Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #044 with Adam Redfern.
Adam has worked as a showrunner, writer, and producer across children’s TV with credits for popular shows, such as Go Jetters, Justin’s House, The Adventures of Paddington, and a whole bunch of exciting projects in development. With a background as a Researcher, Adam made his ambitions known and is now a multi-award-winner and a top creative in his field. Whether you’re aspiring to get your break in kid’s TV or are looking to progress to showrunning, Adam has plenty of advice.
When did you start writing?
In my early twenties while working my first Kids TV job at Disney Channel UK.
I’d always had a love of language and I studied English at Uni, but that felt like 3 years of reading and critique more than any creative writing per se. But in a funny way, maybe taking all that reading in helped flip a switch for writing to start pouring out…
What was your first credit as a writer and how did you land it?
It was at Disney working as a Researcher for the live studio team when I heard across the department that an animated series “Spooky Sisters”, created by Richard Moore, was being made in-house. So I took a deep breath, walked over to Richard’s desk and introduced myself in a very junior, nervous – and probably slightly squeaky-voiced way to say I was interested in writing scripts – and generously Richard allowed me to pitch some ideas and ultimately write two episodes.
It was a huge learning curve – receiving first notes, peeking at storyboards and work in progress, then hearing my words and gags performed by the brilliant voice cast and turned into full animation – I was officially hooked!
Of course I was in a great place already working at Disney Channel, but I’d say always keep your ears and eyes open for what’s happening a few desks away, wherever you are. Be curious – walk over, offer a coffee, or stick your hand up in a meeting if there’s a call out for ideas. Don’t be afraid to pitch in.
You’ve since built up a very impressive CV. One of the shows you’ve worked heavily on (as a producer and a writer) is Go Jetters. My kids got their start in Geography from the show!
What advice do you have for writers who are looking to build an educational foundation into their work?
Well, firstly – always have a disco-dancing Unicorn deliver your educational moments in a preschool show! But if unicorns aren’t your thing – just make sure the educational element is always entertaining and doesn’t feel like a lesson.
Facts and learning is fantastic for kids – and they enjoy doing it and feeling smart. Package it in a pacy, funny adventure and keep educational beats as lean and as characterful as possible. My favourite line from 2 seasons and 104 episodes of Go Jetters is in Jo Clegg‘s brilliant “Fatberg” script. “Never flush a wet wipe.” – eco-educational, funny in the character delivery and totally relatable for a preschool audience – perfect!
You’ve also worked on Gigglebiz. I came on board for series five (with my writing partner, James Bishop). It was an honour to not only work with Justin but also for such a high-quality children’s sketch show.
With sketch now a rare treat on “grown-up” TV, why do you think the format continues to perform so well with younger audiences?
The current generation of kids are snacking on short-form stuff constantly via YouTube, Tik Tok, etc. Short-form is their thing and the quick-fire nature of sketch shows plays right into that.
As a writer I love how sketches demand the tightest, most efficient writing of clear character, set-up and big punchline, then you’re done – but it’s trickier than it seems to write a really strong sketch.
Gigglebiz was so much fun to write for – and I knew Justin quite well as I’d worked with him on presenter links for CBeebies. He created almost all of the Gigglebiz characters himself, but I managed to get a few of my own into the show.
My highlight was pitching Simon Pieman to Justin as we walked across Television Centre and he needed to be back on set within minutes. I simply said “How about a Custard-Pie delivery man on rollerskates?” I could tell by his smile and the glint in his eye that we were on…
On the subject of beloved characters, you’ve been writing for The Adventures of Paddington Bear. It’s an excellent adaptation of the characters.
At what stage did you join the team and how do you retain the spirit of the characters whilst introducing them to a modern audience?
I was lucky enough to join the team from the very start of season 1 with the brilliant Jon Foster and James Lamont as Head Writers. Jon and James had developed the show to a really great place and their brief to the writers was really to take the original spirit of the Michael Bond character that’s so beloved, combined with the fun and tone of the amazing recent movie adaptations, but tweaking slightly younger for a preschool audience.
I think the beauty of Paddington as a character is his innocence and curiosity, combined with a firm moral compass – and the fact that he’s a bear who might accidentally trash a room and get covered in marmalade trying to do the right thing!
For a modern audience, Paddington’s values – in particular his kindness – resonate for any generation, perhaps now more so than ever. The world of the show is also a very relatable modern-day London and diverse community in Windsor Gardens, yet things like a minimal presence of technology (no internet, tablets or computer games are referenced in the show), help give it that classic, timeless Paddington feel too.
What is the process you go through for developing an episode story?
Jon and James wrote a writer’s bible for the series, which basically details all the main characters, the world and key locations for the show – which gives you your sandbox for stories. From there we all get together in the writer’s room and bring springboard ideas (a paragraph or two, or sometimes even just a one-line idea that might lead somewhere) and then pitch stories around all day – with everyone feeding in to build those stories up.
After that, your own springboard might be commissioned, or Jon and James might send you one of theirs to work up into a script instead. My most collaborative moment on Paddington was writing the Christmas Special with Jon and James. The springboard I pitched in the writer’s room was really warmly received and got chosen from a few Christmas ideas as the one to take to script. From there, Jon, James and I brainstormed the story beats together over Zoom, then passed drafts and notes back and forth between us until the script was done.
The end result is a completely delightful 22 minutes that I’m extremely proud of – and it went on to win a Manchester Animation Festival (MAF) award for Excellence in Screenwriting.
Congratulations! That’s not the only award. Paddington has had a huge amount of success, including winning an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Team for a Preschool Animation! How does it feel to be part of a team that is receiving such positive recognition?
I feel really grateful and fortunate to be part of the Paddington team and awards and recognition are lovely to get. They certainly help motivate on those days full of deadlines, or writer’s block… or both! To be trusted with such a beloved character and write new adventures for him is a real privilege. His original label famously said “Please look after this bear, thank you” – and we’re certainly trying to do just that.
You’ve written for the upcoming Nickelodeon series, The Twisted Timeline of Sammy and Raj. What can you tell us about the project and working with the team (led by Jordan Gershowitz)?
Writing on Sammy and Raj was a blast. Jordan was really clear with his and Nickelodeon’s vision for the show and he was always available for a UK-US zoom call to brainstorm story beats which is so important.
Even when working remotely or across different time zones, the best head writers make you feel they’re available at any time to discuss your scripts – even though they’re juggling multiple episodes and writers at once.
Jordan’s also really sharp on structure – and has a clear target across 14 pages (typical 11 minute animation length) of which pages Acts 1, 2 and 3 should ideally land on. I’d written so many 11 minute scripts but never really thought of structure in that way – so it’s great when someone else’s approach informs your own writing for the better too.
Are there any stories or characters that you’re growing tired of seeing?
I think a trap some shows fall into is the lead character ending up fairly neutral and bland, flanked by two best friends who end up being more interesting, funny and flawed than the hero. Make sure all your characters are interesting and unique – especially the lead!
I’m also wary of action shows where characters have limitless capabilities and infinite props and functions to save the day. Beware of characters with no flaws and endless talents – it kills any jeopardy and stakes.
You have experience as a showrunner. Can you explain what this involves?
A showrunner is basically the lead creative point of contact for the show – and responsible for delivering a great show that the commissioners and execs – and you – are delighted with (no pressure!).
The absolute joy of showrunning is overseeing every episode from script through to dub and approval – and working with all the brilliant writers, voice cast, animators, editors, musicians and crew along the way. I absolutely love the process – and I’m constantly in awe of the talent and craft involved in making an animated series.
The challenges of showrunning are being the single funnel for all script, animatic, animation and score notes coming in from stakeholders – then filtering them down and passing them on to keep things moving and deliver the show on time and on budget.
My top tips?
1) If there’s a conflict brewing or a bump in production, then stop emailing and pick up the phone or call a meeting to go straight at the problem – 9 times out of 10 this shrinks the issue hugely as email threads can read so cold and unfriendly.
2) Keep calm and don’t shout. There’ll be testing times along the way, but seriously? You’re making a cartoon. Keep calm and watch it spread around your team.
3) Praise as well as criticise. When you’re drowning in notes to multiple deadlines it’s easy just to pass on what’s not working and the changes needed. But if there’s a great shot or sequence from an animator, or a delightful touch in the score that absolutely nails a moment – then say! Let the artists know what you love about their work as much as what needs to change.
What advice do you have for anybody who finds themselves in a writers’ room for the first time?
Remember you’ve earnt your seat at the table. It’s easy to feel Imposter syndrome, that everyone else in the room must surely be better than you and more experienced, but everyone’s earnt their place – you included.
If you’re there – enjoy it – and feel safe to pitch your ideas loud and proud as there’s really nothing to lose – it’s just story ideas. Also go easy on yourself – not everything will land. On the day I pitched the Paddington Christmas storyline, I then pitched half a dozen other ideas that didn’t work out in the end – it’s just the way it goes.
What projects are you currently working on (that you can tell us about)?
My own show “Rita Peters: 1.19 Meters” is currently being pitched in collaboration with One Animation in Singapore (Oddbods). Rita’s a very short girl with a big sense of justice – and a magical height chart that constantly malfunctions and spits out characters that are potentially useful, yet frequently prove useless. It’s a comedy adventure in the vibe of Bill & Ted – and if it gets the greenlight, that would be ‘most excellent’… 🙂
What are your current writing goals?
To write a screenplay for a family movie I have bubbling round my brain. I’m just waiting for that 8th day of the week to arrive…
What was your favourite show as a kid?
Road Runner. Meep-meep!
Are there any books or scripts that you would recommend to other writers? (can also be podcasts, youtube videos, blogs etc)
“Toy Story 3: Mistakes made, lessons learned” is a a brilliant 70 minute presentation by screenwriter Michael Arndt about the journey of writing the Toy Story 3 script for Pixar that I think is a must-watch for any writer.
…and Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder is a great book on movie screenplays with great advice on how to approach writing them.
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
I’d say sending a draft that I’ve worked hard to make the best it can be, then read back, read aloud, re-read and tightened up – only to get a pile of notes back telling you what people think is wrong with it and how it needs to change!
Also for any animation, it’s a long wait between finishing your script for a show and then seeing it finally on-air – usually minimum 12 months and sometimes longer. That’s partly a worst bit, but also in some ways a best bit when you finally see your finished episode after so long – like a kid waiting for Christmas!
What makes you laugh more than anything?
Stupid, silly in-jokes and nonsense shared with my kids. The funniest times are round the dinner table when someone just says or does something that makes everyone crack up. The best feeling in the world is seeing tears of laughter roll down my kids’ faces. Bonus points if fizzy drink pours from their noses too…
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