Roch Lener • Millimages
Series vs Features : the main differences
by Cartoon, European Association of Animation Film
28/11/2005 - Copyright Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film Cartoon Master Postdam, Germany, November 2005
In 1993 he took over the animation production company Millimages, where he has been President for 12 years. With the acquisition of Gedeon Programmes in 2002, one of the European leaders in documentaries, and the acquisition of Bac Films in May 2004, a flagship feature film distribution company, Millimages expanded its services into audiovisual production and film distribution.
What is the policy of Millimages concerning TV series and Feature Films?
Millimages have produced a lot of series, perhaps 20 and participated in 4 or 5 feature films as a service company or a minority co-production partner before we started to produce our own feature films, that was three years ago. The two films we are producing now are not yet released. One is Renaissance, a CGI movie, 15 million euros, very difficult to raise the finance. It took three years to finance and the second is Piccolo and Saxo, also a CGI movie based on the existing property, a music piece, very well known in France as it was used in the schools to educated the kids about music. There have been several attempts to do a feature of Piccolo and Saxo, for the last fifteen years. Finally it is in production and will be released next year. So, the title of this feature versus series, as a producer we should talk about ‘properties’, that’s what we do we develop properties. There is a property, it could be a book developed into a series, into a musical, into a feature film, into a programme for mobile phones, in the best case scenario it should be everywhere, to get awareness and be exploited in all media. That’s where the money is.
A feature seems the same as a series, because it’s 75 – 80 minutes and should not be too difficult when you know how to produce a series. And that’s what we think - until we do it.
What are your discoveries in the process of making a feature?
First the writing: for a feature there is one script and this script is very unique. When you have a script, the question could be can you make two stories out of that script? If the answer is yes it means that you don’t have a script. A script should tell one story. Not two or three. Also another question, it’s a lot of work a script, in a very large organised company it’s maybe achievable in 4-5 months but in my experience the script took 2 years before we could use it as a tool to raise the financing. It’s a very very long process. In a feature film when you start your production, you go into storyboarding and then into animatic and then every step will change dialogue, change scenes, you discover a new scene that you could integrate and make it funnier. You change a dialogue line, you change the editing. Till the last day, until you do the editing, very big things can change, they are just expensive to change so you better change the minimum amount. The budget’s are very tight especially in Europe so you have to decide what you can change and what you cannot change.
In writing a series, what you try to find is an engine, a mechanism. The best way is to have a concept. The best one is one that you can tell your broadcaster or to your team in a few sentences. And after you tell it, they start to develop their own stories with your engine and that’s the best concept you can have. Sometimes, not very often, I made a presentation and I had the series financed without even one script. Nobody asked for that script. I am not saying it is usually the case! Usually you need the script but it happened. At a Cartoon Forum, Red Fox was sold in one presentation, just like that. And we did not have a script. For a series, you have your concept which is very good, one script to prove that it actually works.
Piccolo and Saxo, I am very much hands on, every week we change something because the more you progress, the more you understand the movie. You control your characters, you understand their psychology. I could do it because we produced it in French, I could never do it in English. It’s a very collective work, it’s more collective artistically speaking that a TV series but there has to be a key person and he has to work in his mother language, if not he will miss a lot of things. Ice Age, the script is very simple, the plot is very simple but the way it is developed, it is very sophisticated and they way they include the gags, it’s very fine. It’s very good, finding the right lines, making the gags work. I am sure that the original script did not integrate most of what they ended up with.
How important is the Design for you?
Very important both for series and for features. Even from one to the other. If you go to a feature you have to find a story, that is not one expanded episode, it has to be made with very different ingredients. If not, you will have an inflated episode. And that’s not going to work. But when you talk of design, you have to consider the change of frame. With most of the TV properties, you have to do the work to give it width and depth that makes the design interesting. On some designs, it took us maybe six to eight months to crack the design to make it interesting for the big screen. At first it seems to be the same (as the TV series) but it’s absolutely not. It needs a lot of work.
What are the differences in producing a TV series and a Feature?
A series is an organised system of production. Script, storyboard, animatics to lay-out etc and once it’s in the pipeline, you don’t work on the story after you have done the storyboard. You don’t work on the storyboard after you have done the lay-out etc etc. Very seldom do you go back along the pipeline. Only when you really have to. On a feature, it’s very interactive, coming back to the previous step, changing things.
Feature is like working on a prototype, it’s a unique piece. And artistically speaking it is a more collective work than a TV series. Because it’s delicate work and there are more ideas in 12 heads than in one. I think it should always be the case that someone can come up with an idea and it could be in the movie. People must be involved enough to do that. Also, legally, the author’s contract should be done in such a way that it is possible. If you have a contract that says you can’t change a line without approval of the writer then you could be in big trouble. One misplaced ego could ruin your property. Because then all the team would not be able to bring their added value.
A series has a stronger division of labour between the categories. Layout artists very often do not know the storyboard artist, storyboard artists very often do not know the writers. So it’s a more divided process.
What are the main markets for Series and Features?
The main market for a feature and a series is totally different. For a series, you have your project, you put your budget together and you go and see the broadcasters. Once your series is on a TV channel, you control very little of it. You are part of the broadcaster’s mix and it’s the broadcaster’s market. Each broadcaster has its business. And they buy your shows, it’s a business to business relationship. Whereas in a feature, the consumer is coming in the theatre to see your product. So this difference affects all the decisions you have to make. The size of the budget, the financing package, defining your audience, with a feature you find your audience because you try to reach a certain category of viewers, with your marketing strategy.