Saturday, 18 February 2012

Behind The Scenes | Project Spacebound

For the last month or so I have been working diligently on a new TV project: an animated adventure series for children.

Although this is the grand reveal, I'm afraid it'll be a no show as to specific details. You know the score. If it was Comic-Con then I would be happy to share all!

Instead I will offer a little insight on the origin of the idea, its rebirth and end with some notes on the early development for this.

Project Spacebound is not the actual title. Although, a rather cool one come to think of it. It's the codename for the show and a way to talk about it other than referring to it as the vague New Project 2012, New Project1, 011011100010011 or Animated Children's TV Series, or God forbid, to reveal its actual title before its time!

From Short Animation to Series 

The revival for this stems back to a chat with Danny Stack a few months back. The act of being able to share the story concept with him and have it received well was revitalising and encouraging. From then on I knew this was going to be my next project.

The truth was that I hadn't begun work on it as a television series. It was something I wanted to explore in the future and would see the expansion of an old short animation story I had, accompanied by ideas and development notes on a feature length narrative.

The idea itself was a conventional genre premise with a twist and remains unwritten. Although it's the components of this twist that has robust legs for further development on the short narrative and expansion of the story universe.

With the desire to explore a television series and the inspiration from the chat with Danny propelled me into adopting it as my next project. Otherwise I would be writing treatments for more contemporary dramas and would have lost the opportunity to seize the moment on this for another few years.

Now here I am in the midst of real beginnings on a story universe for television that has come a long way since the short animation story. To my excitement, I am finding more and more that there are no creative boundaries. Such is children's television and fiction.

Project Notes: 

Here is a brief but by no means complete list of early encounters and ideals reinforced on the project. We're talking very early into the process here, around the first two weeks or so.

Be Responsible 

Whether we write to entertain and/or to reach people we inherently have the power to influence. Therefore have a responsibility to do so in a positive and tasteful way.

With this adventure series for children, I knew I had a responsibility to be more considerate than when writing for adults. I knew that I had to work harder to deliver a show that offers its young audience a healthy way to express themselves, learn and be entertained.

Fortunately, the story premise and twist indicated to above, flips - in particular, animated violence on its head (and side, on occasions) and offers a fun alternative, which makes my duty a lot easier.

Flip That Cliché 

They exist. They're everywhere. But that doesn't mean our project has to be riddled with them.

I found myself writing in cliché mode on occasions in elements of story world and plot, which I soon realised was due to writing in a challenging new arena and genre combo. These by default I knew were temporary but were used to fill gaps until something better came along and/or after some research. However, as to be expected some did sneak through under the radar.

After realising this, I set out on a reconnaissance mission and swept through cliché components and flipped/inverted them until they became original elements and reflected the new storytelling world and fresh show that I wanted to create.

These breathed a new unified life into the story and taught me to never settle for what I think will work or see working but to keep pushing the elements to stay true to the story world and to offer a surprise and something original on every page. At least. 

Visual Engagement

We know screenplays are visual but nowhere more visually important than in children's animation.

So with this I was reminded and told myself that it's important to keep the visuals interesting, meaningful and suggestive, and related to plot, character and story world.

And if there is talking in scenes, have it on the go and tied to physical action and movement, to keep things visually moving forward. Something must always be going on within the elements: background, foreground, narrative, character.

Each scene should serve to reveal character or push plot forward and as quickly and visually engaging as possible.

Pace & Transitions

Naturally these must feature well and serve to bring to life and enhance a story experience.

Upon reviewing a totally linear and cinematic Rough Outline for this, casually going from scene to scene playing everything out, I had a eureka moment, well: realised it was time to critique and review what I had, reinforced by the following thought:

This is not a contemporary drama for television or a cinematic feature film. It's not for adults (although, I'm sure they would enjoy it) and has to run so much quicker and smarter than it does between scenes and sequences at the moment. 

Shortly after, through re-working and by knowing what I didn't want I made a breakthrough and found the ideal story pace, that then effectively wrote the rule book for scene transitions in this.

From then the outline practically re-arranged and wrote itself. All from the momentum set by the new quick cuts of the first two opening scenes and their relation to story and character.

Know Your Conflict/Opposing Force

A critical element to any story and protagonist's journey.

Early on the pilot story went through a few changes in regards to the force behind the conflict, as I explored different ways of kicking things off for the series. I knew I wanted to rev up the opposing force but hadn't found exactly what I was looking for. After all, like some of the characters, I was still relatively new to this particular story universe.

In the meantime, a cliché element was the stand in and as a means to a temporary end. However, once I had the opposing element it made everything much easier to reconsider and re-plot, as finally the main character was going against something real and challenging, as well as the opposing force doing the same.

Now the story was going somewhere.

Back to Earth

It has been a controlled and focused blast these last six weeks and the project has taught me a lot. Too much to document really. Everything just goes by so quickly but as I wake each morning I know I am a better, more aware and resourceful writer than I was the day before. That's a great feeling to behold.

Feel free to share any experiences, writing tips or criteria you may have on writing for children in this context.


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