Showing posts with label cartoons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cartoons. Show all posts

Monday, 4 January 2021

Kids TV in the time of Covid, a success story - Ciaran Murtagh

Being a writer, the logistics of how I do my job in times of Covid doesn't change that much. Sure I might drink more Coke Zero and stay in my shed longer than is healthy, but I still use my brain and my computer to try and find funny things for people to do. 

The same cannot be said for everyone else who helps make TV. While I don't have to do anything different,  they've had to reinvent their entire jobs. 

Given that some of the TV shows I contributed to over lockdown are starting to see the light of day, I wanted to give a shout out to those unsung, gunge splattered heroes of kids TV who have done everything Eastenders and Strictly managed to do only quicker, funnier and with about an eighth of the budget. 

First up -Crackerjack. There's a whole new series on the way and all of it was filmed back in October in a time of great uncertainty. The Christmas special aired on BBC One over, well Christmas, and you can still see it HERE

Not only was it filmed in Manchester, at a time when Manchester was facing flip flopping restrictions, it is a show that relies heavily on a full studio audience bellowing it's catchphrase repeatedly at the top of their voices - not very Covid compliant. There's also lots of slapstick and non Covid compliant gunge with kids battling against each other in a series of silly games. 

Almost everything had to change. 

The studio audience went and games were made socially distanced. The presenters Sam and Mark were put in one bubble, the sketch cast in another and all the kids on the show had to maintain social distance from each other while doing very silly things. The crew had to work differently too. The only time anyone got close to the kids they had to be in a full body suit costume - the frankly terrifying cabbage monster - but it was the only way they could make Double or Drop work. 

They got ten episodes made, the very least you can do is check it out! I bet you won't even spot the joins, which is testament to the work that went in to making it happen. Take a bow. 

Big Fat Like began a few weeks ago. This show was filmed on location and is a parody of the internet - no pressure then. 

It was filmed over the summer as areas went in and out of lockdown. To find a location that they could definitely use for the duration of the shoot took a number of tries and a lot of patience. The cast were in a bubble in the location house, and the production crew were kept outside in a van, filming the whole thing as if it were an Outside Broadcast. Sketch shows are notoriously difficult to get right at the best of times, to film one while the majority of the crew aren't even in the same building is a stroke of genius. To make it funny to boot - take a bow! Catch up HERE

Danny and Mick began filming on the 9th March. They then stopped filming pretty quickly afterwards and started again in the summer. They have just delivered two series worth - or nineteen episodes -  of top quality laugh out loud telly and it all starts on CBBC TODAY.  

Now if that isn't something to shout about I don't know what is. Filming on location in a leisure centre is hard enough. Continuing to film while it pops in and out of lockdown and customers are allowed in and out of the venue is insane! 

The cast had to isolate for two weeks before filming started and then they remained in cast and crew bubbles throughout as they shot all 19 episodes for the series in under three weeks during August and September. To have finished filming in September and have it all ready to go by the first week in January demands a medal. They won't get one so this'll have to do.  Please check it out. I genuinely love this show. In a parallel universe it's on BBC One every Saturday. In this one you can find it HERE

Those shows were all live action, which posed a certain set of challenges, Dave Spud is a cartoon and that posed a whole load of different ones. 

We started writing this one in January 2020 and the first episodes hit the screen right after Christmas. You know the long list of names you see at the end of a cartoon? They all worked on this show without ever being in the same room. Some of them weren't even in the same country. The voice talent often recorded their parts remotely, sometimes in makeshift home studios with direction being given over a video link. Once again, I have no idea how they did it, I just know they did. Dave Spud is a quintessentially British cartoon. If you haven't seen it please do have a look - Basement Jaxx did the theme tune. It is THAT good. 

That's a small selection of what's been coming through, but by no means everything I - and many others - have worked on. All have kept going with a cheery disposition despite massive and varying disruption, making television for children because it's what they do best. 

I hope you enjoy watching it when it comes out and if you do, this year, of all years, take the time to watch the credits - these guys deserve every single one. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Learning from the other arts - Alex English

I'm a sucker for writing books and like many other ABBA bloggers (Rowena springs to mind!) I have shelves full of guides. Recently, I've tried looking further afield to other art forms to see what I can learn and whether I can apply it to writing. Here's what I've found:

Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash


There are multitudes of screenwriting books that many novelists use already. Screenwriters are by necessity very strong on structure due to the huge budgets and fixed time-constraints of the screen. In this sense, a screenplay is very similar to a picture book. You can't overrun an episode of EastEnders by ten minutes any more than you can stretch out a picture book story to 17 spreads.

Key takeaways: read about screenwriting if you want to get your head around plot and structure

Recommended reads: Story by Robert McKee, Into the Woods by John Yorke, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (just to get you started, there are many, many more).

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash


I somehow stumbled upon reading Pat Pattison's songwriting tips, and I've found them very helpful for writing rhyming picture books. While poetry books often focus on blank verse, songwriting looks more closely at rhyme and rhythm, which is just what's needed for a picture book. I've never really learned how to write in rhyme, and most picture book writing guides don't cover it thoroughly.

Key takeaways: Chapter 4 has a guide to building a 'worksheet' – in brief a sort of brainstorm-on-paper of ideas and rhymes associated with the themes of the song you are writing. I tend to write my story in prose before turning it into rhyme, and now I'm going to try including a rhyme worksheet as a middle step in my process.

Recommended reads: Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

Photo by Doug Maloney on Unsplash
I recently took a cartooning course with Neil Kerber, which has been great fun to practise with the kids. Drawing was supposed to be a hobby, but it's actually proved incredibly handy to be able to sketch characters and props for my work in progress. It also saves hours searching around Pinterest for that elusive image in my head.

Key takeaways: Keep it loose. Draw and see what comes out. It doesn't have to be perfect. Have fun!

Recommended reads: Comics: Easy as ABC! by Ivan Brunetti

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash


I know nothing about dance, but I recently read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, an acclaimed choreographer. She talks about her creative process, how she researches a dance piece (fascinating!) and how she actively develops her career. She talks about the importance of teaching/mentoring others to solidify your own knowledge. What would you teach yourself six months ago?

Key takeaways: There's a lot in this book, but I love the way Tharp uses a big box to gather her project material. I've started keeping a dedicated notebook for each project (previously I had a trillion notebooks with notes from different things scattered throughout), but a file box might work even better to collate random scraps of information and objects related to a book.

Recommended reads: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp   

Photo by Mika Korhonen on Unsplash

Fashion design

On a whim, I borrowed a book about fashion design research and found it a surprisingly enlightening read. Nobody really tells you how to get ideas for a novel, but fashion designers at college have to document a proper research process and show how their ideas came about.

Key takeaways: "Fashion doesn't come from fashion" (i.e. don't take your inspiration from the catwalk). Books don't (just) come from books either. It's easy to feel you have to keep completely up-to-date with reading every new book release, but as long as you have a feel for what a current book is, it can be more useful to look more widely and take creative inspiration from elsewhere, art galleries, museums and maybe even real life!

Recommended reads: Fashion Design Research by Ezinma Mbonu

How about you? Have you ever taken inspiration for your creative process from another art form?

Alex English is a graduate of Bath Spa University's MA Writing for Young People. Her new middle-grade series SKY PIRATES launches in July 2020 with Simon & Schuster. 

Her picture books Yuck said the Yak, Pirates Don't Drive Diggers and Mine Mine Mine said the Porcupine are published by Maverick Arts Publishing. More of her picture books are forthcoming in 2021/2022.

Friday, 4 January 2019

What is a universal story in 2019?

I am currently head writing a new cartoon series. The show will air in 2020 and will be broadcasting in every country in the world. Sounds great right? And in one way it is. It gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction to sit in a shed in Croydon and know that the stories I am creating will be seen by millions of children in countries I will never visit. However, the flipside of this is that every story I and my team create has to be just as accessible to a child in London as it is to a child in Hanoi - and everywhere in between…. There’s the rub.

Now you might think a child is a child is a child. Certain stories will always appeal no matter where that child is from. And again, to a certain extent, you’d be right. What that doesn’t factor in is the restrictions different broadcasters put on what you can and can’t write about.

In the Middle East there’s no magic or witchcraft. You can’t have homosexual characters and only the most conservative mixed relationships can appear on the screen. There’s no pork products – so ham sandwiches are out – as are pizzas just in case they have pepperoni on them.

On the subject of food, the French broadcasters are on a healthy eating drive which means all food shown on screen needs to be healthy, so pizzas would be out anyway. So too would be any sweets or biscuits, pasta, noodles, meat that isn’t grilled and an ‘abundance of bread.’ But they’re fine with gay characters. Not that we could have them.

The British are keen to model good behaviour and are hot on imitable stuff that may lead to letters in the Daily Mail. So – and I kid you not – we have one particular story where some animals hijack a vehicle from some humans. That’s fine. But they have to wear seatbelts, drive on the road and use a designated slipway when driving into the sea. 

As a sidebar, if you’ve ever wondered why Dennis the Menace has become Dennis and Gnasher, look no further – we can’t have kids being menaces these days. This also makes a particular form of universal visual humour very difficult to get away –slapstick.  If you do have slapstick humour, no one can get hurt. So there’s definitely no slapping with sticks in slapstick.

The Chinese have some issues with other races, in particular the Japanese, so we can’t show sushi. Chalk that up with pizza. They are also conservative in what relationships can be shown on screen. They are however very keen on fireworks. Unfortunately all the other broadcasters hate them so they’re out too.

Maybe fairy tales would be a source of fun? You’d be right. But only for certain cultures. How can you be sure that the kids in Bangkok know about Goldilocks or Sleeping Beauty? And if they do, have Disney already done the definitive version? In which case you can’t touch it with a bargepole.

A good old Christmas Special should be hard to argue with. Unless your culture doesn’t celebrate Christmas of course. And if it does celebrate Christmas is there snow? And Christmas trees? Best not call it a Christmas special just to be sure. A case in point – my recent Danger Mouse Christmas Special has no references to Christmas at all.

So how do you create a story with all of these restrictions? More importantly how do you do it 52 times? The answer is, with great difficulty. I liken it to playing one of those buzzing wire games. If you can get to the end of the wire without anything buzzing, you’ve got yourself a story. Maybe. So long as it comes in on budget.

This is quite a modern phenomenon. We live in a global society. Previously, if a cartoon was going to be made for the UK, then the BBC would pay for it and they’d be the only broadcaster we would have to worry about. Fifteen years ago, the very idea of an American network being able to sell a cartoon and the ensuing merchandise to Saudi Arabia or China would have been unthinkable, now it’s all part of the business plan. Cartoons have become more expensive, to get them made you need global partners, that means those global partners have a say in what gets made and naturally they want to make sure their interests are served and represented.  

Where the TV world leads I am sure the world of books will follow. I already know that there is a lack of appetite for rhyming picture books – it makes them hard to translate. I was asked to tone down the girlfriend/boyfriend plot in a recent series of middle grade books so that it will sell to the Chinese market and on one memorable occasion I was asked to remove a reference to a sausage dog in case it offended the Middle East. I did point out that it wasn’t literally a dog made of sausages, but dachshund was our ultimate compromise.

Where does that leave us as creators? Is there still space for the stories we want to tell? Is there still space for region specific stories, or as publishers become multinationals are we obliged to create work for a multinational audience if we want them to buy it?

The stories I am creating are still fun. I am still proud of them. They still work. But increasingly they are stories no one can argue with. Perhaps that’s the true definition of a universal story in 2019.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Limos Circle The Block, by Susan Price and Andrew Price

                Hi again!

     There's such an atmosphere here at the launch for Three Billy Goats Gruff!
     The limos are circling the blog and we'll soon be welcoming our first star!

     And wait!
     A limo is pulling up!

          I can't see who's getting out yet....
          It's sure to be someone exciting!
          It's - it's - 

                                         Ooh, I'm thrilled!

It's the Bridge!

I was another bridge, further down river, but the part was written out.
That's how it is in this business.  
I was the original bridge too far and one of the bridges of Toko-Ri.
You don't see me. I was behind a building.

Who is this arriving?

Can it be - ooh, can it be Great Big?
      Oh, girls, he's so dreamy. For a goat.

Art work: Andrew Price