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Mipcom: France’s TeamTo, Beijing’s Taikong Works Close ‘Yellowbird’ Distribution Deal for China (EXCLUSIVE)

New partners now in co-production talks

Yellowbird, from France's TeamTo
Courtesy: TeamTo

CANNES — In a landmark deal for French animation, Paris and L.A.-based CGI company TeamTo and Beijing’s Taikong Works has closed an all-rights distribution deal for China on TeamTo’s animated feature “Yellowbird.”

Founded by producer-directors Jinsong Hu and Kexin Liu in 2008, production-distribution studio Taikong Works plans a theatrical release in China around the Chinese New Year in late January or February.

“This is the first deal of a relationship we want to build together,” TeamTo founder-producer Guillaume Hellouin said at Mipcom.

While most U..S. animation production ventures with China – think Oriental DreamWorks – whether individual movies or corporate joint ventures, seek via co-production a way into China’s expanding film/TV markets, TeamTo is looking to create global content in its own renowned French studios from content co-produced or originated in China.

The new partners, which will share Chinese merchandising revenues on ‘Yellowbird,” are now discussing a potential sequel to “Yellowbird.” The follow-up, whether “Yellowbird 2” or other feature co-productions, would aim to expand the international reach and sales of Taikong Works productions.

“What we don’t want to do is make something together that does well in China and maybe can only be released on video in France,” Hellouin said.

He added: “We want to do something that works in China and France, and see how it works elsewhere, which will make a very successful partnership.”

TeamTo also aims to help Taikong Works export its current animation. Animation on co-productions with Taikong Works would be carried out at TeamTo studios in France, according to Hellouin.

Cost control is still “one of the issues” in animation production in France, Hellouin recognised at the Annecy Animation Festival last June. To allow it to animate 100% of its series and features out of France and stay within market budgets, TeamTo runs an 18-person R & D team, headed by Jean-Baptiste Spieser, which collaborates with Grenoble’s Inria Technology centre, France’s national institute for computer science and applied mathematics. With animation costs rising 15%-20% in a year in China, French animation rates are not notably higher than China’s, Hellouin said.

“For years French producers were outsourcing their work in China and now China may be outsourcing to us,” Hellouin commented explaining that such are the potential profits for top Chinese animation companies in  the Chinese market that they are no longer interested in working as service companies.

The TeamTo-Taikong Works deal reveal comes hard on the heels of TeamTo’s opening an office in Beijing, headed up by Shu Ye, a former sound editor and U.S. and European film distribution exec in China. It also caps a successful overseas career for “Yellowbird” which, sold by Simon Crowe’s London-based SC Films International, has over-performed in international, selling to 58 territories with a theatrical release in around 30, Hellouin said.

The China sale continues rapid ramp-up at TeamTo, producer of Ubisoft’s Motion Pictures’ TV series “Rabbids Invasion,” aired by Nickelodeon worldwide, and an animation supplier on Disney’s “Sofia The First.” TeamTO launched a Los Angeles-based U.S. office in 2011, which is headed Leonora Hume, a former senior v.p., international productions, at Walt Disney.

Producing 2D and 3D animation content, Taikong Works produced “Legend of the Moles,” a top five Box office  series which were the Top 5 box office release in China, animation series “Draco Monster,” which has 700 million viewers, and “Dinosaur Pico,” showcased at 2014’s Cannes New Chinese Films Talents Fund Forum.

TeamTO’s slate of original IPs and co-productions includes comedic CGI animated series “My Knight and Me” pre-bought by Canal Plus Family in France and Germany’s Super RTL, as well as as Emmy-nominated “Angelo Rules,” now in its fourth season.