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How Atomic perfected the book-to-screen journey

With two adaptations already on Netflix, and several more in the works, Matthew Berkowitz says the key to success lies in working closely with authors while also adding fresh twists.
November 18, 2019

Atomic Cartoons makes the process of adapting books to TV series look easy. The Vancouver production company has released or is in development on half-a-dozen-plus book adaptations, including post-apocalyptic fare The Last Kids on Earth, which debuted on Netflix this September, and its new series Hello Ninja (pictured) which arrived November 1 on the SVOD. And, when broken down into distinct steps, Atomic Cartoons makes the process sound easy, too.

Step one: Find a good book.

Step two: Make sure that you carry over whatever made that book special into the TV series.

Step three: Have a great show.

Of, course, it’s not quite as easy as that. To make sure the team doesn’t waste its time and effort, a lot of resources have gone into figuring out what books kids will actually want to watch.

“We want kids to walk away feeling empowered and we love coming of age stories,” says Atomic Cartoons CCO Matthew Berkowitz. “That’s what kids relate to because that’s where they are in their own lives. Whenever we look at books to adapt, we look at whether it has empowered kids, or, if it hasn’t released yet, we look at if we believe it has the potential to do so.”

From there, the team always works closely with the author to ensure the series is similar to their vision of IP. But as a production team, they also have to figure out how they can bring something new to the titlekids don’t just want to see a retelling of a story they’ve already read, adds Berkowitz. Then, to ensure the book series can become a brand or franchise, Atomic works with publishers to support the marketing efforts.

“We’re not interested in any adaptation if the author isn’t involved,” says Berkowitz. “We view ourselves as the support team for the writers and projects. Ultimately, there’s a reason these books were a hit in the first place and that’s the original creators’ voice.”

For Atomic’s most recent series Hello Ninja, the team worked very closely with the book’s author N.D. Wilson, who’s an executive producer on the show and contributed to the scripts and supervised the show’s writing. The studio also turned to the book’s illustrator Forrest Dickinson to create the art style for the show.

In order to build out the 14 page kids’ book into a 40 x 11-minute series for kids three- to six-years-olds, the team added new characters and grew out the narrative with and a series of adventures that revolve around kids solving everyday problems while imagining themselves as ninjas.

“In the book and in the show, we made sure that Hello Ninja was a celebration of the world around them,” says Wilson. “Unlike superheroes who need powers to be special, being a ninja just means you’re living up to your full potential—and that’s inspirational for kids.”

To stay up-to-date with new books that might make even better shows, the team at Atomic reads hundreds of books in a year, says Berkowitz. And the prodco doesn’t wait for publishers to come to them with good titles, but instead scouts upcoming books, contacts publishers for advance copies and tracks the success of books that have come out.

Going forward, Atomic isn’t slowing down its book to screen efforts and is now working on adapting Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim’s bestselling book Princesses Wear Pants with Drew Barrymore’s prodco Flower Films. The 11-minute CG-animated show will target kids three to seven, and follow the adventures of a princess who chooses not to conform to traditional stereotypes. Also in the works is an adaptation of Max Brailler’s (The Last Kids on Earth) book Eerie Elementary about a haunted school and the young kids who have to fight against it. Brailler is the exec producer on both Eerie Elementary and The Last Kids on Earth.

“Our core DNA is: Are the artists going to love working on this, and do we believe that the end audience is going to love watching it,” says Berkowitz. “We push that decision making ahead of everything else because we believe that that’s where we’ll do our best work. Our passion will show up in the animation and that becomes a repeatable business model.”

About The Author
Online writer for Kidscreen. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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