Saturday, April 12, 2014

Don't Pitch to Buyers, Pitch to the Audience - Part Six

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.  Part 5 is here.

What do you love more, your idea or animation?  This is not an idle question.  When it comes to producing something fast and cheap, animation isn't high on the list.  It takes time, and in the current media environment, the audience wants a steady stream of new material or it will lose interest and move on.

The skills used to make animated films -- the ability to write, design, draw and stage situations -- can be applied to other things.  When animation professionals do personal work, it is often in some other medium.

When Bob Clampett left Warner Bros. animation to work in television in the early years, he knew that he could not produce animation fast and cheap enough to keep up with a television schedule.  Instead, he took his sensibility and gave it to the audience in the form of a puppet show, Time for Beany.

Animator Mike Kunkel took his ideas and turned them into a comic book series called Herobear and the Kid.

Storyboard artist Katie Rice does a webcomic called Camp Weedonwantcha.  Her site is a good example of how to interact with fans and earn money. 

Storyboard artist Vera Brosgal created a graphic novel called Anya's Ghost.

Chris Sanders and Dean Yeagle, both directors and animators, have published sketchbooks of their work.

Character designer and animator Tony Fucile does children's books.

Designers Bobby Chiu and Kay Acedera sell prints and have also created a motion comic called Niko and the Sword of Light.

Should an idea prove successful, it can always be done as animation at a later date.  Former Disney animator Cyril Pedrosa just sold the film rights to his graphic novel Three Shadows.  There's also Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

There are more opportunities available now to reach an audience and generate income than have ever existed.  That's not to say it is easy.  Creating work that is popular is hard.  Most creations simply don't generate much interest.

However, having experienced pitching to business people and having sold a series that lasted for 52 episodes, I felt that my vision for Monster By Mistake was compromised.  Having lost ownership in exchange for getting the show produced, my connection to my creation was severed.  While Monster By Mistake is probably still running somewhere in the world, the story for me and the characters is over.

Some may feel that my experience has put too much of a negative outlook on pitching to studios or broadcasters.  If there's someone out there who sold a show, got it to an audience, and still feels creatively and financially satisfied, I'd be happy to give them space here to provide an alternate viewpoint.

I'm not naive enough (or egotistical enough) to think that this series of articles will change anything.  People will still continue to pitch.  However, if you are someone with ideas that you'd like to bring to audiences, think about my advice.

Keep ownership of your work.  Nobody will care about it as much as you, so you're the only one who can protect the heart and soul of your idea.  Get it to an audience as quickly and cheaply as possible and take audience feedback seriously, even if the feedback is negative or indifferent.  Like it or not, success depends on the audience.

If you can satisfy an audience, monetize it.  Even if you can't earn enough to live on, it's a nice supplement to your day job and will prevent your income from ever dropping to zero if you are unemployed.

Until an audience has passed judgment on your work, the value of your idea is unknown.  If you choose to do business with a larger company without proof of value, that puts you at a great disadvantage.  You never want to be negotiating from a position of weakness.  That will lead to creative and financial unhappiness.

The history of film, animation, comics and music are littered with stories of creators who were taken advantage of.  It will continue to happen as long as creators let it happen.  If you are a creator, educate yourself.  If you're going to pitch to companies, get yourself a good entertainment lawyer and don't let your desire for a sale blind you to what's in your long-term interest.

Companies don't create hits, people do.  Don't ever forget that, even if many companies have.

(Thanks to readers, there's an addendum.  And another addendum.)


Unknown said...

Excellent article, Mark. It should be given to all students in artistic courses or for anyone with entrepreneurial interests.
Really informative and clear and despite some who might find it on the negative side, I personally find it encouraging. As you said, we need to do our homework. And your article is a huge stepping stone for just that.
Thank you!

Raff said...

My goodness, all of this is so true, the whole series. And it confirms what I suspected all along. By the way you've got good company with Patton Oswalt - look at what he had to say:

Personally, I think animators should be more like musicians. Musicians form bands, they get together and jam and create albums together and tour. People with the same tastes and skill levels team up, form a little family and

make their dreams happen under one name. It's a team, it's a chapter of your life.

As a musician and animator with friends in both camps, I see a difference. The animators seem to kind of resent each other and just compete for corporate work, and many wind up just not animating at all.