Targeting Tv And Debuting Two Blockbuster Features

Expansion will continue at Yoram Gross Film Studios in July as the facility makes its first full-scale foray into television. YGFS will begin development on a 26-episode spinoff series based on its forthcoming theatrical feature “Blinky Bill.”

The series comes as the studios, founded 21 years ago as a fledgling production house by Yoram and Sandra Gross, are set to launch their two most ambitious films ever: “The Magic Riddle,” which debuts at AFM, and “Blinky Bill,” currently in production for a 1992 release.

The films, the largest and most complex animated features ever made in Oz, are expected to further bolster Yoram Gross’ reputation as Australia’s foremost feature animator.

Although YGFS has dabbled in tv before, notably joint-venturing with Beyond Intl. to supply animated material for “Bright sparks,” a 13-episode science show for kids, the “Blinky Bill” series represents its first major ongoing commitment.

“We’ve decided to go ahead with the series due to the enormous response to “Blinky Bill’ as a film and its merchandising potential,” says Sandra Gross. “We felt it was only natural that we spread our wings and widen the whole concept of ‘Blinky Bill.'”

Major departure

The series will represent a major departure in some areas for the studios. Principally, according to business-affairs manager Tim Brooke-Hunt, it’ll mean teaming up with an overseas animator, probably in Europe or Asia, the first time YGFS has held hands with an international counterpart.

That’s due to the demanding nature of animated series, probably the most labor-intensive of any tv offering. An overseas presale will also make up part of the series packaging, and Brooke-Hunt says it’s “not impossible” that could extend to a co-production arrangement, another first.

Beyond Intl., Australia’s largest film and tv sales outfit, will market the series internationally, continuing the relationship struck up with Beyond’s agreement to sell “The Magic Riddle” and the “Blinky Bill” film.

“It’s now a question of packaging,” notes Sandra Gross. “There’s enough interest for us to know the series will be our next step. We’re aiming to complete financial packaging by mid-1991 and start development from July onward.” Initial scripts and animation styles are already in the works.

As with the new features, emphasis for the series is on the high end of the market. With the worldwide success of lavish theatrical offerings such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Land Before Time,” tv audiences likewise “won’t accept” simple animation, says Yoram Gross, who oversees the creative and technical aspects of the studios. “They want to see the budget on the screen.”

Prior to “The Magic Riddle,” YGFS made 12 films, underpinned by eight offerings featuring Gross’ enduring “Dot” character; the pics have been sold to more than 80 countries over the years.

Bigger budgets

“We had limited budgets with the ‘Dot’ films that didn’t give us the scope of the new films,” Gross notes. He calculates that the budget for the first Dot offering, “Dot And The Kangaroo” (1977), was 12 times less than “The Magic Riddle’s” and 16 times less than the budget for “Blinky Bill.”

YGFS’ style, he maintains, “has changed with the budgets.” The lot has 70 staffers working on films, whereas the “Dot” offerings usually had around 50. The live-action backgrounds that were the hallmark of the “Dot” series have given way to full animation, with highly detailed backgrounding, Dolby stereo and original scores.

“The new films are also more family/adult-oriented than the ‘Dot’ films, which were more for children,” Gross says. “The nostalgic aspect of ‘Riddle’ [ which ties in with various classic fairytale characters] means we’re not afraid to show it to adults.” Blinky Bill, meanwhile, remains one of the most popular characters of Aussie literature.

The move into tv, however, doesn’t preclude additional feature production to follow up on the two new offerings, Sandra Gross stresses. A new pic, as yet undisclosed, is already in the pipeline.

Logistics of the series will also mean taking on a story editor, another first for the studios. Per Brooke-Hunt, that editor will work in association with two or three writers, which include those associated with the film.

Series will follow a continuing plot line although each episode is self-contained. Part of the show’s theme will be enviromentally oriented, although in anticipation of increasing use of the environment in such tv fare, Brooke- Hunt says it won’t be pushed “too heavily.” Blinky Bill, he says, will be “larrikin first, environmental second.”

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