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What is pitching a cartoon like?

With any luck I’ll be able to tell you what it’s like to successfully sell a show one day.  But, for now, and since it’s on my mind, I thought I’d share a little about my experiences pitching.  Thusfar, I think I’ve pitched…at least 7 concepts.  I happen to be situated (for the past 8yrs!) adjacent to the steps that leading to the loft where most pitches are held in our studio.  I never purchased any spy gear, but based on observation, I can tell you that there are many “types” of people offering their IP ideas; from well known Shatner personas to meek, wiry artsy types; seasoned animation professionals to boisterous, obnoxious types; from gifted orators, to ordinary mortals.  I think they have seen it all!  The most perplexing question is who are “they”- the ones with the keys to your fate?  ”They” are typically Development Team members or producers.  Depending on the situation or clout of the persons pitching, “They” can either be a ‘lieutenant’ type who digests and parlays to their superiors, or the actual development heads.  Occasionally, high ranking execs participate in pitch meetings; typically, that’s when there’s “star” who’s pitching.  The problem (for the one pitching) is that each development person is different. You can’t encapsulate the type of person who takes pitches.  They even have disparate educational backgrounds.  If you’re unfamiliar with who they are, you couldn’t predict what they’ll be like.  It’s natural to speculate about them based on whatever information you gathered.  But, that’s really a futile usage of time and energy.  Though…in theory, the more factual insight you have about whom you’re pitching to, the more prepared you’ll be.  Best to give them the benefit of the doubt, because irregardless of how they actually are, you want to have a rapport if possible.  The last thing you want is to leave a bad impression.  Usually, they tend to be warm and welcoming.  If the pitch goes well and you hold their interest, it’s generally a good experience with ideas being exchanged.  They tend to be poker-faced for obvious business reasons I suppose.  After the pitch, they will hold on to your offerings sometimes indefinitely (the limbo can make you mad).  So, you can expect some time (1 week to 2 months!) to pass before you really know the outcome of your pitch.  If the material you offer isn’t appreciated from the get go, they’ll likely be direct about it for better or worse.  If your pitch is bombing they might not be so warm.  They might actually be annoyed that you’re wasting their time; and you in fact might be.  Imagine how many bad or tired ideas they listen to.  So, first rule is to be prepared:  know your own material.  Sounds obvious.  But, you might overwhelm yourself with material that isn’t pertinent to the pitch.  Try to stay on point.  All that colorful in-depth, anal backstory, or stuff that you went through to arrive at your concept could be held off for a more appropriate time.   The first pitch I ever did at Fox bombed.  I didn’t know what to expect.  So, when we walked into a “boardroom” full of apparently important people, we were taken aback.  I was expecting one or two people, not 10 or so.  I got self-conscious and resorted to reading the copy from our “Show Bible”.  Undoubtedly, we lost them at that point.  I was no longer engaged.  It was sad and palpable from my standpoint.  You should expect “failures” and mentally prepare yourself to bounce back:  perserverence is an important component of pitching.  Part of the whole pitch as I’ve come to understand, is actually selling yourself.  In addition to the material, they are assessing you, and whether or not they want to deal with you, or even like you.  That’s human nature, and it doesn’t magically become irrelevant when you pitch.  Take a moment to think about how you’re presenting yourself compared to what you want to project.  When I stumbled during my second pitch due to feeling self-conscious (again), I reached out and received good advice.   I was reminded that sometimes it’s wise to be pragmatic and partner with someone who can deliver material well.  I’m a somewhat confident, so the next time I tried to overcome my hangups and did another solo pitch to two execs.  It went better than before.  That was because it was a more relaxed and informal pitch.  Incidentally, the pitches I’ve done since that first high pressure one comprised one or two development figureheads.  For the next pitch, I took that good advice and teamed up.  It went much better.  I felt far less pressure, and it was actually a joy to collaborate with people who were great at pitching.  And, the pitch itself was more fun to do, and dare I say actually entertaining!  Besides the eased pressure, I actually learned some of their delivery techniques - primarily rehearsing.  The only downsides of partnering I’ve seen are:  that the show is no longer entirely yours, and I know of at least one situation where there was a falling out and ownership became an issue.  I suppose clear agreements about ownership, or a contingency plan are advisable…Anyway, the effect of the last pitch I mentioned was that it went well (it felt good).  We received positive feedback, despite being passed over.  (Aside:  Just recently, I was watching video about screenwriting and the author/teacher mentioned that the sure sign of an amateur is that they don’t take rejection or criticism well.  A professional knows better.)  Anyhow, we took that feedback, retooled the show premise and took it to a different studio.  We successfully addressed the issues raised the first time around.  That pitch went even better!  In fact, it was the best one to date.  But, sadly we created new issues with the redirection.  So, that one was passed on also-despite the great feeling we had about it.  And, that’s okay.  When you have a good pitch, you walk away feeling like you did your best.  And, if they pass, it isn’t as painful as when you know you didn’t try your best.  You glean what you can and apply what you learned to your next pitch.  After a while you accumulate show ideas and characters, and even if you never get a show, it can be somewhat gratifying to look collectively at what you’ve created and know there’s inherent value in that.  These days, I’ve heard from panel discussions that it’s becoming more common for prospective show creators to have representation.   So, I think it’s probably more difficult today to cold call and set up a pitch date than it was in the past.  I presume development execs are hoping to vet the talent somewhat by using agencies and such as screeners.  I’m kind of all over the map here, aren’t’ I?…Anyhow, I’m more or less at the present day now.  Since that last really good pitch, there have been three others.  One was for a short that fell short.  Shorts are a different animal that normal show pitches.  You have tighter constraints.  It needs to be that much more concise.  Even if it’s just a one minute short, there needs to be a story (They liked my character, but I didn’t really have a story).  The other two pitches were for a new show idea with a new partner.  We pitched it once, got feedback.  Then, tinkered with it and pitched again; got the rejection and presently are still massaging it, because we like it and think it can be refined further.  And that’s another important component of pitching:  you should enjoy the process enough to want to work it through, while being willing to shelve a project and start anew.  I’m not fond of the phrase “kill your babies”, but it can feel that way if you poured a lot of yourself in it.  That’s what stings when you get rejected.  Also, if you are pitching for the wrong reasons (i.e. just for the money), that will be apparent.  Man!  There’s more to talk about here:  like how frustrating it can be to see new shows crop up that you hate while you’ve been working your ass off.  That kind of thing makes you dig deep and question your existence!  That’s hard to avoid, but another waste of energy.  Of course, you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement which essentially states that they’ve heard it all, and that your idea might already be in development in a similar form-with potentially the “exact same designs” - I kid you not!  Remember: a good portion of the pitch is selling yourself - it’s not just your idea (that’s supposed to reassure you a little).  Another frustrating thing is comparing everything you think you’ve learned about pitching to what gets picked up.  Often times what you’ve learned seems contradictory to what they do.  And, there’s no way to figure out the rhyme or reasons.  That can also make you insane in the membrane. The most rational reason is that they are constantly in flux and dealing with ever-changing business variables (remember:  benefit of the doubt).  Apparently, timing is another magical factor to pitching.   If you’re lucky your concept is in line with what they are looking for.  What they’re “looking for” changes periodically.  And, it can change on a dime if you astound them.  I’m sure you’ve heard by now that comparing yourself to someone else is pointless.  I know personally that I’ve had more fun and satisfaction pursuing my own ideas than when I compare myself and try to compete with others.  And, enjoying it all is paramount.  The problem with competing is that someone has set a bar, and when you compete you’re engaged with others who are focused on that one particular bar and the one who already established it has probably moved on.  You’ll never be in the same league with that first guy.  You can’t really win at that.  At best you’ll be compared favorably, but you won’t stand out.  One thing our former studio manager imparted in his “Words of Wisdom” address was to not be jealous.  I think that’s another human emotion that’s hard to constrain.  But, I think the wisdom in that idea is not to harbor negativity.  That’s similar to the money thing:  it’s apparent and ultimately annoying.  Finally, if you’re totally green to all this stuff, you’re probably wondering what you include in a pitch or a “Show Bible”.  In a nutshell, you have an idea and you have to express it as succinctly and simply as humanly possible.  If your idea is like other similar ideas, you have to contend with that problem.  For presentation you basically need: a simple show premise (a paragraph or so).  You should be able to sum that up into a log line - that very brief sentence that entices you to click on a program.  Then, you have descriptions and ideally representations of your characters and their world.  Those characters should stand on their own.  They should be intriguing enough to make people want to see them come alive and interact with each other - at least, that’s my opinion right now.  The world they live in helps you distinguish your show and hints at the show’s complexity ($).  They also generally want to have a half dozen or so show premises (individual episode summaries) to indicate the viability and texture.  They may want to see an entire outline of a script.  That is probably unnecessary up front, but can’t hurt to have on hand.  Another good thing to have is basically a poster-type image that captures the show.  It doesn’t need to be poster-sized.  If you can’t do it justice with your iconic image, then it may not help you. Most development people have said that over-the-top props and posters aren’t necessary.  They actually feel bad that you spent the money.  That’s pretty much it.  Hopefully, you have an idea of what pitching a cartoon is like now and aren’t as intimidated as I was my first time.  -Waveybrain

"Who Says Yes ?"-Notes from tonight’s animation panel

Tonight I went to panel discussion at our Union with development execs from Cartoon Network, The Hub, Frederator, and RGH Entertainment.  They were there to discuss what criteria they evaluate when making programing development decisions.  It was an interesting talk and Q&A.  Below are the notes that I tapped away on my phone.  They’re pretty much in chronological order.  Hopefully, they are useful to you.  There really weren’t any surprises, just some good insights and pointers about what to be conscious of if you want to pitch your ideas or become a content producer.  


The Panel:

David Corbett (Executive Director N. America, RGH Entertainment) -theme park/brandinig/(web) content.  They “Co-produce” IP and distribute through various channels depending on content viability-Basically a middle man operation with many partners and seeks to ‘exploit’ and grow value from animation content.  RGH has it’s own in-house art department and marketing arm, and typically partners with larger distribution conglomerates.

Katie Krentz  (CN comedy animation)-shorts program/In response to a question:  she’s empowered to green light projects to a development stage w/ exec partner/Further investment in series development involves higher level execs./CN develops ‘70% of new shows’ using in-house talent.

Rick Blanco (VP CN Enterprises (consumer products)-Rick is involved in brand strategizing and consumer products.  He has varied experience from being a MBA to an artist.  Regarding salable product, he believes  ”Content will always be king”,  

Donna Ebbs (Sr. VP of programming, The Hub)-a Hasbro, Discover Kids joint venture.  

Eric Homen (VP, Development, Frederator Studios/Cartoon Hangover), Currently looking for content for YouTube channel launching soon

Unanimous-Network strategy is to look at collective whole when green lighting or making acquisitions/typically, 1yr dev for a pilot and before a property is ready to be packaged for corporate presentation/

The Hub is growing (‘mid start-up phase’) & ever conscious of:  programming, content, scheduling budget-ie., operations : HUB doesn’t do pilot episodes/very stripped down operation at this point.  They make investments in production runs and go ‘head first’. So they’re very cautious.

Mr. Corbett stated that companies appreciate entrepreneurs who do legwork prior to pitching-like:  securing partnerships, market research, providing stats, etc.  Address risk:  $10,000s at stake, try to demonstrate proof of concept.  ”Line up your ducks”  

*At which point I began to wonder why we need middle men nowadays.  It seems it’s not enough to just create content, characters and environments.  In a perfect world, they also would like you to be business savvy and present a business case along with your creative content.  Mr. Blanco made it a point that it behooves aspiring content creators to have a business education-even a rudimentary one is better than nothing. More than once Mr. Corbett remarked that he loved to take pitches and see peoples ideas regardless.  He finds it inspirational.  Who wouldn’t enjoy that privilege?  Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice man and being forthright.  But, you gotta wonder if you’d be better off owning your own content and keeping it private and protected and finding a new means of distribution.  Each panelist did however explain their virtues and why you may prefer to partner with them and possibly benefit from their experience, networks, and capital.  

Understanding their audience; brand testing; brand value, audience analytics (utilizing services like FB, or Google) is very important to networks in determining whether new IP holds value for their respective company and in their efforts in understanding and defining their audiences.

Development execs are spending substantial time and resources scanning user generated content on Youtube and the like, as well as combing the more traditional festivals and conventions looking for content.  

Retail Conundrum:  ”Girls Isle” vs “Boys Isle” is a very big obstacle with traditional retail & consumer product.  ”Spongebob” was cited as an example of a highly successful property that never really fully capitalized on it’s toy market potential.  Partly, because the show doesn’t fit the tradition retail mold of Girls Isle or Boys Isle.  

Some examples of “girls shows” with a cross-gender appeal:  ”Buffy”, “Zena”, “Power Puff” (originally, Whoop Ass Girls), “She-Ra”, “Wonderwoman”, “Atomic Betty”, etc.

Traditional Retail Theory: 
Girls = Pink/Boys= Monsters & Trucks
*Target was cited because they have started something called, ‘Innovation Station’ as a gender-neutral shelf space.  And, the panelists sensed a change in The Force.

Mr. Homen’s words of wisdom regarding “The Pitch”:  Every executive’s job is to say “NO”, and it’s ‘your’  job to anticipate that “No”,  be prepared and counter it-like a game of  Chess. Try to anticipate barriers.  Be informed they all reiterated.

Mr. Blanco:  ’Focus groups are BS & can be skewed ‘

Before you pitch:  know your IP backwards & forwards:  Own it!  Don’t let them question you as a show runner (a potential creator pit-fall) because you aren’t confident or versed enough about your own creation.  Be passionate, believe, do your homework.  Know who you’re pitching to.  For the best outcome, take your work to the most receptive company.  And, be respectful.  If you aren’t, you’re unlikely to be received again.


Q:  Who’s the “decider” (when receiving a pitch)?

-Mr. Corbett:  Ultimately Finance says, “yes”.

Q:   What kind of content to include in a pitch?  

-Ms. Krentz: Providing artwork=good.  They like to see a sense of style, your color palette and artistic sensibilities, etc.

Q: Any advice about pitching hard to classify concepts?

-Ms. Ebbs: Try to classify define your IP irrespective of it’s peculiarities.  It can be done & is what they expect-a longline.

Q:  ’What gets you excited when taking a pitch?”
-Ms. Krentz:  Is it funny?  Do ‘I’ connect w/ character(s)?

-Mr. Corbett:  Is the story good and passionately written?

Q:  What are you looking for w/ shorts?
Frederator:  A beat board/material to walk you through the cartoon episode-backstory etc. unnecessary to pitch a short.
-Ms. Krentz:  Looking for funny, edgey, geared to 6-11   boys, consistent w/ studio’s tone
-Ms. Ebbs:  imaginative/world viewed through a new perspective?