The end of another year. I don’t feel the need to do a full stock take as I found myself forced to evaluate everything a couple of weeks ago when my birthday approached. Overall… it has been a good year. I have worked on some really great things with some really great people, old friends and new. That has probably been my biggest pleasure in 2014.
Having had such a varied year, I think 2014 has left me with two strong thoughts:
1) It’s fantastic, worthwhile and valuable to push in different directions, use your skills in new ways and try whole other things entirely. 2) It’s always good to recognise what you do well and sometimes it’s just fine to do that thing you are really, really great at. Because not everybody is.
As it happens, it’s possible to apply both – familiar skills in new forms.
So what about 2015? Well, there are some exciting things ahead – some you know about, like Millie and Mr Fluff, and others will be revealed during the year. There is also room for some new collaborations and I’m hoping I get to work on some fun new projects that I haven’t even discovered yet (get in touch if you need some preschool awesomeness). A year of plans and possibilities.
So what about you? Have you got the year planned out already or is it an empty page? Will it take you in a new direction? Or solidify what you’re already great at? Or somehow both? Whatever you have planned or not planned, I hope it’s a fantastic year for you! Thanks as always for stopping by my blog. And if you have anything you would like me to cover or any questions on any aspect of making great content for kids, please get in touch.
It’s that time again – it comes quicker every year. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas/holiday season! Thanks as always for stopping by my little blog.
If you’re in Ireland, keep an eye out for the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special. It will air as always on Christmas morning at 7.50am and also on RTEjr at 10.30am and 2.30pm. Plenty of chances to see it! Isn’t it about time I made a new Christmas special? Isn’t it?!
Oh, one last thing. I just found out that Dino Dog made the Guardian’s Best iPad Apps for Kids 2014 list: YAY!
Sorry, that should have had a question mark in the title. Anyone know how to survive a mid-life crisis? I’m turning 40 tomorrow. I am not cool with this at all. Not even slightly. It’s a pretty huge milestone and you know the thing about those first 40 years? You don’t get them back. You don’t get to try again. There are no save points we can reload.
And that sucks.
I guess two things might help. 1) We can try to appreciate what we’ve done well in that time. 2) We can aim to make the best use of time generally, knowing that these milestones come whether we like it or not.
Life is made up of many parts but just looking at work and content, what have I done in that time? Well, I created Fluffy Gardens and that is still one to be proud of, even if I do say so myself. It’s only really looking back on it now that I can see the slight lunacy of taking on directing the entire series while writing it too but if I could do it again (I can’t) I don’t think I’d do it any other way. I love that show and those characters will always be dear to me. And they are clearly dear to many parents and kids even now. So that’s nice.
Planet Cosmo, a show to introduce the planets to kids. I love this show. It was so much fun, I worked with an amazing team and I got to drop in some nice sci-fi references. Best of all is that it did what it was supposed to do – it inspired children. And I made other stuff that I can still really enjoy today: Roobarb & Custard Too, Punky, Dino Dog and more. My favourite? It might still be the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special.
I once joked to someone in animation that, if there was a hell, you would be forced to watch what you have made over and over on a loop for all eternity. But if you’ve made stuff you like and are proud of, then it’s not hell. It’s heaven. So you better make great content. It feels the same turning 40. If you’re reading this and you’re much, much younger than me (likely!), keep that in mind. One day you’ll wonder about what you’ve spent a large chunk of your life creating. Hopefully you’ll be happy with what you have made.
Am I? I guess. I’m never truly content but that’s a great motivator. I always want to make something better. Something more challenging. Something that will really matter to kids or their parents. Which leads on to the next part: aiming to have something we’re happy with when we hit these milestones. We can’t plan every move and no doubt things will change as we encounter new opportunities but I think if we really care about what we do and genuinely aim for better each time, we’ll hit upon something we’re proud of. For me, that’s building new content and collaborations with Mooshku that will really set up the next decade. The foundations have been put in place.
If your own challenge is not yet finding something you’re passionate about, keep trying different things. That is not wasted time. I animated on features, made commercials in lots of different styles and tried a whole bunch of other things before realising I wanted to make children’s content. Our path is not always obvious.
Hopefully when you hit your next big milestone, you’ll have an easier time with it than I am. In the meantime, go make something awesome. Now excuse me while I sit in a dark room and listen to The Cure…
You might be surprised at the amount of thought and balance that has gone into the credits on shows I’ve made. It seems like a simple thing: people are hired to do jobs, that’s the credit they get. When shows are made by small creative teams, all adding wonderful new layers to your show, it’s rarely that simple. Your Production Assistant may have ended up a Compositor. An Animator may have shifted to Background Designer for a few episodes. And so on. It happens a lot and I love being open to when that happens. There is nothing wrong with people getting help or giving help in different areas.
Where it gets tricky in credits is where one credit might downplay another. For example, if that Animator above designed 5 great backgrounds and yet your main background person designed 290 then it wouldn’t quite seem fair to have both names up there equally. Maybe at this point your Background Designer is renamed Lead Background Designer or the Animator gets an Additional Backgrounds By credit. So credits are like a story in themselves – you have to think of them as a whole and consider the knock-on effect of each part.
I feel this needs to be right because I believe strongly in this: everyone should get proper credit for what they do.
It is important for two reasons. Firstly, the people working on these shows deserve their credit. They’ve earned it and it becomes part of their future calling card. But also because someone else at some point is going to read those credits and that could have an effect. If they see a Character Designer credit on a show with amazing character designs and then hire that person but their design skills don’t quite match because the credit was incorrect, that creates a problem. If someone buys a show on the strength of key talent and that person didn’t do what the credits say they did, that creates a problem. It is as important for others watching that the credits be as correct as possible as it is for the person credited.
So the main take-away here is: credits are actually important. Let’s aim to credit people correctly.
What has me thinking about this is the whole Zoella ghostwriting issue. Zoella, a personality I wasn’t all that much aware of, has a book out. It has done brilliantly as far as I know and it turns out that there was a ghostwriter involved. So people in publishing know this isn’t anything new and think it’s unfair to single out Zoella. I totally agree. My real issue here is nothing to do with Zoella or that there is another writer involved. It is that her book cover says very clearly “A first novel by…”. It’s not just a celebrity endorsement. It may be a flat-out lie. Or it may not be. We don’t know because there is an assumption that this lack of transparency is just fine. Some people have expressed surprise – don’t we know books like this are ghostwritten? Well, no. Because it doesn’t tell us that on the cover. It tells us something else entirely. Either the author’s name on the front of a book means something or it doesn’t. If it means nothing, let’s abandon it altogether so we’re not in misleading or false advertising scenarios. If it does mean something, then make it mean something. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writers getting help or having multiple writers so, in this case and in other ghostwriting cases, how about just crediting the other writer on the cover too? Or have a Presents credit on the cover, with the real author’s name on the inside (like the Fighting Fantasy books).
Either way gives the proper people credit while also not misleading the people reading those credits. If credits are allowed to become meaningless… well, then credits becomes meaningless.
When I pick up my Creating A Show posts, I’ll be getting into pitching. Pitching is a crucial stage and rarely easy but there is some fun to be had with it too. For introverts, though, pitching can sometimes seem terrifying, daunting or just something we’d really rather not do. As someone who has been labelled a ‘high-functioning introvert’ in the past, I might gather some thoughts and do a Pitching For Introverts post someday but, right now, I wanted to just point out one advantage many introverts have while pitching. There are generalisations here and everyone is different but many introverts should recognise what I’m describing below. It can give you an edge in a pitch scenario.
Here it is: introverts are rarely surprised.
Many of us spend a huge amount of time in our own heads. We play things out over and over, especially when we know a stressful scenario is coming our way. Now preparation is key to pitching or indeed anything else so I would always advise as much preparation as possible for anyone but often we introverts take that much further, whether we like it or not. We play out a gatekeeper asking us the roughest, toughest questions. We see them poking holes in our concepts. We watch as they pick up our show bible, find that one gaping flaw and then fling it into the bin. And we do this while getting dressed, while eating breakfast and at 4 in the morning when we should be asleep. Over and over again. We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to confidence but not when it comes to exploring potential outcomes.
So by the time we walk into that meeting, there is very little chance that something will happen that we haven’t already played out a hundred times. And usually it goes much, much better.
This is a good thing. We can identify problems before they happen. If we need to make a change, we can. If we know something might be a tricky issue but there is a good reason why certain decisions were made, we have those responses prepared. Things get easier and better the more times we do them. And for many of us, the first time we pitch a project to someone isn’t really the first time we’ve pitched it because we have driven ourselves demented with the conversation for weeks in advance. So we go in better.
I’m not saying extroverts don’t do this too. We’re all different but I know some extroverts seem to play things out live and in the moment more than the introverts. But whatever kind of person we are, I think the main thing is to be prepared. Whether by structured preparation time or the repetive mental run throughs (preferably both), play it out all kinds of different ways. Try not to be taken by surprise. Be open. But not surprised. And that’s where we can have an advantage.