After years spent crafting stories for the likes of Thomas the Tank Engine, Little Robots and Charlie and Lola, screenwriters Mellie Buse and Jan Page decided it was time to start hatching plots of their own. ‘There was no clear career path for writers in the UK,’ says Buse. ‘We got to the age where we didn’t want to end up being wheeled into the writing room, and figured we might as well jump and have a go.’ Two years later, their uniquely writer-led UK prodco Adastra Creative has landed what may be the Holy Grail in the Brit kids TV industry these days, a full commission from CBeebies for its first show concept, Grandpa in My Pocket.
The partnership came about when Buse and Page kept meeting up with each other at scripting sessions. Both have drama degrees, and their theatrical backgrounds, work ethics and senses of humor just seemed to mesh, says Buse. These days, the pair forms the creative heart of the company, and they’ve inverted the typical approach to setting up a studio by contracting business expertise. A producer in his own right, ex-Hensonite Angus Fletcher is helping the company put together financing models and international distribution plans.
While the venture has been focused on taking writer-hatched visions and pushing them through to television, Adastra also does third-party show development and consulting work. Buse and Page currently count HIT and Entertainment Rights amongst their clients, with involvement ranging from straight scripting to creating a series around another IP owner’s set of characters.
As for Adastra’s first production, Grandpa in My Pocket, Buse floated the idea around for some time as a live-action series. The problem was the special effects required to capture the mischievous, shrinking grandpa on film were prohibitively expensive. Adastra then pitched it as an animated comedy, which CBeebies’ Michael Carrington liked, but said it was a stronger live-action concept. The company shelved the idea and dusted it off again when the screen wizardry required had become ‘simpler, cheaper and easier to do,’ says Buse. She took the idea to Carrington again. This time, he scooped up the 26 x 15-minute concept, which should be delivered for fall 2008.
Targeting Cbeebies’s four- to six-year-old audience, Grandpa in My Pocket is really a live-action sitcom that shakes up the grandparent/grandchild relationship. In this case, we have a grumpy, sedentary grandfather who wants to get in on the action taking place around him, and can only do so when he puts on his magical shrinking cap. ‘The smaller he gets,’ says Buse, ‘the bigger the problems he causes,’ and his grandson Jason continually has to bail him out. There’s always a positive resolution to the stories, and Adastra intends to create a very stylized look and use a lot of voiceovers to make it more appealing to international buyers.
Following up Grandpa, Adastra has a live action/CGI series called The Ha! Ha! Hairies on deck for development. Set in Hairyland, where everyone and everything is covered in long hair, the Ha! Ha! family (Ma Ha! Ha!, Pa Ha! Ha!, Maxi, Mini and Nana) find themselves pitted against baddie Boris BooHoo. Rich and miserable, Boris runs the extremely busy shampoo salon and unsuccessfully tries to stop the Ha! Ha! clan from having fun.