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 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.