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Fishing for new talent

UK indie Wildseed Studios, which targets kids, families and young adults, is relaunching its submissions portal in a bid to avoid ‘overfishing’ in the industry talent pool.

Jesse Cleverly

The biggest challenge for both animation and live-action is finding and supporting new talent to expand the industry’s existing offering, according to Wildseed Studios’ creative director Jesse Cleverly.

“The talent pool is getting fished really hard and we are seeing the same people making basically versions of the same show. Unless the industry finds a way to sponsor the next generation of voices, it runs the risk of overfishing the talent pool, not having enough people with important stories to tell and the whole sector becoming similar and slightly ‘productised.’ If you look around, you see the same 20 writers on an awful lot of things,” he says.

To help find and nurture the next wave of creative talent, Wildseed, which ex-BBC exec Cleverly founded with former Aardman exec Miles Bullough in 2013, is relaunching its submissions portal, through which emerging creators are in with a chance of winning a contract worth up to £10,000 to develop their own projects.

Wildseed initially launched a submissions portal when the company was formed eight years ago, which led to the creation of 40 pilot films and a host of commissions, including upcoming Netflix live-action original The Last Bus and Sky Kids’ animated comedy series Dodo.

Through the portal’s relaunch, Wildseed hopes to find projects from new talent with “a youthful perspective,” aimed at audiences aged anywhere between six and 30. It is particularly keen on character-led genre ideas with a sense of humour. In addition, anyone can apply as no experience or agent representation is necessary.

“None of the people we’ve had success with had agents before we started working with them and none of them had ever had a commission,” Cleverly says. “We’ve connected every bit of the incubator all the way from that first funny little video you get from somebody shot in their bedroom on their iPhone, through to delivering a premium Netflix original dropping into 220 million homes.

“Now we have proven the incubator, we can begin identifying the next series of creators and voices who will go on to become as successful as the first wave of creators we identified.

“Our model is about trying to de-risk this talent [for commissioners]. The other way to de-risk is by hiring the person who has done 4,000 shows before. But the problem is that the person who has done 4,000 shows before is slightly more ‘in the machine’ and is slightly less likely to give you the next unique hit.”

Key to the submissions programme is finding diverse talent and stories in order to maximise the industry’s full potential and ensure representation of all backgrounds, according to Cleverly.

Sky Kids’ animated comedy series Dodo

“One of our core focuses as we reopen the portal is to acknowledge that creating an opportunity is not the same as delivering an opportunity. You can create a level playing field, but unless the people who you are creating it for also live on a level playing field, the playing field will be uneven,” the exec says.

“Diversity will be a huge focus for us. We need to work really hard to deliver that opportunity – we have to because our survival depends on our ability to find the people that the rest of the industry can’t see.”

So what makes a winning project in Cleverly’s eyes?

“A fantastic central character that the audience wants to be or be with would be number one,” he says. “A real desire to entertain the audience and tell a story – not to examine a philosophical point of view or a moral point you want to make, but to entertain the audience with a really great story. A story you care about that engages you emotionally, where underneath the entertainment is the ability to make the audience care. Beyond that, we’d be open to anything.

“We have never gone to a commissioner briefing. If people say they know what they’re looking for, it means they have seen it before and when they see it again, they won’t feel the same way. Actually, what people want is the ability to be the one that picks up [something completely new and unseen like BBC drama] Fleabag.”

The TV landscape has never been more competitive than it is today and the need for diversity and inclusivity demands an even wider range of content. To help cater to this need, it is vital that new voices are given the opportunity to be heard if the industry is to evolve.

As Cleverly says: “If you back the right talent, you will win and you will start to see extraordinary things. Amazing things can happen when you back new talent – you just have to have some courage.”