Event Preview: Cartoon Forum

The Cartoon Forum pitching and co-pro event for animated TV projects returns to Toulouse, France, from September 20 to 23.

The 2021 edition has been crafted with many takeaways from 2020-2021, according to Annick Maes, general director of the Cartoon event organizer. “We had put all our efforts into bringing an online experience that matched as much as possible the ‘real’ experience,” she says.

“All the professionals dearly missed the human touch that is the DNA of Cartoon events but also because physical markets are crucial to efficiently develop business talks and hasten deals. However, the digital tools were praised for their easy and smooth approach.”

The organizers are taking advantage of this new online knowledge to bring an additional element to the on-site event, with a more complete and efficient experience, multiplying the business opportunities. This has led to the availability of Catch-up Sessions, which allow Cartoon Forum 2021 participants to watch or rewatch a pitch at their own pace after the event (until October 15) and buyers who cannot join on site to have online-only access to projects’ pitches. “This provides extra opportunities to the producers to attract potential partners, investors or distributors,” Maes says.

For each Catch-up Session, online buyers will be able to fill in a feedback form in order to express their interest and share remarks, which is then sent to the producer of the project. The platform also presents a list of all the registered participants with their contact information and offers the possibility to chat with the people who are connected.

“Our goal is to offer each project as much visibility as possible in order to increase its chances to find investments and secure international distribution,” Maes says.

Cartoon Forum has launched a dedicated app for the selected projects. “At a time when smartphones became our daily working tools, it seemed essential to offer an app to access all the information about the projects on-site,” she adds. The app gathers all the information available about the section “Projects” in the e-catalog. For each project pitched, users can access the trailer, which will also be projected during the Croissant or Coffee shows. The app also makes it possible to search and organize the projects and to prepare a personalized timetable of the pitches one wants to attend. The app stores the information on the projects for up to three years.

“Traditionally, our events convey a feeling of community and mutual support,” says Maes. “The priority for us this year is to help to reconnect with the business and with face-to-face activities: return to a physical event, a format that fits the needs of the sector.

“A lot of things can be done online, but our real goal is to bring together producers, talents, directors and buyers, and to connect them with players who really need this contact and exchange of opinions,” she continues. “We will focus on direct contacts, networking and spending quality time together, which is something that can’t be replicated online and something that is essential to build strong collaborations.”

The organizers are well aware of the complexity of organizing a market given the current situation, which is why they are proposing a Cartoon Forum with greater flexibility, to allow the animation community to meet again in the best conditions.

“We keep our fingers crossed, and we do hope that we are blessed to be able to go back to do what we like doing,” Maes says. “Everyone wants to come back to Toulouse, and we are doing everything we can to make their arrival as easy as possible. The positive point is that [as of mid-August], we have around 800 registered participants including more than 200 buyers, showing the dynamism of the market.”

The Covid-19 pass system at the event is similar to what was implemented at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Participants will be required to obtain a QR code based on proof of vaccination, a negative test secured in the past 72 hours or a certificate proving that they have recovered, which has to be shown at the entrance to the venues. Masks will be required indoors and recommended in the open air.

As for the event itself, shortlisted from 141 submissions, the 84 selected projects have a total budget of €326.1 million, with an average cost per series of €3.9 million (though the cost per minute of animation production has slightly decreased compared to 2020 (€11,887 vs €12,250)). In total, the projects represent 457 hours of animation, while series formats continue to diversify in response to the new demands, both in terms of the number of episodes and running time.

France leads the selection with 33 projects, followed by Ireland with 11, Germany with 8, Spain with 6, Belgium with 5 and Portugal with 4. The Czech Republic and Denmark participate with 4 projects each, and Italy and Poland with 3, while Finland, Latvia and Ukraine are present with 1 project each. With 9 projects, Central and Eastern European countries are keeping the animation production momentum going.

Maes says the team has noticed an uptick in projects with heroines, noting Nadia (Red Monk Studio), Tiny Toot (Toolbox Film), Fio Lina & The Maestro(Serienwerk/Catpics), Showtime (Toon2Tango/Mondo TV), The Saskatoons(Pikkukala/Sardinha em Lata), Bookworms (Mad Cat Studio/KAOS Films) and Ivy’s Bookshop (Ink and Light/Muste Ja Valo), among others.

Also, a growing number of projects selected are led by female professionals, such as Shannon George and Kristina Yee for Big Tuna (Daily Madness Productions) and Katarina Lundquist for Cap n’ Cat (Cardel).

There are many projects dealing with the subject of sustainability, among them Acorn Elves (BareBear), Biriki (Sparkle Animation/Abano Producións), Gardener Gavin (Fabrique Fantastique) and Woodlings (Vilstrup Film & Projects/Toolbox Film).

There’s also an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, with highlights such as AdamAdventure! (Kavaleer Productions), featuring 6-year-old Adam with his smart-wheelchair Speedy and his buoyant bunny BFF Bubby, and What It Takes (Les Astronautes), telling the stories of non-binary characters with a clear political and social message.

Series targeting kids, from preschoolers up to 11-year-olds, and families remain the core focus of European animation production, says Maes. Among those, there are comedies and adventures that try to teach kids fundamental values such as inclusion, diversity, empathy, solidarity, the importance of friendship and family bonds. This year, 18 percent of the selected projects target an audience of teenagers and young adults/adults. They address social and political issues such as the complex social situation of dealers, depression, anxiety and the difficult recovery from alcoholism, the representation of people of color in the LGBTI+ community or working conditions and burnout. There is also a solid trend of IP adaptations, with more than 20 of the selected projects being adaptations of comic books, books or live-action films.

There are some 200 buyers registered to attend, as of mid-August, with 20 of them representing new companies. “As for the previous editions, Cartoon aims to invite new platforms to show them that a very new European offer exists for their supports of distribution,” Maes says. “Our efforts are starting to pay off, as this is the third year that we have had many new SVOD players participating in Cartoon Forum. These efforts also concern the graphic novel and book publishers who have a deep interest in European animation, not only to adapt comic books into animated TV series but also the other way around to source high-quality content to adapt into comic books.”

The online format allows for a larger scope of buyers to participate, she adds. “Many buyers from North and South America, Asia or Oceania still can’t travel, but they are discovering the European animation industry through the platform. This offer multiplies business opportunities. The platform will be active for one month, allowing buyers and investors to watch all the pitching sessions; this is not the case on site, where they have to make a choice because pitching sessions are simultaneously scheduled in different rooms.”