Federation Ent., Cottonwood Media, Join Forces

Federation takes key stake in Cottonwood, David Michel becomes Federation founding partner

Pascal Breton and David Michel

PARIS –Linking the two most prominent new players on the burgeoning France-U.S. TV axis, Pascal Breton’s Federation Entertainment, producer of “Marseille,” Netflix’s first French-language series, is joining forces with David Michel’s Cottonwood Media, producer of “The Ollie & Moon Show,” just greenlit by NBC’s Sprout for a 2017 debut.

Under the terms of the deal, Michel joins Federation Ent. as a founding partner and head of kids and family programs & sales; Federation Ent. takes a majority stake in Cottonwood Media, which will continue to operate as a distinct entity.

Alliance teams two newly-created companies, both based out of L.A. and Paris, and run by like-minded French TV vets who both hung new and high-profile shingles in 2014 targeting talent-driven premium content production and sales and working a France-U.S. premium content TV axis.

Managing director and a driving force at Marathon Media, the animation house of top French indie Marathon, who, like Breton, helped forge France’s international TV business, co-creating, for instance, global hit “Totally Spies,” Michel launched Cottonwood Media in September, moving smartly to secure two properties from Random House Children’s Books: “The Ollie & Moon Show,” from author-illustrator Diane Kredensor; and “Squish,” with John Derevlany (“Lego: Legend of Chima”) attached as showrunner, and Gulli, France’s leading kidcaster partnering.

As part of Federation Entertainment, Cottonwood Media can offer financial security to creators as the battle for premium content in the U.S and Europe has moved from distribution deals to tying down key creative talent who, if they come with well-known IPs, all the better.

“In the early 2000s, the battle was for distribution. In the next few years, it will turn on the most interesting writers and creators, and the battle has never been fiercer.”

The key, Michel added, is both “getting the best creators to work with you because they know you have financial backing and licensing and offering something a corporation would never give them.” The partnership with Federation Entertainment allows for both, he argued.

“David aims to make premium series for the U.S. market. Between our know-how, there will be lots of synergies working together,” said Breton.

Going forward, Federation and Cottonwood will now share a back office facilities, Breton said, adding that a strong company aids deficit financing that is required on animation or live-action series made for international markets, Breton also commented that he had plans for live action series for kids which could now be developed with Cottonwood.

The Federation-Cottonwood announcement comes as “The Minions,” animated out of Paris-based Illumination Mac Guff, launched in a first four territories in international, up on “Despicable Me 2,” also animated out of Paris.

Though Cottonwood’s first two shows are based on U.S. IPs, about 50% of shows on Cottonwood’s current production slate are U.S./North American-sourced and 50% based on French IPs. Much of Cottonwood animation could be made out of France, Michel suggested.

“One of the reasons we’re based out of France is because the creative community in France is so fantastic,” said Michel, pouting out that the trailer for “The Ollie & Moon Show” was designed and directed by French talent. Writing, direction, storyboarding and animation on “Ollie” will now be carried out in France and Europe.

One driving narrative at last week’s Annecy Fest and MIFA market, the biggest animation event in the world, was the French film industry’s insistence, led by pubcaster France Televisions, that it had to be more competitive as it faced off with new online entrants and multiple other demands on its young consumers’ attention, such as YouTube.

“In terms of the market’s broad strokes, everybody’s realizing that one way forward is to produce at a higher-level, premium content,” said Michel.

“We’re excited to have such a talented new addition to Federation’s group of producers,” states Pascal Breton. “David was at the heart of some of Marathon’s biggest hits and has become one of the most respected producers of children’s content today. He joins Federation with an impressive slate of projects ranging from live-action fiction to animation.”

Founding the Marathon Group in 1990, and becoming CEO of Marathon Images after its purchase by Zodiak Media, Breton launched production-distribution platform Federation Entertainment last September as a global mini-studio creating premium content for top-tier platforms. It soon made good on its mandate producing the “Boss”-style“ Marseille” for Netflix, whose first season starts shooting end of August, and is now producing the second season of espionage thriller “The Bureau,” also in French, for Canal Plus. “The Bureau’s” season 1 debuted on the paybox this April.

Underscoring its breadth of partnerships, Federation Bureau is co-producing hospital-set “The Replacements” in Finnish, season 2 of “Hostages,” a Hebrew-language series, with Israel and has teamed with “Dig” writer Carol Barbee and producer Tim Kring (“Heroes”) on medical drama “Victor.”

Federation Entertainment is negotiating co-production of two other English-language series with U.S. TV operators, Breton told Variety. Late May, Federation Entertainment announced it had tapped Lionel Uzan, architect of the build of SND-M6 Group, to the newly-created position of managing director.