We talk to Lisa Hryniewicz, president of DLF's agent Koko Media, about TV plans, plus the extension of the licensing programme.

Is Deer Little Forest the next star in pre-school animation?

Firstly, can you talk through what’s happened with the brand since we last spoke in April 2014? How did the brand perform overall in 2014?

Where to begin! Certainly the most exciting news has been partnering with King Rollo Films for a pre-school TV show. Having an entertainment platform will undoubtedly be a game-changer for the licensing plans going forward. Nonetheless, Deer Little Forest had already attracted a very broad base of interest, deals and fans before the TV show development, a very positive result for its first year. In addition to the TV development deal, we appointed licensing agents in both the US and Germany, entered a number of UK and international licensing deals, partnered with the Woodland Trust on a charity project, and saw the first stationery products and t-shirts selling on shelves and on-line. Additionally, DLF creator Jo Rose finished her first book titled The Animal Moon Parade, and turned her attentions to creating more book stories, a style guide and TV Bible – while also dreaming up a few new characters and ideas.

How many licensees are now signed up and in which categories?

The first category to be widely exploited has been stationery and greeting cards. In the UK Paperchase featured 16 designs in its shops across the UK, while upscale boutique bookshop Rizzoli has started selling them at Somerset House. Further afield, innovative wooden postcard company Timbergram has been selling DLF designs internationally, Karto launched the cards last year in Finland and Art & Design will distribute them this year in Russia. T-Shirt Booth just started selling personalised t-shirts and Kennedy Publishing will feature activity pages in their preschool magazines Get Busy and Busy Time starting this March. We are in discussions with a number of other companies in the UK and abroad, for both licensing and agency deals, which will be announced over the coming weeks.

Which categories are you now targeting?

Stationery, gifts, apparel, plush, puzzles, games, and soft furnishing will be the first round of categories on our list. Following these, we’ll target toys, back to school and all other areas. Also, with the hand-crafted designs of the characters, and the musical and nature elements, the brand is very well suited for activity books, educational toys and apps, plus arts and crafts.

How important is the recent deal with Kennedy Publishing for the brand?

This deal is terrific news for DLF as it allows us to introduce Flo and her band of woodland buddies directly to the UK pre-school market. Not only do Get Busy and Busy Time have a perfect distribution platform, they also have great respect for our brand and are sure to faithfully represent its important core values. Kennedy’s high standards, and other properties in the magazines like The Gruffalo, Poppy Cat and Dinosaur Train, will help DLF enter the market as a high-quality brand. Also, we have seen time and again that Jo’s illustrations have the ability to charm and captivate anyone who lays eyes on them – so naturally we can’t wait to see how kids across the UK respond to seeing these wonderful new characters. There’s nothing like the opinion of those who really matter.

Can you talk to us about your plans for a pre-school TV show?

We are currently in development for a 52 x 11 minute animated comedy; the trailer and TV Bible will be presented at Kidscreen and we have started discussions with several broadcasters and distributors. King Rollo Films, the multi-award winning, iconic animation studio headed by Leo Nielsen, is truly the perfect partner. Leo is responsible for translating some of the most beautifully illustrated kids books to screen, such as Poppy Cat, Maisy and Spot, as well as CBeebies Mama Mirabelle and eOne’s Humf. The show itself will be an animated comedy following the daily adventures of Forest Flo and her charming, silly, helpful and wise group of woodland friends, using a love of music, magic and nature to solve daily problems. We will also introduce a new character called Toby, Flo’s city cousin who sneaks into the forest, trying to blend in unnoticed amongst the animals in a collection of different animal onesies. Once discovered, he helps the forest friends using his city smarts, as well as Apak, his trusty backpack filled with gizmos and gadgets.

The pre-school animation area is exceptionally crowded – what do you think will make DLF stand out from the crowd?

The first thing most people notice about DLF is that it stands out entirely from anything on the market, now or ever. It is genuinely unique while still being both beautifully artistic and commercially appealing. However, the long-term success of any TV show depends on more than good looks, it must be both a strong character and story-led concept. (And being really, really funny helps too.)

DLF not only has a compelling, aspirational leading character in Forest Flo (kids will want to be like her…and their parents won’t mind!), but also lots of endearing and relatable secondary characters: Rowan the thoughtful, philosophical fox, Barley-Crumb the curious, adventuresome Badger, Lockhart the boundingly eager (and lightly clumsy) deer… not to mention Toby, with his silly Where’s Waldo-like habit of hiding amongst the animals until discovered, and his Poppinesque backpack with a bottomless source of tools, toys and tricks. (Oh, and did I mention, the backpack is alive… Apak sometimes just unslips his hand-leg straps and just prances away, usually after having one too many lions or pianos or choo-choo trains pulled out of him…)

What are the main challenges that you’re come across over the past year when launching the brand into consumer products? How have you overcome these?

It is always a challenge to launch a property without an established publishing or TV base, we all know how cautious licensees are about taking on new brands and DLF is no different in this respect. However the brand started as an art and design brand, so we will continue to focus on this aspect while planning ahead and expanding into preschool. The challenge in this regard has been to manage the evolution of the brand as it changes with the TV show. Fortunately, the animated characters are so faithful to the original illustrations that this should not affect either the look of the products, or the type of products that can be licensed.

What would you most like to achieve with the brand by the end of 2015?

Last year was very focused on building the foundations for launching a brand: perfecting and developing character designs, creating a style guide and TV bible, finishing the book, developing the TV concept… with these foundations largely in place, 2015 will be about taking DLF to a new level as a TV show, a publishing series and a licensing property. By the end of the year we’d like to have DLF placed with a UK, US, French and Germany broadcaster (to start), with King Rollo Films in full production; a confirmed publishing partner for the books; a network of licensing agents in key territories; and some first products heading to shops for Christmas. But most of all, I hope that Jo Rose and her Deer Little Forest have succeeded in piquing the curiosity and sparking the imagination of a special group of kids.

About Rachael Simpson-Jones

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