Adam Snyder says its the people you meet in an intimate setting that makes BrainCamp East the place to be for the childrens entertainment business.
Full disclosure: Howard Leib, the one-man band behind BrainCamp, is my lawyer.
But then again, everyone who plunks down $1,995 to attend BrainCamp is a FOH (friend of Howards). Leib came up with the concept of BrainCamp 10 years ago as a way to gather a roomful of people to network and discuss the state of the childrens entertainment business. BrainCamp is a chance to relax with peers and explore all sides of our industry, gather ideas, and recharge your batteries, explains Leib in the weekly newsletter he emails to 5,000 of his closest friends. In it, he promotes BrainCamp, but also synthesizes the weeks most important kids entertainment news, mostly culled from the trades.
I realized I knew a lot of people from all parts of the business who all talked to me but not to each other, he explains. Along with Fred Seibert, we came up with this idea of an intimate gathering of peers who could share ideas, ideals and deals.
The two-day event was held March 17-18, 2005, at the Times Square Hotel in New York. As always, speakers represented a cross section in childrens entertainment. Probably the most popular presentation this year was by Yves Saada, coo of Brain POP, a subscription-based website of educational animated movies for grades K-12, accessed daily by three million children.
Were always looking for a business model that works, and this is the first successful subscription based service for kids that I had heard of, says Karen Miller, head of business development at Boggle-Goggle Enterprises, the Boston-based childrens entertainment company responsible for the award winning video, Pinattas View: A Trip to the Dentist.
Miller was also interested in hearing what Michael Hirsh had to say about his companys attempts to integrate education with entertainment. Hirsh was a co-founder of Nelvana and now is ceo of Cookie Jar Ent. As a small company, weve always believed that the entertainment market embraces collaboration, says Miller. It needs companies like us, which is why networking at places like BrainCamp becomes so important.
Another feature of BrainCamp is all the free stuff given away to participants, which this year included plush toys, DVDs and the handsome coffee table book, The DC Comics Complete Encyclopedia. But networking is really what BrainCamp is all about. You never know who youre going to bump into, says Corey Rosenberg, president of Rogar Studios that is producing Dittydoodle Works, a preschool series being launched on the Long Island PBS channel, WLIW. All it takes is one good contact to make the two days worthwhile.
The presentations are much more intimate than at Kidscreen, notes Miller. Instead of dozens of people lined up to meet an Alice Cahn or Michael Hirsh after they speak, at BrainCamp there are two or three.
Stephen Hagel was another person eager to meet Cahn, vp of programming and development at Cartoon Network, as well as Pete Danielsen, svp of programming at Nickelodeon. Hagel runs the Calgary-based ACMEworks Digital Film, which preserves television programming. For me, it was more about meeting particularly people, he explains. But it was also important to hear the different takes on where the producers and studios think programming will evolve.
Another speaker, Rainer Jenns, publisher of National Geographic Kids magazine, was interested in Cahn and Danielsen because Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon both advertise in his magazine. But more important was BrainCamps broad-based focus. For me, its important that all areas of childrens entertainment be represented, not just television, says Jenns. Indeed, other speakers included Stan Clutton, svp at Fisher Price, and Susan Oliver, executive director of Playing for Keeps, a not-for-profit organization that promotes non-violent play.
Others end up hiring the people they meet. Steven Esrig, president/ceo of Stelor Productions, an edutainment company based in Maryland, says he has work for at least two writers and one public relations person he met at BrainCamp. It would have taken six months of headhunting to find the same quality of people, he says.
Next year is BrainCamps 10th anniversary (to be held March 17-18, 2006 in NYC) and Leib plans to bring back some of his favorite speakers from the past. Hes also hoping to expand the event just a bit, admitting that doubling this years 35 attendees wouldnt harm the intimacy and would allow for a more vibrant experience. Quite honestly he has to do a better job on the marketing side in order to attract more people, says Rosenberg.
If word of mouth helps, maybe Leib and Rosenberg will get their wish. BrainCamp doesnt need to be such a well kept secret, says Esring. I know three people in the industry who are planning to go next year for the first time. Or maybe Howard just needs to make more friends.
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.