make an adaptation.

The producers created very different designs and the distributors in their respective territories were able to adapt them to their local needs.

What is the driving force of the film?
The story is the real driving force and, of course, the beautiful animation and the cuteness of the characters.

In your experience as a sales agent is the element of cuteness and sweetness an element that you found extremely important? Being animation did it need to be adorable or not necessarily?
Not necessarily. For this subject, it was very important because you try to attract the entire family, so if you try to attract young children, and the mothers, you need that kind of appeal. And it works with the season: you want a family film, you want to see the adventure of that little reindeer, it needs to be funny and cute.


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