Why The Practise of ‘Pitching’ Ideas Has To End

Pitching as an exercise is found in many corners of life. From thesis ideas to why you need a bigger garage, there is always an element of selling involved in order to see an idea come to fruition. Within the animation industry, pitching has long been the route by which many ideas get turned into actual animation. TV shows and feature films are pitched constantly either to studios or by studios. it. It’s an annoying practice that hasn’t necessarily evolved much or kept pace with technology. Here’s why it should done away with.

Via: Cartoon Brew. Since it's mandatory reading, you can buy it on Amazon. Alternatively, you can try your local library
Via: Cartoon Brew. Since it’s mandatory reading, you can buy it on Amazon. Alternatively, you can try your local library

For staters, it’s the notion that you are pitching an idea. What’s an idea? It could be anything. More than that though, is the fact that an idea isn’t copyrightable, so if you’re pitching to a studio, an idea in and of itself isn’t going to cut it.

So what happens? A more thorough, fleshed-out idea is pitched instead. Characters, places, plots and designs are all made and are used as marketing material in a routine that everyone hopes will result in a sale.

That’s fine, except that it is quite inefficient as far as time and effort go. Plenty of people make elaborate pitch books to sell their idea and yet the first thing that happens to them is that the pages ripped out so that they can be scanned. Unused pitch material is destined to any number of places from the bin to back to the drawing board.

What’s the alternative though? If a studio is reliant upon a stream of new content and fresh ideas, it isn’t really possible to spend a lot of time searching them out, right? Instead, isn’t it easier to let creators come to them with an idea ready to go?

It’s a yes-and-no kind of answer. Studios searching out new ideas aren’t blind to the creative staff right under their noses and almost all will encourage ideas from within. However, they continue to rely on pitching to executives as a way to approve and begin the process of production.

Pitching is also severely subjective. Yeah, it’s going to be due to the humans involved, but that should be minimised if at all possible. Just look at Adventure Time; a series that Nickelodeon saw no use for and were then forced to sit on the sidelines and watch as it blow up on a rival channel.

We could also touch on the many “suggestions” that are offered during pitches. Ostensibly to make it better or more commercially but ultimately serve to dilute the vision of the creator.

Is it possible to turn pitching into a kind of automatic process? Could a robot or computer be trained to identify ideas and concepts that merit further exploration? Maybe someday, but today, the humble comic is by far a better approach.

Comics? Yes comics!

I’m not talking about comics created strictly for pitching purposes, I’m talking about independent comics by independent people. They put a lot of effort into their work, and if a few are to be believed, they can have what is essentially a full animated feature/show ready to go with minimal changes.

Now that isn’t to say that a studio should wilfully exploit an individual’s hard work. Should they want to make an animated version, compensation would, of course, have to be paid with respect to how much of the effort and risk has been bourne by the creator. They are, after all, giving up their free time for something they love. Studios wishing to take advantage of that, would have to respect and pay for it.

Why comics though? Well, a comic must have all the basic elements that animation does as far as plot, character and setting go. That’s not all though. Comics also place characters into stories. It awakens them! They are a framework in which characters are explored and developed.

That isn’t to say that it is impossible to develop characters outside of a comic framework, rather simply that applying characteristics in the vacuum of a pitch is one thing, but putting them into practise in a story is another.

Is all this done during development? Sure, but pitches place that burden on the studio. It forces them to take a potentially viable idea and make it an actual viable idea. In contrast, a comic already is a viable idea. Creators have poured time and effort into them and have more than likely found an audience. If they have managed a run of any significant length, then they have succeeded. A studio picking it up is merely the icing on the cake.

Coming back to risk, it’s important to see risk in the correct light. There are two sides to risk and two parties undertaking it. A studio taking a pitch also accepts two forms of risk; namely that a viable product may never be formed and that even if it is, it may not be a success commercially, thus requiring costly write-downs.

In contrast, the risk to creators is simpler. They are investing time and a much smaller amount of money but by making comics to begin with, they have removed the risk that a viable product can be made. Of course, that risk remains, but many comics that have had a rocky start have found their feet over time. Unless a creator is solely dependent on their comic work, their main investment will be time.

The final aspect to touch on is efficiency. Why efficiency? Well development is a slightly messy process. As mentioned above, ideas and concepts can enter it and never leave. Such problems are not isolated to studios, individuals have them too. However, it is much better from an economic perspective to pass such development onto the individual. This frees the studio to simply create what is necessary to create an animated product and ensure that the only (hopefully) thing that is expended is time on the part of the creator.

Before you get the knives out, remember that any comic that is picked up should, nay must, be done so at a price that reflects the amount of effort undertaken by the creator. That would have to be complex formula of some kind. Naturally you would not want someone who took 10 years to get more that someone who took two weeks. On the other hand, if the former had a five volume comic and the latter had twenty strips, then obviously five volumes would be much more valuable and hence worth more.

Overall it is terribly complex, but can be worked out given the correct policies and controls to remove the potential for exploitation. Comics are a vast and varied part of the creative landscape and the already close relationship to animation should be explored and strengthened more than it is already. Pitching creates a barrier to this, and is used as a tool to dilute fantastic ideas. Creating a more direct line to comics would be the foundation to a better creative relationship as well as providing a rich and unending source of material.

2 thoughts on “Why The Practise of ‘Pitching’ Ideas Has To End”

  1. Nice article! This, and Brianne Drouhard’s recent tweet, ‘Harpy, pitched to the mouse studio, put her in highschool on earth. Nope.’, really got me thinking!

    Even after the reception of Korra, Amethyst, MLP, Adventure Time and Gravity Falls has shown that audiences will engage with female characters in settings other than high school, it still seems that when presenting unfamiliar concepts (A elf-girl and friends work in an item shop) creators are advised to change into something safe and familiar to existing properties.

    Keeping with your idea of comics as low-cost tools for development and to prevent dilution, if studios would prefer to source original ideas perhaps they could be the ones investing in a small run of comics instead of animated pilots. From short strips, to multiple page stories, this could give creators the chance to demonstrate unfamiliar concepts and show how they work story wise. This may also aid creators who have promising ideas, but not much experience in creating and self publishing comics.

    Many of the big studios and networks have online websites and publications to distribute new ideas – what better way to reach their existing audiences and gauge their response? Distribution over social networks could also generate some buzz and grow their audience.

    It’s a bit of a ‘Let’s throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.’ approach, but it could prove a more valuable, low-risk testing ground for new concepts and prevent dilution of pitches from the get-go.

    1. I really like the concept of studios funding comics. It’s something that could work, but instead of simply finding creators and giving them money, I would rather see studios use Google’s ‘20% rule’ and let them create that way instead while being paid at the same time.

      It just avoids the trap of picking winners and losers and allows those that are motivated enough to create to naturally rise to the top.

      The ‘seeing what sticks’ approach has lost appeal in lots of areas but it’s the only method that has been proven to find hits on a consistent basis. It’s a real shame it’s not used more often.

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