Open to Question: Keith Chapman - Licensing.biz

Open to Question: Keith Chapman

In a regular series of special interviews, Licensing.biz invites the members of the licensing community to ask the questions. In the hotseat: Keith Chapman, Creative Director, Chapman Entertainment...
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When working on your three successful pre-school brands (Bob, Fifi and Roary), what have you found to be the common factor within this highly competitive area of pre-school licensing?
Paul Williamson, Marketing Director, Aykroyd and Sons

First comes the idea. An original spark. I open my mind to concepts that fill a gap. With Bob it was building and diggers, which nobody had done. With Fifi, it was coming up with a specific girls brand. With Roary, it was cars. Again, nobody had done cars, so when David Jenkins walked in the door with his concept about racing cars, we knew that was it. (Pixar’s ‘Cars’ subsequently came out during Roary’s development, so they knew it too).

But to realise the idea, you need great animation. The programme needs to stand out from the rest. The concept also has to be universal in its appeal, be highly merchandisable, be perfectly designed, with a colour palette that appeals to kids and adults, and have great characters that children fall in love with. Just as important, you need a really catchy soundtrack and entertaining scripts that show humour and emotion.
Easy really.

I am shortly to give a talk to animation students at Wolverhampton University. Does Keith have any general advice for such students as to career opportunities, especially as they relate to:
1) Staying in the area they currently live in and not migrating to London (where everyone assumes all the work is);
2) How licensing can help them to prosper financially.
Kelvyn Gardner, MD, LIMA UK

I think students will have to be prepared to go where the work is to succeed, as in any career. But we actually go to Manchester for our animation on Fifi and Roary (Bob is made there too). Here you’ll find the greatest stop-frame animators working for Cosgrove Hall Films and Hot Animation. It really is a breeding ground for animation. Even the best model makers are there at Mackinnon & Saunders. And in Bristol too, at John Wright Studios who made all our Roary vehicles. And of course, that’s where the world famous Aardman Animation is. So, students don’t necessarily have to come to London, although there are great animation companies here too.
Regarding licensing, that’s obviously very important for a show being considered these days, as animation is so expensive and the revenues from TV sales are diminishing. There is room for shows that have no obvious licensing potential, but it seems they would have to be made with smaller budgets, with a built in producer’s fee.

Having worked with Chapman for the last few years on the branding and packaging of two hugely successful brands, Fifi and Roary, I’ve always wanted to ask how much the future toy line and merchandising plays a part when their considering a new programme and designing new characters?
Marco Crosta, Senior Graphic Designer, Vivid

For us it plays a very important part. We simply can’t make the type of shows that we do, which cost millions of pounds, without that contribution. We couldn’t build a brand and invest in further series without it.

And on a similar vein, to what extent is licensing revenue a factor in the funding of a new TV property in the light of diminished broadcasting revenues?
Andrew Levy, MD, Licensingpages

The guarantees and fees from licensing are a big factor in helping to fund a show if you don’t have any investors or a rich father. The broadcast contribution is not going to be enough.

Fifi and Bob were your own creations, but Roary was an idea from a third-party which you selected and then developed. Is it harder or easier to work on something which was not his own original idea and what are the differences in approach which are required?
David Scott, MD, Rainbow Productions

The only difference is that someone else has had the all important spark of inspiration, which makes my job a little easier. There is still the development to be done, new characters to design, colours to choose, etc. But this all needs some help. So the trick is to surround yourself with brilliant people. And here I’ll mention Bridget Appleby who I worked very closely with on Fifi and Roary. And Curtis Jobling, the designer on Bob.

As a creative person are you able to get direct input with licensees on product development associated with your characters and feel you can successfully influence licensees' creative development?
Ian Downes, MD, Start Licensing

We work very closely with our licensees and actively encourage them to come to us with their creative ideas using our characters. We produce very good style guides for them to follow (superbly designed by Red Central in Bath). We have partner meetings regularly to discuss their ideas. Sometimes we suggest our own ideas but we don’t like to dictate what a licensee should be doing. After all, they are the experts in their field. It’s important that our licensees and their designers feel part of the whole creative process. When something is blatantly wrong, we will say so, but generally we like to steer them gently with a suggestion here or there.

Your creations so far have been very specifically designed for either boys or girls. Do you think it is possible for a pre-school property to have strong appeal equally to both sexes?
Gill Pritchard, Director of Children’s, BBC Worldwide

Yes, absolutely, but those shows tend to be on the younger end of pre-school. We have one in development. When we started out, we simply targeted girls with Fifi and then boys with Roary to complement our properties. Now we need one that appeals to both. Some retailers will ask if it’s a girl’s or a boy’s property. To satisfy those buyers, you would need characters that genuinely appealed to both sexes. That’s a challenge, but I think possible.

What is your main aim when you start working on a new property concept for children - is it to entertain or to educate?
Michelle Pearce, Senior UK & International Licensing Manager, Jetix Consumer Products

It depends on the idea, and who it’s being aimed at. Sometimes the idea lends itself to include more educational content. In pre-school certainly, you try to build in some kind of educational message, even if it is only on a social level, like teaching them about right and wrong. If you’re pitching the show to PBS in the US for instance, it will have to be educational. For older kids, I think you can relax the educational content. Kids at school all day, want to flop in front of the box and be entertained. They don’t particularly want more lessons. They just want to laugh.

You've been so successful with Bob, Fifi and now Roary all of which are aimed at young children. Do you have any plans to develop a character brand for an older age group, and thereby retain your existing fans?
Rob Hughes, MD, Wesco

We are developing shows for other age groups, as the pre-school market is pretty saturated and there’s only so much room on a retailer’s shelf. But we won’t be abandoning our existing shows and their fans. On the contrary, we’re growing them all the time with new series, theatre shows, new international territories and new licensees.

What are your plans for the international roll out of Roary the Racing Car?
Jon Owen, VP Consumer Products International, Hit

The international roll out of Roary is already well underway. We have already sold Roary into over 50 territories and in the majority of instances, we have appointed, or are in negotiations with, a master toy partner who will distribute the Vivid range and also with local DVD partners. We also work closely with Harper Collins to determine the best local publishing partner. In some instances, we will appoint a local licensing agent to ensure that we achieve full penetration with local licensees and retailers. The initial international roll out will focus on Australia and Europe, with deals already agreed in France, Germany, Benelux, Scandinavia and the ex-Yugoslavian territories.

Do you have any new properties in the pipeline? What’s next for Chapman Entertainment?
Jon Owen, VP Consumer Products International, Hit

We have several new shows in development. We have another pre-school show, this time a ‘skins’ live action idea, very educational. We are working on a boy’s comedy, aimed at six to nine year-olds in conjunction with a world famous production company, which is very exciting. And an action adventure, aimed at eight to 11. We are also looking at an adult, edgy show, an animated sit-com, that there seems to be a lack of at the moment. We are looking to co-pro these shows. Also, I am personally working on a full-length movie, live-action with CG characters. But there’s a long way to go. So, it’s a busy time here.

What inspires you most about the pre-school business?
Rob Wijeratna, Joint Managing Director, Rocket Licensing

I love the pre-school business because it’s such a fascinating age group. I loved playing with my own boys at that age, watching them learning to talk, and read and kick a ball. They learn so quickly; they’re like sponges. And it’s all so innocent, they haven’t been corrupted yet by outside influences. But beyond five, you start to lose them to a world of violence and peer pressure. Expanding a child’s imagination is a great thing. Creativity is our most important gift. It’s what moves the world forward.

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