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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

Jetpack Distribution

Programming Profile

Jetpack Distribution: Reinventing iconic kids’ IP for new audiences

22-09-2021

Dominic Gardiner, CEO of Jetpack Distribution, reveals the UK-based kids’ distributor’s new slate of content and discusses the challenges and opportunities of utilising IP to capitalise on engaged audiences.

 

For Dominic Gardiner, who has 20 years’ industry experience including stints as director of acquisitions at The Walt Disney Company and channel manager of Cartoon Network, established IP in the kids’ TV market has never been more popular.

 

“Most buyers we talk to, particularly the newer platforms, want successful brands. Publishing is a rich source of content for us,” he says.

 

Gardiner, now CEO of UK-based Jetpack Distribution, has seen how adapting IP has changed since the emergence of global streaming platforms. “Years ago, I met with a publisher who literally emptied a box of 40 bestselling books on to my desk. I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do with all that?’” he says.

 

Gardiner
Dominic Gardiner,
Jetpack Distribution

“Producers operated in a gap between broadcasters and publishers by identifying IP. Back then, broadcasters didn’t engage that closely. More recently, since Netflix entered the market, its strategy has been to go straight to the content source, with commissioners attending book fairs.

 

“Publishing has elevated itself in importance as a source of new ideas. IP is now a highly competitive space because platforms and broadcasters want TV adaptations of something that’s already much loved to minimise risk.”

 

Jetpack has been working with literary IP for a few years now, and the company has some fruits of the strategy to showcase via C21’s Digital Screenings platform. Gardiner’s first playlist title is 2D animated comedy The Sisters (104×11′), a hit across mainland Europe.

 

“What made the show a success is kids immediately gravitated to it, certainly in Germany, France and Spain, where it had been a successful book,” he says. “It’s a long-running comic book that originated in France and Belgium, where there is a heritage of these stylised hardback comic books. It’s really popular because it taps into sibling relationships and rivalry.”

 

The Sisters
The Sisters

Content based on IP like this can be fast-tracked to the screen, Gardiner notes. “With a comic book, the design is already there for animation. There’s the transition from print to screen where the illustrations need to be adapted, but there’s a proof of concept and you know the designs will be popular because the books have been popular, so it’s a strong place to start.”

 

Wolf (156×7′), a 2D animation aimed at a younger audience, takes the second playlist spot. “The Wolf is a traditional picture book, with a style popular everywhere in the world among younger kids, with the biggest UK equivalent being The Gruffalo. In France, one of the most popular is Le Loup, or The Wolf. It’s a series of books about a wolf trying something new. He’s trying to become more than just an everyday wolf; he wants to better himself,” says the exec.

 

Gardiner highlights some creative challenges when taking a story from page to screen: “Wolf has been an interesting adaptation because the books were bought primarily for kids at the younger end of preschool, so the illustrations in print have a very hand-drawn, beautiful style. But when you move them into animation, they must be simplified; they have to become sharper, with cleaner edges.

 

Wolf
Wolf

“Also, when reading picture books, the reader fills in gaps for themselves, as they tend not to go into too much detail. When it comes to writing a script, you often have to create relationships between characters that probably didn’t exist.”

 

Jetpack’s next playlist title is based on some hugely successful and iconic British IP. “You can’t talk about books and comics, certainly in the UK, without mentioning The Beano and one of its most famous characters, Dennis,” Gardiner says. “Dennis is quite different now from the Dennis I grew up with, and probably different from the Dennis my dad grew up with. He’s been adapted both visually and in the way he behaves.”

 

Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed (104×11′) follows 10-year-old Dennis, an ordinary kid with an extraordinary imagination and fearless attitude. In the show, Dennis, his dog Gnasher and friends Pieface, JJ and Rubi come up against adversaries who want to ruin their fun. “It’s one of the top shows that we’ve sold, in terms of the number of territories,” says Gardiner.

 

Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed
Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed

The Jetpack CEO believes the character’s continued popularity is down to reinvention: “At its heart, it’s still about an adventurous boy, his pet dog and group of friends. But the friends have been updated to a diverse mix of boys and girls. JJ is Afro-Caribbean and Ruby is in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t hinder what she can do, because all the kids have wheels – Dennis has as a scooter and some kids are on bikes and skateboards. Ruby is a strong central character, she’s really into gadgets so her chair is customised, which enables the story to move forward.”

 

Gardiner believes it’s important to make diverse characters front and centre. “You have to create characters that relate and are unique, which is why the call for diversity has been welcomed by audiences,” he says. “Everyone wants to see themselves represented, including kids with disabilities.”

 

Regarding the trend for page-to-screen adaptations, creating a visual version of something that already exists in the audience’s head is always risky, says Gardiner. “You have to take audiences with you, balancing the technical challenges of recreating something on the screen and the input of broadcasters that are very specific about who their audience is. People can be ferocious – if you’re going to take something that is much loved, you must tread a fine line.”

 

Katy
Katy

Next, Katy (1×90’/3×30′) follows a tomboy with an overactive imagination who has a secret den at the back of her neighbours’ garden, where she regales her friends and siblings with fantastic tales. As someone who likes nothing better than climbing trees, Katy’s life changes drastically when she falls from a makeshift swing and suffers spinal injuries.

 

“Katy is based on a book about a girl in a wheelchair and how she struggles in life but, at the same time, is a strong female hero,” says Gardiner. “It was written by renowned children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, and the BBC commissioned a movie based on the adaptation called Katy.

 

“It’s the most dramatic series we have in our catalogue, as there’s the event in the book where Katy injures herself, losing the ability to walk. But you see how she changes for the better. She becomes a stronger character due to the injury, where previously she was a little lost, and not necessarily the nicest kid.”

 

Claymotions
Claymotions

Jetpack’s next playlist title, NEW-GEN, is a 26×22’ animated sci-fi series, currently in pre-production. Produced by brothers JD and Chris Matonti, plus Julia Coppola of APNG Enterprises, it’s based on the superhero comic printed and distributed by Marvel Comics. The series features an array of multi-dimensional, multi-cultural characters. Brothers Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Nick Wolfhard (The InBetween) have been cast in starring roles, while Anya Chalotra (The Witcher) is the female lead.

 

“JD and Chris Matonti are hugely into science fiction. They started writing this as a graphic novel set in a near future where the world isn’t in good shape,” Gardiner says.

 

“It’s epic storytelling about everyday kids who have superpowers. It got picked up by Marvel, which spawned this big fanbase of comic book readers that included Star Wars star Mark Hamill, who’s been a big supporter, helping to get it off the ground. It’s a big-budget project. With the older kid/young adult audience, you’ve really got to push the quality as high as you can, visually and creatively.”

 

Spookiz
Spookiz

Moving from existing IP for the remaining playlist titles, Spookiz (1×83’/25×2’30”) is a 3D animation aimed at older kids. When night falls and the human kids from Freemont Elementary have gone home, wacky monsters creep out for their own slapstick adventures. The creatures include a vain vampire, a happy-go-lucky goblin and a mischievous ghost.

 

“It comes from Korean studio Keyring, which does really nice CGI animation. Interestingly, it’s a digital-first project with some exposure on YouTube. But we’re now getting a lot of linear broadcasters that are keen,” says Gardiner.

 

Educational 3D animation Claymotions (60×2’30”) is next on the list. Aimed at the youngest audience segment, it aims to widen children’s understanding of the world through games. “Claymotions is the first animation we’ve done in clay. As a kid growing up with classic series Morph, I’ve always loved claymation. It’s such a cool medium; it allows for great texture and movement,” says Gardiner. “We saw Claymotions and we just loved the execution. We thought it was so nice to see quality clay animation being produced. It’s made by fantastic Russian studio SMF.”

 

Critters TV
Critters TV

The final playlist title is the recently announced Critters TV (26×11’). The animated/live-action spoof animal docuseries is produced by Dublin-based prodco Turnip & Duck. It’s a mixture of live-action nature footage and animated characters, aimed at four- to eight-year-olds and their families. Described as an animal version of Channel 4’s entertainment series Gogglebox, the series features cartoon animals watching and commenting on wildlife programmes on TV, while teaching viewers facts about the natural world.

 

“It’s a kids’ version of Gogglebox, which I’m a huge fan of, but done in animation,” says Gardiner. “Kids will find this funny because they’ll totally relate and it’s got cute animals – and who doesn’t love animals doing funny things?”



More programming profiles

  • 29-03-2021

    Jetpack Distribution’s slate reflects industry trends ranging from smart comedy to fresh content mined from publishing brands. Here, the UK-based company’s CEO Dominic Gardiner talks through his C21 Digital Screenings playlist.

     

    In the seven years since it was founded, UK-based Jetpack Distribution has acquired a library of content designed to uplift and inspire kids and their families. The need to raise spirits, according to the boutique distributor’s CEO Dominic Gardiner, has never been more important after the world was upended by the coronavirus pandemic last year.

     

    It’s for this reason that Jetpack’s current slate leans heavily on comedy, although Gardiner says no genre is off limits for the company, with a diverse and broad set of shows that appeal to children and their parents being the main aim of the playlist.

     

    One trend Gardiner has noticed emerging is an appetite for “smart comedy” among children aged over six. “With younger ages, you can get away with the classic pie-in-the-face slapstick comedy. But older children expect intelligent comedy with smart and well-paced dialogue,” he explains.
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  • 22-01-2021

    Dominic Gardiner, CEO of Jetpack Distribution, is surfing increased demand for animation and talks us through the new properties on the company’s C21 Digital Screenings playlist.

     

    UK-based Jetpack Distribution was launched in 2014 by CEO Dominic Gardiner as a boutique children’s content distributor. With a library of over 1,400 half-hours, the company works with 33 producers to curate a catalogue of high-quality kids’ programmes with international potential.

     

    The majority of Jetpack’s international distribution catalogue comprises animation, because, according to Gardiner, these shows travel really well.

     

    “In terms of global distribution of children’s content, animation is brilliant for crossing borders, whereas live-action is usually distinctly local. We have great quality shows from both genres in our catalogue but it’s fair to say that animation is definitely having a moment right now.”

     

    In light of that, Jetpack’s playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings consists of 10 animated/puppet series and one live-action show.
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