Annecy: Nickelodeon’s Nina Hahn on How the Animation Industry is Changing (EXCLUSIVE)

Hahn SVP Nickelodeon International development, also talks about how the network approaches Annecy, and creative talent worldwide

At 2015’s Annecy, Nickelodeon will for the first time take exhibition space. Between screenings – of “Breadwinners” seg “Employee of the Month” and “The SpongeBob Movie: Fish Out of Water” – a Global Animated Shorts Program showcase, an analysis of “SpongeBob” franchise and a share with Nina Hahn, SVP Nickelodeon International development, it organizes nine events. One of animation biggest brands, it is also changing the animation industry as the industry also evolves. Hahn took time out just before Annecy to talk about both changes.

I believe you’ve been coming to Annecy for quite some time. How has Annecy changed, or the animation industry evolved?

I think that the business of animation has changed around Annecy. Annecy’s been such a nimble festival and market that it has been able to adapt organically to these exponential shifts in attendance. Annecy has always been about creators, and now that’s definitely even more true, giving Annecy its uniqueness as a festival – everyone coming together to watch great films. That’s certainly the case in Europe, where there aren’t huge numbers of festivals or large animation events that are really creator-driven. And the creative voice is becoming stronger and stronger and really the cornerstone of what we’re trying to make at Nickelodeon.  This is what really draws us to the market – the bespoke nature of what Annecy is and the invasion and success of animation in general over time, makes for a perfect partnership.

Could you explain this invasion and success?

Unlike 20 years ago, today everyone can be an animator and /or creator and/or critic.  With all the options available to create (online, on computer, in your basement, in your attic, on your phone) and all the options available to share what you create, everyone can be a creator.  It’s truly an exciting time for those who create and those who crave the creations! One example is the online world, and animation being a new home there. We’ve got so many additional places for animation to live, so many other ways for animation to be made without the need for a giant studio.  Compared with other models previously where you had to go through a very laborious studio system and at great expense in order for that animation to reach everybody, animation has exploded in the last decade and can now come from everywhere and everyone and can reach everybody rather quickly. It is a really exciting time for us and therefore we see it as a good ‘invasion’.

And Nickelodeon has responded to that and is pushing that in several ways…

At Nickelodeon we are embracing the market not by dictating our brand to the creator, but rather by opening up a conversation with them and embracing their visions, passions, ideas, stories, characters and wrapping ourselves around them, to give them a great and inspirational new home in which to create and flourish.  It isn’t just a big foot-printed network landing on their doorstep saying ‘This is what we’re looking for, can you squeeze yourself into it?’  In fact, it’s really the reverse. It’s: ‘What story do you have to tell? What is your passion? What is your vision? What do you see? And, how can we be the home for what you see?’ Keeping the network in general quite nimble, to act upon what comes through our doors in such a way that we can of course still look at it as potential for long-form 22-minute or 11-minute episodes still remains important to us, but there are other ways we can look at things also, especially in the new multiplatform world we are living in. If a creator comes in with something that doesn’t necessarily suit that particular linear formula, can we find a life and a lifespan for the content that might be interesting across the App or across our digital footprint? Or look at it as a movie first? Or in various other ways that keep us true to the messaging, which is finding and working with, great creators, being a home for these creators. In the case of LA it’s under a roof. But when you expand beyond Hollywood, there are a ton of creators out there and we also want to be able to be their home away from home.

And digital is so important because of the evolving ways in which the natural audience for animation is consuming it…

Exactly…so it’s a really win-win situation…

On the creative surge in animation, it seems to me there is a kind of globalization, in that Hollywood is definitely reaching out to the world, for talent, for markets, and at the same time an animation world globally is reaching out to the world…

We use a very simple phrase at Nickelodeon which we really live by: ‘Make it everywhere and use it everywhere’. Ideas don’t just come from Hollywood any more.  We are supporting the Hollywood creative push with our studio and creative outreach but we also have a robust creator hunt for talent outside of Hollywood and across the U.S. East Coast, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and although we don’t have the bricks and mortar in these locations we create a bespoke production plan and environment (appropriate for the content) wherever we produce – this is our ‘studio without borders’ approach.

And I think that really has come into play in so many of our experiences across the animation world, which was not the case even a [few] years ago and is fuelled by what’s happening in the non-linear space, where kids have access to content everywhere.  The linear space certainly has to follow suit and make sure it behaves in the same way, where Hollywood and anybody else can no longer just make content for Hollywood. We have to make it for everybody and it has to be relevant, because for this generation of consumers, it doesn’t’ matter where the content is from and it doesn’t matter how they get their content (they don’t necessarily see the difference between one platform and another – they are platform agnostic). If it’s good content, it’s good content.

Could you point to some examples of where talent has come from around the world and grown with Nickelodeon from short form to slightly longer, or repetitive, recurrent short-form?

The Global Animated Shorts Program Showcase, which takes place on Wednesday, is really a whistle-stop tour of the universe with representation from probably all major countries of the world and certainly from every continent. We are now going into Season 3 of the program. Because of the time it takes to produce animation, we are just now putting into production the ones that we chose from Season I. Those will be announced soon, so unfortunately I can’t talk about those yet – but stay tuned!  Those pieces of content, whether they were put into long-form development or remained just as a short, still have a life. The shorts air on the App and on nick.com for instance.  We’ve seen content coming from Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland. The list is endless. All that content is being aired across Nick.com and the App, and some of that content is being advanced into the second and third stages of development and will go into full production, to be announced shortly and do come from very vast corners of the world.

I believe that 2015 is the first time that Nickelodeon is taking exhibition space at Annecy’s MIFA market….

Yes it is.  It’s for us to have a space and a footprint on the floor, during the festival.

So you have another way of people coming to you?

Exactly. An additional touch-point.  It definitely will be a hub for talent, and for our members of staff that are attending the market, and I think it also represents our commitment to the festival and how we want to be absorbed into the global culture of animation.

Do you think that the Hollywood studios, or congloms and their French high profile counterparts have learnt over the years how to use the festival very well in what is essentially energetic multi-tasking. You don’t just show a show and flop out with champagne by the lake. Nickelodeon has I think nine events

I can’t speak for the other networks, but I can speak to the Nickelodeon position, which is definitely yes. We have an on-going commitment to Annecy, which is just as you’ve described it. We want to be much more in a conversation with the festival, and be about show, tell and listen. All of the various events that we have decided to put on speak to that mission and speak to us setting up an experience at Annecy which is really bespoke to the creator and to the creator feeling comfortable with our brand and what we do, and so creating events and moments in the festival that will be magnetic for them, is very important to us.

Annecy has a strong focus on women in animation this year. Yet few direct fest-selected long-features…

It’s hard. In our business it is an unfortunate fact that there are less women doing this than we would all like. However, I think, looking forward, we will start to see more and more of these women being at front and centre of key animation positions including writing and directing. In fact across our shorts program we have a good amount of female creators, Australian creator Mel Roach being one of them, who’s done a short for us.  I think it’s a commitment we have internally to making sure that we’ve got diversity of voice, in every aspect. So hopefully when we talk next year we’ll say there are more women involved this year, maybe even double on last year!

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