If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that I’m a big fan of Nickelodeon’s The Fresh Beat Band. While it’s geared toward preschool-aged kids, the series has a certain charm and entertainment value about it that makes it enjoyable for parents and kids of all ages. The Fresh Beats are all fun to watch, the songs are catchy, and the storylines are engaging. So who are the creative geniuses behind this innovate and fun series?
Co-Creators and Executive Producers Scott Kraft and Nadine van der Velde aren’t just a creative team, they’re also husband and wife. Both Kraft and van der Velde have had successful careers working a variety of children’s series including Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Kids and Rollie Polie Olie, and the independent film East Of A (2000), which won several film festival awards. Both have also written and produced music videos for big names like Whitney Houston, Faith Hill, and Celine Dion.
Onward to the creation of The Fresh Beat Band. I had the opportunity to chat with Scott and Nadine about several aspects of the show, including how the initial concept came into being. Nickelodeon had come to the talented duo looking for a music series for the network, and it was their daughters who helped inspire them. “We saw both of our daughters getting very attracted to pop music where the music had a good beat but the lyrical content wasn’t necessarily appropriate for that age group,” Scott said. “We saw an opportunity where we could create a show that appealed to that pop sensibility and how much kids love music and love to dance and love to move to beats, and at the same time was a totally safe environment for them.”
“And it also had comedic content like a sitcom,” added Nadine, “but had age-appropriate content. [We wanted it to be] a show that little kids could own as theirs.” They wanted to create a series that would not only be fun to watch, but would also get preschoolers off the couch and dancing along with the action on-screen. “Something we really wanted to do,” Scott said, “was to create an interactive show – a different kind of interactive show – a show that literally gets kids up and moving around.”
With its kid-friendly content, kids would be able to dance and move without the provocative influence of current pop stars like Lady Gaga. Scott and Nadine wanted to make sure that there was a safe environment for kids to express themselves through motion and dance without the risqué influence. “It’s 100% safe and kids are never going to get anything inappropriate in our half hour,” said Scott.
After going through dozens of different ideas for the name of band, The Fresh Beat Band was finally chosen. “We came up with a name that really represented the show,” Nadine said. “Something that was new, that was fun, and we really wanted to highlight the music aspect of show, [along with the fact] that they were a band.” And so The Fresh Beat Band got its name, and Kiki, Marina, Twist, and Shout would soon become known as the Fresh Beats.
From the initial concepts, auditions, and taping the series, the characters of Kiki, Marina, Twist, and Shout didn’t change that much. What each performer brought “was their own sensibility to [their character], especially in terms of their music,” Nadine said. For example, “Jon Beavers who plays Twist is a really talented beatboxer and rapper…and Yvette [Gonzalez-Nacer] who plays Kiki is a classically trained violinist and opera singer, so they brought some of their own talents to the table.” Scott added that “Shout’s physicality is definitely something he brought to the character. There was some of that initially in the early audition material, but [since casting Thomas Hobson] we definitely have pumped that up.” With the collaborative nature of the series, the cast and creators have been able to create well-rounded and entertaining characters with their own unique qualities, musical abilities, and talents.
What was the casting and audition process like? Click here to read my interview with the cast!
It’s clear just by watching one episode of the series that Kiki, Marina, Twist, and Shout are played by performers who must be able to sing, dance, play instruments, and act, but were these criteria that same for some of the other cast members on the series. Were Reed, Ms. Piccolo, and Melody auditioned in a similar manner?
“The only thing about those few character was that we didn’t insist that they dance as well as [the Fresh Beats], but they’re all very musical, and they can all sing, and they’re all very funny,” Scott said. And one of the other things about our cast all the way around is that they’re all really nice people, they support each other, and they support the show, which is important. We have a very grueling production schedule, and all seven of them are genuinely great people and that helps a lot.”
And this is one of the tenants of being a part of the show, whether as a cast or crew member: you have to be a nice and upbeat person. With a positive and energetic series like this, it’s important to keep the mood up and any negativity far away from the world of the show. This helps morale, and also ensures that only positive vibes are translated from the set, through the cameras, and into home worldwide.
You’ve probably noticed that each episode includes a few familiar songs and one new song that relates to the theme of that particular show. Scott and Nadine write each song for each episode of the series, a task that isn’t accomplished overnight. “Sometimes they just pop out, and it’s a beautiful thing,” Nadine said. “Sometimes it’s just a really grueling process where we go back and back and try to get it right. From start to finish I’d say it’s about three weeks per song.” And they have some really great songs coming up during the second season of the series that premieres this fall on Nickelodeon.
In my interview with the cast we talked about a typical production week from their perspective. But what’s it like for the executive producers, writers, and other crew of the show?
“We follow a very similar rhythm,” Scott said. “On Monday morning, while the cast is working on their choreography with the choreographer, we’re doing pre-production meetings for the episode following. We do that to start to flag any potential issues, and discuss what the sets need to look like, how many balloons we need, and other departments.”
“Your prop department, your costume department, your set deck, all of them can start working forward,” Nadine said. “And generally they’ll already have an idea, but this is definitely where things start getting set in place. After that we have a production meeting for the episode we’re about to shoot that week. And then we go into a table read with the actors, and then the actors go off and do their thing. We spend the afternoon with our various departments, also generating stories with our writers for future episodes. We’re also in post production, too, because we’re editing stuff that we already shot, so we touch base with our editors. We’re also writing music and working with the Matter Music people. That’ll be your Monday afternoon, Tuesday, and Wednesday. And then we’re also down on set making sure rehearsals go okay.”
“By Wednesday we have everybody in for a run-through,” Scott continued, “we see a dry run of the show, make sure all the little bits are working, all the props are right, that the length of the show is right.”
“And then we shoot Thursday and Friday,” said Nadine.
It sure sounds like Scott and Nadine are very, very, very busy when it comes to making sure everything goes according to plan with each aspect of the show. You can definitely tell that they each put a lot of time, effort, and passion into each episode. As a writer, I was curious how each episode is scripted. Since there a many different components – storyline, a lesson about music, songs and dance – I was curious to know how the writers work to put it all together seamlessly each episode.
“We do have a lot of elements and that’s probably the hardest part of the writing process,” said Scott. “In addition to telling a story that’s funny and has a musical feel to it, we also have two curriculum ingredients that are really important to us. There’s the music curriculum that every episode has, and the other is the problem solving element that every episode has. So, it makes out writers a little bit crazy because it’s a very demanding formula that they have to work with. They bat around ideas, we bat around ideas, and then we put down premises and then it goes to outline.”
“And then we have an interesting step in the process that many people aren’t used to, and that’s that we actually go out and research out outline. We take them out to preschool and we make sure that the problems within the curriculum are being understood and followed by our key demographic, which is three to five year olds. We make sure that they’re able to follow along, follow the story, know what’s going on, and that they have a takeaway from the episode that they understood what the curriculum is based on the most basic level.”
“It’s a really great process for us and for our writers. They get to sit in a room and watch kids reacting to the story and see what they get and what they don’t get,” Scott said. Also, he added, that all of their writers for the most part have kids in the age range of the series so that helps the writers reach the target audience as well.
As I mentioned before, morale and team spirit are an important part of working on The Fresh Beat Band, and Scott and Nadine make sure that everyone who works on the show gets to have a good time. “We have lucked into the best crew that anybody could want, and so we theme certain days,” said Scott. “For example, the one where Shout plays his bugle (“Rock to Sleep”), we decided that Friday would be ‘wear your PJs to work day.’ And I would say that 90% of the crew came in their pajamas. One of our camera operators came in a shower cap and his wife bathrobe. It was hysterical.”
“This last Friday,” said Nadine, “we did a circus episode and Friday was ‘wear a clown nose.’ So we got a whole bunch of those red, fuzzy clown noses, and everybody behind the cameras is wearing clown noses. And tomorrow is ‘wear a sports jersey,’ so we do try to keep a very good vibe on set. It’s really, really important to us to have a happy, happy crew and to have fun.”
“Our motto is: If you can’t have fun doing a music show for preschoolers, you’re in the wrong line of work,” Scott said.
On my set visit, I got the impression that everyone who was on the set was there having a good time and were truly enjoying what they were doing. Scott and Nadine have created a safe, happy, creative, and energetic environment where everyone feels welcome and feels like they are truly a part of the Fresh Beat family.
I’d like to thank Scott Kraft and Nadine van der Velde for participating in this interview and Heather from Nickelodeon for arranging this meeting. Thanks!
Check out all my Fresh Beat articles at the links below:
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