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Industry Report: Animation

Case Study: Persepolis


- Former Head of business affairs at France 3 Cinéma, Marc-Antoine Robert has been in the movie business for 10 years. In 2004 he created 2.4.7. Films with Xavier Rigault. Persepolis [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Marc-Antoine Robert
interview: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Pa…
film profile
is their first production. Persepolis won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and has been sold worldwide.

In 1996, Marc Jousset founded the studio Je Suis Bien Content with Franck Ekinci. a polyvalent director ranging from commercials to institutional films, he develops his own projects in parallel, and supervises production of short films at JSBC. From 2005 to 2007, he was technical director and executive producer of the animated film Persepolis, written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Can you detail the various stages in the production of Persepolis?
The film is completely atypical and original. We found ourselves with the most un-glamorous pitch imaginable: an animated film in black and white telling the story of a young Iranian girl, for adults. But because we had an excellent scenario, we decided to send it out just as it was, and it worked. We were able to raise the financing of 6 million € relatively easily, given the challenge the film represented. And the production took 14 months, which is really very short.

Did you bank on the Cannes Festival for the success of this project?
As this was a very unusual film, we decided not to communicate on it: a total blackout. Three months before the selection for the Cannes Festival, we released information to only 2 prestigious publications, the New York Times and Telerama, where we appeared on the cover. Despite the very strong impact and requests for interviews, we resisted the temptation and remained in control of our communication. The aim was to create expectation, interest, and mystery around Persepolis. In Cannes we continued this strategy. As we knew we had a film that stood out on its own, we arranged a single showing at 4 pm, which is really not usual practice. The idea was to create a «buzz» around the film. Moreover, we were fortunately not mistaken, as the film was applauded for 25 minutes at the end of the projection, and became a true event.

And you continued your communication in an original manner?
We asked ourselves the question, looking at the core of our target audience. On the one hand these were people who had already read Persepolis the illustrated book and on the other, the internauts who gave life to the film via Myspace, by creating a "buzz" on the Internet. The day following the Cannes showing, we organised previews in many French towns, inviting the most active booksellers, readers and Net surfers. And word of mouth did the rest.

What was your international strategy?
Everything began at Cannes 2006. We succeeded in making a presale to the American studio Sony Classics, uniquely on the basis of the scenario, which is extremely rare. When other potential buyers knew of this, we had many demands, but we arranged to rendezvous with them at Cannes the following year, 2007. I hardly dare imagine the situation if we had not been selected for the Festival. The whole strategy rested on that. And it worked; 24 hours after the 2007 Cannes showing, we had sold the rights for the entire world.

How did the actual film-making take place?
We decided to do all of it in Paris; from A to Z, creation was at Je suis Bien Content, our little studio, where we had to put a larger structure in place. The tendency is to de-localize animation work; we did the opposite. We recruited and trained talented people leaving colleges and schools of fine arts…

We set out to make an animation film, but it was completely envisaged as a film of fiction. Therefore we shunned all the stereotypes of animation; the work of montage was essential to give the film its rhythm. Our film had many dialogues and was quite static. We got the dynamic back into the script with atypical cutting for a film of animation, with characters speaking off, with cuts in mid-sentence…

What was your option for the animation technique?
We immediately put aside the "cartoon" style, which was out of the question, we did not want deformation of features, and obviously we went towards a realistic animation, but graphically very stylised. A great deal of work went into research on the movement of the characters, as well as the finalisation of the images. We tried several animation techniques, 3D, 2D on a graphics palette, but we were not convinced we had complete control of the characters and their appearance; therefore we opted for traditional 2D. We could treat the image very strongly on a hierarchical basis, with characters in strongly contrasted black and white, with decors more in greys and texture.

In what way was Marjane Satrapi involved?
She was there all the time. This permitted us to make decisions rapidly and efficiently. Marjane did not know the animation profession, but she immersed herself totally in the making of the film, with the energy and concentration we expected of her. It is she who created the 600 characters; she made an absolute point of maintaining the authenticity of the characters, with a true respect for the people she had known.

You succeeded in bringing together an impressive voice casting...
To us, it is a source of pride to have voices such as Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux and Gabrielle Lopez. Given the reactions we had to this aspect of the film, we realised that we were not mistaken!

Cartoon Master Potsdam, Germany, November 2007


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