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Canada and Singapore get together for toons

It wasn’t long ago that western coproductions with Asian companies were little more than service agreements. But the playing field has levelled and there are now concrete examples of Canadian co-pros with Singapore becoming true partnerships, reports Amanda Burgess.

"It’s the classic international cost cycle you read about in business school: labour intensive animation work has moved away from Korea and Taiwan as those economies developed and labour became more expensive, moving on to lower cost economies such as India and China," says Neil Court, president, Decode Enterprises. "Those original service countries are left with a skilled work force from the earlier animation work, married to significant technological prowess in very dynamic economies."

Government agencies in Singapore, focused on building the media sector, are helping the region to emerge from the service-only shadow and become a viable coproduction partner. And access to funding, both government and private, a willingness to find appropriate ways to work with western producers and a Canada-Singapore coproduction treaty are all attracting Canadian partners to Singapore. Decode is working on Clang Invasions with Singapore’s Scrawl Studios and Hong Kong’s Agogo Entertainment. The animated series will bow on YTV Canada. Nelvana, meanwhile, is working on The Future is Wild with Singapore’s ST Electronics. The animated series is destined for Canada’s Teletoon and Discovery Kids in the US.

There are two agencies supporting media activity in Singapore, the Media Development Authority and the Economic Development Board. Singapore Media Fusion is an MDA initiative designed to position Singapore as a creative force. The MDA supports coproduction, media technology research and training initiatives, working to boost the range and quality of exportable media content from Singapore.

The EDB has a more general mandate to build Singapore’s position as a hub for business and investment, and in the case of TV, is seeking partnerships with foreign companies wanting to establish local operations in Singapore. For example, the EDB played a key role when Lucasfilm set up its Singapore facility (which then produced the Clone Wars series).

"Our involvement and interest in Singapore touches both the MDA and the EDB, though in the near-term it is the MDA and its funding model that has encouraged us to seek partnerships in Singapore," says Scott Dyer, EVP, production at Nelvana. "The MDA provides direct investment to Singaporean production companies, often providing half or more of the investment required to enable a production. This support, combined with the production treaty, is a powerful financing mechanism."

Canadian producers say that despite local investment, it will take some time to develop high-level creative talent. And the funding model is different. In Canada, the primary support mechanisms are refundable tax credits, equity and broadcast license fees. In Singapore funding comes from direct investment rather than grant, subsidy or at-risk financing.

"What makes these deals possible is the partnership approach taken by both the producers and government agencies, but these are not simple contracts and the challenges are significant," says Dyer.

East and west also tend to use very different storytelling approaches. Court and Dyer agree that because content production and exploitation is truly global, storytelling tends to have a western flavour to ensure success around the world while the influence of Asian partners is seen more in the visual approach.