Monday, January 12, 2009

An even playing field

You remember I was saying I'm now considering myself in children's programming? It's not really any kind of career change. Just a change in terminology. But I think a really important one. Not just from the perspective of animation being difficult in current climates but from a more positive perspective - in the world of children's programming, most people know jack shit.

It's weird. People study for years to be a doctor, or an architect, lawyer, whatever and they do years of training on the job. Even jobs that people didn't study in college require working under others in that exact field before they think they can do it.

Yet, a huge amount of people in children's programming, be it producers, directors, writers, broadcasters or whoever (not animators - most animators study but they're studying a production method), not only have no study behind them, they always assume that the way they do things is right without ever taking a look at what's around them. And most of them haven't learned how to do things from anywhere. They're fudging it and hoping nobody notices. They read the likes of KidScreen magazine, which tells who bought what and what they say they want but never really gets into the meat, like the real meat of what it takes to make a children's show and, importantly, really doesn't represent children. Producers busy themselves putting together co-productions - what the show is doesn't matter, the show they'll put the effort into is the one that is closest to production. Creators, animators, writers put their whims down on paper either thinking it's great because a) they, as adults, like it or b) it's like some other show that did well. Many broadcasters are too busy going with their gut and having their asses kissed by producers to delve any deeper.

And they all come together, trying to scrape cash from any sources and those whose scraping equals budget make it to television.

That's how the shows your children watch come to be. At least outside the US. The US is slightly different but only slightly in that the cash is usually scraped from a single source who then owns every single piece of it. They talk about curriculums and so on but they too are going with their guts and broadcasting what tickles them.

There are exceptions. One massive exception. I'll go into that some other time but no points for guessing what show it is. Still, this is how most shows work.

And it occurred to me, like I said - in the world of children's programming, most people know jack shit.

And I'm left thinking, well, I know jack shit too.

So I'm on an even playing field, right?


Red Pill Junkie said...

Your posting reminded me of my all-too-brief stint as an animator in a VERY small new studio. When I entered I showed some character designs I had made for a greeting card company —which were never printed—that involved cute little gray-like aliens, and also a kind of space dog and a space monkey with crab clams instead of hands. The studio manager liked the characters of the dog and the monkey, and asked me to come up with a small segment that would be included in the studio's presentation video. So the idea I came up with was that the dog had a big lab inside his small space dog house, and from time to time the monkey would come and annoy him with playful pranks—this BTW, was before Dexter's lab, but the concept was basically the same: The dog was like Dexter and the monkey a goofy Diddy.

Later a friend of the manager got interested in the characters and wanted to make a children program with them, which would teach the kids math and science. The whole idea tanked mainly because the differences of opinion between this woman and I. She wanted to make an educational program, whereas I was more interested in the entertainment factor; my idea was that the best children programs educated inadvertedly because they were fun to watch to begin with—did someone ever watch Sesame Street because they had to??

So in the end the woman got tired of fighting with me and the idea ended up in the trash can; looking back I can't help feeling I should have conceded more, but I was in my early twenties and felt the characters were my personal property, so I didn't want to lose control of them. What if, right?

Bitter Animator said...

Not long ago, I would have come to the exact same conclusions you did. Unfortunately, the idea of children learning inadvertantly isn't backed up by research - children do learn and television helps form their world view, the problem is that rarely is it educational content they take in and, without very specific, structured educational content, they often jump to unpredictable conclusions on life lessons.

Your comment is something I'd love to answer in another post.

Niffiwan said...

Just wondering if you read this essay by Aleksandr Tatarskiy (one of the most important people in Russian animation before his recent death), he mentions some things regarding that:

It's in the "Lyrical Retreat" section. Also, I think that the Russian animated series "Smeshariki" is a current exception to the rule. And Aardman's "Shaun the Sheep".

Bitter Animator said...

Thanks for the link. I hadn't read that before. I'm digesting it now. I may have to post about it! Thanks!