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Industry Report: Animation

Financing small budget productions


- Eric Jacquot presented the compatibilities between the Belgian and French tax shelters. With a reduced staff based entirely in France and Belgium, Blue Spirit is able to finance low budget series assembling broadcasters, public national funds, regional subsidies, tax shelter and minima guarantees for international and video sales.

Financing small budget productions

Eric Jacquot began his career at TOTAL where he was responsible for the audiovisual service. In 1990, he created TEVA, a subsidiary of TOTAL dealing with corporate production and post-production and was its managing director until 2004. During this time, he also created the company Toon’s Factory in 1995 as TEVA’s animation subsidiary, which specialised in animation services for Hanna Barbera, Ellipse, Nelvana, Carrere, and Elma. In 1999, he became President of Toon Factory (production and animation services).
In 2004, he left TOTAL and founded Spirit Productions of which he is President and majority shareholder. There he has developed the production and servicing of animated series and both animated and live action feature films.

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What is the production strategy of Spirit Production?
Spirit Production was founded in August 2004. Spirit is a subsidiary of the French group Telfrance, the second largest producer of fiction in France, which wished to diversify into animation.
The Spirit Production development strategy is articulated around two poles of activities: the first is the service activity, thanks to the creation of two studios in Angoulême and Brussels; the second activity is production.
Three years ago, we decided to produce from within our company. We thought about projects that could be financed and produced quite rapidly. Therefore, we envisaged productions that would enable us to work in a reduced and very close team. All our productions must be made in our studios. Hence, there is a very large writing task to format the episodes with few scenes and few new characters. In the Grabouillon series, for example, we had six characters and a dozen decors. The producer and the writing director validate all the scenarios to ensure the economy of characters and scenes is respected.

We try to limit interventions by having few coproducers and few broadcasters. In general, we work with a single distributor to avoid having to bring several distributors into agreement, which takes up a great deal of time. To have a minimum of interlocutors allows us to reduce the production costs.
The limitation of this strategy is that up to now we have worked on half-formats, without going beyond 50 episodes of 6.5 minutes. We limit ourselves to the production of one series per year and budgets of around €2.7 million.

We develop series that are internationally saleable. The key to the rapid financing of series produced by Spirit is the distribution’s Guaranteed Minimum. We try to ensure sizeable GMs, which is not always easy.

What is your assessment after three years of production?
We produced Grabouillon for France 5, made in 18 months. We aim to maximise the rights. For the Grabouillon series, for instance, France 5 holds 20% and S pirit holds 80%.
We started work a few months ago on the second Grabouillon series in the same format.

Can you give us some examples of production budget?
Two typical cases are Grabouillon, financed by France 5, and Pahé, which is a Franco-Belgian project.
Grabouillon could be financed within a large country like France. T he broadcaster is a key figure, as we cannot unlock the national financial supports without a TV distributor. Because all the work was undertaken in France, we received a CNC bonus of 20%. The video GM and international distribution represent significant sums. We were able to buckle the financing in 3 months. Production, including writing, lasted 18 months.
Pahé is a more difficult case and exceeded our means in single production. This is a series of 78 episodes of 7 minutes. We were unable to finance the production completely within France and had to turn to Belgium to be able to set up the project. France 3 is the series broadcaster.

The production constraints are linked to our strategy. We check that the entire range of pre-production elements (number of characters, number of decors), as well as the writing, is reduced, and that no element can interrupt the production. This requires a great effort in production follow-up.

Cartoon Master Munich, Germany, June 2008

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