Anne-Sophie Vanhollebeke • President, Cartoon Italia
"We reorganised ourselves but COVID-19 has overcome our plans”
- We asked Anne-Sophie Vanhollebeke, president of Cartoon Italia, about how the Italian animation industry has reacted to the current health crisis
How has the Italian animation industry reacted to the health crisis caused by the coronavirus? Cinema & Video International asked Anne-Sophie Vanhollebeke, president of Cartoon Italia, the organisation which represents more than 95% of Italian animation production companies (35 of them), member of Animation in Europe, which unites 17 organisations from 15 European Union countries
Cinema & Video International: How has the Italian animation production industry handled the crisis?
Sophie Vanhollebek: Almost all of them equipped themselves well in advance. At Kidscreen, which took place in Miami in early February, the total absence of Chinese attendees, who are very important partners for us, made us realise what we were facing. And on 23 February, when the schools closed in Northern Italy, there was a general mobilisation. We reorganised our entire technological infrastructure, we purchased hardware, software, servers, and moved all our employees and professionals home. It was a titanic undertaking, a studio such as Rainbow CGI, for example, had to equip 150 with technology to guarantee the continuation of its productions. In a record time, we managed not to block productions, guaranteeing their jobs to almost all of our employees without resorting to layoffs.
It would seem that the animation sector would be less affected, since there is no live, location filming. Is that so?
We thought that we would be less affected thanks to the immediate activation of the smart-working set-up we had put in place. But despite the expansion of our corporate networks, all the traffic took place through internet networks which in these days were therefore overloaded and slowed down, making the exchange of data and files necessary for remote production work very difficult. For the same process, we lose 30% to 50% in productivity, which immediately translates into 30% to 50% in extra costs not budgeted in our financial plans. These costs immediately affect the company and consequently put it in financial difficulty.
Moreover, this reduction of productivity has created a general slowdown in production and a delay in the deliveries to the broadcaster, in the case of TV series production, or in the release of a film, which however could not have come out due to the closing of cinemas. Then arrived the final blow, fatal this time, which was the lockdown, arriving in China and Italy, then in other European countries, in India and in the US. These are all countries we are in co-production with, and who we divide our workload with. Today, the already painful slowdown in our process has worsened exponentially with the closure of the foreign studios with which we work.
What production are you currently working on?
Currently, we have a pair of feature films, among them the next film by Alessandro Rak from Studio Mad Entertainment, and several TV series co-financed by Rai. Alessandro Rak’s film has stopped, while the production of most of these series has slowed down and a delay in releases to Rai is expected. We are in constant contact with Luca Milano, the director of Rai Ragazzi, and with his staff, also in smart-working, who have been very supportive, in particular in the streamlining of certain administrative practices. Moreover, to help us after the emergency, they are evaluating new projects in development.
What is the situation with development?
There are several animation projects which were supposed to get into production in the next few months but were blocked following the cancellation or postponement of international markets and events such as Mip TV in Cannes or Cartoons on the Bay in Pescara; followed by the cancellations of Cartoon Digital in Caligari and of the MIFA in Annecy, one of the main rendez-vous of the year in our sector. Consequently, Italian producers have not managed and will not manage to close co-production agreements with foreign partners and to complete their financing plans to begin production.
Is the Association supporting particular initiatives?
It is important to face together the state of emergency and not to feel ourselves isolated, it helps us remain proactive and find creative solutions for the survival of our sector. Moreover, ee also suggested to our associates that they release the online rights of their TV series produced in the past 20 years, so that RAI can offer them on its Rai Play platform.
And what about after the crisis?
The sector of the Italian animation industry will have to wait that all European and Asian countries, as well as America, come out of this emergency, before returning to normal production conditions. According to our forecasts, this will not happen before January 2021.
Last week, we started collecting all the data related to the financial difficulties encountered by each individual producer, in order to accurately assess the economic damage for the entire sector and to be able to suggest concrete solutions to the government, easily feasible and "cheap", that is, not too expensive. We know that we can count on the support of Francesco Rutelli, president of Anica, and on Minister Dario Franceschini.
In collaboration with
(Translated from Italian)
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