AS the future of kids programming in the UK continues to be characterized as bleak by industry pundits, a new flame is lighting the landscape in hopes of finding purchase and building into a slow, steady burn. Kindle Entertainment was founded in January by co-directors Anne Brogan and Melanie Stokes, a pair of highly experienced children’s entertainment execs who worked together for a number of years at ITV, Brogan as controller of ITV Kids and Stokes as head of development.
The dynamic duo has spent the last few months setting up their indie production facilities in Shoreditch’s Hackney City Farm, a popular barnyard petting zoo smack-dab in the middle of London. They’ve also been putting together an initial slate of projects that can only be described as eclectic.
‘With the UK kids production sector being under such financial pressures, it’s wise to have a really broad slate,’ explains Brogan, who also finds that working with more than one team and shifting focus from project to project is creatively invigorating and often leads to cross-pollination of ideas.
One concept that’s getting a lot of attention from Brogan and Stokes right now is a live-actioner for Turner about a family of spies who’ve retired from their respective secret service agencies, but are having trouble letting go of the lifestyle and trappings of high-stakes espionage. Shooting on this 26 x half-hour series, which goes heavy on physical slapstick comedy, begins in April in Leeds and should take 24 weeks to wrap. The show was created by Paul Alexander (a scribe on My Parents Are Aliens), and Peep in the Big Wide World head writer Kathy Waugh is also on board. At press time, Turner was still determining which of its nets would carry the show, as well as testing potential names.
Kindle is also working on a 52 x 11-minute puppet-based series for CBeebies called Big and Small. Delivering a message about how difference can lead to greater, richer experiences than homogeny, the show juxtaposes careful and considerate Big with explosive and dramatic Small in charming storylines about finding ways to reconcile two very opposite personalities. In the lead-off ep, Small arrives on Big’s doorstep with enormous luggage, hatstand and lamp in tow. A conscientious host, Big tries his best to include Small in all his games, but size is a problem. Big’s swing is too wide for Small, who can’t hold onto both sides or launch it into motion, despite his valiant efforts. Small eventually gives up trying and settles into despondency, but then Big suggests they invent a new game they can play together. Kindle is still looking for financing outside of the UK for this project, which should head into production in early 2008.
Picking up a thread Brogan and Stokes started at ITV last year, Kindle is currently shooting two family documentaries that will air on ITV1 in support of the summer launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. One of the companion pieces is a straight-up behind-the-scenes featurette, while the other delves into the secrets and intricacies of the fantasy film’s costumes.
And the studio is dabbling in feature films of its own, with a project that Brogan came close to doing as a TV series while at the BBC 10 years ago. Based on a book by Jamila Gavin, Journey Through Midnight is set in the Punjab region in 1947 and follows along as the families of close friends Edith, daughter of an English missionary, and Marvinder are torn apart by the events of Partition. Brogan plans to be shooting by May, in partnership with the Children’s Film and Television Foundation and Impact Films.
Looking ahead, Brogan and Stokes are keen to ramp up original development over the next 12 months and are looking for an experienced exec to handle this part of the business. In terms of distribution, Granada International has first-look and last-matching rights on the lead-off projects that followed the pair from ITV, but moving forward, they’ll contract third-party distributors on projects that need that expertise.
The goal is to maintain a diverse production slate that covers a variety of styles, genres and target demographics, although Brogan says it’s unlikely the studio will get into much drama or factual entertainment. In the meantime, she and Stokes are actively on the hunt for co-production partners that share their passion for telling, listening to and developing good stories.