The use of stock animation to reduce costs, and money from merchandising to finance production, are important considerations for some TV series. David Jefferson discusses these points with film producer Terry Ward.
“American producers can make a series popular by spending huge amounts of money on promotion. That’s good for them but it doesn’t do small producers like us any good,” says Terry Ward of 101 Film Productions Ltd. “While we are trying to get toy manufacturers to pick-up The Pondles we are up against multi-million dollar TV campaigns for American products.”
The Pondles are a group of characters who live in the woods and countryside around Puddle Town. If you never come across a Pondle when you are on a country walk it is because, like many similar characters who live on a common, behind a wall or near a sundial in an overgrown garden, they keep out of sight of humans. Or, at least, they do until someone offers them the chance to appear in a childrens’ TV series. The Pondles have been signed up by Ward and will be appearing on our TV screens in the Autumn.
Central Television will be airing the 13 programme series nationwide at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesdays and repeating them at 12.00 noon on Wednesdays. They are aimed at pre-school children, which is familiar territory for Ward because his company produced The Mr Men series some years ago and he has written books for young children. He also enjoys visiting schools with his animation light box and giving the young children an introduction to the magic of animation. “Usually they crowd around me as I sit at my lightbox and demonstrate how the drawings are made. They find it all fascinating and on occasions I have gone in for what was supposed to be a one-hour lesson and ended up staying the whole morning,” says Ward. “They are a very forthright audience and I usually get asked if I know Walt Disney, or do I animate Bugs Bunny?”
Recent work included the Bananaman TV series, plus TV commercials. After 40 episodes he decided he would like a change and make a series to which he owned the copyright. A move to the countryside of Tunbridge Wells inspired him to think of the little folk who live beyond the hedge at the bottom of the garden. Because he has two growing children he knew first hand they could not resist jumping in puddles whenever they got the chance, so PuddleTown seemed a very good place to base the series. Although the characters are called Pondles they do not go near ponds because Ward does not want to risk young children being influenced by anything that might encourage them to play near deep water. To the tiny characters in the series a puddle is as good as a pond.
Having thought of the environment and a name for his characters Ward then developed a few story lines and gave them to Bernie Kay to develop further. Kay was the writer for the Bananaman series but this series differed in requirement, the 11½ minute episodes calling for more structured plot development than the 5 minute Banana-man.
When they had a few stories in hand they met to decide on the appearance of the PondIes. It was realised from experience that no money would be made from the actual televising of the programmes. The money would come from merchandising. They did not allow this to influence the design unduly but they did make plasticine models of the characters to see how they might convert into toys. They were concerned that the characters should animate well, without being too fussy in detail, and be pleasant to look at.
Ward maintains, the stories do not attempt to educate, as do many pre- school programmes. They are just there to entertain the children. Parents will be pleased to let their toddlers watch these programmes because they do not preach the violence found in some American series. The characters have a curiosity about the natural world around them and take delight in such things as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, which we are told, “happens when spring arrives and the grass is three Pondle-meters high.”