Welsh-Lingo Web Spurs Prod Boom

Once best known for its coal mines, steel mills and male choirs, Wales is making waves in tv and animation programming.

Thanks mainly to the establishment in 1982 of the Welsh-language fourth channel S4C, the past decade has witnessed dramatic shifts in Wales’ media ecology. “S4C has been the catalyst for these developments; it’s attracted producers and facilities back to the area,” notes S4C chief exec Geraint Stanley Jones.

S4C, which transmits 30 hours a week of Welsh-lingo programming, has boosted all aspects of media and showbiz in Wales, from tv to film to rock music. Some contend it’s contributed to a new-found confidence in “Welshness.”

“We used to be very insular in Wales; now we are lot more outward-looking,” says David Chapman, director of Cardiff Media City, a marketing group set up to drumbeat media opportunities in the principality.

Some examples of the recent boom include:

* The emergence of a Welsh animation industry, thanks to the patronage of S4C. A total of $17 million in cartoon projects will pass through Cardiff between now and the end of 1992, including Wales’ first animated feature, “The Princess And The Goblin.” Co-produced by Cardiff’s Siriol Prods. and Hungary’s Pannonia Films, the $6 million project is co-financed by S4C and Japan’s NHK Enterprises.

* Development of a thriving indie tv production sector of about 50 to 60 companies.

* The creation of a £ 6 million ($11.5 million) Welsh Film Foundation (Ffilm Cymru), jointly backed by BBC Wales and S4C and charged with generating six feature films over the next three years. First effort, “O.M.,” was released late last year.

* The establishment of a network of facility houses to cater to the rise in indie production. One, the Barcud complex in north Wales, claims to be the largest independently owned facility outside London.

For the future, Wales is looking with confidence to stronger economic, political and cultural ties with its partners in the European Community.

Continental attitude

With their bilingual heritage (Welsh and English) and traditional distrust of London, many Welshmen say they feel a natural affinity with Continental Europe. For example, there’s far less resistance to dubbing and subtitling of tv shows and movies, putting the region in line with mainland Europe and out of synch with the rest of the U.K.

“We buy far more product from Europe than any other British broadcaster,” contends S4C’s Stanley Jones. “And it’s easier for us to sell Welsh drama, for instance, to the French, who are very sensitive about the domination of English-language programs.”

“We just can’t afford to be introspective,” says Robin Lyons, head of Siriol Prods., who argues that companies that aren’t headquartered in big metropolitan centers often have a wider perspective on the world.

Siriol is a co-founder of EVA, an animation development and production venture with partners in Belgium, Germany and France; it was set up under the auspices of the European Community’s Media 92 project.

Leading indie Teliesyn also is looking overseas to help share production costs. It has projects rolling with partners in the Soviet Union and France, and recently wrapped a period drama with ABC Australia.

The Welsh impetus toward co-productions will be hastened as local funds shrink in the wake of a downturn in ad revenue for commercial channels. Teliesyn manager Mary Simmonds forecasts that S4C will have to cut its budget by about 7% to accommodate the ad slide.

“The golden days of expansion are over; everybody will have to change gears,” warns S4C’s Stanley Jones.

But with a guaranteed income of about £ 50 million ($96 million) via a compulsory levy on ITV stations, the Welsh media industry will be better shielded than most from the chill wind of an economic recession.

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