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Animated Musings: How Many Hats Does a Development Professional Wear?

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Animated Musings: How Many Hats Does a Development Professional Wear?

***This article originally appeared in the 35th Anniversary Issue of Animation Magazine (June-July ’22, No. 321)***

I am often asked what it means to develop a TV show. We all know what the goal is to be able to pitch an amazing story about characters that are real. To bring your listeners on that journey so everyone who hears the pitch understands it, sees it, feels it, loves it and says, “Yes, please make it!” But, how do you get there? Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that developing shows for children is about wearing lots of different hats, and knowing which hat to wear when! Once you have a good concept, then you’ll need to put on these hats on:

  • A Writer’s Hat (A Panama hat, perhaps?) I spend lots of time reading people’s ideas and then writing suggestions and other ideas. Show creators may be writers, but not always. There are lots of discussions, tweaking and noodling — always trying to find the words to best describe the idiosyncrasies of characters and the heart in each idea while always being conscious of the ownership of the work.
  • Director (I reach for a baseball cap). Often there is no director at an early stage of either a book or a creator’s concept idea, so you need to make sure there is some clarity in what is going on and how the show is working. (Is it too static? Does it have too much action?) I loved directing theater years ago and some of these skills come back. The more you can make the pitch feel like the show has already been made, as if you’re just describing your favorite show, then you actually have a better chance that it will get made. A great pitch can also help find a great director.
  • Inner Child a.k.a. the Audience (a folded paper hat). This is a challenging hat to keep on and to make sure it fits well: What does that four- or eight-year old really think and how do you find the words to express what they feel? It is one of my favorite hats to wear because fifth grade really was a great time for me.
  • Comedian (a clown hat may be too much, but you need something colorful). Perhaps more than anything, every show really needs a sense of humor. If you are not conveying a sense of play, then maybe it’s not working. Finding fun and light moments through characters is a great element for any age group. Humor does connect … But, does it connect across cultures? Then, of course, pitching a show needs to be engaging. A great sense of humor is always a big asset, although Zoom may be stifling it these days. (I plan to take that stand-up comedy course in the fall as I desperately need some new material!)
  • Actor (any fabulous character hat will do — sometimes, I even indulge in my witch’s hat!) For me, this is one of the most wonderful hats. Why are bad characters so fun to play?! I always channel Madam Mim from Disney’s Sword in the Stone. As you try and voice all the parts, how does this character really sound and what turn of phrase would they use? I realized we all have idiosyncratic ways of speaking when I taught English in Japan and, suddenly a whole class of 40-year-old businessmen at the Mitsubishi plant sounded like a 26-year-old Canadian!
  • Yourself (I pull out a toque, the Canadian classic). Keep your integrity, listen to your intuition and stay balanced despite all the hats. Know who you are. The taste you have is something that’s hard to suppress (and it’s probably not healthy to suppress). Always try to bring something better to each new story: Push yourself to change for good.
  • Cheerleader or Conductor’s Cap. An organizer is always needed, someone to keep the peace and work closely with everyone in all the details. You need to listen, be appreciative, understand that everyone is giving of themselves and to allow the story to grow. You need to keep the journey enjoyable, and going in one direction — more or less. It’s all a team effort and a process.
  • A Few Others to Consider: A sales hat — but I have found this hat very tricky, because buyers are sometimes cautious if this one fits too well. A market research hat may be needed, too, because you need to test your material in the real world. But remember Mark Twain’s famous quote: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
  • The Bonus Hat (an artist’s beret). This is a tough one because finding the art to make your characters sing on a development budget is not always easy. If the words convey everything, sometimes the reader’s imagination is best left alone.

Not all hats are needed on every project. But, working with the people who wear these hats full time and understanding their challenges is the best way to develop a show. I hope this column has clarified a few things. Of course, I could try another method for describing my work: It’s like a test kitchen creating a recipe where…

Mary Bredin is an acclaimed kids & family content veteran, currently the creative development producer at TeamTO. She has worked at Guru Studio, Disney, Nelvana, Viasat and Canal+ over the past two decades and her credits include Jade Armor, Tru and the Rainbow Kingdom and Pikwik Pack.

 

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