Charlie Richards and the Road to Life at the Pond
- Monday, October 15, 2007
What advice would you give to Christians trying to break into the business?
I wouldn’t discourage anyone, as long as their faith is strong. If I was young, I would go into the comedy side. You have a million dollar budget to do a play every week, and that’s fun. It’s fun to do it in front of a live audience, even with the canned laughter, which they call “sweetening it.” But if I had a family, I’d head into drama.
And there are Christians in Hollywood, you say?
Yes, definitely. It’s great to have Christians out there going at it. It seems like God is calling a lot of Christians out of the industry to do things on their own. It’s a great place to learn the industry, and I’ve had the privilege of mentors who have taught me how to make a story work. Taking all that I’ve learned through those years and strangely enough, apply to children’s animation. You can probably see those years in Life at the Pond.
Which is a great segue. So how did you go from Hollywood to creating The Pond series?
When House Rules got cancelled, I was working on another story, but my agent told me that Disney was interesting in me pitching some children’s shows. I did but they rejected me. I was so discouraged but then my agent called and said that they had loved me. So I came up with some more ideas—which they again rejected. Then Nickelodeon called. I pitched them and they rejected me.
Finally I asked one of the guys at Fox Family what they were looking for, and he said, “We’re looking for something like Action, on HBO.” That was a show that had bleeped-out swear words. I realized that they didn’t care about teaching morals—which I did. And they also didn’t care about what parents thought.
But aren’t parents the ones filmmakers have to please with kid’s movies?
No. When I brought up parents, they’d throw up their arms and mock me, saying, “We don’t care what parents think!” He just wanted something that got attention. They wanted hype, even if no one watched. They knew they could turn hype into product.
That had to be discouraging.
Well, I went from a guy thinking that I was going to spend the rest of my life writing television for grown-ups to having a burden for writing television for kids. But nobody was going to hand me the money to make a video. So I started with a radio show. We moved to Atlanta, where I could afford to do the first video. That came out in 2005, and it sold 100,000 units.
How did you learn how to do animation? You were a writer—that’s a whole different ballgame, right?
On House Rules, when there was down time, the other writers would take naps. To me, that was ludicrous. I’d go down and watch the director or see what the editor was doing. I started talking to people who did animation for a living, to find out how it worked. For the videos, I eventually hired a company to do the animation.
How did it do so well?
I had a lot of help. I was working with Salem Radio, who gave me a lot of support. It was also building on the radio show. And Family Christian Bookstores did a five-week sale on it that shot the numbers up.
Well, I loved the video. I thought it was funny and smart at the same time—with a great message. My five-year-old was enthralled and kept singing the music afterwards. She also learned the concept of idolatry.
We use big words and important concepts, but we try and explain them so they work for a wide variety of ages.
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