Mission Kathmandu: The Adventures of Nelly & Simon

It takes a lot of effort, energy, tenacity and audacity to reach the peaks of the Himalayas. This is a journey similar to that of Nancy Florence Savard and her team, as they embarked on the production of the 3D animated film Mission Kathmandu: The Adventures of Nelly & Simon. Like the characters in the movie, the producer encountered several challenges along the way, without ever losing sight of her goal. Here is the story behind Mission Kathmandu.

In postproduction - Photo: 10th Ave Productions

A Long Climb

This friendly feature film, set in Quebec in the 1950s, tells the story of Simon, a young anthropology researcher, and Nelly, an audacious detective, who join forces to climb the Himalayas in order to prove the existence of the Yeti. This film was very special to 10th Ave Productions since it was the third animated feature film produced by Nancy Florence Savard’s team. This pioneer also initiated the production of the first two 3D animated feature films made entirely in Canada; The Legend of Sarila and The Rooster of St-Victor. Their most recent film could have been easy to produce for most American animation studios, endowed with great resources for this type of project. However, producing this kind of movie north of the border, requires resourcefulness and patience, as the president of 10th Ave explains: “Obviously we cannot make a first feature film overnight. It took us 12 years to make The Legend of Sarila. We had to be a little crazy. It was difficult, because there was nothing to compare it to. Our budget was ten times lower than the Americans’, therefore our financial partners and our funders were skeptical to the idea that we could do the same thing with so little. At the same time, our budget was twice as high as a traditional film budget in the province of Quebec. People had to trust and agree to go blindly ahead.”

Indeed, producing an animated film can be much more expensive than shooting a feature film, as the producer-director points out: “When you shoot a film in Quebec, with a good budget, it means that the team has about 35 days of filming. To do the same in animation, we need 350 days of work. You need to have the budget to make people work a lot longer. It was necessary to convince everyone. It took a lot of time.” The 10th Ave team has therefore started to prove itself by making holiday specials; a collection of tales about Christmas traditions before embarking on feature films: “We slowly climbed the stairs, one step at a time. The Legend of Sarila, the first 100% Canadian 3D animated feature film, was a natural step in the development of talent and skill. Then, we decided to make the first film completely in French and made entirely in the Quebec City area, with The Rooster of Saint-Victor. People were telling us that nobody was going to buy that, that it did not make sense. We still took the risk.” The risk paid off as the film was very successful and even distributed outside the country. Above all, this success opened the door to the next project; a film about the Yeti.

The Himalayan backdrop - Photo: 10th Ave Productions

The Quest for the Himalayas

Mission Kathmandu: The Adventures of Nelly & Simon first sprouted in writer-director Pierre Greco’s mind, as he wanted to create an adventure comedy about the Yeti. Pierre's idea is inspired by Mount Everest climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924. For the sake of accuracy, the team made sure to do a thorough research: “In 2015, we went to Nepal on the same journey as the explorers in our film. It took us about eight years to produce, research, develop and validate all the artistic research. That’s because at the beginning, we used books, references and what we could find on the Internet, but we really wanted confirmation. The scenes in the city of Quebec were very precise with the image choices we made. We wanted to be just as respectful of what was shown in Nepal. Artistic director Philippe Arseneau Bussières came with us. It allowed him to immerse himself in the colour scheme of Nepal; the sky, the houses, the materials. Our music director, Olivier Auriol, also made the trip with us so that, in sound and the music, we could add some instruments of the region and the wild sampling of the voices and the sounds of the village. We also met the Nepalese community established in Quebec City to confirm our choices.” An authenticity that is felt beyond the humorous tone of the film.

The main characters Nelly, Simon and Jasmin - Photo: 10th Ave Productions

Reaching the Heights

Mission Kathmandu: The Adventures of Nelly & Simon, released in 2018, was a great success. The climb continues, as Nancy Florence Savard mentions: “Currently, the film has been selected more than twenty times in festivals. The rights were sold in 75 countries. We’re still on the list of the 10 most-watched Quebec films when we’re on the big screens. We won the prize for Best Animated Film in Iran. Universal took the rights for the United States. A release is also planned in France next the fall. I am particularly proud of this release because our film will not be dubbed. They will keep our French accent from Quebec, with our own actors’ voices.”  The company, which celebrates its 20th anniversary, also won the award for Producer of the Year of the Quebec Media Producers’ Association. 

These successes bring the president to compare the creators of 10th Ave with a sports team: “We had a mandate to start with games that could be won at the local level. We wanted our team to improve gradually so that we could go to provincial, then national and international competitions. We are succeeding. It’s extraordinary for a city like Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, in the Quebec City area, to be able to offer its team the opportunity to work on a project for a long time.”

Nancy Florence Savard, CEO, producer and director - Photo: Caroline Grégoire

Despite her trajectory as a pioneer, Nancy Florence Savard’s primary goal was not to produce the first 3D animated feature film in Canada or Quebec: “It was only to give our kids and our families local movies while making them the right way. I started my business at the same time as my family of three children and I wondered why there were no Quebec animation projects for our youth. It was really a mother’s reflection, and it was my first motivation. I wanted my children to see our stories. See the culture, traditions, fauna, flora and architecture from here, at home. Create stories that take place locally, while providing foreigners with a touch of exoticism. I wanted the stories, the concepts and our local talent to shine globally to make everybody aware of our skills. This is something we are proud of.”

The director-producer presents 10th Ave as a pioneer company which aims to remain so. “The word comfort is not part of our values,” she says, confidently. Indeed, she believes that we must stay open to changes and innovations as we adapt to the constant transformations of the industry. To be bold, just like when you go looking for the Yeti…

The film MISSION KATHMANDU: THE ADVENTURES OF NELLY & SIMON is available for streaming on iTunes and Google Play and is also available on DVD at Archambault and Renaud-Bray.

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