There were two subjects I was fascinated with as a child – space and dinosaurs. I thought perhaps that they were locked to their time (especially space with much more attention being given to space travel in the ’70s and ’80s) and that they were a boy thing (especially dinosaurs).
I was so wrong.
My daughter Daisy became curious about dinosaurs at around three years old, initially from Peppa Pig’s Mr. Dinosaur (or, more correctly, George Pig’s). A conversation with me on what a dinosaur was led to a genuine interest.
She became curious about space at around the same age, when she noticed the Moon one evening. Again, a conversation with me about it led to a genuine interest.
I learned two important lessons:
Lesson 1: Talk to your children. Lesson 2: Girls in this day and age find dinosaurs and space fascinating.
So I aimed to feed Daisy’s interest. Looking to books, I found a bunch of baby books (‘this dinosaur has a purple tail’) and quite a few very technical books for older children… but, at the time, pretty much nothing in between. Very little that was aimed at preschoolers and yet taught quality information on either space or dinosaurs.
Talking with other children and parents, it seemed my Daisy wasn’t alone. Other children had these interests too. But, when interests aren’t fed, they quickly fade. And the world wasn’t offering what I needed to feed those interests in an age-appropriate way.
So I decided to take action and do what I do – create.
And the choice became simply: planets or dinosaurs?
You know which one I chose. Several years later, Daisy was six years old and watching Planet Cosmo along with her younger sister Alice and, of course, with children across the country and soon the world. Today, I have added to my gallery some images showing the visual development of Planet Cosmo. I hope you find it interesting.
And dinosaurs? Well the end of this particular story is still to come…
I have mentioned before that, for young children, television is not one-way communication. No matter the form, even with traditional stories, kids love being involved and the more you can do to help them feel involved the better.
In an early segment of Sesame Street, James Earl Jones recited the alphabet at a slow, deliberate pace. The letters appeared before he spoke each one. Heavily studied (as always with Sesame Street), the producers identified what they then called “The James Earl Jones Effect”, which was a result of the beautifully clear, powerful voice combined with the long gaps. Watch the segment below…
What the team found was that children would readily take up the invitation to join in as James Earl Jones recited the alphabet and, on first watch, would say the letters along with him. But as children got more familiar with the segment and the alphabet, they would say the letters before James Earl Jones could. So it was clear that the segment did its job and children were learning the alphabet but what also came from that is that children love knowing what’s happening and they love getting in there first and getting it right.
There is a real sense of empowerment that comes from knowing what the next letter is and that’s a thrill for kids. It is one of the reasons young children love a favourite story or will happily watch a favourite episode over and over. They adore knowing what comes next. They love the repetition. And it really engages them in communication. They aren’t just watching – they are taking part.
This is the James Earl Jones effect.
You can apply this no matter what form you are creating. For example in Planet Cosmo we engaged the audience directly and asked them questions, making them a part of the experience. Fluffy Gardens had a much more traditional straightforward narrative but, right from the first episode, there were sections written in that would repeat so children would begin to know the rhythm and know what’s coming. Even on first watch, there would be parts of an episode where the young audience already knew what was coming because we set it up deliberately for that to happen. And I knew those episodes could run and run. Far from getting boring, within our target age group, each repeat would become even more enjoyable.
This is something that comes with audience awareness. It happens when you’re not asking ‘what story do I want to tell?’ but instead asking ‘what experience do I want children to have or be a part of?’
Several years ago, I was writing a live-action script for adults. It was a story I was passionate about but it became apparent that the first draft just wasn’t quite coming together the way it should.
It was suggested by someone I trust that the problem with the draft was that I’m often ‘too nice and tend towards sentimentality’.
Well that sucks, I thought. I have a serious writing problem. Too nice. Tend towards sentimentality. A weakness.
Somewhat demoralised, I shuffled home and slumped over my laptop to polish a draft of a Fluffy Gardens story I was working on. I wrapped up the beautifully sweet ending to a lovely story about cute animals being pleasant to each other. It was a good story and it made me smile and, sure enough, that story went on to make many children and parents smile too. Too nice. Tend towards sentimentality…
That was no weakness.
While writing all 80 episodes of that show, that was very much a strength. One that, armed with a new awareness of, I then embraced and developed and would continue to be a strength when applied thoughtfully to the right projects. A strength, not a weakness.
So if you have what you perceive to be a weakness, or what others perceive to be a weakness, is it possible that applied differently it could turn out to be your strength? What if instead of trying to eliminate this ‘problem’, you pushed it further to where it might help rather than hinder?
It is said so often that confidence can make all the difference when trying to make things happen. We need to be sure of our idea and our ability to carry it through. We need to impress and motivate others with our own confidence. We need confidence to pitch and present our work. We need to write, direct and create with confidence and not bend too easily to the whims of others. Indeed, this is all something that I would preach right here on this site. We need a strength and a conviction in what we are doing in order to do it successfully.
Confidence. It is so important.
But for me, confidence is not something to be willed into being. Not something to be adopted on its own, like a new persona. Not something to be drilled in through affirmations. I suspect that is the path to arrogance, stubbornness and possibly delusion, all easily torn down.
Real confidence, in my experience, is the outcome of science.
It comes from learning, research, testing, proving and disproving. And many, many trials. Real confidence comes not when we just blindly convince ourselves that our work is great, but when we have actually put in the work to make it great. It comes when we have done our homework and know our subject matter inside and out. It comes when we have tested that work, tried different options and, like any good scientist, been open to the very real possibility that we’re going about things the wrong way.
Confidence is earned through that science. It can be a lengthy process and often it should be but, eventually, you will have worked through the possibilities, put your work to the test and you will have ended up with something you truly believe in. You will have work you can present really well because you know it stands up to scrutiny and you have already pitched it in your head a thousand times. And you will never be blind-sided or left stumbling because you have put more work into finding the cracks in your project than even your harshest critic. You can stand over your work because it is actually really great work.
That’s real confidence. And once you have got it, it doesn’t get shaken easily. It’s a powerful force and it is how you make great things happen.