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Friday, August 20, 2010

Sado-masochism in the Industry.

This article first appeared in Production Base

Apologies for the lurid headline but it’s an immutable law of media that if a title suggests sex it will get more attention. For example, by far the worst episode of Angry Kid (creatively speaking) that we ever made at Aardman carried the title ‘Sex Call’. It has consistently been the most popular episode amongst its largely male, teen fan-base.

I digress, but if you’re still with me I have got your attention.

I am reprising my self-styled role as the Marquis de Sade by once again inflicting co-productions upon my long-suffering team here at Aardman, albeit after what I consider to be a decent interval since the last one. It is sadistic on my part as I am knowingly making my team suffer, it is masochistic because I know that I will suffer too.

Every now and again a project comes along that you feel you have to do, that you can only do if you co-produce and you hear yourself asking, ‘how bad can it be?’. The memory of the last one fades, the delight of launching into a new project takes over and then before you know it you’re screaming down the phone at a French producer about her request to credit her dog as a producer.

Within days of kicking the thing off, trusted members of your team are sobbing in your office, cursing the entire nation that you are partnering with and blaming you for making them work with a bunch of out-of-control megalomaniacs. It brings only small consolation to explain that the exact same conversation is taking place in your overseas partner’s offices too.

We know why we do them, it’s because we’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked. No single funder will step up, finance the whole project and take away the pain. Companies do co-productions in the hope of reducing risk, but deep down they know for certain there will be terrible bloodshed before the project gets delivered.

You try and learn from your last one; only work with financially stable partners that don’t lie to you, agree that only one broadcaster has final approval written into their deals, split the work according to who does what best, make the project in one language then dub …

What happens? You do the work wherever you get the best tax break regardless of how suited that countries infrastructure is to the task in hand. Can Dublin double for Istanbul? Of course it can if it gets you Section 481 tax relief. Can we record in Welsh and Catalan? Of course we can if we can access the Welsh IP Fund and Catalonian Government Support (I believe that Welsh and Catalan sound almost identical if you squint when you listen to them). Will the production team wear their pants on their head for the duration of the production? Of course they will if it qualifies the production as European AND Australian content.

Every co-production is set up secure in knowledge that this time all file transfers will be done over a new, super-fast internet connection. High Def sir? No problem. Within weeks hard drives are being FedEx-ed across oceans because the file transfers are backed-up till the next millennium.

Skype, or video conference calls, will replace expensive flights to unnecessary meetings, yours will the first truly ‘green’ co-pro. If you are lucky you can get your emergency flight out to Budapest to explain the rules of cricket to a bewildered Hungarian storyboard team to coincide with a hard-drive shipment and congratulate yourself on saving money off the fed-ex bill.

And the big one (in the animation industry at least); that Overseas Supervisor that you took out of the budget because your animation studio in India PROMISED YOU that it would work better without one … well, the one you were going to use isn’t available when the Indians suddenly stop answering your emails and calls half way through the production, the one that is available is twice the price but at least he’s now a recovering alcoholic rather than a practising one.

The only sensible thing to do is look at the scheduled end date of the production, add 6 months for the over-run and pre-book yourself a long ‘break’ at an expensive ‘retreat’ – you’ll need to be cured of something which you can only hope isn’t irreversible. If you have gone bankrupt by then the fact that you can’t pay the cancellation fee might actually cheer you up.

And if one of your partners tells you that delivering a stereoscopic version of your project is a cake-walk, shoot them in the face.

Oh well, here we go. Spain, Korea, Bristol. …. See you on the other side.