What does it take to create, develop and sell an animated TV series? Persistence, salesmanship, a willingness to be 'flexible and open' ---- and a thick skin. Here's what the pros say.
By Dean Stefan, WGAW Animation Caucus member
(August 5, 2013)
Photo: Sheila Boyd
WGAW Animation Caucus panelists: (L-R) Steven Melching, Bob Roth, Ted Biaselli, Craig Miller and Dean Stefan
Saturday, July 27. Panel: Creating Animated Series ---
Many in the audience and more than a few of the panelists were bleary-eyed from the festivities and activities of the previous few days. But it quickly became an engaging and interesting forum, chock-full of anecdotes, humor and more than a few wisps of insight from those who’ve been in the trenches. Moderator/panelist and WGAW Animation Caucus member Craig Miller (Pocket Dragon Adventures) got things moving at a brisk pace, and his first question was answered by Ted Biaselli (Vice President, Programming & Development, The Hub), who gave a very incisive overview of what a studio exec looks for in a pitch. The other panelists, writers and story editors Bob Roth, Steven Melching and Dean Stefan – all members of the WGAW’s Animation Caucus - added their own insights and swapped war stories about some of the “harsh realities” of developing and selling a series.
The audience’s questions focused mostly on the basic theme of what constitutes a full-fledged animation series pitch - How much is too much? How much is not enough? Is artwork needed? Should you leave a document behind? It was generally agreed that there are no hard and fast rules, except ‘whatever it takes’ to get your idea across. Some series require a fair amount of explanation and set-up, some can be explained clearly in a few paragraphs, some even in a single-line high-concept synopsis ( “It’s Smurfs meets Spiderman, set in a prisoner-of-war camp!”)
The panelists seemed to agree that what it boils down to is that your pitch should impart enough information for those you’re pitching to ‘get’ the show. And while it needn’t be a long pitch, you should be prepared to fill in the details. Also, know the show you’re trying to sell and know your characters intimately.
Other topics included the most desirable target demographics for animated series (depends upon the show), whether it’s necessary to live in Los Angeles if you want a career in animation (probably a good idea) and one of the toughest questions facing any writer or creator: what if a studio likes aspects of your pitch but wants changes made, either in character (“Can your hero be an 11 year old, rather than a 25 year old?”) or tone (“Can you make it action-adventure, rather than pre-school?”) or asks you to change the very essence or core of what you’re pitching (“We love that Jaws movie idea, but does it have to be a shark? And does it have to take place on water? Really expensive to animate in CGI.”)
The collective wisdom of the panel was that it’s ultimately up to the creator as to how much they are willing and/or able to compromise (or put another way, ‘be flexible and open’) as per the needs or wants of the studio. But persistence pays off. Some hugely successful series took many attempts - lots of pitching to studios, tweaking and adjusting, sometimes over the course of months or even years -- before they were greenlighted.
Bottom line: While it’s great to be passionate about your series idea, be as knowledgeable as you can be about the realities of the marketplace and demographic needs of the studio you’re pitching.
Learn more about the WGAW Animation Caucus.
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