Cirque sells street show to Germany, France

Just five years after Cirque du Soleil Images was formed, the production arm of the Quebec performing arts phenomenon has produced its first live television special to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil. The live show, performed and recorded July 11 for the finale of the Montreal Jazz Festival, not only dazzled the 200,000 music lovers gathered in the city’s downtown streets and more than 500,000 Canadians watching the live show on CBC, but also forged new international partnerships and distribution avenues into Germany and France for the young Montreal production company.

‘[We] decided we needed to do something special for Canadians, Montrealers and Quebecers, who are at the base of the success of Cirque du Soleil and the Montreal Jazz Festival,’ says Images’ executive producer and VP of multimedia Vincent Gagne on the outdoor event.

Jazz lovers from all over the world gathered in Montreal for the final night of the 25th anniversary of the city’s legendary festival, and stared into the sky as the soothing music scene in the downtown streets exploded into an array of colors, costumes and voices, not to mention bodies flying over the city skyline. And unlike any other Cirque performance, Soleil de Minuit (Midnight Sun) was a one-time deal.

And it was a deal that helped Images secure international distribution with Arte in France and Germany’s ZDF, despite that country’s very soft TV market over the past two years.

Gagne met with ZDF’s head of programming at the Montreal Jazz Festival a year before Midnight Sun and began negotiations that resulted in international sales for the show, as well as three additional Cirque properties. ZDF also purchased two docs, Run Before You Fly (2001), directed by Eric Tessier (Sur le seuil), and In the Heart of Dralion (1999), directed by Lyne Charlebois, as well as the TV special Cirque du Soleil Presents Quidam from director David Mallet.

A 90-minute version of the special is currently in post for Bravo in the U.S. and will be rebroadcast in Germany and France this Christmas.

‘It was a big first for us to do a live production and have a major German broadcaster,’ says Gagne. ‘The deals also tie us into France in a bigger way than we have been before.’

In addition to the more than 250 staff and performers, in the air and in the crowd, the street performance included live music from Youssou N’Dour and I Musici, as well as singer Francesca Gagnon, who also performed the title track from Cirque’s Alegria. The live two-hour broadcast was coproduced with Montreal-based Amerimage-Spectra, and directed by Mario Rouleau.

Images not only produced the live television special but also the closing event of the jazz festival itself, an experience that Gagne says is helping to shape the future of the company.

‘As we move forward, we hope to do more TV specials, but also plan to do bigger events and make our productions more event-driven,’ he says. ‘As TV producers, we have to look at different ways to generate revenue other than TV, because the industry is getting tougher and tougher.’

So far, however, Images seems to be weathering the storm quite well. Since 1999, Cirque du Soleil Images has gone from a small company with a staff of three, producing a couple of hours of programming a year, to having a full-time staff of 13 that produces more than 10 hours a year. In 2004 alone, Images productions will air on eight networks around the world, including the BBC, NBC, Bravo and TF1, with almost 65 hours of programming reaching an estimated 40 million viewers.

Home entertainment has been a huge growth area for the company, according to Gagne, who says DVD sales now account for more than half the company’s revenue stream. Four years ago, he says, they might have sold 40 DVDs and now they sell between 200,000 and 300,000 a year.

Images is currently in post on Lovesick, a feature-length documentary about the trials and tribulations of putting together Zumanity, Cirque’s Vegas-based erotic performance. Coproduced with Montreal’s Galafilm, the $2-million HD doc is produced by Valerie Beaugrand Champagne and directed by Lewis Cohen. This is the same team that produced Fire Within, the 13-part TV series that aired on Global and won the Emmy for best alternative reality series in the U.S. last year. The DVD of Fire Within will hit stores this fall. And the next big frontier for Images will be a youth series, which Gangon says should be completed within the next two years.

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