Sébastien Onomo • Producer, Special Touch Studios
"Platforms approach the question of who their target audience is differently"
- The head of Special Touch Studios tells us about his three projects presented at Cartoon Movie — from Denis Do, Nadia Nakhlé and Anca Damian — and the sector’s current situation
Associate producer at Films d’Ici (the company behind Funan [+see also:
interview: Denis Do
film profile]), Sébastien Onomo opened in 2015 the company Special Touch Studios — and more recently Creative Touch Films — to respond to a desire for expansion across all cinematic genres (details will be disclosed soon). This week, Special Touch Studios is at the 23rd Cartoon Movie (unfolding online from 9 to 11 March –read the news) where he is presenting no less than three projects, among the 55 that have been selected: currently in development is Sorya by Denis Do, and at the concept stage are Birds Don't Look Back (Les Oiseaux ne se retournent pas) by Nadia Nakhlé and Starseed by Anca Damian (in co-production with Aparte, the Romanian director’s production company). A trio of projects that comes to enrich an already enticing line-up of feature-length animated films, which include among others Allah Is Not Obliged by Zaven Najjar (read the article), now in production, and Sidi Kaba et la porte du retour by Rony Hotin (at an advanced stage of development).
Cineuropa: How do your three projects selected this year at Cartoon Movie reflect the editorial line of Special Touch Studios?
Sébastien Onomo: Our editorial line centres on projects and project holders with a connection to Africa, the Antilles, the Caribbean, Asia and urban cultures. And we are very passionate about diversity and inclusion. Regarding our relationship with Asia, the project Sorya continues our collaboration with Denis Dos, which began with Funan. Meanwhile in Starseed, Anca Damian tackles the extremely interesting topic of animism in Sub-Saharan Africa. With Birds Don't Look Back, Nadia Nakhlé belongs to a generation I really want to support and which tackles themes of diversity and inclusion in its films.
You do not hesitate to produce films aimed at adults and young adults, even though they are known to be much harder to finance. Why?
First of all, we are committed to supporting the visions of auteurs, and that is our priority. We try to find the best financing strategies and I think that partners will progressively follow this logic, which is to have the best films so that they can then find their audience. The current context is complicated regarding cinemas, which I continue to fervently defend, but with the adoption in France of the SMA directive, there will be new economic models which will integrate streaming platforms into the media and financing chronology. Platforms approach the question of who their target audience is differently from the way traditional media does. I think that we are currently witnessing an emergence phase, because just three years ago, people only had two references for adult animation: Persepolis [+see also:
interview: Marc-Antoine Robert
interview: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Pa…
film profile] and Waltz with Bashir [+see also:
film profile]. Now, we realise that other titles are progressively being added to this list of references. This shows that the market is evolving, that tastes are becoming more diverse when it comes to animation. With our productions that will arrive in two or three years, the idea is to follow these changing tastes and to be part of these platforms which, I think, will have more and more appetite for this diversity which we can produce in animation, in terms of topics but also of techniques and artistic methods.
What is your opinion of the very difficult current situation that the sector finds itself in, and of the near future?
Distributors have slowed down enormously on their positioning regarding future films, and that is normal considering the situation. But animation has a different rhythm, with films that will meet audiences two or three years from now, and we all believe that, by then, we’ll be out of this complicated situation that the world is going through and that most of the films which were held back and awaited distribution or broadcast will have come through. I was lucky because I only experienced delays for my two projects at Films D’Ici that were already financed: the animated film The Siren by Sepideh Farsi (read the article) will begin at the end of the month and the feature documentary Les suppliciés by Stéphane Malterre and Garance Lecaisne (supported by the advance on receipts of the CNC, by Eurimages and by the Franco-German bilateral fund) will soon start filming. But I’m a little worried about the financial health and the future of producers who don’t do animation. I wonder how and if they will all manage to hold on until 2023, because many of them need to move forward with their projects. Without visibility, without a plan, without information on how to go back to work: all of this has consequences on the entire industry. Now, I’ve started telling auteurs that we won’t get into new developments, but to instead focus on the ones we already have, because it looks like there won’t be any “fresh” new films released before 2022 - early 2023. And cinemas will no doubt first try to survive before they’ll try to make money, so it’s clear that we’ll have to be patient.
(Translated from French)
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