Adapt This – 2 April 23, 2013

I’m obsessed with how decisions are made. As a writer, I have to be. Stories hinge on people making choices. Usually bad ones, if your aim is drama. Excruciating ones, if it’s comedy.

Of course, your protagonist can also fail to make decisions and drift where she never intended—books being much more receptive to this particular schema than film, where the audience is generally more impatient for choices to be made and things to happen.

Exceptions? I saw the recent Alexander Payne film The Descendants as being about a man (the George Clooney character) slowly and haphazardly making a decision about what to do with his family’s unspoiled Hawaiian land: the many byroads and traumas he travelled to reach the conclusion he did. And enjoyed the film because of it.

So it was fascinating to hear Steven DeNure of DHX Media speak at the TIFF Studio Adapt This conference about some decisions he made on the road tStephen DeNure copyo becoming one of the Moguls at the conference. A title, by the way, that clearly embarrassed him.

In sub-text, what I thought made him successful—and his story more the subject of a lecture than high drama—was the analytic deliberation with which he approached his decisions. He said recent acquisitions by DHX of other kids’ media programming companies came with an eye to On Demand media and Netflix. DHX has decided to build up a  library of back titles for re-sale and release on demand, he told us, a financial cushion propped underneath the risky process of producing new programs.

A side note: Steven spoke about comedy shows being popular in TV, but comedy being given to the story arc that sells well on Netflix, where people—including kid-people—can binge on season-long stories like The House of Cards. So in this case there’s a disconnect between what’s popular on TV  and what does well On Demand, a problem that he seems to be having a good think about.

Then there’s the reason he got into kids’ programming in the first place after a 10-year career at Alliance Communications. In 1997, Steven  founded DeCode Entertainment, going into children’s television, he said, not just because he liked it. He said he also analyzed the media landscape and saw several homegrown Canadian advantages in the kids’ arena.

1) Canadian animators had been developing cutting edge software. 2) The NFB had long been investing in content, creating an international name for Canada in the field. 3) Kids’ programming travels well, especially animation, which can be dubbed. 4) In many film and TV areas, programmers change every two years, especially in Los Angeles. But kids’ programmers stay on longer. “The business is populated with people who are in it for the long term,” he said, meaning he could develop long-term relationships with them.

Cool deliberation like this has inherent drama. Procedural, let’s say. Not high drama, like the dreadful bombings at the Boston Marathon last week, or the alleged plan to blow up a Via Rail train. In both cases, the public is hanging on the reasons why these violent plans got underway, speculating, waiting for the thinking behind the decisions to unfold. They want the story.

Steven DeNure told us a story of modern success: making profitable decisions. Compare and contrast. A small case study.