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Distributing an animated feature film
by Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film
- Interview with Marc Bonny, co-director of Gebeka Films which distributes animated films and most notably Kirikou and the Sorceress and Kirikou & The Wild Beasts.
What does a distributor have to bear in mind when releasing a film?
Kirikou & The Wild Beasts was released in France on December 7, 2005, seven years after Kirikou and the Sorceress. Two very different cases, the first film was unknown and the second film had been long awaited on the market and Kirikou was already well known. It is very important to create publicity material early on during production. Sometimes no single image from the film is appropriate for promotion with posters. So it becomes necessary to make ten or so images for the media. For a distributor, a successful film is easier to get off the ground than a film that has not done well.
What are the different methods of launching a film and how can you ensure that the film does well?
There are two main ways of working: publicity, which is very expensive because of the use of posters and TV spots tailored to each country, and word of mouth, which costs nothing. It is absolutely vital to use word of mouth through festivals, and advance previews to a clearly targeted audience which «will carry the good word» and help to make the film a success. And that it is very important. For a film to work, it is not enough to flood the streets with 4m X 3m posters.
If the film is not a success, which can also happen, the distributor has two solutions but he and the producer must be realistic. The first solution is to create a lot of publicity and a lot of prints so that the film is released widely, because word of mouth can go very quickly against the film and the money spent on publicity and prints. If the film is really a failure and not worth a major release, it is important to be realistic and give it a small release in order to limit the damage.
A distributor invests a lot of his team’s time and money and it can be considerable. These two factors are influenced by the film’s potential and the distributor’s motivation. It is important to separate these two elements because on the one hand one can be opportunistic and see box office entries as a means of making money, and on the other be motivated by the artistic content or the rationale of the film as part of the distributor’s distribution policy.
Most of all, the distributor considers the nature of the film and how it should be placed: the potential audience (age...), type of audience (film enthusiasts, general public, city or smaller town audiences), word of mouth potential (good, medium, bad).
Ideally the distributor from the film’s country of origin works with the producer because the film is often first released in that country where it will make the highest box office entries. This will be the criterion in determining the sale of the film to other countries.
From there, one determines the audience to be targeted and the minimal objective for the number of entries. The distributor must have> an idea of the film’s potential in order to calculate his investment.
Once these factors have been determined, we come to the release strategy which consists of several elements: the date - crucial for the film depending on the target audience (before the school holidays for films for children), the type of cinemas where the film will be shown (arthouse, multiplex, or both), the number of prints - a key element in the release of the film (in France this can range from one to nearly a thousand prints), the amount to be spent on publicity which is in turn related to the number of prints because the more prints made the more one needs to spend on publicity so that the film moves quickly everywhere, and finally media communication (postering, press advertisements, critics, local cinemas, TV spots).
Again once these elements are in place, (and if possible with the producer), you move on to creating the advertising material. This should not be done first because the one depends on the other. The advertising material consists of the principal visual element (the poster) which will give the basic image of the film - the essential and sometimes unique element that «sells» the film and therefore must be used as much as possible, secondary visuals (photographs for the press and the cinemas), the teaser and the trailer, the press kit highlighting the film’s strong points. It is important to spend time on the design of these elements because it shapes the success of the film.
One can also develop themed packages for a tar- get audience: if there is a film with a horse, one could envisage joining forces with a riding association in order to reach this specific audience; if the film is adapted from a successful book, you can work with the book’s publisher who will use his own network; it is also possible to create exhibition material which can be made available to the cinema owners. It is also important to build a relationship with the press (daily, weekly, monthly, TV, radio, Internet).
All these elements come gradually into place so that on the day of release there is maxi- mum awareness, information, and publicity. It is important to plan the release date so that an alternative strategy can also be put in place incorporating all these publicity elements.
A small distributor with limited means can- not change the release date once it has been agreed. Advertising spaces will have been booked making it impossible to go back. So it can happen that a small film is in competition with a large film simply because at the time of deciding its release the larger film had not yet been announced.
All this is precisely the work of the distributor who comes very early on between the producer and the artistic team, and the cinemas.
How was planned the launch of Kirikou & The Wild Beasts?
The target audience is children from three years upwards and the family. Because of the quality of the images, it could also address an adult audience, which will want to marvel at the beauty of Africa. Gebeka chose to place the film with independents in France, arthouse cinemas, which had made the success of the first film with 60 prints at first then 150 thanks to word of mouth.
Kirikou & The Wild Beasts was released with 350 prints on December 7 and a hundred additional copies on 14 December just before the school holidays. The situation had completely changed between the two films: publicity was no longer the same demand had changed radically because the large cinema circuits also wanted the film.
Competition is fundamental. At the time of Kirikou and the Sorceress, seven years ago, there was Mullan, the Prince of Egypt, the first example of competition with Disney on its own ground before Christmas. The context has changed because several studios now produce animation and European productions are more successful.
The end of the year 2005 is particularly heavy-weight in France and in Europe with Harry Potter on November 30, Chicken Little from Disney released, like Kirikou, on December 7, King Kong launched on the 14th, and Narnia on 21 December. Obviously the strongest competition with Kirikou, is Chicken Little for which Disney delayed the release in order to position it after Harry Potter. The distributor of Kirikou did not want to change his date because slots had been reserved and the film is the only French production that everyone expects to be on offer for the family.
The amount spent on prints and advertising for Kirikou and the Sorceress was approximately 200,000 Euros, and will be approximately 850,000 Euros for Kirikou & The Wild Beasts. For the first film, there was no postering. The objective, seven years ago, was to achieve 300,000 entries, with a final result of 1.5 million. For this new film, the minimum objective is one million entries.
How is the market looking for feature films in France in 2006?
The market for feature length animation in France between December 2005 and December 2006 will be made up of ten French features. This is exceptional and will represent an interesting test for the market with completely different films.
What are the implications of the arrival of digital for the animation distributor, particularly regarding the cost of prints and therefore the cost of launching a film?
At the moment, a film print for 1h10 costs approximately 750 Euros, i.e. 300,000 Euros for 400 copies. As far as digital is concerned, things are not clear, little is known and we are now in a long process where for the near future we will see the cohabitation of 35mm and digital prints. In the short term, large distributors will save money on copies but for the smallest ones the economies will be smaller.
For the moment, the model is that those who make economies - the distributors - are not those who must invest - the cinemas. The process for resolving this paradox will be a long one.
To what extent are the new possibilities of communication and marketing (por- table telephone and Internet) relevant to animation?
The Internet is a formidable way to communicate, to touch people at little cost. Postering is very expensive but far from effective. The Internet is being added to the traditional methods but the cinema remains the best place to create a desire to see films. It is easier to convince somebody who goes regularly to the cinema to come back again: the posters on the walls and the trailers are very effective and very important.
Has Gebeka taken part in the financing of a film with a minimum guarantee?
The distributor acquires a film either just for distribution, without a minimum guarantee, or with a minimum guarantee (for which the amount can vary greatly), or also as a coproducer as with Kirikou & The Wild Beasts, where the investment was divided between a MG and production equity. The MG was 450,000 Euros.
Edited by Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film
Cartoon Master Postdam, Germany, November 2005
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