Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Independent Success

The video embedded above has been viewed almost 42 million times. That's a number larger than the population of many countries, including Canada.

If you're not aware of it, Simon's Cat has been around for about 5 years and is a series of cartoons like the above by Simon Tofield on YouTube.  In addition to his animation, Tofield has authored eight books featuring the character.

Now, he has sold worldwide distribution rights to Entertainment One, and their goal is to broadly merchandise the character.

Merchandising has always been gravy money in the animation business.  Somebody pays you to produce products featuring your character.  While there are some costs associated with it, such as quality control, it's less expensive than animation and more profitable.  Licensing a character is as close as you can get in animation to printing money.  (That's why The Simpsons is still on the air even though its ratings have fallen substantially over the years).

 Look at what Tofield has done.  The series is designed to be just linework, no colour or gray tones.  All the films are pantomime so that they can be understood around the world.  There is no music except over the opening and closing credits.  They videos are based on an animal that's familiar to everyone.  The videos are short and there is no standard length, so they are as long as they need to be, not padded like TV animation to fill a predetermined slot.  It's built on a continuing character and the animation focuses on behavior, not stock poses or timing.

Not every idea is going to catch on with audiences, but here is proof that a single person with an idea and the ability to design to fit his production limitations can create a success and keep ownership of it.

Thanks to the internet, there were no gatekeepers.  There were no broadcasters changing the idea to make it more popular (as if they know how); no studio to take the rights away from Tofield and offer him what's called monkey points.  Monkey points are a percentage of profits, but when the studio is doing the book keeping, somehow there never are profits no matter how successful a property becomes.

Tofield had an idea and a way to get it to the audience.  That opportunity is available to everyone.  While the results will vary, it's more proof that pitching ideas to studios or broadcasters isn't necessary for success.

(Thanks, Paul Teolis)


Charles Kenny said...

I would agree, however, the changing nature of YouTube and it's concentration on 'channels' means that creators will (if they are not already) be forced to again pitch ideas in order to gain access to a read-made audience.

It's essentially the same game with different players.

Andrea said...

While "channels" may come to youtube, by no means does a filmmaker need to submit work to that format. Artists can have their own channels on youtube or elsewhere. Audiences have the freedom to choose what and when to watch content on the internet. As well, youtube will likely hunt for quality content to add to their channels, rather than listen to pitches.

Matt B said...

Mark, it might interest you to know that Simon Tofield & the Simons Cat project also has the full backing of the Award winning UK based animation studio Tandem Films, where Simon himself has worked as an animator & director on various projects for many years prior to this venture. So yes, you are absolutely right in calling it a major success for an independent animation and to shout the praises of the creator owned content & the subsequent Licensing & Merchandising of the character/show. But just make sure you also set the record straight as to this being just a little bit bigger & better funded/supported than your average “indie” content or one-man-band creator.

Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks for providing more information.

Matt B said...

Mark, sad news from just under a year ago. Tandem Films Closed it doors in August 2014 And once again it highlights the Simon Tofield connection "Although TANDEM will be closing its doors, we would like to clarify, that since 2008 Simon’s Cat Ltd. has been growing and thriving as an entirely separate limited company and will continue to do so. We are really proud to have represented Simon among our roster of talented Director’s and wish him and the team increased success." I've been a fan of Tandem & their work since early 2000, when I first discovered them in high school, with SBS airing their award winning short Flatworld directed by Daniel Greaves. Mr Greaves also directed the Academy Award Winning short Manipulation years earlier. How to Cope with Death by Ignacio Ferreras should also get a special mention & look in, if you haven't already seen any of their films. Mark, thanks again for you & those involved at AnimaticTO making your lecture available online for those of us half a world away, I really enjoyed it.