For the second year in a row, KidScreen brings the pitch session out from behind closed doors to show you what ingredients are essential for creating a hit kids property. This time around, Alphanim steps onto the pitcher’s mound with a funky doll-based CGI project called GARDENER.
We sent the following pitch out to kids biz players in the realms of production, distribution, broadcasting, licensing and interactive software to see what they had to say about the concept’s viability and potential.
Respondents were chosen by KidScreen editorial, and neither respondents nor project creators had access to the pitch critiques prior to publication.
A 3-D animation role-play series for kids ages eight to 10
Urban tribes, video games, role-play, initiation rites-the fabric of today’s world for adolescents, the fabric of tomorrow’s world of GARDENER.
The scene: Garden, an island lost in the middle of the ocean, a universe peopled by tribes and permeated by magic, where fluorescent sandy beaches, snow-crusted peaks and skyscrapers set the scene for a perilous quest lead by. . .
Miss and Maxx: Protagonists and leaders of a group of teenagers on the trail of no ordinary legend and, some say. . .
An extraordinary treasure: But who knows what it really is? Nobody can tell for sure. For Maxx, it’s an incredible beach; for Miss, a better world. All that is certain is their continual challenge to find it, directed by their pursuit of mysterious indices known as. . .
Siglos: Magical runes revealed only to those surmounting the challenges. Enabling them to pass from one stage of discovery to the next; marking their personal evolution in terms of capacities, techniques and skills; and facilitating their passage from one neighborhood to the next, where they encounter different. . .
Urban tribes: Identifiable by their unique skills-surfers, snowboarders, skateboarders, basketballers, magicians and musicians. Each tribe with its own laws, code of conduct and lifestyle-living lives parallel to the others without ever knowing them. But one thing binds them together. . .
Magic: A force impregnating every person and every aspect of daily life in Garden, the masters of which excel in one of the three magic arts-painting, calligraphy or music. Introducing. . .
Tatto, master of calligraphy and specialist in tatoos, with powers to change destinies
NY Thin and Micro, painters with powers
Uncle, game master supreme and creator of the Siglos
And what if. . . the treasure was within?
At once series and serial, GARDENER is a non-violent heroic fantasy series for eight- to 10-year-olds in which the characters and the audience are led on a voyage of self-discovery through role-play. Starting from the premise that each of us begins life with a share of talents and aptitudes, we follow heroes Miss and Maxx (the big sister and brother we idealize and dream of becoming) as they accept the challenges posed, consequently developing their talents and evolving into maturity as they each pursue their own personal quest.
The audience will identify with the idea of this personal quest in a fantasy world where each character is endowed with magical powers. In a time-out sort of place, as in those precious after-school-but-before-dinner hours, the child becomes the principal actor in his own search for freedom, self-esteem and self-expression.
GARDENER not only sets out to go beyond existing narrative boundaries, the show will also most definitely break with the traditional 3-D visual mold. The artwork is based on a series of approximately 110 hand-sculpted puppets of some of the wildest, craziest characters ever seen in animation. The transition of these puppets into CGI is achieved by trying to stay as close to the originals as possible, adding necessary features for expressions and lip-synching. This approach results in a new, fresh, edgy look in the otherwise-aesthetically-challenged, geek-driven world of CGI. This is the stuff cult shows are made of.
GARDENER is an original Alphanim concept based on artwork by Michael Lau and Jan Van Rijsselberg. Clement Calvet serves as producer on the series, and writer credits go to Joel Bassaget and Olivier Vanelle.
For more information, e-mail Julie Fox, head of international distribution (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also find her at our second annual ‘OnScreen for kids and teens’ conference in L.A. later this month.
Producers and Distributors
Partner and executive producer at Toronto, Canada-based prodco Decode Entertainment
At Decode, we filter projects using three criteria. First, can it be financed? We are assuming GARDENER is European, so it could come under the French side of the Canada-France co-production agreement, so fine. Second, does it fit our ethos of producing distinctive and innovative projects? Yes-a totally new idea for CGI, so check that box. Our third filter is what we call ‘life is too short’ (i.e. Would Alphanim drive us crazy?). Unlikely, since Christian Davin and Clement Calvet at Alphanim are well-liked, seasoned pros. So, three ticks.
I can’t say I fully got the pitch, though. It is ethereal and esoteric. I think it’s partly a translation problem. You should be able to nail the essence of a really strong concept in one or two sentences. However, this can all get worked out at the next stage of development-the bible and pilot episode script.
Speaking of translation, I think it’s a mistake when non-North American producers try to mimic American street culture by conjuring up ‘names with attitude’ (i.e. NY Thin). It doesn’t work and would backfire in English-speaking markets.
I like the self-contained world of GARDENER and the idea of a quest by teen protagonists through different abodes of urban tribes. This could feel like a contemporary Lord of the Rings. As the latter is the subject of a trilogy of movies that will be released over the next three years, GARDENER may be fortunate in its timing. I think quest-based concepts with elaborate story arcs will be big and universally desired.
This concept would have to be produced in a half-hour format to accommodate the set-up of each new world our protagonists visit. This is fine for our audience, which would be seven or eight to 12, or even older.
I have one major reservation. Puppet-based projects (here, it’s CGI based on doll puppet models) are really tricky for older audiences. My years of working as a consultant with The Jim Henson Company taught me that the majority of TV buyers regard puppets as being only for young children, no matter what the design and series concept. I think a concept based on doll models could get the same reaction.
At Decode, we co-produced Brats of the Lost Nebula with Henson, a series commissioned by Kids’ WB! in the U.S. and YTV in Canada. Brats features puppets mixed with CGI backgrounds and effects. The puppet characters were older kids, and the designs were very funky. The series worked for YTV, but died a death on Kids’ WB! International sales were not great, partly because Brats didn’t go beyond 13 episodes.
My fear is that GARDENER would suffer the same fate unless the series was really produced as full CGI. The brief suggests that the producers want to stay as close as possible to the look of the original doll models. This can’t extend to having the CGI characters move like dolls. That would be like driving a Ferrari in first gear-it’s too limiting and would beg the question: Why do this as CGI?
I think broadcasters will need to see a test in order to be convinced that doll-driven CGI designs can sit happily with an older kid audience. Unless the execution of GARDENER would be clearly CGI-driven, I think it will be a hard sell. With the power of CGI fully unleashed, however, this could be very interesting indeed, providing there is a tight concept and a compelling script and bible.
Acquisition and development exec for London-based Carlton International
When assessing this project, we have to examine its feasibility in terms of how programming, merchandising and publishing potential can be incorporated into a global campaign. A project has to be creatively strong and commercially viable.
GARDENER certainly has some attractive elements, although the pitch should clarify a few points: namely the running length, number of eps, and whether or not, with a quest element attached, this is to be an interactive series. These details have cost and technological implications, and should be included in the pitch.
Creatively, the project is interesting. The action figure-like characters are bold, cool and funky, albeit slightly aggressive-looking for ‘a non-violent, heroic fantasy series.’ It would probably also appeal to a broader demo than the suggested eight to 10. Creatively, my reservations lie in the use of CGI, as CGI-rendered characters tend to lack fluidity of movement, and the aesthetics are generally too surreal. This doesn’t mean it should be ruled out, but I’d have to see it on-screen. As far as format goes, a 26-minute running length is preferable (if sustainable), with at least 13 and ideally 52 episodes.
GARDENER’s off-screen potential relies heavily on its scheduling and marketing in individual territories. It sits in that difficult eight- to 14-year-old demographic region, in which success is very much dictated by cult status. On the assumption that the series is very successful, there is potential for merchandising with anything from computer games, action figures, comics, books and sports gear, to music, skateboards, accessories, clothing and the Internet.
Overall, the basic concept and international potential is appealing enough to warrant me requesting the additional information that I require for further evaluation: treatment, bible, budget (with deficit) and an indication of the likely co-production/broadcast partners.
Channel editor at Fox Kids UK
An interesting concept-personal quests combined with wild and crazy characters. However, is this what eight- to 10-year-olds want? I believe the series will have to look great and have very strong story lines to hold the target’s attention and gain viewer loyalty, especially in a digital environment.
The series would stand more of a chance in the terrestrial environment, rather than the world of multichannel digital, but the two could work in tandem. A digital launch would require at least 26 self-contained, repeatable episodes. Each episode should be approximately 25 minutes in length, and its promotion has to work hard at creating a must-see event. For example, the mold-breaking CGI elements could be run as interstitial ‘awareness teasers’ throughout the day.
I don’t know if kids ages eight to 10 will identify with the idea of personal quests in a fantasy world. Also, if you aim too old by targeting the eight to 10 demo with a view to harnessing their aspirations to be tweens/teens, the show could alienate an essential younger core. If the younger (under-seven) viewer becomes isolated, then the show could possibly become too niche. There’s a lot to ask of the viewer-for example, new characters to form relationships with and new role-play concepts to learn.
There would, however, be on-line and merchandising opportunities. The Fox Kids UK on-line team could possibly make good use of the characters and could develop games involving them.
Fox Kids UK has a core audience of two- to 10-year-olds, and I look for programming that offers humor and/or action. As in the above case study, if the action is toned down, then humor will be an essential ingredient, as opposed to animated fantasy. Shows such as Spiderman Unlimited and Digimon are hugely popular on the Fox Kids UK channel.
Director of development, original animation for Cartoon Network in the U.S.
While it’s evident that the creators of GARDENER are aiming to break new ground with their fantasy show, it would be easier to understand their intention if detailed character and episode descriptions were included in the pitch to give the reader a sense of what the show would deliver. It feels as though GARDENER is trying to capitalize on the popularity of role-playing fantasy games, although it wasn’t clearly presented how the show would truly capture this idea. Without some sort of interactive, multimedia component where the audience would actually participate in the show, this really doesn’t feel like a valid description. Likewise, the pitch leaves a lot of questions unanswered: What role do the masters play? How would a typical episode play out? How does the role playing fit in? As is, there’s not enough in the pitch to intrigue me.
However, even if the pitch were clearer, GARDENER doesn’t feel right for Cartoon Network as we’re focusing our energies on developing comedic, character-driven shows with a classic cartoon feel. The only place GARDENER could potentially work for us is in our Toonami block, which consists of traditional anime programs. However, I’m not convinced that GARDENER has the depth and epic arc of our other Toonami fare-at this point, it feels like it’s more about concept than content, which doesn’t make it a good match for us. Because of our commitment to creator-driven programming, we steer away from developing shows that need to be changed. It is highly unlikely that we would take a concept like this and alter it to suit our needs.
So the question then becomes, does GARDENER as a show concept work outside of Cartoon Network? The basic theme of adolescents facing and conquering challenges feels like a universal one. But again, if the aim is to reach adolescents by borrowing from `urban tribes, video games, and role-playing,’ and the target audience is eight- to 10-year-olds, I think this show would have a somewhat limited appeal. Likewise, while the designs are unique and different in their own right, I didn’t find them particularly appealing.
VP of licensing for Abbotsford, Australia-based agency Licensing Works
GARDENER contains several attributes that would aid its transition into licensed product. Firstly, one of its key focuses is magic, which is enjoying a resurgence with the targeted demographic via Harry Potter. It combines this with another popular element of youth culture-extreme sports like skating, snowboarding and surfing-and has both a male and female lead character, increasing the chance of unisex appeal.
However, the key characters are human, and experience tells us that non-human characters generally transfer better to licensed product. Another concern is that by the time this project comes to fruition, it is questionable whether the elements of magic and extreme sports will still be considered ‘cool’ by the target market. The concept is somewhat reactive, rather than proactive, to consumer trends. We also envisage that the demographic of eight- to 10-year-olds is a little narrow. Whilst it looks accurate, we would require a broader spread on either side for a viable licensing program. GARDENER also gives us the impression that it will have far more appeal to young boys than their female counterparts, thus limiting the licensing opportunities.
The property translates exceptionally well to certain products. Incorporating the element of progression from one neighborhood to another is ideal for products such as video games, board games and collectible cards. One concern from a licensed product perspective is that the magical elements relate to painting, music and calligraphy. With today’s youth focusing more on the Internet and video games, it would prove difficult to link the areas of calligraphy, painting and music back to product.
In terms of changes, I would start with the name. GARDENER is not overly inspiring or attention-grabbing. I’d also like to see some key non-human characters included, which may also leverage a broader demographic appeal.
Whether Licensing Works would want to become involved with the property would depend on a number of other factors. Key criteria for our involvement would include the sale of the television series to a strong local broadcaster with a firm scheduling commitment. We would also look closely at the success or acceptance of the license in key markets such as the U.K. and the U.S., and a strong master toy partner is preferable. If these were in place, we would certainly be interested in becoming involved.
Joint managing director of London-based The Licensing Company
Without seeing scripts or sample footage, it’s difficult to comment in detail on GARDENER’s potential as a TV series or licensed concept, but on first view:
* It has an interesting and original look, strong themes and characters, all of which are important in creating a potential hit license. However, no matter how striking the TV graphics, it is the heart of the story that will determine its success. Similarly, a strong TV series with a good audience doesn’t necessarily ensure licensing success. Only when the audience goes beyond ‘watching’ to wanting to own a piece of or identify themselves with a show does a property’s merchandising potential become apparent.
* Eight- to 10-year-olds (and the look suggests this could be boys, rather than girls) are a very difficult demo to hit, particularly with product. Just like the show, any licensing program would have to work outside the normal tried-and-tested areas and age groups. This creates difficulties not only in creating suitable products, but also in finding a retail home for these products. It would have to be less toy-driven and more focused on clothing and new technology product, and this would limit the property’s income potential.
* I worry that this show will fall between the slats. The difficulties in TV positioning may prevent it from
getting the slot capable of generating the right audience. The need for a different approach in licensing may limit the type and size of manufacturing and retail partners. It may become a ‘cult’ show as the producer
suggests, but this might not be good enough to ensure licensing success.
* My gut feeling also tells me that this show needs the momentum of a strong U.S. track record both in terms of audience and product sales before it can find success in Europe.
So could GARDENER be a merchandising success? Personally, I think it is a long shot-but then I have been wrong before.
VP of brand development and licensing at California-based video game powerhouse Activision
The premise of GARDENER is interesting, and also, like many new properties, derivative of many fantasy brands that have come and gone. I very much like the incorporation of the extreme sports elements with the magical/mystical nature of the premise. I found this combination unique in kids entertainment today. Given the elements in the presentation, I believe the target demo is appropriate, and given the success of magical adventure games, it could potentially make an interesting interactive title.
Activision’s strategy, for the most part, would be to ‘wait and see’ at this stage. Given the enormous expense of producing quality console games, I would want to see what type of TV/toy/promotional commitment the show had, as well as the track record of the creators and producers. I also would be curious to see what type of research the producers used in creating the concept and characters.
Since we self-create as well as license properties, we would probably only pursue GARDENER if either:
1) the property took off upon launch; or 2) the production/marketing launch commitment was so great that it had a real chance for success and was therefore a mitigated risk. We would also concept-test gaming ideas based on GARDENER with our target demos, to see if game players themselves had any interest.
One immediate suggestion. Change the name. It sounds like, well, a show about gardening.