Asian Animation Summit 2012: Day One, to the sound of cash landing on a table

Thirty-six projects on offer, overwhelmingly for kids, ten from Australia - the inaugural summit started with a raft of televisual charm and a heap of hope, as Dr O'Donnell keenly observed.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Thirty-six projects on offer, overwhelmingly for kids, ten from Australia – the inaugural summit started with a raft of televisual charm and a heap of hope, as Dr O’Donnell keenly observed.

On a planet far, far away (it could, as well, be South Perth) a handsome young HERO and his devoted, but not slavish and utterly platonic FEM, battle the dark and marshal forces of evil (or their school teachers and parents) with all the idealism and ingenuity that a 14 year old can command.

Of course, they are aided by a band of friends and a squad of screenwriters and animators.

Welcome to the world of very young adult animated fiction. It is a hot commodity at this inaugural Asian Animation Summit.

And, not too far distant, is the fey world of animation for the very young. If you are old enough to sit up without assistance, you are old enough for television. And the programs for the very young, on offer here in Kuala Lumpur, have a freshness and innocence that is charming, beguiling and, finally, reassuring. Killing, as a modus vivendi, does not enter the dramatic discourse of children’s television until the nightly news has done its worst.

An Asian animation summit, with a focus on programs for the young, was a proposal put to Kim Dalton, head of ABC Television, by Tim Brooke-Hunt, the Controller of ABC Children’s TV. Tim’s job title sounds like a boundary rider’s so Dalton got the job as chair of the inaugural Asian Animation Forum. Two years later, it’s a reality.

One thing is clear. The content creators, who are at the core of the event, have been carefully chosen and prepared. The curatorship shows. The standard of presentation is uniformly high, even if the stagecraft of some presenters would not attract a Green Room nomination. Tim Phillips of Screen Australia says that after the initial call for participants went out, it was the spade-ready projects, those either set for immediate intensive development or ready for immediate production, that were chosen.

And, happily, this is not nation-against-nation contest. All presenters have had access to similar mentorship, so the standard is high, irrespective of the country of origin of the project. Projects are judged on their intrinsic values, potential for effective completion and on the programming needs of the distributors and broadcasters.

Ex-BBC, now based in France, Joan Lofts is one of the mentors that was charged with assisting the teams prepare their presentations. She acknowledges that each team started at a different level but to bring each to the same level was not the purpose of the mentorship. It was, she says, to help them be the best they could be and to best showcase the qualities of their project. It was to make difference and excellence the selling points.

Four main groups are attending this animation summit. There are the content creator who are pitching their projects and some who are along for the experience with training wheels hidden under newly purchased dark suits. There are distributors from around the world looking for product to on-sell; some financiers and investor taking soundings; and TV broadcasters looking for content, hoping to get in on the ground floor.

One such is Kim Wilson, Creative Head of TV, Children’s and Youth Programming, at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She caused a mild stir at the presentation of Elivie & Tom’s Mad Hair Day, an Australian project presented by producer Jessica Beirne, by standing up and putting her money on the table. Wilson says that the CBC will commit a five-figure sum for further development of the project of fifty-two, eleven minute programs, aimed at the four to six year olds.

And being first overseas money in, she will be looking for some participation in overseas rights, together with Australian backers, the ABC and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. The details are to be worked out over the coming weeks.

Wilson may have been first to put cash on the table but moral or vocal support was not infrequent for the projects put before the delegates: it was this commitment of cash, in public, that was unusual.

Your correspondent will be trawling for information on deals that were committed in the quieter moments between sessions or at Monday’s reception sponsored by Screen Australian and the ABC. Thank goodness for a glass of wine (even if it was South African) or a beer, even if it was Tiger (a fine beer but Singaporean).

There is an old saying (actually from the 1960s, that’s old now) ‘What if they gave a war and nobody came?’

The same applies, with variations, to the Asian Animation Summit. The crucial folk at the summit are those who deal in money rather than ideas: the distributors, investors and broadcasters. If they do not come, the summit will die: it is the next summit that is crucial, as Kim Dalton acknowledged in his opening address.

As Day One ends, the vibe is good. The quality of presentation has impressed the distributors, financiers and broadcaster, the crucial cohorts at an event like this. The distributors, money people and broadcaster seem happy that a few days in monsoonal Kuala Lumpur, with its torrential rainfall in afternoons and evenings, is a good investment for their time and interests.

Dr Vincent O'Donnell
About the Author
Once a film editor, Dr Vincent O’Donnell is a historian of Australian film agencies. He is an honorary fellow in RMIT University’s School of Media and Communication, a past president of the Producers and Directors Guild of Victoria and former executive producer at Film Victoria.