Archive for October, 2013


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Daniela Frongia (aka, Cais) currently lives in London, UK where she works as a freelance illustrator. She was born in Cagliari, Italy in 1979. By the age of 4 she was already showing a passion and talent for drawing, inspired by the colorful style of the Disney classics and later Manga. She studied and obtained a degree from the Art School. Next she dedicated herself to mastering airbrush technique on Bikers and then focused on digital graphics. Her first art exhibitions on canvas occurred in the diverse galleries of London when she moved there in 2009. In 2010 she made the decision to dedicate herself to illustrating children’s books and she now collaborates with authors and publishers from all around the world.

http://www.caisairbrush.com/

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What made you decide to become an artist when you were young?

“Since I was 4 my passion was drawing everything  with different techniques, I guess I just followed my own path”

How did you develop your style? Did you find artwork you liked and try to create visuals in a similar style?

“I think copying  the style that you like more, is the main road to find a personal style. My research began with classic illustration, and then passed first to manga and Disney style after. My own style now is a mix of these.”

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What do you find most challenging about creating artwork for others? Do you look for specific direction? Or are you happy to work strictly from your own imagination?

“The challenge is tocreate the illustrations exactly as the author was imaging when he or she was writing  the story. I read many stories, but sometimes it can be so difficult and tedious create the right one. I prefer to draw based on my imagination, no doubt, but many authors and publishers usually want to describe the scene before  I draw. I think this attitude blocks the artist a bit, and his or her way of expressing.”

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Many artists say that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else with their lives. Do you feel the same way?

“In a way yes; in my life I’ve had different jobs but I put a bit of art in them. I never lost my artist side only because instead of a piece of paper I had a computer, a helmet or a cake.”

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Are there artists whose work you admire, and why?

“I particularly admire the Japanese artists.  Studio Ghibli is one of my favorites, they can create true art works.  Japanese masters have indescribable patience for details that I admire and that it’s hard to duplicate.”

 

 

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Emmy award winning director Steve Feldman has worked with talent as varied as Bill Nye, Linda Ellerbee, Bill Maher and Elmo for PBS, CBS, Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, MSNBC and Discovery. On the music side, he has worked with REM, Diana Krall, KT Tunstall, Garth Brooks, Los Lonely Boys, Sir James Galway and many others.  His directorial work on “Sesame Street” earned him an Emmy Award and contributed to nine other Emmy nominations. His other credits include the ‘Nick News, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Lazy Town, and the debut musical theatre production for Walden Media, Rock Odyssey.

Recently, Mr. Feldman completed a series of seven programs for School Zone Publishing titled Charlie and Company, scheduled for release Fall, 2013. In addition he has produced and directed documentaries on prison life for MSNBC and is currently developing a documentary feature about the life of David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam”.  He is also developing a children’s music program and a series of “Shakespeare Musicals” for Nashville Public Television.  Recently, he produced all video content and provided design supervision for two web-based projects: Now Debate This, funded by the Templeton Foundation, was a teenage debate website that wrangled with the question. “Who was the better President, Washington or Lincoln?” and Biblemesh.com, a video based learning website covering the biblical story. He also created video content for the web with acclaimed flautist, Sir James Galway.

Based in Nashville, The Sam Hill Group develops and produces media content for a variety of audiences and platforms. Each project we undertake must resonate with truth, and benefit audiences with a deeper understanding of our relationship and responsibility to each other.

Feldman lives in Nashville with his wife Leah, daughters Mary and Sarah, Daisy the cat, Poteet the cockatiel, Sally the cocker spaniel and Sam Hill, a perpetually smiling, standard poodle.

Do you approach directing differently when you are working on a children’s show?  

“Not really. Directing children’s material has dominated my career. As a result I’ve found an approach that works well no matter who the material targets.”

 

Does education play a role in how you approach a show? Is it anything like being a teacher?

“The underlying principal for me, is communication, not education. I want to realize the script to inform and illuminate an idea for the viewer, to leave them with an idea to think about and hopefully apply. A teacher tries to accomplish the same goal, but has the benefit of a consistent, face-to-face interaction with their student. The interaction with a screen is obviously different.”

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There are so many competing shows for the eyes of children – have you found what you consider to be a universal appeal for the audience?

“Humor, color, movement, music and well defined characters.” 

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Are there any properties from your childhood that you wish you had a chance to work on?

“Captain Kangaroo, Kukla, Fran and Ollie and Laurel and Hardy, to name a few.”

 

What is your definition of “family entertainment?”  Does it have to include positive messages?

“Children’s programming, by my definition, is not really family entertainment. I wish we could really create programs that a family might watch as a unit, but the networks cater to smaller niche markets, preschool, tweens, etc. In some sense, the musical competition programs, like American Idol, appeal to a larger audience, and are more easily viewed by a family. Why? Because they entertain, inspire and tell a story. I would also add to that definition, any program that can stimulate a family to think and discuss.” 

 

Given your extensive experience in the business, do you have a feel for where the industry is headed?

“I think it will continue to program towards smaller niche markets, but as expected, only if it’s highly profitable. Oddly, when “cable programming” started as a response to the networks, we heard the term “narrowcasting” enter our lexicon. Well, the first cable stations were all network clones.  Now the plethora of cable channels really do narrowcast, and many of the critical and financial results are positive. I suppose that will continue.

Clearly, what we do will no longer be restricted to a TV. Legitimate programming, in all formats, will continue to show up on the web, tablet and mobile devices. That’s an exciting development that will democratize the industry, like it has music and publishing. We’re also becoming an “on demand” culture in our viewing habits. Specially scheduled programs don’t resonate as much. I suppose the next form that could be explored might be in the realm of surprise programs. A program that airs after only a 24 hour web/media blast that catches the world by storm. Could we keep it secret?”

 

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Lee Nordling spent several years as a print artist, designer and art director. When he became the art designer for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, he was given his first chance to become involved in the production of comic strips, which he sometimes helped to develop and occasionally wrote. In 1986 he left the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to work for Disney. With Disney, he wrote comic strips, comic books, and picture books, as well as designing and developing a number of comics. Sometime later he left Disney and moved to DC. There, he acted as group editor of creative services, overseeing the Design, Trading Card and Collected Edition departments at DC. In 1995 he wrote the book Your Career in Comics, which provided a look at the comic strip industry. Shortly after this he left DC, and worked for some time as a freelance writer. He was then hired by Nickelodeon Magazine with whom he remained for five years as editor of their syndicated Rugrats comic strip. Also during this time he established and ran Platinum Studios’ Comic Book Department. He worked there for seven years, overseeing the development of numerous projects and creators. In 2007 he left Platinum Studios to form his own company, The Pack, which is a sequential art book packager, specialising in the production of trade paperbacks. He also continues to produce his own material. In the fall of 2013 his book The Bramble, a sequential art picture book created with artist Bruce Zick, will be released. BTW, my graphic novel picture book, “The Bramble,” with artist Bruce Zick, just won the Moonbeam Gold Medal for best picture book (ages 4 – 8) of the year. (Comicvine.com)

 

Comics have been around for over 100 years, and it looks like they’re here to stay – how are today’s comic books and strips different from previous generations?

“There are several ways to look at the changes. The first is to note that the only thing that can be counted on is change. Think of comic strips and comic books as first cousins that have drifted from each other over the years, even though they’re still part of the same family/medium, which is sequential art.

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Each has evolved both aesthetically and commercially, with, at different times, one or the other driving the change, and sometimes both like the chicken and the egg. Though it’s more often commercial necessities that become the inciting incident, the aesthetic response to that is what validates the initial choice.

Look at the early trends in strips and the commercial battle between the fantasy strips inspired by the likes of Winsor McKay and the family strips evolved from “The Katzenjammer Kids.”

Humorous story strips begat adventure strips, and adventure strips begat comic books, and comics books begat the Comics Code Authority, which plowed under one of the most creatively fertile fields, but then underground comics restored the creative potential, comics shifted from newsstand to direct nonreturnable sales, and the fans were running the asylum.

Meanwhile, as comic books became increasingly niche, comic strips got smaller and cartoonists adjusted. Does anybody think that “Peanuts” would’ve flourished in the days of the strips that ran the width of the newspaper page? Certainly not as we came to know and love it. And the story strip was the first to fade as a result of this decreasing size, because there was less space to draw magnificently visual stories.

Superhero stories matured, and the industry once again made room for other types of comics, though no longer comics for younger kids. Independent comics become viable, a less orgasmic version of the underground comics, and from these new possibilities we got “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel.

We also imported manga, and absorbed many of its sensibilities.

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Graphic novels became a viable and expanding bookstore category, and now we face the age of digital comics, with market shares between them—in whatever form they end up evolving—and print comics continuing to evolve toward some balance that will determine, once again, as always that “change happens.”

I want a bumper sticker that reads that: Change happens.”

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So many comic properties have been developed into big-screen franchises (with some notable bombs along the way). Do you think comic creators have this in the back of their minds these days, or are there still plenty of purists left out there?

“You’ll continue to see the mix we see today, creators keeping their eyes open for expansion into other media and others happy to keep their projects in the medium in which their projects were first conceived and published.

I’m not sure I accept the idea that these latter folk are “purists,” because it implies that the others are somehow tainted.

Isn’t the more important question for a creator to ask: what’s the best direction I can take my project? If it happens to be in comics, the way Bill Watterson preferred to keep “Calvin & Hobbes,” that’s fine. But if the writer of “Walking Dead” feels that it can live—how’s that for an ironic use of the word “live”?—and grow, even side by side, in another medium, who’s to say that this isn’t pure…if the creator is allowing the property to evolve in a way that helps to fulfill his original vision.

But for those who think it’s somehow impure to sell the rights of adaptation to Hollywood, let’s get real here; there are always trade-offs between creativity and commerce, and I’m not going to be one to say Stephen King shouldn’t be allowed to sell the rights of “The Shining” to Warners for Stanley Kubrick to completely change. We can discuss the change…but there are always going to be more Stephen Kings than Bill Wattersons. If you don’t think so, just give all those Bill Watterson wannabes a chance to prove me wrong.”

 

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We’ve all seen comic book shops open and close in our areas, yet companies continue to churn out new books each month. Is the future heading toward a digital comics world, or is it still important to have that paper and ink book in the hands of readers?

“I think you’ll continue to see both print and digital, though the former becomes increasingly marginalized. Still, print sales do well, even if the average age of the comics reader continues to climb.

I think the importance of print will be decided by what’s published. Check out the Sunday Press Books reprints and tell me that size doesn’t matter. They reprint strips from the early 20th Century at their original published size.

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I just sold a book series that reads differently from a traditional comic, and you need to have the book in your hands to follow the stories the way they’re intended.

So much about print extends beyond images on a page, and where those extensions are emphasized, print becomes more important in those cases.

But in all cases? Nope. Digital is here to stay, and it’s a great way to consume comics, where the differences between digital and print aren’t important to the consumer.

Let’s review that line again…“where the differences between digital and print aren’t important to the consumer.”

We come back to your initial question about changes, and how they’re generated by commerce and aesthetics.

We’ll start seeing more and more comics that only work digitally, and then the format won’t be so much the awkward stepchild.”

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 You’ve done it all, your career has touched every phase of comic development, from idea inception to editorial to probably even color palette choice! What’s your favorite?

“What’s my favorite part of the process?

Writing. (Can’t you tell from all these short answers?)

But being able to collaborate with an artist and take a comic story or graphic novel to finish, and even design it, that’s the best, because I’m able to share with others the initial vision for what I want to accomplish, and they can add to that and make it better.

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* When the day is done, do you ever still grab a comic and lose yourself in the story?

Yes.

Read “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan.

This book puts the reader in the position of the main character. He’s just arrived in this strange new world that he doesn’t understand. Everything is strange to him. It’s strange to us, too, and we follow his simple adventure of finding food, shelter, a job, and friends.

It’s an amazing book, one that demands and earns concentration.

I was a big fan of Darwyn Cook’s “The New Frontier” from DC Comics. When I got to the end, I even teared up.

I still love comics, but I’m more discerning than when I was ten, not that Cheri, my wife, says I act much older than that still.”

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Nancy Casolaro managed product development at Disney Educational Products for over twenty years. During this time, she created and produced original educational and entertainment programs in a variety of formats, including films, videos, computer software, comic books, laserdiscs, DVDs and websites for children of all ages. She has presented at educational conferences and won numerous awards for her work. In addition, Nancy is the author of several books, including some from the Gifted & Talented series. As a freelance writer and consultant, she has worked for an assortment of companies including Leap Frog, Knowledge Adventure, America Online, Knowledge Kids, Mommy & Me and Disney InterActive. Nancy has a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Northwestern University, and taught elementary school in suburban Chicago and Washington, D.C.

 

Your work has melded education and entertainment seamlessly; how do you inject curriculum into an entertainment property without creating something that feels like homework to kids?

“I think that learning has to be fun. I look at math as puzzles to solve. The most important part of what I do is getting the learning right. When I was teaching second graders number facts, I taught it by playing blackjack. Everyone had to be able to add and subtract quickly in their heads. The motivation was to win the game but the outcome was that everyone learned their math facts.”

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How seriously do creators take the educational content? Is there ever a tendency to tack on a math problem or a geography lesson where it might not naturally fit?

“I can’t speak for other creators, I can only speak for myself. To me the education is most important part. I can easily add the characters. The idea is to integrate the learning and the characters so that they work together.”

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What kind of feedback have you received from parents? Are there areas of concern they wish would be addressed more deeply?

“I don’t have much contact with the parents who buy my books, however I can tell you about one review that was left for my gifted and talented math workbook:

Great enrichment workbook

By Karen B. Moore on March 17, 2003

I originally bought this workbook for my homeschooled 6 yr. old son who is an accelerated learner. Math has been hisleast favorite subject until this workbook. He has been quite bored with traditional math programs that focus more on drill than creative thinking. This workbook is completely new and different from any traditional math program we’ve experienced. Its focus is creative problem solving. We’re only sorry the workbook is as thin as it is.

Also, the Disney books in China for learning English were very well received by parents.”

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Surely your work has encouraged and perhaps even taught kids around the world to learn how to read. Does it ever strike you how deeply some of these projects can burrow into the lives of kids, that what you do in an office in California might make life better for children in some faraway place?

“I hope it does. I have been very fortunate in my life and I would like to give back to kids. I recently did a project where I took a third grade class from East LA on a virtual trip with me to India. The kids were really touched by what they saw and had many questions. It was one example where I could see the learning had changed the students.”

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When you watch movies or TV shows, do you ever find yourself looking for the educational content? Is there much of it in the average TV show for kids?

“There is great TV and then there is ho-hum TV, and even destructive TV.   I think TV, like the new technology, has the power to really reach kids.  It’s all what we do with it.  Kids can really learn information, culture, stories and more from TV, however they can also learn very disrespectful ways of speaking to and treating others.”

 

Where are we headed with the marriage of entertainment and education? Does the proliferation of hand-held devices make your job easier or more difficult to figure out all the permutations?

“I am extremely excited about handheld devices. I have been involved with  educational computing since 1981. For years I have listened to others talk about how one-on-one computing would change education, but there was never enough money to try. Now we have the opportunity to put the devices into everyone’s hands.  Basically, these devices are computers and with them kids can follow whatever they’re interested in and learn more.

The key to this course, is training.   Kids need to know where not to go and what not to do.  They need to learn how to find reputable sources and how to determine if a source is reputable.  If we teach kids to use these devices correctly there is so much they can do and learn. We can have young scientists experimenting in virtual labs, aspiring photographers can edit and create new art, and the list of possibilities continues. I find it very exciting.”

 

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From guiding pop culture icons through complex dance and music productions, to helming beloved TV series, Director Jonathan Judge has been the driving force behind an amazing number of groundbreaking projects. Having risen through the ranks by taking on nearly every production job possible, he is at the top of the Rolodex when the time comes to hire a director, especially when a new series pilot needs a steady hand. His credits include Blues Clues, The Let’s Go Show, LazyTown, Johnny and the Sprites, Imagination Movers, The Naked Brothers Band, Tosh.0, Bar Karma, Zeke and Luther, The Fresh Beat Band, Supah Ninjas, Fred: The Show, Camp Fred, Big Time Rush, See Dad Run, Swindle and The Thundermans. Somewhere along the way he has found time to become a husband (to Costume Designer Chris Field) and father to energetic twin sons. He has been nominated for four Emmys and has won a BAFTA for Best Direction.

 

You have directed all kinds of projects, including movies and music videos. Obviously the energy level required changes a lot depending on the scene – how do you maintain control over the pace and emotional content? 

Each project has its own tone, its own overall pace.  Its very important to establish that, be very conscious of it before you begin.  Using music, other movies, even photographs to find that energy level you want for the project is a thing I like to do in preproduction.  If it’s a project for hire then I have to communicate that level to the EP’s or the client or the band.  Then you have to get that across to the DP, the production designer and the actors and finally the editor.  I worked with someone a few years back who would always say “hear the music of the scene.”  And I often use that especially with young actors on set – I’ll sing out the score as we rehearse so they know how I am planning on cutting this together.  It helps a lot with action and comedy.  The rhythm, the beat, the silences and the crescendos.  Now within a scene or a commercial, that is easier to maintain – we are talking 30 seconds to 4 minutes.  Over the course of a movie there will be a bunch of scenes, all with their unique energy and rhythm – some slow, some fast some incredibly dynamic.  But the challenge is to keep in mind the overall picture.  And often in editing you find you missed that but luckily, if you shoot smart, and get choices from your actors, you can manufacture that in the edit. And there is a built-in filter, a muscle that gets stronger the more you shoot and edit where something just doesn’t ring true on set.  It’s off,  and often I cant verbalize it but I’ll go over it with the actor, DP, etc. and we’ll find what it ringing false (not just in terms of emotion but in rhythm, in comedy and fix it).”

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You’ve been very successful in bringing new shows to the public. What are some of the key elements you aim for when you give life to a new project?

“It’s so energizing to bring a new project to life.  I love working off of a vision from the writer and creator.  The early process is sitting down and hearing their inspirations and then giving them my thoughts.  And then it’s a calvacade of references and inspirations – I’ll bring up clips of old sitcoms, movies, commercials, music videos, paintings photographs.  The key elements to any project are – #1 the story and characters, then the look, the pace and the tone. The style of shooting, Most shows or movies have been written but no one has really laid out the overall vision of the final project.  A house has been sold, but it’s only the blueprint on paper, an intangible idea of the house.  And my job with the other keys is to build that house and get it to look as much like, or hopefully better than the buyer/writer/EP imagined.  Many people can’t visualize –  or even after you discuss what you want to do they are not on the same page.  Preproduction – discussing, walking through sets, talking about looks, and as much as possible having visual references are essential.  And then something magical usually happens on the set when you have a group of dedicated and incredibly talented people all working towards a common goal.  Things you never even planned but because you put the key elements together and had a vision – they creatively erupt.”

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 Is there anything you learned in school or in your earliest efforts that you keep in the back of your mind as you work now?

“There are some key things I learned in school that I relearn all the time.  Start your story 5 pages later, get CU’s of your actors no matter what.  Small but technical things.  But I learned, and continue to learn the most from editing.  In editing you see everything you did well and everything you did not, or you failed to do while directing.  You keep making mental notes: hold shots longer, start shots overlapping, get various reactions or line readings.  You also start to learn what coverage you don’t need and can economize your shooting approach.  I like to shoot a lot of coverage.  But i also use most of that coverage.”

“Big thing to learn – if you communicate well and have the right people they will make you look way better than you could yourself.  Listen to others but have a clear idea of what you want, because many people have their own ideas.  Many people on set may question what you are doing, but if you know and can communicate clearly, they can help bring your vision to life.”

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 What do you expect from actors? Do you prefer that they come with a full game plan in mind? Or do you like to experiment on the set?

“I like actors who have thought about the material, and are trying things.  A full game plan is fine – preparation is key.  But flexibility is even more important.  They may have an idea in mind when they arrive on set and it might not be in my, or the EP’s or the clients vision.  Then I need to be able to work with them so we can both capture that vision.  I like to rehearse a little before shooting because I am rarely given the luxury of schedules which allow a lot of time to experiment on set.  In rehearsal we can try everything  and often I do, even if we think it’s wrong so that we can settle on what we like and what we want to do in front of the cameras.  And then of course I like to play on set, to shake them up, have them try new things. I just want to make sure we got what we intended and then try something different.”  What are some of the daily challenges a director faces? Besides budget and scheduling realities, are there things that might surprise someone looking to become a director?

“One cannot underplay the realities of time and scheduling on a director.  If you do not get the restrictions, if you do not plan for contingencies you will not get what you want.  Working inside those boxes AND being creative and true to your vision is the challenge.

I’ve been surprised at how many people who hire you do not really know what it is a director does.  I think Cocteau called making a film a sinking ship and it’s a little true.  You start out with an idea and a plan and you take on water very quickly.  I have my best case scenario (which does happen) and then the good plan and then the worst case scenario plan – we dig in and we need to get this to tell the story.  You never know what little thing will suck up your time.  A prop, a late actor, rain, anything can affect your day and thus your episode or movie or video.  You have to try and make yourself bulletproof with your plan but also be able to change the tires on a movie vehicle.”  Wow, I mixed a lot of metaphors there.

What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid?

“I loved 3,2,1 Contact, The A-team.  I loved Dukes of Hazzard and in high school I loved Moonlighting.”

 

 

 

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Inspired by the legendary Jim Henson as a child, David Matthew Feldman has devoted his entire career to the art of puppetry. From his formative years at The Puppet Company in New York, to his earliest television work on PBS’s Between the Lions, David has given life to dozens of characters to the delight of audiences both young and old. His stint as the excitable Mayor Milford Meanswell in the hit series LazyTown has propelled him to international stardom. And most recently, David has co-created a new PBS series, Oh Noah!

 

 What drew you into a career in puppetry?  Were you a fan of puppet shows as a kid?

“I was a kid in the 70s, early 80s, which was the perfect time to be a Muppet fan.  But I don’t like to use the word “fan” there, because I think it cheapens it.  It was a very personal thing for me.  Still is.  You know when people ask you who influenced your life the most?  For me it’s always been an easy answer.  Without Jim Henson, I would not have become puppeteer.   I just finished that biography by Brian Jay Jones, and he spends a couple of pages talking about Jim’s ancestors, and I’m thinking, wow, if that great-great-grandfather didn’t marry that great-great-grandmother, I wouldn’t be sitting here in Iceland doing puppets for a TV show.”

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“But as Muppet-centric as my life was, I didn’t really think I would grow up to become a puppeteer.  I enjoyed making and performing puppets at home, for my little sister, but I wasn’t one of those “performer” kids, doing school plays and joining the chorus and stuff like that.  I was more comfortable at a desk, or just in my room, and I wanted to be a writer.  It wasn’t until a course in college—where we had to do a puppet performance as part of a Shakespeare class—that I realized I had something to offer—that this thing that I did had value beyond just entertaining myself and my little sister.  I really got a kick out of the class’s reaction, and I decided from then on that I would become a writer and a puppeteer.”

 

People often lose themselves in their imaginations when watching a puppeteer perform his or her art.  Would that be the best compliment you could receive?

“It’s pretty good.  What else ya got?”

“What you might be getting at—and what would be the best compliment—is if you forget it’s a puppet altogether.  That’s our job.  The Mayor of LazyTown, for example, is this big, cumbersome thing with so many challenges and limitations that it’ll make your head spin, but I don’t want you to be aware of any of that.  All I want you to see is a guy, with two legs and two feet (even though they’re not usually there), who lives in this place called LazyTown.”

 

Do you consider what you do a theatrical skill, or a mechanical skill with an artistic element?

“Anything mechanical (like pulling a lever) is in service of the art.  So, no, I don’t think of it as mechanical.  It’s as mechanical as writing is, because you have to use a keyboard.”

 

You’ve recently had great success with your own show on PBS, “Oh Noah!”  How does writing differ from your stage work?

“Basically, writing and puppeteering are very similar.  They flex the same muscles (except, of course, for the physical muscles involved in performing).  In both, you’re trying to gracefully communicate ideas—it all comes from the same part of the brain, I think—that part of your brain that’s still in the bedroom you grew up in, playing with puppets and Star Wars figures and coming up with stories.”

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“There are differences, of course.  A big one for me is that performance is done in real time.  While writing one minute of screen time can take who-knows-how-long, performing one minute of screen time takes…one minute (minus, of course, any rehearsal or preparation).   This is good and bad.  The do-it-now nature of performance is good as an exercise in letting go of the cerebral and trusting your instincts (a lesson for writing, too)—and especially good when you’re happy with the results.  But puppeteering is about more than just “being”; it’s a craft (it’s about controlling the puppet the same way writing is about controlling words and ideas), and the writer in me often wants just one more take to go back and edit and fine-tune the performance the way I’d like.  Fortunately, at LazyTown, they usually give it to me.”

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“Another big difference is the kind of collaboration—the back-and-forth of it all, which is the joy of it for me.  For the past several years, I’ve been lucky enough to write with Louise Gikow.  Writing with Louise (just the two of us, shaping ideas, hammering them out onto a computer screen) is a singular experience.  That kind of back-and-forth is very different from the experience of collaborating with a set full of puppeteers and crew people, each pulling you in a different direction.  I love doing both.”

 

There are considerable requirements to begin and sustain a career in the arts.  What was the most daunting when you first started out, and what do you find are the key challenges now that you have found success?

“The hardest part was the how.  How do you become a puppeteer on a television show?  How do you write and sell your own scripts?  How do you get there?  Everybody has their own advice—their own anecdotes—but everybody’s stories are different because everybody does it differently.  That’s the beauty of it, and the challenge of it, too.  There’s no path; nobody left a trail of breadcrumbs for you.”

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“Nobody ever asked a doctor, “So, how did you get to be a doctor?”  Yes, it’s a tremendously difficult thing—you have to climb one hell of a staircase—but the stairs are there to climb.  When you’re in the arts, you have to build your own staircase.

And that never ends.  Unless you have enough power to greenlight things, you’re always trying to figure out new paths—new ways to get there.  I’m sure that the path that brings me to my next project (whatever that will be) will look very different from the ones that brought me to LazyTown or Noah.  In the end, it will give me new anecdotes to tell.”

 

As someone who has found a creative outlet, do you find that being inventive for a living makes you less likely to create on your “off” hours, or is that muscle always working?

“Writing is about ideas, so I don’t think there ever are any “off” hours.  (Isn’t this true for anyone who is really passionate about what they do?)  New ideas come up unexpectedly, and old ideas have a way of just being there—like a ball of clay you keep rolling around until you get something you like.  Often, I’ll think of something, quickly type it out, and send it off to Louise, as if to say, “Here, it’s your problem now.”  (Then she finds a way to make it better.)

But generally, when I’m not working, my creativity is directed at (and inspired by) my kids.  Playing with them, making things with them, even just talking to them—these are the best ways to be creative.”

 

   

 

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A seasoned television executive with 15 years of experience, Hardman has developed and supervised the production of hundreds of hours of children’s television programming as seen on children’s networks Kids WB! and Nickelodeon, among others. He began his career at Klasky Csupo, Inc., working in development and programming for “Rugrats,” “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Rocket Power” and “As Told By Ginger.” Hardman then joined the television development and programming team for Dreamworks SKG to work on the “Toonsylvania” and “Invasion America” series. Most recently, Hardman spent five years at Kids WB!, where he oversaw development and programming on the hit series “Pokemon,” “Yu-Gi Oh!,” “Jackie Chan Adventures,” “X-Men: Evolution,” and many others. He is recognized as an industry expert and has worked as a consultant for studios and networks worldwide. (sabanbrands.com)
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Is audience reaction in your mind as you work on projects? Or is that another element entirely, not considered as the work is being created?

“Audience reaction is a consideration, but typically comes after the initial creative work has started.  You must always consider your audience, as they are your ultimate consumer and without their support your product (your show) will not be a success.  The tastes and trends of the audience can help inform the development of your series.  By including those things that resonate most strongly with the audience, you can bolster the appeal and hopefully increase the success of your show.  If you don’t consider your audience at all, then you run the risk of having your project appeal to no one other than yourself.”

 

 How do you rate today’s cartoons against those from the Golden Age? Not in terms of technical proficiency but in sheer entertainment terms?

“I’m an old-school guy.  One of the reasons I am this business is because of those old cartoons.  Today’s cartoons are excellent and often very funny.  But I find myself thinking too much during most of today’s cartoons.  They are very cerebral.  It is a rare exception when I am transported to another world and just go along for the ride the way the cartoons of yore did for me.”

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Is there a property from a bygone era you would have loved to work on?

“It’s always been my dream to have been a part of the golden Disney era.  I would have been thrilled to work on the classics like Dumbo and Cinderella.”

 

Having worked both sides of the street, so to speak, as an executive and as a creative, how does this experience help you in your day to day responsibilities.

“I started as a creative, then became an executive, then went back to creative and am currently an executive again.  Being on both sides has informed and helped me in each role.  As a current programming executive, my past experience as a creative certainly helps me in terms of character, story, and structure. When I went back to creative after being an executive, I used the knowledge I had gained to help me develop programming that would better fulfill the needs of the executives.  I’m grateful to have experienced both sides and like to think it has made me better at all of my jobs.”

 

Have you ever created a project that somehow never got made, and do you still hold out the possibility of one day seeing it on screen?

“Yes, I’ve created numerous projects that never got made.  Every creator has.  As an executive I have received literally thousands of pitches and only a handful get made each year.  So as a creator, I know that the odds are stacked against me.  The cliche is true.  It’s 1,000,000 to 1 chance.  And yes, I hold out hope that they might be produced one day.  If not, I would be selling insurance by now.”

 

Are there areas of showbiz you would love to try? Did you ever get to play that classical guitar concert?

“I wish I had the talent to be a voice-over actor.  I’ve done scratch tracks for test pilots and it was a tremendous amount of fun.  But when I hear myself back on the audio tracks I typically want to fire that horrible actor and find someone with a modicum of talent to take his place. — The last time I gave a guitar recital was in high school.  I haven’t even picked up my guitar in months, I’m sorry to say.  Thanks for remembering!”

 

Your all-time favorite animated character?

“Hands down, the Roadrunner.  Beep beep!”

 

 

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You have purchased a ticket for a concert, one you have been looking forward to for months. You arrive at the theater, present your ticket and are told that you cannot enter – all seats are full. You protest – you have a ticket! It doesn’t matter, there simply isn’t enough room for you.

Some people would complain. Demand a conversation with the manager! Write letters to the newspaper! Tell all of their friends about the tragedy that befell them!

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Others might continue to stand outside the theater, hoping that someone might change their mind. Maybe one of the audience members will get sick, thus freeing up a seat. Or maybe someone will, out of the kindness of their heart, realize how noble you are, how desperately you want to see the concert. They will selflessly give up their seat for you. If you stand there long enough, anything is possible.

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And still others will understand that they have just been presented with an interesting challenge. You hold a ticket in your hand, which you paid for. You are prepared to watch the concert, you made time in your life to do this, and you won’t be deterred.

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And so you look for other entrances besides the front door. Maybe the delivery entrance, around back? Or you could try the exit…it’s unconventional but you have heard that some people have gained entry to the theater using that technique. 

You could pretend to be a performer giving the concert. Some people have scammed their way into the theater. The problem with this approach is that, if you are discovered, you will be kicked out and barred from ever coming back.

Or you could try this: find out who’s sitting in the theater. Contact them – politely. Ask them how they managed to find a seat inside. Find out if there’s any chance a seat will be opening up near them soon. Offer to bring them popcorn. Volunteer to guard their seat if they need to use the bathroom. Demonstrate that you’re simply interested in seeing the concert and that you’d be wiling to work hard to get there. Let them know that you realize how difficult it is to gain entry into the theater, that you understand that just because you have a ticket doesn’t mean you feel entitled.

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And as you look around at all the other ticket-holders who are complaining, or just standing there, or have given up and gone home to watch TV, realize that you are probably going to be inside that theater before too long. And that the concert will be sublime, and worth the wait.

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Back in the early 1980’s when Carter Crocker first began writing for television, the landscape was much different than it is today. Animation was done quickly, inexpensively and often poorly; shows were spit out of the production machine like sausage links, and writers were mere assembly line cogs. It was difficult to rise above the herd and make a name for oneself, but he managed to do it by tackling some of the highest profile brands and making them accessible to the widest possible audience. TaleSpin, Winnie the Pooh, Darkwing Duck, RoboCop, The Jungle Book and Barney – those are just a handful of Carter’s extensive career credits. He continues his impressive run with one of 2013’s major hit series, the Disney ratings giant Sofia the First.

When you first begin a job with an established property, what are the initial steps you take? Is it important to know what has been created prior to your involvement?

Immediately after making sure the commencement check clears, I look for the reason to care about the show.  If I can’t get to a place where I like or at least respect the series… I better not get involved.  (Unless, of course, I’m desperate.  Which is more often than not.)  The best shows seem to have the shortest bibles: when the concept is right, pure & solid, it’s easy to communicate.  I once slogged through an 80-page bible, and still didn’t see the point.  I watched an episode when the series was done… and still didn’t see the point. 

After that – enough scripts to understand tone & character.  So, yes, everything builds on what came before.  Way of the world.  (Then again, some geneticists say the human genome is deteriorating.  If that’s the case, I guess I should rethink my position.)

Do you prefer to write for established properties or are you keen to develop your own?

I’ll go with #1… assuming that established property is pure & solid, with good characters.  I’ve outlived the yearning to develop a series.  I’m happy (okay, desperate) to freelance scripts and spend the rest of my time writing novels (no matter how weak the sales may be).  When I had my first conversation with an editor at Philomel Books, she told me: “Here, we edit with a feather.”  A feather, not a flamethrower.  What a concept.  I’m guessing it’s a thornier undertaking to develop a TV series.

 

Network notes can sometimes be difficult to deal with – how do you face this challenge?

So in theory, having a fresh set of eyes on a script is a good thing.  Let me get that out of the way so I feel like a good person.  If you’re convinced a note is hurting the project, you argue politely… but in the end, it’s their money.  So you kick the dog.  Which I don’t do.  Our dog died.  Of old age. 

(If I’m a freelancer, I know there’s a lot I don’t know.  And with work from overseas, the notes sometimes address cultural differences… so there’s nothing to argue about there.)

It’s no fun when a project dies a death of a thousand cuts.  There’s always the nuclear option: taking your name off the script.  I’ve only done that once, but it was very satisfying.

Do you write for yourself more or less, or do you have the audience in mind at all times?

Best case scenario: it’s not an issue, right?  But I tend to write for the younger set, and you have to keep them in mind – their vocabulary, comprehension level, and such.  Kenneth Grahame (“Wind in the Willows”) said once: “I feel I should never be surprised to meet myself as I was when a little chap of five, suddenly coming around a corner…”  That’s the ideal, right?  Keep an adult understanding of story and know the way back to the place where you are a child.

Have you come to any conclusions about what kids most want to see in a TV show?

Um, no.  Not a clue.  But I hope it isn’t that random, free-associating style that’s everywhere these days.  That feels like something adults are imposing on the young.

I used to think the ideal cartoon series was one that viewers could see differently at different ages.  Where the humor had layers that kept resonating as the audience aged. 

 

Favorite childhood TV shows you wish you could work on now?

Okay, so I am not young.  And haven’t been for some time now.  I grew up on repackaged-for-TV Warner Brothers shorts.  Those are still the Gold Standard, aren’t they?  Wisdom in the chaos.  “I may be a craven little coward, but I’m a greedy little craven coward.”   Otherwise, I have a vague memory of  watching a cartoon called “Clutch Cargo” …and still bear psychic scars from it.

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2005: Iceland – It was another long day of production on the LazyTown sound stage. In fact, it was the start of the next day, as we continued our creative brainstorming session past midnight. Everyone was packing up their belongings and heading home for a few hours’ sleep. There would be yet another early call for the crew and cast to assemble for that days’ shoot.

The phone rang. Usually, the answering machine would pick up the call, but for some reason, this time it didn’t. A colleague, Dean Koocher, picked up the phone.

On the other line was a gentleman named Rob Stock, calling from Belleville, Illinois. Rob didn’t know it was the middle of the night in Iceland. He had tracked down the office number and simply called, hoping to connect with someone. He said that his young daughter, Jenny, was a big fan of LazyTown. He had scoured the local stores, and had checked online, but was having a hard time finding any merchandise for sale. In particular, he was trying to find a “Stephanie” costume for Jenny to wear.

Dean knew that my home in the US wasn’t far from Belleville, and he put me on the phone with Rob, thinking I might be able to help.

But LazyTown had only debuted on Nickelodeon a few months earlier, and there was simply no merchandise available at the retail level just yet. Rob asked if there was anything else we might have – photos, or possibly even autographs.

Rob explained that Jenny had been diagnosed with leukemia. She was in the middle of long months of chemotherapy sessions. They were prolonged and brutal, and young Jenny’s energetic, normally upbeat personality was being drained.

One of the few things that made her smile – a bright spot on chemo days – was watching episodes of LazyTown. She was charmed by the stories, the silly humor, its can-do spirit. Most importantly, it gave her something to look forward to. Instead of dreading the hours spent having toxic medicines course through her body, she could find some relief by focusing her attention on the antics of Sportacus, Stephanie and the LazyTown gang.

As it happened, I was due to make a trip home, which was fairly close to where Rob and his wife Greta took Jenny for chemo treatment. I gathered autographs from the cast members, took tons of photos, and found some props that the production graciously allowed me to have. And I took the whole package to Jenny.

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She greeted me with a tremendous hug that belied her fragile physical state. The smile on her face lit up the room as her parents and nurses watched her unwrap one-of-a-kind mementos from her favorite show. She thrilled at the personal notes from the cast, and she seemed to gain energy not from the gifts themselves, but from the kindness of those who had given them.

Rob and Greta beamed, filled with joy at seeing their daughter so happy. They had been through grueling months, and there would be many more to come. But in that moment, their weight seemed lifted.

Eventually, Jenny’s strong will and her unbreakable spirit – along with top-notch medical care and the loving support of her family – beat back the leukemia. Jenny grew healthy and was even able to travel to Iceland where she met her heroes on the very sound stage where the episodes were produced. Jenny returned to school and, last year, she graduated from high school with top honors, well on her way to what will surely be an amazing life.

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Because of the persistence and dedication of Rob Stock and her whole family, Jenny found the strength to survive her illness. And LazyTown played a small part in her recovery, thanks to a Dad who wouldn’t give up until he found a way to make his daughter smile.

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No doubt there are many stories of children connecting to their favorite shows during times of crisis. But this one feels special; it’s almost unbelievable the good that came from what might otherwise be considered a run-of-the-mill kids’ TV show. A production shot in the middle of a lava field somewhere in Iceland went halfway around the world, into the heart of a little girl with a desperate illness. That, combined with a very determined and loving father, produced something that feels an awful lot like a miracle.

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