Flummox and Friends: Making TV for Quirky Kids

BlogHer Original Post

Do any of your actors or collaborators identify with the social areas Flummox and Friends is meant to support?

Absolutely. There are collaborators, such as illustrator Matt Friedman, who is autistic and identifies as such. There are others who were part of the production who spoke with me about identifying with the autism community even though they don't have a diagnosis, and many who have family members and friends on the spectrum. We also included personal insights from adult autistics and neurodiversity advocates in our family and teacher guides and I think these reinforce our perspective of teaching social skills from a place of acceptance and building adaptive skills rather than "fixing."

But also, there were just a lot of conversations as we were developing and shooting the show with moments of illumination and self-reflection where the cast or even the crew would remark about just how difficult these "unspoken" rules are and how counter-intuitive many of them seem, and that realization, I hope, can lead to a deeper level of understanding of differences in general.

What parts of the production process surprised you? Do you have words of wisdom to share with budding kids' TV show auteurs?

To be honest, every milestone feels a little surprising given that this project started out as something that seemed a little crazy and quite unlikely! But it's become very clear that this is an amazing time for independent creators of all stripes. There are more and more models for making and sharing creative work without getting "permission" from traditional media gatekeepers. What's surprising is that these independent models aren't some "fringe" idea any more. Even people that I've spoken with in the entertainment industry are acknowledging that this is a legitimate, logical strategy for shows like ours. I would suggest anyone doing creative work read the essay Make Your Thing by Jesse Thorn, which is very inspiring on this topic.

What are some of your favorite reactions to the pilot episode? Are kids reacting to it the way you'd hoped?

I've gotten some "video reviews" with kids talking about the show that have been so much fun to watch, especially seeing the kids on the videos laughing as they remembered parts of the show that they liked and thought were funny. I've been really touched by several notes from teens and young adults who've liked the show and commented that they wish there would have been something like this for them when they were kids. I love hearing things like, "My kids have watched it every night!" Kids don't watch things just to be polite!

And through our online survey, we've been hearing from parents and professionals that the show really is creating springboard for conversations about being in the group (the theme of the episode) and what's hard about being in the group sometimes. It's gratifying to hear feedback that describes kids generalizing the concepts to the show in real life and using moments and lines from the show to express something about a situation in real life.

Have you received constructive criticism?

Of course. And that's the great thing about putting a pilot episode out to our core community. We've heard from people who care enough about this to let us know what they think we can do to make it better. We're looking at responses to our online survey to understand if it seems we need to adjust how we're targeting our age group, the pacing, etc. And I would much rather take "notes" (the industry euphemism for constructive feedback) from our audience than from television industry people at this point because our audience knows best what will work for them.

And I've seen a debate among autistic young adults on a discussion forum who were talking about whether the characters were accurate portrayals of autistics. I think it's pretty great that people are engaging in this discussion -- especially given that we're an independent kids' show pilot! It's going to be a challenging balance for us since our show isn't meant to be about autism per se, nor are we trying to create "clinically accurate" autistic characters. We're a comedy at heart, and so everything is a little heightened as it is with most characters in comedy. When a group of people is profoundly underrepresented in the media, any time there's a character who veers towards that representation, it's going to create a lot of dialogue because there is a lot riding on those scarce portrayals.

And I must add that I've gotten plenty of feedback about how we should have celebrated Nikola Tesla instead of Thomas Edison and lots of historical background about why. Duly noted!

Where would you like Flummox and Friends to go from here? What's it's ideal path for world domination?

A lot of people have asked me which networks we're pitching to. I tell them we're doing things a little differently -- treating Flummox and Friends more like a startup business and less like an idea to sell to someone else. Rather than going the traditional route of trying to get a network to develop the show, we've developed our idea and created our own pilot, with funding directly from our target market. And in this way, we're pitching it our audience first. Because we trust they'll be the best judge of whether this is a show that families would watch and love.

We hope to produce the first season of Flummox and Friends independently and distribute it through new and emerging online content distribution channels. That means we'll be looking for private investors to finance the production of a series of episodes. Early fans can help make that possible, because we can take these "early adopters" along with us -- virtually -- into our pitches to investors and production partners to show that we've already created something that has the beginnings of a loyal and passionate fan base and that can be financially sustainable.

How can folks help you spread the word?

Watch the show, tell us what you think, "Like" us on Facebook, and share Flummox and Friends with your communities.

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Shannon Des Roches Rosa is down with being quirky. She writes and edits a lot of quirk-oriented material at ThinkingAutismGuide.com, BlogHer.com, and  Squidalicious.com.

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