It all starts with an idea. Makers themselves, Global Tinker’s CEO and Executive Producer, Sep Riahi, and Creative Producer, Olivia Levenson, have lit up the children’s media stage with their invention of the award-winning property The Paper Girls. The series went home as a winner of the 2017 MIPTV Digital Short Form Series Pitch, competing against the industry’s top series developers, and it was most recently awarded Best TV Series Animated Short at the 2017 Palm Springs International Animation Festival.
Global Tinker, a two year old venture-backed transmedia studio that inspires young minds through STEAM content, are preparing youth for the 21st Century by fostering creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. Leading Global Tinker’s efforts in that mission is The Paper Girls, produced in collaboration with FableVision Studios. The short-form pilot series follows the adventures of best friends and makers, Caily and Reese, and aims to empower young girls to imagine, create, and learn through the exploration of the arts, science, and engineering.
“The feedback from the first three pilot episodes has been truly amazing, from the initial ‘kid testing’ sessions we conducted with Dr. Natascha Crandall to the awards to strong interest from international distributors who are increasingly seeking mobile-friendly but meaningful content that truly engages children’s imagination,” shares Sep. “Our plan is to produce 15-25 more episodes with FableVision in 2018 en route to another 25 in 2019 and truly develop The Paper Girls into a ‘must watch – must make’ transmedia property with its own physical and digital product lines.
Read on to learn more about Sep and Olivia, The Paper Girls, the other projects they’re tinkering with—and how with some hard work and imagination, “if you can dream it, you can make it!”
You’ve spent much of your career in media creating empowering content for girls. How do your past production experiences influence what you do at Global Tinker, and why do you think it is important to create stories like these for young women?
Sep: Like many, I’ve always pulled for the underdogs and tried to produce projects for the forgotten children around the world be it through my own productions or my work at the Sesame Workshop. Unfortunately, given societal and technology pressures today, girls are often the underdogs of the modern world. According to a very recent joint NYU/ Illinois and Princeton study, by age six girls start thinking of themselves as less brilliant than boys even though girls show just as much – if not more – STEM aptitude than boys. Our focus on producing stories, characters, and products is our humble attempt to change the false narrative that girls are often subject to in the media. With The Paper Girls, in particular, we hope to inspire girls who are that very impressionable ages between 6 and 8 to not succumb to stereotypical messaging that consumes us and tinker with their own ideas, create projects, and unleash their own imaginations.
What inspired your foray into the children’s media world and how did you get your start?
Sep: I started my career at a large LA studio structuring film and media ventures, however, the combination of becoming an uncle, witnessing the positive impact of a kids’ feature film I produced, and reading my fair share of child development convinced me that producing children’s media is the most direct way I can leave my mark. Also, my experience serving and managing Sesame Workshop’s global digital distribution and home video groups truly opened my eyes to the real life impact and potential of combining pedagogy and engaging stories.
Marie Curie is a key influence on The Paper Girls—Caily even has a Marie Curie poster in her room! How did Marie Curie’s La Cooperative spark the “maker movement” present in The Paper Girls?
Sep: Marie Curie was a true visionary in many areas of her life, not just in her scientific research. She and her contemporaries did not accept the status quo when it came to the education of their own children. They took matters into their own hands by creating La Coopérative to provide a much more diverse learning environment, especially with regard to combining the global arts and the sciences. In many ways, they were creating their own “STEAM curriculum” before any formally existed. As is the case with many over-burdened and time-stretched families today, they played a very active role in their children’s education, despite professional pressures in their own lives. Global Tinker and the team at FableVision were inspired by their efforts and hope to spread their message in subsequent episodes of The Paper Girls.
The world of Confetti is where Caily and Reese explore creative ideas to solve their real-world problems. If you could jump into Confetti and have Kami and Dev help you with something, what would it be?
Olivia: Positive impact on the environment and concerns around global warming have always been important to us. How amazing would it be if the characters invented a mini filtering device to help with air pollution? Plus, we all know Kami’s big on keeping Confetti clean, so we think she’d be on board with this one. Leveraging the power of media and the “maker mindset” to encourage children to tackle the environmental issues is a big priority for us and we’re backing it up by producing shows that address these issues. Pilot episode # 2 of The Paper Girls, for example, promotes how trash can be used to create innovative products, and we hope to produce more episodes with a similar message.
The authentic paper-y look and feel of Confetti is a huge part of the world’s appeal. How did you know this was the right art style for the show?
Olivia: We’re very fortunate to have worked with such innovative and talented artists at FableVision in developing the world of Confetti. Texture and depth were major contributors in the paper-y look and feel, and it was important to distinguish the visual contrast between the flatter real world and the layered paper world. We also wanted the art to have a level of sophistication that’s unique to today’s television landscape. And finally, the “wow” factor: our biggest challenge was creating a world and art style that no one has ever seen before.
What was your experience like working with the FableVision team on The Paper Girls?
Sep: The team at FableVision has been absolutely wonderful on every level, from creative development to execution to production. Truth be told, given international government funding and support, there’s no shortage of “animation houses” that produce technically excellent work. However, there are very few production companies specializing in children’s educational media who truly understand and are passionate about every aspect of the industry and produce world-class quality work. For us, FableVision is at the very top of that list.
All good shows come primed with a catchy theme song, and we can’t get “If You Dream It, You Can Make It” out of our heads. Where did the inspiration come from and what went into creating it?
Olivia: To start—the song wouldn’t be what it is today without the incredible creativity from FableVision’s Vice President of Creative Tone Thyne, the FableVision team, and Junior Joe. As you can tell by the title, the messaging we wanted to get across was pretty simple: if you can dream it, you can make it! From there, the process was a groundwork of building on the show’s themes—including makerspaces, boundless creativity, and positive social and global impact.
Why is STEAM education important to you?
Olivia and Sep: STEAM’s real world applications contribute to engaging and thought-provoking content. We’re passionate about adding our version of the arts to STEAM as it is part and parcel of the making process, from planning projects to designing, tinkering, and presenting them!
The Maker Movement is making waves on social media. Who are some of your favorite makers you’ve met online? What are some of the exciting projects you’ve come across?
Sep: As mentioned, we’ve created Global Tinker as a media company that will fight to celebrate the lives of underdogs. What excites us most about the maker movement and where we see the biggest impact is its influence on children’s lives, especially the “99%” around the world who may not have access to expensive electronic maker kits. Today, YouTube is a massive repository for great children’s inventions that can be viewed and shared by all, inspiring a global audience, hence our insistence on launching our properties on YouTube and other global networks for maximum reach and impact.
Global Tinker has been tinkering with some fantastic projects. What’s next for Global Tinker and The Paper Girls?
Sep: We have seven projects in active development or production this year. More specifically—and in addition to The Paper Girls—we are very excited about a graphic novel series called the Style Engineers Worldwide, which we’re officially launching in December. It’s for tweens and focuses on creating “wearable tech for good.” We also have a STEM refugee education app concept which was a finalist at the MIT / UN competition last spring. Three of our other media projects range from a global food show to a picture book series that highlights the resilience of children who have experienced war.