The Imagination Movers story is the ultimate example of the power of imagination.
In 2003, four New Orleans friends – Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, Dave Poche and Scott “Smitty” Smith – started gathering after their kids’ bedtimes to write songs and brainstorm ideas about a children’s television show. Two years later, they had become the latest sensation of their musical city, attracting parents and children alike with an eclectic pop sensibility and lyrical turns about healthy snacks and playing catch and conquering childhood fears of bedtime. Lines to the Movers’ shows stretched down blocks.
When the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina, the far-reaching disaster turned the Movers’ world upside down, but it didn’t put an end to their dream. Even while band members salvaged their belongings from flooded homes – and Smith reported to his day job as a fire fighter and first responder – they never stopped living according to the Movers’ motto: “Reach high, think big, work hard, have fun!”
This motto has served the band well. Not even the Imagination Movers could have fully imagined the band’s current breakthrough success. The Movers have filmed three seasons of their hit music-and-comedy series for Disney Junior and sales of Movers CDs, DVDs and merchandise are approaching a half million. Critical acclaim includes nods from Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times, which reported the Movers are “prized by many parents for non-condescending lyrics and music that evokes the Beastie Boys or Red Hot Chili Peppers.” Parenting magazine praised the band’s “dash of rebellion” and songs that are “fresh and treacle-free.” National television appearances include The View, Live with Regis Kelly, and Good Morning America. In 2009, the Imagination Movers won a Daytime Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences for outstanding original song in the children's show/animation category.
The Movers have also become a force to be reckoned with in the concert business. Their recent “In a Big Warehouse” tour attracted 150,000 fans and was one of Pollstar magazine’s top 100 tours of the year. They received stellar reviews from concertgoers thanks to the guys’ highly interactive music and winning ways with an audience.
For the Movers, it all starts with the songs. “Above all, we love following our muse and trying to write the best songs possible,” says Collins. “We’re proud of the hooks and production on all eight of our albums.” The band never sets out to target songs to specific age groups, Collins adds. Instead, a typical Movers set is “a collection of catchy pop/rock songs that we hope reflects our love and respect for the art form.”
Movers songs are inspired by their kids at home (Collins has five children; Poche and Durbin each have two.) but they also reveal a far-reaching musical sensibility, from hip-hop to country and numerous points in between. “Old funk, new wave, cool grooves, a little bit of punky stuff," Smitty says. "You listen to our music and you can pull a lot of that out.”
In addition to showcasing the Movers’ music, the Disney Junior series has introduced international audiences (it has aired in more than 55 countries and territories, in twelve languages) to the band members’ lively comedic talents. “We all love the classic comedy,” Durbin says. “Lots of people talk about the Monkees, which are an obvious reference for us. But really it’s Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers, Carol Burnett. Old-school fun.”
The Movers will be hitting the road to support Disney's release of the band's third-season soundtrack "Back in Blue." Says Collins: “Our goal is to make many of these kids’ first concert experience also one of their parents’ most memorable experiences. We hope everyone leaves needing a nap!
New York Times - Sept. 5, 2008
Like many new parents suddenly immersed in the strange world of kiddie entertainment, the four New Orleans friends known as the Imagination Movers looked at the landscape of children’s television and fantasized that they could do better.
Then they did something about it. Nearly six years after they first discussed the idea at a backyard birthday party for the son of one of their members, Scott Durbin, their homegrown show, also named “Imagination Movers,” begins on Saturday on the Disney Channel’s “Playhouse Disney” preschool lineup. The half-hour episodes will be shown daily at 10 a.m. Eastern time.
The show, which promotes creative problem-solving, incorporates the child-oriented indie rock music for which the Imagination Movers — Mr. Durbin, Scott Smith (known as Smitty), Rich Collins and Dave Poche — became known in New Orleans as they traveled a circuitous route to television.
Their high-energy songs, with titles like “What’s in the Fridge?” and “Clean My Room,” are prized by many parents for noncondescending lyrics and music that evokes the Beastie Boys or Red Hot Chili Peppers more than Barney or the Wiggles. “It isn’t music that as a parent makes you want to rip your hair out,” said Sascha Penn, an executive producer of the show, whose Penn/Bright Entertainment was brought in by Disney to help shape it. “It brings you back to your own adolescence.”
Set in an “idea warehouse,” the show was inspired by fond memories of Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers and a realization that there were no longer many male role models among preschool television offerings, said Mr. Durbin, 38. “The world of children’s programming is dominated by animation or puppets,” he said.
Except for a puppet mouse, the “Imagination Movers” universe is all adults, although the Movers themselves “are very kidlike,” said Mr. Collins, 39.
Indeed, as the Movers and supporting cast members puzzle out solutions to practical and fantastical challenges like how to move a giant pumpkin or stop a sneezing attack, they exude little of the Zen-like calm of Mister Rogers; the effect is closer to that of the Monkees as they zoom from song to song in their blue coveralls.
Many preschool shows promote problem-solving, but “Imagination Movers” takes a broader approach to the concept, said Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of Playhouse Disney Worldwide. “The way to get to the right answer is by putting lots of different ideas on the table, but even kids seem to be sometimes inhibited by that,” she said, because children worry about looking silly.
At the time they conceived of the show, the four men were working variously as an elementary school teacher, firefighter, architect and journalist; two had played in bands, and one did stand-up comedy. Mr. Durbin, the teacher, encouraged by a contact at the local PBS station, proposed a show to the close-knit group of friends, who lived within blocks of one another.
They began meeting at Mr. Poche’s house after their children went to bed (they now have nine children among them, from 3 months to 9 years old; only Mr. Smith, 39, is childless) and quickly settled on becoming a band first, Mr. Collins said. They worked their way up from local birthday parties to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Television was slower to come together; the PBS station, Mr. Durbin said, didn’t have the money. Undaunted, they made three CDs and a DVD on their own.
A DVD made its way to Disney, and Ms. Kanter flew to the jazz festival in 2005 to see them play in the children’s tent. (In recent years they have moved to the main stage. On Sunday they will play the national anthem at the New Orleans Saints’ first home game of the season.)
“I thought what distinguished them was that they were really genuine in wanting to make music for kids that parents could listen to,” Ms. Kanter said. “It wasn’t about being rock stars who had adult careers that had faded.” With some bands, she added, “I get why the parents like them, but I sometimes don’t get why kids would like them.”
Although the show barely refers to New Orleans, the Movers felt strongly about keeping production in the city, which became a challenge after Hurricane Katrina (in which three of them lost homes). When production began in 2007, construction supplies had to be shipped from neighboring states, said Skot Bright, an executive producer of the show and a partner in Penn/Bright. The extra costs were offset by Louisiana tax credits, and the show benefited from unusual dedication from the crew, Mr. Bright said.
Creatively, the floods proved to be a turning point, Mr. Collins said. He likened the aftermath of the storm to “hitting the reset button” as they rebuilt their lives. “At that moment we had a choice to make: play it safe, or everybody dive in headfirst.”
Mr. Poche, 41, added: “Carpe diem. You don’t know what tomorrow brings. So follow your dream and take the risk.”
And now that the show is a reality, Mr. Durbin said, the four of them sometimes feel like “the luckiest 12-year-olds in the whole world.”
DISNEY CHANNEL TO DEBUT SECOND SEASON OF PLAYHOUSE DISNEY HIT SERIES “IMAGINATION MOVERS,” SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5
Special Guest Stars and More Than 25 New Original Songs Included
Disney Channel will debut the second season of its hit music-filled Playhouse Disney series, “Imagination Movers,” SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5 (10:00 a.m., ET/PT). New episodes of the series, starring New Orleans’ favorite alternative rock band for preschoolers, will air every Saturday throughout September. The season will include more than 25 new original songs by the band.
(Editors please note: Images, clips and episode are available at www.disneychannelmedianet.com. Registration required).
Guest stars include Cheri Oteri ("Saturday Night Live") as a slightly bumbling tooth fairy, Joey Fatone (’N Sync, “Dancing with the Stars") as a baseball player, Nancy O’Dell ("Access Hollywood") as a sportscaster, Willie Garson ("Sex and the City") as a famous bicyclist, Grammy Award-winning blues artist Chris Thomas King ("O Brother Where Art Thou") as musician T-Bone Crosby, Duff Goldman ("Ace of Cakes") as a baker, Joshua Gomez ("Chuck") as a pirate, and Disney Channel stars Jason Dolley ("Good Luck Charlie") and Nicole Anderson ("JONAS") as Prince Charming and Cinderella, respectively.
“Imagination Movers” is a hit with audiences around the world, airing in over 55* countries/territories and in 12 languages since September 2008. In the U.S., the series ranks among TV’s Top 5 programs with preschoolers 2-5 in 3Q09 to date, and year to date has reached over 46 million unduplicated Total Viewers. Globally, “Imagination Movers” is the #1 original Playhouse Disney series launch ever among kids and Total Viewers in Australia, and in 1Q09 ranked as the #1 series on Playhouse Disney in the UK, Denmark and Sweden, while ranking as a Top 5 series in Italy, India and the U.S.
The popular Imagination Movers are: Rich Collins, a former journalist and father of five young children; Scott Durbin, an award-winning teacher and father of two young children; Dave Poche, an architect and father of two young children; and Scott “Smitty” Smith, a New Orleans firefighter who was a member of the Hurricane Katrina search and rescue effort.
“Imagination Movers” features the blue-suited band – Rich, Scott, Dave and Smitty – as everyday guy brain-stormers working hard to solve “idea emergencies” in their Idea Warehouse, a place of infinite inspiration. Each 30-minute episode features five songs presented in music video style performances.
The Imagination Movers’ latest CD, “For Those About to Hop,” a soundtrack from Season One of the television series, was released nationwide earlier this month by Walt Disney Records. Their first album from Walt Disney Records, “Juice Box Heroes,” was released in spring 2008.
Skot Bright and Sascha Penn ("Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party") are executive producers along with Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Rick Gitelson ("Handy Manny,” “Rugrats"). Band members Collins, Durbin, Poche and Smith are co-executive producers. “Imagination Movers” is produced by Penn Bright Entertainment and Zydeco Productions in association with Disney Channel.
“Imagination Movers” airs weekdays at 9:30 a.m., ET/PT and weekends at 10:00 a.m., ET/PT during Disney Channel’s Playhouse Disney programming block for preschoolers. The series carries a TV-Y parental guideline.
Playhouse Disney, seen in a daily programming block on Disney Channel U.S. and on 21 Playhouse Disney channels around the world, encourages preschoolers to imagine and learn through original series, short-form and acquired programming that includes song, movement and entertainment. Guided by an established curriculum, Playhouse Disney supports multiple areas of child development: physical, emotional, social and cognitive; thinking and creative skills as well as moral and ethical development through carefully constructed themes, storylines and endearing characters.
Source: NTI, U.S. ratings, Most Current. 2009 to date: 12/29/08-7/5/09. 3Q09 to date: 6/29-7/12/09. 1Q09: 12/29/08-3/29/09. U.S. reach based on standard 6 minute qualifier.
*Countries include: Australia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Sweden, UK, Canada, US, but note that many feeds go to additional countries where ratings are not available).
Hollywood Reporter - June 7, 2007
Dis rocks with preschool ’Movers’
By Kimberly Nordyke
Disney Channel has given a series pickup to “Imagination Movers,” a show for the preschool-targeted “Playhouse Disney” daily programming block that stars the New Orleans-based music group of the same name.
In addition, the group, whose music videos have been airing on Disney Channel since the fall, has signed with Walt Disney Records.
“Movers,” which will include music performances, stories and skits, is intended to emphasize creative problem-solving skills and introduce “high-energy” rock music to kids. It will feature the band members as “everyday guy” brain-stormers working hard to solve “idea emergencies."
The band comprises former journalist Rich Collins, former teacher Scott Durbin, architect Dave Poche and Scott “Smitty” Smith, a New Orleans firefighter who was a member of the Hurricane Katrina search-and-rescue team. Three of the band members lost their homes, production office, instruments and props to Katrina.
The series, which begins production at the NIMS Center in New Orleans in early October, is targeted for a 2008 premiere.
“After seeing the musical group perform at Jazzfest 2005 in New Orleans, we were determined to find a way to bring their energetic and infectious music to preschoolers everywhere,” Disney Channel senior vp original programming Nancy Kanter said. “They have already struck a resounding chord with our viewers through their music videos, and we look forward to adding this talented group to our series lineup."
Skot Bright and Sascha Penn are executive producers on the series. The band members are co-executive producing with Rick Gitelson.
In October, Walt Disney Records will release a “definitive introduction” to the Movers with a collection of songs titled “Juicebox Heroes,” culled from the group’s three albums. A new studio album will follow next year that will feature original songs from the series. The group is on tour.
New Orleans Times-Picayune - May 5, 2006
Those juice-box heroes, the Imagination Movers, sign TV and record deal with Disney
By Keith Spera, Music writer
As 2,400 grade-schoolers filed into the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner on a recent Tuesday morning, the four Imagination Movers warmed up in a backstage dressing room.
Amid the stretching, high kicks and jumping jacks, Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, Dave Poche and Scott “Smitty” Smith debated the pros and cons of short sleeves. Long-sleeve blue overalls are the popular children’s entertainers’ signature uniform, a brand identity known to thousands of local children and parents.
Unfortunately, their overalls breathe about as well as plastic, and the Movers are in constant motion onstage. Short sleeves might help, especially outdoors.
“Basically,” Collins said, “we’re trying to figure out how not to die at Jazzfest."
Today at 11:30 a.m., the Imagination Movers graduate from the Kids Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to the main Acura Stage. The promotion mirrors their status in the world at large.
In April, after a yearlong negotiation, the Imagination Movers finalized a deal to release albums through Walt Disney Records and create a television show for the Playhouse Disney channel. Given the marketing resources of the Disney empire, the Movers could well be the Next Big Thing in the burgeoning children’s music industry.
Already, it’s the only band in New Orleans music history ever discovered in the Kids Tent. That’s where Nancy Kanter, the senior vice president of programming for Playhouse Disney, first experienced the Movers phenomenon in 2005.
“We sat in the hot Kids Tent and were just blown away to see the response to them,” Kanter said. “We’d heard their CDs, but when you actually sit there with a couple hundred preschoolers and, in some cases, older kids, and see the way they react to the music, we thought, ’This is for us.’ “
Mover mania won’t sweep the rest of the nation until 2007, when the TV show is expected to premiere. Until then, they’ll continue to hone an act already adept at winning over young audiences.
Soon after they hit the stage at the Pontchartrain Center — at the decidedly un-rock ’n’ roll hour of 10 a.m. — hundreds of tiny bodies pogoed up and down like popcorn.
The four Movers leaped off the stage and raced through the aisles. Early in their history, they performed mostly to prerecorded tapes. Now, they take turns on live guitar, bass and drums. A year ago, they recruited Kyle Melancon to play additional drums onstage. So Melancon, who logged 10 years with punkabilly trio Dash Rip Rock, has effectively reversed his work schedule.
“Days gone by, I’d be getting home around now,” Melancon said before the 10 a.m. curtain call. “Now I’m just hitting the stage."
For big shows, the Movers add a four-piece horn section borrowed from popular party band the Bucktown Allstars. Today at Jazzfest, Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines and jam-band keyboardist Robert Walter are also scheduled to sit in.
At the Pontchartrain Center, the Movers sang about the joys of leftovers, healthy snacks and cleaning your room. They formed a conga line to the Latin-flavored chorus of “take, take, take your medicine when you are sick"; moms and teachers join in.
During “The Wah-Wah Song,” Smith, a firefighter by day, dashed to the back seats to find his firehouse captain, who was there with his children. Smith designated the captain a reluctant participant in the “wah wah wah” chorus — and gave him a souvenir Smitty cowboy hat.
Then the Movers engaged all 2,400 youngsters in a sing-song chant: “Reach high! Think big! Work hard! Have fun!"
It is the Mover motto.
Idea takes hold
The seeds of the Imagination Movers were sown in 2003 at a Lawrence Welk-themed backyard birthday party for Durbin’s son. A computer instructor at Isidore Newman School, Durbin had also spent several years in local rock band Clones At Play and appeared in television commercials.
At the party, he and some Lakeview buddies hatched the idea of a children’s show that merged “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” with uptempo, contemporary music like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “It was one of those ideas that, instead of falling by the wayside, got momentum,” Collins said.
Collins worked in online journalism, Poche as an architect, Smith as a firefighter, but all had dabbled in music. At brainstorming sessions, they developed a concept and look. They paid dues: clearing dog droppings from an Old Metairie park before a performance. Rocking out for eight children at a living room birthday party. Surviving an assault at New Orleans Country Club by youngsters intent on re-enacting “Lord of the Flies.” They opened for the puppet Elmo at the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
They constantly re-evaluated and tweaked their show to best capture short attention spans.
“The whole idea is to keep the kids into the show and moving,” Smith said, “We don’t want them sitting there looking for bugs or something. We want them having fun.
“It took us a long time to get the show to where it is now. As much as we may want to play other songs, we wind up going back to a core group that has the kids bouncing around. The trick is, you’ve got 45 or 50 minutes, and then the littlest ones will lose interest. If we add something, we’ve got to take something out."
And never condescend to the audience.
“You can’t play down to the kids,” Smith said. “You can’t play ’Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.’ The kids want to bounce around and have fun. Children listen to the same things their parents do."
Tested by Katrina
That the Movers connect with their audience so effectively impressed Disney’s Kanter.
“It’s not about, ’Gee, we didn’t make it as grown-up rock ’n’ rollers, so we’ll take a step down and play to kids,’ “ Kanter said. “They’re really making music for kids. And they have a wonderful, empowering message that comes across in their songs and their characters."
That message has struck a chord. In 2004, Collins quit his day job to nurture the growing Mover movement. They have sold about 30,000 copies of their first two CDs and a DVD, as well as thousands of T-shirts. They’ve earned awards from national parenting organizations. XM Satellite Radio broadcasts the Movers. The same high-powered Los Angeles firm that handles actor Martin Lawrence and rockers Limp Bizkit now manages the Movers.
Like most New Orleans musicians, the Movers did not escape Hurricane Katrina unscathed. Three of the four lost their homes in Lakeview. Their Bienville Street office also flooded, destroying thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, instruments and stage props. Smith rode out the storm and joined the search-and-rescue operation.
Just before Katrina, the Movers had finished recording their third album at Collins’ home studio. Collins evacuated with the iMac computer containing the music files strapped into a car seat next to his children.
Weeks later, they added another song, “We Got Each Other (The Evacuation Song),” inspired by the trauma. The CD’s title, “Eight Feet,” refers not only to the level of water in Lakeview, but the musicians’ collective eight feet that will carry them forward.
’Done their homework’
Their success in the local market did not go unnoticed. Several companies engaged in a bidding war over the Movers.
Finally, on April 7, they signed with Disney. Dino Gankendorff, the local attorney who negotiated for the Movers, said the deal “represents probably one of the more significant entertainment deals in this region in some time.
“And it’s unique in that you’re dealing with an entity that owns TV networks and radio stations,” Gankendorff said, referring to Disney. “It’s hard to get your material on radio and TV. When you own it, it becomes easier."
As part of the deal, Walt Disney Records bought the Movers’ catalog of three albums. The company will likely cull the best material for a single CD, to be promoted nationally.
The hope is that the record will provide momentum — and income — while the Movers spend months developing their TV show. They met with a Disney executive Thursday, working on ideas.
“They’ve done their homework,” Kanter said. “They know what they want their show to be about, and that’s a tremendous help as we try to bring that to life. We’re not planning to reinvent them. Each one has a distinct personality. They’re very smart guys who understand who they are and what they’re good at.
“TV is a funny business, and audiences are hard to predict. But we wanted to get in business with them to see if we could . . . bring the Imagination Movers to kids all over the place."
If they succeed, the Movers hope to stay true to their original mission.
“We’ve always thought of kids as creators instead of consumers,” Durbin said. “If this works out and it becomes successful, consumerism takes over. But whatever we create, we hope it’s meaningful.
“Moving the imagination and encouraging creativity in children — we want to uphold that, whatever we become."
Keith Spera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3470.
“I have seen the future of children’s music and its name is Imagination Movers!”
— Kevin Griffin (vocals, guitar), Better Than Ezra
“Take the kids!"
— The Washington Post
“A dash of rebellion spices up these catchy rock songs and astute lyrics. Fresh and treacle-free.”
— Parenting Magazine
“New Orleans’ Next Big Thing in Music!"
— Keith Spera, Music Writer, The Times-Picayune
“Imagination Movers get kids and the folks alike on the floor, moving along to the playful tunes and fresh lyrics. The Movers clearly follow Willy Wonka’s dictum that ‘there is no life ... to compare with pure imagination.’ Their music serves to jump-start the imaginations of the rest of us."
— Michael Tisserand, editor, Gambit Weekly and author, The Kingdom of Zydeco
“The Imagination Movers are talented musicians and songwriters, first and foremost. The music is intelligently designed, expertly produced and maddeningly infectious. It’s well-crafted music that kids love and grown-ups respect — catchy melodies, clever, engaging lyrics ... and cool jumpsuits!”
— Kenny Curtis, Program Director, XMKiDS/XM Satellite Radio
“One of the best kids’ CDs I have ever heard. What a great range of songs and clever lyrics with great tunes. The Imagination Movers have become one of the best children’s music groups in the country!”
— Stephen Winzenburg, station manager - KDPS Radio, Des Moines, Iowa
“Imagination Movers are the U2 of kids music with a big anthemic pop/rock sound, catchy lyrics, & of course, imagination."
— Indie Kids Rock, May ’06 review
“Children love the Imagination Movers and they love “Stir It Up!” “Stir It Up” is a must-have for your child’s DVD library.”
— Sheri Allen, Preschool Entertainment
“Scott, Dave, Rich, and Smitty—the Imagination Movers—make music that’s as much for parents as kids. While their lyrics are aimed at the short set, their bouncy tunes evoke pop and funk acts like Smash Mouth, Devo, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
— Kathleen C. Fennessy, Amazon.com
“This was without a doubt one of the most exciting and engaging performances that we have ever had! The children and families were delighted with the songs and the interactive nature of the performance."
— Joan Bompane, Child Life Director, Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian
“How refreshing to have such positive energy and great messages shared with our young children. The Movers are modeling good ideas and healthy messages for us all.”
— Julia Bland, Executive Director, Louisiana Children’s Museum
“In a time when children are often being pushed into adult worlds with adult themes, here is a group of very talented people who are celebrating children being children.”
— Donna Newton, director, The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital
“Imagination Movers motivates children (and adults) to learn about themselves, their relationships, and the world around them in ways that are fresh and exciting. … I strongly recommend this ingenious quartet to children and caregivers alike."
— Julie A. Larrieu, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, Tulane Medical Center