President’s Column: August 2015
Are you inspired yet? Here’s one last chance!
Greetings fellow cartoonists, artists, writers, animators, and all other creative people out there. I’m here again with the third and final installment of words to motivate and inspire you from the book Animation Development: From Pitch to Production by David B. Levy (available at Amazon.com). If you missed the first two articles you can find them on the CNW website under “President’s Column” on the top menu. Okay? Good!
As I’ve explained, this book is a great resource for developing and pitching an animated series for television. However, many of the observations and advice in the book can apply to other forms of visual storytelling. I’m sure many of you reading this are sitting on a great idea for a comic book series, funny comic strip, or a cute children’s book story. Well, what are you waiting for? The publishing fairy isn’t going to come and magically turn your idea into the next great graphic novel or best selling children’s book. You’ve got to make that happen yourself! And you can if you follow the advice I’ve been writing about. What have you got to lose? You’ll thank yourself in the end for at least trying. And who knows where your journey will lead you? Blaze a new trail and make it happen.
When pitching your idea to a development executive, one of the questions you are most likely to hear is “What’s your hook?”. The answer shouldn’t be “Uh..what’s a hook?”. You’ve got to be better prepared than that! Animator Doug Vitarelli describes a hook as “a one to two sentence description that ‘hooks’ the person you’re talking to.” In other words, you’ve got to be able to boil down your idea into its most basic premise. Doing this will also help you bring your concept into sharp focus. You need to get rid of all the clutter and unnecessary details that will dilute your main theme. When pitching your idea to someone you’ve go to spark their interest first, then proceed to elaborate with the specifics. As any salesman or politician would say, to convince someone you’ve go to hook ‘em first, then reel ‘em in!
Speaking of fishing analogies, here’s one for you: “The fisherman with more lines in the water is more likely to get a nibble.” This is how David advises us when it comes to showing your idea to more than one network or publisher. Unless the network specifically asks you to hold off from showing your project to anyone else, it’s always a good idea to widen your exposure to expand potential opportunities. But a word of caution! David advises: “Make sure you are not pushing your simultaneous pitching in each network’s face. It is a mistake to try to play networks against each other.” This make sense. Keep your cards close to the vest. Don’t reveal anything unless asked. Then you can perhaps use other offers as leverage. But I’d leave the negotiating to the lawyers. You don’t want to screw up any relationships. Keep your hands clean and stay focused on the creative end of the pitch. Let a professional negotiate on your behalf and handle the diplomatic back and forth.
Persistence is the name of the game here. Keep at it. The goal shouldn’t be to get a positive response right away that leads to a development deal. Think long term. The idea is to establish relationships and create a network. When I start pitching my ideas next year I fully expect to meet people who are not ready to pursue my projects. That’s okay. I know that somewhere out there my ideas are a perfect match with what a network is looking for. I just don’t know with whom or how long it will take for this perfect union to happen. But I know I’ll never stop. TV animation creator Alan Goodman gives great advice to this end: “…if the buyer doesn’t like [your idea], that doesn’t mean anything at all. It just wasn’t a match that day, that’s all. If you are good and you believe in your work, get another meeting with someone else. Go see that buyer with another project, but don’t take it personally. The successful creators never do.”
And finally, I’d like to sum up this series with a quote David Levy used in his final chapter. It’s from Jerry Beck, creator of Hornswiggle for Random! Cartoons, Fredarator/Nickelodeon. He says: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Develop several ideas and set up multiple meetings with rival networks. Keep busy and don’t wait around for any one meeting to respond. Keep creating things that would be fun to see… and fun to work on.” I will Jerry, I certainly will!
Special thanks to the author of Animation Development: From Pitch to Production (available at Amazon.com), David B. Levy for his kind permission to pull quotes from his book and his excellent feedback on my columns. Stay tuned, this may not be the last time you hear from him!