Another great guest speaker – writer James Henry

Last week we invited writer James Henry to come and give our Level 2 Pre-Production students some feedback on their projects before they took them to the final stage.

James Henry gives us some tips on writing. (Actually, since he knows the camera is on him he's going for the 'famous writer pontificating' pose)

James is a screenwriter who has specialised in comedy, having written for 'Smack the Pony', 'Green Wing' and 'Campus' among other things, but he's also had a lot to do with animation, writing for 'Bob the Builder' as well as 'Shaun the Sheep' and 'The Sketch Show' for Aardman. So he is very well placed to understand what our students are doing and to give them solid feedback. He also has to constantly pitch ideas for films or TV series to lots of different commissioning people so he gave us all a lot of valuable (not to mention funny) advice on how best to go about it.

In the first half of the second year of the course the students choose one of two options; they can do either Pre, or Post, Production. On the Pre-Production option we look at idea generation, storytelling, concept and character design, pitching and how to make up a pitch bible. And from the pitch bible we extract a section and get the students to animate a couple of shots in the style they have devised for their idea.
[A pitch bible, for the uninitiated, is the kind of document you might take in to a producer or a production/TV company to show them what you are talking about. This is often the second stage of pitching, after you have done a verbal pitch to get their interest, but it will be the kind of thing that would be given to potential investors at something like the Cartoon Forum]

We have lots of clever ways to get students out of rigid patterns of thought and coming up with new and refreshing ideas; games, if you will, that help the brain work harder. After that initial burst of creativity we try to keep things bubbling by adding other parameters and ideas that stop things getting too rigid; then we try to put all the ideas generated into the kind of form that will engage a busy executive's attention.

A still from the pitch, 'Lab X'

We do the same for the visuals, trying to make sure that they are as fresh as they can be too, so we take a look at not only what has been done in animation but in the rest of the art and design world, ancient and modern. What we want to avoid is students being influenced only by what is current so that they don't merely make a pale imitation of what is trendy; a watered down version of something that has already been influenced by other sources. Research is our watchword here, and we get them to go to primary sources as much as possible. The research is part of the final hand-in too.

From 'Chasing Birds'

When they get to Week 6, then it's time to get up in front of everybody in the group, and our guest, to pitch the idea in the most snappy way possible. They did a great job, despite the nerves, because you wouldn't think it was too hard to talk about something you'd done in front of your friends, but it certainly is, and that is why it is such good practice for the real world.

'Under the Weather'

James gave them some very useful and incisive feedback, and in the afternoon gave them a writing workshop. We're very grateful to him for spending so much of his valuable time with us.

A still from the pitch for 'Dog Heaven'


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