UK prodcos Hoek, Line & Thinker and Big Deal Films have teamed up to launch Big Thinkers, a program aimed at fostering new animated children’s series from diverse creators.
Both studios are impact-focused with diverse representation as a mandate, and in collaborating, they saw an opportunity to expand that mandate into the children’s animation space. The accelerator will focus on series development projects targeting preschoolers, six to 11s and primetime audiences. An online portal for submissions is open now and will close on April 10.
Veteran animation exec Tom van Waveren, former Cake CEO and founder of indie Hoek, Line & Thinker, says he and the Big Deal team feel they can make a difference in getting these diversity-focused concepts to screen more quickly. Big Deal is known for Dreaming Whilst Black, a popular web series that transitioned to BBC3. It’s getting into the animation market with Little Badman, an adaptation of a children’s book series that’s being produced in partnership with BBC Studios.
“We found that we had very similar motivations, wanting to support and give an opportunity to people who might not necessarily feel they’re ready to fully develop something themselves,” van Waveren explains. “We can secure their idea, develop it in such a way that it has the potential to reach a large audience, and make sure they [use] their strengths and get an opportunity to tell their story from that perspective.”
At Cake, van Waveren says kids series projects such as preschool-skewing Pablo (pictured) and Mama K’s Team 4 (six- to 11-year olds) showed the importance of diversity and representation being embedded in all aspects of the creative development process.
“Pablo is about a little boy on the [autism] spectrum; it was written by people who are on the spectrum, and the voices were done by people on the spectrum. It gave a very unique tone to the series,” says van Waveren. “[When it aired], there was a quite overwhelming number of people who wrote in—even adults—saying it was the first time they saw a series where the main character was on the autism spectrum,” he adds. “That really registered with me. It’s not about just taking a subject or creating a character; it’s also about making sure the people who are part of that creative process come from the same reality, so you can make sure there’s not just representation, but also authenticity.”
Following the initial submission phase, Big Thinkers will move 10 finalists into a second stage that will culminate in an in-person pitching opportunity in London. Members of the jury that will assess these pitches include Elliott Palmer (CBBC), Shamik Majumdar (Disney EMEA), Kristina Yee (Goat Girl), Ed Barnieh (Netflix) and Lindsey Adams (Daily Madness).
Three finalists will then be invited to develop their concepts further into full pitch bibles at Big Deal Films. The creators will also work in partnership with experienced creative teams and studios on preparing to present to broadcasters, SVOD platforms and overseas partners at a later date.
For any concepts that move through the Big Thinkers process, van Waveren says Big Deal Film will option the rights and offer creators a role on the project and an ownership share, should it be produced.
“We have an opportunity in today’s world to move beyond the single story and embrace multiple stories from all over the world and from all sections of society,” says van Waveren. “There’s a lot of richness to embrace, and that’s what we’re intending to do.”