Thursday, 22 May 2014

Creating Content for Kid's Shows (PART 3): How to be International

Greetings - finally, here's part three - How to be International -  culled from wisdom delivered at the Creating Content for Children's Shows workshop last month by the talented Leanne Preston of Bright Box. 

It's an interesting concept - we all want our shows to travel - but yet be original and fresh and new. PUNKY has managed it - Series One has sold all over the world to as diverse a range of territories as Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Turkey, New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands, Qatar, Denmark and the US. There's even an episode on YouTube in Turkish! Hopefully Series Two will too... and Wulfie... and Roxy & Rowena...

If you want to catch up on the previous content, here are the links to
Creating Content for Kid's Shows Part 1: Standing out from the crowd
Creating Content for Kid's Shows Part 2: The broadcasters

How to be International...
  • Create a world that could be set 'anywhere' or somewhere fictional.
In simple terms, this might mean making up a name for your town or world that isn't too place specific. It might mean not putting the kids in school uniforms (in Germany, for example, they don't wear them). Make it feel like a world all kids yearn to belong to or at least visit regularly on their tvs/ computers but that feels like it could exist because it's not obviously set in Ireland or elsewhere.
  • Find a universal theme.
Similarly, you want children to understand what motivates, what drives your character - it might be aspirational, it might by identification with that motivation but the the concerns and issues your characters have are ones your audience knows of, has felt or to which can closely relate . For example very child wants a best friend, perhaps, or every child can understand loneliness, being afraid to go to school, wanting to be popular, to be the best at something, to be the bravest etc.
  • Curriculum issues.
This last one can seem to run counter to the idea of creating a series that is unique and utterly original but the idea is not to alienate a large segment of the international audience you aspire to reach. For example, setting a series in Victorian times might not working internationally. Why, because it's an historical period that grew from the UK/ the Empire and which, while not restricted to the Western Europe and the US, didn't have the same impact elsewhere.

I ran into this many years ago with a storyline pitch for an existing series. The title I'd chosen to develop into an outline involved the North Pole. So I used Santa. Without giving the story away - because a producer expressed strong interest in it as a feature film a few days ago! - it was a neat little tale with a twist involving science and magic and wish fulfilment and making things better and allsorts of nice things and it really worked. I could see it.

Only it didn't. Santa was too 'culture specific' for the Asian market. I did one about an Ice Hotel with a basement full of kidnapped animals instead...  but it's funny, that original idea never went away cos I know it works. Maybe now it will resurface and become my first Christmas feature!
  • Tone and voice/ Writing talent...
  • Dialogue...
Mid-Atlantic seems to be the way to go here though there are exceptions. In pre-school, for example, English accents seem to be acceptable, possibly because speech is clear and minimal?

But otherwise, in scripts travelling internationally, the rule of thumb seems to be that you have to find a universal phrase/ word - ie not idiosyncratic to the culture from which you come - "Or American, if there isn't one".
  • Familiarity
  • Casting
  • Jokes and references
They can seriously date a project. What you do want are jokes that will amuse the adults who are also watching or nostalgia that will pull them in and increase the likelihood that this is a series that will run and run like Peppa Pig or SpongeBob or Gumball...

I was told once that the fantastic thing about writing a children's animation series is that the audience 'renews' itself every four years -- if you can make your characters and stories appeal, especially internationally, it could run forever. Or be re-created anew every so often like Ninja Turtles who no longer look much like the series I knew - far more beefed up! 

Leanne's workshop was run on April 25th by Animation Skillnet, which was set up by Gareth Lee, a member of the Creatives in Animation Network (CAN)  and Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Animation at BCFE. 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Creating Content for Kid's' Shows. Part 2: The broadcasters

"We'll know it when we see it..."
"Show us something we can't refuse..."

Broadcasters and networks don't always make themselves easy for us to 'read'. In the past I remember my agent firing me wish lists after he'd meeting with a network, broadcaster or producer or when a new development exec was scouting for material through the agencies and I would try to find ideas that might fit. They either came from my existing portfolio or I'd fire off something new that I felt would grab attention and possibly lead to a commission.

As far as I recall, none of them did! But at least I now have a few black boxes of ideas, germs of ideas and pitches that just might be right sometime! It's a good exercise in ideas-generation that should stand me in good stead in any writers' room...

Frustrating though!

At the Creating Content for Children's Shows workshop last month, run by Animation SkillnetLeanne Preston of Bright Box had a few very useful pointers to offer. Sometimes all you need is a list to check through, even if it seems that some of the points should be common sense or second nature, and it can clarify the pitching process.

I've already worked with Leanne on my series WULFIE, which is in development with Monster Entertainment, and her credentials are impressive. Animation Skillnet was set up by Gareth Lee, a member of the Creatives in Animation Network (CAN)  and Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Animation at BCFE.

So what do they want?
  • Each broadcaster has their own remit and the advice was to do your research both on their shows and the personnel you might be talking to. 
If you know your current pitch is unlikely to appeal, take the time to make a good impression and create the contact you can follow up on when you have a pitch that might suit better. Find out what's on their wish list. It might be the very way to come up with a new idea fast!
  • You want to find a show that fits in their current schedule - but offers something extra.
  • Strong, positive characters -- but steer clear of stereotypes. 
Instead offer multi-layered characters - we want to be finding out about them as we watch. Something that sits with their brand - so KNOW their brand. Create characters we want to spend time with. Turn stereotypes on their heads. Have fun!
  • Comedy. Action is served by the big brands; we can't really compete.
  • Upper pre-school/ bridge shows
  • Transmedia shows with an enhanced audience experience.
As for the networks themselves:

  • Cartoon Network is boy-skewed, but they don't want to ignore girls, after all they did the Powderpuff Girls...
  • Disney want strong female leads, positive role models whereas Disney XD are looking for boys' shows, aged 8-14 and it's all about 'levelling up' ie being a better version of yourself on TV, eg having super powers, being able to run really fast etc.

Our own feedback from Kidscreen regarding my new pre-school show (ROXY & ROWENA) was that if a series had magic, they'd be interested. Otherwise not.
  • Nickelodeon are more gender neutral. They want characters that boys and girls can relate to in every show. 
Still to come in this series:
  1. How to make your series international...
  2. Market awareness
  3. Things to avoid...