Study case: “Ernest and Célestine”

by Marjolaine Bouvier, Laure Deschamps & Emma Vigand

Ernest and Célestine is a movie based on the children books of the same name. This is the story of an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse in a world where these two species are supposed to be sworn enemies. Ernest and Célestine is the kind of movie that brings together children and parents as it makes laugh and smile both young and older ones. This Belgian movie has drawn 911,000 spectators in the French-speaking countries of Europe.

We interviewed distributors from different European countries to understand how the film was distributed across Europe and see if there were any country-specific particularities.

(The article continues below – Commercial information)

Interview with Eliane du Bois – Cinéart (Belgium) 

 What made you decide to distribute Ernest and Celestine?

It’s because I love animation films. Within Cinéart, I often insist on choosing animation films. Moreover, we once won the Animation Film Distributor of the Year Award. I knew the books and while discovering the project, we thought it could turn out to be a real surprise. These are my personal tastes… I mean my tastes and the team’s tastes. There are more and more adaptations, animation films not only for children but also for adults, like this one too.

Did Patar and Aubier’s notoriety influence your choice of movie?

We released with them A Town Called Panic [trailerfilm focus]and it’s been a great adventure even if we were a bit disappointed by the results. Both Patar and Aubier and the producers were really involved in the project. We found the sponsors long time in advance, we promoted the movie on the internet, we put some huge efforts into this but we didn’t get much in return. So I don’t believe it has been determining. I must say that at the start, I didn’t know that Gabrielle Vincent was from Belgium, and I think it was the same for most of the audience. I even suspect that French people think she’s French (laugh)! They usually claim most of the Belgian talents! When we started reading the script we realised that the biggest achievement was the Gabrielle Vincent’s graphically magnificent creative world, but the stories were rather sweet. The Bear is always smiling, that kind of things. When we saw Pennac’s scenario, we wondered what they [Patar and Aubier] would do because it had nothing to do with Pic Pic André and A Town Called Panic. But together they succeeded in bringing to the dialogues and the tone some graphical and audio ideas… things that I only discovered after seeing the movie several times. For example, they added a grammar mistake on the message left by Pic Pic to André (laughs). I think that the three of them plus the director and the team really improved the world that makes this movie, and when we had a first screening in Namur for the French community, the theatre was filled with adults and they all came out feeling great and saying “it’s amazing, it made us happy”. It’s true that we don’t like all the movies that we release in the same way, but for this one, I’m personally entirely satisfied. I’m not an expert, but I think that 10 years ago, we could never have had such a good result with aquarelle on a screen. The ideas for the script, the dialogues, the voices… I think that everything is perfect.

You said that the aesthetic and the story of the film were a success. Can you tell the same with the distribution so far?

Yes, it’s amazing. The exhibitors feel like there is a real potential, thanks to the word of mouth, and therefore they keep on screening the movie. It worked during school time and then we had the holidays in February. If everything goes well we might hold on till the Easter holidays, Inch’Allah! Up to now, we have sold more than 85,000 tickets, which is quite a lot! The audience is mainly from Brussels and Wallonia. Brussels had about 20,000 entries, Wallonia 60,000, and the rest was in Flanders. The film is also screened in the Netherlands. It’s selling, but not a lot because there is a real problem – and it’s a big concern for Cinéart – they have such an important market that it’s always busy. All of the cartoons and animation movies are scheduled to be screen during the school holidays. So the children – or rather the parents – have to choose the one they really want to see. In Flanders and in the Netherlands, the local market is really strong and it adds up to the US animation movies. They have local productions taken from TV series and kids want to see those movies. I still tend to believe that some parents want to take their kids see something a little bit different or alternative. But where are those parents?

Did you release the film in December for Christmas holidays on purpose?

Yes, but in general we are on the same basis as France. Sometimes, in France they wait before releasing the DVD, but today they can release it only four months after its theatrical release. Four months really isn’t much for films that stay on screens for a long period. If we start too late, it will make it only two or three months, exhibitors will think that there is no point in screening the film if the DVD is already on the market. So yes, we try to follow the French release, with more or less one week between the two, in order to invite the actors – in that case directors – to the premieres. Then we had good opportunities, Ernest and Celestine allowed us to work with publishers. We worked together with the publishers, our work increased the book’s sales and their work made the movie more popular. There has also been a Gabrielle Vincent exhibition organised in Ixelles, with a whole section dedicated to Ernest and Celestine. They also showed some other of her paintings and the postcards she used to draw.

You said that most of the time it’s the parents who decide to take their children to the movies. Did you try to target both parents and children in your campaign?

Yes. We realised that we had to target children above four-years-old. For Kirikou we could start with three-year-old kids. For this one we had to start at four or five-years-old because, first of all, some of the kids got scared. You also need to understand the tooth fairy story, you need to have already lost a tooth and put it underneath your pillow to get that. Then it’s up to the exhibitors. It’s really hard to convince them to take risks and have an evening screening. Adults don’t really want to be seen going to a kid’s movie by themselves because people will think they’re childish, so you need to have the excuse of taking a kid to see the film. In some cities there were some evening screenings, but we had to focus on afternoon screenings. In most cities they tell you “No, children movies and animation movies are in the afternoon, period.” They are screened every day when it’s the holidays, but only Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during school time. Then it’s true that to reach this audience you also need to reach the grand-parents and the parents, in that case, it’s not the children who are going to read the critics in the newspaper! You need to try to be in the theatres that has a family audience. It’s a family movie, so there’s small contests, newspapers, websites… And visibility of course! People know the books and so they were put back in front in the bookshops, many parents bought the books for their children.

Did you use social networks for your campaign?

Yes, we always do now. There’s also the partnership with the media, they have their own website an there’s organised premieres. We started the premieres at the beginning of December, just in time for the Saint Nicolas. We released the movie on December, 18thbut as the exhibitors were eager and the wanted some Saint-Nicolas screenings, the film was already out in premieres.

Did you have the right to examine the trailer or the poster of the film?

No we hardly ever have it. Sometime we do when it’s about co-productions with Belgium or Belgian films. It is expensive to redo a trailer so we look for what’s on the market. But here we didn’t do anything like that because the trailer was already great. But sometimes we take the trailer from another country when it’s a foreign film. When we don’t like the poster – itself or when it is not appropriate for our market – we redo it. It is less expensive than to remake the trailer. All the visual campaign which started at Cannes – they made a little book – was great. We even did our annual greeting card with Célestine who whispers to Ernest’s ear “Happy New Year!” We also make material for the theatres. For example things they can put on windows, paper garland, postcards… We can’t do advertising in schools but there is an educational dossier made by Grignoux. In think that after the school screenings we will be at 100,000 entries. It is huge for a territory like ours knowing that they are mainly concentrated in Brussels and Wallonia. Let’s not fool ourselves, the dubbing version in Dutch will be use afterwards for the DVD and TV, but the expenses for the dubbing are hardly covered by the entries.

What was the film release budget? How do you plan this?

All included – promotion, posters, spots, internet advertising – we took a risk and only had a €100,000 budget. We always work the same way. First we do a brainstorm with the persons in the team who saw the film. The programming people try to get feedback from the exhibitors and also from the Flemish and French-speaking journalists. Then we do another brainstorm to gauge and estimate the movie, see how much risk we can take. Here, €100,000 is equivalent to 37,000 admissions. We were already quite optimistic, and we have given visibility to the film, with a campaign on trams and buses – some of the ads are still on – because we thought it was the kind of film which could take off. If we like a movie but we know that it’s never going to take off, we try to find cheaper ways to promote it. In the end it’s a good promotion budget because we believed in the movie, we were hoping that it would boost the admissions. People do not always realise that, but everything depends on the start; not only the first day, but also the first weeks. Every Mondays we have to deal with exhibitors telling us “there are not enough admissions; I am going to stop screening the movie.”

Interview with Andrea Metcalfe – AQS (Czech Republic)

What made you decide to distribute Ernest and Celestine?

The animation of the movie is a classical style of animation that is currently rare and therefore makes this film very unique and beautiful. The same I can say about the characters and the melodic and velvet story that only can tender the viewers at all age group.

Did you choose it for its potential audience or more for its special visual feature?

I would answer in the same tone as my previous answer. The film has a great potential from kids to adults to stop at every day life and please themselves with this beautiful film.

How did you plan the release of Ernest and Celestine?

Of course the main target in the cinemas are kids and families.

What were the decision criteria for the release dates?

The theatrical market is very tough in every market. You need to plan in advance and give enough space for family movies.

What were your goals for this film? Have those goals been achieved?

If you have at least one happy viewer your goal is achieved .

What was the film release budget? How do you plan this?

This is more of a business question that should stay behind the scene.

How to target such a young audience?

We have a very acknowledged marketing team that has focused on young kids, mothers and fathers.

Did you undertake a campaign on social networks?

Yes we did, you have to use all marketing channels.

What was your approach for the cast of the dubbing voices?

Dubbing voices are very important and due to long and excellent dubbing history in Czech Republic, we did not have any problem to get well known names that suited the characters.

Do you often distribute films adapted from books? Are the books already famous in your country?

Yes we also do intent to distribute films that are adapted from books. Sometimes it helps the film but mainly the film has to be accessible to the local audience.

Read the film focus.