Amid’s a pretty opinionated guy, and I don’t always agree with him. But in his description of the European animated feature climate, he presents very eloquently the model Canada should be aspiring to:
Amid: The big advantage that European animated features have is their lower budgets. Why is that an advantage? The benefit of smaller budgets is that it allows for more risk-taking and experimentation. The major American producers have their hands tied because their films cost between $100-200 million. To ensure a return on their investment, they have to create formulaic and safe tentpoles for the global market and can’t risk offending any segment of the filmgoing audience from three-year-olds to eighty-year-olds. That’s a tough situation to be in creatively because it doesn’t allow for new or creative ideas to emerge. Many European film producers make the mistake of trying to replicate the Pixar/DreamWorks formulas on smaller budgets, and those films always suffer by comparison because they look cheap. The most successful foreign film producers are those who embrace their small budgets and use it to their advantage to create animated films that would be impossible to produce in the United States, like “Persepolis,” “Triplets of Belleville,” “Ernest & Celestine,” “Waltz with Bashir” and the “Kirikou” series.
This is part of a larger interview on AnimationMagazine.Eu. And, of course, the link to Cartoon Brew.
Budgets are only one part of the problem. Marketing a feature in North America can cost $60+ million, which adds enormously to the break-even point. The game is also rigged in that the distributor is ahead of the producer when it is time to get paid. Many successful films are officially money losers thanks to the way Hollywood cooks the books. When the producer and distributor are the same company, that doesn’t matter much, but indie producers are at a huge disadvantage because most of the box office goes to the distributor.
Direct sales to the audience, bypassing theatres, will solve this, but it won’t solve the problem of creating audience awareness and marketing costs.
Mark — I’m not sure if you’re responding to Mike’s comment about importing the European model to North America, or to my original answer. But as you surely know, the European model doesn’t require $60+ million marketing. Those low-budget features are designed for local audiences. If the films have international success, that’s an added bonus, but they’re considered successful simply by performing well in a handful of smaller markets. So, basically, we are in agreement that that model wouldn’t work as well in N. America as it currently does in certain European countries.