Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top 50 Kids' DVDs

The folks at NYICFF and GKIDS.tv have put together a list of what they consider the best fifty DVDs for youngsters. I skimmed through it and saw some titles I definitely would include in such a list of my own and many others that I haven't yet seen or haven't even heard of. The international scope is impressive and it's a list well worth keeping on hand (with Netflix links conveniently provided).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas with Milkshake

I think I've got a few regular listeners out there, and you will know that although I don't frequently write about kids' music here I am an inveterate fan of Milkshake, one of the most sophisticated and fun bands in the industry. The past two weeks I've started using their newest album "Great Day" (which got them a Grammy nomination) to get my six-year-old out of bed in the mornings and actually eating her breakfast, instead of just staring glazed-over at the food in front of her. What surprised me, though, was that a couple days ago my 14-month-old was dancing on the floor to "Statue of Me," a trick she's repeated with other songs every day, including this morning.



Well, I coincidentally received their newsletter this week as well, with the announcement that, at the request of fans, they're working on a Christmas album for 2011. They couldn't get it all done for this season, but they have completed a single--and a video--called "Christmas in Baltimore." Check it out on their YouTube channel. I like the dirty Super-8 look of this; it really goes well with the quiet of the music and the peaceful sub/urban feel of the city we see in the footage. Maybe just a few more shots of the city would be nice, but the feel is still really nice. I was actually down in Baltimore two Christmas seasons ago--my then four-year-old saw Santa there on the harbor, rather than at Macy's here in New York--and it was fabulous, if cold. It's nice to see the city get its own carol.

The band also has some gigs in the northeast and radio appearances this month; check out all the news on their website and Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brinca Dada Dollhouses


I don't often get to write about traditional toys here, but I've been meaning to mention Brinca Dada's modern dollhouses since I first saw a prototype probably over a year ago. I'm friends with the design principal Tim Boyle, a professional architect turning his skills to the world of toys, and in person this Emerson house is a really impressive sight. The kids I've seen interact with them love them, and my impression is that they've been getting fantastic reviews as well, like in this recent article on "Bauhaus meets dollhouse," which discusses a range of modernist dollhouse designers; I also enjoyed this interview with the CEO Douglas Rollins. If all the attention lately seems to have been on digital toys and gaming, it's nice to see such well-crafted design going into "low-tech" toys. Check out all that the house does, plus the furniture(!), at the company's website. And check out the more vertical structure and the muscle-flexing minimalist dolls who inhabit it.

The full-sized Emerson house comes at $329 and, though I'm not privy to any inside secrets, I suspect that a smaller, more economical model will be available soon. But at any rate the website inhabitots is giving away a free Brinca Dada Emerson house right now.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Facebook for Kids


The youth research firm Smarty Pants recently released their list of kids' most beloved brands (i.e. a combination of brand awareness and brand loyalty), and though the Wii topped the list Kidscreen on Friday had an interesting little article about Facebook's amazing jump up the charts. Here's what Kidscreen's Wendy Goldman Getzler had to say (read the original here), and here's Smarty Pants' listing of top brands, which is incredibly interesting reading in and of itself, even without the Facebook connection. (Like, what does it mean that Walmart is #51?)

Facebook's age limitation isn't stopping US kids from naming the world's largest social network among one of their Most Beloved Brands this year.

According to an annual study by youth research firm Smarty Pants entitled Young Love, Facebook's brand-affinity ranking among kids ages six to 12 jumped 85 positions in the past year and is now a Top 100 brand among tweens nine to 12.

Facebook jumped from #181 to #126 this year among kids six to 12 and to #91 among tweens, making the social network's shift in ranking among the most significant increases of the 270-plus brands evaluated by more than 4,500 children.

Brands that facilitate a family connection seem to dominate the top spots on the Beloved Brands list, with Nintendo's Wii holding the number-one spot, followed closely by McDonald's, M&M'S, Disney Channel and Oreo. Apple's iPod Touch and iPad made 2010 debuts at #35 and #109, respectively.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

FCC launches a new site for parents

I just learned that the FCC has launched a new site called Parent's Place. The url is http://reboot.fcc.gov/parents/. It's billed on its homepage thus:

"From televisions to laptops to cell phones, electronic media have become our children's almost constant companions. Get information about how to improve your children's safety in today's complex media landscape, and what the FCC is doing to help."

It's still in beta but looks like it could be useful, with resources on parental controls for televisions, online safety, and even the media's relationship to childhood obesity. I'll put a link in my blogroll as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Republicans versus Sesame Street

...And all of PBS, PBS KIDS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, essential grants like the tremendous Ready to Learn grant that was announced over the past few weeks, and other government support of public media--and hence a large portion of children's media in this country. And those grants, btw, don't just go to organizations like CPB but to private production companies as well; Wildbrain just received a joint five-year grant with Chicago's WTTW, for instance. (Read here for more on all the amazing projects the grant will be funding in the upcoming years.)

Public broadcasting has always been controversial in America; Sesame Street had political opponents from the right since its very inception, when public broadcasting emerged as one of the great achievements of President Johnson's Great Society. And conservatives have essentially kept up the drumbeat against it, even while raising their children on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. And now in the wake of Juan Williams' well-earned dismissal from NPR for inflammatory comments against Muslims the Fox News contingent of Republicanism is at it again, calling for complete defunding of programs like NPR and CPB, claiming them to be elitist and therefore a waste of tax-payer money. (Is Sesame Street really elitist? because it's elitist to aspire to basic literacy? Then so is every well-meaning privately-funded children's show, unless you want everything to turn out like SpongeBob Squarepants. I guess in their book that show is populist.)

This is normally a politics-free blog, but a lot's at stake next Tuesday--and this doesn't have to be a left-right issue anyway. Still, public broadcasting isn't at the top of the list of public awareness, and it's probably not in real danger of dissolution, but the audacity of the Fox commentators and the supposition that the marketplace will provide for media--children's or adult--that is in the best interest of society rile me. There would be no children's media industry today in this or any other country without public funding; and it's continuation is essential to ensure a check on private profiteering with our children. (I really think PBS helps keep the private stations honest, away from being 24-7 toy and junk food commercials.)

So let's rally to restore a little sanity and let the country know that, for conservatives and liberals both, removing publicly funded television from the air is no more viable an option than, say, privatizing the FCC. And keeping public funding going will neither impose elitism on poor American viewers or drive out of business private companies like Disney and Viacom--or even the little guys like Wildbrain (who just might get a grant!). Don't let Fox News become the voice that defines American media, especially for our children. And please check out Timothy Karr's Huffington Post article on the same topic.

Oh, and also watch the Grouches' opinion:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Love My Hair

I just caught up with this Sesame Street video written by Joey Mazzarino that's apparently already gone viral. Check out this ABC story about it. It's great to see such small simple videos having such a tremendous impact, and that's one of the things that Sesame Street does best.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scott Traylor on Virtual Worlds & Education and Media

I only recently became aware of 360KID, an interactive product development firm that also features a great blog about all things children's media, especially online, gaming, and other interactive media. After I added the blog to my blogroll on the right here the CEO Scott Traylor very graciously contacted me and let me know about two presentations he recently gave. I've been focused for quite a while on children's literature and traditional media--i.e. television--and it's just within the past five or six months that I've started trying to get equally up to speed on interactive media. So these presentations, though brief, were fantastic for me and I wanted to pass them along.

The first was given at Engage Expo earlier this year. It's called "Virtual Worlds for Kids" and is full of some great statistics about what online worlds kids are joining, the advertising and merchandise tie-ins that get them there, the age demographics, etc. Some surprising stuff for me.




This second one is from the EdNET Conference held in Boston last month. Scott is speaking to educators about his perspective as both an educator and consumer product developer: his ninety-second Digital Data Smack Down, starting around 3:40, is worth repeat viewing for educators, commercial producers, and parents alike. Check it out!



Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon news


The other day DreamWorks announced that they'd be making a sequel to How to Train Your Dragon. Now today they've followed that with the announcement of a television series set to premiere in 2012; if I remember right the film will come out that summer as well. Read KidScreen's brief article about the new show. MTV wrote about both announcements.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dora the Explorer lawsuit

This is kind of interesting. I suppose it's a blessing we don't see more of this kind of thing in children's media, but heaven knows there's a lot of money floating around.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Countdown to the Hub


After over a year of buzzing it's finally upon us: The Hub will launch this Sunday, 10/10/10, and it's time to take a little look at what the initial offering will be. The website is already up, of course, so you can check it out at http://www.hubworld.com. I'm just looking at the line-up there, rather than in any industry or trade journals (although Wikipedia has a long potential list), and it looks like the expected Hasbro content but with a good mix of other things, both from the back catalog (HIT's rolling back out Fraggle Rock, for instance) and new productions. So this is what we have:



A revamped version of one of my favorite shows as a kid, Pound Puppies. I used to love to watch this and to play with my own Pound Puppies even more. The licensing and merchandising should be gangbusters; I know it was, more than any other show except maybe G.I. Joe, at my house in the 80s.



Which brings us to G.I. Joe Renegades. What connection it has to the feature film I don't know, for better or worse, and it looks like it's been recast with the Joes being outlaws fighting to prove their innocence by facing off against a large corporate Cobra. Maybe it's the post-Enron or Halliburton version? An interesting twist--will it supply sufficient toys and coolness to hook the modern boy's 6-12 demo?



And speaking of retooling old 80's toons after a big screen version, there's Transformers Prime. I think it's very possible that the first Transformers film rivals The Last Airbender for Worst Film Ever Made, so in this case I'm hoping the producers aren't sucked in by all that Michael Bay nonsense and follow the lead of Avatar's creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and create a cool new series without any relation to the feature film. (For news on that new Avatar show go here.) Transformers was equally cool at my house in the 80s as G.I. Joe--I spent my school hours designing new Transformers, my recesses pretending to be Transformers, and my afternoons watching or playing with my Transformers. There's so much coolness here--I'm really crossing my fingers for this one.

Other remakes include My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures; expect to see others soon, I suspect.



Then there are some other cool shows; I'm most excited about the documentary-based Meerkat Manor--I think it's always fantastic when kids watch nature documentaries, like when I took my daughter to see the original Meerkat Manor feature film a couple years ago as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. As you can read in my blog about it, it was a little scary in parts for her at that age but overall was excellent, and I loved it (you have to be amenable to giving animals names and attributing human emotions to them). This is an example of Discovery Kids' influence on The Hub (well, I think it was actually on Animal Planet, but it comes from the same gene pool, I think), and since that's one of my favorite kids' TV stations (perhaps I'll get to write it an epitaph before it goes) I hope there's a lot more where this came from.

There's also The Twisted Whiskers Show, Dennis and Gnasher, a game show called, appropriately, Family Game Night, another called Pictureka! (with hidden pictures), the anime action show Deltora Quest, Dan Vs., and Cosmic Quantum Ray, a sci-fi action comedy perhaps in the mold of something like TMNT. Overall a great line-up, one that lays to rest fears that the Hub would just be the Hasbro Network.

It will give those of us interested in kids' TV (including kids) a lot of new material to watch. The Hub website also has a channel locator to help you find it on your own television. It looks like the more mature material, including reruns of shows like Family Ties and Happy Days, should make this a good nostalgic family channel. I haven't found any mainstream press reviews as yet, just the trade press stuff on the business developments that I'll forego re-posting here, but hopefully the station's invention will lead to a bit more critical scrutiny of kids' TV. We're making it through the recession and broadcasters are becoming a bit more daring with new content, I think, and Hasbro's and Discovery Kids' commitment to television as a delivery medium shows a lot of faith that it will remain viable for a long time to come, even in a 24-7 on-demand liquid media environment. Children's media will continue to evolve online, but this is a huge development for it on the television, and as a parent I hope it will be worth spending some time there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Word World eBooks

There were some great kids' events in NY this weekend. We went to the falconry show in upper Central Park and had a wonderful time--thanks to everyone who put it on, and I hope you found your runaway hawk! Or, flyaway hawk, I suppose. (It's kind of cool, actually, because a wild redtail hawk spooked the captive bird; it's cool because the redtail population is so resurgent in the city.) Afterwards we walked west past the Seinfeld diner to Grant's Tomb, which was nice to teach a little Civil War history to the six-year-olds.

Then on Sunday right here in Ft. Tryon Park, a three-minute walk from my apartment, was the annual Medieval Festival. This event always looks like a lot of fun but it would be a lot more fun if they would hold it on a Saturday so that those of us who keep the sabbath on Sundays can attend and even spend a little money. Not that they're hurting for attendance, but it just bugs me that every year our daughter begs to go and even when we do walk through with her it just makes her sad that she's not able to spend any money or skip church meetings to stay the whole time. It just makes it not worth going into the park at all, and it riles me that so many events are held on Sundays when so many families are not able to attend (and religious observance isn't an aberration; there are really a lot of families who keep the sabbath--and I do recognize some do it on Saturdays).




Anyway, that's a tangent, because I was going to say that even though I'm still iPhone-less Saturday after the falconry show a friend was showing me the eBook app he has for his kids but which features some subpar literature, in his opinion. But that family is a big WordWorld fan fam, so I wanted to note for their sake and everyone else's that there's a new WordWorld eBook application for all kinds of different devices, iPhone and iPad included.

My schedule hasn't permitted me time to check it out, but I have strong confidence in anything associated with WordWorld. It should be top-knotch, with some good phonics skills built in amidst the narratives and production design. Here's a bit of the press release, from a couple weeks ago:


NEW YORK, September 16, 2010 - Just in time for the 2010 Back to School season, Don Moody, creator of the three time Emmy™ Award-winning television series WordWorld is launching a new, free eBook library available online now and on iTunes in October--for iPhone and iPad. WordWorld has been demonstrated by a U.S. Department of Education funded study to improve early literacy skills. WordWorld’s eBook library extends the learning lessons introduced in the television series.

The WordWorld eBook library consists of five dynamic educational WordWorld stories. Children may read the eBooks on their own, be read to by a caregiver or have stories read aloud to them by the eBook narrator. By clicking select words in each eBook, children build words and watch letters “morph” into WordFriends™. A Caregiver Guide accompanies the eBooks, providing caregivers and educators strategies to maximize the tool’s educational effectiveness.

“Children and [the WordWorld] eBooks are a match made in educational heaven!” says Linda Labbo, Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia. “Words come to life on screens in unique ways that invite children to interact with stories, characters, and language. The interactivity scaffolds children’s attention and provides age appropriate prompts that ensure an entertaining and educational experience.”

The WordWorld eBook library supports the curriculum delivered through the WordWorld television series. It provides the groundwork upon which emergent readers can build early literacy skills. Each eBook promotes story comprehension, age-appropriate vocabulary, rhyming, print awareness, phonological sensitivity and letter knowledge.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes of The Electric Company

Last week ASIFA-East and the School of Visual Arts presented an outstanding evening with the creators of Sesame Workshop's The Electric Company. The show's now preparing the third season in this iteration, but it bears repeating that this is not The Electric Company many of us grown-ups watched a generation ago, nor is it a direct remake. In fact, as reconceived by executive producer Karen Fowler, PBS's VP of Children's Programming Linda Simensky, and their collaborators, the new show has a younger cast, a smarter connection to its audience (imo), and a cohesive structure that eschews sketch comedy in favor of continuous narrative and a strong reading and phonics curriculum for 6-9-year-olds. But it's also updated too: check out the new version's opening credits:




Also in attendance last Tuesday were animation producer Claire Curley, head writer Adam Peltzman, and one of the chief animators Alan Foreman. The emphasis was on the show's animation since this was an ASIFA event, which is an organization based on both coasts for animators interested in all age groups and genres; their interest in the children's television world is quite commendable (although David Levy, ASIFA-East's president, was head animator on Blue's Clues and has been involved with lots of other shows). It was cool to see a children's show examined in this way, with an emphasis on the artistry and craftsmanship of creation, although questions about curriculum and procedures in this industry also came up. Let me just go through my notes to try to capture some of the highlights.

Thanks to a conflicting meeting one hour before this one and the brilliance of the NYC public transportation system I missed Linda's opening remarks about the show's online presence and multimedia/transmedia strategy, but I got the feeling it's very thought out and very organic to the show as a whole. Television episodes are now directing viewers online with cliffhangers that can only be resolved by kids playing as avatars on the web, etc. Plus The Electric Company has always had a multimedia persona, even back in the 1970s with print material supplementing the television show.

Anyway, there are 35 episodes created in one year. They're all shot on the streets of New York, giving the show a realism not available on a set, even one as detailed as Sesame Street's. This has sometimes put off rural PBS station programmers, so the producers walk a fine line between the realism of life here in the city without making it too "scary" for viewers in Nebraska. That's not to be condescending, btw: I was impressed at how seriously Fowler took rural viewers' sensibilities. Ditto for racial issues, sexual/feminist issues, etc.

So they're 24-minute episodes, with each consisting of 15 minutes of live-action narrative and nine minutes of short-form animation. Within each show, for the curriculum, there are five new or complicated words used five times in context. Remember this is a show for 6-9-year-olds, a demographic that, I think, are a little more difficult to write for in a curricular program; they have more autonomy and more non-curricular options, aka SpongeBob, and they're more easily turned off by obvious didacticism, so kudos to Peltzman and his team for keeping it fresh and funny while working in the language lessons. Besides vocabulary (the newest element) that curriculum includes four elements of phonics per episode, connected text (visualizations and contextualizations of printed words), and the narrative element of explicit motivations for the characters, which I believe means relating to the language material, not strictly narrative material.

Interesting stat: over one-third of kids are below reading level by fourth grade. So a huge portion of the producers' motivation is to really improve these kids' lives and nip that trend in the bud, a lot like Reading Rainbow a generation ago.

Now, on the animation. Claire came in in the middle of season one, when things were in trouble for delivery to PBS. They did over eighty animations in 2008, between April and August. (That's a lot!) So she had to really reach out to a lot of artists--trying to find the best ones--with no proof of concept to show them initially. Some of the clips they showed included Jack Bowsor, a 24 parody that achieved economies of scale by always featuring the character in essentially the same situation, allowing the production company, in this case Screen Novelties in Los Angeles, to crank out a lot of shorts in record time. She also talked about how they learned to reuse elements for their Music Man shorts, featuring the voice of improvising singer Reggie Watts, who does all of these vocals himself:




After Chaire spoke about efforts like these Adam Peltzman talked about the curriculum, which I've already mentioned, and gave a case study example, really, of how the Haunted House segments developed. They started out as one small interstitial used to teach a certain phonic concept, and the characters--a bat, mummy, and wolfman who live together as roommates--were so engaging that in the current season they've become a regular part of each episode. They're great characters and they easily lend themselves to working with written text (leaving notes for each other, etc.), and they're super funny. Here's one on apostrophes that Adam showed:





All the voices were done by the same actress, whose name I missed, and the animation was (and is) done by Alan Foreman. He came on board in March 2009 and has made, I don't know, 1,200 cartoons for them or something. He took us through the process of storyboards, animatics, rough, and full animation; the majority of this work, obviously in 2D, was done on Flash with small brushing up in AfterEffects.

One interesting thing with the new episodes came from the show's research, which showed kids were confused why they had to leave the live-action segments to "go off" and watch cartoons. It's for curricular reasons, but to make it a smoother transition for viewers new shows include animated characters like the Mummy above appearing on live-action backgrounds and commenting on the live-action action of the Electric Company, then introducing an animated spot (which themselves are fewer and longer than in previous seasons). There are three of these bumpers per episode, plus all the interstitials themselves; I couldn't write down all the production statistics fast enough, but it's now something like 300 short form cartoons that have been made (besides ten games, a twenty-city live theater tour, fifty-two more episodes by the end of this year, etc.).

There was a discussion of the animated effects done over the live-action portions (all done on Maya) with new clips with LL Cool J and Jimmy Fallon, and then the floor opened up for questions. Everyone agreed time and money were their greatest constraints, but Claire made a good point that if you put your emphasis on the creative material, i.e. the show's quality, then those things won't loom out at you, they won't be bears.

The last cool thing I found out about was a documentary that was actually done before the show went into production about a girl, Priscilla Star, who became one of its stars (and actually inspired the shift from adult characters to youth characters). It's P Star Rising, and it in itself looks like a great program for doc lovers. And Priscilla's own story, from nearly illiterate to the star of a show about literacy, is a great testament to the power, if not of The Electric Company specifically, the power to change children's lives. Here's the trailer, but be aware there's a little grown-up language in it:


Friday, September 17, 2010

New Festival in San Francisco


There's already the San Francisco Bay Area International Children's Film Festival in April, but today the New York International Children's Film Festival announced the creation of a sister fest named (ready?) the New York/San Francisco International Children's Film Festival. The new festival is co-sponsored with the San Francisco Film Society; you can go to their website to find out more about the film line-up or buy tickets. The dates are September 24-26 at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema in the Financial District. In my opinion, the more kids' films screen in any market as large as San Francisco, the better, especially half a year apart.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tiny Planets Creates Online Worlds

Tiny Planets is a wonderful British/American preschool show made by Pepper's Ghost Productions in the UK and Sesame Workshop here in New York. It depicts the planet-hopping adventures of two fuzzy aliens named Bing and Bong. In roughly the decade since its creation, it has won a BAFTA and aired in nearly two dozen territories, and though no longer in production it's continuing to spread around the world, and deservedly so--it's a great program for preschoolers. I mention all of this because I really do have a strong affection for the show and its protagonists. Both of them are mute, and that fact alone harkens back to the narrative/visual brilliance of pre-1928 films and animated characters like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, although the humor here is entirely different.

Bing and Bong are explorers par excellence. In each five-minute episode they hop into their fuzzy couch and launch off of their planet to go explore another. Each planet is visually distinctive with different denizens; hence they offer young viewers different learning experiences, most centered around the concept of exploration, a generally scientific concept, although some episodes range into the field of social skills as well. Bing and Bong interact with planets' color, sounds, and other characteristics to introduce these concepts to preschoolers with a depth and precision that wouldn't really be as efficient in another format--i.e., with characters explaining the concepts verbally as normally happens. Like I said it works really well for preschoolers, and it's also a nice way to sell your show in foreign markets, obviously.

The show was conceived and executed long before the word "transmedia" was buzzing around every executive's lips, but its central premise leant itself marvelously to extending the story space in multimedia directions. Right off the bat, the feedback that came back to the show's producers was that kids were keen to create their own planets, presumably in creative play. But the idea that kids could actually create their own worlds online began to grow organically out of the television show. Tiny Planets always had a strong web presence and as social networking and Web 2.0 design emerged over the past few years the direction for the show's website--transforming it into an independent universe--began to take shape. The new site, or constellation of related sites really (centered around http://tinyplanets.com), launched this past June, and I've had an opportunity to take a good long look at it over the past few weeks through my daughter Loretta, who's become an enthusiastic player. First, though, here's a video previewing all the new features:



The central site, at least as far as Loretta's been concerned, is My Tiny Planets. This is the core of the concept I was just talking about: young players can create avatars that build, play, and interact in a really well-balanced mix of Sim-like world-building, traditional games (harking all the way back to Asteroids, which is nice for us old folks), and social networking. Security is a big issue for any juvenile social network, and the creators here took pains to make sure kids' identities would be protected. As one example, they're not allowed to create their own user names; instead they choose from among an assortment of silly names like Cute Giant, Chatty Genius, or Classy Aurora. (Though implemented as a security feature, just selecting the wackiest name has become a major treat for some kids.) And then there are no places for them to transmit personal information to other players; parents have various controls, including the ability to temporarily shut an account down; etc.

So far there are a handful of games that Loretta likes best, like "Star Buster" and "Trash Blasters" (that's the Asteroids one). She loves the fact that she has her own planet to design and cultivate, although it took us quite a while to even figure out where in the galaxy it was (tip: you can access it from your passport, go to your map and click on Protoplanet, or just fly there). That's one of the things that's being revised as the site receives feedback, but we're still hitting a few problems, like how to name our planet something besides Protoplanet. A help page with FAQs like this would be, well, helpful. And I do have a few other quibbles: when flying your spaceship around with your keyboard's arrow keys, it's counterintuitive, at least for me, to always have the Up key move your ship forward no matter which way it's facing. For folks accustomed to console game controls, it makes more sense, I would think, to push Left to go forward if your ship is facing left. Also, if you click on any of the navigational menu items on the top (What's New, Parents, etc.) it logs you out. This is the worst when you're lost in space or stuck on some planet you don't want to be on and click on "Play" thinking it will take you back to the games, but it logs you out completely. (I'll let you think it was the six-year-old who kept getting lost in space.)

Those are a couple quibbles, but I'm getting ahead of myself: in general everything else is really well-designed. We haven't yet really made any friends, so I can't comment on the efficacy of the social networking, but the virtual chat rooms (i.e. chat planets) that are set up for your space explorers to float around make it more fun than just texting your friends. The games are fun for younger players (six is around the bottom of the target demographic, making this an older-skewed property than the original show), and the planet building and networking are fun for the older players, although taking the time to gradually build Loretta's planet has already been good in teaching patience and long-term planning. (You earn points in the games that you can use to buy portions of landscapes you can install on your planet--different skies, buildings, etc. There's also an environmental curriculum as kids recycle, collect and compost waste, etc.) So Loretta's really enjoying that component the most. Right now her world is chock full of mushroom everything; I'll let you figure out which one it is.

The other sites in this community arguably relate more to the television show. The most obvious is the TV site, where you can watch all of Bing and Bong's original adventures, making it a very good page for the youngest users. There are also books, more games, and a lot of additional educational material.

I really like the multiple directions the IP can take you, offering different avenues of enrichment to kids at different developmental levels and with different interests. I mentioned that it's still developing, and I'm really pleased by one feature currently in the works, which is the Moon Zoo. Located on the My Tiny Planets page, this feature comes from a partnership with NASA and will feature real photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope; basically children can become involved with actual mapping of space, getting the first look at images as NASA categorizes and studies them. I feel that's a real step away from being a simple multimedia property and becoming a major transmedia experience. Right now it's obviously limited to Internet use, presumably at home, but I could see school science curricula being written around this, partnerships with museums and other physical locations that can become educational resources, live events like star gazing, etc. The social network set up on My Tiny Planets can begin to take on a practical element as kids share information with each other and collaborate on their work. This type of interaction with the material would probably occur with kids over ten, but even having the framework in place will be immensely fun and educational for kids as young as six. I know Loretta loves all the space material at she's seen at various science museums--she still asserts she wants to be a "space scientist" when she grows up--and just knowing that she's getting prime access to new images essentially never seen before would really thrill her, even if she's not going to make a measurable contribution to NASA's research.

Taken in whole, then, the Tiny Planets IP has positioned itself extremely well for seamless engagement across a very broad age range, from the nonverbal show and simple picture books for the smallest kids to the traditional online games and social networking for grade school kids on to the more serious science engagement that we could see emerge for older tweens young teenagers. The strong but mutable curriculum seems to be at the core of that breadth, and though there are dozens of IPs that engage really well in each of those demographics, I'm having a hard time off the top of my head thinking of one that does so across them all.

Anyway, these have been more the musings of a dad than a quick and formal review. I think the site's so in-depth that it warrants these kinds of thoughts, though, because it's really indicative of the direction social gaming and the Internet are going for kids--or at least I think so. It's a great model for those of us creating transmedia properties today, and I can't wait to see similar shows/sites/networks on other topics like music, reading, or fitness. Kudos to the Tiny Planets team!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Kids' Program at the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival


I just heard that the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival in Idaho is including a children's program for the first time this September 18th & 19th. Films include Lost and Found, above, (a great film I saw at the last NYICFF), the much lauded The Secret of Kells, and others; check out the whole program on the festival website.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kids' Lit for Haiti

I've been able to post a few times about children's media and the Haitian reconstruction effort, so I was pleased to see this Publishers Weekly article linked in a recent KidScreen email. By Rachel Steinberg, it's about two new children's books about the earthquake that will also give financially to recovery efforts: Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson and Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat. If anyone knows of other children's books, films, etc. contributing to relief, please let us know!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Planet Preschool on the current kids' TV industry

I re-read that Peppa Pig story after posting it yesterday and noticed how quickly it glossed over some of the problems and setbacks the creators had in getting that show up on the air. They certainly had them, though, and the truth is that the trials and setbacks are part and parcel of kids' television production--often more prevalent than the successes and accolades. So it was really engaging for me to read Josh Selig's Planet Preschool post from Tuesday, about the sobering realities of the children's television industry post-Internet/recession. It's a great post full of camaraderie for those of us who have had trouble finding paid work over the past couple years. And it puts the troubles in perspective--there's still a great community out there ready to help anyone who needs it. I'm just a little fish in the big ocean, but if there's anything I can do to help with your work please let me know!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Inspiring History of Peppa Pig


I've loved Peppa Pig for quite some time (and we've got some merchandise in our house!). Today the Financial Times wrote a really in-depth history of the show and its creators Phil Davies, Neville Astley, and Mark Baker. The odds are still stiff for the rest of us aspiring creators, but it's great to read a success story like this every once in a while. And parents should check out their new show Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom as well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Super Yoda

Around a year and a half ago or so I hit upon the brilliant idea of doing a little Frank Oz mash-up by putting the voice of Super Grover on top of footage of Yoda. So I did a YouTube search and found I'd been beaten to the punch. I'd wanted to post it here ever since: Sesame Street and Star Wars fans should all laugh equally.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

A little facelift...

I've been neglecting this blog in favor of other writing assignments and sites and blogs I want to get up, so yesterday I decided to give this site a little TLC. I hope you like the new look and the fact that all the links in the blogroll once again work, plus the addition of lots of new production companies I wasn't aware of in 2008 when I launched this site. Of course I couldn't be comprehensive by any means, but I hope to have included a smattering of the big fish, the little fish, and some of the best fish in the children's television pond.

Most importantly for anyone who is a potential return-visitor, please note that I changed the URL from balloonred.blogspot.com to redballoonblog.blogspot.com.

Also note that I added the links to my twitter feed and new film blog over on the right, as well as facebook and some other sites. The new blog isn't really up and running yet--I just have the architecture in place--but I'm really excited about it. Its immediate purpose is to document the progress of my feature film (adult) that I'm hoping to shoot next spring. But it will also include my thoughts on adult cinema, film criticism, transmedia, and other more grown-up themes than belong here at Red Balloon. You can follow these directly, of course, and I'll feed all posts from both blogs through Twitter and Facebook.

Let me know what you think. Anything I'm missing? Thanks!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Family Music for Haiti


It hardly seems like six months since the Haitian earthquake, but it has been--it was on January 12th--and reconstruction is progressing slowly, to say the least. I posted earlier about the work of Kids in Distressed Situations in helping out Haitian children, and now I've learned about a new project by Dean Jones from the band Dog on Fleas, the producers of KindieFest, and a large group of some of the most impressive children's and family musicians working today. It's a benefit album called Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti and it will be released on Tuesday August 10th.

I've listened to most of the tracks and can vouch for the quality, as well as the eclecticism, which ranges from hip-hop (Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, who have their own new album August 31) to rock (Jonathan Coulton, for instance) to the somewhat ska-influenced folk of Dan Zanes (who gave a good interview on Sound Check the other day). In fact the complete line up of twenty-two musicians or groups, most of whom recorded original songs for the album, is more than impressive:

* Emily Curtis
* Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem
* Bonga & Vodou Drums of Haiti (a wonderful and very appropriate track that's great for American youngsters to hear)
* Dan Zanes & Friends
* Recess Monkey
* Dog on Fleas
* Elizabeth Mitchell & Family
* Caspar Babypants
* Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
* Jonathan Coulton
* They Might Be Giants
* Lunch Money
* Gustafer Yellowgold
* Pete Seeger
* Dean Jones & Jerrice Baptiste
* Grenadilla
* Baby Gramps
* Randy Kaplan
* Deedle Deedle Dees
* Uncle Rock
* Frances England
* Jerrice Baptiste, with the title track "Many Hands"

Here's a portion of the press release:

The idea for Many Hands came to Jones in the middle of the night and the very next day several of his fellow family musicians signed on. “When I had the idea for the Many HandsCD, I knew without a doubt that I could count on the big-hearted kindie community.” said Jones. “The generosity and the amazing work of all the musicians and everyone involved definitely exceeded my initial expectations.”

Almost all of the tracks on the album are previously unreleased, most of them recorded especially for this release. The gathering of artists featured here is a strong assortment of the unique and special talents creating and performing for today’s all ages audiences, from the legendary Pete Seeger to family hip-hop star Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. In addition, everyone involved in the process of getting this album out into the world from replication to distribution has also either drastically discounted or donated their services. Proceeds from this release will benefit the Haitian People’s Support Project and their long-standing work to help the people of Haiti.

Many Hands will be released as the debut album of Spare the Rock Records, founded by kindie rock connoisseur Bill Childs. “After speaking with Dean it was immediately obvious to me that this would be a great record, and, just as importantly, that it would have the potential to help keep people’s attention on the ongoing recovery of Haiti,” recalls Childs on how the partnership came to fruition. “Dean asked for some help reaching out to a few artists, and that just naturally flowed into my helping the record get a wider release; ultimately, that meant starting a label.” Childs produces, with his kids, the weekly radio show Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. Bill also writes about kids’ music for various parenting magazines and has produced numerous kids’ concerts and is the cofounder of KindieFest, the family music conference.


There will be benefit performances in conjunction with the release, including these:

  • Sunday August, 15: Dog on Fleas, Grenadilla, Uncle Rock, Rosendale Theater, Rosendale, NY
  • Friday, August 20: Elizabeth Mitchell & Family and Frances England, Mill Valley Library, Mill Valley, CA
  • Saturday, August 21: Dog on Fleas, Lunch Money, Randy Kaplan, Deedle Deedle Dees, Armory, Boston, MA
  • Saturday, September 11, 11:00: Randy Kaplan, Johnny Bregar, and Recess Monkey , Multnomah Arts Center, Portland, OR, presented by A Child’s Time to Rock!
  • Saturday, September 11: Deedle Deedle Dees, Gustafer Yellowgold, Dog on Fleas, Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY
  • Sunday, September 26: Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, Deedle Deedle Dees, and very special other artists TBA, Pines Theater, Look Park, Northampton, MA

Thanks to Dean and everyone who's been involved with this release. With all the attention spent on the oil spill and other calamities it's important to not forget the kids of Port-au-Prince.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mind in the Making Video Up

The 360Kid blog has just graciously put up a video of the entire proceedings from last week's Mind in the Making event with Ellen Galinsky (see my post below). Now you can read Scott's excellent summary and watch the entire video. There's also a direct YouTube link if you'd like to watch there.

Thanks to David Kleeman for letting us all know about this (although 360Kid is a fantastic site that deserves to be followed, if you're not). David's also migrated the ACCM social network off of Ning and onto Facebook. Children's media professionals, scholars, and basically anyone interested can apply for membership.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mind in the Making

There's a new book out on child development that looks poised to change, or at least dramatically shift, the entire field. It's Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky; professional researchers may already be aware of it, but it also looks fantastic for educators, parents, and content developers of media like television shows.

The American Center for Children and Media sponsored a conference with Galinksy at Columbia University Thursday morning. It was a great hour and a half--incredibly informative--and I used it to launch my tweeting career at @randyastle.

One of the highlights for me as a "film guy" was the extent to which Galinsky taped her research. The purpose was to create a "vook," which I didn't even know about before but which obviously means a "video book" for platforms like the iPad. I love documentaries, and the concept of a video book is, to say the least, intriguing to me. We watched several video clips, very well produced, and I believe you can see some also at the book's website. (which also has a great news feed/blog) **Well, I just went there and couldn't easily find the videos embedded within the site itself (maybe you need to buy the vook after all), but below I'll put the YouTube video that's linked to the site. The book in print will most likely hold a lot more information than the videos, but watching the children go through the experiments is priceless in its own way (including what was promoted as the best marshmallow test ever filmed). Check it out!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Funding DinosaurUs ExploreUs


At last year's KidScreen Summit I met Darren and Tina Lutz, who run an animation company in Green Bay called Believe Animation. Believe is the sister company of their original venture, a software and programming company called Balance Studios, and it's therefore a pretty young company but Darren and Tina have already developed several amazing television concepts; I've been involved with two now: the kid's show Who's Watching Conrad Farcus?, about two brothers, who happen to be vultures, living in the Louisiana bayou, and now Dinosaurus ExploreUs, a preschool show that teachings archaeology and, hence, history and culture to youngsters. Episodes include visits to places like Chichen Itza, Stonehenge, the Acropolis, and new sites like the Tower of London. The curriculum sounded intense for preschoolers and I think we were all a little trepidatious at first, but it works really well. Darren's vision brought in the coolness of School House Rock, and with some strong narrative guidelines, snappy songs, and fantastic visual design, everything has become really accessible (through the contributions of a large team of really talented people--musicians, artists, etc., etc.). I think even three-year-olds will come away with a basic knowledge of what, for instance, the Great Wall of China is--and they'll have a ton of fun to boot! You can see a great teaser on the page linked above.

I did sign a nondisclosure agreement and can't really give any more production details, but the general information on the show is up online because the Lutzes now want to move ahead and produce an entire pilot episode. The script for this was written by Darren and myself (from his idea), so I have a keen interest in getting this funded and produced. They've now launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com to crowdfund the entire 11-minute episode. There's an introductory video on that site in which Darren explains the project better than I could, and if you're interested in getting our script produced you can then go ahead and pledge any amount from $5 up to, I guess, several thousand. There are only 26 days left in the campaign and there's a lot of money left to raise; if we don't reach the full amount then we don't get any of the pledged funds (which means that you as a donor won't be charged after all, but which of course also means the pilot won't get made yet). I'm excited and hopeful that we'll get there and be able to use the pilot to get a full season produced. It's a fantastic show and deserves to be seen by children; my own daughter and her Dinosaur Train-fan friends said the existing video was better than any show on the air and immediately wanted to see the full episode. Please help that happen! And thanks!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Status Update

For those who have noticed, I've had something of a hiatus here on Red Balloon. The wait has been primarily due to my redesign of my entire website (www.randyastle.com) and this blog, which will hopefully be more integrated into that site when it relaunches, with a new URL and everything. So if you were wondering if I'd ever return I certainly will. Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Milkshake in New York

I've been following Milkshake somewhat closely on this blog since they released Great Day and I got in touch with the band a few months ago. Now I've just learned that for the first time since they released that album--that got nominated for a Grammy, by the way--they'll be playing in New York. They'll be at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza (just east of Union Square) on April 17. The show's at 10 a.m., which is one great advantage of preschool bands over the traditional variety (and they rock just as hard). Tickets ($20) are at Live Nation and more information's available at www.houseofkidsnyc.com. In fact, the whole House of Kids initiative, which you can read about there, is pretty cool.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Book on Preschool TV


In my KidScreen '10 summary I mentioned the ning social networking site Children and Media Professionals that was started several months ago by David Kleeman. It has great potential for professionals to find out about, support, and collaborate on each other's work, and this morning I received a message to illustrate this. Jeanette Steemers let us all know that she's just published a new book entitled Creating Preschool Television: A Story of Commerce, Creativity and Curriculum with Palgrave Macmillan. I've just skimmed over the promotional material but it looks like another great resource on children's television, which isn't a backwater industry any more. You can find out more information here and look at the book on Amazon (U.S. and Britain).

Congratulations and thanks to Jeanette for all your hard work in putting it together. I hope the release goes well!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Classic Children's Television Quiz Book

A little while ago Dean Wilkinson was kind enough to send me, all the way from England, a copy of his book The Classic Children's Television Quiz Book, which was first published in 2008.


The book is precisely what it claims to be, a compilation of questions about kids' television shows from the past, primarily the 1970s and 80s. The emphasis is decidedly British, so I highly recommend it for telly aficionados in the UK, but there's a lot here for us Americans as well, from The Muppet Show to He-Man to Hanna Barbera, and on and on. Each page includes a thematically linked group of questions, whether about a specific show, production company, or topic like voice actors, Saturday morning programming blocks (remember those?), game shows, etc. Questions range from the easy to the brain tickling. Here's a sampling:

* In which year did The Flintstones first air - 1955, 1960, 1965, or 1970?

* On The Magic Roundabout, on which sardonic English comedian was Dougal the dog based - Kenneth Williams or Tony Hancock?

* On Play School, was the rocking horse called Dappledown or just Dapple?

* From which planet does Doctor Who hail?

* On Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, the short, angry and violent one was called Rabies - true or false?

* What was the show Top Cat renamed so it could air in Britain?

* In the show Fingerbobs was Rick Jones' character called Nerf, Papa, or Yoffy?

And so it goes! As a Yank I wish there were more Americana present, but we'll have to wait for another writer to give us that. As it is this is a great resource for Americans wanting to learn more, informally, about British children's television history and a fun way for Brits to take a walk down memory lane. It's also a very practically sized coffee table book.

Here's another review. Dean himself is an accomplished author and kids' telly writer, and you can check out his website as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

KidScreen 2010

It's that time of year again, or at least it was two weeks ago when Brunico publishing sponsored its annual KidScreen Summit for children's film and television professionals here in midtown New York City. (Since then Toy Fair's been going strong, for those on the licensing and merchandizing end of things.)

It was my second KidScreen and I had a wonderful time and a very useful event. Attending as a sophomore attendee was a lot better experience than as a green freshman: I knew more what to expect, how to spend my time, and who to try to talk to. In the latter category, for instance, I was able to focus my attention on people who had a chance of getting their concepts produced, rather than the first-time creators with no industry experience I spent a lot of time with last year (and haven't heard back from since). In that middle category--how to spend my time--I knew to completely ignore the main sessions and to instead try to schedule personal meetings during them; I therefore missed a few discussions I would have liked to hear, but I think the meetings I had instead were much more profitable. I also knew that you aren't really truly limited to two or three 30-Minutes With sessions, so I was able to get into seven of them and meet some high ranking executives at places I would never have known how to approach before (CBC, Cartoon Network Europe, etc.) as well as see some of the super-friendly execs that I'd already established a connection with--people like Adina Pitt and Kay Benbow. Such executives are so busy you'd expect them to justify being aloof, but they're all the most friendly and helpful folks I've ever met, remembering my name and the fact we recently had a baby; this is one of the things I really like about the children's television industry.

On the negative side, it looked like sponsorship was down from last year. Not that I miss having so many booths and signs all over the place, but do the organizers really need a big Cartoon Network statue in order to have a rendezvous point? I missed several appointments because we weren't able to find each other, and everyone else was complaining about the same thing. So my advice for next year: Instead of brochures, have some meeting point signs up along the north wall of the main delegates' lounge: Meeting Point A, Meeting Point B, and C and D. That will cost $20, and it doesn't require Treehouse or someone to accompany it with a huge billboard. And it will make happy delegates. Second, more chairs. Just like last year, but it seemed like there were actually less this time around. Finding a place to meet shouldn't take half of a meeting.

I'd like to talk quickly about specifics of what I did. It was a great agenda for me, I think, because I started out with eighteen appointments throughout the three days. Two or three of those fell through, some due to my being detained in a previous meeting, some to my contacts forgetting, and some to the we-can't-find-each-other effect (and the fact my phone decided to stop calling international numbers). But still, the fifteen or so that I was able to have and the original contacts I was able to make there were great. It started out Tuesday night (the 9th) down at Little Airplane by the financial district, where we got to sing along with Bobby McFerrin and Dan Zanes. I also met lots of great people, like Robert Seal, a gregarious, prolific, and tall writer from L.A., and Kristen Souvlis, a producer at Jonathan M. Shiff Productions in Brisbane (makers of H2O Just Add Water, seen here).



Kristen was fantastic and I hope to see more great stuff from their studio, especially here in the U.S.

I won't include too much detail on all three days, but Wednesday I got back in touch with some old contacts like Andrew Brenner, creator of Humf and quite a few other things--whose advice as a fellow writer has been fantastic. Among his thoughts: try to work on the literary end of things, specifically in comic books based on TV shows. In England where he's based there's a large market for this and it can help you as a writer learn the nuances of a show without the high-cost pressure of having an entire episode riding on you (so the producers/publishers are more willing to take a chance on a new guy). Here in America I just have to find out who publishes the Dora comic books, etc. Andrew was pitching a new show with King Rollo Films, although the bible didn't make it due to our snow, and he's also waiting to hear back from E1 about a second series of Humf (seen here).



After Andrew I also had several great meetings, including with Kristy Fuller at 1440 Productions in Melbourne. They've got a great live action tween/teen adventure show in the works (I read the pilot script after MIP) called Dig Deep Creek which would be a perfect fit for Disney XD or Cartoon Network's new live-action boy-centered productions. Kristy was here on her honeymoon as well as for work, so I'm the weather's turned good for her and hope she has another great and relaxing week here before heading back Down Under.

I also loved my meetings with Simon Parsons of the CBBC Scotland, an incredibly generous gentleman who's trying to raise the entire preschool industry in Scotland at the expense of his own company (well, not "at the expense of" because he's trying to improve the quality of everyone's work, which will create a pool of talent in Glasgow and Edinburgh the Beeb can call on as well), and with Jennie Stacey of Brown Bag Films in Dublin. I've been in touch with her for nearly two years and she's been a fantastic contact and incredibly nice, as has everyone at Brown Bag--and throughout Ireland, for that matter. You've seen Brown Bag's animation on shows like Noddy and Olivia, and now they're working on their own original productions which sound very exciting. They would be getting farther on them, though, if they hadn't been nominated for an Oscar for Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty. If you haven't seen this short film you absolutely need to, and you can in high def right here on Granny's own website.


It was fascinating to hear what chaos ensues when one is nominated for an Oscar. Basically, there's a lot of chaos. So there are definitely plans to do more with Granny as a character. I don't want to divulge too much of what Jennie shared with me (those interested in developments can follow the Brown Bag Blog), but I guess I will say that it's starting to dawn on everyone (distributors, I mean) that Granny is not a very child-friendly character; she's a crotchety old miser-type, after all. So we might not see her in a children's series, after all; I'd much rather see her in prime time as an alternative to the Family Guy school of humor. That has a place, but it would be nice to see alternatives, and the crotchety old person is certainly entertaining for adults. Brown Bag could have the Mr. Magoo of the 21st century on their hands, and UPA certainly didn't need to market him (just) to kids. Look first for a Christmas special this holiday season. Best of luck to everyone there as they develop the property and head to Los Angeles in a couple weeks.

On Thursday I had a great meeting with David Kleeman that I wanted to mention. David's the director of the American Center for Children and Media, an organization in Chicago that fosters excellence in global children's media productions, meaning primarily television. They sponsor conferences, panel discussions, and screenings from venues like the Prix Jeunesse; David also spends a great deal of time consulting with individual filmmakers and production companies. So it's a combination of advocacy and education, based on the philosophy (like Simon Parsons') that a rising tide raises all ships. One of his latest efforts is to create an online social network for children's media professionals and scholars. It's hosted on ning, which is a great platform for this kind of thing because it allows for blogs, tweets, discussions, and smaller groups within the broader community. (I've created two ning networks for my Mormon cinema work and am pleased with the results.) It's called the Children and Media Professionals network and is available for anyone with an interest. I've just joined but can't recommend it enough; in an industry so reliant on networking, such an online application is exactly what we need to get to know potential collaborators, distributors, clients, etc. And the conversations stemming from David's prolific blogging can really improve the quality of our work.

On Friday I was able to meet with quite a few Canadians, including Patricia Lavoie, who I originally met with last year. As a quick note for Canadian readers, please be aware that a new nationwide French-language station will soon be a reality. Look for the news conference on February 28.

Canadians can also look forward to the release of Pirates from Halifax Film, a series so good that the second season has already been ordered before the first has even aired. Katrina Walsh, who I also met last year, is one of the most accommodating producers in business, especially for Americans looking to break into the Canadian market and its labyrinthine tax credits and national pride schemes. Patricia's equally as helpful, by the way, as was Kim Wilson of the CBC. To qualify as Canadian for CBC acquisition or co-production you simply need to have a Canadian firm involved (which I knew), and you can go to the CBC directly and, if they like your pitch, they will try to help connect you with someone to meet the criteria (which I didn't know). Curriculum, by the way, is very important for preschool in Canada: not just social curricula, but hard subjects like math, science, art, & literacy. In England, by contrast, they nearly have an aversion for such stuff, so position your material accordingly. At any rate, very specific pitching guidelines are available on the CBC website, demystifying much of the process.

There are other people to mention, but I want to end with Fred Seibert of Frederator, who wasn't available during KidScreen but took nearly two hours of his time to meet me this week in his office on Park Avenue. Frederator's main office is located in L.A., but Fred and a small staff are here on the East Coast. I was really grateful for his generosity with his time--and the work of his assistant, a producer named Carrie Miller, in setting it up--because I wouldn't have been able to spend that much time with him at KidScreen itself. Frederator's well known for its TV work like Wow! Wow! Wubbzy and Fanboy and Chum Chum (seen below), and now they're looking to expand their Internet and feature presence. I'm crossing my fingers for them to finish a Samurai Jack feature by 2011, and just a day before I met with him they began development on their second feature property.



Fred was full of great advice. Most emphatic was the thought that confidence, attitude, and bearing are often the most important characteristics in this business. Anyone can say they're a director, writer, etc., but only those who have true confidence in their abilities and comport themselves accordingly will succeed. Another interesting fact in his estimation was that writers and producers interested primarily in preschool will be able to make a living here in New York, but for people interested in working on shows in the 6-11 range it really helps to be in Los Angeles. I hadn't thought of the geographical split being an age split as well, but as you start going through names of shows you really do see the difference, with perhaps Playhouse Disney being the biggest exception as they're located entirely around Burbank. He also advised to do as much pro bono work as possible, something I had been hoping to minimize this year but about which I now see his logic--the bigger the portfolio the better--and to write as many spec scripts as possible. Previously when I'd mentioned to people that I have nine specs on my website they at least appear duly impressed, but Fred pointed out that you won't really get good at a particular show until you've written ten spec scripts for it. So then by the time you get to talk to the producer or show runner, you'll be up to speed on it, at least as much as you can without a producer's or show runner's guidance. So write a lot of scripts, and write more than one for a single show you like. That advice alone quadrupled my workload, but the logic--the bigger the portfolio the better--is too compelling to ignore (especially when coming from a Fred Seibert).

Finally, both Fred and Andrew Brenner, and some others, indicated the relative worth of bibles and scripts tips in favor of the latter. A good bible does not guarantee a good show, but several good scripts is a very good indication. And then you can write a bible if you need to, but it's basically a marketing tool, while a script is a part of the show. So that's something I'm going to turn to on shows I'm working on like The Milkshake Show, Puppy and Ducky, and The Depardieus. Many broadcasters say not to go too far before approaching them, but this advice to have scripts done is sound as well. I think the golden mean might be to write as many scripts as you can, to know it as well as you can, and then be extremely flexible and willing to throw that all away if a broadcaster wants to take it another way (and you agree with them it's a good way to go).

That's a nutshell summary of much of the advice, etc., that I heard at KidScreen. I talked with lots of other people who are working on or pitching fantastic looking shows. I wish I could blog about all of them, but evidently I have about twenty scripts to go write. As the recession recedes 2010 should be a fantastic year for children's television!


Monday, February 1, 2010

New York Children's Film Fest Tix On Sale

Some readers may have noticed a drastic decrease in my posting this year, which is simply due to an influx in other work-related activities that have kept me away from blogging. But I did really want to let New York parents know, if they don't already, that tickets for this year's New York International Children's Film Festival go on sale today. The fest consists of staggered screenings held at various venues from February 26 through March. I've been browsing through the selection and once again it looks fantastic. It's been a hard year for independent film and it's really gratifying to see so many youth-oriented works seeing completion and getting shown in theaters.

Here's just a smattering of screenshots:






Things are, as I said, busy around our house, but I think we'll try to see one of the short programs and Turtle: The Incredible Journey, the documentary pictured above.

The full festival schedule and film descriptions are here at www.gkids.tv. It's imperative to buy tickets beforehand rather than at the door because they sell out quickly. Also please notice one of the festival's great charitable operations, which is donating a portion of box office proceeds to New York City schools, which are somewhat underfunded to say the least. Just click on the drop-down menu at the top ("Select My School or Organization...") before selecting your tickets. If you're so inclined you could even select my daughter's school PS 334 The Anderson School, and we parents would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks to the organizers and congratulations to all the filmmakers! I'm looking forward to another great event this year.