For whatever reason, black isn’t often associated with desirable situations. So it sometimes sounds odd when we hope for a Black Friday or a Black Wednesday or Black any other day. But on Cosmo, we find ourselves hoping for these days on a regular basis. Here in the Monster Animation studio, black is a wonderful thing.
Here’s why –
This is what we call the Homicide Board.
The system came from the excellent show Homicide Life On The Streets which, in turn, was based on the systems of the Baltimore Police Department and it has worked a treat ever since we implemented it many years ago. The system is very simple – detective names at the top, their cases underneath. Open unsolved cases are in red. Closed cases are in black.
For us, our detectives are animators. Cases are scenes. Assigned scenes are in red. When they’re finished and approved, they go to black. Case closed.
Everyone can see the board and all of us can tell at a glance how we’re progressing in each episode. When we’re coming close to a deadline, the last thing we want to see on that board is a lot of red and the pressure to close those cases drives us all. Nobody wants an Adena Watson on their hands. And little can compare with the satisfaction that comes from looking up at that board and seeing a lot of black. It’s not just a bookkeeping system. It’s a motivator and a regular source of pleasure on all our productions.
As Giardello would say, “Black is beautiful, baby!”
Every day, my inbox gets hit with Writer’s Store emails which are usually along the lines of ‘what Hollywood readers want to see’, ‘a do and don’t list for getting an agent’ and so on. And there are no shortage of ‘what broadcasters/distributors/etc are looking for’ articles in our trade magazines and across websites everywhere.
Are they helpful?
Perhaps, in a few isolated cases. If, for example, you desperately want your show on one particular channel above all others and their commissioner hates shows about manitees, it’s good to know that in advance so you can change all your manitees to dugongs or something. That’s helpful. Although it doesn’t mean they’ll like your show.
If you find out that every single broadcaster on the planet has a rule about not showing bellybuttons, it’s good to know things like that too. Doing research on who you’re selling to is important and it is to be recommended.
But really, it comes down to what it says in that image above – it’s all just opinion. Broadcasters, distributors and so on very rarely agree on what they want. You will never please all of them. You won’t even be able to please most of them. Trying will likely only result in an unfocused compromised mess as you create not a show but a checklist with characters (unless some broadcaster somewhere doesn’t want characters this year). And as you create that checklist, you will have neglected to please those who really matter: your audience. Your actual end users. In my world, that’s children.
You may also end up neglecting one other person: yourself.
Our industries are tough at the best of times. If you personally are not passionate about what you’re making, chances are you won’t see it through.
You have to go with your passion. You have to make something you love.
Do you want to know what broadcasters want?
What they really want?
They’re the same as everyone else ‘ they just want something they’ll love. It’s as basic as that. Oh they may have opinions on what they like and don’t like but if they really knew what that thing was, that one thing they’ll love, they’d create it themselves. They’d take it to a producer they know and outline the entire show. But that’s not how they work. It’s not how we work. Most of the time, we just connect with something when we see it. Or we don’t. Usually it’s a surprise rather than something that just fulfils a list of desires we already knew we had.
So you’ve just got to create something you love. Something you think your audience, your real audience, will love and something that the world needs. Something you can feel strong about ‘ because you will need to be strong.
And then you have to put it out there and hope that someone else loves it too. If they do, if they really connect with it and really love it, every rule they ever made about what they want or don’t want will get thrown out right then and there.
I hear a lot of horror stories about children’s TV productions and, each time, it seems so wrong – shouldn’t making kid’s TV be fun? Happy children’s entertainment shouldn’t mask some trial of agony. It’s about smiles. Laughs. Positivity.
And so now we’re in the thick of Cosmo production. Watching the scenes begin to come together is fantastic. It is a joy.
But I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to the stress. Much of it is down to limited resources. I have a rule about working within my means. For me, a budget only really shows on-screen if a production reaches beyond its means and doesn’t quite pull it off. The cracks appear. Work within your means, on the other hand, and you can make it the absolute best it can be within those means. The only production on which I ever broke this rule was a pretty unenjoyable one.
So what about Cosmo? It’s an ambitious show with a small budget. Am I breaking my rule?
But it requires being more inventive about utilising our means. Increasing our means. It means being hands-on with every single aspect and making sure that every ounce of energy makes it on to the screen (if energy can be measured in ounces, which it probably can’t). That’s how I’ve always liked to make shows and, on a show with as many elements as Cosmo, it makes for one very long to-do list. That list includes directing tasks, design tasks, production tasks, management tasks, even voicing a character. All at once. And that’s only what I’m doing – every member of the team is contributing.
Here’s the truth: it can be hard sometimes.
Okay so not ‘working in a mine’ hard but it’s certainly not all smiles. You see, cliched as it may be, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it and, let’s face it, not everyone is. We’re doing something worthwhile here in the studio. In my (admittedly biased) view, with Cosmo, we’re doing something pretty great. So this isn’t about self-pity for those tough days and sometimes tougher decisions. This is simply an acceptance that production can be very busy and it can be hard.
That’s okay. Not okay just as a little thing we may admit to each other at those industry get-togethers. It’s okay generally. In fact, at times, it may be a very good sign. And accepting this leads me to two thoughts –
A) Problems should never be written into a system or accepted as part of the process. It’s hard enough when a production is going right. If the production horror stories don’t in any way lead to a better show on screen, well, that’s a real horror. What we do is about making a meaningful connection with children and giving them something positive. Anything else is just getting in the way.
B) We can be so fortunate to have fantastic teams working on our shows and we should always be thankful for that, for those people who really contribute. The level of support from everyone on our Cosmo team is amazing (Simon Crane and Adam Oliver pictured above). It inspires me and it keeps me going. Right from early development, people have given above and beyond not because they have been asked to but because they chose to. I am thankful for every single person giving to Cosmo right now and I’m already seeing the results of all our work in the scenes.
This is a true joy.
Sworcery A/V Jam
On a different topic, the makers of the excellent Sword & Sworcery game held an A/V Jam over the weekend, in which people could submit music, artwork and more all themed around Sworcery. I was really glad to be a part of it, submitting a cute little image of the Scythian and Dogfella. Some of the submissions are absolutely stunning so, if you have some time, head over and have a browse – http://sworcery.tumblr.com/
While production of Cosmo steps up a gear this week, I thought I’d show you a production of a whole different kind. Some of you will have seen some of these on my Twitter – Artist Lessons with my girls, Daisy and Alice. Let Daisy and Alice take you through drawing the human form, how to draw beautiful pictures of nature, even how to draw our home planet of Earth. Artists at all levels will pick up handy tips and techniques from this exclusive series of videos.
Feel free to skip down to my favourite – Artist Lesson #6, in which Alice takes you through her unique colour techniques.
Just a fun daddy/daughters activity that we all enjoyed!