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On the Set with: The Imagination Movers
A few miles away from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans' famed French Quarter, a quiet, warehouse-filled business park is home to a foursome whose energy could put even the most die-hard Mardi Gras tourists to shame. They're the Imagination Movers -- aka Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, Dave Poche, and Scott "Smitty" Smith -- and after six years of writing and performing upbeat, rock-influenced kids' music at concerts around the country, they're making the leap to TV this fall on the Disney Channel.
A recent visit to the show's cheerful, busy New Orleans set gave us a chance to see the guys in action (check out a cool video tour). Their playful, easygoing vibe as they bounce in and out of filming scenes is obviously a byproduct of the fact that they've known each other for most of their lives (Durbin even took Collins' wife to the prom). While we were there, they were finishing up work on a jungle-themed episode that found Durbin clad in a Pebbles Flintstone-like get up ("It's not a dress!" he insisted with a grin) -- and the rest of the gang teasing him good-naturedly, of course. The group's "Idea Warehouse" is full of colorful, creative props -- from a jumbled workbench to a bright blue spiral staircase and a genuine fireman's pole (Smith is a former firefighter who helped in the Hurricane Katrina search-and-rescue effort; the other three Movers lost their homes in the disaster). And then there's the giant pumpkin tucked away near the prop room. ...
If Disney has its way, the Movers could soon be as familiar to young viewers as a certain quartet of wiggly Australians. But it's clear that these guys are less concerned with world domination than with having fun. At any given moment on set, you could see anything from an impromptu jam session to one of the Movers' kids hanging out behind the scenes. Three out of the four guys are dads -- Collins has five kids, and Durbin and Poche each have two -- and all of them are passionate about what they're creating here. "We want this to be a fun show, but we really do want it to model problem-solving -- to create 'brainstorming' as a buzzword for toddlers," Durbin says. "There were four pieces to our original mission statement: to encourage creativity, model problem-solving, foster independence, and promote self-esteem."
Although the show is technically targeted at preschoolers, everyone's hoping that it will also engage kids as old as 6 or 7, not to mention their parents. "We want to have fun music that kids will like but parents will enjoy," Smith says. Considering that the group's musical tastes include everything from REM and the Police to Flight of the Conchords, their chances of getting the parental thumbs up seem better than most.
In each episode of the show, a client comes to the Movers with an "idea emergency" -- how to get, say, a giant pumpkin through a small doorway, for example. The group then brainstorms several possible solutions, one of which gets put into action. They usually end up venturing into one of the many handy rooms that open up off the warehouse's two halls -- pausing for song breaks, naturally. Every episode includes five musical numbers, three of which are repeated (the opening theme song, "Brainstorm Song," and "Mover Music (Jump Up!)") and two of which are unique to the idea emergency at hand. When you do the math -- two new songs for each episode multiplied by 26 first-season episodes equals 52 brand-new songs -- the Movers' seemingly limitless enthusiasm and energy become even more impressive.
If the show takes off, all the work will be more than worth it. "When we signed with Disney, we didn't know exactly what putting our signature on that page meant," Poche says. "They could have said 'Let's make you animated space monkeys!' But they've allowed us to do a lot of what we wanted to do, and we're all thrilled with the final project. It's very close to our original vision."
That, plus the opportunity to base the production in the Movers' hurricane-battered hometown, has left everyone involved with the show feeling really good about their new endeavor. "If you get any show on the air, it's a miracle," says Executive Producer Sascha Penn. "But this show is more miraculous than any I've ever seen, because it was born out of what was left of New Orleans after the storm." The cheerful quartet second that emotion enthusiastically. "To be able to build this here, keep it here, create jobs here, bring the focus of the media here -- it's a way of paying back the community," Poche says. "They've supported us from the beginning."