Teutonic toon gets Yank boost

H'w'd scribes tapped to write German CGI tale

BERLIN — Germany’s first all-computer animated film, Lenard Krawinkel’s “Back to Gaya,” is breaking new ground in more ways than one. Krawinkel (“Sumo Bruno”) recently tapped Hollywood writing duo Don McEnery and Bob Shaw (“A Bug’s Life,” “Hercules”), to develop the script with an eye on international auds.

The director’s first foray into computer animation also has won strong backing from the state government of Lower Saxony and its newly launched Nordmedia state film subsidy board, which sees the $20 million project as having a trickle-down effect for the city of Hanover and the surrounding region.

“Getting Shaw and McEnery onboard was really finding gold,” says Krawinkel, adding that “Back to Gaya” is benefiting tremendously from what he calls the “sophisticated American art of storytelling.”

The story, based on an initial script by Krawinkel’s writing partner Jan Berger, who penned “Sumo Bruno,” follows the adventures of two cartoon characters from a TV series who find themselves in the real world.

“Jan Berger did a great job,” Krawinkel says, but adds that McEnery and Shaw’s experience raise the project to a level accessible to international auds.

While Krawinkel says there is plenty of talent in Germany, the concept of script development is conspicuously missing in the scheme of local filmmaking. “There’s just no tradition here to spend lots of money in development.”

The helmer, who got his own glimpse of the inner-workings of American showbiz while interning at Paramount’s syndicated TV show “Entertainment Tonight” a decade ago, would like to see a greater exchange of talent with Hollywood. “You always hear of stupid German money flowing to Hollywood. I’d like to see more good American talent flowing to Germany.”

“Back to Gaya” is being produced by Hanover-based Ambient Entertainment and Spain’s Morena Films, which has picked up Spanish rights for the film. Ambient is in negotiations with a U.K. seller to handle world distribution.

Pic was one of the first projects to get funding by Nordmedia, a joint fund recently established by the states of Lower Saxony and Bremen.

Although not exactly known as a German film hub, Lower Saxony is home to CeBIT, the international IT/computer confab in the city of Hanover.

A mecca for trekkies, finding production personnel wasn’t difficult; some 60 people are bringing the filmmakers’ vision to life.

“Had it been a live-action film, we definitely would not have filmed in Hanover,” says Krawinkel.

The Lower Saxony state government is supporting the film as part of its financial backing for the region’s growing information and communication technology sector.

“The support of this project will further develop Lower Saxony’s technological competence, which is paving the way for the entertainment and film industry in the whole of Europe,” says Susanne Knorre, Lower Saxony’s minister of economics, technology and transport.

Knorre also says she’s confident that the local tech industry will help propel “Back to Gaya” into the “world-class league” that includes computer animated pics like the “Toy Story” films, “A Bug’s Life” and “Shrek.”

“Back to Gaya” is scheduled for a fall 2003 release.

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