Frank Darabont's Abusive 'Walking Dead' Emails Spark Mixed Reaction Around Hollywood


“You’ve turned [me] into a raging asshole,” the onetime showrunner ranted in missives revealed in his AMC lawsuit, but industry reaction is not consistent across the board: “You can hear his heart bleeding for his vision as a director.”

Were the explosive emails that showrunner Frank Darabont sent to associates on AMC’s The Walking Dead just another example of Hollywood excess from a brilliant talent? Or an unacceptable breach of standards of conduct?

A brief and unscientific survey of showrunners and executives suggests the industry’s reaction is mixed. While no one defends Darabont’s profanity-laced emails, some condemn them more strongly than others. Some are willing to cut Darabont slack because AMC had slashed the show’s budget by 25 percent and imposed other difficult conditions despite the fact that he had delivered the biggest hit the network is ever likely to have.

Most of the emails, released as AMC fights a $280 million lawsuit from Darabont and CAA, were written in the weeks before his July 2011 dismissal. Given the sensitivities, several TV veterans were unwilling to offer opinions on the record, though Sons of Anarchy creator and Darabont defender Kurt Sutter tweeted: “Abuse is indefensible, but having penned my share of deadly missives, @AMC_TV TMZing FD’s mail with no context hurts all parties.”

Perhaps the most extreme reaction comes from a showrunner with a major hit series in his credits. “It literally pains me to take the side of the great corporate overlord here,” he says in an email. “I am sure AMC did things wrong. … This was their first time dealing with a massive, MASSIVE hit. Undoubtedly, they were in over their heads and mistakes were made. But nothing they did on the managerial side could possibly warrant Darabont’s behavior here. … Unconscionable.”

Another showrunner believes Darabont, 58, was “desperately trying to protect his show,” but “he comes off like a major dick, and though we showrunners have all been frustrated at a camera operator or director or writer, it is ultimately unseemly and un-leader-like to talk that kind of shit — or at least to commit it to writing.”

Darabont seems to get more understanding from execs. “You can hear his heart bleeding for the words on the page and his vision as a director,” says a studio head. “When I read those emails, I wished half the showrunners I know were that deep into dailies and meanings of scenes.”

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Sure, Netflix Spends Big, But Critics Ignore the Bigger Picture (Guest Column)


As CEO Reed Hastings hits 104 million global subscribers and 91 Emmy noms, a top analyst defends the $7 billion annual investment in A-list content: “It will pay dividends for years.”

Netflix’s recent cancellation of the big-budget series The Get Down and Sense8, along with its growing investment in original programming, have ignited new criticism about the streamer’s spending habits and financial health. As CEO Reed Hastings invests approximately $7 billion in content in 2017, some in the media are painting Netflix investors as credulous, sitting idly by while the company spends like a drunken sailor.

At the recent ATX Television Festival in Austin, The New York Times reported that Freeform programming and development executive vp Karey Burke said she viewed Netflix’s spending “with disdain.” Another exec suggested invoking a television industry rule that “everyone has to be profitable,” a dig at Netflix’s negative free cash flow. Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Securities analyst who remains an unrepentant Netflix hater despite having been wrong on the direction of its stock for a decade, continued his crusade against the company in a recent THR article by calling the Netflix balance sheet “unfathomable.”

As a long-term Netflix shareholder, I will offer a few counter-arguments for critics to consider:

Netflix is conservatively capitalized and financially strong. The company’s $3.4 billion debt level is moderate relative to its $70 billion market value, and it’s less leveraged on a debt-capital ratio than most of its media peers. As evidence of its financial strength, Netflix recently issued 1.3 billion euros ($1.49 billion) worth of bonds at 3.625 percent, maturing in 2027. The bond market is willing to finance Netflix at low rates and long maturities because it has established a durable subscription-based business model, with predictable revenue and cash flow. On July 17, Netflix reported adding 5.2 million subscribers during its most recent quarter for a total of 104 million globally. On the other hand, the financial performance of Netflix’s media peers has become more unpredictable due to cord-cutting, advertising headwinds and U.S. box-office volatility.

There is an intense focus on Netflix’s content spending. But what gets no attention, and is perhaps more interesting, is where Netflix does not spend money. Unlike almost all of its media peers, Netflix spends nothing on a large sales team in order to sell advertising against its programming. Because TV advertising is an increasingly intolerable nuisance, this expense creates little value for consumers. Netflix also spends virtually zero to drive opening-weekend box office for its original films, a growing expense incurred by the major studios that provides no value to the scores of people who don’t live near a theater showing the film. Netflix runs its business with about 4,700 employees; CBS has 15,500, Time Warner has 25,000. Netflix’s expenses are not earmarked to support large legacy cost structures. Instead, it is spending on what matters most to consumers: content.

Netflix’s $7 billion investment in content yields more than new programming, including a company-best 91 Emmy noms this year, second only to HBO: It drives global adoption of internet television, serves to aggregate more data on consumer entertainment preferences and builds long-term library value. Sense8 may be over (except for a planned movie to end the story), but its run likely awakened a whole new group of consumers to the benefits of web-delivered TV. The return on that awakening is not captured on the balance sheet but will pay dividends to Netflix for years.

Weiss is chief investment officer at NYC-based 8th & Jackson Partners.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Producer Will Packer on 'Girls Trip,' Discovering Kevin Hart and the Myth of Black Films at the Box Office


“It really is time people realize that good content is good content,” says the ‘Girls Trip’ producer as he also discusses the future for midbudget features and how he gets A-listers into ensembles.

“It keeps me out of the bubble,” explains Will Packer of Atlanta, the place he has called home for the past two decades. The producer, 43, has built a lucrative career producing midbudget movies with African-American talent — including Think Like a Man, Straight Outta Compton and the Ride Along series — for an audience base that Hollywood has historically ignored. He partially attributes this success to his city, saying, “It gives me the perspective of people who aren’t in the industry.” After graduating from Florida A&M, Packer moved to Atlanta to co-found his first production company, Rainforest Films, whose debut film was the microbudget 2000 erotic thriller Trois, which grossed more than $1 million in only a handful of theaters. Packer now splits his time between ATL, where his wife and four children — ages 13, 15, 17 and 22 — live and Los Angeles, where his Universal-based Will Packer Productions is rooted. He’s currently gearing up for the July 21 release of the comedy Girls Trip, starring Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith.

How has Atlanta changed now that more L.A. productions are moving in?

It’s a double-edged sword. There are a lot of folks who worked with myself and others to get the tax incentive passed, and it’s great that I can work at home. The other side is that I used to fly from L.A. to Atlanta and not see any Hollywood folks. Now, first class looks like the lobby at the SoHo House.

When did you first become aware of your frequent star Kevin Hart?

My oldest son, who was a teenager at the time, him and his buddies were watching these Kevin Hart bootleg videos over and over again. I have a strict “no bootleg” policy in my house, and they were all like, “We don’t know where else to get them!” I go: “First of all, I am sure you can buy these movies somewhere, so that’s no excuse. Second, what the hell is this, and why are you guys watching it over and over again and laughing like it’s the first time you have ever seen it?”

How do you grab on to a talent like Hart or Idris Elba before they go supernova?

I think that goes back to being outside the box, thinking and having outside interfaces. With Idris Elba, I was able to work with him right after he got off The Wire — his first theatrical feature was a small indie I made called The Gospel. Kevin had a fan base that he was building among a demo that had a lot of his movies primarily on bootleg. The interesting thing about that is, you aren’t seeing those numbers in a quantifiable way, so it doesn’t translate to revenue, which is why a lot of people in L.A. weren’t aware. With both, they were hotter outside of L.A. than they were in L.A. The same thing was true of the Steve Harvey book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man that I produced the 2012 movie adaptation of. Before he was on the New York Times best-seller list and before he was doing Oprah interviews, his book was being passed around in beauty salons and nail shops.

How do you get big-name talent to commit to large ensembles, like Girls Trip?

With Girls Trip, Regina Hall hadn’t been in a role like this before, where the story is centered on her and her character, so I told her she should be in the anchor position in the ensemble. For Queen Latifah and Jada, that was very much about approaching them together to reunite, because they haven’t worked together since Set It Off 20-plus years ago. I approach casting not like a net you just throw out, but by approaching each individual talent one by one in the very specific way that is necessary to get that particular talent.

What would it take for studios to start making midbudget features again?

You are either doing a tentpole and swinging for the fences or you are making [a film] for next to nothing, with very little risk. For me, with so much fragmentation across the landscape of content, with so many distribution options, if you are not making big, four-quadrant movies, you have to be making them for an audience — doesn’t have to be a big audience. But as the theatrical window gets shorter and someday collapses, which is probably inevitable, that is when it will change. Part of the reason midrange movies don’t make as much sense is because the P&A costs are so high. Once there is an active model in place, where films are released theatrically and day-and-date on streaming platforms, it will change the amount of money necessary to market that type of film.

What did you think of the industry reaction to the box-office success of Hidden Figures and Get Out?

I have a lot of articles and clippings of my movies that opened at number one, and the headline is always very similar: “Insert-Film-Here Surprises at No. 1, Comes Out of Nowhere!” I get a kick out of it, but it really is time people realize that good content is good content, and an audience is an audience. Hidden Figures didn’t get to its number only on an African-American female audience. Get Out didn’t get to its number only on an African-American horror audience. Both of those films were good films, and you had audiences who were not at all held back by the fact that African-Americans were the lead roles. It is starting to change so that we’re not pigeonholed by our casting. The next barrier is the international marketplace. That will be the next domino to fall in terms of films with African-American actors truly being treated the same as other films.

Why does the notion that African-American movies don’t travel well overseas persist?

The number one thing that hasn’t changed is the self-fulfilling prophecy by the distribution folks selling these films in those territories, saying that they’re not going to work. You’re the one who’s tasked with selling the film, and you have a certain number of resources to split between Film A, which has a white cast and the expectations that this should work in your territory, or Film B, which has an African-American cast and no expectations. You’re going to throw your resources to Film A. We have to change the way we’re thinking in the distribution chain. I was really encouraged by the numbers that Moonlight has done internationally. [Moonlight grossed $10 million more at the foreign box office compared to domestic.] That’s a film without huge international stars, an all African-American cast, thematically a very African-American story, and it worked. And the reality is that a good story is a good story, and it will resonate with audiences. Period. You don’t need any qualifier on the word “audience.”

A version of this story first appeared in the July 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Return of 'Game of Thrones' Boosts Subscriptions 40 Percent at Australian Streamer Foxtel Now


The surge in subscriptions caused the service to crash but the season 7 premiere of HBO’s hit show nonetheless broke rating records.

Game Of Thrones’ season 7 premiere broke pay-TV rating records in Australia when it aired Monday and caused a massive uptick in signings to pay TV company Foxtel’s streaming service, executives said Tuesday.

But it was a doubled-edged Lannister-style sword for Foxtel with the unprecedented demand for the show from streaming customers causing the system to crash Monday night. The technical glitches left an unspecified, but vocal, number of viewers unable to log on and watch the highly anticipated premiere. The tech snafu spawned the social media hashtag #FoxtelFail, with many threatening to return to pirating the series.

Overall 820,000 viewers on Foxtel’s cable, satellite and streaming platforms watched the first episode of season 7 on Monday. That was a 16 percent rise on the season 6 premiere, achieving the highest ratings ever for a series in the history of subscription television in Australia.

The pay-TV service, owned jointly by News Corp and telco Telstra Corp, said it had a huge surge in streaming subscriptions, increasing its subscribers by 40 percent in the 48 hours before the premiere. Foxtel recently relaunched its streaming service, Foxtel Now, and is providing a $15 a month subscription to its drama pack.

Brian Walsh, Foxtel’s executive director of Television said of the record ratings, “The audience of 820,000 who tuned into Episode 1 is unprecedented for Foxtel and we are ecstatic with the result. I fully expect this number to tilt at 1.5 million by the week’s end once more customers have viewed the episode through our catch up On Demand service and encore screenings”.

By contrast, the top rating program in Australian TV Monday night was new hit series Australian Ninja Warrior which had an audience of 1.5 million viewers across the five capital cities.

However, the paynet spent most of Tuesday apologizing to subscribers for its technical failures, which it said mirrored the experience of streaming customers in the U.S., Latin America and in India.

“As has been reported, HBO in the US, its affiliate in Latin America, and Foxtel all experienced some technical glitches with our respective streaming products and we reiterate our disappointment for those customers impacted by the outage. Foxtel engineers are working to resolve the issue to ensure smooth transmission for the remainder of the series,” Walsh said.

Foxtel explained the glitch as “the combination of new Foxtel Now customers signing up and existing customers upgrading to get the Drama Pack … put unprecedented pressure on our technical operations. Foxtel’s Identity Management System … which usually handles around 5,000 processes a day was hit with 70,000 transactions in just a few hours”.

“We had anticipated heavy usage for last night’s premiere; however, the traffic that eventuated far exceeded expectations. Foxtel’s engineers are examining what steps can be taken to mitigate any recurrence. Foxtel unreservedly apologizes to customers who were affected by this issue,” the company said in one of three statements issued over 18 hours.

It said the system is now working properly.



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'Walking Dead' Resumes Production After Stuntman's Death


The move comes five days after a fatal accident took the life of John Bernecker.

The Walking Dead resumed production of season eight Monday, an AMC spokesperson confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter, five days after the on-set death of stuntman John Bernecker. On Sunday, cast member Pollyanna McIntosh posted on Instagram that production would be resuming the next day.

“As I prepare to work again tomorrow I’m again thinking of John’s friends and family and of John,” reads the post, also on Twitter. “My heart goes out to you all and to the rest of your set family and families who’ve known John and his art.”

Bernecker died in an accident when he fell from a balcony and struck a concrete floor at least 22 feet below, missing protective padding by what a witness told a Coweta County, Georgia sheriff’s deputy was “just inches.”

Friday night, AMC offered condolences and also provided a statement from showrunner Scott Gimple.

“John Bernecker’s family has decided that he will be removed from life support, following organ donation,” says the AMC statement. “We are deeply saddened by this loss and our hearts and prayers are with John’s family, friends and colleagues during this extremely difficult time.”

“Our production is heartbroken by the tragic loss of John Bernecker,” Gimple said. “John’s work on The Walking Dead and dozens of other movies and shows will continue to entertain and excite audiences for generations. We are grateful for his contributions, and all of us send our condolences, love, and prayers to John’s family and friends.”

As THR previously reported, a statement posted on the website of organ donor network LifeLink described Bernecker’s family as “heartbroken” and “devastated by their loss.” The family itself has not spoken publicly, and the statement also said that the family “requests privacy during this time as they say goodbye to John.”

 



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China Blocks Banks From Financing Dalian Wanda's Foreign Acquisitions


The order appears to retroactively apply to six of Wanda’s largest overseas deals, including the buyout of Legendary Entertainment and AMC Entertainment.

Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s cash-flow woes could be on the rise. 

The Chinese government’s top banking regulators have ordered the country’s largest financial institutions to stop lending to the tycoon to finance his overseas entertainment acquisitions, according to a document seen by The Wall Street Journal. 

Beijing officials are understood to have convened a meeting with the executives of China’s largest financial institutions on June 20, where the bankers were informed that six of Wanda’s largest overseas acquisitions — including the buyout of AMC Entertainment in 2012 and Thomas Tull’s Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion last year — were subject to the government’s restrictions on capital outflows last year.

More to come… 



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'Walking Dead' Stuntman's Family Confirms Death, Plans to Donate Organs


SAG-AFTRA issued a statement of condolence as well.

The family of Walking Dead stuntman John Bernecker, killed in an on-set accident Wednesday, confirmed his death Friday evening and said that they will donate his organs, according to a statement posted on the website of the LifeLink Foundation, an organ donor network that operates in Georgia, Florida and Puerto Rico.

“The family of John Bernecker is heartbroken to confirm that John has passed away from injuries sustained earlier this week,” the statement reads. “Although devastated by their loss, John’s loved ones have ensured his legacy will live on, not only through the personal and professional contributions he made during his life, but also by their generous decision to allow John to save lives as an organ donor.”

The statement continues, “John will touch countless others as the family members, friends and communities of those who receive his organs will be forever impacted by the memories and milestones made possible thanks to a second chance at life. The family requests privacy during this time as they say goodbye to John.”

Shortly thereafter, SAG-AFTRA issued a statement as well, after having waited out of respect for the family.

“SAG-AFTRA offers its deepest condolences to the friends and family of John Bernecker, an accomplished stunt performer who passed away after a fall on the set of The Walking Dead in Georgia. This tragic and untimely loss of a member of the SAG-AFTRA family is heartbreaking, and our thoughts are with his loved ones and his friends and colleagues in the Georgia production community.”

“The safety of our members is paramount,” continues the statement. “We will work with the authorities and closely monitor their investigations into this tragic incident.”

Bernecker died after falling 22 feet from a balcony and landing headfirst onto a concrete floor, “just inches” away from padding  that was the intended landing target, a witness told a Coweta County, Georgia sheriff’s deputy in a report obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.



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'Walking Dead' Stuntman Told Actor He Had Never Done Such a High Fall Before Fatal Accident


A sheriff’s report discloses that it took around a half-hour after the accident before a medevac helicopter arrived for John Bernecker.

Shortly before he fell 22 feet from a balcony onto a concrete floor in a TV show stunt gone wrong, stuntman John Bernecker told a fellow Walking Dead actor that he had done “a few” high fall stunts before but “never this high up,” according to Georgia’s Coweta County sheriff’s office report obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. The actor, Austin Amelio, who was the only other person on the balcony, also stated that Bernecker “seemed a little nervous,” according to the report, filed by police officer J.P. Taylor. 

The stunt went bad and Bernecker missed the pads he was supposed to land on by “just inches,” second assistant director Matthew Goodwin told a sheriff’s deputy, leading to a 911 call that saw him medevaced to an Atlanta hospital about a half-hour later. Three hours after that, he was declared brain dead, according to the Coweta County coroner, an official whose suburban jurisdiction encompasses the Raleigh Studios location where the AMC show was being shot.

According to the report, Goodwin told the sheriff’s deputy that Bernecker was supposed to perform a stunt fall at about 1:11 p.m. from a balcony over a railing approximately 22 feet in the air onto a pad made of a layer of 22 inch boxes, PortaPit pads, and a large pad. Bernecker gave a thumbs up signaling he was ready and they began filming.

Bernecker got most of the way over but did not appear to get good separation from the balcony. He appeared to attempt to abort the fall by grabbing onto the railing with both hands, but his momentum took him into the bottom of the balcony, causing him to release his hold, Goodwin is quoted in the report as saying. He fell inches away from the pad, the report says.

A set medic, who was standing by, rendered first aid within seconds. She requested that 911 be called immediately and Goodwin did so, says the report. The first unit to arrive on scene, Engine 10, arrived at 1:18 pm, then Medic 10 at 1:28 pm, and Air Life Helicopter at 1:41 pm. The sheriff’s deputies arrived six minutes later. Bernecker was air lifted to Atlanta Medical Center by Air Life 4, but was declared brain dead — legally dead — at 6:30 p.m. that day, the coroner told THR.

After speaking with witnesses, a sheriff’s deputy documented the scene, located “on the backside of the filming studio” and indicated that he wanted to speak to more witnesses the next day — they had been sent away due to the accident — and see the film footage that was shot.

Separately, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the accident, a OSHA spokesman said. A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson has previously said the union is investigating as well. Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show arts, entertainment and recreation as the 12th most dangerous industry in Georgia, with 5.3 fatalities for every 100 workers. The rate in California is 4.6 per hundred.



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German Box Office: Top 10 Bow for 'Berlin Falling' With 'Game of Thrones' Star Tom Wlaschiha


The plot of the indie thriller about a terrorist attack in the German capital eerily echoes recent real-life events.

Berlin Falling, a low-budget indie thriller about a terrorist attack in Germany, has opened in the top 10 on the German box-office charts on its first day of release.

The debut feature from actor-turned-director Ken Duken grossed $24,000 across 136 theaters on Thursday, enough to squeeze into the top 10, just behind Marc Webb’s Gifted, starring Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan.

Warner Bros. Germany and independent distributor NFP are giving Berlin Falling a rare limited release this weekend and will decide based on the results whether to extend the film’s theatrical run. The movie was bankrolled by German pay TV group Sky and will air on one of its channels later this year.

Warner Bros. is perhaps understandably nervous about the public reception of the film given its subject matter. In the movie, a terrorist, played by Game of Thrones star Tom Wlaschiha, hijacks a car and forces the driver to take him to Berlin where, in the middle of Christmas celebrations, he plans to carry out a brutal attack. The scenario is eerily close to the real-life attack in Berlin on Dec. 19, when a terrorist hijacked a truck and drove into the crowd at a Berlin Christmas Market, killing 12 people.

Wlaschiha and director Duken, who also plays the blackmailed driver, are keen to downplay the synchronicity.

“This isn’t the film of the attack,” Wlaschiha tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It really has no connection to those horrible events.”

Duken actually came up with the idea for the film back in 2015 inspired, he says, by the reaction to the Greek economic crisis in Germany.

“There was a growing atmosphere of fear and hysteria that left a bad taste in my mouth,” Duken says. “I started to develop the idea with (screenwriters) Christoph Mille and Norbert Kneissl when Charlie Hebdo happened. Then, just before we began filming, there was the second attack in Paris, at the Bataclan. The subject matter, our fiction, started looking more and more like reality. We had to really ask ourselves if we should even make the film. The general consensus was that we should make it now more than ever.”

For Wlaschiha, the role of the terrorist Andreas is miles away from the cool, philosophical Jaqen H’ghar, the monk cum assassin he plays in Game of Thrones. Andreas is a tightly-wound, manipulative psychopath whose true motives remain a secret until the film’s go-for-broke final reel.

Since getting his big break with GOT, Wlaschiha has worked mainly on English-language projects with supporting roles in Ron Howard’s Rush and Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. He has played Berlin police detective Sebastian Berger in the European crime series Crossing Lines, which co-starred Donald Sutherland and William Fichtner and ran for three seasons on Netflix. But when Duken sent him the script to Berlin Falling, Wlaschiha said he was “excited straight away because I hadn’t seen anything like this in German film. This isn’t a movie that aim to please – it aims to shake you up.”

The reviews for Berlin Falling have been mixed. “A gripping thriller with a political core,” raved online review site Spielfilm.de, while Kino-Zeit.de panned Duken’s directorial debut as “a fall from a great height.” The director’s favorite review came from Antje Wessels of Filmstarts.de, who opened her critique with the line: “Ken Duken has balls!”

“It was so hard not forwarding that to all my friends,” Duken jokes. “But good or bad, none of the reviews have been indifferent. People are arguing about the movie, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.”



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Russia and China to Produce First Ever Joint Animation TV Series


Russia’s Riki, the producer of animation franchise ‘Kikoriki,’ and China’s CCTV team up to make ‘Krosh and Panda.’

Producers of the Russian animation franchise Kikoriki are teaming up with China’s CCTV Animation to produce the first ever Russian-Chinese animation series.

Krosh and Panda, a children’s animated series with two main characters, a panda and a rabbit, will become the first project implemented under a recent intergovernmental agreement on film production between Russia and China, Riki, the production company for Kikoriki, said in a press release.

“The project aims to combine the most popular animated characters amongst children and family audiences in Russia and China and can become a symbol of development and strengthening of collaboration in art and culture between the two countries, also attracting interest of wide viewership both in Russia and China,” the company added.

Under a signed agreement, Riki and CCTV Animation plan to produce 12 52-minute episodes of Krosh and Panda in 3D CGI format over the next 18 months. All work on the project will be implemented jointly by the Russian and Chinese sides.

Launched in 2003, the Kikoriki franchise, known in Russia as Smeshariki, has been adapted in half a dozen countries, including the U.S., Germany and the U.K.

In September 2016, Los Angeles-based Shout! Factory picked up North American distribution rights to the franchise.

 

 



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