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Nathalie Altmann • M6

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Cet article est disponible en anglais.

Copyright Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film, Cartoon Master Postdam, Germany, November 2005

Natalie Altmann joined M6 in 1997 where she heads the children’s programmes department (M6 Kid). Amongst other responsibilities, she overseas co-productions and acquisition of animated series, as well as the production of the in-house programmes broadcast within the children’s slots.

Can a TV series be made into a feature and the other way around, can a film be made into a TV series?

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On important thing in a series is to find the mechanism. A series is all about recurrence, the more the better, for instance if you look at some animated series like Totally Spies, or Atomic Betty, you have the character/s who transform. You want that to happen in every episode, and in every episode perhaps a briefing from an outside character, you want a way for the characters to solve a story like in Scooby Doo, you may want one character to appear in every episode as a kind of trade mark. But in a movie you don’t want recurrence as this could be boring. Remember a movie is not a juxtaposition of many little stories, it is one big story. So this is also very true for characters. The key in a movie character is to try and find some kind of evolution. The character Asterix and Obelix and the characters in Wallace and Gromit are like icons. It’s difficult to make them evolve but you have to find a way in the story to do that, often through relationships. But if you do a series with this character, you don’t have that problem. You just want them to have to go through funny adventures. It must have been one of the big issues for Wallace and Gromit in making a movie compared to the short films. When you talk about movie versus series, in a series you have the constraints of the broadcaster. Because you provide something of course for an audience but also for a broadcaster’s needs and broadcasters generally need self-contained episodes. Although at M6, we find it is very nice to have some kind of arc within the story, especially if you are talking about a quest, where the characters can evolve from the beginning of episode 1 through to the end of episode 26, that can be very nice but the episodes still have to be understood as self-contained episodes. And in a movie, you don’t have that constraint.
In terms of tone also, this is very general, for instance do you have an innovative personal vision you want to develop? If you really have something very innovative, you may want to go for feature because a broadcaster for a series will put you in a little box. Because it corresponds to its needs. Better maybe go for a feature as you may be unhappy at the compromises you have to make. What level of emotion? Usually in a movie theatre, you want to go through all kinds of emotions, you want to laugh, you want to cry, so if you really emotions in your project, tears and laughter are better experience in the theatre rather in front of the TV set. Although emotion is something we don’t have enough of in TV series. It would be good to have emotion brought back to TV episodes.

What are the questions a producer should ask when producing a TV series or a feature?

What is your intent? Do you want to develop a franchise? Do you want to focus on one particular story? If it’s a franchise, you have to think merchandising in animation. So you have to think series or feature plus series. It’s harder to develop merchandising based on only a feature.

What is the importance of the Target in TV series?

In a TV series, you have to be very specific about demographics, because you are addressing kids at home, should it be when kids are watching alone or with siblings. Basically, you have four categories in the breakdown:

Pre-school, school kids, pre-teens, teenagers.

Usually series are conceived first and foremost for children in animation, there is virtually no market for teenager animation in Europe. It’s on cable or satellite, it’s very tough to build something for an adult or wide audience. So getting the parents or the rest of the family is a bonus. It means more viewers but it’s not the key. The key is to emerge from competition and gets kids attention with your project. In France there only 20 cable channels, you want to get the best channel for your specific demographic. On the contrary, movies are made to reach a broader audience in general. Kids don’t go alone to the cinema so you want the parents to buy the tickets and go with them and sometimes it’s not easy. And you want to be larger and try also in a movie to address young teenagers or children, remember that these people are 3% (in France) of the population but they make up 40% of admissions. If you want a big box office, you have to have something for this audience. So the targeting has a consequence on the creative side.
In Ugly Duckling, the story is told from the point of view of a rat who is an under achiever. He’s goes from a negative character to a caring father. But the series had to be rethought as told from the point of view of the duckling in order to enable kids to identify with the main character. And this is really the key. You want to talk, in a series, to the audience. So this has consequences of course on the budget. If you want to do a focused movie, for instance focusing on pre-schoolers, you should have an adapted budget because the number of moviegoers will be limited and you want to plan also a series because you want to bring additional revenues, from merchandising.
Briefly, in the financing plan for a series, come to see a broadcaster first, get a co-production with a TV station in your territory. Foreign producers come to see me and say we would like to do a co-production and I say who is your partner in France and they no one, can we do something and then we will look for a producer. That’s really wrong. You have to get married with a producer you have the same intent as, the same creative drive and then he will come to see me or we can see each other with the producer. You have to have a local basis for production, it’s very important. We like meeting people but there is no point in coming from outside with a great idea if you don’t have a French producer.
For a feature it’s very different, we come last. After you have secured a strong distribution partner locally. And you have secured a pre-sale and then TV comes last and is sometimes not part of the financing plan. Often we will buy the movie when it is completed.
Subsidies are more varied for a feature than for TV. Producers should bear that in mind for their co-production.

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