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 to

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 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!