In the world of media, I have seen a lot of unrealistic expectations over the years. I see people with what might be the beginnings of an idea who expect others to throw a fortune at them to take it off their hands and actually do the work to turn it into something good. These people tend to wonder what is wrong with the entire industry when that doesn’t happen. Oh you’ll regret it when I’m rolling in money and this is the biggest property on the planet.
I also see a lot of more humble people daunted by how intimidating the industry can be. Gripped by that fear and a sense that they don’t have what it takes. Afraid to sit down and really develop their idea because it may end up awful and it will all go horribly wrong. I’m not a writer. I’m not a creative. I can’t draw. How will I get anywhere?
And this may come as no surprise to some of you but, regularly, I see these two things in the same person. Because the fear of sitting down and doing the work can often result in a defensive need to offload a project long before it’s ready. Someone take it! Now!
This is a fun business to be in with lots of wonderful people doing wonderful things. But the truth is, it comes with hard work. Sitting down and just doing the work, often on your own before anyone else believes in it, comes with the territory. It’s what you take on when you decide this is what you’re going to do. You have to work hard to prove what you’re doing has any value or has a place in a world saturated with high-quality media already.
It’s not an easy path to walk down.
But if you do, if you put in that work, you will find people who like what you’re doing. You will get to know why something you tried didn’t quite take and you’ll be better prepared next time. You’ll find the enthusiasm grows as you get closer, as you help others on their projects and as you get to be a part of the process. Then, when you find champions for your own work (and if you stick at it, you will), you realise you can do it. You have probably already been doing it. It’s not easy. It’s unlikely that someone will ever dump a truck full of money at your house for your concept, even when you put in the work. But it is still rewarding. It is still worth it.
So do the work. Keep your expectations realistic and do the work. Enjoy it and keep doing it.
I normally only post on a Wednesday so this might upset the entire fabric of the space-time continuum but, in advance of heading to the Children’s Media Conference, I thought I’d get in a little update on me and Mooshku. Why? Because I don’t often talk about my current work here and it’s no harm to remind you about what it is that I do.
So what have I been up to? And Méabh? And all of us at Mooshku generally?
Mooshku have been consulting on 3 lovely early stage children’s properties for third party companies. That entails evaluating existing content, focussing it for the right audience and also broadcasters and partners and putting it together to make a really strong pitch for a really strong concept. That has included writing concept documents, show bibles, storylines and also sample scripts. Simply put, we have been making lovely ideas even lovelier!
We created, wrote and produced Trufax Tot Cop for the Nickelodeon shorts programme, just one of four international companies selected. It is absolutely KILLING ME that I haven’t been able to show this yet or say more about it. There are very good reasons why I can’t but I’m so eager to show it to you.
Update: I’m now okay to add an image so here he is, Trufax Tot Cop!
We produced animation for a live science show for the Edinburgh Fringe last year and, around this time last year at Mooshku, we were just finishing production on a pixel art music video for GUNSHIP. You probably know I love my pixel art.
And we have been developing our new IP and producing some new animation samples to show them off. They are really pretty and fun and we’ll be bringing them along to the CMC next week. We’ll post some online soon too, I promise! In the meantime, some pictures:
Sticking with our Mooshku mission of collaboration, Méabh produced the live-action for the 52 episodes of Little Roy for our wonderful friends at JAM Media. And Méabh is currently producing The Overcoat for the talented guys at Giant Animation, featuring the voice talents of Cillian Murphy and Alfred Molina.
And on top of all this, I have been doing a huge amount of writing. Over the last 18 months or so, I have written…
5 episodes of the upcoming Wild Adventures of Blinky Bill for Flying Bark in Australia.
4 episodes of a lovely new show I can’t yet name for Submarine in the Netherlands.
2 Gråtass live-action theatrical children’s feature films for Cinenord in Norway.
More than 10 scripts for top secret early development projects for Ireland and the UK (early development for 3rd party companies is a lot of what we do in Mooshku).
And I have been writing the full 20 episodes of the new Karsten Og Petra series and a Karsten Og Petra feature film, also for Cinenord. This is one that is particularly dear to my heart. This series is so lovely. If you haven’t seen anything from it yet, you should look it up. It is preschool perfection (I can’t take credit for that – it was perfection even before I got involved!).
And I’m working on something lovely for Karrot (of Sarah & Duck) and a nice new show I can’t yet mention but will be a lot of fun.
That post turned out even longer than I expected. We’ve been busy! Really, we’ve been doing what we love to do: make really great stuff for kids. We have our mission to bring kids something really good and we’re strong on that. And we also love collaboration and working with others. We don’t see competition – we see a community. So far, that ethos is working wonderfully for Mooshku.
So that’s the update. If you’re at the CMC, do say hello! It will be lovely to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones too.
The Children’s Media Conference last week was interesting as always. Lots of positive ideas and people making great things with great missions behind them (the mission is important!). A lot of talk of YouTube which, of course, most of us are very aware of both in terms of opportunities but also challenges. We know a lot of children are going there for their entertainment. My own girls, for example, adore Stampy and his seal-like laugh and gaming fun.
What is a concern for me as a parent are the ads that play before these, which are in no way age appropriate. The last Stampy marathon I watched with my girls was interrupted with ads for Orange Is The New Black, for example. There is a YouTube Kids app in the U.S. It has come under fire but I at least find it encouraging that it is an acknowledgement that kids can and do access content there. Hopefully that will get better and, when right, will go global.
Kids exist. They watch YouTube.
So it was a little disappointing when one speaker who makes excellent YouTube videos was hit with the question: who should be watching your videos? The speaker had already talked about how much kids get from the videos, even using a slide of a toddler watching one of the videos. The answer to who should be watching: well, as per YouTube terms of service so… I guess that’s 13 and over. It was just a little moment where someone was put on the spot and was hit with a question they weren’t quite expecting (though certainly should have been) but it was an abdication of responsibility. That’s always a problem. Kids exist. They watch YouTube.
On the other end, there was a great panel on the 4-6 age group and age appropriateness presented by Mellie Buse and it was fantastic to hear Dave Ingham (Boj, Clangers) and Lucy Murphy (Bing) talk about how they want to tackle subjects relevant to the lives of kids, challenge them, reflect their lives and their world with honesty in a way that is right for the age group. They really think about who is watching what they make. I love that.
So let’s side with Dave and Lucy on this one and remember that kids exist and they watch what we make. And isn’t that fantastic?
My own personal key takeaways from this year’s Children’s Media Conference:
1) For the most part, television still rules.
2) Print is still very much alive in the kids’ space.
3) Digital interactivity and games cost and people don’t like to pay for them. It’s a difficult space.
4) Some of the most exciting, innovative and most beneficial new content for kids is right in the midst of that difficult space. It’s a wonderful place to be as a content creator.
5) As much as these lines appear to be blurring on the outside, from those commissioning these forms I still get a feeling of definitive divides. TV=TV, books=books, games=games.
6) Very few people seem to see VR in the future of kids’ media or notice it is coming, contrasting with my own view that, for better or worse, I see it as an inevitability. May take a generational shift or two though.
7) No matter what end of the business – whether gatekeeper, knocking at those gates or looking for other routes – everyone is just muddling along trying to figure things out as the media world changes.
8) Many people consider this a transition period. Or is that just an expression of hope? Personally, I’m not convinced it will settle any time soon so we’re either along for the ride or we can try to positively influence the direction.
9) Apparently, I am a ‘high-functioning introvert’.
10) A huge number of people are in kids’ media for just one reason: they want to give kids something great. Those people are awesome.
That’s it. Thanks as always to Greg Childs and the organisers for pulling together a really great event. It was fantastic to hear so many varying viewpoints on the panels, to catch up with old friends and meet many Twitter friends in person for the first time. Would you believe some people aren’t on Twitter? Weird. Thanks to everyone for kind words about what we’re doing at Mooshku (one particular project seems to be going down a storm) and about my older work too. After all these years, Fluffy Gardens still gets a LOT of love! If you read this little blog and we never got to meet, be sure to say hello next year.
Tomorrow, I could have a special extra post so check back then…
This time next week, I’ll be at the Children’s Media Conference. One of the things I love about the CMC is the wide scope of the M: media. It is not the Children’s TV Conference, App Conference or Book Conference. It is a place where people delivering good content to children in any form can come together in a relaxed setting and just learn from each other.
A couple of years back, I posted about a CMC talk from Ian Livingstone on gaming. It got me thinking about my views on narrative and just how that works for children. I come from a television background and, personally, I love narrative. I love telling stories and children love hearing, watching or experiencing stories. But it is not the be all and end all of children’s content. Not by a long shot.
Toca Boca, Sago Sago and more show that you can give children a toy and let them construct their own narrative through play. Any experience can be a narrative. A town built in Minecraft may carry a fictional narrative in the head of the builder or it can simply be that the trials of building that town is a narrative in itself, with its own challenges, failures and successes. This isn’t new. Lego of old didn’t come with a backstory. A Fisher Price garage didn’t need an accompanying comic to make clear who the characters were.
When it comes to imagination, kids simply don’t need our help.
But they still love a good story, which opens the door to merging these approaches: narrative-driven interactive content. We have been making faux-interactive entertainment for many decades in children’s television and the next natural step is of course genuine interactivity. A child still experiencing a story, a constructed narrative, but being part of it through the characters or getting to take part in activities or games. As both a content creator and as someone who just loves gaming, I find this mix incredibly inspiring. And now I have something fun in the works that will be revealed very soon – a partnership with leading children’s app publisher Storytoys, who have made the merging of storytelling and interactivity their specialty. More on that another time but, for now, Storytoys have released this teaser image:
So this year, I attend the CMC with the buzz of some exciting Mooshku projects, as script editor on wonderful TV shows, this new dino-filled collaboration coming soon and, most importantly, with a far wider picture of the M across all of that. And this is what I love about what we can do for kids. We can sit them down and tell them a story or we can throw them some blocks and see what they come up with themselves. Or we can do anything in between. If you’re attending this year, I hope you pick up some fascinating insight and maybe I’ll see you there.
I found the Children’s Media Conference took me back to my roots in some ways. An event like that always helps to inspire and remind me why I love to make children’s content but this went even further back. In a talk on gaming with Ian Livingstone, I suddenly remembered creating Fighting Fantasy-style adventure games in BASIC on old Apple computers. Games programming. From there, my life could have gone in a very different direction and a career in the games industry would actually have been a very natural move. With content now merging/diverging/transmediaing and so on, perhaps I’ll end up in that direction eventually.
With all the talk of apps, many more traditional TV folk were thinking about how they might fit in, I guess hoping they don’t get left behind. And one of the things I heard said over and over was this: it’s all about narrative. The story. TV, books, games, apps – it all comes down to narrative so the same thinking and the same skills apply.
In Ian Livingstone’s talk, he had a slide. On the top was written ‘Gameplay, Gameplay, Gameplay’ and underneath that was an image of Pong.
Hmmm… narrative? No. In Pong, narrative didn’t apply. Nor in Pac-Man. Even now, does the narrative really make a contribution to Angry Birds? Tiny Wings? When we’re talking games, it’s usually about gameplay. Sure, narrative can be woven in beautifully and contribute – many heavy hitter games have a very strong narrative. Others succeed in spite of incredibly weak narratives. In many games with barely a written narrative to be found, the playing of the game often creates its own narrative – for example, in multiplayer games it is the gameplay coupled with the experiences of real people that leaves players with their own stories to tell. That’s something that needs to be allowed for by the developers, even nurtured, yet not really something that can be imposed upon the player.
So when it comes to games, it really doesn’t always come down to narrative in the same way it might in a cartoon (and even that’s something I would question).
That is just for games of course. Every app is different and every app has different strengths, weaknesses and needs. But the one thing I can be certain of is that a TV show is not an app. They aren’t the same and the same rules or skills do not apply directly, even if sometimes the strengths in one medium may compliment the other.
Narrative in a traditional sense, as it happens, is often entirely optional.
I imagine when creating an app, or really anything else, the important thing is to find that which is not optional and then you have your focus. In gaming, that’s gameplay. Your answers may vary.
Last week I attended my first Children’s Media Conference and I came away with a huge amount to think about. There was a special focus on apps this year and this focus had many people thinking about their characters, shows and properties in quite different ways. I can imagine some serious strategy meetings taking place as I post this on Monday morning.
The CMC sessions were varied and interesting.
There were several Meet The Commissioners sessions in which each commissioner (public broadcasters, commercial broadcasters, publishers) outlined what they do and who they serve content to. Many people of course hope to hear exactly what a commissioner is looking for so they can go away and make it but that never happens. The message is clear – just go and make something great that you believe in. Hopefully if it really is great, one of these commissioners will recognise that. It’s an important message and not far off what I posted here back in May.
There was an interesting session on testing. Admittedly, with me they were preaching to the converted on this one. If you want to get a sense of how kids will react to your content, show it to kids.
I saw a great talk from Ian Livingstone on gaming and its history. As a reader of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as a child, I went to this as a fan and was not disappointed. It was an entertaining talk that has planted a few ideas to be explored later.
And there were many more good sessions over the few days, including one on monetising apps ‘ making the money. I was glad to see both inside and outside the sessions that there was quite a bit of debate on the ethics of how this works right now with certain apps. Some were just treating anyone who makes money as rock stars irrespective of what they do to make it, but many more were seeing the obvious here ‘ this is the Children’s Media Conference, with everyone there in some way making content for children. Often very young children, far too young to understand the implications of what they are getting into or the extent to which they are being manipulated.
Apps aren’t a good thing or bad thing in themselves. Like TV and other media, it’s what we do with them that counts and creation comes with responsibility.
While there, I managed to meet many interesting people doing all sorts of different things and a real highlight of the CMC was finally meeting some people in person that I know or know of but have never had a chance to meet previously. Some I knew over Twitter, like Joe from Rumpus Animation for example (check out their showreel here). Some are regular sources of information online, such as the excellent David Kleeman from the American Center for Children and Media.
Others were people I have admired over the years, such as Little Airplane‘s Josh Selig. Josh makes incredible shows for preschool children and I have loved reading his insights and opinions on his Kidscreen blog, which reveal a man dedicated to quality without ever losing focus of those who really count ‘ the children. The results are there for all to see in Wonderpets, 3rd & Bird, Small Potatoes and more and it was great to meet Josh.
One very special person I finally met in person is my script editor, Hilary Baverstock. Hilary and I have worked together since 2007 on both Fluffy Gardens and Cosmo and yet, until now, we had never actually met in person. Hilary turned me from a somewhat stinky writer to a far, far less stinky writer and has consistently made every one of my little children’s stories much better. And she is as wonderful in person as I always imagined her to be. Thank you, Hilary, for everything you have given me over the years.
So that was the Children’s Media Conference 2012. My first but definitely not my last. Thanks to everyone who said hello, gave me a card (business, not birthday ‘ it wasn’t my birthday) and said kind things about my shows, especially Jem Packer (of the wonderful Knife & Packer) who proved his knowledge of Fluffy Gardens by singing the theme tune. And thanks of course to the organisers of the Conference. It was a real success and I look forward to returning next year.
Hoping for less rain next time though. The whole cancelled trains thing on the way home wasn’t quite as fun as the rest of the conference.
Lastly… at the weekend, the IFI here in Dublin held a Family Festival with an animation trail, showing Irish animation such as Octonauts, Wobblyland, Roy and, yes, Fluffy Gardens. I had a wonderful time answering questions for children and adults alike on animation and the show itself. One child may have even created his first show based around a funny little character called Philip. Thanks to everyone who came and asked questions!