Accounting for 40% of all selected projects, French productions will dominate this year’s Toulouse-set Cartoon Forum for reasons that far exceed home field advantage. Underpinning the 33 projects presented at this year’s pitch sessions as well as the relatively robust state of the Gallic animation ecosystem – which produced 295 hours of content in 2020 while increasing foreign investment by nearly 10% since 2018 – are a number of structural benefits and policy reforms meant to directly spur such outcomes.
“We’ve seen the conjunction of several factors,” says Sarah Hemar, deputy managing director of UniFrance in charge of audiovisual and digital. “First is the tradition of graphic arts, of drawing and cartooning, that is firmly planted in France. Then there is a strong system of creative design and training, with many schools creating a highly skilled workforce.”
“Added to that is the public sector,” Hemar continues. “Looking to develop this industry in a more dynamic way, the government has intervened at every step [along the supply chain].”
Those interventions began with a series of measures put into effect by France’s Ministry of Culture throughout the 1980s that mandated, alongside public financing and a series of incentives, free-to-air and pay cable broadcasters to direct a regular stream of investment into the sector.
In recent years this has resulted in €60 million ($70 million) in broadcaster financing, with France Television picking up half that tab. When paired with the €125 million ($146 million) brought in by international sales and pre-sales – for the most part from buyers in the U.S. and Germany – such government mandated investment has kept the French animation industry the largest in Europe, boasting 133 identified studios and 7,500 salaried employees.
And the fact that many, if not most, of them are not found in Paris is no accident either.
“There was a central decision to decentralize the ecosystem,” Hemar explains. “In France, if you don’t decide to decentralize, everything will [conglomerate]. So there was a decision to irrigate the territory.”
A co-production between Rennes-based shingle Vivement Lundi and Paris and Angouleme-based outfit Superprod, the Cartoon Forum pitch project “Me and My Compost” (pictured) is one title that has benefited from a more variegated national landscape.
To wit: The ecologically focused, 2D animated series benefited not only from more widespread support from France CNC and Creative Media Europe, a project of the European Commission, but also from Tempo, a local development fund launched by the city of Rennes.
“There are various funds that support projects at every stage,” says Vivement Lundi exec Aurélie Angebault. “Recently, Breton support funds restructured to remain competitive, to be able to grow and host new projects. They’re not just assisting productions to help the sector; they’re looking to develop durable structures within the region.”
As the Breton funds restructured, others were created whole cloth, particularly in the aftermath of a 2016 administrative campaign to reduce and consolidate the number of the regions in the country. Among its other benefits, the administrative restructure pooled and merged disparate support funds, thus increasing their overall impact while widening their reach.
For producers spread out across the country, these supports have helped them bulk up their workforce – while helping new graduates from the country’s professional training programs to more quickly integrate into the industry.
“Regions with stagnating sectors are looking to renew themselves by bringing in young, highly-trained professionals ready to settle down,” says Angebault. “The average age of someone working at our studio is 25. These are people who require a certain quality of life, who look for that. That’s something the decentralizing campaign offers.”
“The question of quality of life, and the capacity to develop and expand in a town with lower real estate costs than Paris [is extremely important],” adds Superprod exec Camille Serceau. “I’m happy to be based in Angouleme and not Paris.”
Indeed, while projects like “Me and My Compost” can initially benefit from development funds in one part of the country, they might later be shepherded through production by highly skilled workforces in another. Angouleme, for instance, has become renowned for its animation and post-production infrastructure, boasting more than 30 animation studios and nearly twice as many digital and multimedia outfits – many of them ran out of the city’s audio-visual development body, Magelis.
“Magelis is very present and remains up to date on all the studios and productions going on,” Serceau explains. “Such agencies talk amongst themselves, figuring out how to partition the work between the regions, making sure it’s equitable. It’s more than just producers leading the dance.”