By Tom Grater
Senior Reporter & Deputy Film Editor, International
EXCLUSIVE: Good Hero, the Paris and New York-based production label launched by Laurent Zeitoun and Gregory Ouanhon in 2020, has unveiled its debut film project following the signing of a strategic partnership with European outfit Mediawan earlier this year.
Wings of Freedom: Operation Rebirth is an animated feature that Zeitoun is co-writing with Nick Luddington, who recently wrote two episodes of the Netflix animated show Arcane. The story was inspired by an idea from Jonathan Keasey.
Operation Rebirth is the first instalment in a planned Wings of Freedom universe, which will also include a graphic novel that is due to be published next year, with the film arriving circa 2025.
The building of worlds is central to the Good Hero process, as the two founders explain below in their first interview since launching the company.
Rather than setting out to develop individual pieces of content, the team focuses on developing entire universes which, once fully realized, can become home to multiple media including films, series, comics, podcasts and more.
Wings of Freedom, for example, is a futuristic world where humanity has become nearly extinct due to an A.I. uprising. Here’s the full premise: After humans turn to A.I. to combat their global warming problem, the plan backfires when A.I. drones identify mankind as the main enemy to earth’s survival. By 2340 an army of drones has taken over the planet and humans are nearly extinct. But a new resistance rises up, and courageous birds and animals around the world come together to create humanity’s last hope for survival: The Animal Air Force.
To create these worlds, Zeitoun, Ouanhon and the rest of the Good Hero team, including Co-Chief Creative Officer Kiel Murray (Cars), enlist the help of dozens of experts, who consult on every aspect of the universe as it is built. For Wings of Freedom, the team consulted renowned U.S. air force pilot Andrea Themely, among others.
Below, Deadline gets to grips with Zeitoun and Ouanhon’s unique IP creation process, and discuss with the pair how they are planning to bring their universes to the screen.
DEADLINE: Tell me about setting up your company during these strange last two years.
ZEITOUN: It was a continuity of what we have done for 25-30 years. It was a natural next step for us [to set up Good Hero]. We did it during the pandemic, recruited all of our creatives through Zoom, which was a challenge. I finished my movie Fireheart [the animated feature released earlier this year] during the pandemic, so I was used to doing sessions with 40 editors remotely.
DEADLINE: Why did you decide to set up between Paris and New York?
ZEITOUN: There is also a big part in London. There’s a very strong culture there.
OUANHON: All of the worlds we are developing, all of the creative work, is in English. We are not developing in French. So we needed English-speaking creatives, consultants and experts. At the same time, we wanted to utilize what France is good at also. When you produce a movie out of France you automatically get a lot of financing [from public sources]. We wanted the best of both worlds.
DEADLINE: It says on your website that you are producing “premium content for children aged 7-77” – what do you have against 78-year-olds?
ZEITOUN: [Laughs] 78 is young adult. More seriously, it’s a code that’s easy to remember.
DEADLINE: Your first project is an animation, will that be your focus?
ZEITOUN: No, we didn’t want, as producers, to get stuck in one genre. What I have developed so far is live action, animation, series. What we believe in is stories, they can be used on many platforms, in many mediums. Not just film and TV, but podcasts, comic books, novels.
DEADLINE: Tell us about your process for creating these ‘worlds’.
ZEITOUN: We have four pillars: first it’s an imaginary world, one element that is not reality; the second is inspiring heroes, a hero that changes and learns, who goes through a journey, and you learn with them; third, an epic journey, high emotions, high stakes, not necessarily adventure but epic; finally uplifting stories, which at the end give hope. This is what defines our original premium content. We don’t do drama, where it could have no hope, for instance. We are narrowing down the stories/universes we can develop.
DEADLINE: Clearly your concept struck a chord with Mediawan, tell me about your deal with them.
OUANHON: It’s pretty straightforward. Our process is to create the world first, and then the story. When we are happy with the world and the story, we sit down together [with Mediawan] and ask them if they want to finance the development of the film or TV series. They say yes or no, so far they have always said yes. It’s not a financing deal, we still go and finance our project the way we have always done it.
DEADLINE: Are you focusing on traditional financing structures, or looking for global studio/streamer deals, or is it a bit of everything?
OUANHON: Everything, everyone. For example, we don’t know yet the financing structure for Wings Of Freedom, but we strongly believe it’s a theatrical event.
DEADLINE: Animation is famously a time-consuming and expensive medium to work in.
ZEITOUN: Yes, it’s time consuming, money consuming, and you lose your hair also. You can’t just come up with a script, you need a storyboard, you need to visualize.
DEADLINE: Tell us a bit more about Wings Of Freedom, why were you keen for this to be the first project you take to market?
ZEITOUN: So far we have developed 12 worlds. Half of them are story-ready. We are developing five-to-six more per year. Wings Of Freedom was a longer, deeper and more elaborate world. It has been accelerated by Kiel Murray, who is head of story development, and Nick Luddington, and we had the feeling we could launch it now, this was the moment.
OUANHON: It’s one of the first universes we worked on, so naturally it’s the first.
DEADLINE: In the Wings of Freedom universe, Operation Rebirth is going to be a film, and you’re also making a comic book from this world?
ZEITOUN: Yes, we are launching a comic book of that story. We have more stories in development in the world – one set in Mexico, where the comic will be set, one in India, and one that unfolds how everything starts, like a prequel.
OUANHON: The comic book is being written now and will be ready next year. The animation film we are aiming for 2025 – 2026.
ZEITOUN: We are also hoping to do a live-action film from another universe before then.
DEADLINE: In the film industry, the golden ticket is original IP, but it’s also the hardest thing to get right, which is why so many films are remakes or adaptations. What gives you the confidence that you can work entirely with new stories?
ZEITOUN: You’re definitely right, you can’t decide what is an IP until the release. Ballerina [also called Leap!] for instance became potential IP. At first you just tell a story. We have tried to decide what would define an IP. It’s always heroes, and that’s why we have created Good Hero. We have tried to step back a bit and create that creative bubble that explores the world first. It’s a hybrid from live-action, animation and video game development.
If you try to develop a story from a world that you don’t have, or your try to develop the story and the world at the same time, you get lost. We are trying to simplify our lives by building the world first.
OUANHON: We can’t build these worlds between four or five of us. For every universe we create, it’s probably 40 or 50 people, from very diverse backgrounds.
ZEITOUN: For example, if we developed a world around entertainment journalism, you would be a consultant, you would tell us about your day. That’s how we generate information.
DEADLINE: Who did you consult for Wings of Freedom?
ZEITOUN: We spoke to one of the most famous women pilots in the U.S. air force, Andrea Themely. You can see her on YouTube and be hypnotized by her. She’s our consultant for the animal air force. We breakdown the life of a pilot, the missions you go on, the planes you use. We have a big group for that.
We have also spoken to ornithology experts, we know everything about all kinds of birds from all around the world. We have spoken to A.I. specialists. We have spoken to satellite communication experts. We have spoken to a drone specialist in Italy. And we have spoken to scientists and philosophers to define what the evolution of A.I. will be. It’s also related to climate change, so we have spoken to specialists in ecology. It’s 40 people, we can ring them any time if we have a question.
OUANHON: They stay onboard for the next few years, whenever we need them to shed light on something.
ZEITOUN: All this information is combined in what we call the ‘guidebook’. It’s a summary of all our interviews and brainstorms. It’s 40-50 pages long. We unfold the archetypes of characters, and then we try find the best story that will live in that world.
DEADLINE: Any other projects you can talk about?
ZEITOUN: At the moment we are trying to explain the method. We collect sociological long-term trends, which become habits in the future. We collect behavior that changes. All the stories are anchored in very specific worlds.
OUANHON: We are trying to create the playgrounds that will resonate five years from now. And then it’s about creating the stories in those playgrounds.
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