Questions from a First Timer

Help! I’m coming to the CMC for the first time! I’m a writer and a show creator, and coming from Cape Town, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with these kinds of summits.

So, help me please, Stephanie Wahlstrom of Kidzilla Media – a veteran of the affair and all-round brilliant brain! – with answers to these questions:

Let’s talk mechanics; what’s the set up? How do I get around? What does my day look like?

The set up is relatively straight forward and there are a whole bunch of volunteers to help you out. They are the ones wearing jazzy t-shirts and foam hands, ask them anything!

The first thing you need to do is get your delegate bag and pass. This is in the Workstation next to the Showroom cinema. Basically go past the cinema and just at the point when you’re like, oh, wait, have I missed it? Take five more steps and you’ll probably be there. If you have signed up for a workshop, grab your lunch bag at the HUBS which is where all of those sessions take place. If you are part of the International Exchange, head on over to the Millennium Gallery which is next to the Novotel Hotel and about a 5 min walk from the main conference site. Across the street at the Crucible Theatre is where the keynote will take place. Just before the keynote, head on over to the First Timer’s welcome session (that I am hosting) for free drinks and some words of wisdom imparted by Disney execs and other CMC veterans.

For the rest of the conference, most sessions take place in the cinema or the HUBS, which are conveniently across the street from each other. There are often queues to get into a session, don’t be deterred! There’s room, this is just in the name of organisation. Attend as many as you can, even ones you might not think are for you. Seriously, cram your schedule full! There are some really amazing speakers lined up. If there are two at the same time you want to attend, check if one is on again later. The research sessions are often repeated but if you really can’t make one you want to see, check back on the CMC site later and there should be a write up about it so you can catch up on what you missed. Later in the year, most sessions will be available as audio and some as video.

Lunch is provided in both the cinema and HUBS and it’s a good chance to meet new people. Just plop down at a table and say hi. I’ve been to most of the major markets and conferences and I think CMC is the friendliest!

What have been some of your favourite sessions in the past, and why?

The commissioner conversations are always popular for obvious reasons and it’s interesting to see what is coming up from broadcasters. However, I am always really interested in the research sessions. It provides important insight into our audience and it usually costs a fortune to get that kind of info.

Networking. Just… how?

NOT IN THE LOOS! Haha! Kidding (well… actually I’m not). I first came to CMC as a broadcaster and now attend as a writer and show creator so I know how hard this part can be from both sides of the fence. Commissioners can be intimidating but are people like anyone else, so treat them as such. They need your ideas or services and vice versa. Commissioners/buyers, I know it can be overwhelming to hear a million ideas thrown at you while you are also trying to learn from the sessions, but it is super hard to put yourself out there, so bear with us 🙂

Use CMC as an opportunity to meet people, get to know them and you’ll find that part of the conference will be one of the most valuable take aways. Never underestimate who you are talking to, even in line for coffee or waiting for a session to start. Many people know each other and are happy to introduce you and make connections. I know it’s a bit cheesy but the theme is ‘open’ this year and I think that’s a great way to describe The Children’s Media Conference in general.

I want to know is what is happening out there with real-life-actual-human-children. I know many of us have children, but a lot of the time us grown-ups stand around deciding what kids want, without engaging properly with these tiny, extraordinary minds that we’re shaping. We should be challenging them, opening their minds and broadening their paradigms in a way that’s kind and fun and spectacularly imaginative. How will the conference help me with my writing in that regard?

The best part of CMC is that experts and people passionate about subjects are the ones putting the sessions together. You will meet people whose life mission is to understand what kids think of VR or the impact of gendered toys or the actual facts about diversity on screen. It’s incredible and I always come away from CMC with an entire brain full of new ideas and how I can re-shape my current slate.

I’d love to figure out how to connect my ideas for stories with apps and digital platforms. How do I find the right people to talk to about that stuff?

Digital at CMC has grown a lot in the years I have been going. Have a look through the online speaker bios (with convenient photos) and you will see a plethora of people with those exact expertise. Have a quick chat with them at lunch. As I said, we are all hanging out in Sheffield away from our usual barrage of emails and responsibilities, so people are pretty open to meet.

Why do you return, year after year, to the CMC?

At first, it was because I worked for a broadcaster and I pretty much had to (kidding, but they paid for me, so it was an easy decision). Now that I have my own business I come because the info I gain is invaluable. It’s an opportunity to catch up with friends in the industry and see people I only bump into at markets. It’s also pretty lonely being a writer so it’s a great chance to speak with other people who are as passionate about children’s television as I am.

Is CMC the place to pitch ideas to producers? How does it work?

The best place to pitch ideas is at the International Exchange or the Commissioner Speed Meetings. It’s rare that anyone is going to pick up an idea right there and then, but have an elevator pitch ready just in case. The best advice I can give is use CMC as a place to start the relationship and then set up another time to pitch after the conference when there aren’t distractions or people needing to run off to another session.

I’m a writer and I have an idea for an animated show or illustrated book series. Do I need art for my pitch?

I’d like to say no because I’m a writer and I can’t draw to save my life! Above all, it’s the characters and idea that needs to shine through. However, CMC is also a good place to meet people to collaborate with. For example, I randomly met an amazing artist last year at lunch. Unfortunately we have both been too busy with actual paid work (yay!) to work on something together, but I know I will work with her someday.

I’m a writer and I have an idea for a live action show. Umm. Now what?

First and foremost: watch kids TV so you know what’s already out there. I was shocked how many times I was pitched a show – both live action and animation – that basically existed already and the writer had no idea. Put together a one pager and use that to gauge interest. You’ll need to think through more than that, but commissioners often don’t have time to read a 15 page bible and script in the first instance. Also, make sure it passes the Bechdel Test and the characters are well rounded. I can’t tell you how many times a decent premise was ruined by stereotypical characters and girls who spend the whole time talking about their crush and fashion.

Very best of luck at this year’s CMC!

Read Navigating the CMC for the First Time