When the coronavirus pandemic forced much of the entertainment industry to work from home, DreamWorks Animation was able to pivot relatively easily. Thanks to the nature of animation work and the studio’s technological capabilities, the company “didn’t lose much of a beat,” chief creative officer Peter Gal tells Variety.
The trick, he says, has been continuing to foster innovation and a sense of community while staffers are physically apart. Remote work “requires a lot more strategic communication between people,” Gal says. “The kind of information or creative thinking that flows very easily between people when they share a space is not as easy when they don’t share a space. It’s just become incumbent on all of us — on creative leadership, on the shows, on executives, on everyone — involved in the process to make sure that we’re supporting people, not just on their work but in their lives.”
Gal will join Rob Mills, head of alternative series, late-night and specials at ABC Entertainment, and Tina Perry, president of OWN, on one of the panels scheduled for Variety’s virtual Entertainment & Technology Summit, presented by City National Bank on Oct. 14-15. More than 30 industry leaders and creatives will convene at the summit to discuss pressing topics within the entertainment sphere, including the resumption of production, rapid expansion of digital platforms and flourishing of artistry and marketing campaigns during quarantine.
Now that ABC has brought late-night staff back into their offices, safety remains paramount, Mills says. The network hopes to bring back live audiences and premiere upcoming specials in an engaging format.
“Six months later, I think we’ve learned to really approximate what the shows were before the shutdown as close to a 100% as possible and in some ways even innovate,” he says. “I think for us it’s just we learn so much more about this pandemic every day, and I think for us moving forward it’s taking those learnings and making the shows better and better, and giving the viewers more of an escape from everything that’s going on in the world.”
Just as evolution is key, so is the acknowledgement of the current cultural backdrop — from Black Lives Matter to the upcoming election, says Jenny Wall, chief marketing officer at Nickelodeon. Wall, slated to participate in the Brands Building Communities panel, stressed the importance of enlightening, empowering and elevating audiences through marketing efforts. Whether through educational programming on Juneteenth or activities that help parents connect with their children, Wall says the network is meeting families where they are to aid them in coping with the tumult of daily life.
Following the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody, Nickelodeon went dark for eight minutes and 46 seconds to acknowledge the time that a police officer was seen pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck and reaffirmed its declaration of kids’ rights to be “seen, heard and respected as a citizen of the world.”
“Racism begins in children between the ages of 2 and 3, and our sweet spot is between 2 and 11, and we also understand that by ages 8 and 9 racism can be embedded,” Wall says. “So we’ve really taken an approach where we’ve developed anti-racism campaigns.”
The company is “using our IP to help explain hard situations but also things that sometimes aren’t taught in schools.”
Nickelodeon is also pushing for greater diversity behind and in front of the camera, hoping to engage children with issues that matter and remain authentic with its messaging.
“We don’t want to sugarcoat things,” Wall says. “If we want to talk about an issue that we think kids should know about — whether that’s the election, whether that’s Black Lives Matter, whether that’s about gender, whether that’s about disabilities — we want to make sure that we are talking to kids in a way that it can resonate with them and it can have the most impact as possible.”