The Secret Life of Tintin

The cartoon adventures of that famous reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy must involve a bit of alchemy. The characters' creator, Georges Rémi Hergé, managed to produce stories
that enrapture readers the world over long after they leave their childhood years behind.
October 1, 2002

Project: Tintin et Moi

Description: A revealing portrait of Georges Rémi Hergé, the Belgian creator of the popular Tintin cartoon stories. The film explores how the personal challenges that Hergé hid from the public shaped the tales that captured the world’s imagination. There are two versions: 52 minutes and 70 minutes.

Producer: Gitte Randløv, Angel Production (Denmark)

Director: Anders Østergaard

Coproduction partners: Angel Production, Dune (France), Periscope Productions (Belgium) and Moulinsart (Belgium)

Budget: 992,000 euros (US$983,665)

The cartoon adventures of that famous reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy must involve a bit of alchemy. The characters’ creator, Georges Rémi Hergé, managed to produce stories that enrapture readers the world over long after they leave their childhood years behind.

Like the dark, earthy base substance that lies undetected in the most exquisite of perfumes, allowing them to linger on the skin, the staying power of Tintin is the result of the darker moments in Hergé’s life, and how they affected the stories he told.

In keeping with conservative European social norms, Hergé kept the more difficult aspects of his life firmly behind closed doors. But, in 1971, a young student from France’s Côte d’Azur named Numa Sadoul cracked open Hergé’s private life when he asked the artist for a few comments to be used in a university paper. Much to Sadoul’s surprise, the request resulted in a week’s worth of extremely frank and eloquent reminiscences by Hergé, which Sadoul recorded on 12 hours of audio tape.

Later, Hergé regretted his candor. A book that Sadoul wrote based on the tapes, entitled Tintin et Moi, was heavily edited, and completely different answers to many of the questions were substituted for Hergé’s original interview responses.

It was, therefore, a tremendous coup when director Anders Østergaard was able to win the support and trust of Moulinsart, the Belgian rights-holder of Tintin since Hergé’s death in 1983. An agreement, signed in March 2001, gave Østergaard full access to the tapes. They are at the heart of Tintin et Moi, the director’s next film, produced with Denmark’s Angel Production.

Gitte Randløv, a producer at Angel, notes that the tapes show ‘a clear line between his state of mind and the work he was doing.’ At one point, continues Randløv, Hergé recounts a visit to a psychiatrist: ‘He tells the doctor about how his dreams are all in white. The psychiatrist says, ‘Stop working; you’re spoiling everything for yourself.’ But he kept on working and did Tintin au Tibet, which happens in the snow. All the pages are white.’

The film’s relatively large budget of 992,000 euros (US$983,665) reflects the decision to use line-drawing animation to bring Hergé to life, as well as a shooting schedule that involved segments in five European countries. Pushing the costs up even further was the decision to shoot in high definition.

1999: Anders Østergaard sets out in pursuit of what he suspects is an impossible dream: to make a documentary about Hergé. He gathers information about the cartoonist’s life and begins sketching out a plan for the film.

March 2000: The Danish Film Institute becomes the first of eight funds that ultimately contribute to the production. The institute’s financing of 13,000 euros ($12,895) is earmarked for the development of the documentary’s treatment.

August 2000: Traveling to Brussels, Østergaard visits Moulinsart. He is allowed to read – but not copy – the unedited transcript of the tapes, which Randløv describes as a ‘stunningly frank and uninhibited account’ of Hergé’s life.

From his notes, Østergaard creates a treatment. A series of trips between his home base in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Brussels, Belgium, ensues as he woos the two forces behind Moulinsart – Hergé’s widow, Fanny, and her new husband, Nick Rodwell – with his idea for a documentary based on the controversial tapes. They agree, and Fanny later takes a role in the film.

Late 2000: Paul Pauwels, managing director of the Belgian company Periscope Productions, talks with the Angel Production team in November at the Forum for International Co-financing of Documentaries in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. While their conversation initially centers on another film project, the Angel team sparks Pauwels’ interest by mentioning Tintin. Østergaard shows one of his past films to Pauwels – The Magus, which focuses on the late Swedish pianist Jan Johansson.

Pauwels is impressed. ‘It’s a feel-good movie,’ he says. ‘I must have watched it now 60 times.’ Pauwels reasons that if Østergaard can successfully bring to life a Swedish pianist, he can do the same for a Belgian cartoonist. After the forum, he signs on to the Tintin project. Pauwels’ official commitment to Tintin is extremely important, as he goes on to help secure 25% of the budget from the Benelux countries.

March 2001: A major obstacle is surmounted when Moulinsart and Angel Production sign an agreement granting Angel the right to use the tapes for the doc.

Summer 2001: Tintin et Moi secures support from the French production company Dune.

November 2001: Østergaard and team pitch Tintin et Moi at the Amsterdam forum, receiving tremendous interest from broadcasters across Europe.

At the forum, Dutch broadcaster AVRO commits 45,000 euros ($44,675) to the project. A portion of this amount comes from the Coproduction Fund for National Broadcasters (CoBO), a government funding agency. AVRO’s participation is key to gaining indirect access to CoBO funds, because producers do not negotiate with CoBO; it must be done by a Dutch broadcaster.

Philippe Van Meerbeeck, who heads the documentary unit of the Flemish-language broadcaster VRT, also says yes to the project in Amsterdam. ‘Without VRT on board, we would not have access to the [CoBO] fund,’ explains Pauwels. Under CoBO’s guidelines, it was mandatory that VRT supply five percent of the production’s total budget. ‘In many cases, this is a problem, because the amount brought in by [VRT] isn’t big enough. But, VRT made a special effort,’ Pauwels recalls.

As the months pass, other broadcasters send Angel Production letters of commitment, opening new avenues of funding support. Eventually, the broadcasters on board number 11, including two French networks – France 2 and France 5 – and two Swiss networks, TSR and RTSI.

December 2001: The production secures 30,000 euros ($29,759) from Media Plus Development, which is funded by the European Union and focuses on docs and feature films. The fund supports up to 50% of a project’s development budget, or a maximum of 330,000 euros.

February 2002: Tintin secures 12,000 euros ($11,912) from the Nordic Film & Television Fund. Only two Nordic broadcaster commitments are required to obtain funding from the NFTF, but Tintin has an embarrassment of riches: DR TV of Denmark, Sweden’s SVT, Norway’s NRK and YLE of Finland. The production’s case for NFTF funds is further strengthened by the fact that the main production company, Angel, and its director are Danish.

More good news arrives when the production learns it has received funding support from Eurimages, France’s Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) and the Fonds Film in Vlaanderen (the Flemish Film Fund).

Eurimages is supported by 28 European countries, including some nations outside the European Union, such as the Czech Republic and Romania, and focuses on films targeted for theatrical release, Randløv explains. It contributes 175,000 euros ($173,708) to Tintin.

The Flemish Film Fund supports the project with 40,000 euros ($39,707). The involvement of Moulinsart is important for obtaining this organization’s funding, as it requires substantial Flemish creative input, as well as the involvement of a Flemish production company.

Its support is made possible by the participation of French prodco Dune and the two French broadcasters. CNC contributes 35,000 euros ($34,742).

April 2002: Angel secures 10,000 euros ($9,926) from Austria’s Cine Tirol, because it is shooting the segment on the making of Tintin au Tibet in the Tyrolean Alps.

June 2002: The Danish Film Institute comes through on a second injection of funding. This time, 107,000 euros ($106,143) is designated as ‘support for production.’ Still, the project needs to secure an additional 20% of the budget. Angel applies to Media Plus Distribution for 200,000 euros ($198,400). As with Media Plus Development, the Media Plus Distribution fund is supported by the EU.

July 2002: Production begins on the film, involving scenes shot in Denmark, Belgium, France, the U.K. and Austria. Pauwels recalls that one of the effective (and expensive) shots is an opening scene in which all of Hergé’s cartoons are spread out on the floor of a studio. At the start, they are hardly more than the size of a postage stamp in the lens of the HD camera, which is mounted on a hot head (an electronic gadget that allows the camera to be controlled remotely) about eight meters above the floor. As the camera zooms in, the magnitude of Hergé’s work becomes overwhelmingly clear.

August 2002: The team wraps on the lion’s share of the production. Editing is scheduled for November.

September/October 2002: The team readies itself for the MIPCOM market in Cannes. The event will be particularly crucial if the Media Plus funding doesn’t come through.

A final decision on Media Plus isn’t expected until October 15. ‘All I know at this stage,’ said Randløv in September, ‘is that we have many points [in our favor].’ Among them are Tintin‘s long list of committed European broadcasters, a bona fide European production crew and Denmark’s status as a country of ‘low production capacity.’


Nordic Film & TV Fund

Based in Oslo, the Nordic Film & TV Fund counts among its partners some 15 organizations that range from the Icelandic Film Fund to public broadcaster TV 2 in Denmark. It has an annual budget of NOK67 million (about US$9 million), which is financed in equal thirds by the Nordic Ministry Council, its film institute partners and its TV network partners.
The NFTF funds four types of productions: theatrical films, TV fiction series, short films, and what it terms ‘creative’ documentaries. Theatrical film support requires distribution commitments in two Nordic countries and a Nordic broadcaster commitment. Projects in the other three categories require commitments from two Nordic broadcasters that are also partnered in the fund. In addition to production support, NFTF makes contributions toward project development, distribution and promotion, and Nordic language versioning.

While the fund’s purpose is to support Nordic entertainment companies and Nordic content, it does not have pan-Nordic thematic requirements, national quotas or nationality requirements of the artistic and technical staffs involved in the projects.


Stichting Coproductiefonds Binnenlandse Omroep – more familiarly known as the CoBO fund – was created in 1986 as a way for Belgian and German cable operators to pay copyright fees to the Dutch public broadcasting channels they retransmit.
While the amount of money it receives from the systems is subject to negotiation, CoBO director Jeanine Hage says she aims for about 9 million euros (US$8.9 million) annually. CoBO provides funding to about 120 productions a year, including 12 to 15 theatrical releases
No matter what type of project it considers, CoBO requires that one of the Netherlands’ 18 public broadcasters applies for the funding. The public broadcaster must supply 50% of the production money it requests. For example, if AVRO plans to commit 45,000 euros (US$44,675) to a given production, as is the case with Tintin et Moi, it has to put up 22,500 euros in order to receive another 22,500 euros from CoBO.
Projects must fall into one of four categories. They either a) involve an independent film producer whose project will be distributed in Dutch theaters before it debuts on TV; b) involve a theatrical institution (cabaret, concerts, opera, ballet, et cetera) whose production is first performed on the stage in the Netherlands; c) have the support of the Belgian public broadcaster VRT, or d) involve one of the German public broadcasters.
CoBO requires profit sharing. For example, if it supplies five percent of the budget, it expects five percent of the production’s profits.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.