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Cartoons take new direction

Animators forge Web-savvy distribution plans

MADRID — “Plenty of talent and peanuts.” That, says Perro Verde’s Manuel Cristobal, the producer of “Going Nuts,” is the lure and budget of Spain’s first-ever day-and-date release.

And it’s a horror-actioner whose cast is … insane animated nuts.

Set in a nutty psychiatric ward, “Going,” directed by Juanjo Ramirez, unveils new, young creative talent. It employs “long tail” marketing — targeting global niche audiences of discerning, young tech-freaks. It bows May 25 on theatrical, DVD retail and TV in Spain and Internet download and DVD sales worldwide.

“Going Nuts,” like other productions, such as the $54 million “Planet One,” is rapidly remodeling Spain’s animation landscape.

“Anime is mature. You have to focus on big projects like ‘Planet One’ or small, targeted pics,” says Cristobal. “With new distribution systems and technology, the public will choose; physical distributors will tend to become marketing specialists, a function producers can perform.”

“Going” is the first step before the $3 million “Zombie Western,” a puppet oater splatfest, co-produced with Denmark’s Happy Flyfish, from Tor Fruergaard’s concept.

The film is acting as a guinea pig, in a way. Spain’s just-launched VOD portal Filmotech.com will execute downloads, eradicating technical and payment problems. Perro Verde handles marketing from its Web site.

Perro Verde’s Internet approach has a social-networking vibe. It sports director Juanjo Ramirez’s blog, free mobile-phone and desktop downloads and, crucially, links to selective blogs and webs.

“Animation is a technique, not a genre,” Cristobal says.

But annual Spanish TV toon hours produced plunged from 150 in 1997-99 to 83 for 2003-05.

“This reflects the decline of the country as a service market due to competition from Asia and very limited funding by Spanish broadcasters,” signals Screen Digest.

Toon-makers reacted by embracing feature film production — up to 14 pics in 2003-05 — and targeting broader auds.

That’s vet animaverick Antonio Zurera’s strategy on “RH+, the Vampire of Seville,” from M5 Audiovisual, the producer of “Dragon’s Hill” and “The Magic Cube.”

“With ‘RH+,’ we don’t want to be buttonholed,” says M5 prexy Zurera. “There’s always been indie animation for adults. But ‘Shrek’ marked a change of direction in story conception to reach them.”

Spain’s animators are conscious of greater competition. Yet Spain offers advantages.

“Spanish product in many cases matches the best product around, and is made with less (economic) resources,” says 6 Sales topper Marina Fuentes.

According to Screen Digest, Spain produces animation at a lower cost ($10,252 per minute) than France ($13,365), Italy ($12,156), Germany ($14,306) and the U.K. ($14,369).

Spain’s moves into a mix of digital 2-D and 3-D animation could benefit quality/ price ratios.

Back to the homeland

Experienced Hollywood talent is returning. Teaming with Kandor Graphics and Ricky Posner’s YaYa! Films, Perro Verde is co-producing the $13.4 million “The Missing Lynx.” Targeted for a 2008 delivery, the pic is helmed by former Pixar-DreamWorks-Disney animator Raul Garcia and Kandor’s Manuel Sicilia; sales are being handled by 6 Sales,.

Garcia underscores the freedom found outside Hollywood. “The principle difference with Pixar and DreamWorks is that ‘Lynx’ is totally controlled by its creators.”

“Kandor is an example of Hollywood creative brain drain and globalization. This won’t stop; it threatens U.S. hegemony,” Posner says.

But there are challenges, too, such as distribution, as Posner remarks: “There are four playdates annually for toon pics. The studios have two to four films lined up for each.”

The $54 million “Planet One” lands with the credentials to compete against overseas product. In conception, creativity and financial construct, it’s a truly international production, projecting up to 90% of revenues from abroad, producer Ignacio Perez Dolset says. Screenplay is by “Shrek” scribe Joe Stillman. But the project’s conception came from director Jorge Blanco and Perez Dolset, makers of international vidgame smash “Commandos.”

And “Planet One” — an inverse extraterrestrial movie: the alien is a human — is a Spanish (60%)-U.K. (40%) co-production between Madrid’s Ilion Animation Studios and London’s Handmade Films, which is handling worldwide sales and will bow the pic at the Cannes market.

Stillman tells Variety he’s savoring the upside of working with “a sense of autonomy and creative ownership that’s hard to find in the studio system. Decisions are pretty instantaneous.”

Regarding the U.S., says Handmade chairman Guy Collins, “most importantly for the film and its producers is having a domestic distributor on board who … recognizes its unique qualities and marketing opportunities and is willing to give the film its appropriate domestic launch.”

That demands domestic P&A “of a minimum $20 million-$25 million.” Perez Dolset’s family company Wisdom Entertainment owns LaNetroZed, Spain’s biggest mobile content company operating in 37 countries, videogame studios Pyros and Ilion. Expect “Planet One” to extract maximum results from cross-marketing.

Perez Dolset provides a peek at upcoming waves in product development: “We’re preparing more conventional platforms, such as vidgames, but there’ll be others that haven’t been used to date,” he says. “We’ll unite vidgames, Internet and mobile phones to create a 2010, not 2000 or 1995, concept.” This is not high-tech sci-fi.

For Collins, “The plan is for LaNetroZed to promote awareness of ‘Planet One’ at every opportunity through its base of more than 21 million customers in 37 countries.

“Their customers are in contact with an exponentially growing audience of literally hundreds of millions of potential cinemagoers and digital/DVD buyers. The film’s marketing opportunities are immense.”

(Mateo Perez Alvarez contributed to this report)

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