Filming kids’ books trickier than it looks

Panel of experts offer sobering advice

Turning successful kids TV shows into books and vice versa is anything but child’s play.

That was the message a panel of experts had for attendees at a sobering Mipcom TV mart conference Monday.

Deborah Forte, prexy of Scholastic Entertainment, spoke about the company’s hit preschooler show “Clifford the Dog,” which has sold around the world and substantially boosted sales of the original books.

To adapt successfully, “You have to know what is sacred, what is the property’s fundamental value,” Forte said.

However, Forte delivered a statistic that put the business into perspective: “Out of the tens of thousands of books optioned, only 2% ever get produced so the chances of getting on the air are relatively small,” she said. “Success is often more to do with the gatekeepers and what their mission is at the time rather than the programs themselves.”

For Sally Gritten, managing director of HarperCollins children’s books in the U.K., adaptations are also a hit-and-miss business, potentially fraught with creative conflict.

“Authors work as solitary writers, they are used to owning their material completely and it is difficult to understand that with a media company there are many people making the decisions, making their character say things it wouldn’t say, do things it wouldn’t do,” Gritten said.

However, filmmakers could show a little more sensitivity, she suggested. “Too often producers haven’t done their homework. Before you go to an author, they need to know that you’ve read their books, it is not just check-waving.” 

As for turning a hit TV show into a publishing money-spinner, there are also many slip-ups in Gritten’s view. “People need to understand there is a lot of children’s TV out there and not all of it can be made into books.”

Both publishers and TV producers are facing the fresh challenge of how to carve up rights in a world in which the lines are blurring between platforms.

“There is technology now that allows you to read a book on a mobile phone. At HarperCollins we’ve had to make up a right to take account of that. Contracts today are becoming very specific,” Gritten said.

“It’s a good time to be an intellectual property lawyer,” Forte quipped.

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