Monthly Archives: July 2011

Contract negotiations are never easy. You can have the best working relationship in the world but a contract makes you play out every worst-case scenario and that’s just unpleasant, even if none of those eventualities will ever happen.

But, back when the Cosmo contracts were being put together, I was handed a real treat. It had a new clause, one I hadn’t seen before. Here’s the gist:

You hereby warrant that the work does not contain any defamatory, obscene or blasphemous matter of any kind.”

Really?

Defamatory? Obscene? Blasphemous?

Who judges that? Not the one defaming, being obscene, or blaspheming. No, these words only have meaning when someone else sees that in your work. The creator, writer, whoever can’t possibly make a statement of that kind, even with the best will in the world.

Oh, we could have the material tested but surely the cost of hiring a team of people quick to take offense (prudes, Bishops, heads of all major and minor religions) to veto the creative work should come out of the production budget and not the creator’s own pocket? I mean, I can ask the Pope next time I see him but he’s a terror for saying he’s read my scripts when in fact he hasn’t. Or he’ll talk about them but you just know he was only scanning them while on his Blackberry. He once sent me a note that said ‘where did the dog come from? You need to explain that‘. It was on page 8! The dog was a gift from his wife.

Truth is, the clause just came from the solicitor from a bunch of banked clauses in other contracts. This likely wasn’t something that came from my producer. I’d be curious to know where it did originate though. Because I wonder why any production company would need the content to be warranted at all? Didn’t they read the material itself? If they read it, they’d know what was in it.

As it happens, I make shows that are designed to be as safe as possible.

I would imagine that it would be exceptionally unlikely that my work would cause offense. But I couldn’t possibly ever say that for certain. And it amused me no end that someone thought to try to put it in a contract. For those who need to know the end of the story, it didn’t make it in and contracts were all signed happily on both sides.

Although now that I think about it… Cosmo is a show that features the Solar System. It’s science-based and there may be more there to support the Big Bang Theories or similar scientific Universe origin theories than any of the words in the Book of Genesis. So it’s entirely possible that Cosmo could be considered blasphemous. Well, not to worry. Given what has come out about the church here in Ireland, personally, I’d say they should be giving up any right to be offended by anything ever. And that should be just the start of the rights they have to give up.

The world is full of people waiting for their big break. Feeling those talents just aren’t being recognised, hoping someone, anyone, will believe in them and give them a chance.

If you were offered a chance, you’d jump at it, right?

Are you sure?

As part of my job, I have given many people chances to make leaps in their career. Some have jumped right in, taking everything they do up a gear. But others have totally failed to deliver, even when they have the ability. Some simply walked away. Why?

Last week, I made a decision to expand my role in a project. A decision I couldn’t be sure was right. I kept asking others, are you sure I’m doing the right thing here?

Insecurity.

The truth is, I very rarely feel insecure about the decisions I make. It’s what I do. Most of my job as a writer, director is making decisions. Decision, move on. Decision, move on. Where it gets difficult is when a decision involves the evaluation of ones own abilities. Easy to see talent, judgement, creativity in others. With ourselves, well, things tend to get cloudy.

And I realised last week that this insecurity was familiar. I knew this exact feeling. It was somewhere around 2005 or 2006, when trying to get Fluffy Gardens off the ground. I had created characters, a place for them to live. All they needed were some stories. Well, we had to hire a team of the best writers, didn’t we? That was the plan. My plan, at least. Someone had to set the tone so I wrote a couple of samples myself, just so people would know how the show works. It would take some good writers to actually make my stinky stories good, of course. I wasn’t a writer.

But my producer, Gerard, seemed reluctant to look for writers.

Why is he stalling, I thought (no iPad, not why is he Stalin, but thanks for the suggestion). Why would he not search for that writing team we needed? It turned out that Gerard had other ideas. He figured that, given that I had written these samples and they were pretty good, I could write the show. After all, nobody knew the characters better than I did. Or the feel, the tone or humour.

I wasn’t so sure.

What if nobody liked the stories? Well, people were saying they liked them. But what if they were just telling me what I want to hear? How could I possibly be sure they were good enough? The decision to write the show myself haunted me. I kept thinking I’d be found out. Like the police would arrive and unmask me – this man is NOT a writer! We’re taking you in.

Eventually, we took the show to the Cartoon Forum and showed the entire pilot episode. An audience of broadcasters, distributors and fellow show creators, directors, producers and writers. These people had no reason to lie to me. And yet… it seemed they liked it. At the end of the presentation, I was in a haze of nerves and adrenalin. Barely knew where I was. Two guys came up to me and told me they really liked the show. I think I mumbled a thanks, though it’s possible I only did that in my own head and barely a grunt made it out my mouth. As they turned to walk off, one of them looked back and said, “oh, we’re the Peppa Pig guys.”

It was about two hours after that when that actually processed.

I had shown my crappy show to the Peppa Pig guys… and they liked it. No policemen. No Scooby-Doo unmasking. Maybe I could write this after all?

Cut to now, after writing more than 80 episodes of the show, and I call myself a writer. No question about it. No insecurity (even after a few stinky episodes).

And I love it.

But I had to be dragged into that role. Far from jumping at the opportunity, I was reluctant. Because, firstly, I didn’t believe I could do it and, secondly, I could never find the objectivity to take a real look and realise that, actually, I could do it. When it came to myself, I didn’t want to take that risk. Didn’t want to put myself out there and risk failure.

But, you know what? Gerard was right. Okay, yeah, I might have turned out to be an awful writer. But I did know those characters better than anyone. I knew the world, the tone. Logically, it simply was the right decision.

Odd how clouded we get when it comes to ourselves.

And scary to think, in a world full of people hoping for their big break, that we can be so reluctant sometimes to allow ourselves a chance at success. But here’s the thing ‘ if someone ever offers you a chance, take it. Because they probably know you can do it better than you know yourself.

Almost forgot to post here today. My head has been elsewhere. You see, I had the girls all to myself this weekend. And either side of that, I have been completely immersed in COSMO.

One spills over to the other, of course, and one of the great things about working on COSMO, and where I can see the effect it could have first hand, is that my girls are learning about space and getting really enthusiastic about science. With COSMO, I have always hoped that children will ask questions well beyond what is actually featured in the show. So it’s the start of a journey. Well, the show still has a long way to go but, even just in bringing my work home, I can see that happening with my four-year-old, Daisy.

Today, she was very proud to tell my wife that the bigger the planet, the more gravity it has. Oh sure, it’s fine to throw around the words but what does she really know? So I asked her what gravity is. The explanation was all her own – if you have something and you don’t want it to fall, it will fall anyway and that’s because of gravity. She’s four and discussing gravity. That’s well outside what I planned to feature in the show, by the way. But she moved from space to planets, to floating to gravity.

Questions lead to more answers, which lead to more questions.

And giving children good answers seems to be, at least for me, one of the best things you can give a child. I find it one of the really fun, interesting things about being a parent. It’s also so much fun for children. They love to learn interesting things and they definitely love to show off. So I had a great, yet tiring (Alice up all night convinced butterflies were in her room – a whole other story), weekend. Daisy came out of it learning about space, and I came out of it feeling good that maybe a show like this could inspire other children in a positive way too.

Anyway, here are some drawings she wanted to share with you. They may not count given they’re from my daughter but, for me, this is the first COSMO fan art:

COSMO – Daisy felt she needed more colour.

COSMO’S DAD – I know everyone boasts about their children but I was well impressed with this one. When she asked what colour the main part around Dad’s eyes were, she didn’t accept ‘white’ as an appropriate answer.

SOL – Daisy also felt little Sol needed more colour. And apparently, much bigger hands.

COSMO’S MUM – Oh, I think we’ll be needing anger management classes at some point. This is actually the third attempt at Mum. The first two led to the revelation of a real perfectionist streak. She wasn’t happy with Mum #2 at all.

GIL – the computer or, as Daisy refers to him, ‘their television’.

And that’s the lot. The COSMO family, as drawn by little Daisy Tammemagi, age 4. Oh, she also wanted me to read you a story. It was ‘Goodnight Sleep Tight’ by Claire Freedman. It’s a good story so you should check it out but I think transcribing it here would be a blatant breach of copyright.