Helsingborg, Sweden: Dog gives a Boost in Sweden as we map out three projects. April '14.

Why does having a dog around add to the atmosphere of a creative environment? Years ago I found myself working at the animation house, Protozoa in San Francisco and recognizing the west coast easy attitude towards pets at work. It was more than simply convenience, it was a recognition that having a (safe) pouch in the house settles people as they work. Almost twenty years on and I find myself in west coast Sweden, working with BoostHbg, enjoying the same benefits as we plough our way through three projects, two of which are selected for the SWIM program. Runners, the road to New York and Passionaire.


9 days with 3 TV stations gives a glimpse of the huge opportunities for domestic format development in China. March ’14.

Handling Ideas was asked by Beijing based Turn East Media to go out and share its entertainment format development tools to Hunan TV (ranked no.1 in China) in Changsha, Zhejiang TV (3) in Hangzhou and Anhui TV (4) in Hefei. Whilst it was there, it picked up on some of the opportunities that might attract western interest.


The 90’s saw Chinese shows centering around national celebrities, with everything focusing on the performance. When audiences wanted more, they shifted to the person on the street with exceptional abilities. However, both talent types failed to give up anything more than their craft, perhaps a cultural anomaly reminding us of the tentativeness towards outward forms of self-expression and comment. As audiences become more sophisticated, the search was on to provide the right balance between glitz and substance. Something that wouldn’t alienate those folks coming back from working long hard days and yet would give more than simple ‘TV candy’.

To copy or not to copy?

China was used to ripping-off other country's formats, but then they saw the value in acquiring formats and the accompanying know-how (bibles, fly-in producers etc.). Now they want to develop their own formats for both domestic markets and to license abroad. This creates fewer opportunities for the big foreign indies who want to license into China but opens up huge potential for individual foreign consultants supporting format development and smaller indies who want to pursue co-ventures with rights splits. China may struggle to develop from the blank page, but they can beat anyone when it comes to getting something out the door. And they have funds and massive audiences.

Who pulls the strings?

Format development has to consider the needs of the government’s cultural agency. Most ideas, themes, topics seem to trickle down from up high. Policy sometimes trails behind, catching up sometimes to apply the brakes when there’s a potential conflict of interest, for instance the only audience that can vote on today’s talent shows is now strictly limited to the studio, making shows like X-Factor somewhat less ‘armchair’ friendly.

At the end of the day.

Although under huge pressure to innovate, Chinese TV stations have preferred to swim in the bloodied competitive waters of a red ocean than to have created a blue ocean strategy. As China is so big, there were large enough audiences to make derivative shows work. It’s questionable as to what Chinese people really want from their television and whether they really want to explore more complex emotional journeys when they come home from a twelve hour day or a six day week. A show hasn’t had to be hugely thought provoking in order to have been successful. Any talk of exploring a contestant’s conflict through how they compete seems sometimes buried if not alien. Western formats have been hugely successful, but potentially due to their ability to create solid frames from which to showcase talent rather than anything that might explore contestant motive and conflict; good-looking celebrity hosts and guests with a level of talent seem to be the foundation stone of most formats as well as the explanation for ratings. But if probed, one gets the feeling that production teams see the looming bottom of the talent barrel. China might be huge, but they claim it’s getting harder to find talented newcomers. Perhaps their ability to saturate the market with copycat formats in an incredibly short space of time has resulted in depleted stocks of talent and that’s why there’s an urgency to innovate.

Food for thought.

The recent popularity of western storylines such as the political drama series House of Cards, demonstrates a clear appetite for something more than simple titillation so perhaps the time is ripe for entertainment formats that aim for the head as well as the belly and the heart. What was fundamentally clear from the heads of departments and execs I met is that there’s a strong demand for development that’s fresh, entertaining, engaging and definitely ‘Made in China’.


Changsha, Hangzhou & Hefei, China: Handling Ideas takes mapping, visualisation and prototyping east. March '14.

I've been invited out by Beijing based Turn East Media Ltd to work with three TV stations to provide tools that will help reality and game-show format development.

I’m told that Hunan TV in Changsha is ranked number one, Zhejiang TV in Hangzhou is ranked third and Anhui TV in Hefei, fourth.

With two day workshops planned at each station, it plans to be an exciting, revealing and busy nine days away from base (I get a day off for sightseeing). 


Helsingborg, Sweden: 3 fiction and 2 docs - mapping projects with a Boost. March '14.


I think this it the third time I've been invited across the water to Helsinborg, to work with the up and coming talent that's being supported by BoostHbg. A mix of documentary and fiction, the day featured a number of overlapping topics including addiction, control, forbidden love, abusive power and rejected logic.


It was nice to flick-flack between fiction and documentary, to map out the character motives and questions that would be used to explore the themes on the table.

Munsbach, Luxembourg: Scams, lost cities, arranged marriages, mutes and so much more in such a small country. March '14.

Was lucky enough to be invited onto EAVE's 2014 European Producer's Workshop to work on eight projects in two days. Each project came with a writer and producer combo, that were put through the Handling Ideas method to reveal the inner logic of their stories. Very different projects, but similar challenges around the ways in which characters' actions express motives in a consistent way. Heavy stuff perhaps but clearly a lot of fun


London, UK: Working in London's 3 Mills's Studios with SOS - Save Our Scrips. Feb '14.

Worked with six writers to map out their film projects along with their producers attending module 2 of the SOS workshop. In their words, "SOS is a development training program. It was born as an opportunity for writers and producers to meet and collaborate in a uniquely creative environment. As well as developing specific scripts, and building development skills the scheme aims to connect emerging writers and producers from across the UK with one another and with established professionals of the European Film Industry. Though we focus on working with British talent, we encourage their connection to a wider European industry through our international speakers and by traveling out of the country for one of the three workshops." 


“The 9 things I’ve discovered in the 18 months since setting up Handling Ideas” 20.2.14


1. Common knowledge.
Companies put a lot of value on when their teams share the same understanding of ideas, concepts and projects, and count the cost when they don’t.


2. Bigger picture.
When explaining something orally, you limit other people's ability to scrutinize to only around the part that’s being expressed. If you map everything up to that point, you significantly open up the work and enable others to refer back and forth.


3. Consistency of thought.
If you have to explain the answer to a question through the choice of an object, you're forced to express your rationale. This may reveal a different reasoning to others within the group, even when they appear to share the same answer. Fixing and justifying an answer to an object reduces the chances of anyone claiming that they didn’t say or mean something earlier.


4. Handling our ideas.
It’s easier to explore, interrogate, challenge, remove from or add to something that’s in front of you, than it is to somebody else’s comments. Pointing at an object on the table doesn’t threaten in the same way it would if we stuck our finger at a team member. By seeing, choosing, touching and moving objects, our responses become more physical and our ideas, concepts and projects more tangible.


5. The bits in-between.
When placing two or more objects on a table, their positioning raises a whole range of questions regarding their relationship to one another. It exposes issues around importance, dependency, hierarchy, motive, need and many more. Such questions don’t fall out so easily when working orally or in text.


6. Removing resistance.
Getting the models out of our heads and onto the tables opens us all up to external input. Resistance to others people's ideas doesn’t always come from a stubborn sense of ownership, rather a reluctance to remodel something that’s previously taken an age to construct inside our own brains. Reshaping the model once it's out of us, becomes less threatening as we can cope with any knock-on effects.


7. Non-hierarchical collaboration.
A model on a table allows the collaboration of asymmetric input - people with small amounts of input can collaborate with those with lots to say. Without a physical map, the one with most knowledge will expect others to listen and digest rather than add their small bit. However, a shared map allows others to marry up their limited knowledge to the bigger picture.


8. Looking forward.
The best conversations can be when we don’t look at one another, but instead straight ahead, for instance on a car journey or on a long walk. This detachment allows us to freewheel, perhaps from us not having to expend so much energy to decipher the body language of others in response to our comments. When you work with objects on a table, your brain is able to think more freely and therefore more creatively.


9. Shared reference.
You can never guarantee that after explaining a complex concept, the model that a team member creates in their head, will be the same as the one in yours. However through the process of mapping, the output becomes a physical capture and a common reference point which can be photographed, videoed and annotated for reference throughout the work, even months later.

London, UK: Making the leap from the 30-second spot to multi-platform branded content. Feb '14

An impressive venue matched by an impressive line-up for Handling Ideas as it chewed its way through three expert practitioners within their field to help reveal the creative process within early stage developement across film, environment and experience design and entertainment game show.

Mary Burke, Senior Producer Warp Films.

Julian Baker, Executive Creative Director, Imagination.

Colman Hutchinson, Creative Director of TV format development, Boxatricks

Look to the IPA's website for an excellent write-up of the event setting out the processes and thoughts on going forward.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


Biarritz, France: Getting to the heart of a crossmedia project. Jan '14.

Back in Biarritz after having been invited back to run another Handling Ideas session in front of a live audience. The objective, to demonstrate how even the most complex multiplatform, crossmedia productions benefit from mapping out the fundamental elements that make up their concept: the themes, the character motives, the relationships between characters (status, hierachy etc). That said, if there was enough time, we could have progressed onto how the audience would connect with these elements and thereby test the consistency within the interaction design.

A short and quick capture of the session.

We did a similar thing last year, captured here

Was also asked to give some pitching support to those pitching their cross media, international projects during the preparation phase.


London, UK: Mapping out a 250 year old story for the Royal Academy of Arts. Jan '14

A days session, working with the Patron and Capital Campaign teams to map out the aims of the Royal Academy.


Cambridge, UK: Mapping crisis situations for Entertainment Master Class. Jan '14.

Rather than tackling a fictional scenario, with its protagonists and constructed conflicts etc., the Entertainment Master Class (EMC) asked Handling Ideas in to work with its delegate to map out some real world conflicts that had challenged their various productions. From a stressful situation with a Colombian reality show contestant to a budgeting control issue in the Ukraine, we were able to reveal the weak links within their systems by visualising motives, lines of reporting, areas of responsibility, hierarchies.


Copenhagen, Denmark: First session of the year - Danish Film Institute "Filmværksted" Participants. Jan '14

Invited to work through six projects that have been accepted by the Danish Film Institute's Film Workshop "Filmværksted". A mixture of fiction and documentary, where all participants are provided the resources to make their own films but musty resource everything else, themselves.


Stockholm, Sweden: Handling Ideas last session of the year for Stockholm Academy for Dramatic Arts. Dec '13.

Two days of pitch training. First saw students preparing for a pitch to the Swedish public broadcaster. SVT for a set of TV series aimed at women between 20 - 44 for a mid week 8pm slot. The second, 'Documentary for New Platforms' saw students generating formats and concepts for a broad range of mediated experiences, including discovering stories on the metro to finding ways to see and hear asylum seeker's stories. 



Heading back to Fyn to work with the various project owners and Kulturregion Fyn to help create a strategy for the next four year film strategy on the island.


Berlin, Germany. Working with Sources 2. Dec '13.

Working with the Sources 2 in Berlin.


Tel Aviv, Israel: Handling Ideas mapping for Entertainment Master Class as it develops new formats from new tech. Dec '13.

In their words "At the heart of the “Game Shows & Games” Master Class is the opportunity to learn from the masters of this genre how to take ideas from scratch to screen and beyond, focusing on both: how to make the show & how to make the money. The curriculum is designed to give the participants a greater understanding of the art and the business of game shows and games, directing them through the process of creating, developing, pitching, packaging, formatting, producing and distributing their entertainment properties. Essentially, it is about the “how to”. The programme is built around the experience of leading practitioners, giving an inside look on how they research trends, pitch ideas, create formats, run shows, and negotiate deals. Taking place in Tel Aviv, one of the hot beds of innovation in technology across all screens, the programme blends visionary lectures and practical group work with in-depth dialogues between television executives, format creators and entertainment entrepreneurs."


Oslo, Norway: Handling Ideas two workshop for Arts Council Norway. Nov '13.

Off to Oslo to work with Arts Council Norway, to drive a two day workshop which provides a method to get project holders from idea to concept. The teams consist of museum and archive professionals doing innovative project work with target groups ranging from prisoners to immigrant women.

"Ideas often come to us when least expected, whilst washing up, walking the dog and from under the shower. But turning them into concepts requires something more conscious and deliberate than a seemingly random impulse.  How do we deal with ideas and what are our next steps? How do we give them value and meaning? How do we make sense of them to others? How do we take them out of the shower and into something that might actually one day 'fly'."


Copenhagen, Denmark: Pitch training for Film Workshop applicants. Nov '13. 

Worked with producers/writers/directors of three projects applying for funds from the Danish Institute's Film Workshop.


Stockholm, Sweden: Handling Ideas heads to Stockholm Film Festival to give talk & workshop. Nov '13.

Handling Ideas will be presenting and running a workshop at the Stockholm Film Festival.

Under the heading: "PROCESS" Handling ideas is delivering the following presentation: 

Step into the changing media landscape! Explore new tools to help your development, production and distribution through engaging with audiences on today’s myriad of platforms.
Under the heading "CONCEPT Handling Ideas is delivering the following workshop: 

Swedish Film Institute Conference Room 
In this afternoon session, Paul Tyler will show how we can focus in on the themes and mechanics that are central to our concepts. Through a simple toolkit for mapping, visualising and prototyping he’ll show how we can unravel complexity, to reveal the inner workings, thereby enabling stronger collaboration and creating a perspective to enable us to move forward more effectively than before 




Aarhus, Denmark: HI delivering a framework for new international education focusing on Multiplatform Storytelling and Production. Nov '13.

Working with thirty talented students at VIA University College as they work out what it is to be an entrepreneur. The Multiplatform Storytelling and Production course is a new international education that focuses on the interaction between different forms of cinematic stories across digital platforms.

My plan is to take the students on a journey from idea to concept, a journey that will take them backwards before going forwards; only when you identify the needs behind an idea can you take the steps required to get to a meaningful and relevant solution. Broken down into ten steps, the students will progress from a initial questioning phase, to generating a strategy that will parameterize their solutions. This 'design thinking' methodology places greater emphasis on the process of analysis, revealing how creative it is to ask questions. The steps are rendered useless unless focus is directed to ways to carry forward the insight gained at each stage, thereby creating a red thread running from need to benefit.