There’s no “right” way for an aspiring writer to get their foot in the door of the entertainment industry, but there is a collection of tried and true tools that help crack the door open a little more. One of the late game tools for “established” writers is pitching an original idea: for a show, for a movie, or even a comic book. But what if you pitched first? Our guest writer for today, animation writer Melody Fox, has nine reasons for why you should line up to pitch your original idea today.
If you have a thought on the topic of the week, please join in the discussion on Facebook (facebook.com/DarbyPopPublishing), Twitter (@DarbyPopComics), or in the comments section below. Interested in getting your foot in the door of the comic industry? Darby Pop Publishing is open to submissions. Click here for the details.
Until next time,
I was a speaker at a con a while back. The subject was Animation 101. The audience was primarily aspiring writers and artists, and some folks who had a few produced credits or published material. The panel mainly discussed breaking into the industry, and seeking work. Then a question was posed that raised some debate. A Newbie Writer said he had an idea for an animated TV series and wanted to know if he should bother trying to go out and pitch it, or if it would be a waste of time since he didn’t have credits. My colleagues on the panel looked at Newbie with sympathetic eyes and replied that it would be extremely difficult to sell a TV series as a newcomer, and indeed he probably shouldn’t bother.
I then weighed in and heartily disagreed, encouraging Newbie to go for it. There’s a number of potential positive outcomes to pitching a TV show (besides actually selling it!). I will list those in a minute, be patient.
Of course my colleagues are right in that the networks and studios would be more inclined to buy a project from someone with a track record. It will be hard for a beginning writer or artist to sell a show. But, honestly, it’s difficult for anyone to sell a show. I know seasoned, talented writers with great credits who have not yet been able to set up their original projects. Pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, in general, is hard. There are obstacles, disappointments, setbacks, and failures you will incur. If the fact that it’s going to be hard is a determent to you, then pack your bags now and leave Hollywood. Save yourself the time and heartache if you don’t have the fortitude for this business, and save the rest of us from having to hear you whine. But if you’re up for the challenge, stay with me here…
To be fair to my colleagues on that panel whose opinions reflect a considerable amount of professional experience, I should explain that they felt Newbie Writer’s time might be better spent working on spec scripts, or putting together a portfolio if he was also an artist, pursuing freelance assignments, networking, or making other efforts toward building his career. Those things are imperative, of course, but I happen to believe that developing and pitching original material is actually complimentary to those other efforts. Here’s why —
The Potential Positive Outcomes of Pitching Your Original Animated TV Series:
One) You might actually sell it. I know I said it was a long shot but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You come in with a great concept, present it in an entertaining way, they spark to it and maybe, against the odds, they buy it. I have a buddy who’s a terrific writer but was having a hard time breaking in. He came up with a series idea and sent a query to a company that produced kids’ animation. They loved it and a couple years later his show was on the air. So my buddy’s first produced episode of television was on a show he created himself. How cool is that?!!! I love this story. It makes me tingle, because it demonstrates that talent + tenacity can prevail.
Two) You’re invited to pitch something else. Let’s say you do a fine pitch but the network or studio passes. Your concept is not a good fit for their branding, or too similar to something already in development, or for any number of reasons (which they may or may not disclose) they don’t buy it. But they tell you the door is open if you’d like to come back sometime and pitch another idea. This is great! It’s an opportunity. Feel free to ask them if there’s anything specific they’re looking for. They may, very helpfully, tell you if they only want boys’ action, or really need a wacky comedy, or if there are arenas that you should avoid. (I heard a development exec once say that he never wanted to hear another premise about “girl bands who fight crime” or “anything with monkeys in space.”) Even if the executive doesn’t state “you’re welcome to come back again” you can always ask: Thank them for their time and for hearing your pitch, then ask if they’d be open to you contacting them in the future to pitch something else. They will likely say “yes.”
Three) You form a business relationship with a creative executive. Every pitch, whether you sell it or not, is a chance to earn a new fan. SO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION. Come in prepared with well-developed ideas. Have a good concept, with dimensional characters, some sample story premises, and be entertaining in the pitch. If it’s a comedy, then you should be funny and throw out witty lines as an example of your characters’ dialogue. If you’re an artist, you can bring a series of drawings that depict the main characters, the world, and the tone of your vision. It’s also a chance to show off your style. The executive can tell if you’re smart, professional, and know what you’re doing, and if you’re someone they’d like to work with in the future. This can lead to other opportunities, which are number four and five on my list, below.
Four) You get an introduction to a Story Editor or Producer or land a freelance assignment. If you impress the creative executive, they may recommend you to someone in charge of a show they already have in production. There are some stellar executives in this town. They can recognize talent. You want them as allies. They have influence. When I story edited an animated series, the studio execs had strong opinions on which writers they wanted me to hire. And I listened.
Five) You’re hired to develop a different project. A lot of series development is generated in-house by the production company/studio/network. They may own existing I.P., or own the rights to a toy, or the company president or other exec came up with a concept, or they’ve optioned an idea from an artist or writer which needs more work. They’re going to hire a writer to fully develop the property and write a series bible and/or pilot script. (The animated pilots I’ve personally written were all works-for-hire for studios.) If you presented a well-crafted pitch for your original series, and you have a strong writing sample, then the development exec may think of you when they are looking to hire someone to write one of their in-house projects.
Six) Bragging rights / credentials. When you go to a networking event and colleagues ask, “What are you working on?” you can say, “I just pitched a TV series to Cartoon Network,” (or Disney, or Nick, or wherever). That’s cool. That’s impressive. It gives you cred. And you’ve earned that cred, it’s not hyperbole — you got yourself in the door and had a professional pitch as a creator. If you meet a Story Editor at a convention and you mention you recently pitched your own show, she’ll likely regard you in a different professional light than a writer ‘with lots of spec material just trying to break in.’ And I’m not dissing any aspiring writers in the process of writing their specs and honing their craft, that’s the foundation. But if you want to get those assignments, it helps to elevate or differentiate yourself in some way. Tactful bragging is a tool at your disposal.
Seven) The improvement of your skills. In order for numbers one through five on my “positive outcome” list to transpire, you need to work on your series concept and on your pitching technique. When you get a meeting with a development executive, you really don’t want to bomb. You think you’ve got a great idea for a TV series, so prove it – but prove it to yourself first. Flesh it out thoroughly. Write a mini-bible (for your own clarification, not to give to the exec). Describe the world, the rules, the characters and how the characters interact. Then come up with story ideas that demonstrate the potential coolness of the show and that illuminate the characters’ personalities and how their individual traits will make them interesting to watch and drive the episodes. For example, if you tell me that a character is mistrusting of technology and thinks big brother is always watching, then craft a story that demonstrates how this paranoia causes a problem or solves one. Write a paragraph on at least six different stories. When you get into the development of your series concept on this level you will start to see the flaws to fix, and the holes to fill, and the strengths to emphasize. Next, you need to rehearse the pitch. You may be able to use your mini-bible as the guideline for your presentation. Say it out loud. Practice it on friends. This exercise, this preparation is going to improve your pitch, yes… but will also improve your skill set on a deeper level.
Eight) Momentum. Success breeds success – It’s an old expression, but it’s still true. When you are successful more opportunities come to you, people want to be in business with you, and people trust that you know what you are doing. Pitching a TV series is forward movement, it’s putting irons in the fire, it’s demonstrating confidence, it’s creating energy around you. This is a success in itself! Doing something… anything, being proactive, will generate results. It may not be the result you expected or the goal you were targeting, but what comes to you may be a pleasant surprise. So enjoy the momentum, because you made it happen.
There you have it. My not-so-humble opinion on why aspiring creators should pursue pitching their original ideas. I hope some of you readers found my point of view useful, illuminating, or motivating. Perhaps there will be those who disagree with my advice. I welcome alternate opinions. Let’s start a conversation! – One that will be helpful to our colleagues with original series they’d like to pitch. Go ahead – POP OFF!
About the Author
Melody Fox began her career writing for talking dragons, superheroes, and magical genies. No, she wasn’t hallucinating, she was working in animation. Among her many credits are Teen Titans, Rugrats, and Stuart Little. Fox has also worked in one-hour television, including the writing staffs of SyFy’s Ascension and CW’s Reign. She’s an Emmy and Humanitas Prize nominee, and a Writers Guild of Canada screenwriting award recipient. Fox is especially proud of her work on the Emmy-winning horror anthology series R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour where she’s written for the likes of aliens, ghosts, and robots. Nope, still not hallucinating.
You can follow her on Twitter: @onewackybroad