Getting safe with a spark
Last week, I posted about safe children’s content and how that does not equal bland. As safe TV is something I tend to talk about quite a bit, a few have asked me how television can possibly be safe and yet still have any sort of edge?
Well different people probably have their own ways of getting there but, for me, I have found that it comes down to one of my main working methods. It’s a thinking I apply to animation, writing, just about everything. Here it is –
Work within your limits.
Now this is a dangerous thought in ways, because I have found that many don’t know where their limits are. Many will totally undersell themselves and under-perform because they see their limits, or their perception of limits being set for them, as being far more restrictive than they actually are.
But, if you can really know and trust where your limits are and set them yourself at the beginning of a project, it’s a great way of thinking.
Here’s an example I often use to animators of how it applies. Look at the animation in the television version of a Disney film, like the Aladdin cartoon show or something like that. Compare that to a stylised Cartoon Network style show like the old Dexter’s Laboratory. Usually, Aladdin’s TV show animation will look much worse. Now, technically, there’s much more in it than in Dexter’s Lab but Aladdin was designed for a movie budget, and looks great when it has that budget, whereas Dexter was designed from the ground up for a television budget. Aladdin becomes something you know should look different, should look better, but it’s compromised and feels incomplete.
Dexter works within its limits and, as a result, can reach the absolute top of that limit. It comes out looking better. Complete. Uncompromised.
Same is true for the creation, writing or directing of a show and how it applies to safety/blandness.
If you write a story or feature characters that aren’t age-appropriate, you will have producers cutting you off at the knees, broadcaster or distributor notes making you tone it down and remove whole chunks. And what you’re left with is a shell – a show or episode left without its soul. Without its edge. Something that feels incomplete. Like, if only…
But, if you pick your limits and know them, keep it age-appropriate from the start but try to maximise the fun, silliness, humour, adventure, whatever within those limits, then you’ve got a good chance at ending up with a safe show that isn’t bland. Safe with a spark. The key factor here will end up being responsibility – it requires you to own the responsibility of where the lines are in your content, not a broadcaster or anyone else. So if you push limits (and pushing limits is good), you know they’re your limits.