SPS-333: Building Better Worlds: Special Effects & Writing – with Chrissy Metge
Chrissy Metge has worked with animation studios from Pixar to Wetta, Marvel, and ILM. Now, inspired by her son, she’s writing books for children. Chrissy talks to James about the differences between writing for kids vs. writing for adults and how that affects marketing and advertising.
- How film production works when special effects are involved
- Folding family members into children’s stories
- On bespoke books that include details about the reader
- Working with a global team of layout designers, illustrators and more
- Writing for different young age groups and how that changes as children age
- On the benefits of print and digital versions for children
- How school visits impact the sales of children’s books
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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TURNING THE TIDE: here’s how to help support the charity anthology for Ukraine
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Announcer: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Chrissy Metge: Because my husband's in defence, he's in the New Zealand Navy, I've used connections through there to get hopefully a copy to the queen. So, hopefully I'll get one to her.
Announcer: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome it is the Self-Publishing Show and it's a Friday with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me in the same shirt as last week, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Well, I'm wearing the same brand of shirt.
Mark Dawson: You are, yes.
James Blatch: I'm very excited about our show, which is this month, Mark, because we're now into June. This is the 3rd of June, this episode is going out. I'm actually, at the time of this being released, going to be in Madrid, hopefully, fingers crossed. And talking about TikTok would you believe?
TikTok is a strange thing. I think we talked last night, we had a webinar last night and I said, I've given up trying to predict which bits of copy and images are going to work well and which aren't, I just test, test, test, it goes out.
I did I thought a really good TikTok, really interesting, a couple of days ago on drones flying off British aircraft carriers because there's a possibility basically the drone that we operate at the RAF has now been modified for carrier use and we have two big carriers.
So that was basically it, there was really nice pictures, did almost nothing, three and a half thousand views. I did a really quick one thing and I've got to do something, I haven't done something for a couple of days, before I ran out yesterday morning on the RAF adding two more tankers to its fleet.
Mark Dawson: I saw that one.
James Blatch: 37,000. You saw that one. So 37,000 views on that one.
Mark Dawson: Wow. Yeah.
James Blatch: I've given up predicting what's going to fly and what's not, excuse the pun. But nonetheless, I did something my new book, which this is how interesting for me, because I get tens of thousands of views on lots of my posts, which don't mention my book and I get a few thousand on the posts that do mention my book, but it's all about percentages in sales.
So I did something on Dark Flight, I did a little competition with it, my next book coming out. And then I was a bit disappointed, so I've got a couple of extra sales, but not very many. Of course I was an idiot because I needed to look at my pre-orders tab and I got a whole bunch of pre-orders. It did really well posting on Dark Flight. People entered the competition, assumed they probably weren't going to get the signed copy or even if they were, they pre-ordered the eBook. So TikTok sells books, which will be my message to the good folks in Madrid today.
Okay, Mark, we should say, hopefully it's a bit difficult for me to say this with certainty because we are a couple of weeks out recording this, but we should still have tickets out for the live show. But even if we don't, we are now putting up the live video, the video production version of the show. This is not just a live stream, in fact it is not a live stream, and it doesn't look like a live stream. It's a professionally produced, almost like a television version, of the conference, which will be packaged up and put together like a course, including the PowerPoint presentations and everything else.
You can see last year's one is still there on our school. It's just $25, we make it as cheap as possible. If you are going, if you've got a ticket, you get it as part of that package, of course, but you can buy that if you can't join us in person. You'll get a lot out of it and you will be able to sign up for that at selfpublishingformula.com/spslive. And if you think you might be able make it to the live show on the 28th and 29th of June, that's the same place to buy ticket. And we are doing day tickets now as well to make it as flexible and affordable as possible.
Hopefully not there aren't tickets left from an organiser point of view, but hopefully from the listener point of view there are some tickets left by the time this podcast goes out. We are getting pretty close to the limit at this stage.
Good. I know, I'm aware you haven't said anything, Mark, but we're recording this two weeks out so it's quite difficult for us to be contemporaneous, isn't it?
Mark Dawson: Yes, very difficult. I don't have too much to add to that. I just have in my notebook, make sure James mentions online tickets and day tickets and you've done that without me having to prompt you so I can rest easy.
James Blatch: Well, I had real fun with our interviewee. That's Chrissy Metge. Very odd pronunciation for the way her name is spelt. But Chrissy Metge is a very, very interesting and accomplished person.
Chrissy is basically the digital effects person for some of the biggest films you've seen in the cinema over recent years. She's worked closely with Peter Jackson on the Hobbit films. I mean, she just lists, when she starts talking about the films that she's been involved with, these are all big films.And she's gone from the old days of when she was hands on and animating to organising the digital effects efforts for these films.
Very interesting talking to her about that, but talking to her also about self-publishing her illustration books, and this is such a big area. Seems at the moment, lots of children's illustrators are coming to us with their stories of how they're getting on in self-publishing. I've done two interviews on this theme in recent weeks.
I think this is a really interesting area and we know we get lots of emails, don't we Mark, from children's authors asking us about whether what we teach applies to them and can they be successful. And I would say, and certainly listen to this interview, it's easier now than it was even two or three years ago with the quality of print on demand and so on.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, advertising works pretty well for kids as well. I can speak from personal experience because I have a kids' series too. So I've seen sales work very well, both in terms of Amazon ads and Facebook ads and other methods of getting books into the hands of readers.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, without further ado, let us meet, from Hollywood, well actually I think from London at the moment, Chrissy Metge. And Mark and I will be back for chat after the interview.
Chrissy Metge, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. How lovely to have you here.
Chrissy Metge: Thank you. I'm very excited.
James Blatch: You're a Kiwi in London. We've had a couple of New Zealanders and they've all been in London and I do sometimes walk around in London and wonder if there's anyone left in New Zealand.
Chrissy Metge: Yep. There are a lot of us, that's for sure.
James Blatch: And Australians, we should say as well. Okay. Well, you're very welcome of course.
We are going to have a chat about animation I guess is the broad title of the area you work in, particularly in film? Is that right? Do we call it animation?
Chrissy Metge: Yes, that's right. It's very broad, but yes, that's correct.
James Blatch: And just give us a list, so people know, of the feature films that you have personally worked on.
Chrissy Metge: For animation being broad within that category is also visual effects. So animation, when you say animation, it's almost really like the Pixars, the Disneys, that type of animation family, animated films, but visual effects can also fall into that category. And we are talking the James Bonds and the Transformers and all of those types of things.
I've just finished producing my 14th. I haven't produced all the ones I've worked on, but the ones I worked on everyone would know, let me see, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hunger Games, Superman: Man of Steel, Hobbits 1, 2, 3, I think everyone in New Zealand pretty much has had some part in Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, and Iron Man and et cetera, et cetera, so the list continues.
James Blatch: It's a fascinating area. We will talk author-specific stuff as well but I think this is such an interesting topic, I do want to learn a little bit more about it. You do see behind the scenes stuff quite often these days and you see actors from a Marvel film or whatever, and there's like an actor here, an actor there, one bit of physical material, like a table and then just green, everywhere.
Chrissy Metge: Absolutely.
James Blatch: So I guess principal photography or whatever they call it these days, when those 45 days are done, not much of the film that we end up seeing is actually there very much anymore, certainly for that type of film and that's where you come in.
Chrissy Metge: Exactly. And nowadays what's popular, I mean has been popular, it has for a while, they film it all at the same time. So for instance, with Hobbit, they filmed all three films over like periods of months. Right now they're doing Avatar 2, 3, 4 and they will make them all at the same time. It just makes sense while you've got those actors there to get the photography and the seasons are all specific to the stories are very locked before it happens. And then you've got all of that and you ship it off to the visual effects houses that fill in all the gaps, like you said.
James Blatch: So that principal photography, which used to be, I think in the old days, 20 days, then it became sort of roughly a month. And then I was reading the other day, it's roughly 45 days for a feature film now. This is the main actors and directors sort of sitting around cameras.
That must go on for quite a while if you end up filming.
Chrissy Metge: It could take a long time, it could be years, as well, depending on the parts that they need. I mean, they can ship off to the VX houses while they're doing that, but it can go on for years, literally.
James Blatch: They talk about film being collaborative projects. I can't imagine keeping on top of all of that and coordinating it.
So whose job is that, the director's shouting at the actors and the director of photography, who's making sure the right rushes and the right VFX house on what's coming back is correct?
Chrissy Metge: It's definitely a team effort, and usually it depends on the story and how they split it up can depend too. So for instance, it could be character based.
For instance, I worked on Jungle Book and we got all the shots that had the panther in it. Or if you're not doing the whole film, it might be a scene related that a company's good at, like you could have a waterfall or like a sea shot big in the film, that's there for a while, and this visual effects house is very good at water. So they'll get shipped all of those ones. So it depends on the film, it could be scene-related or most of the time it's character-related because they know how to animate that character very well. So it depends.
James Blatch: You mentioned Jungle Book. I loved, we're talking about the live action version. I call it live action version, because much of it would have been created, a few years ago. I really loved it. This is the one with, I was trying to think who did, oh what's his name? Bill Murray, I think was Baloo, wasn't he? Yeah I really loved it.
What was your role specifically on that? What did you do?
Chrissy Metge: In that one, because it was before my son was born, so that was quite a while ago, now, I was the animation manager. Basically I looked after the animation team that worked on the specific shots within that film at Weta in New Zealand. So that was my job is to keep them in line and make sure they delivered their part on time.
James Blatch: And in terms of the creative, at some point, someone has to say what they want things to look like. I guess they film with tennis balls on the end of poles and stuff like that, you sometimes see that, don't you.
Chrissy Metge: Motion capture. Motion capture's a huge thing for us to do if we've got monkeys and apes and all those types of things, you've got the dots. I mean, we've seen clips, I'm sure everyone is-
James Blatch: Yeah. Andy Serkis is very used to being dressed up in these things with dots.
Chrissy Metge: Absolutely. So we get a lot of the motion captured beforehand, which helps, but for creatures like cats and things like that, they're done key framed within the computer by hand, by amazing animators that know how to do this craft.
James Blatch: Frame by frame.
Chrissy Metge: Yep.
James Blatch: How long does that take?
Chrissy Metge: There you go, it can take a really long time. That's why movies take so long to come out. A fully animated feature film can be anywhere from two to five years. Usually five is the goal. The one I just finished producing now, that was two, but that was a different type of animation. But usually it's two to five.
James Blatch: And is your background artistic? Do you draw, did you start like that?
Chrissy Metge: I can't draw, you don't want me on your Pictionary team. But I was an animator. So I started out being an animator a long time ago. Secondary school, I think went through New Zealand, a 3D animator, but there wasn't much 3D around then. So I started out there and then I fell into front of house and I was intrigued by all the people and the budgets and the schedules and the puzzle of it all. I really love the puzzle and because I understand it and I'm a creative, I think it helps quite a lot.
James Blatch: So it's as much a computer job as anything else, a technical job, is it? You have to be pretty savvy with the IT side of things.
Do you move from system to system?
Chrissy Metge: Every company has their own proprietary pipeline basically. They had the same softwares that we use, like Maya is a 3D software that is generally used in most companies, but every studio has their own pipeline proprietary that goes within the softwares. So it's different everywhere that you work. The techniques are the same and the craft is the same, but the actual way it goes through and out the other side is different.
James Blatch: So you have to be pretty adaptable. Okay. Well that sounds like an absolutely fascinating career. I'm a huge film fan. My wife and I, and Gill, but Mark and John and I all worked for the BBFC in London and watched films for a living for seven or eight years in my case. So we're big fans, so thank you for producing. I'm very well aware when you sit and watch a film for two hours how many people are involved and how much work.
I remember someone saying, I can't remember who it was, Francis Ford Coppola or someone once said, "Once you understand how films are made, you'll believe it's a miracle that any film ever gets made."
Chrissy Metge: It's so true. And you know, my husband who's, we've been married for so long, he's like, "Matte painting!" and he points out all the things because he's just been listening to me. I try really hard not to get jaded, but you can't help some of it.
James Blatch: You try to watch the film and enjoy it. But then I can also remember seeing photographs of the old days of these beautiful drawings on bits of glass. That was how they matted in the early days, wasn't it? They'd have the actors walking in the background and this sort of church painted on there. I mean, absolutely beautiful skills. And I guess those skills still exist today, it's just done in a slightly different way.
Chrissy Metge: It's just different and cell, yeah. All of the things, yeah. It's pretty incredible, the technology and how far it's advanced, but it goes backwards and goes back to some of those techniques and then comes back forward.
James Blatch: There is something to be said for doing it old school, isn't there, and getting back to physical.
Chrissy Metge: There was the stereo hype that went crazy and everything, it was 4k and all of the craziness that went with stereo and you know, it kind of went back and then 2D was obsolete and then 3D was a thing and now it's gone back to 2D is more the thing and what we're now looking really is all of them mixed together which seems to be the popular watch.
James Blatch: And you can overuse technology in films. I think probably George Lucas proved that with the prequels, in my view, where it just becomes a bit soulless, almost.
Chrissy Metge: I agree.
James Blatch: Okay. I mean, you might get some work with George Lucas soon, so don't...
Chrissy Metge: I did work at ILM for a while. So that was George Lucas's company, for a while, yeah. It was really hard to say that I wasn't a Star Wars fan when I worked there for two years.
James Blatch: I'll bet everyone, surely everyone who owns a part of ILM must be a secret Star Wars fan.
Chrissy Metge: But it was super fun, super fun. Super fun crew. Yeah. Really good company.
James Blatch: Good. Well, should we talk about books?
Chrissy Metge: Yes. I love books.
James Blatch: You love books, you have books and you work on books. So tell us about that side of things.
Chrissy Metge: I have my own children's boutique publishing company called Duckling Publishing, which started as myself like we all do and then I added authors as I've been going along, which is super fun. It keeps me grounded creatively and it helps with that go between, authors and films and creative and story. Because I'm around so many great filmmakers and directors and storytellers. It was just, my head was bursting with ideas and I had to get it out, like we all do. I've got I think 13 children's books now and I publish I think 10 others with different authors.
James Blatch: So 13 of your own and you've published 10 others?
Chrissy Metge: Yeah. So it's very small and it's just me, so it goes from manageable to unmanageable to manageable and back again depending on what area of my film I'm in.
James Blatch: That sounds like my life. Well let's talk about your books, then.
How did that start and what did you create? What do they look and feel like?
Chrissy Metge: I started when my son was born six weeks premature. I was on Jungle Book at the time and the whole world kind of just fell apart a little bit while we figured all that out. And then I went from doing all these things to nothing when you've got a newborn baby.
My brain was still working a lot and I thought, this is the best time to put all my stories down. So I went down that rabbit hole. This is 2015, somewhere around there. And it went down that rabbit hole of trying to figure it out. And I sent my manuscripts off to a few people and got rejected just like we all did and then realised, I'm just going to self-publish and do it that way and that's where it started. I started them.
They're all usually based on someone in my life. I've got a whole series called Max And His Big Imagination, which is my nephew. I've got another one called Amy's Dreaming Adventures, which is my niece. And then I've had a couple of friends ask me to do some ones of their kids and boutique ones, so I've done all of those.
It's really fun and I've got a new one that's just come out for the Queen's Jubilee here in the UK, which was super fun, that I did with my son. And then my other authors are all got different things, chapter books. Elastic Island Adventures, which is our New Zealand, Pacific Island series.
James Blatch: Oh, wow. So a lot going on there. And just on a side note, the idea of a bespoke book, which you've done for a couple of friends, I mean, that was quite a big idea a few years ago. I know a couple of companies do do that, where you put in your child's details and they get their own story written about them.
That sounds to me like quite a viable business opportunity.
Chrissy Metge: It was fun. That one is called Lucy the Ballerina and I decided to put it on Amazon, actually it's my best selling book. So it does the best. I did a small print run in New Zealand for friends and family. And then I was like, "Oh, we'll see how it goes. We'll put it up." And actually that's the best book.
I have been asked by people to change out the name and everything like that and it's just too hard for me to figure out at this point. So I just said, "No, it's just staying with Lucy."
James Blatch: You need that to be an automated process I think, don't you. You fill in a form and it populates the book with that stuff. But anyway, just saying as an idea there, I know you're very busy, but.
Do you do all the words and all the pictures or do you coordinate an illustrator to work on the pictures?
Chrissy Metge: It's a worldwide thing, isn't it? We've all got our freelancers everywhere. So a lovely stay-at-home mother in South Africa is my book layout, she lays them all out and puts all the designs together and then I have illustrators all around the world that illustrate, it depends on the book and the style, and then I've got another person in Thailand that uploads it for me. But I do all of the writing for my own, I do it all myself. And I've got an editor and I do all the advertising myself, thanks to your course.
James Blatch: Oh yes. We can talk about marketing in a moment.
And in terms of the illustrators, so say you've got them around the world, how do you find them and what sort of style do you look for?
Chrissy Metge: Usually it's the freelance websites, so Upwork, Reedsy, Fiverr, all of that. I use pretty much all of them I think.
James Blatch: And are they in Asia mainly?
Chrissy Metge: They're around. I used to have a few in Russia, unfortunately with the whole incident in Russia at the moment, they sent me some very heartfelt messages because they can't use banks and they can't, it's just been that kind of thing. But sort of everywhere. There's some in Asia, there's a couple in America, there's a couple in Belgium, and things like that.
James Blatch: How does that collaboration work? Do you have a very specific idea in your mind about what you're after?
Chrissy Metge: I do. That's one thing I'm quite good at. I can see in my head visually how everything should be, because I'm a visual producer and I do this all day long. So for me, translating words to pictures and back again, notes I get from other authors and directors and it's, that's very easy because I do it all day. So it's very easy for me actually, I find it really lovely, I'll send them stuff that I want, if they can do that, they'll do it, if they don't, they don't. And then the process once we start it doesn't take very long.
James Blatch:x And then the writing itself, the stories. Do you have a background? I always worry slightly about writing for an age group because it feels like you almost need to have a degree in education to know what language to use, the rest of it, is that something that's come naturally to you?
Chrissy Metge: Because my son's six, so he's in a good age group, I've kind of been writing for him as he is getting older. But I usually write for the character and what I see around me, but I do have editors that I do check it with and fellow authors, just to make sure I'm on the right page and I've got a couple of teachers and things like that.
And I work really well with the schools, I do author school visits and things like that. So I try to make sure I'm writing within the age bracket appropriate.
James Blatch: Appropriate for that. How many words are these books? I guess they're changing and becoming slightly more wordy as they get older?
Chrissy Metge: Yeah. They can go up to 1000, but usually they're smaller than that, can be four or 500 depending on the small book. The Max books are quite small, the Lucy ones even smaller. That's for like, the two-year-olds, so it's 300 or 400 words, something like that.
James Blatch: Yes. And these are words presumably going to be read by parents to children at that age. And then when you're age six, you're aiming for the child to read.
Is that a different style of writing?
Chrissy Metge: No, its true. My son's reading by himself now. So it's really interesting to see how he reads it and it's a different style of writing. There's less description. They get to the point, especially I find with my son being a boy, he just wants to know when something's going to be attacked and killed.
James Blatch: Right, yeah.
Chrissy Metge: When is the monster going to die? Oh, they're talking about getting there too long, you know? And that's where we're at at the moment and he's like, "Oh, yeah, I just want to know what happens."
James Blatch: This is useful attention span stuff you can take into your feature film world.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah, exactly.
James Blatch: It's time for monster killing.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah. So that's what he's into at the moment. It's fascinating. I'm sure I've got that bracket in me coming up soon because I've been reading more of these books.
James Blatch: Are these sold exclusively as physical books?
Chrissy Metge: With the pandemic, we all had to do everything else. So they're all digitally as well as physical. I think it's hard with little kids because parents weren't really into the digital so much until the pandemic because parents didn't want to know about picture books on iPads before that. But we couldn't get to libraries and we couldn't get to book shops, so they definitely did pretty well on the iPads during the pandemic. But most parents still would love the physical books. So I have them on both pretty much.
James Blatch: I use a Paperwhite, so that's my stupidly narrow frame of reference for eBooks. But of course on a Kindle Fire, an iPad, they can look very different.
Chrissy Metge: Usually on the iPads, yeah, they usually use them on iPads. So we format them differently so that the pictures can show up with the words and things like that. But it's important to, I think, give both in this day and age. And a lot of the reviews that you can get for picture books, they do it from the eBook, the free eBook versions. So I get all the reviews on there and then it starts moving through the paperbacks and then you get reviews from that. But the eBooks reviews get you started.
James Blatch: So it's downloaded in the same way by the consumer on an Amazon page, it's just what they choose to view it on. But they could view it on a Paperwhite, it's just not going to look as effective.
Chrissy Metge: It's just not going to look as pretty.
James Blatch: No, very black and white. Even the covers look slightly odd on the eBook.
So in terms of marketing, going okay?
Chrissy Metge: Obviously I've been through your Amazon ads course, which is fantastic. I've been having lots of fun with the Amazon ads. They actually work quite well. I do Mailchimp for my newsletter stuff. I run competitions, I find competitions with kids' books work the best.
I've got a competition running at the moment for my new UK picture book. And then it's just word-of-mouth networking. I've trolled the closest stores around me and the coffee houses that are all going to stock my latest book and the coffee house and things like that. And it's who you know, and because my husband's in defence, he's in the New Zealand Navy, I've kind of used connections through there to get hopefully a copy to the queen. So hopefully I'll get one, or to her escort. So hopefully that will generate something.
I do do some paid advertising as well. I had a PR agency here in the UK that did a promotional for the book that went out. I've had mixed results from doing paid PR. I think it's better almost for you to drive yourself.
Doing all the author school visits, I've booked five author school visits and I do posters and I've got a book that I give away to the school and all the order forms and all of that. So it's very much you still have to do it yourself. And then with my other authors, I expect them to do that part themselves. I'll do all their Mailchimp, I'll do all the Amazon advertising, but I'll ask them to try and do some school visits themselves and get out to markets and all of that.
James Blatch: It does feel to me like the PR services that are on offer feel to me a bit outdated and they probably worked in the old world. I'm not sure, they're very expensive for what you get.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah it was. I had a special but it was still expensive. I think it was about 200 pounds.
James Blatch: That's cheap for PR.
Chrissy Metge: And they sent the ad out twice. And the list I saw was great, there's about 3,000 email addresses on it and they're all proper email addresses, but I probably only got about 10 replies. So I don't know. It's almost better if you cold call them yourself.
James Blatch: So it sounds like you've been cold calling all the cafes and restaurants around your place?
Chrissy Metge: I have, it's quite fun, it's a tea house and a lovely local coffee shop and yep. It helps when you've got your son with you who looks really cute.
James Blatch: Yes. Always take a son with you.
And you are giving the books for free are you to those places? Or for them to sell?
Chrissy Metge: Yeah to sell. Most of them don't want anything actually in return, so they're not taking a cut, but it helps for them to have something different in their shop because it brings in families and it gives them something else to look at and new and refreshing. So most of them are just happy to have it there and they'll just give me the cash or however it runs through. So we're still working it out, but I always give one to each book shop or cafe that they want to open and have a look and you can't sell that again.
James Blatch: How much of the outdoor physical marketing, school visits and cafes and stuff do you end up doing? How much do you think it accounts for your sales?
Chrissy Metge: I think it definitely makes an impact when the book first comes out because you want to, I think it's all about it when it first comes out, because you want to build that profile and get it out there and everything like that. Then after that, I switch to the Mailchimps and the Amazons and the competitions and all of that kind of thing. But I think definitely at the start, it is all the sales definitely while that book's fresh and you're getting out there.
James Blatch: I'm thinking of the children's books authors we've had on before. People like Karen Inglis springs to mind and they do do quite a lot of... I think a lot of authors think school visits don't work for them if they write novels and so on, but children's books, it does seem to be a staple part of marketing.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah, I think so. Because the kids love it. And they love learning from the authors and it's creative, isn't it? And I know the curriculum here, which is very different to New Zealand, the primary schools, depending on which one is the creative part of the primary school, isn't as affluent, so it's nice having authors and people come in doing. I do animation talks as well to the schools, which I love. I'll go in and talk about animation. You can get paid to animate.
James Blatch: Part of the next generation.
Chrissy Metge: I think that's still, even in New Zealand kids don't realise they can do that as a career and I really want people to realise that it can be a career. Especially with the women coming up through, there's still not high numbers of women that come up through the industry, so you want to get out while they're early and talk to them about it.
James Blatch: And the Amazon ads, you mentioned them a couple of times. So this is a question we do get a lot, every time we open up the courses, people say, "I write children's books, does this work for children's books?" And we know that paid advertising can work, but it doesn't work necessarily in the same way it would work for me. For start, you are basically advertising towards parents.
Chrissy Metge: You are advertising towards parents. And I've had some instances because there's a couple of cheeky lines in one of my books because they're for kids.
James Blatch: Kids love the cheeky lines.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah. So I've had a couple of parents that have emailed me saying that I should really think about who I write the books for and maybe I shouldn't put those lines in next time. And I've talked to quite a few mothers, fathers, parents, or just anyone that knows children about whether I should take these lines out or leave them in. And unanimously everyone's like, "Leave them in." Because you write for the kids, not for the parents.
So it is a tricky thing. It's just like all books, you've got to make your cover relevant, you've got to make it clear what the book's about, you've got to do your research. Obviously it does fall into those girls and boys categories, girls like particular things, boys like other particular things. If it's smushed in the middle, it can be really hard to make it do well. You have to find another way. Just like with every other book.
I've got another author that I help with that talks about personal hygiene, so make sure you have a bath and brush your teeth and all that kind of stuff. And that genre is huge in the kids' area, but hers does really, really well because it's a specific little girl that has a specific look and you can cater those keywords quite specifically for her age group. So you just have to be quite clever and you have to use more visual keyword references than probably what you would for novels and things like that.
James Blatch: Right. So when you say visual keyword references.
Chrissy Metge: Parents will literally type in, black girl dental hygiene, or something like that. So you have to really think outside the box. In one of my books it's girl loves unicorns and whatever it is. So you do have to think as a child and what the parent would type in about their specific kid. Because they are quite specific what they type in.
James Blatch: There's a lot of talk these days, there has been in the last 40 years, but it seems to be accelerating, on gender stereotyping and on what we should do and do not as parents. I do find it quite difficult because we have a girl and a boy, girl first, and I was very kind of, they should absolutely choose their own thing. Of course Emily was devoted to pink and dolls and Barbie and William wanted to play with planes. And I know the socialisation comes in from TV, et cetera.
Do you ever feel that you are being urged by some people to be a little bit more gender-neutral I suppose is the modern phrase? Or are you quite happy that you're being led by what parents and children want?
Chrissy Metge: I think you have to do what you're passionate about. So the cheeky lines that I have in my book is because Lucy the Ballerina is portrayed as obviously a very girly girl. She's a ballerina and she loves unicorns. But inside that are a couple of cheeky lines about just stuff that she likes that is not what probably a traditional little girl would find funny.
I get harassed about that all the time but Lucy is a real little girl and those are the things that she loves and that's just how it is. So you do have to choose your battles. You do have to choose your battles sometimes about which way you want to go, you write to market or you don't write to market or you've got one that's kind of challenging that you stick with or you don't. But I'm sticking with it because in my head, that is Lucy, and that's being true to her and that's the little girl that she is.
James Blatch: And I guess your boy must be an influence on his choices and his things on a lot of your other books.
Chrissy Metge: And again like you, we tried to be very neutral as well. We're not into cars at all, but he learnt his colours by sitting on the side of the road and watching cars go by because he loved cars so much. But we're not into cars or anything like that.
And then I took him into a book shop because I didn't really know what he liked to read and he had gotten picture books which were too easy for him. So I just took him into Waterstones and I was like, "Just choose something that you want to read," because I didn't know really. So yeah, he picked up this monster fighting series and there's 27 series of this amazing Beast Quest books. And he just loves them and I would never have picked that for him, I would never have guessed that he loved a little boy called Tom who kills monsters.
James Blatch: Sounds awesome.
Chrissy Metge: I know. But he could have, I don't know, he could have been into cars or dinosaurs or you know, something else, but we just let him go for it and pick out what he wanted to read.
James Blatch: Back to the Amazon ads, which I should ask you about, because I know that's what people are very interested in. You talked about those visual search terms and being clever about predicting what parents are going to ask for, which is a little bit different from everyone else.
Do you then go into the campaigns and look at what the actual search terms have been used? Because that was the revelation for me in the course and Janet Margot talked about that.
Chrissy Metge: Absolutely, it's everything, it's your bread and butter. And it changes with trends as well. Children's books I think change faster. So I will actually go in and change my KDP keywords quite often from Rocket with the trends that are going on as well. Always looking into that data but absolutely the search terms are life changing. You've got to go in there and check out your search terms and change accordingly.
James Blatch: We should say, this is in the back end of Amazon ads platform, you can see what people typed in that led them to make a purchase of your book and it's not necessarily the keywords that you put out.
Chrissy Metge: One of the books that I have is that hygiene book that I was talking about, which does really well. One of the keyword searches was puberty. And I was like, that's really strange because these books are picture books and they're not for that range but it's one of the most popular keywords that I wouldn't have picked for the picture books because it's not for their age group, but obviously they may have older, other sisters in the family and it's just one of the most popular keywords that go with personal hygiene. So it's really interesting.
James Blatch: Suppose it makes sense, if a parent has a child coming up to puberty and is interested in those areas, they are statistically likely to have a younger sibling, that'll be their oldest child.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah, exactly.
James Blatch: Most people have more than one child. Hmm, that's how that works.
Chrissy Metge: So it's quite interesting what the searches come up with, absolutely.
James Blatch: How do you fit all this in in your life? You look very calm and serene, Chrissy, for someone who works with Peter Jackson and produces their own books and publishes other people.
Chrissy Metge: I've just been on holiday, so that's probably why.
James Blatch: Oh, you look absolutely stressed out the rest of the year.
Chrissy Metge: Oh no, I didn't realise how burnt out. Obviously like everybody. Pandemic and war, because my husband's in the military. So all of that and you know, I had a crew of 400 across three countries and for this film that we just finished.
So it was a lot, but again, I'm kind of one of those people that need to do several things at a time because they go in waves. So having the books is calming for me, going back to the authors, going back to the books, going on my Amazon searches. I don't know, there's something really satisfying about it and it's something you are creating yourself. I love doing my films, absolutely. But I'm managing all of those people and all of those things, but the books are, they're something true to your heart that you are doing for you or your authors. And it's creative, I'm a creative at the end of the day.
James Blatch: So in your film work, is it less creative and more sort of people management and workflow?
Chrissy Metge: Absolutely, yeah. It's creative in the line of work that we are producing, but my job is to keep the boat going in the direction it's supposed to go on time, on budget and keeping the clients happy. This one was for Netflix, so it's just making sure that they're happy with what we are doing and we are going the right way. So it is definitely more time people management, which I love too, but it's a different hat.
James Blatch: What is this latest film? We should look out for it.
Chrissy Metge: I can't say.
James Blatch: Oh, it's all secrets.
Chrissy Metge: I know, it's different. It's my first animated adult film because during the pandemic we couldn't film out and shoot anymore. So the VX industry kind of took a downward and we didn't have as much entertainment for adults anymore so that animation adult area went up, which is really interesting, so you're going to see more of those.
Arcane and Love, Death and Robots and all of those things that have been coming out. There'll be more of that type of genre coming out because of the last two years. It comes out in September, I can't say what it is, which is really unfortunate, but we should announce it hopefully in June, July.
James Blatch: Well you have to let us know and we'll say on the podcast. And people if they're looking for your name in the credits, it's not spelled the way you'd think it's spelled from the way we said it.
Chrissy Metge: No, it's Metge, so it's M-E-T-G-E, which is my husband's fault.
James Blatch: Because he's French.
Chrissy Metge: Well a long time ago, French, we're both Kiwi, but yeah, so it makes it easier. But I would be in there as digital producer because there's lots of producers on the other sides of the coin.
James Blatch: Well, it sounds like you have an absolutely amazing life, Chrissy.
Are you going to come to our show in June in London?
Chrissy Metge: I would love to, but I think I missed out on your tickets and I wasn't sure then if we were going home, because we're going home for a while. We haven't been home for three years, but we're not going till July, so I wasn't sure. If there's any spare tickets, I would love to.
James Blatch: There are. We'll sort that out for you. It'd be lovely to meet you and your husband, if he's not fighting the war for a couple of days, come and say hello. Because I think it's a really fascinating area and I'm sure if you're at the conference, people will have questions for you, particularly the children's authors. I think it's a really useful thing for children's authors to talk to each other.
Chrissy Metge: Absolutely. And I do help people with their pictures, so that's something I do help authors with. So I have a website, if you just go to chrissymetge.com, I do power hours or just conversations with other authors to help them even know where to even go if they want to transfer their books into shows or films or you know, those next steps.
James Blatch: And you said across the genres, not just children's?
Chrissy Metge: Everything. I've done a few live action pitch packages for other authors or even just knowing where to go or just a conversation. "Is this going to be something that could be interesting?" Because each broadcaster, their style is different. Like what would go on Apple is different to what would go on Netflix, which is different to what goes on Disney, right? So they all have a different genre that they look out for.
I love working with authors and helping them if they're interested in those fields, because you can go and pitch yourself, I did that, I just hopped on a plane one day with no experience and just went to some festivals and pitched my books. So the average Joe person can walk off the street and go and pitch your book at any of these festivals around the world.
James Blatch: That sounds like a whole separate conversation.
Chrissy Metge: It is.
James Blatch: We'll have to have that one next time. Well hopefully I'll see you in June and that website again is chrissymetge.com, M-E-T-G-E.
Chrissy Metge: Yeah.
James Blatch: You don't make it easy, do you?
Chrissy Metge: Oh I know, I'm sorry. My maiden name of Dawson was much easier. That will be my pen name.
James Blatch: Dawson?
Chrissy Metge: My young adult novel will be Dawson to make it easier for people.
James Blatch: There you go. Okay. Well look, thank you very much indeed, Chrissy. Best of luck with your next project, we'll look out for whatever it is, the secret project in September, and hope to see you in June. And best wishes to your husband as well, I'm going to say, because I think anyone in the military at the moment has got their hands full.
Chrissy Metge: They're very busy, that's for sure. No, thank you. And it was an honour being on, it's been a dream, I've been a follower for a long time.
James Blatch: It was our pleasure.
There you go. I mean, I do find the film, well don't we all find the film world very glamorous. I know it's a hard slog and these films these days which start as an idea and 10 years later end up in the cinema and in between that time there's been a huge amount of work. And even after what we call, you and I know some of these expressions, because we kind of worked in the industry, principal photography, the bit when they put the star and the director together for about 40 days or so, that's only a small part of these films now and so much of it is green screened at the time and is put in afterwards and that's where Chrissy comes in.
As you heard in the interview, that world has changed from hand drawing in the 50s to early computer stuff to today. It's not just an animated feature that would require a lot of animation. It's a film that involves outer space, the Marvel film and probably half the movie is created in computers now. And Chrissy does that for a living and then for extra money for her side hustle is a children's author as well and what a great synergy that is in her career.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. It's a very interesting area of work to get into and hopefully she sells tonnes of books. She might not do that anymore. She might decide that it's too much glamour for one person, she wants to write books for full-time living.
James Blatch: Yeah. And always nice to have a Kiwi on the show. We've got a couple of Kiwis coming all the way over from New Zealand to our live show in June. It'll be the longest journey I expect for any of the attendees.
Okay, I think that's it from me, Mark. Hopefully we're back a little bit more contemporary next week, but until then, thank you to the team in the background for putting all this together. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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