Whenever we write a story for a show or film, we get notes. A script editor, head writer, director, exec, whoever will point out things that don’t work for them, problems or difficulties and often offer solutions too. It is part of the process and a very important one.
But dealing with notes is not always easy because, all too quickly, we get so close to our story that we can have a hard time seeing it any other way. Or during its early stages, we explored it so many different ways that we have already ruled out some suggestions we’re now seeing in the notes. Sometimes it is just hard to know where to start with them.
So here’s a simple tip. It’s something I do. After waiting 24 hours (I always need time for notes to sink in), I rewrite the notes at the top of my document. Not just transcribing them, I reword them in a way that suits me better (how I would have phrased them) and I lay them out so they are line by line, like a ‘to-do’ list.
This does two things. The first comes from rewriting them in my own words. Now the notes are no longer alien. They are no longer an outsider in my story. They are there in my document, in my story and in my words. It makes them personal to me. And so often I find that, even as I write them, my mind is already creating ideas and solutions that I didn’t see while reading them in an email. Usually as I write these notes, I’m actually also writing the solutions or new lines along side them.
The second thing is even simpler. Because they are now laid out like a ‘to-do’ list, I use them as one. When I’m confident a problem is no longer a problem, I strike it off the list. It gives me a sense of achievement, gets me closer to my goal and I always have clear focus on what it is I am actually tackling at any given moment.
It is a simple thing but it makes a big difference to rewrites and polishes.
Today is the birthday of the late, great Roger Hargreaves, creator of the Mr.Men and Little Misses.
We all get nostalgic about the shows from our past. For any of you in the US, you won’t know many of the shows I grew up with. What happened in the UK in the early ’70s was pretty magical.
I feel it was a golden age of children’s television.
We had Paddington Bear, still wonderful to watch today. Classics like Bagpuss. The Flumps ‘ which is still fantastic. The Mr. Men. Clangers. And, of course, Grange Calveley and Bob Godfrey’s wonderful Roobarb.
Pure entertainment. Driven by experimentation, freedom and the spirit of play ‘ just like the children the shows were made for.
Those shows will always have a special place in my heart and I admire and look up to the artists and creative talents involved. By the way, Toonhound is a great site for info on many UK children’s classics.
But those times are gone.
In recent years, we’ve had Barney, who hates parents and wishes them dead. The Teletubbies, who I suspect hate children too. What happened to children’s television?!
Well, actually… my daughter Daisy counted from one to ten in Spanish to me at about age two and a half from watching Dora the Explorer. She has learned from shows like SuperWhy. She has sung with the Wonderpets and danced with the Imagination Movers. She has laughed and laughed at the hilarious and fun Peppa Pig and had her heart warmed by the beautiful and wonderfully-honest Humf. I could keep on listing shows.
And, hey, that Fluffy Gardens show isn’t all that bad either. You know, if nothing else is on.
What makes many of these shows special is that they are not just entertaining, they have a clear educational goal. And those that don’t, especially in the UK shows, really offer a huge amount of fun, yet in honest and totally grounded childlike ways.
So, yes, sometimes I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s wrong with television. Or, importantly, what we can do better (and if we can, we should). But it’s worth taking the time to see that there have been some really good shows recently for younger children.
Perhaps we are living in a whole new golden age of children’s television? Albeit a very different one.
For those of us over this side of the Atlantic, though, no matter how good it gets, it’s hard to think we’ll see the total creativity and experimentation of the UK golden age of children’s shows again any time soon. The spirit of play has become secondary to the need to control. The need to license, exploit. But we’ll still have the inspiration, the history and the shadow of those greats egging us on to do better. Reminding those of us who care, why we’re doing this.
We owe a lot to the likes of Roger Hargreaves and probably always will. I know I certainly will. Happy birthday, Mr.Hargreaves!
I’m a big fan of marketing guru Seth Godin‘s words of wisdom. Because, while Godin’s area has been called marketing, I think his words are more about general life. Probably one of the reasons he’s so popular ‘ most of what he says can be applied to just about anything.
And much of what Godin says about marketing is that, really, your product is your marketing.
This recent post of his hit home – read it here (it’s short). This little gem says so much that is relevant to anyone in children’s entertainment, especially those indies or people struggling out on their own. We all know it’s a saturated market. We’re still here, but we know that, really. And many of us, after seeing so many shows that make it and so many that don’t, hit a point where we realise the hard truths about the work we create…
Got a fun show? Who cares? There are thousands of fun shows.
Got a show with hilarious characters? Great. So has everyone else.
Great design? Nice. That’s a bonus but it’s nothing to get excited over.
A show on the cutting edge of a trend? Too late. If it’s a trend, you missed it.
The world is full of funny, happy shows with great characters. If any one of these things is your selling point, the unfortunate truth is, the world doesn’t need your show. Or my show. The whole industry could shut down today and children would never run out of shows to watch.
That doesn’t mean shows without something really new won’t do well. Many people in the chain will be looking at what did well before and make positive decisions based on that. It’s flawed, but it happens. In fact, many of the big companies will be doing just that because, with shareholders, they’re usually looking for the ‘safe’ option, especially now. And the big companies will have the budget to push hard, give away the right deals to get air time, shelf space and so on. To a certain extent, they can make a hit.
The small people, on the other hand, can’t compete.
But, as a result of that, the small people, the indies, actually find ourselves with an opportunity.
We don’t have shareholders to please. We don’t have teams of advisors telling us what the market wants based on information on what once worked.
We have freedom.
We can act and adapt quickly.
We have the ability, the need, to take risks.
We have passion.
But what we absolutely have to have, is something special. Something that delivers to children something they need. Something beyond fun, or nice characters, or action. This is an opportunity to create content that is really good for children.
As Godin says, “the challenge is to be edgy and remarkable and to have the market move its center to you”.
The children’s entertainment world has spent the last ten years looking for the next Dora or the next Spongebob, all while missing that what made Dora and Spongebob special is that they weren’t really the next anything.
When I was growing up, we just had a few channels. Shows like Playschool, Roobarb, the Flumps and other classics were broadcast only at very specific times. Television was more of a family thing. We’d all gather round to watch Scooby-Doo (the fact that every episode was pretty much the same driving my mother absolutely insane).
Things are very different now. It’s not about family viewing. There are dedicated children’s channels for very narrow demographics, some broadcasting 24 hours a day. DVDs at the ready at all times. Sky+. Instant children’s television.
Instant gratification. End of family viewing. Never a moment without the possibility of television.
Is this a bad thing?
Well, I don’t know. I was reading a statistic a while back from an old study that said that many children were engaging in ‘passive’ viewing of adult television for around 80 minutes a day. As in, they were around for the news, movies, dramas and so on. No matter how nice and fun those children’s classics were, their air time was very limited. If the television was on outside of those times, it was television inappropriate for young children.
As far back as 1941, it was seen that 76% of children habitually exposed to movies and radio dramas (it was the early days of television) suffered from increased nervousness. Sleep disturbances were found in 85% (Preston, 1941). Stats that have been backed up in research since.
And yet even now, adult soaps like Eastenders, which (let’s be honest) is pretty dark and very miserable, rate highly among young audiences.
These days, we have that always-on children’s television available. While we were always in control of television in a binary ‘off and on’ sort of way, as parents we now have much more control over the content. When and where something will be watched. We can choose our own TV time.
As a result, my girls (4 and 2, roughly) have not yet seen any television that hasn’t been appropriate for their age group.
I am very thankful for that.
So I find it hard to see the readily available age-appropriate television as a bad thing. I’m thankful for my shelf of Peppa DVDs, for my Nick Jr, Playhouse Disneys and others. Thankful to the broadcasters, producers and creators getting shows out there that are age-appropriate for my girls. I am thankful for the choice and what that offers my girls.