No I didn’t go on safari and no I didn’t climb Kilimanjaro.
Well I did sort of….
I had the pleasure and privilege of staying on the border of the Arusha National Park and on the Masai Steppe in Tanzania with Kilimanjaro as my neighbour to research and write a screenplay for a new initiative from Nature For Kids and the Sparkling Elephant Project: an exciting adventure film for children, working title…
GOODWILL AND LIHWA AND THE TREASURE OF THE ELEPHANTS
The African bush is full of dangers, especially if you’re only eleven years old and abandoned. A boy and a young elephant both become victims of poaching. But just who is rescuing whom?
My research included meeting with local children, Masai, rangers, farmers, ranchers, safari guides, tourists, government ministers and elephants and other wildlife. Obviously some I could get closer to than others. It was both wonderful and awful and at times, like when I found these elephant remains, or watched a boy cut down another acacia tree for charcoal, heartbreaking.
I’m not a trained conservationist or zoologist but having read and listened to people from all sides of the arguments, I truly believe that elephants play a more important role in our world wide ecology than we realise. They may seem destructive but they are Africa’s gardeners, maintaining the rainforest (the planet’s lungs) – to be losing them at the unsustainable rate of one every fifteen minutes to ivory poachers is insanity: no elephants means no rainforest means no control over CO2 means no control over climate change means… It is not just rhetoric but science-based knowledge when I say, “in saving the elephants we are saving ourselves”.
The plan is for this film to be the backbone of a conservation initiative throughout Africa and China. Freely available to major conservation and tourism partners, there will be versions in multiple languages, English, Kiswahili, Mandarin for example but of course the beauty of film is that it tells a story visually and can go beyond words and their boundaries. It is hoped that the film will be the catalyst for everyone to rediscover elephants and bring the sparkle back to Africa before we lose them and ourselves forever.
My bags are packed ready for another brilliant Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield. This year is the tenth anniversary which is something to celebrate. If you have anything to do with children’s media (telly, games, online, publishing…) it is definitely the place to be and not just for those of us working in the UK. Each year the international opportunities grow. But it doesn’t lose it’s goodnatured, small industry feel. This year I am once more on the blogging team. All of the sessions are blogged so nobody has to miss out. You’ll be able to find the blogs, including mine, at www.thechildrensmediaconference.org
I’ve posted two blogs already. One involved a large onion for reasons that, well it was one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments and the other goes something like:
Jayne’s Guide to Sheffield
Sheffield Sheffield, it’s a wonderful town
The Hubs are up and the Crucible’s down,
Cinema 2 is in the hole in the ground,
Sheffield, Sheffield, it’s wonderful town!
Which I think goes to show that once again ‘you have to be there’.
Very pleased to see the artwork and my blurb for the DVD for Ajani’s Great Ape Adventures. This was such a great project to work on.
Supported by a whole host of international conservation charities, the three films that make up Ajani’s Great Ape Adventures are designed to teach young people across Africa about our close relatives the apes and how important it is to keep them and their habitat safe: not just for the apes but for the young people and their real families too. With poverty so often the consequence as well as the cause of habitat loss and species extinction, it is vital that solutions that benefit people as well as animals are found.
That all sounds far too heavy to put on a young one’s shoulders. But these stories, like any good educational tool, are fun and exciting with a feel good factor that will encourage rather than condemn. And they offer simple, practical and doable solutions that will help, not hinder local people to thrive.
I was brought in to work on the narration. Originating with Dutch filmmakers, the English version needed colloquializing so that it felt more in keeping with the characters. It was great fun and because I was working off of the rough cuts rather than the script, it was perhaps more akin to editing than writing. I loved watching the children’s performances and the footage of the chimps and gorillas is wonderful. And there is a poop fight. Of which I wholeheartedly approve.
I wish the Dutch makers of the films, Nature for Kids, every success with this project and hope I can work with them again in the future.
Three great meetings, one excellent film, several new lovely people and one brilliant cross cultural moment…
Firstly thank you to the Children’s Media Conference and UKTI for inviting me to meet with the China Animation Association Delegation. It was good to learn about the Chinese animation industry, meet some of its key players and begin to explore ways that we can work together in the future. I was particularly touched when the Ordos Dongsheng Skywind Animation Film Co., Ltd gave me The Big Horn, the delightful character from the Go Calf! animation series. I thought we were just going to have our photos taken together so it was a lovely surprise when I came away from the morning with The Big Horn under my arm.
And so onto the Annual General Meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s Media and the Arts. I added The Big Horn to the guest list. He was particularly impressed by the Grand Committee Room. So was I.
I was even more impressed by the meeting though. With Baroness Floella Benjamin re-elected as chair, and MPs Tom Watson and Damian Hinds as vice chairs, the meeting got down to the real business: reviewing the Bailey Review. One year after Reg Bailey’s report on the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood “Letting Children Be Children” was published, we were able to bring together the regulators, broadcasters and other stake holders to discuss how they had implemented Reg’s recommendations and consider the successes and challenges. I remember when I read the report being somewhat cynical that any of the recommendations would be seriously followed through – it’s easy to pay lip service and equally easy to come up with excuses when nothing is done. But hats off to Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority, ITV, UKCISS and others as well for the changes that have been made – making it easier for parents to voice their concerns on www.parentport.org.uk, removing innappropriate advertising from inappropriate places to name the obvious. Good job to everyone who has signed up to better self regulation and the general good will and desire to protect young people from inappropriate… stuff. I’m generalising as I need to write a more detailed report for the parliamentarians that were unable to attend. I will also post something on the Children’s Media Foundation website. AND Reg Bailey will be speaking at the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield at the beginning of July. Besides, I’d rather post more photos of my day with The Big Horn.
I said Three Meetings… The third was the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s Children’s Committee. We met at BAFTA to discuss… things. Things to do with those that write for children. Things like contractual issues, intellectual property, the BFI plans for UK film, e-publishing: things like that. I think all of us on the committee would rather spend our time messing about with The Big Horn but we have to support ourselves if we are to provide good quality content for young people.
The film? Jeff Who Lives At Home. Loved it. So did The Big Horn although he did have to ask me what a bong was.
So a busy day. Oh what was the brilliant cross-cultural moment? I’m sure you’ll have guessed that during the Chinese Delegation meeting there was a certain amount of stifled tittering amongst the British participants every time The Big Horn was mentioned: nobody dared to catch anyone else’s eye and there was much chewing of lips, especially when the Chinese-English translator talked about the “happy growth of the Big Horn”. Then when one of the English contingent began to speak, I saw a pair of Chinese shoulders begin to heave, I saw others stifling their titters, desperately not looking at each others, chewing their lips. I can only imagine what the translation was and hope it gave my new friends as much pleasure as The Big Horn gave me.
Did you see the BAFTAs last night? I was so pleased to see Steven Moffat receive the 2012 Television Special Award. What I really admire about his work is that he writes for everyone and has done much to make family viewing cool again. Yes I know Sherlock is not exactly family viewing but it is the kind of telly I would have badgered my parents to let me stay up after bedtime and watch; the kind of programme that they could’ve held over me as a reward for being good.
Then there’s Doctor Who. Yes yes, Russell T. Davies resurrected it and gave the tardis wings but when I teach screenwriting, it is a Steven Moffat episode that I use to illustrate so many top tips and handy hints.
I remember a particularly cool group of first year film students who decided they knew everything already. They were hard work and I just don’t do cool so hadn’t a hope of establishing a rapport. I soldiered on and showed them the first episode of Doctor Who: The Empty Child. As the titles went up, I could hear the sneers from the back row. I kept watching the screen: I might die in this class but at least the telly was good. That’s when Mr Moffat became my hero: by the end the sneers had turned to silent fear. These hardened twenty one year olds were genuinely moved, surprised and scared by the story. Being a two parter they were desperate to find out what happened next. And, seeing as I had the DVD, I was now their favourite person.
Good writing feeds the mind, stirs the spirit and excites the body; engaging our intellect, our emotions and our hormones. We question, we care, we get an adrenaline rush. When it does all these things, it has that power to engage an audience with other people’s lives, on screen and then in real life. It makes us connect; makes the world a better place.
So congratulations Steven: richly deserved.
Today I shall mostly be… Oh please don’t expect me to do this kind of bloggy nonsense. Allow me some dignity. Dignity! Ha have you seen my photos? I think the only thing I should say on this most auspicious occasion is:
Check out Sarah Bird Ltd.
My thanks to Sarah for holding my hand during this online birthing process. It has not been too messy and we didn’t need any pain relief. Although if we’d had the option of gas and air, I for one would always take it.