Latest Entries »

Image

Becky Fisher works as an independent education consultant for various organizations including Edutopia, EdSurge, and Drawp. She loves building things that promote creativity and believes that education technology should be cultivating a generation of passionate learners. Becky has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and currently resides in San Francisco.

Image

Can you describe the mission of Edutopia?

“The mission of Edutopia is to improve the overall K-12 learning process for all stakeholders. We want to be a place where teachers, administrators, parents, and community members can come together and both learn and talk about education. Edutopia has a rich community, which makes it very unique. Anyone can ask questions and receive advice, bloggers receive multiple responses to their posts, and teachers have a wide array of resources at their fingertips. It’s a great blend of learning, sharing, and community building.”

Image

What role does entertaining kids have in the world of education? Have kids grown up being entertained so much that they have a hard time learning without that component?

“Learning should always be entertaining. This is a huge problem in education because traditional learning and school have always had a reputation for being “boring”. But growing up, and I bet many people can relate, my most effective teachers made material come to life in an engaging and entertaining way. As a teacher I tried my best to uphold this methodology.

Image

These days there is more emphasis placed on making learning fun, entertaining, and interactive. Somehow, these adjectives have become synonymous with technology and gamification, but we often forget that the path of the learning entertainment industry, sometimes referred to as ‘edutainment’, was originally forged by the groundbreaking show in Sesame Street. Back when TV was the only method of entertainment and edutainment, and Sesame Street was one of the only sources of learning in the media, there was little worry about the effect it had on children in the classroom.”

Image

Now that students can access learning and games on multiple devices, that worry has increased significantly. Will students have a hard time learning in the classroom without the presences of “edutainment”? Do students need an iPad to be able to focus? Has this type of entertainment increased the presence of ADD? Without the proper research, these questions are hard to answer.

Image

I argue that the increase in available learning technologies is a good thing. Maybe the way we entertain children has changed, but children have always craved this type of learning. Learning should be playful, fun, and exciting, no matter its form. Ultimately, it’s a teacher’s job to deliver the material in an interesting and relevant way. There’s no denying that students can learn without iPads, videos, or gamifying lesson plans. However, these things are not necessary to ignite wonder within a child. At it’s core, learning should always strive to be entertaining, no matter what form it takes.”

Image

What can kids learn from multimedia storytelling?

“Storytelling is arguably the most important skill that one will acquire in their lifetime. And multimedia storytelling is especially significant because it allows for stories to be relayed in whatever form the teller is most comfortable with. In our modern age, everyone needs to be able to tell a story. From resumes, to TED talks, to concerts, to coding, storytelling is a ubiquitous part of our lives, and the ability to tell a complete, relatable, and coherent story is an important life skill.

Image

Kids are currently consuming media at a higher rate than any previous generation, and the content creation that is occurring is by far the most exciting. Kids as young as 4 or 5 can create videos, cartoons, code, and more, and there is a growing emphasis on this culture of creation. With proper education kids can not only create content, but generate effective and educational material that is consumed by others. In the future, I predict that personal YouTube channels are going to tell as much about a person as their Facebook Page, with content collected over years of making.

Image

Multimedia storytelling teaches kids that they can be who they are and express themselves in a medium that they are most comfortable with. It empowers youth to share their voice, whether through dance, music, abstract art, photography, writing, doodling, poetry, cooking, or any other medium through which a story can be told (and there are many). If a student wants to compose an etude or an R&B song to share their story, shouldn’t that be as relevant as a story that can be read from a book? In this way, multimedia storytelling can open up a world of creation to students who identify with any means of expression.”

Since kids are growing up immersed in technology, often by themselves playing a game or a hand-held device, is the future of learning headed toward a solo school experience?

“Education and learning throughout your lifetime is a holistic experience. It does not happen at one time, in one place, or with one person. Nor, will it ever. Therefore, I do not believe that the future of learning will ever be a solo school experience. However, I do believe that the way students learn in schools is changing and the classroom of the future looks very different from the classroom of today, though there are glimpses of it in the present.

154062807-640x413

A ‘one size fits all’ education is no longer relevant. Students learn at different paces, in different ways, and it is our job as educators and education influencers to be sure all students’ needs are being met. I believe that a blended learning model is the future of classroom learning. This model assesses each child in all subjects and allows teachers to meet each student where they are. Blended learning allows students to learn at their own pace through a variety of methods include online and offline, in-class instruction and tablet learning. Peer-to-peer learning can also be a strength in this type of classroom. The flexibility in this methodology is intended to reach every student and give him or her the greatest chance for success.

There are many different classroom techniques that are currently seeing lots of success, including project-based learning, game-based learning, flipped classrooms, and even the old-fashioned chalk-and-talk (in some circumstances). Though I believe the future of classroom learning will be vary from school to school, the blended learning model can be applied to a variety of schools from public to private, large to small, and urban to rural. No matter where you are from, there will always be students with differing needs and abilities. Though I can’t picture the future of learning headed towards a solo school experience, our current path indicates that learning will be much more individualized.

How can music play a role in a child’s’ education?

“Music, along with the rest of the arts, is crucial to a well-rounded education. Just as multimedia storytelling is arguably the most important skill to learn, the arts are arguably the most important way for students to find and channel their voice. Although kids should always learn that it’s okay to fail, the arts provide a safe space in which to do so.

music_class_0

When I taught music I used a Hungarian methodology called The Kodály Method. Essentially, it uses games and folk songs to teach students how to read, sing, and play music. My goal was to teach music as a language and have all students fluent by grade 5. Ultimately, I wanted to teach music as a hard skill that could be used in the future when they sign up for their college choir or play in a band. But in practice, the take-away is much deeper than that. Students took ownership of their work and pride in their creative failures and successes. I learned many things from my students, but the most important lesson was how the arts help develop soft skills like empathy, creativity, teamwork, confidence, and responsibility. These skills build character and provide the tools for students to transform into who they want to be.”

Advertisements

Image

Bússi Sigurðsson is at the producing helm of one of TV’s premiere brands – LazyTown. He oversees several hundred dedicated production staff members, ensuring that thousands of moving parts somehow come together to create the hyper-kinetic series.

Where does your core responsibility lie in producing a show for kids?  

 “Making sure that we remain true to the core concept of bettering the lives of children. A show like LazyTown has a special responsibility. We’re an entertainment property for sure, but we’re more than that. We’ve asked parents to believe in us as a safe, responsible partner in helping to educate their kids about healthy choices. That’s something that every one of us feels, from the show’s creator to the newest employees who join us. It’s a personal mission for all of us.”

 Image

How do you balance the needs of budget and schedule with the creative content of the show? 

 “It’s not easy. If we had our preference, we’d probably like to take a few weeks to create every episode. They’re simply that complicated, on a production level. We have established a certain look and feel that audiences have come to expect, and we don’t want to lower our standards, regardless of budgetary and schedule restraints. We have a first-rate team who can come up with a solution to any problem that arises, and often the most creative answers come when we’re in a pinch and we need a way to reach the goal line. We love big ideas, we love telling larger-than-life stories – but we also want to be good partners with Turner, bearing in mind that this is, after all, a business.”

Image 

What is your proudest achievement in the entertainment industry?

 “Lazytown is the top – it is hands-down the premiere project of my professional life. I´m really proud of being a part of this fantastic show with such a great message. And the team is the best I’ve worked with.”

 Image

There are so many platforms that present kids’ TV shows – laptops, Ipads, etc. Do you take these things into consideration when producing a show?

 “Yes we do – especially here in Iceland, where we’re all pretty mad for new technology. But a good story is still the key. The show has elements that can be tailored to different platform needs. but it’s not our main concern. That said, we are always trying to think ahead, to anticipate where the entertainment industry is headed. We produce live theater shows, apps, music CDs, talking books, and many others. LazyTown is a brand that really lends itself to multiple platforms. But again, without a good story, well told, we’d be lost. We place enormous emphasis on our story development – and we have gone nearly fifty drafts of some scripts, in an effort to make sure they are just right.”

 Image

You work on shows that are seen all around the world. Does that ever seem incredible to you, or is it all just part of the industry now?

 “It’s something that a kid growing up in Iceland would never really imagine. This is a small market, and despite the fact that there are world-class production facilities and exceptionally-trained professionals, LazyTown’s penetration into the global market has exceeded anything I could have imagined.”

 Image

What are your biggest surprises about producing a globally-viewed show?

 “Having such an active fan base in all age groups. Our fans are incredibly loyal, they start online forums about the show, they are in contact with us here, they incorporate our healthy message into their own lives. It’s hard to imagine another show that both kids and parents willingly accept into their homes on this level.”

Image 

Do you get many chances to exhale and say, “That’s a perfect show,” or do you always feel that there’s something else that needs to be done?

 “We haven’t done the perfect show yet and not sure we ever will. You can always do better, there’s almost always another detail, another edit, another special effect you wish you could have time for. Part of being a producer of a show like this is learning that, at some point, I have to make the call to send the product out the door. We have partners and obligations, and in order to continue to keep making these shows, we will always honor our commitments.”

 A favorite kids’ show from your childhood?

 “Felix the Cat” really early on but then “Tom & Jerry.” I still love them!”

 

 

Industry Insider Interview: Hey Arnold’s Craig Bartlett

You studied painting in Europe as a young man – it sounds romantic and epic. Obviously you moved in a different direction, but was that time of your life an important part of what you’ve done since? 

“It was! I remember confessing to my sculpture teacher in Portland that I was afraid if I went away for a year to go to Italy, I might lose touch with my classmates at the art school. He laughed and said that I was doing something way more important than any of those friendships: I was going to Italy to get my mind blown and I would never be the same. Those friendships would still be in Portland when I got back, or they wouldn’t – it didn’t matter at all. He was right, of course! I think about those days in Italy, where I turned 21, all the time. Whenever I talk at colleges, I tell students to take a year and travel, and not to worry about how relevant it is to their studies – it’s way more important to just get out of our little bubble and see something different! And of course Italy was unbelievably beautiful and amazing”

Image 

When you returned to the US, you worked with Will Vinton, the famous stop-motion director. Stop-motion is such a precise and painstaking art form; how did you like the actual creative part of that discipline? Do you feel that, given an opportunity, you could have remained in stop motion for your entire career? Is it something you’d care to revisit some day?

“What a great first job out of school (if you don’t count all the crappy jobs I did to make money before Will hired me). It was a complete filmmaking apprenticeship. You’re right, there’s nothing like stop-motion animation. It’s really meditative. I loved it, and I think I learned to multi-task in those days. I might have stayed with stop-motion it if I didn’t move to LA. There was just so much 2D going on here, I had to get into it.”

 

At the time the stop-motion Mark Twain film was released, the Vinton studio was at its peak, and the project received a lot of attention. Have you seen it lately, and do you feel it holds up?

“I remember really enjoying it the last time I saw it. To me, it’s a trip down memory lane. The film’s storyline is episodic, with short stories contained within the larger frame. It evokes really vivid memories of our little group making all those bits, in different parts of Will’s studio, which was a little cube of space attached to a Victorian house and a barbershop. I made some great friends there. I’m still in touch with them. Watching my own stop-motion animation, I have a kind of visceral response, as if those days and weeks in Portland are still somewhere in my cellular memory.”

 

What was your role on Return to Oz? How was it to be an integral part of such a legendary property?

“I animated a few segments – the Nome Spy that appears on rocks and rock walls and then goes down underground to report to the Nome King. It was great to work on that project, because I’m an Oz fan (the 1939 movie and the books), but I was afraid from the start that the film was doomed to not succeed at the box office, because everyone has such a deep connection to the 1939 version, and there was no way a film made in the ‘80s could have the same vibe (and director Walter Murch actually wanted to call back the earlier turn-of-the-century vibe of the books). So it was perceived as dark and kind of joyless, even though I thought it was really good. But Walter is a brilliant guy and I was already a fan – he’d done the sound and picture editing for “American Graffiti” and “Apocalypse Now” so when he came to Portland I always tried to ask him stuff about his career.”

Image 

You moved from fantasy to a kind of madness, with Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Were you part of the in-house team of creators when you made the Penny films? What was the atmosphere like within that inner circle?

“I worked with the other animation units (the ant farm, the fridge, the mouse hole dinosaur family) and we were kind of marginalized, set up in a warehouse workspace far from the Hollywood studio where the live action part was shot. So I didn’t feel like I was in the creative inner circle. But I had a lot of freedom and autonomy making Penny, so I was fine with it. It was one of the most fun jobs ever. In my small way I was really proud to be part of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” which I think was a great and absolutely unique show. There’s been nothing like it on TV since.”

 

Hey Arnold! seems like it was on a fast train from initial pitch to pickup to first airing. That was a decent leap of faith on the part of the Nick execs – was that due to your powers of persuasion or the charm of the property?

“Ha, all the above! Actually to me it seemed to take forever. But I think those mid-90s were a particularly good time to launch an animated series and find an audience. We were set to deliver the first episodes by end of ’95, but Nick held them till October ’96 because they had the idea to use “Hey Arnold!” as the opener of their new prime time initiative. So they actually sat on that whole first season and let us build up a stockpile of episodes. It made me feel like they had great confidence in the series. Our VP Herb Scannell said we didn’t have to worry about killing ‘em right out of the gate, that we had time to find an audience, but it turns out that when “Hey Arnold!” finally premiered, it got really good numbers and everyone felt satisfied that they had made the right moves.”

 Image

The music in Arnold was tremendously important to the stories; how closely did you work with the composer, and would any of those tracks ever be released publicly?

 “Jim Lang was already a friend before we started “Hey Arnold!” But that Arnold pilot was the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship between us. He is a great musician, and it was always fun to spot an episode with him, tell him about the emotions that I would like to feel, and know that Jim would come back in a couple weeks with something amazing. I still play Arnold music to work to or when I drive around, and I think how lucky I was to have my own composer, making tunes that would always be personal and meaningful to me. Plus, he can be really funny and funky! Some of our tunes were released by Nickelodeon on collections. Nick should put out a strictly Arnold compilation though.”

 Image

Hey Arnold almost seemed Dickensian at times. The stories were rooted in some of the most realistic emotions ever seen in a kid’s show. Was that a conscious move, to stake out that territory?

 “Thanks for the Dickens shout out! He’s one of my favorites. Yes, I wanted to find our own edge that would make us different from the other cartoon shows, and it turns out that our edge was emotions. We had real kids doing the voices, which already gives you a kind of emotional authenticity. No one can play a kid like an actual kid. And the leads were so strong, especially Francesca Smith, who played Helga, that the actors and the writers made a kind of feedback loop of creativity, and together we workshopped the characters into deeper and darker territory. I got a lot of support from Nickelodeon – they responded to the emotional authenticity as well. They liked the realistic kid emotions and the bluesy-jazzy soundtrack.”

Image

 Who/What/Where is Snee-Oosh?

 “Good question! I spent my teenage years living on Snee-Oosh beach in Laconner, Washington. It’s on the Swinomish Indian Reservation, in the north end of Puget Sound. “Snee-Oosh” in Swinomish means “beach facing westward.” When I started “Hey Arnold!” I needed to start a loan-out corporation, so I named it after my childhood home.”

 

Your work with Bob Rogers and BRC – creating films for World’s Fairs and theme parks – they seem larger than life in scope. Do you have to do more, visually, in a compacted amount of time in order to hold the audience’s attention?

 “Yes, all the projects that I did for Bob Rogers are “special venue films.” They come out of world’s fairs, which would be built to last for six months and then be taken down, but Bob has been focusing on more permanent venues in recent years. The venue itself is always different than a regular theater. It’s more of a complete experience, and that includes the architecture, lighting and sound design, and the visuals. And the running time for the shows is shorter – people in these special venues are on their feet more – so it’s more packed with details than a regular film experience.”

 Image

Dinosaurs and trains – two of the most popular boy concepts known to the entertainment industry. I guess the question is, what took them so long!

“Ha! I thought of “Dinosaur Train” probably in 1992, when Mathias was 3.  I’d watch him playing with piles of trains and piles of dinosaurs. I told my wife, “If I made a cartoon show about dinosaurs on a train, I’d have all the 4-year-olds at hello.” And then I pitched it off and on for about 15 years – Nick Jr. passed on it, Cartoon Network passed on it, Disney Jr. passed on it. Finally my friend Linda Simensky moved to PBS and then she picked it up. The whole 15 years, I was worried that someone else would do it! It just seemed so… inevitable. Thank God it’s finally on the air and I can take credit for it.”

Industry Insider Interview: Television Executive Richard Rowe

Image

Richard Rowe joined Turner Broadcasting in 2002 after completing 2 years media production at the university of Surrey, and 2 years of media and information at the University of Brighton. He was hired into the CNUK programming team where he was responsible for putting together the UK schedules for CN, Boomerang and Toonami. In 2004 he moved into Acquisitions and Development as a coordinator, where his main duties were to assist on co-productions and acquisition deals. In 2006 he took the role of Acquisitions Executive and later Acquisitions manager for EMEA, where his role focused on executing deals and commissioning local content alongside the VP of Acquisitions. Recently he has taken the role of Director of Acquisitions and Original Series, covering all content pitches within EMEA. During his time at Turner, he has been heavily involved with the launch of the UK preschool channel, Cartoonito, as well as spending 3months in our Hong Kong HQ, gaining a greater understanding of the Asian market.

 Image

By now you must have heard thousands of pitches for new shows. What is it that makes one stand head and shoulders over another?

“I think there are 3 things that can make a pitch really stand out.  (in no particular order)

1- If a pitcher knows the story/idea inside out and can look you in the eye through the pitch you know that they truly believe in the idea.  Whether it’s a producer/creator/sales person if they don’t believe in the show 100%, then why would anyone else?

2- The pitcher should have a good understanding of the needs of who they are pitching to.  Know what’s on the schedule, know what the top shows are, and have an idea where the show being pitched would fit in.  A good tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer.

3 – Pitch something that is so wonderfully original that any broadcaster would seriously have to think twice about missing out on it.” 

 

You spent time in Asia, exploring the television market there. Are there cultural differences that must be addressed, or do you find that children are pretty much the same everywhere?

 “There are certainly big cultural differences.  We see it not just with Asia and Europe, but within those markets too.  England and France are 20 miles apart but thousands apart culturally.  In Asia one of my colleagues gave me a ‘crash course’ in cultural differences and said that ‘if a show has a dragon in, then it will work in South East Asia, if it has a snake, then it will work in India’!’ So for sure, we need to be aware of cultural differences, but the success of a number of kids programmes show that there are also many underlying similarities with children around the globe.  Programmes with strong visual comedy like Mr Bean, Spongebob or The Amazing World of Gumball will work anywhere.  I also think that strong preschool properties have a good chance of global success because children are a lot less developed and less exposed to culture at this age.  Live action shows can be harder because of dubbing and casting issues, but Disney have showed that global live action success is possible.  Finally I think it’s important to state that certain cultural issues can quite literally not be addressed for certain parts of the world.  Peppa Pig is one of the best kids shows of all time, yet will almost certainly struggle in Muslim countries.  The funniest example I ever encountered was Fireman Sam apparently would never work in Turkey because being a fireman is not a respected profession in that country!!”

 Image

In the motion picture industry, they rely heavily on franchises, with conceivably ready-made audiences. Is there a corollary within the world of childrens’ TV with popular book series? Is it easier to launch a show on network that has a built-in fan base, or does that make your job that much more difficult, meeting expectations?

 

“Launching shows that have a built in fan base is normally a positive in the kids business.  It takes some of the risk out of making the decision, and creatively you have less to worry about because so much is already known about the characters.  The challenge PAN regional broadcasters have with Book properties is that very often books are only popular in certain markets.  Books like Tintin and Asterix were huge in UK and France but relatively unknown elsewhere.  Other challenges with book properties can be working with the authors, and in some cases meeting expectations of the fan base too.  Live action tends to be the medium that most ‘upsets’ the fans if a show doesn’t live up to the book.  We see this a lot with movies, and the same can be said of a few kids TV shows.  Animation is a little easier, especially with superhero comics but it’s not exempt from those problems.” 

 Image

It seems that each new show that comes along pushes the envelope in terms of style and animation – we now have CGI, stop motion, green screen, etc. Will simple hand-drawn animation ever make a comeback? Has it simply become too expensive?

 

“With any business, price and time are hugely important.  Whilst the animation industry will not be exempt from those pressures, you could argue that because it is also a creative industry, that anything is possible.  I don’t think we’ll see hand drawn animation making a grand comeback unless people can speed it up and be competitive on price.  However it should always have a place…  Lupus Film did a wonderful job on the Snowman and Snowdog and I know it got a very large audience on Channel 4.  However i think it took nearly 2 years to make a 24min film…and that is probably why a wholesale comeback is unlikely.” 

Image 

Have you become aware of any fan fiction based on your shows? If so, what do you think of the phenomenon of kids writing their own versions of popular TV fare?

“I’ve not seen any first hand experience of kids writing their own versions of our shows, to be honest.  We did sometimes run competitions for kids to draw and write about characters that they’d like to see in their favourite shows and then animate the best one into an episode.  Some of those were exceptionally creative.”

 

Do you watch TV in your off time, or have you had enough by the end of the day?

“I actually watch more TV at home than I do at work!  I absolutely love TV, way more than movies, and continue to prove my mother wrong who told me that watching too much as a kid was bad for me!  I probably take it to an extreme as I will even watch Netflix on my phone in bed before I go to sleep!  When you have shows out there as good as Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire, Band of Brothers, 24, Prison Break, Arrested Development, South Park, Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Sopranos, Walking Dead, Dexter, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Office, All the BBC Nature Programmes, The Premier League, The NFL, The PGA Tour…plus many more and throw movies on top…how could you not want to see all of them!  I have a big smile on my face just thinking about it !”

 

 

Image

Before creating Cogno, Stuart developed educational and fun products for families by publishing a parenting magazine and other content-based pieces for young families who purchase 12-15 million McDonald’s Happy Meals every week. He orchestrated integrated promotions for the 11,000-restaurant McDonald’s system, one of which was publicly recognized by the First Lady and by the Secretary of Education. He negotiated national media and marketing agreements with Fortune 500 Companies including General Motors, McDonald’s, and Procter & Gamble, as well as with the Department of Education, the U.S. Postal Service and not-for-profit agencies.  He has consulted in marketing, business strategy and branding for organizations such as Clear Channel Communications, and led a consulting team to reform the U.S. Postal Service’s strategy and branding for its primary online presence,

 

 Image

Years of effort have gone into the creation of Cogno – would you say it represents the essential ideas you’d like to offer readers? Or have you only scratched the surface?

I think the stories and games accomplish the central mission as they stand, because the mission is to inspire kids to think critically and imaginatively. Every product we created hopefully delivered on this. But, in terms of the “world” of Cogno… the depth of plot, the richness of the characters, and all the future possibilities, we’ve only scratched the surface of that potential. In a sense, I consider the characters and stories the engine, because they are what engage children and make them want to come back again and again. So the engine has a lot of miles left on it, but it will always drive a vehicle that embodies the mission.

Image

Do you consider Cogno an entertainment property that teaches or a teaching property that entertains?

Definitely the former. I made a decision at the outset that I wanted Cogno to be a household name. I wanted children to think about Cogno as fondly as they think about Star Wars or Harry Potter. To do that, it needs to be entertaining first. Only if it entertains and engages are we allowed to tickle their brains into action. Plenty of products need to lead with education, but they require a more captive audience to ever be more than a niche success.

Image

What are the greatest challenges in bringing a property like Cogno to market?

Two things: Distribution of product, and the chicken/egg of success and licensing. Distribution is increasingly difficult without tie-in to an existing property (TV, book, etc.). So for a property that aspires to be its own multimedia brand, it’s a daily battle to get distribution. The key is to lead with a product or two that are strong enough to sell themselves, or to have big money to splash a first success. We led with a $30 board game. We should have led with books or a $10-29 game. We spent two much time on a product with a non-mass price point, and slogged it out in specialty stores and with independent reps. Second, there is the chicken/egg: Our plan is to license the IP for various categories, and we worked to create reach to customers and enough sales to break through the barrier to our first licensee. The 2009 downturn made licensing even tougher than it already was. If I started over I would have started with books/stories, built a following, then licensed the books to a publisher (or today, perhaps self-publish), and look to license the characters for a TV show. Let games follow later.

Image

You’ve meticulously planned and executed so much material for Cogno – do you see the adventures continuing?

Absolutely. Fortunately our purpose and mission are more timely than ever. Stimulating kids to use their imagination and even to love science is a great and growing need. And as evidenced by the Marvel Comics movies, Harry Potter, etc…. character brands are still huge and powerful vehicles. Every time someone involved in the creative or entertainment world sees Cogno, it piques their interest. We will have partners create new products in the categories of books or mobile apps, likely, and hopefully give Cogno a new start. All the IP was hibernated and is ready for re-animation someday!

Image

When you first got the idea for Cogno, did you have any idea that, years later, you would still be developing material and markets for it?

While developing of the first board game prototype, I envisioned the multi-media character brand vision. I worked in consumer branded products for young families, so I knew how big these things can be. I tried to close my eyes to the immense hurdles farther down the road and took it step by step. Sometimes I wish I had failed faster and redirected the marketing away from games at retail sooner, but I love that we’ve built this crazy-big foundation of content, products and characters. It hurt me financially but the experience was like nothing else! So, I guess I hoped I would be doing it the rest of my life and be sitting at my version of Skywalker Ranch, deciding which license to grant next … and more importantly, have impacted and inspired millions of kids to use their noggins and in the process, rebrand science for the next generation. I haven’t yet given up that dream.

 

 

Image

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/

Image

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.”

Image

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.”

Image

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.”

 Image

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.”

 

 

a

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.”

 The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (1996) Poster

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.” 

 https://i0.wp.com/ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTkwNzE2NzMyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTkxNjYxMQ@@._V1_SX214_.jpg

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?”

 

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.”

  Image

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.”

 

 Image

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.

tt_poster_no_bkg.gif

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.”

 [Mickey+Mouse+Adventures+008+page+04.jpg]https://valenti29.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/774db-onceuponatimemachine.jpg

 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.

https://www.lernerbooks.com/digitalassets/Assets/Title%20Assets/11305/9780761358565/9780761358565sp_XLarge.jpg

* 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.”

Image

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.”

 ImageImage

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.”

 ImageImage

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.”

 disney eng su1.jpg

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.”

 Image

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.”

 

Image

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).”

 Image

 

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.”

 ImageImage

 

 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.”

 Image

 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.”

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: