Wylie Writes @ TIFF Kids 2014: A Day With the Industry


By: Addison Wylie

I’ve enjoyed covering the TIFF Kids International Film Festival in the past, but this year was especially cool.

This marked the first year for any festival where I obtained an industry pass.  The TIFF Kids Industry pass entitled you to sit in on exclusive conversations, workshops, keynotes, and Q&A’s.  The team behind the festival made sure they delivered on guests who could provide truthful insight about the world of filmmaking and children’s entertainment.

The first event I observed was an unforgettable one-on-one with Sesame Street’s Caroll Spinney.  Spinney’s puppetry and voice talent allowed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to leave an impacting impression on many childhoods.


Spinney came across as a very kind, soft spoken gentleman who loved to tell stories.  One story in particular about Spinney almost falling multiple levels off a stage early in his career had us gasping, but it was bittersweet since this was one of the first moments the puppeteer met Jim Henson.

He explained the collaborative process behind creating Big Bird (Henson said he wanted to make “a big goofy guy”) which also included Spinney trying to figure out why Big Bird would have childlike sensibilities.

He also explained the process behind Oscar, and how there’s a difference between being grumpy and being mean.  One wrong misstep would have parents writing into the show.  Luckily, that rarely happened.

I was then treated to a visit from Oscar himself, and Spinney showed how he’s a master at bouncing conversations off of himself and Oscar.  It was flawless.

Spinney left producers and writers with a bit of advice for creating content for a young audience.  “Don’t speak down to them,” he made clear.  “The image of a grown adult trying to act like an eight-year-old face-to-face with a young audience is embarrassing.”


Up next was a keynote presented by Graham Annable, co-director of this Summer’s The Boxtrolls.  As a graduate of Sheridan college, Annable made a name for himself at LAIKA, the studio responsible for the exquisitely animated Coraline and Paranorman.  He worked as a storyboard artist on those two films, which led him on a path to co-direct the studio’s next smash.

Annable swiftly walked the audience through the steps behind animating a LAIKA film.  He mentioned that most productions make two versions of their film – the rough cut with storyboards and animatics and the finished product.  Because the stop motion process is so extensively detailed, LAIKA makes four versions of each scene.  Annable also highlighted how many facial expressions are utilized in the process.  According to him, the character of Coraline used up to 200,000 expressions.  Whereas the character of Eggs in The Boxtrolls has 1.4 million.

The crowd got a sneak peek at The Boxtrolls, and it looks like another winner from LAIKA.  The gibberish-speaking trolls look to give those overrated yellow minions a run for their money.

The last discussion I sat in on was called Going Big: The Busiess and Art of Long-Form Storytelling with featured speakers who have been in the industry for quite some time.


Prodcuer Michael Hirsh and writer Patricia Rozena had interesting things to say about their past as well as their upcoming adaptation of Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess.  Their collaboration with Ellen Page is still looking for funding, but they’re making steady progress.  The sneak peek of a still we were shown looks to lean on How To Train Your Dragon, but Rozena’s quirky sense of humour is sure to make this project stand on its own.

The other speakers were Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen. Brunker and Barlen wrote Escape From Planet Earth, and Brunker directed it.  After their insight, Peter Lepeniotis – director and co-writer of The Nut Job – spoke.

If you’ve read my review of The Nut Job (psst, I hated it), you’ll see that I have a theory that The Weinstein Company hates your children and invest little care into these movies for youngsters.  Both Escape From Planet Earth and The Nut Job had this company attached to the films.  Questions will be answered!


It turns out I’m kind of right about The Weinstein Company.  My words, not theirs.  The speakers made it clear that a number of compromises and worrying feelings came up in the productions.  However, not one director or writer had an ego and they were careful not to bite the hand that fed them.

Brunker, Barlen, and Lepeniotis had passion for their projects, but were also in the know that this was a job and that this type of stuff would happen.  They were all very thankful.  They’re proud of their work, but they recognize the hangups and have a good attitude about the past.  When mentioned that The Nut Job had been greenlit for a sequel, Lepeniotis gave a joking exhale suggesting, “I can’t believe it either.”

All three spoke about how a script will go through numerous drafts.  And, if writers already knew that, they were still underestimating how many times a script would be tweaked.  The filmmakers made it clear that future writers, producers, and directors will have to pick their battles and choose which ones should take priority over the others.  Sometimes, a kink can work itself out given time.

This was a great capper to a day full of useful information and advise.  Next time the TIFF Kids International Film Festival rolls around, I highly suggest you try looking into one of these industry passes.  Especially if you have plans to contribute to children’s entertainment.


Photos of Industry Events Provided By: TIFF

Visit the official TIFF Kids webpage here!

Visit the official TIFF webpage here!

Other TIFF Kids Coverage:

Read my review of Knight Rusty here!
Read my review of The Numberlys here!
Read my review of The House of Magic here!
Read my review of School of Babel here!

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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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