Freedom Postcards

As animation producers, buyers and distributors gather in Cannes for MIPCOM this week, Christopher Panzner, exec. producer, animation for Teva, sheds some light on the unique French system for producing animation.

There is virtually no animated film or television program made in France that doesn’t benefit from government subsidies in one form or another. While it’s difficult for unsubsidized producers from other countries to understand this phenomenon (and just as difficult for those that do to understand the French system), the system works, works well and has for some time.

The typical sources of funding from France are the TV sale, CNC, cable/satellite, video/DVD, distributor (ROW) minimum guarantee, regional subsidies and pre-sales. Films would include theatrical distribution and, possibly, a SOFICA. Cumulative funding from France can amount to anywhere from 30-35% government subsidies, making French co-production partners particularly attractive.

The French Touch

If you think about the current state of "art" and "state of the art," the new math favors the auteur approach and new media models. With big studios laying people off in record numbers and industry veterans bemoaning the so-called end of 2D, the French system favors the unique vision, fresh approaches, new media and "la boutique." There is no greater testament to this statement than the recent release of Sylvain Chomet’s groundbreaking masterpiece, Les Triplettes de Belleville. It’s only the end of 2D as we know it (and story-telling, storyboarding, layout and possibly the entire process including financing.) The French are re-thinking it all from the ground up. And it makes economic sense.

A typical European budget for a 26×22 series is in the US$6-8 million range ($10,500-12,000/minute) and $6-10 million range for an average 80-min feature. Series, however, are actually getting cheaper to produce, due mainly to technological innovation. Films are getting more expensive but sources of financing are multiplying.

One of the biggest advantages of 3D or Flash (not to mention stop-motion, cut-outs, mixed media, etc.) is that animation can be done entirely in-house. An added advantage of the French subsidies system is that if a significant amount of work is done in France on a series, for example, the CNC will contribute 25% more. Combining French funding with resources in Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Ireland, Scandinavia, etc. can bring the entirety of the budget to a technologically innovative program. The rest is a question of alchemy: the worksplit and spending requirements. The general rule of thumb dictates that the amount raised in a territory must be spent there.

A pre-requisite for a series obtaining CNC funding, however, is that a broadcaster must be on board. Once this is in place, the aid is automatic. A French TV station is not a pre-requisite to receiving CNC aid for a feature, which is automatic for established film producers, but a TV sale is essential to the overall French funding.

An example of the growing interest in feature production is the recently announced creation of a SOFICA in the city of Angoulême (Magelis). Essentially devoted to feature films (60% live-action and 40% animation), 8 million Euros (US$9 million) will be divided over a minimum of 12 projects per year with a ceiling of 800,000 Euros (US$900,000) per project.

Interest in feature film financing is on the rise throughout Europe. There are conditions, specific to each country, for benefiting from the various resources but it is simply a question of finding the best fit. The French model is very complementary, but there are also conditions that have to be taken into consideration.

One of the conditions of working with France, and a source of anxiety for foreign producers of film and television, are "droits d’auteur." Authors of virtually anything drawn or written or scored have substantial rights in France. For producers who think that artists having control is their worst nightmare, it’s less about control than the "French Touch": attention-grabbing graphics, visionary storytelling and an artistic collective devoted to creating something unique, original, international and commercially successful but where key talent shares in the success. (Amélie was number 8 at the American box office!)

The French system encourages not only creativity but subsidizes just about everything from development to distribution. That’s part of the reason why France is the third-largest producer of animation in the world, after the United States and Japan, a little-known fact.