The Olive Bunch by Pixel Giants: Interview with Maria Pavlou and Katerina Pantela

The Olive Bunch by Pixel Giants: Interview with Maria Pavlou and Katerina Pantela

Three friends spend their summer in Cyprus, and a lot of stories and incidents, real and magical, come out of these encounters. The Olive Bunch is a TV series project coming from Cyprus and the Pixel Giants production company - to be pitched in the 2020 CARTOON Forum (14-17 Sep 2020, Toulouse) and ready for a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign.

The Olive Bunch is a “best buddy series”, featuring three youngsters navigating life, while searching for their identity through family relationships and expectations, tradition and friendships. In a quiet neighborhood of a coastal village in Cyprus, surrounded by the Mediterranean blue, live 11-year-old friends Amira, Stephano and Yani. The group of kids meets outside in the afternoons and weekends for play, activities and a little... mischief! The three buddies go through their journeys with the adults watching closely, as they search where they fit in the world; then they can finally grow up!  - Project Synopsis

Watch the promo video for The Olive Bunch

ZIppy Frames talked to Maria Pavlou (Co-creator/Producer) and Katerina Pantela (Co-creator/Production Designer) on the particulars of The Olive Bunch project.

ZF: How did the coming-of-age story come about? Is this an original story or an already published one? 

MP-KP: The Olive Bunch is an original story that we (Maria & Katerina) wrote from the heart, inspired by our childhood experiences growing up in Cyprus. It represents our upbringing, our heritage, our endless summers and carefree way of life as kids in this part of the world. The development team is based in Cyprus. We have written the core of the series, several stories and script outlines. We are now in the process of putting together the writing team abroad, so that the outlines turn into episode scripts.

ZF: Why is Cyprus important in your story and project? And what do you think makes this project universal -and not just limited to Cyprus?

MP-KP:Cyprus plays an important role on who we are as people, artists and storytellers. As a small country/island in the middle of three continents - we have influences from all the countries around us and we have great stories to tell from our region, culture and folk tales. The Olive Bunch is not age specific; it’s pan generational. Grandparents, parents and kids can watch the show together, share common experiences and laugh with the same jokes. What makes the project universal, is the fact that kids and their shenanigans are universal. Everybody can identify with our adventures and the dynamic of our heroes’ friendship, their experiences and challenges as the try to discover who they are in a world lingering between tradition and what the new generation can bring to the table. The puzzle of balancing one's roots and heritage while embracing the future and evolving into something new in an ever globalising planet is something the youth can identify with worldwide. Hopefully, it will also encourage all to engage once again in outdoor and inventive play; hide and seek, jumping rope, riding bikes and many more!

ZF: Do you think that 2D animation here would give a more hand-drawn, perhaps nostalgic feel to the project? What are your visual references?

MP - KP: We are definitely going for a more painterly, hand-drawn look. We aim to go back to more traditional roots with this technique and possibly, touch some nostalgic chords, both with the look and content of the show. The color palette is vibrant, conveying the magic and brightness of the Mediterranean region. Painters Spyros Papaloukas (1892-1957) and Christoforos Savva (1920-1968) have been big influences in the stylistic approach we want to adopt for this project as well as real life references from our villages, the majestic Akamas peninsula and slightly eccentric looking characters from our very own families.

ZF: You state (In the CARTOON Forum description) that The Olive Bunch will be developed as a cross-media concept. How do you wish to explore this dimension?

MP-KP: We are in early development of creating a 360-degree world around The Olive Bunch: storybooks, apps, games. As we wish to encourage children and families to engage in outdoor play, we aim to create apps that do just that. Our favorite one, gives instructions to kids on how to build a treehouse out of scrap material! We would like to create children’s books out of our episodes, ideal for fun family reading and gifts.

We want to engage the whole family in sharing experiences together, so we will share step-by-step recipes (easy for kids to follow with adult supervision) straight from our tradition, like olive pies and halloumi pies, just like our grandmothers used to make them. Part of our 360 strategy is to create coloring books for children, which is already part of our Kickstarter rewards. And if you are attached to your phone or tablet, we will give you directions on how to play marbles, hopscotch or Tic Tac Toe, with found objects in your yard!
ZF:  You already had experience with another project pitched at CARTOON Forum with Magic Molly. How is Magic Molly doing now (stage of development), and what kind of lessons have you gotten from this project in terms creatively and in terms of production strategy?
MP-KP: Magic Molly was indeed our first show, all produced in 3D, funded by Creative Europe/MEDIA and pitched at Cartoon Forum 2018. Molly is now under further development, so the project is still running. Lessons learned? Too many to count! 

Some advice we can share: Choose your collaborators carefully, have a strong financial strategy, have a good legal and marketing team, have all the agreements in writing, make honest friends in the industry, participate at pitching forums, form partnerships based on artistic vision and trust, don’t be a know-it-all or selfish, be a team player, give credit to your hardworking team,  be a good listener, accept critique and grow from it. Creatively, go with your vision, trust your instinct. Believe in it and others will follow. Think outside the box and most importantly tell the stories you want to tell without getting bogged down with trends or every single opinion that comes your way. As storytellers and artists, one should first and foremost tell the stories that have meaning to them and that define them. When we are true to ourselves, others will naturally find themselves in them too as we go through life realizing that we share a lot more similarities than differences when it comes to overcoming struggles, failures, appreciating victories and lessons learned.

ZF: What's your strategy after crowdfunding and CARTOON Forum and The Olive Bunch's next steps? Can you tell us a little bit more about your roadmap to get the series into the TV screen.

MP-KP: Apart from the crowdfunding campaign, we are also preparing our pitching presentations, while writing story outlines for The Olive Bunch. Once our development package is ready, we have planned several meetings with possible co-producers, distributors and financiers in hopes that we can lift the project off the ground and produce part of it in Cyprus, using the newly established Cyprus tax break and cash rebate scheme.

We dream of kickstarting the animation industry in Cyprus with high profile projects, that are internationally recognized and distributed worldwide. We want to attract talent in Cyprus, in order to form strong teams that can undertake the huge task of developing an animated TV series, and why not, an animated feature film later on. We also aim to attract Cypriots who live and work abroad back home, where they can work on projects they love and be close to their families.  Olive pies and coffee are on us!

The Olive Bunch project is on Kickstarter to get funds to finish the trailer, finalize the script bible and pay associated fees and expenses:

Kickstarter Page for The Olive Bunch

The Olive Bunch, TV series - 52 x 11' (Cyprus)
Children 6-11 | 2D Computer, Cross-media concept 
Katerina Pantela, Co-creator/Production Designer: Katerina is co-creating the show, together with Maria she is responsible for the storytelling and overall message of the series, its look and feel, the concept art, character and production design. She oversees the daily production of the trailer and acts as the Art Director of The Olive Bunch. She pays special attention on the quirky humor of the show and keeps an observant eye on her massive family‘s craziness that inspires a lot of it! She also runs the Kickstarter campaign with Maria and the marketing team as well as talking to scriptwriters and co-producers. 

Maria Pavlou - Co-creator/Producer: Maria is co-creating The Olive Bunch and is responsible for the storytelling and overall message of the series. Together with Katerina, they created the Olive Bunch World and all the crazy adventures that go with it. Maria is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the project, putting together the development package, talking to scriptwriters, co-producers and distributors and setting up meetings that will decide the next steps of the project. She oversees the post-production of the trailer and prepares the documents for the pitching forums. Interviews, publicity and social media are also a part of her daily routine. She also runs the Kickstarter campaign with Katerina and a marketing team.  She wears both a creative and an executive’s hat.

Magnus Kråvik, Director/Storyboard Artist: Magnus is the driving force behind the trailer of The Olive Bunch. He has created the wonderful storyboards and animatic that capture the heart and soul of the show’s storytelling and humor; he is also the Director of the series trailer, making sure everything is moving towards the same vision. He has set the tone and the pacing of the animation and has also defined the animation style. During crunch time, he lends a hand in animation too! 

Michael Papanicolaou, Lead Character Animator Michael is a very talented character animator, responsible for animating the characters in The Olive Bunch trailer, using a hybrid technique of 2D digital cutout and had drawn animation in Toon Boom Harmony. He has an eye for storytelling, personality and creating gags through body language.

Yiorgos Morfitis and Emilios Avraam: Yiorgos is responsible for the trailer’s music (composition and recording) and Emilios is looking after our sound design. Both extremely skilled artists, bring their own expertise to the project when it comes to what The Olive Bunch will sound like.

Marketing team: Okay When
Financial consultant:Yiannis Hadjiyerou

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