After having presented their ongoing series projects, the conference speakers stated that most of them were working on co-produced auteur-based series. Not all projects succeed globally, so it’s necessary to test public preference for each one.
Broadcasters know their viewers and what they want. Dialoguing with creatives is central to the development phase so that more surface changes can be made while still remaining faithful to the original spirit of the series. In Europe the creative process focuses more on the message conveyed, whereas in the USA the power and originality of the characters is developed more expansively. "One of the great keys to success is to remain open to sources of new talents but we must also talk with kids to understand what it is they like about our stories."
CEO, Creative Director
animatic, teaser, creative process, characters, sound design, comic book, diffusion, development, co-production, Boyster, Disney, Cake Entertainment, Marathon Media
Tom Van Waveren mentions the fact that not only audiences but also project players are international. They live an international existence to realise their projects and produce world-acclaimed auteur-based series. One creative may like one particular idea, but it may not correspond to current viewership trends. To secure worldwide buy-in, certain changes must take place during development. The aim of this conference is to present the different steps and options in producing a globally successful series. There’s no magic recipe but there are still a few important ingredients involved.
Although Orion Ross is American, he’s based in London and works for Disney Europe. He doesn’t work in a studio but operates within a small team which commissions two to three co-productions per year. As such, he commissioned Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja and Boyster, directed by Emmanuelle Fleury and co-produced by the Parisian production company Je Suis Bien Content.
"At Disney, we have four annual possibilities for international co-productions but we hope to create six animated projects a year. During development we make a few changes on the project, but we do our utmost to retain the creative’s original idea. We suggest surface modifications to make the project more saleable. For example: initially, Boyster’s shirt was grey then it became red, and we gave his brother eyes so that he could express himself. Sometimes we may just suggest a name change for a character," continues Orion Ross.
All worldwide successes are initially composed of a basic idea and a development phase. After a story is purchased, the first step consists in searching for someone to adapt it. Tasks such as meeting the director, envisioning market realities and questioning what makes the project original will all help to establish a proper identity, something which allows it to stand out.
Once the project has been secured, development work begins, with the goal of producing a first animatic. This step is an acid test for projects. It should serve to unearth real problems so as to avoid unpleasant surprises later, especially since fewer modifications can be made toward the end of development. Here the producer must institute an environment that fosters creative spirit.
It is hard to form a consensus around a project while preserving the creative’s original idea. You must stay within budget, keep to the calendar, and tweak certain facets to foment public interest. It’s essential that project players be convened early on to talk around the table, and that merchandising partners also be invited to partake since they can represent revenue streams and also contribute innovative ideas. In the children’s content field right now there are new and unexpected players emerging, such as major American brands. If trade partners are already on board, development is done with them as well.
Next, there’s the stage of pilot test. This is shown to children, and viewers’ surveys are done on it. Today’s production costs are higher for a relatively-complete teaser, to enable a project’s substance to be conveyed via animated images.
Broadcasters know their viewers and what they’re looking for. Dialoguing can change an idea that a creative person might have, allowing the right idea to emerge little by little. Digital platforms can also help with a first trial run, before TV broadcasts take place.
Cristina Fiumara points out that notes and remarks from the network can sometimes be a bit blinding. The "network" does not know the project as well as its creator does, so he or she should not be too swayed by the feedback and should stick with the basic idea and line of direction.
"The concept is less important than the power of the character. The creative process should revolve around the character," adds Cristina Fiumara. Children identify more easily with certain characters, even if in Europe there’s a tendency to place more importance on the series’ message and less on the characters.
"A global brand must ask itself: who is this character? What would he reply to this question? The key to this is to forge a soul for him," Eryk Casemiro notes. Here sound design and music are very important, while voice casting is often problematic, above and beyond budgetary issues. There can be major hitches in a project if the voices are chosen by a third party. Not all animators are always able to breathe life into a character either, finding a voice for it and setting a beat to the dialogue.
Today, many creatives started in the comic book field. Knowing how to tell a story, draw, and animate is a common core for this work. Annecy is a place where you can meet talents and discover new people. Since new ideas are often hard to find you must keep your eyes wide open and be ready to be taken by surprise: the world’s next talent can spring from anywhere.
Which signs show that a project has promise in several countries?
Tom Van Waveren: "We try to have a new and fresh view which everyone can buy into, something audiences can identify with. Sure, there are always surprises, but by airing things on international networks we have a pretty good idea of what’s needed. How are your children going to accept your way of telling a story? If they can embody the characters and play with them, it’s a good sign."
Are there situations where scriptwriters can change roles?
Orion Ross: "The creative person did the drawings, but that’s less important than the project’s creative 'view'. This view must be promoted by someone, and it’s not necessarily the same as the initial idea. This is committee-like functioning, but you need someone who feels in charge of the whole project."
Drafted by Alain Andrieux, ITZACOM, France
Translated by Sheila Adrian
The Annecy 2014 Conferences Summaries are produced with the support of: