From Sky to the silver screen
23 May 2018

For an independent production and distribution company primarily focused on animated movies for families, finding room to grow in a theatrical distribution space dominated by big-budget studio franchises from Disney, Pixar and Illumination has become increasingly challenging.

So when London’s Timeless Films–a studio known for delivering high-quality, middle-budget animated features like Postman Pat: The Movie and Animals United–was approached by UK broadcast giant Sky in late 2016 to be a part of its upcoming Sky Cinema Original Films drive, Timeless jumped at the chance to try something different.

Sky’s initiative was announced in January 2018, and it followed the broadcaster’s successful originals strategy for series, including Sky Kids shows Aliens Love Underpants and Morph. By acquiring exclusive rights and commissions for original movie productions, Sky Cinema Original Films will see movies launch simultaneously on Sky and in UK theaters. From there, they’ll head to international screens.

As its first Sky Cinema original film, the broadcaster ultimately chose Timeless adventure comedy Monster Family after making a significant investment in the project early on. Co-produced by German animation studio Ambient Entertainment (Animals United) and directed by Holger Tappe, the film follows the Wishbones, a family thrust into action to reverse a witch’s curse that turned mom Emma (Emily Watson) into a vampire, dad Frank (Nick Frost) into Frankenstein’s monster, and kids Fay (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Max (Ethan Rouse) into a mummy and a werewolf.

Amid ongoing international distribution, Monster Family bowed simultaneously on Sky Cinema and in theaters across the UK and Ireland on March 2. To date, the movie has generated more than 5.9 million admissions worldwide, was one of the most successful indie animated films of 2017, and is still to be released theatrically in France and China later this year. It most recently launched on Netflix in the US last month, after an exclusive 60-day window with DirecTV.

“We’ve been releasing the film worldwide in different ways. In many countries it’s been released in the traditional theatrical-first window followed by the DVD, VOD, pay- and free-TV windows. But for the Sky deal, Monster Family was seen by more people in the UK than it ever would have, had we done a more traditional release,” says Timeless CEO Ralph Kamp.

A big part of the film’s successful UK launch, according to Kamp, was that Sky Broadband used Monster Family to help promote its TV and broadband services. The deal saw the movie’s characters become the first from an indie film to promote Sky Broadband’s Switch Squad marketing campaign in the lead-up to release. (Sky campaigns previously featured characters from Minions, Inside Out, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Secret Life of Pets and LEGO Batman.) “We were very fortunate the Sky Broadband team approached us to use the characters because it would obviously give an enormous boost to the film,” says Kamp. “The profile of the film across the UK has been huge.”

Kamp says it’s possible his company could collaborate with Netflix next. Now that the streamer is foraying into animated feature production for the first time with the Pearl Studio (formerly Oriental DreamWorks) musical adventure Over the Moon, the stage has been set.

“It would be great to work with a company like Netflix on an original film, but it comes down to finding the right IP and working on a project- by-project basis,” he says. “Whilst we would love to continue to operate and release films theatrically, and we expect to, this may become a strategy that changes. If you are in production and distribution today, you have to be open minded to all eventualities.”

Jeremy Dickson