At Cartoon Business, panellists share three innovative concepts for financing animation
- The talk explored Sow You Entertainment’s fair collaboration agreement, Aeon’s talent programme and mass co-production model, and Andarta Pictures’ new series financing model
On 16 November, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s Cartoon Business hosted a talk titled “New Innovative Ideas in Animation Financing. Take 3 Fresh Concepts!”, moderated by Vanessa Chapman. The floor was given to John Reynolds, of Ireland’s Sow You Entertainment; Sophie Saget, of France’s Andarta Pictures; and Mladen Dukić, of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Aeon.
Reynolds described Sow You Entertainment as “an incubation hub for creators” and a place where “ideas go to grow. [...] There are so many great studios in Ireland, and we don’t want to compete with them. We wanted to do something different and look at ourselves to develop ideas. We wanted to focus on five or six projects. We have the same philosophy about how creators should be treated,” he said.
Sow You’s business model is not based on an option agreement but, rather, on a collaboration agreement: “We actually want them [the creators] to work 100% with us, develop it [the project] and bring it to the marketplace. We expect them to be working with us, and we go 50/50 [in terms of shares].” The leading trio of the company, which includes Reynolds himself along with showrunner Chris Dicker and executive producer Lena Byrne, aims to form true, long-term partnerships with creators, wherein credits are shared fairly.
Dukić spoke about his company, currently employing 18 people and founded 14 years ago within the country’s “non-existent industry”. He explained how Aeon ended up being a victim of the catch-22 paradox, as the studio had a hard time receiving funding and partnerships to embark on bigger projects without having had the opportunity to build up trust or a solid track record. “Out of true despair, we had to think of something else. [...] Then the lightbulb switched on.”
Dukić, who also works as an animation lecturer, realised how much effort it takes to train “students who simply can’t get work once out of college”. The idea was to find a way put them to work, while ensuring high quality standards and delivering content on time. He recalled how, once, while working on a sitcom, one of the producers left the project a few weeks before entering production, thus slashing the overall budget by 10%. The only choice they had was to work with trainees and really make them “part of the production”.
To empower such a workforce on their own productions, Aeon tasks its animation-artist trainees “to work on real IPs” under “professional supervision, while implementing a mass co-production model”, wherein “hundreds of co-producers are on board and get their shares”. One of the projects adhering to this model is the 13x11-minute series Misfits Biscuits, the first episode of which has already entered production. The project sparked the interest of the local Ministry of Culture and Epic Games, which both granted their support. There is a particular focus on recent graduates, who can benefit from enriching their portfolio, gaining new contacts and receiving “an honest performance report”.
Finally, Saget touched upon Andarta Pictures’ line-up and service-production work, adding how difficult it was initially to produce animated projects in France that go beyond the typical “standalone comedy/adventure/sitcom series”, often budgeted at €6-9 million and ending up having, on average, ten hours of content.
The new model proposed by Andarta centres on “high-end content” and “serialised sagas”, covering genres such as fantasy and sci-fi, where the number of hours of content shrinks to between three and five, but where the budget bracket remains at €6-9 million. The challenge was to assemble the same type of budget while producing shorter projects. One of the options, she suggested, is to bridge the gap with an international streamer, but she reminded those present that that is a “long-term route” that requires “many drinks at MIPCOM”, “a lot of money spent at Kidscreen in Miami”, a “pitch in five minutes in perfect US English”, and “finding unemployed US showrunners and writers”. There is also the inevitable fear that mergers or executive changes may disrupt the project. She also pointed out how working with a platform would mean “no space for distributors” and the producer’s work being reduced to that of “a line producer, instead of that of an executive”.
The new, alternative funding model that she proposed sees a combination of different financing sources: the producers’ own investment (6%), the crowdfunding campaign (9%, great for studying the audience segments you’re targeting) and CNC/regional/tax credit funds (35%), with additional backing coming from co-production partners (20%), pre-sales (11%) and broadcasters (14%). She also mentioned the “Creative Innovation Loans” made available by BPI France. These are loans without a guarantee on the company or its manager, which provide financing of between €50,000 and €400,000 (per balance sheet or period of 12 months). With this model, local streamers (in this case, the likes of Benshi or VOD Factory) play a minor role only when it comes to the second distribution window.
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