Awash with a variety of top-drawer mavericks and storytellers from a stunning multiplicity of artistic backgrounds, GAFX 2019 emerged as a leading juggernaut in the apotheosis of AVGC events. Not only did the summit play host to artists from national and regional perimeters but also flew down stalwarts from the west.
Salt Content CEO Angela Salt spoke to Animation Xpress about her journey as an illustrator and a writer for kids’ animation such as Curious George, Abby Hatcher, A Street Cat Named Bob etc. Her panel discussions involved ‘around the world of GAFX’, ‘deals with wheels, global productions: looking for Indian partners and developing Indian IP: route map.’
Foray Into Kids’ Media
Speaking about her penchant for kids’ media as opposed to content for other age-groups, Salt shared that her entry into kids’ media was through attending The Children’s Media Conference (The CMC) in the UK, eleven years ago when she had taken a hiatus from her career to raise her three children. She had been immersed in kids’ culture as a parent; reading (and re-reading!) picture books, rediscovering her favourites that she’d had as a child which her children then enjoyed; watching TV shows. She had also been keen on attending The CMC and over three days she got to meet the people who made those shows and “it was fascinating like a whole new world opened up”
Sharing what she loves about the kids’ media, she added, “I was totally inspired by the passion of these people and could relate to and appreciate their aims to serve their young audience – which included my own children – diligently with quality content. People generally are driven by a passion to make a difference, to enrich children’s lives. It’s certainly a motivator for me. It’s a responsibility.”
Salt came across as a polished and flamboyant speaker at her sessions where she expounded a great deal on pitching ideas and concepts with brio. Interestingly, she was quite the opposite as a child according to her. Speaking about her childhood fears, she informed, “Contrary to the way I appear now, publicly, as a ‘confident’ adult, I was actually a very anxious child so something that I’m keen to explore in my writing.. it touches on the common fears of childhood. I try to address those in my work, to help dispel them with sensitive humour because being able to laugh at something really minimises its potential to frighten. Hearing kids laugh is one of the most uplifting sounds in life I think. That’s one reason why, for now, I’m mainly focussed on writing kids’ animated comedy.” While she elaborated on her inclinations towards kids’ media, she also added that she wouldn’t be averse to writing for young adults.
Journey as an Illustrator and a Writer
Outlining her journey as an illustrator and finally a writer, she spoke about her school days when she was “torn between two favourite subjects, Art and English”. Recounting what drove her to pursue art, she chuckled, “I guess my art teacher was more persuasive”.
She shared, “In a parallel universe I might have applied to Oxford but I ended up at Kingston University studying Graphic Design and Illustration BA (Hons) and from there went on to Manchester Metropolitan University to study for a Masters degree which changed its title almost weekly! I think when I graduated they’d settled on the course title, “Design for Communication Media”
Having watched the 1977 sci-fi horror, The Demon Seed, she had been apprehensive about the new and curious phenomenon of the internet (WEB – World Wide Web) which had been launched at the start of the 90’s era. She shared, “I continued to produce illustrations by hand and for a number of years I was successful as an illustrator for many well-known magazines and newspapers. Being an illustrator back then involved physically going to Art Directors’ offices in Central London (where I lived at the time) and showing my portfolio.”
Building a hard interior to grapple with criticism and rejection or what she metaphorically calls her emotional Teflon, she visited many offices. She further continued, “I took a break from being an illustrator in the late 90’s early 2000’s to be a full-time stay-at-home mother. By the time I was ready to return everybody I knew was struggling to find illustration work. The internet had effectively ravaged the magazine and printed newspaper industries and Art directors were relying on stock photo libraries rather than commission bespoke artwork. Fees dropped dramatically and there started a culture of doing work for free which completely undervalues the creative industries. Of course, nowadays the trend has come around for hand-drawn work again and lots of beautiful, highly-illustrated, artsy magazines have popped up but eleven years ago these didn’t really exist and I found my creative impulses more fulfilled by writing. I wanted to get into cartoons!”
First Writing Commissions
Her first writing commission was a series of books for Scholastic based on an IP she co-created called Spooky Skaters. The books were part of an English Language teaching scheme to encourage kids around the world to learn to read in English which she wrote them in graphic novel format.
“One of the shows that I created was optioned by Technicolor and that really changed everything for me. I was working with brilliant people on further development of the show who gave me a chance to write a script too,” shared she.
Diving further into her journey as a creator she informed, “I found an amazing mentor who’d written kids’ TV shows for over twenty years and a producer who really challenged me and in a relatively short time, I was getting a crash-course/learning on the job of being a screenwriter. It was very intense and demanding but I vowed to learn fast and I did. I’m very committed to lifelong learning and I saw it as a long-term goal, to write for the screen.”
Highlighting her drive for the ecosystem, she added, “Throughout this time I was putting myself “out there” by investing in my career attending MIPCOM, MIPJR and KIDSCREEN and, through doing that I met a fantastic agent based in L.A., Annette van Duren, who represents me internationally to this day. Through Annette, I’ve really grown my credit list over the past couple of years to include writing for prestigious shows such as Curious George and currently the new Nickelodeon hit, Abby Hatcher. Most of my work at the moment comes from outside of the UK and I relish the opportunities to travel. I completed eleven scripts for a landmark Sino-Russian co-pro for CCTV in China a couple of months ago which gave me the chance to work in-house with CCTV in Beijing which was a great experience.
She’d first become aware of the Curious George (a heritage U.S. show based on the books written by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey and published in the 1940s) when she was visiting Chicago with her eldest daughter when she was almost two years old.
Sharing as to what spurred her on to write for the IP, she delved, “I bought a couple of picture books for her and a plush George riding on a wooden bicycle which became her favourite toy. I still have the plush George sitting on my desk actually! He’s been handed down through all my kids and finally back to me so I had a real connection with him. I’m honoured to be a writer (the only UK writer, I believe) on the new Curious George show for HULU. I love George’s character, he’s so insatiably curious about everything he encounters. His fascination with every day and the monkey logic he applies to situations leads to escalating chaos. It’s really a joy to write. Underpinning each episode there’s a learning intention and I enjoy the challenge of making that funny and entertaining. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in the three episodes that I’ve written so far…”
A Street Cat Named Bob
Dubbing her experience of writing the pilot for A Street Cat Named Bob as delightful, she shared, “I got to meet the actual BOB who is the most chilled-out cat you could ever imagine! I’d already seen the uplifting SONY film produced by Shooting Script Films so I was aware of the story. In London, I used to live near to where James Bowen, Bob’s owner, sold the Big Issue, a weekly street newspaper which supports the homeless, the vulnerably housed and the poor so the location resonated clearly too. The development of Bob and his animal friends as a preschool kids’ show was utterly charming and beautifully designed by King Rollo Films. It’s set in a park which I imagined to be like Clissold Park in North London, somewhere I’d lived, so it was all very real to me, writing the pilot. I had enormous fun writing this character-driven animated comedy”
Bengaluru GAFX 2019 experience
Reflecting on her experience of the recent GAFX 2019 edition, she shared, “It was exciting and an honour to be involved with Bengaluru GAFX 2019 as one of the international guest speakers. It was my second trip to the region, having participated in the Bangalore B2B in Nov/Dec 2018. I’m blown away by the friendly welcome each time and the sheer enthusiasm for the industry to grow and prosper. It’s very energising and I’m sure huge advances will be made to put Bangalore firmly on the international map for quality original animation content to match its growing reputation for amazing VFX and post-production services. There’s an astonishing pool of fresh and aspiring talent in India.”
Upon being asked as to why she was often seen around a gaggle of young girls after her sessions at GAFX summit, she answered, “I spoke to so many young people with awesome skills and made it my mission to seek out the young women, in particular, some of whom were slightly reticent at coming forward to approach me. I made it easy by introducing myself to them! I’m a member of Animated Women UK and very much a champion of women and the under-represented in the industry. I was interested to hear that 40% of students of animation in India are female but that they don’t follow the path from there into careers, mainly for social and cultural reasons. I would urge animation industry employers to consider women’s needs for flexible working and to strive towards setting a 50/50 ideal for equality of opportunity in the workplace. In the meantime I would say to young women, Keep Going. Demand changes!”
Her sessions at Bengaluru GAFX 2019
Describing her role in the recent AVGC summit, she shared, “I helped to open GAFX with a presentation of UK creativity from a writer’s perspective as Writers’ Ambassador for The CMC. I made a (kept) promise to act as a “messenger” back to The CMC where I exec-produced a session for writers this year, telling a room of 100 or so UK writers that there are companies in India looking to make connections. I also co-presented a ‘Masterclass’ in developing Indian IP for global markets at GAFX and I tried to offer helpful ideas, insights and advice both to students with limited resources and also to established producers with more of a budget to connect internationally and get traction on an IP. There are ways to develop projects and connect online, through social media and in-person which doesn’t have to cost a (prohibitive) fortune if you’re just starting out.”
Recounting the pressing question that she got from the audience, she said, “I think one of the key moments at GAFX was when I was asked the question from someone in the Masterclass audience; “What is the one, key thing you would say to think about when you are writing and developing IP for children.” My response was simply, ‘Children!” I elaborated to say that I always try to create and write from the child’s point of view.
She also feels that it is fundamental to her “but surprising how some (adult!) people miss that!” as she had even gone onto her knees on stage to demonstrate how she looked at the world from the physical perspective of a child. “I don’t know any almost 6’ tall children!”, she added
Her advice to the budding writers
1) Grow that ‘Emotional Teflon” layer first. It’s not going to be easy. Be tenacious.
2) Be optimistic and fearless. OK, so it’s not going to be easy – but it can be a lot of FUN! Believe that YOU CAN DO THIS and don’t let fear stop you. Get over the imposter syndrome thing. It’s not serving you.
3) Know your audience. If it’s kids, then hang out with kids. Find out what makes them tick. What makes them laugh. What makes them switch off. Test your material out on them and be prepared for a brutal critique!
4) Do your research. In my case, that’s an excuse for watching lots of cartoons!
5) Immerse yourself in others’ creativity. Lap it up. Find inspiration. Feed your creative soul.
6) Try not to be so much of a perfectionist that your perfectionism holds you back. At some point, you will have to send off what you’ve written for appraisal. Hit send. Hit send. OKAY! JUST HIT SEND!
7) Write a lot / Read a lot / Watch a lot. Try to remember to eat, sleep, hydrate and bathe, meditate and do other things in between…
8) Make friends with producers, publishers, broadcasters and commissioners. Always carry business cards and follow up on connections.
9) Find yourself a great agent.
10) Try to learn from all rejection. Ask for constructive criticism. Keep going and keep growing. Which goes back to Number 1).
11) Always be original, never derivative.
Her takeaways from the GAFX 2019 conference
Gleaning as to what she learned from the conference, she shared, “Apart from the gorgeous BENGALURU GAFX trophy that I was presented with by Biren Ghose… My other takeaways from the conference are that there is a phenomenal amount of talent in India and real scope to collaborate with international partners to do exciting work.”
Alluding to the organisers’ feat of pulling off the grand event, she continued, “ABAI, K-Tech and the Government of Karnataka hosted a wonderful event which was such an impressive showcase. I think the key is to keep forging connections with the international animation industry community every which way possible and for aspiring Indian animation companies to partner with experienced creatives from around the world who can help to develop original content and IP to move it forward and bring it to global markets. I really hope to be invited back to continue to play some part in the exciting future that evidently awaits!”
We were thrilled to learn the delicate nuances and aspects of IP creation from stalwarts like her. We hope summits like GAFX continue to energise the AVGC industry and play host to more subject matter experts and veterans that enrich the M & E space.