Sara Farber “loves writing puns for four-year-olds.” Farber is a toy writer and content developer, meaning that she is responsible for the jokes, songs, and chatter emanating from many of the talking toys in your home. She also develops content for apps, digital books, virtual worlds, and electronic games.
We here at Parents’ Choice are connoisseurs of good toys, and we appreciate how much work is poured into them. There are many behind-the-scenes elements that go into creating a successful toy that promotes play and learning seamlessly, and it was a treat to hear how Sara, who has contributed to several Parents’ Choice Award winners, is involved in that process. She spoke to Parents’ Choice about the work she does, and we hope that toy lovers young and old will enjoy the glimpse she gives of how toys are developed and designed.
As a student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, Sara Farber studied behavioral biology. Though she could have spent her professional career researching rat behavior, Sara chose instead to begin work at the Calvert School in Baltimore, where she developed cd-roms for children. After spending time programming and managing content at the Calvert School, she moved to NYC and began work at Sesame Workshop, still called Children’s Television Workshop back then, as a Producer of preschool CD-ROM games. It’s there that she rekindled her love of Muppets and became even more focused on creating kids’ interactive entertainment. She then moved on to become Manager of Global Product Development at VTech, where she transitioned from software to electronic toys, learning the ins and outs of the industry from an amazing team of experts. Next, Sara spent six years at Fisher-Price as the Director of Content Design, where she continued to hone her skills while building a robust content department. In the midst of all that, Sara earned her M.A. in Cognitive Development from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has also studied Sketch Comedy Writing and Improv at Upright Citizens Brigade.
Now Sara works as a freelance writer and consultant for toys, apps, and games. Her clients have included Fisher-Price, Gund, Hasbro, Scribble Press, and Spin Master. A typical request for Sara’s services might be, “We’ve got a singing, dancing Mickey Mouse and we need a script and song lyrics for it.” That’s not as easy as it sounds, and a lot of research goes into each of her projects. Sara says that she has worked on hundreds of products featuring over forty licensed brands throughout her career, from Dora the Explorer to Barbie to SpongeBob SquarePants. Each one has a unique voice, and Sara notes that “What’s funny for Elmo is different from what’s funny for Winnie the Pooh.” To prepare herself for new jobs, Sara watches hours of movies or TV episodes. Recently, she watched The Penguins of Madagascar to prepare herself to write dialogue from their perspective.
After researching each character, Sara develops a script based on what she’s learned about their personalities and mannerisms. For more complex toys and educational software, she may spend weeks researching and developing the story line, curriculum, and supporting games. Writing the lines said by the characters in the toy comes last, and any work must be approved by the licensor of that character. Toys must say things that children understand, but that adults still find funny too. Sara also tries to keep things silly enough to inspire creativity. When writing book templates for the story-writing app Scribble Press, she added playful themes like “My Dog Ate My Homework” and “My Babysitter is a Zombie”. Such offbeat story starters require kids to use their imagination in order to finish the tale.
When it comes to toys and games that talk, the last step is recording the actual voices, and Sara often assists with that aspect too. She’s worked on chatty characters ranging from grumpy dinosaurs to sweet teddy bears. Getting the right voice is important. The age and gender of the actor cast for the part is carefully considered for each toy. When directing the voice talent, Sara emphasizes clarity and delivery.
After fifteen years in the toy and children’s media industry, Sara has started her own company, Galactic Sneeze, which she runs with her husband. They’ve created the board/party game Schmovie, which challenges players to craft witty titles for outlandish movie premises. Years of writing witty one-liners for talking toys prepped Sara for creating this laugh out loud game, which she hopes will be a huge success. The game will be available soon, and in the meantime you can “Like” the Facebook page to play along. See if you can come up with the best answer to their daily challenges. The winner receives a customized Schquid Trophy with his or her name on it! A recent challenge asked: “Got a title for this SCHMOVIE? An ACTION FILM about a KILLER SANDWICH. Can you beat “Rye Hard”?
Sara is committed to “inspiring creativity from a young age.” She has spent years studying and developing play patterns for toys and games, and says that “even though the work itself isn’t always fun and games, the end result is.” The next time that you play with a talking teddy bear, remember that someone like Sara wrote the words it says!