Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Creating Content for Kids's Shows (PART 1)

Animation Skillnet (set up by Gareth Lee, a member of the Creatives in Animation Network and Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Animation at BCFE) brought Leanne Preston of Bright Box over to run a one day workshop on this subject last Friday (25th April) in the Guinness Enterprise Centre. 

I have a new series, ROXY & ROWENA that I'm developing with Natasha Crandall, an educational consultant in New York. We'd had it at Kidscreen in February and it wasn't working - everyone loved the idea but wondered was it a regular series or a series of 2-3 minute fillers or should it be a series of books? - so this was my excuse to attend. 

Having worked with Leanne recently on WULFIE (in development with Monster Entertainment, with Media funding), I knew she was good and I wasn't disappointed! So, today, I'm just going to share her pointers from one section and I'll come back with another next week.

So, how do you ensure that you and your series stand out from the crowd? 

  • You create unique lovable characters.
Okay, well this seems obvious but the point was made that since characters do not change in an animated series, regardless of what happens, even the 'bad guys' have to have some redeeming quality as well as being the victim of their own downfall. I found this out with WULFIE. My original stories and bible (circa 2006//) had a parent who hated her step daughter, my lead character, Libby and this had to change. Networks want to "promote positivity" - so the lesson seems to be, "keep your Roald Dahl material for the novel"!

As a writer, we create worlds that we feel work but it's a collaborative and expensive process developing and producing an animation series so material is honed and lessons are learnt!  It's not always easy though. If you're lucky, you look back and say the decision-makers were absolutely right. 

The other issue I've had is having too many characters - too many interesting characters - in series' bibles. The original PUNKY had a whole Comic Con of additional characters I absolutely loved. And they went. Well they went into a messy corner of my brain waiting for a chance to rise again. I've a feeling they will. They get argumentative from time to time about their enforced inactivity and besides, other characters, shelved from series I've created, have gone on to have, in one case, a novel and in another a feature script all of their own. 
  • You have a fresh visual style (Gumball for eg, though less expensive!)
  • An original concept. 
Boil it down. What are your series USPs (unique selling points)? Is it transmedia, very interactive, is it the look, the characters? 

Can you summarise the concept in one sentence, max 25 words, that makes it sound unique? Oh and just because it hasn't been done, doesn't necessarily mean it's the next hot idea - it might not have been done because it's too difficult. Leanne gave one example of a cookery show she was developing for kids -- the restrictions placed on what you could actually show kids doing and with what implements made it, in the end, a no go.

I've run into this working on some series - where I was told I couldn't have the child climb out a window or rescue a mouse that was about to eat food poison in case kids copied. It was the same with climbing trees. In some cases, yes, you don't break the rules but on the other hand, the last thing in the world you want to create if you want it to stand out is a series that is so safe it's running backwards into its own shadow and apologising. 

  • Target co-viewers ie the adults who watch with kids. Elements that work and seem to help with longevity and international sales are jokes for the adults - yes, even Peppa Pig has them, so does SpongeBob - and a healthy dose of nostalgia (Adventure Time).
  • The series has licencing and merchandising potential. Are there props or characters you can use for this?
While pitching ROXY & ROWENA at Kidscreen, one exec told Natasha that Roxy, the dog was generic, ie what would make it stand out on a toy shelf? All I had done was create a scruffy but cute and loveable dog -- but that isn't enough. Mind you, Natascha was also told that there was no way a series could go into production in which the lead character was a girl with red hair because "other kids won't relate to her"!

  • Redeveloping known and successful properties eg Ninja Mutant Turtles -- again, this isn't something most of us can do as freelance writers and animators or even as small companies. 
  • Adapting properties from successful properties in other mediums - from books, comics, web series. 
Look at what kids are watching, said Leanne. The Annoying Orange and Fred both began online -- I only saw them because my teenage daughter thought they were hilarious at the time and introduced me. Doesn't mean I liked them or found them funny - I didn't - but it's a good idea to keep abreast of what they are watching.

  • Timing - this is the element of luck. 
There are zeitgeists out there and people might be developing something similar -- but if that series doesn't work, then by the time you have your series ready, perhaps it'll be the right time?!

  • Make an impact when you pitch. 

Make them remember you -- for the right reasons! Ask them what they're looking for and then, if it's not something your idea sits well within, make it a general meeting and follow up with other material later.  Research the people you are going to pitch for so you can target your pitch to them -- make them feel special!!

  • Know your key markets.  

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