Working with children is a whole new ball game, and most people aren’t equipped to write for, teach or handle the tiny tots. But Motti Aviram, a leading figure in Israeli children’s television industry, knows just how to entice and write for them. With numerous children’s shows in his kitty, he says, “Initially, I thought only people who have experience with parenthood could write for children. But then I found out that they just have to be child-like.”
Having created shows like ‘Shalom Sesame’, he adds that the know-hows of writing for kids come at a later stage. What one needs is, “Talent. Knowledge comes later, first one needs to have the talent to understand kids.” The best way to find out if a person is ‘talented’ is by, “Take them to a kindergarten and see how they react to and with the kids. If they communicate in a way that makes the kids feel comfortable, then you know. The other things that are also important are one’s imaginative skills and being able to create magical worlds.”
Although these days, kids are developing at a rapid pace and take to technology like a fish to water, Motti says that in the initial years, they are all the same. “Of course, from a certain age, say about four, one can make out that they are a different generation. But in the first three years, they are all the same. They just might be able to use an iPad, that’s all,” he says, with a grin on his face.
Admitting that most people aren’t equipped to write for children, he has come out with a book called ‘The Complete Guide to Screenwriting for Children’s Film & Television’. Three years after its Hebrew release, he translated it into English to give it a wider audience. “For one to create a children’s show, they need a lot of education in animation, humour, writing, usage of puppets and more. Whether it’s the technical aspect or the psychological ones, there are all kinds of elements that people should consider. In Israel, a lot of companies that do children’s shows don’t have this knowledge. So, I created this book about catering to children.”
He emphasises on the importance of knowing one’s audience and understanding for psychology. “One should know what they like and what they don’t. How to write for kids and the humour that is written in for them is different from what one would for an adult.”
While Motti is known for his work in children’s television, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed in just that category. “I don’t just concentrate on kids. I do comedy shows for adults as well. Comedy, as we know it, is a great way to run away from life!” But what is he running away? “I was talking to someone before about this... whenever my wife and I go to a film that is sad, I walk out in between. A few months ago, I went to watch this Ukrainian film called ‘The Notebook’ and I couldn’t see more than 10 minutes of it.”
He incorporates this humour in all his children’s shows as, “They like to laugh a lot! Of course, it’s easier to write for kids because when you are doing comedy for grown-ups, you never know what to expect. I think ‘these are my best jokes and will make people laugh’, but when on stage, people don’t laugh. Instead, they laugh in places where I am sure they wouldn’t! I never know why. With kids, it’s much simpler. You can easily predict when and why they are going to laugh.”
Narrating a funny incident that shows how a child’s psychology works, Motti says, “When I create a pilot episode, I usually take it to a kindergarten for viewing. There, I see how they react and decide on what changes to make. But I have learnt never to ask them what they think. There was one situation where I did and it was a huge mistake. I showed the class a show about a naughty crow who stole and lied, and his friend, a friendly dog. The crow was the protagonist of the show. When I asked the kids whether they liked the show, they said ‘no’, because the crow was naughty.
I was considering cancelling the show when the teacher asked me if she could take over the questioning session.” What happened next is amusing because, “She asked them whether they wanted to see more shows about the crow or the dog, and they all said ‘the crow’! I understood that I was new to the kids and they wanted to come off as nice. If they had identified with the crow, that would make them not very nice!”