The inside story of a European co-production
by Fabien Lemercier
- After an early career at United Artists, Léon Zuratas became an independent producer in the 1970s...
After an early career at United Artists, Léon Zuratas became an independent producer in the 1970s producing such films as Henning Carlsen’s Oviri (1986) and then ventured into animation with Réné Laloux’s Gandahar (1988) and Philippe Leclerc’s The Rain Children (2003).
When did you start working on Princess of the Sun [+see also:
interview: Léon Zuratas
interview: Philippe Leclerc
film profile] ?
In 2000, my production partner Philippe Alessandri recommended I read Christian Jacq’s novel, La Reine Soleil, suggesting that it could make a good animated feature. When I read it I was enthusiastic and in January 2001 I took a rather expensive decision and bought the rights to the book from Editions Julliard. We were interested in the content, but also in the fact that the author was well-known. Of course, I proposed the project right away to Philippe Leclerc, who I had worked with on two previous occasions, and we started production at the end of June 2004.
How did you put together the €5.3m budget?
I presented the project to the usual places and France 3 Cinéma said they would back it (€450,000, 50% in co-production, 50% in pre-sales), so did Canal+. We also asked Rezo Films to co-produce (15%) and to handle the title’s French distribution and international sales. We were refused advances on receipts on the basis that the script – while of good quality – was too commercial, so we would easily find funding abroad. But the problem is that animated films don’t get produced abroad, only co-produced with tax shelter funding when available and sometimes even that is found only as the film is in production, which is very risky. So we co-produced with Cinemon (Hungary) for all the manufacturing, which took until October 2006, and worked with Y.C. Aligator Film (Belgium) on the post-production.
What have you learned from this European experience?
The collaboration with Cinemon turned out to be disappointing, damaging even, as the producer created many problems for us. Fortunately, the compositing was wonderfully done by the Hungarian company GreyKid and I have to praise the work of some local animated film stars, in particular Peter Tenkei. But Philippe Leclerc’s French team had to do half of the storyboard (all of which was supposed to be done in Hungary), a third of the lay-out and most of the model pack. We produced abroad in order to keep costs down and the Hungarian tax shelter worked out very well, but the studios are difficult outfits to manage. They are set up with financial enthusiasm in countries with an artistic history (local talents in animation and in live action) at prices three or four times less. But the development of these studios costs enormous sums and they run the risk of bankruptcy without regular business. This is why animation studios no longer exist in France, but we still have highly talented animators.