Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for May, 2008

Kevin Watkins and His Animation “Hose”

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Kevin Watkins, of the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival selection “Hose” tells the story behind his story in which a garden hose in search of adventure discovers that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. In fact, there isn’t any grass on the other side.

CP: Where did you get the idea for this film? What’s the story behind it?

KW: I came up with the idea for “Hose” over 10 years ago. I had just been promoted to ‘Creative Director’ at an advertising agency I was working at in South Africa. At the end of the first week I realized that I had started a transition from a creative person to a manager. I was suddenly dealing with minutia like parking allocations and approving expense accounts. The recognition that I was not going to be happy was pretty swift. So I started pondering what else I could do. There were aspects of the job that I enjoyed more than others, in particular making commercials. I had just completed a campaign involving stop-frame animation and was intrigued by the magic of film – a series of still images presented sequentially creating the illusion of movement and time. The idea that between each of those frames a great deal of time and effort could go into making each frame was, and still is, fascinating to me. I really wanted to create something more meaningful than 30 second commercials. Something that had emotional resonance. But I had no idea what that would be.

As I was thinking about all this, my sister was watering the garden. As I was watching, the garden hose struck me as being ‘sad’. I started thinking about the characteristics of a hose – like when you turn on the tap and the back-pressure causes a hose to move on its own. I pondered the world of a hose – what happens when everyone is away at work? What would the hose think if it explored the inside of the house for instance? I dismissed the idea initially, but it stuck with me. More and more ideas started to generate, almost automatically. Eventually I decided to write a script and from there we get to where we are today…

CP: What is your background? What got you into filmmaking and what has been your favorite project so far?

KW: When I was 18, I wanted to get into filmmaking, but my parents discouraged me – very few people were making a living in South Africa shooting films. So I went to art school and then took a job in as an Art Director. I did quite well, winning awards all around the world, getting written up in the press etc., but I yearned to create something that had more depth. In 1999, I was brought to the USA by a large multi-national advertising agency. That was the beginning of the end.

New York has a wealth of adult educational opportunities, which I took full advantage of – learning more about all the disciplines of filmmaking; editing, writing etc. As with a lot of New Yorkers, 9/11 had a huge impact on me – I decided to get out of advertising. Using some of the skills I had learned, I developed and sold a series of viral ads for RCA. With the money, I set up a production company. Slowly but surely, I started to escape the dark, murky world of advertising (aIthough I still freelance occasionally– it’s better than bartending, but not much!) “Hose” has been the most challenging and the most fun I have had so far. During the course of shooting I spent an entire summer outdoors, creating this crazy film. I was super fit, tanned and grinning from ear-to-ear most of the time. The fun of it was to be a child again.

CP: How did you go about making ‘Hose’ and how long did it take?

KW: When I first came up with the idea for “Hose” (1999) it was practically impossible to make the film as I envisioned it – stop-frame animation shot outdoors. I had also written the film as a feature. As strange as this might seem I had never been exposed to short films. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, with sanctions and international isolation, I had no concept of a film outside of a full-length picture. It wasn’t until I came to the USA and discovered Atom Films, iFilm etc. that I realized that you could make short films. (I am now an avid collector and fan of the form.)

At the time I also had a group of friends, all in advertising, brought over from the same ad agency in South Africa (a by-product of the dot.com boom) who were just as miserable as I was. We started a support group called ‘Anglers and Writers’ (after the bar in Soho) with the intention of encouraging each other to work on projects outside of advertising. This forced me to continue to re-write the script and get it down to a manageable length. After making a couple of short films that had some success, I was looking for the next project when a friend of mine who had read ‘Hose’, suggested I figure out a way to make it.

Interestingly, in the 10 years since the initial idea, technology had progressed a great deal and it was not only possible, but I could do most of it myself and at high definition resolution, using a digital still camera.

Looking out my window at home one afternoon, I wondered if I could take the construct of the film (which by that stage was set in a suburban home) and adapt it for the scenes in front of me. One of the most important lessons I learned doing all those New School courses was to use what you have available to you. I’m also a big believer in the theory that a problem is not a problem, but an opportunity to do something better. The idea of scaling down the film and making it work in these secret gardens that exist behind the vinyl-siding homes was much better than what I originally conceived. From there it was ‘simply’ all about figuring out how to make the film and finding people to help. Three years later we’re finally done!

CP: Please give me an “insider scoop” anecdote from the filmmaking process.

KW: The incredibly talented animators who helped me create the film love to remind me of an email I sent them shortly after we started. In it I outlined, in detail, how long I thought the film would take and when the film would be completed. With pencil, paper and a calculator I had worked out that the film would be done within 6 months, easily. For some reason none of them believed me and kept that email. Three years later they are still enjoying the folly of my ambition that afternoon.

CP: What lessons have you learned from filmmaking that you’d like to pass along to other producers?

KW: Double the time you think it will take.

Make it short. Less than 10 minutes is ideal. Get it to under 5 minutes if you can.

Show it to as many people as you can before you lock picture.

Make it funny.

Do a really, really tight animatic if you’re doing animation.

CP: What does it mean to you to have your film highlighted in the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival?

KW: Well, it’s a great opportunity to ‘share the pain’! I have two babies in my life – ‘Hose’ and Nadja Iris Watkins (currently 9 months). As a new father I want my daughter to be exposed to wonderful, imaginative and inspiring content. Organizations like this dovetail perfectly with that objective.

Additionally I welcome the attention that the film is getting. The more exposure we can generate, the better. Making a film is really hard. Getting it out there is probably even harder. A forum like this benefits all filmmakers, particularly those of us interested in making great shows that will hopefully inspire the next generation.

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New/Renewing Members

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

The Baby Prodigy Company

Cleargate Productions brings a fresh perspective and an eclectic group of professionals to the production business. With their they have the capabilities and experience to take projects from conception to completion.

Kaleidoscope Songs

Little Xavier Company
has products are based on the Little Xavier Company © Spanish & English classes, curriculum for preschoolers since 1999.

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Welcome to Additional Hosts on the PBS Kids Preschool Block

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Miss Rosa and Mr. Steve, two new teacher/presenters will join the PBS Kids preschool block, wrapping around shows and segments, on May 19 2008.  Played by Jennifer Pena, Miss Rosa is a teacher who will introduce Spanish-language words and phrases into the preschool-targeted block, while Steve Roslonek (aka SteveSongs) will portray Mr. Steve, a music teacher who will fold-in original songs and music related to each day’s theme. teacher and actress Jennifer Peña will guide kids through curriculum-based activities and introduce Spanish words and phrases as “Miss Rosa,” and musician Steve Roslonek will join as the music teacher, “Mr. Steve,” performing interactive original songs and music related to the day’s curriculum theme.

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Logging Into The Playground: How Digital Media Are Shaping Children’s Learning

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

On May 9, 2008, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center held its first annual Symposium called “Logging Into The Playground: How Digital Media Are Shaping Children’s Learning.” Leaders from across research, communications, education and policy convened to set a new benchmark for the way in which digital media is used to improve children’s literacy, learning and development.Michael Levine, Executive Director for The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, said: “Digital media is driving what is now a multi-billion-dollar business that shapes the learning and entertainment experiences of most school-age children.” He added: “It is our mission to counsel the industry’s movers, shakers and policymakers and provide a needed bridge to what has become traditional education’s fourth and fifth “Rs”, reform and research. Wise and informed investments will harness the growing power and full potential of digital media’s use in educating young children.”Gee’s recommendations include: funding digital research and development to invest in what works; establishing a digital teacher corps for the nation’s lowest performing schools; designing alternative assessments and new standards; creating community-based literacy tech centers across the country; establishing Governor’s digital partnership schools; and finally, modernizing public broadcasting investments in digital platforms for the next generation.The agenda for the day-long symposium also featured child-led demonstrations of new technologies and a hands-on forum promoting two dozen of the best digital media initiatives in the world. Attendees were shown one of the first demonstrations of BOOM BLOX, a new game for Nintendo Wii developed by EA in association with director Steven Spielberg along with promising emerging technologies from exhibitors including: Community Building with Google Earth by Google Earth creator and Google Chief Technology Advocate, Michael T. Jones; Web-based books in English and Spanish by the Center for Applied Special Technology, to help individuals, especially those most at risk, to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for reading; IBM’s Traducelo AHORA! (“Translate Now!”) that uses IBM WebSphere software to translate web sites from English to Spanish for schools, community organizations, as well as parents so they can correspond directly with teachers no matter what language is spoken at home; and an Apple in the Classroom demo by Kathy Shirley, an Apple Distinguished Educator, on using iPods to strengthen reading fluency and comprehension.More details on the reports and Symposium are found on the Joan Ganz Cooney website.

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The Story Behind “Paul’s Grandpa”

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Producer Ove Sander treats audiences with a heartfelt story that is sure to bring a smile to the faces of anyone who watches it. The short-film “Paul’s Grandpa” is the story of a small boy who wants to have a grandpa and he makes his wish come true.In this article, Sanders gives us his thoughts on the film and what it means to him to be part of the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival:I came up with this idea because I have been fascinated by the power of imagination and fantasy that kids use when they play and the way they interact with us adults. Sometimes we manage to play along but sometimes we cannot or do not want to share their vision. I believe that this imagination can make a lot of things happen. That’s what the film is about.Currently, I am working as a filmmaker – specializing in camerawork. Before I started studying film at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany, I had worked as a freelance camera-assistant on various projects. By working for very experienced DOPs during that time, I learned what it means to tell stories and emotions through images. “Paul’s Grandpa” has been the first fiction that I have both directed and also worked as DOP on. That’s why this project is so important to me.People usually say that working with children and animals is most challenging – well, for “Paul’s Grandpa,” the “grandpa” was especially unpredictable because it was very fragile. We had a total of three different “grandpas” that were used in the different scenes. The head was especially difficult to work with when we did close-ups. We had four operators using remote controls to control small motors inside the character. For all the scenes with the “grandpa” and Paul the timing of the movements was critical. All scenes were shot in real-time, and no computer generated images were used.The film reaches a wide audience. Recently we were awarded “best short” by a children’s jury at a festival – they especially liked that no computer animation was used in our film – we were all very proud about that. In this film I think that I have learned that a simple and clear story is most important for the film – especially in a short film. It has little dialogue and story is told clearly with powerful images. I believe that the way that we did the film tricks, not using aiming at perfect illusion but rather using simple but charming techniques, leaves more room for the audience’s imagination and can be more authentic.I was very excited to be able to have “Pauls Grandpa” as part of KIDS FIRST! Film Festival. As part of a traveling festival, the film has the opportunity to reach audiences in different parts of the country. I am especially proud that the last children’s film that I worked on as a DOP (Tanzmause – Dancing Darlings) has already been part of the festival and was nominated Best Short in 2006. It’s great to be back.You can see a clip of “Paul’s Grandpa (aka Paul’s Opa) online at http://www.kidsfirst.org/detail/207400.html.

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