Ottawa, Canada-based Mercury Filmworks is ready to give original content a real try. And the company’s introduction to creating in that space will come by way of a series called Hello, My Name is Octicorn. The service studio has worked on shows for the likes of Disney (Tangled: The Series) and Netflix (Hilda) in the past, and is now dedicating resources to make original shows.
Those efforts are being led by a small team that includes Heath Kenny, chief content officer; Travis Williams, director of development; and Chantal Ling, VP of original series. Between the three of them and a production coordinator, they are currently working on 15 original series concepts. The plan is to actively develop three new series per year, and produce one annually. Having 15 projects going at once allows them some flexibility and an opportunity to test and learn with a number of projects at the same time, according to Kenny.
Even though this may seem like development overload, Kenny likens it to baby steps. “We wanted to start with some realistic, attainable goals, because despite the fact that we are a large company on the service side, we’re just starting out on the development side,” he says.
Several of the 15 projects are already in a negotiation stage with various partners, so Kenny can’t divulge details about them yet. But he is free to talk about Hello, My Name is Octicorn. Based on a same-name book by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe, the 2D-animated preschool series is about a half octopus/half unicorn making his way through life and learning about the world.
The book’s simple iconographic style drew Kenny to the series when it was pitched to him by Josh Fisher (Rusty Rivets) earlier this year. (Fisher is serving as an EP on the project.) But now that style needs to be fleshed out for the series into a rich world that reflects themes of inclusivity.
For example, Octicorn lives in a houseboat where half the house is underwater for his octopus parent and the other half is above ground for his unicorn parent. So far, the development team has gotten as far as creating an animatic and trailer.
This property is part of Mercury’s three-pronged development strategy to use ideas from inside the studio, work with clients on their own development, and option IPs with built-in awareness.
“Because we need to give artists within our community more time to learn and grow, this is a new muscle. And it’s intimidating because there’s a lot of risk involved with [developing], so we need to nurture and create those opportunities carefully,” says Kenny. “It’s also really helpful to be able to bring something to partners with some degree of built-in awareness and some degree of reassurance.”
Another big part of the strategy is working with artists who are already assigned to service projects at Mercury, but catching them in between those show cycles for original development work. That way, the company is able to retain talent while giving them something to do in their downtime, as well as offering its stable of artists an opportunity to grow.
“At some point, there’s no more growth possible or required on the initial core service business, and the company is healthy and stable,” says Kenny. “So now our stability is what helps us do this confidently.”