An Idiot Abroad

Posted on: Sunday 07 July 2013 4:41pm by John Kent


An idiot abroad is a phrase that has resonance for  John Kent. But enough about family holidays.  This session was about working with international co-producers. And the panel thoughtfully provided their own list of takeaways, reproduced here:

Top Ten (well twenty) Takeaways


  1. Do make yourself visible online – update your credits on IMDb and LinkedIn
  2. Do Cyberstalk – Know your co-pro partner’s channel brands, haunt their websits and view their shows on YouTube
  3. Do get to know the top 5 that everyone in your partner’s country knows, but other conuntries won’t have heard of. Books, TV, movie… then ask why they are important
  4. Do go to writer’s meetings in a mood to share
  5. Do be a little more direct than you might be to a Brit.
  6. Do learn your partner’s golden rules of tone, style and standards, Nobody likes a reshoot.
  7. Do discuss your partners’ taboo topics (eg French – death, Canadians – toilet humour, Brits – religion. So no nun jokes)
  8. Do love your script editor. S/he does more than you think – including recommending writers
  9. Do build in time for overseas writers to pass on their scripts
  10. Do remember that in a co-pro, just like a marriage “My partner doesn’t understand me” is no defence.

  1. Don’t assume your target demographic matches your partner’s. “pre school’ is different for some broadcasters
  2. Don’t just communicate by email. Use Skype or pick up the phone. Isolation breeds insecurity.
  3. Don’t write puns, slang, word gags or onscreen text into scripts
  4. Don’t overestimate the power of Google Translate
  5. Don’t underestimate the difficulties of working in a second language. Just be grateful you don’t have to get by on yours!
  6. Don’t mumble or talk too fast
  7. Don’t overcomplicate emails. Why write one long sentence when three short ones will do?
  8. Don’t criticise. Cultures are a bit like families. There are some things a family member is allowed to say that an outsider isn’t
  9. Don’t take silence as a consensus. It’s always worth picking up the phone to ensure everyone is on the same page
  10. Don’t compare everything unfavourably to conditions at home. It’s different. Get over it

Download the Idiot Abroad takeaway list here:  An Idiot Abroad – Take Away v12diddy

For the night after the Hubs party, this was a nice straightforward session. Interesting, informative, useful while remaining an easy listen

The panel themselves bought an international flavour to this session – 2 French, a Brit, a Canadian (though possibly with a hint of Oz) and an Irishman.  They represented writers, commissioners and producers.

There was a consensus amongst the panel that while children are children and have similar needs the world over, they do respond differently depending on where they are.

Take pre-school, for example:  French children start school at around two and a half – and legally, shows should not target children under three. That means that TV for ‘pre schoolers’ in France tends to be much more for entertainment than learning. There was also a sense from John Chambers that the French assume children can handle more adult issues.

For the Canadians, child development is very important – CBC even has a child psychologist on their staff to ensure a programme is positioned correctly.  Celine also remarked that toilet humour in Canada is an absolute no-no!

Imitative behaviour was another one. John Chambers referred to the French series he worked on where the British wouldn’t allow a penguin to live in a fridge.

Tim Compton’s case study was House of Anubis – a show that combines comedy, mystery and soap. The format originated in Belgium and was produced between the UK and the US.  John reinforced the theme that humour is polarised by nationality: Belgians like broad humour with grotesque characters. The  UK likes stronger characters and farce. Whereas in the US, it is about the polish – and gags – on the page. He thinks that the combination of these needs has produced a show with lots of nuances.

Diane Morel and Celine referred to the challenges of working with Brits. Apparently in the main we’re rubbish at dealing with second languages (I think we knew that?!) and we’re also rubbish at saying what we really mean… when we say a ‘couple of small comments’ we mean ‘we need a full rewrite.’ That kind of thing!

The panel seemed to agree that while international co-pro has its challenges, it was rewarding – provided you work hard to ensure you have a partner you really get on with, and that you work hard on ensuring communication is open and clear.

An Idiot Abroad

Carla de Jong – CBC
Tim Compton – Lime Pictures
Diane Morel – Freelance Story Editor
John Chambers – Freelance scriptwriter
Celine Chesnay – TV France

Will Brenton – Wish Films

Rachel Murrell

Exec producer
Marion Edwards

Event Reports

John Kent, Digital Director – Kids Industries

About the author

John Kent

Kids Industries, Digital Director

John is a content strategist and producer with more than 20 years experience, and now works as Digital Director at Kids Industries – developing strategy and producing sites and apps. Recent work includes a new strategy and relaunch for Al Jazeera Children's Channel and new branding and relaunch for licensing… Read more