Behind the Scenes at Amazon Studios

     It only took me 2 years as the resident CMA blogger to finally get the crown jewel of all guest bloggers:  Madame Presidente herself Sarah Wallendjack.  In addition to being the pres of CMA, Sarah is a Supervising Producer at Out of the Blue Productions – makers of such hit shows as “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Super Why” and the upcoming Amazon venture “Creative Galaxy.”  Sarah is also one of the most fun people I know.  And I am very serious about my fun.  I want to thank Sarah for taking time out from the issues with her healthcare website and the recent government shutdown to share her…oh wait, I guess she’s not that kind of president.  At any rate, we’re happy to have her.  Take it away, Madam President!
     I had been looking forward to the behind the scenes look at Amazon Studios http://studios.amazon.com from the moment the event was suggested.  We were lucky to pin down Tara Sorensen, Head of Kids Development for Amazon Studios, Angela Santomero, creator of Blues Clues, Super Why!, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Creative Galaxy (a new Amazon Original Series for kids), and Dr. Alice Wilder, Amazon Studios Educational Advisor, to discuss the upcoming development slate and philosophy behind Amazon’s content for kids.
     Amazon Studios is both a production company and a network with Amazon Prime members benefiting from their exclusive video content.  Tara made it clear throughout the evening that Amazon is looking at talent in a different way, striving to constantly innovate and building content based on what moms and kids want.
     They are taking risks.  With a deep understanding of their consumers’ needs, Amazon is a new network brand and they are taking chances.  This has exciting implications for today’s children’s content creators.
     Children are no longer watching scheduled programming on their living room TVs.  Kids don’t have an allegiance to a network and are watching content on tablets, phones and screens in the car.  Amazon sees an opportunity there.
     Amazon is customer obsessed and they can watch how people are watching their content.  They created one of the largest online focus groups to get feedback on their initial round of development and are always evolving their shows based on consumer feedback.  We got a sneak peak of some of the current development projects, Gortimer Gibbons, Hardboiled Eggheads, Tumbleleaf and Creative Galaxy to name a few.  A common thread between these projects are strong characters, kid relevance, and creativity.
     We started talking about Amazon’s educational philosophy with a clip of Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk [http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html] – a must see for anyone working with children.  65% of kids will grow up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet and she believes creativity and empathy is essential to teach.  Kids are fearless learners with an insatiable appetite for learning.  Amazon’s content reflects this idea as it acknowledges who kids are as thinkers and learners.
     Dr. Alice Wilder said she had waited her whole life for an opportunity like this and walked us through the curriculum she developed to ground this new network.  She emphasized that creativity is as important in education as the content itself.  She said this was the dawn of the conceptual age.  In addition to advising on the curriculum for the whole network, Dr. Alice is working on several of the new series in production to ensure the philosophy is put into practice.
     One of those series, Creative Galaxy, has been created by Angela Santomero.  She is one of the most intelligent, creative, radiant, thoughtful and inspiring children’s content creators… and I’m not just saying that because she is my boss.  Angela’s content philosophy has always started from the curriculum and ensured that the lessons she wants to teach are imbedded in the very core of the characters and stories she tells.  She has a proven track record and has involved her audience – via research – in the early stages of production.  She was a clear candidate to pitch content in Amazon’s inaugural development round.  In addition to a series in production, Angela is also working with Amazon Studios on another pilot, Wishenpoof.
     In addition to reaching out to experienced producers, Amazon has opened the doors to submissions and take pitches via their online submission program as well as in-person pitches.  We were assured that all pitches are reviewed and they are constantly optioning content.  Tara confirmed that a project was just piloted based on an online submission.  15-20 projects are considered during each wave of development and there is one person from the Amazon development team that sees the project through from beginning to end.
     Pilots are not developed against each other.  Amazon is taking risks and have set up a system where they believe they can get the best out of creators.  They are open to ideas in any genre, for any audience and are looking to do things differently. Amazon is fully financing projects and are open to first time writers.
     I sat through the whole event wide-eyed and excited about what this means for today’s creators.  I hope this left the rest of the folks in the room as inspired and ready to take action.  If you have an idea – PITCH IT.  Tara and her team want to hear from you.
     Melinda again.  Not only was this an incredible event but there was cash and prizes, too!  Well, just prizes really.  Congrats to Katie O’Sullivan, proud winner of a handy dandy Amazon Paperwhite.
People really win at CMA
People really win at CMA