Ben Stassen • Director of The Queen’s Corgi
“As soon as we announce another project in production, it’s as good as sold in 50 to 60 countries”
by Aurore Engelen
- We met up with producer and director Ben Stassen, a pioneer of 3D who’s bringing out his 9th feature film, The Queen’s Corgi
On the release of The Queen’s Corgi [+see also:
interview: Ben Stassen
film profile], the 9th full-length animated film by Ben Stassen and nWave studios, Cineuropa took the opportunity to meet up with the director and producer whose studio is one of the rare, independent entities able to rival American animation studios. At our request, he looks back on the story of his success. The film will be distributed in Belgium by Belga as of 4 April, by Apollo in France as of 10 April, and by Lionsgate in the UK at the beginning of July.
Cineuropa: Could you tell us about your company, nWave, in a few words?
Ben Stassen: It’s a fully integrated mini-studio: we “make” the images, but we also handle project development, marketing… We create our own content, which is pretty unique. There are lots of excellent animation studios in Belgium, for example, who mostly provide services for other producers. We, on the other hand, we’re in sole command; we develop, we produce, we finance, and we distribute our products worldwide.
Is 3D a whole new cinematic language for you?
For me, 3D is the second great film revolution, after the transition towards talking pictures. The transition from 2D to 3D had and still does have the potential to be revolutionary. But in order for the revolution to take place, we have to fully invest. That’s what I did with our first two feature films, Fly Me to the Moon [+see also:
film profile] and Sammy’s Adventures: The Secret Passage [+see also:
film profile]. To my knowledge, Fly Me to the Moon is the only film to have been released exclusively in 3D. At the time, it was absolutely crazy - it was before Avatar! 3D has this exceptional potential because it offers audiences a totally different experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t take off because even though cinemas put the equipment in place, no filmmaker ever used 3D as a new language, apart from, in my opinion, Cuaron with Gravity. Today, everything is transformed in the post-production stages, we add a bit of depth artificially, but the public is growing bored of this. We continue to make films in 3D, despite all this, because several large markets for it do still remain, such as China or Russia. The Queen’s Corgi just came out in Holland, where it met with phenomenal success: 500,000 admissions in 1 month, a third of which in 3D, which is huge. In Belgium, 3D might account for 10 to 15% of admissions. In France, it’s less than 10%. People no longer want to pay more to see 2.5D films, let alone 2.25D. For me, it’s really frustrating because I’m convinced that 3D can offer a whole other experience.
What is your target market?
We can’t make a profit on a film costing over 10 million euros if we limit ourselves to large European countries. I won’t even talk about Belgium and films costing over 2 million… We make films that cost 20 million euros, so we’re “condemned” to selling them all over the world. We have a good international reputation after 9 feature films, and as soon as we announce another project in production, it’s as good as sold in 50 to 60 countries. It’s very hard for us to distribute our films in the American market because it’s very protectionist. We’re locked out by the big studios who bring out two animation films per year at the very least. There are very few film release windows in the US. But this drawback in the US is an advantage on the international scene; all the independent distributors know that family films are the most profitable. And all the high-level family films, or almost all of them, are produced by American studios who distribute their films themselves! So independent distributers are thrilled to be able to negotiate with independent producers, to get loss-leaders on their books.
Does it pay to target very young audiences?
It’s an approach we’ve taken from the very beginning. We wanted to target a younger audience than the Americans do. They aim for a very wide audience, which leaves a gap in the market for movies geared towards 4-8-year-olds. Our competitors aren’t other European companies who do animation, they’re Pixar! Specialising in films branded “young children allowed” is an advantage. That said, with The Queen’s Corgi, it’s the first time that we’ve featured a storyline which can be understood on two levels. Dogs talk to children, humans (notably the royal couple, or Donald Trump) talk to bigger humans. I hope we’ll win parents over even more with this film. Initially, the distributers wanted to aim the film at a very young, predominantly female audience. But when they saw the feedback given in response to the trailer released by Lionsgate in autumn, which got 20 million views on Facebook in two weeks, they saw that the audience was much larger than they thought…
(Translated from French)
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