"An eminently European film"
by Fabien Lemercier
- The producer from French company Les Armateurs analyses the genesis of an original European co-production and discusses the future of animated films in Europe
After producing Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), Princes and Princesses (2000) and Kirikou and the Wild Beasts [+see also:
film profile] (2005), Sylvain Chomet’s Belleville Rendez-Vous [+see also:
film profile] (2003) and Danish director Jannik Hastrup’s co-production The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear (2002), Paris-based company Les Armateurs went on to play a key role in the birth of The Secret of Kells [+see also:
interview: Didier Brunner
interview: Tomm Moore
interview: Viviane Vanfleteren
Cineuropa: What attracted you to the Irish project for an animated adaptation of the Book of Kells?
Didier Brunner: The short pilot project I saw at Cartoon Movies in 2001 made a strong impression on me. There was graphic originality and a legend that is deeply rooted in Celtic culture, but is also universal. The story centred more on the notion of rebellious artists and the origin of the Book of Kells. It wasn’t an easy story to tell to our target family audience, starting with children aged five. We therefore asked Tomm Moore to rethink the screenplay with clearer stakes between the main characters.
How did you get the €6.5m budget together?
The initiative came from Ireland (Cartoon Saloon), but we soon took the reins of the project. And it’s quite a feat trying to secure partners such as France Télévisions and Canal + for a project that is certainly European but not 100% French. We thus hired some domestic talents, for the storyboard (Rémi Chayé), music (Bruno Coulais) and screenplay (Fabrice Ziolkowski). But this fit in with our approach at Armateurs: an auteur project with all that entails in terms of production risks, a screenplay that wasn’t formatted, original graphics and a 2D film. This is the exact opposite of what today’s European and US animated blockbusters offer.
Belgian company Vivi Film were also enthusiastic about the project. Celluloid Dreams took charge of international sales with a minimum guarantee of €250,000. And Gebeka Films will distribute the title in France, where they have managed to create a niche for animated films that are different from the mainstream fare offered by the majors – an alternative to Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Universal and, why not, EuropaCorp.
Hungary was also involved in the production of the film.
Our budget meant that it was not possible for the director in Ireland to keep full control over the animation. We examined the possibilities for him to keep artistic control and go and work in countries whose cultural sensibilities are not so far removed.
On principle, Tomm Moore ruled out the idea of Asia and he’d already worked with Hungarian company Kecskemet (who also collaborated on Kirikou). But part of the animation work was carried out in Belgium and most of the image post-production in France. The Secret of Kells is an eminently European film in terms of its financing, production and cultural rootedness.
How do you see the immediate future for animation in France and Europe?
Competition is getting tougher. It’s increasingly difficult to make a success of original films because audiences and critics are more interested in titles that are better marketed and sold in terms of distribution.
Since the creation of Armateurs, our policy has been to use completely different graphic and narrative approaches for each film. Every film is unique and that’s what excites us: we’re passionate about auteur works that are simultaneously popular films that open viewers up to the wealth of the animation medium and are not solely limited to 3D with standard storylines and relatively similar graphics.