Keeping up with the kids: Chris Kunz on the Kidscreen conference
Chris Kunz, freelance editor and writer and former children’s publisher at Random House, attended the Kidscreen conference for children’s entertainment professionals in Miami in February. She reports on partnerships between children’s publishers and broader entertainment industry.
Welcome to Kidscreen Miami, where the children’s media community congregates to do business. This year there were over 1700 delegates from all over the world. As a first timer, it was a pretty impressive experience.
I was particularly interested in finding out how producers felt, right now, about the place of books in the children’s media environment and whether there was interest in partnering with publishers to develop properties simultaneously. With huge players like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Studios taking up a lot of the oxygen—it’s no surprise to anyone that streamed video-on-demand (SVOD) is biting at the heels of traditional broadcasters quite aggressively—it was reassuring to see that a good number of publishing houses were represented and that there was still a fair amount of screen commissions launched off the back of an existing book or series.
Walker Books and Walker Productions UK were there with their book-to-TV properties: Guess How Much I Love You, the beloved picture book, which is currently being made into its second TV series by book-friendly Australian production company SLR productions; ‘Hank Zipzer’, which is published by Walker Books in the UK and Australia and is screened on CBBC in the UK and ABC3 in Australia; and ‘Henry Hugglemonster’ for Disney.
Brown Bag Films, the animation company responsible for book-to-screen adaptations such as ‘The Octonauts’, ‘Peter Rabbit’, ‘Noddy in Toyland’, ‘Olivia’, ‘Henry Hugglemonster’ and ‘Bing’, spoke on a panel about the joys of the leap from page to screen. Entertainment production company The Gotham Group was also represented on the panel by Eddie Gamarra, a literary manager/producer who represents screenwriters, directors, animators, authors, illustrators, publishers and animation studios around the work that specialise in children’s and family entertainment. He talked about the long and complicated journey of taking James Dashner’s The Maze Runner from book to film.
Randi Zuckerberg, Mark’s big sister and a tech mogul in her own right, presented one of the keynotes. Zuckerberg has published a picture book about a tech savvy little girl called Dot, which is currently in development as a series for the small screen with The Jim Henson Company and Amazon Studios.
Oh yes, Amazon is also a ‘disrupter’ in the world of television. With no need for co-production finance (this alone makes most independent producers feel deeply jealous), they have the ability to utilise their enormous customer database to provide feedback on the shows they’re producing. And they’ve recently put together a ‘thought leader board’ to help guide the development of preschool programming that will encourage lifelong creative learning. This board includes professors from MIT and educators with extensive research into neuroscience to make sure that what our kids are watching is lighting up the correct sections of their brains. Awesome … I think.
Of course, this adaptation business is no one-way street. There is also the screen-to-book phenomenon. I spoke to Bernadette O’Mahony, the head of development and production at the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, who pointed out that successful Australian series such as ‘Dance Academy’ and ‘Nowhere Boys’, both screened on the ABC, have published TV-tie in books to accompany their series because it is clear to pretty much anyone with their eyes open that the more visibility a property has, the more likely it is to gain a following.
Melanie Halsall spoke on a panel about finding great writers (or ‘ink-slingers’, if you want to feel more cowboy about your profession) and is head of development at Komixx Entertainment. In the UK Komixx has a partnership with Random House Children’s Books and has produced the picture-book series ‘Wanda and the Alien’ for TV and is currently in the midst of a multi-platform development with Simon Mayo’s ‘Itch’. With the recent announcement of Chicken House in the UK partnering with film production company Altitude to simultaneously develop children’s content across page and screen, and the Book & Screen Week taking place as an extension to the London Book Fair this year, I feel like it’s time to ask: isn’t it about time these kind of partnerships started happening between Australian publishers and producers? If so, and you’re needing a reason to visit Miami, Kidscreen is a great place to get the ball rolling.