Children’s television production’s great success, Sinking Ship Entertainment

How to win in children’s television: JJ Johnson tells all

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Day: May 11
Time: 2:35PM - 3:50PM

Top writing, producing and directing is the inspiration behind ground-breaking and breakthrough projects. What does it take to surprise audiences? How are creative risk-takers working to push the envelope while also satisfying their network/channel partners? This session features a Canadian Emmy Award winning writer and director and the founder of a world-renowned and award-winning institute for interactive storytelling. They talk about their craft in children’s television production and audience-driven multiplatform entertainment.

Video summary

A great success in Canadian children’s television, Sinking Ship Entertainment definitely belies its name. Creator of authentic entertainment – like the popular “Dino Dan” and “Annedroids” series – and Emmy-winner, the production company has achieved what every start-up dreams of in children’s TV production. From nothing, JJ Johnson took the leap of faith with two other people and the idea for “This is Daniel Cook.” In this video, JJ takes us step by step through the story of how they developed the company to production budgets of $5 million — on their own terms, without lowering their standards, or ignoring their principles, or losing control over their properties. He explains how they self-financed all their pilots, and how they pitched the pilots to the networks at home and internationally, presenting potential partners like Netflix with really compelling story-telling that was totally new to kids’ television.

Experts in this video

Partner, Executive Producer, Director, Writer

Chief Digital Officer of the CFC and Founder of CFC Media Lab

Video transcript excerpts

“Our inexperience was our greatest asset.”

“We were going to capture all of that, [with] six executives from National Geographic standing [by] nervously. I called the moment, those kids turned, and the look on their faces is one of the best. It’s so amazing. They’re like, ‘Ah.’ Immediately after that, they’re like, ‘Lizard.’ They run out of the shot, following this lizard. I’m there being like, ‘Look at the natural children. This is amazing. I’m glad this is all part of the plan.’ ”

“Be different enough. Be compelling and original. They will find you.”

“When we hear networks ask or tell us what they’re looking for, we pitch the exact opposite because they will get bored of seeing what they think they were looking for, and then be surprised by, ‘Oh, maybe we should try this crazy thing. Look how cool we are.’ “

“We’re lucky at Sinking Ship, because we’re nothing if not petulant and angry. We’re like, ‘Well, we’ll find another way to make it.’ We took this pilot and we showed it around the world.”

“Everything is possible. This is TV. It can all be done. There are so many partners. There is so much new money out there. When you look at Netflix, and Amazon, and Hulu, and all these people, there is no excuse to not present them [with] really compelling things that they haven’t seen before. That’s the chief piece of it.”

“We don’t do any show that we’re not terrified to make. If we’re not terrified…we haven’t pushed it far enough. We haven’t tried new technology that we’ve never done before, haven’t tried a stunt sequence, or gone further afield. Every single season we try to challenge both the last season of the show that we did, and every single subsequent show, so that it’s the best thing. I believe you should only be as good as the last thing you made, not something that was notable 12 years ago.”

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