At Cartoon Business, experts reveal the golden rules for surviving animated co-productions
- Kristine M.I. Knudsen and Philippe Alessandri shared the dos and the don'ts for forming a creatively stimulating and financially solid co-production partnership
On Day 3 of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s Cartoon Business (8-10 December), moderated a panel entitled “How To Stop Your First Co-Production Killing You and Your Studio.” The speakers taking part in the discussion were Kristine M.I. Knudsen of Norway’s Den Siste Skilling and Germany’s Knudsen Pictures, and Philippe Alessandri of France’s Watch Next Media.
Knudsen, who moved from live action to animation, previously worked on Richard the Stork [+see also:
film profile] and is now preparing its sequel, whilst Alessandri has been working on a number of co-productions with Ireland, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, Germany and other countries.
The first topic of discussion was that of the mindset required to embark on a co-production journey, described by Alessandri as “generous, empathetic” and led by a “spirit of cooperation,” and by Knudsen as “humble but confident – humble because you are entering a new business, but confident because you still have something to offer” while “flirting” with potential co-producers.
“First of all, it’s important to assess the qualities and the flaws of your potential co-production partner. Is he too confident or conservative in financing? Is he a great creative producer?” he explained, advising to take note of these and to divide each other’s tasks in line with the different profiles and expertise.
“The good thing is that there are not that many players in animation attending markets, so you see the same people over and over again,” added Knudsen, who mentioned how crucial it is to investigate other people’s experiences with the potential co-production partner. Alessandri agreed with Knudsen and said that it was crucial to form a partnership that is somehow organic and functional to the project. Specifically, he mentioned the example of a show he worked on for which he needed to find an Italian partner. The team chose to work with Maga, defined by Alessandri as “one of the best 3D European animation studios” primarily to access their expertise and not just because they could get RAI’s substantial backing through said co-operation. As the president of Animation Europe, Alessandri asked Creative Europe for incentives to share the co-production and service work with Eastern European studios, which may be 15-20% more expensive than employing the Asian ones, but could bring back all the work contracted there and enhance intra-European co-productions.
After approaching a potential partner and before signing a formal agreement, Knudsen advised to start a testing phase with the common goal to work on a concrete deliverable – an animation test or a teaser, for example – to see how things could be in prospect, provisionally replicated on a smaller scale. Alessandri agreed with Knudsen and said that he usually writes a letter authorising his partners to pitch a show for a given period of time so that the teams involved can focus on different territories. With this approach, sometimes one can end up having two, three co-production partners and secure the budget, but a higher number of partners may include additional challenges, especially in terms of communication: “Most of the discussions focus on the creative and financing side of things. Creatively [speaking], it’s important to verify very soon that we’re all on the same page, and this also applies to broadcasters – the [collaboration] test could be done through a third script written in the co-production country, after providing a bible and two scripts, for example. [...] Financially speaking, the work on budgeting is the best experience you can gain. You’ll see whether the guy is honest and transparent, you’ll see if he is too confident or conservative, if he’s really experienced or if he recently switched to his role.”
Next, Lomas-Bullivant asked what the two experts would recommend doing after signing the agreement. “You need to check on the economical situation of your partners. Sometimes, you might end up working with companies with very bad cash flow. I’d recommend that, especially when you start. You might not have the confidence to do it, but you might find things out later down the line. Then I’d focus on having regular meetings, keeping creatives up to date, not falling into ‘emailing,’ talking in person and establishing human contacts. It’s all about the trust you build and things can go wrong owing to our cultural differences, so I’d recommend spending a lot of time, money, wine and great food so that this trust can be developed,” suggested Knudsen. “I always ask my co-producers for approval on key creatives. The reason for that is that sometimes you work with a co-producer who is not so experienced with co-productions, so you realise he has hired the wrong person – a storyboarder or an artist, for example – and you might find that out after a test,” concluded Alessandri.
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