This month the Animation Pimp gets a little queer about the gay hysteria circling around various cartoons.
Just after the first of the year Jacqueline Caro read a story in the New York Times about DIC Entertainments plan to revive as an animated series Trollz, the big-haired dolls that were hugely popular in the 1960s. Caro, a yoga instructor in New York City with dreams of selling her own animated series, immediately Googled Andy Heyward, DICs president, and saw that he was speaking the following month at the opening session of the sixth annual Kidscreen Summit.
Looking at the agenda I was immediately excited, she recalls. Here in one place, compressed in three days, were all the people I needed to speak with about selling Jeanie Yogini & the Temple of Om.
Thats the name of Caros cartoon series, about a willful yet loveable eight-year-old girl who discovers a secret portal to an ancient temple, setting in motion a series of adventures as she acquires yoga powers and uses them to build inner strength for herself and her friends. With a gulp, Caro plunked down her $1,095 for the three-day event held Feb. 16-18, 2005, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.
Numerous Pitching Opportunities
The summit gave Caro numerous opportunities to pitch her show, including intimate 30-minute sessions with development execs from the likes of Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, HBO Family, BBC Kids and ABC TV in Australia. Caro was also accepted as one of 10 people to participate in speed pitching, where programming execs sat at a table listening to three-minute pitches. It was amazing to get instant feedback, says Caro. The reactions ranged from lukewarm to loving it.
Caro also found an interested party during the 30 minutes with Nancy Fowler, president of worldwide consumer products at DIC Entertainment. As part of the q&a, Caro explained the idea for Jeanie Yogini & the Temple of Om and Fowler agreed to take a copy of her proposal.
There were also opportunities for Caro to improve her pitch. In the seminar entitled, The Art of the Pitch, Will Brenton, chief exec of the U.K. childrens production company, Tell Tale Productions, offered practical advice, including the first rule of pitching get to know the channel youre pitching to by watching it. He also circulating sophisticated four-color pitch brochures on some of the shows Tell Tale has sold that look more like irregular shaped popup books than the traditional pitch bible.
Useful for Pitchees, As Well as Pitchers
Kidscreen proved useful to the pitchees, as well as the pitchers. Its a great way to spread the word about who we are and what were looking for, says Dea Connick Perez, vp of programming at Discovery Kids, who handed out a fact sheet to the 30 or so people who attended each of her two 30-minutes with sessions.
At most of the 30-minute sessions, the speaker spent the first half explaining their channel and describing the kinds of shows it was looking for before opening it up to questions. HBO Family vp Dolores Morris joked that HBO stood for honest, brainy, outrageous. Were looking for shows you wouldnt see anywhere else, said Morris.
Finn Arnesen, svp of original animation & acquisitions in Europe for the Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Toonami, and Turner Entertainment Networks International, may have stated the obvious, but also laid out Cartoon Networks rationale for multiple international channels. Every five years theres another five year old who comes fresh to our programs, he said.
Commercialism Causes Fireworks
The Summit encompassed much more than pitching, however. Other sessions focused on everything from demystifying ratings, to global merchandising, to piecing together financing, to a behind the scenes of the making of . The debate format of a few of the sessions seemed to spark the most interest. To me, the most interesting seminars were those that shook things up a bit, says Perez. Usually everyone is so polite.
Indeed, at the several sessions that touched on the impact of commercialism on kids, there were the occasional fireworks. At the opening session, Al Kahn, chairman/ceo of 4Kids Entertainment and, on Thursday night, the third inductee into the Kidscreen Hall of Fame, didnt apologize for his companys focus on merchandising. Were a country that has thrived because of capitalism, he said. Merchandise is the lifeblood of our business. Just like a barstool needs more than one leg to hold it up, a successful childrens television program needs more than an airing once a week or even once a day. We develop play patterns first and foremost. Then he quipped, Is the FCC in the room?
In the session entitled, Kids and Commercialism, on one side were the presidents of two childrens marketing companies, Paul Kurnit (Kidshop) and Christopher McKee (Gepetto Group). On the other side were the authors of two different books decrying the commercialization of childhood. The participation of Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood and the associate director of the Media Center at Judge Baker Childrens Center, was particularly ironic. In past years the Media Center has picketed the summit to protest the commercialization of marketing to kids.
McKee complained that anti-commercialism has gone to far, and that it, ran the risk of sucking the fun out of kids lives. Linn was appalled at the advertising onslaught on even the youngest of children. The best-selling macaroni and cheese has SpongeBob SquarePants on the box, she said. Ronald McDonald is going into schools to teach literacy and promote exercise. They say Ronald McDonald doesnt produce junk food. Give me a break.
Many of the seminars offered practical advice. At the seminar entitled Evaluating the Production Budget, longtime childrens television producer Theresa Plummer-Andrews, now managing director of the U.K. company, Plum Trees TV Ltd., talked about everything from completion bond and errors and omission insurance, to bribing the Sri Lanka Army.
Rick Siggelkow, vp at the childrens division of BBC Worldwide Americas, pointed out that while it is important to keep to budgets, it is more important to create good programs. No one ever got credit for bringing a flop under budget, he noted.
The summit began with six leaders in childrens television and merchandising reviewing the past year and trends for the coming year. Kahn mentioned new distribution channels, including I-Tunes, web streaming, video-on-demand and cell phones. Judy Willis, svp of business affairs at Mattel, said she considered the multitasking phenomenon as a threat to the traditional linear television program, since children in their own bedrooms now simultaneously watch television, do their homework, instant message their friends and browse the Web. Multitasking is a scary thing, and we havent really decided what to do about it, agreed Michael Carrington, the head of BBC Children.
Linear programming is our strength, added Jim Samples, gm of Cartoon Network Worldwide. I spend a lot of time thinking if that model is in jeopardy. Thats why were not just in the show creation business, but in the character creation business. We want to extend the passive experience of television, not replace it.
There was also a discussion of why some shows become breakout hits. On the one hand, Samples lauded the few genius shows that are able to reach both kids and parents. On the other hand, Kahn noted that the reason Pokémon became such an international phenomenon is that kids liked it that parents didnt understand it, that they knew something parents did not.
Gary Pope, a partner in the U.K. company, Kids Industries, offered some comical, but also instructive advice for those with writing block in his Where Has All the Creativity Gone session. Among his thinking techniques are doing the opposite of what the situation requires and looking out the window and using the first thing you see as the basis for the solution. An audience favorite was to pick a horse at random from the racing pages and build a new show around the name. Sounds silly, but a glance at a random sports page reveals some interesting possibilities, such as Convertababy, Diamond Girl Saga, Excessive Storm, The King of Rock and Just Call Me Lonesome.
A Global, Mandatory Event
In just six years, the Kidscreen Summit is increasingly becoming a mandatory event for those in the childrens entertainment business, a regular part of peoples calendar, as much as MIP-TV, MIPCOM or NATPE. Attendance at this years summit was at an all time high, with 883 people paying between $795 and $1095 (discounts were available for registering early). Thats up from 560 last year and just under 400 in 2003.
The move to New York City three years ago and the decision to coincide with Toy Fair has helped boost international attendance. This year 45% of those attending were from outside the United States, from 31 countries.
We dont want to grow to much bigger, explains Donna MacNeil, vp & group publisher at Brunico Communications Inc., publisher of KidScreen. The summit is all about networking, and wed never want to grow so big that wed have to move to a convention center format. The people who attend are looking for a less formal, structured way to get some face time with people who might buy their show or product. They can also take what they learn at the Summit and craft it into their pitch. Were not interested in turning this into a trade show. The challenge now is how to grow within the space of a large hotel.
And what about Caro? Im waiting for the phone to ring, but at least now the right people have my number, she replied.
Adam Snyder, in addition to having written for a number of national publications, is president of Rembrandt Films, an animation company that is the exclusive international distributor for several important eastern European animation libraries. The companys most recent production was The Animated Century, a two-hour television special on the history of animation that aired on Bravo last year. Rembrandt Films is working on several co-productions in the U.S.
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