Time for my favourite post of the year: the one where I decipher which comics I discovered at the Small Press Expo (SPX) that are worthy of getting animated adaptation 🙂
If you’re not familiar with Warren Buffet, pretty much all you need to know is that he’s one of the richest men in the world. That doesn’t have a lot to do with animation, at least on the surface, but what Buffet is good at doing (investing) certainly is and his advice is well worth heeding too. Let’s take a look at why that is.
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.
It’s something that this blogger has been contemplating for a while; just how can the development process for animation be streamlined? Right now there’s a fair bit of black magic and voodoo involved with getting a series created, developed, made and on the air and despite some people’s attempt to change that, the efforts are far from codified. The problem is the changes the entertainment landscape is going though will render traditional development models obsolete. Simply put, the risks of developing an original property from scratch will be seen to be too great and will be sidelined. So what will take its place? Here’s a look:
Essentially, this means that major studios will seek out and only seek out those ideas which are already successful. That includes pretty much anything from comics to webseries. Yes, networks already like to find established properties, but they are not averse to new, unfounded ideas if they check all the boxes. That will change though, and at some point, if you’re not a success on your own, studios won’t want to know you.
Consider it similar to the way franchise are currently sold. Basically, the franshisee must prove a certain amount of capital so for example, although a McDonalds restaurant is practically a license to print money, you have to stump up $300,000 of your own before you can run one.
In the case of animation, this capital will come in the form of an audience. Read: your idea will have to have an audience before a studio will consider buying it. The purpose of this is essentially risk avoidance; i.e. you undertake the risk of creating and marketing your idea as opposed to the studio. Naturally they will compensate you for this when they buy or license it, but if studios can offload risk, then they will absolutely do it.
How big will the audiences need to be will vary, but they will rely on the core, returning audience (i.e. fans). Total visitors won’t be enough to convince them otherwise.
Animated projects can take months, even years, to develop. That will all change however, as the shift to pre-existing concepts as outlined above will eliminate many of the steps involved with creating an animated TV show or movie. While you can expect some of the pre-vis work to disappear from studios (they will naturally live on outside) this will have the effect of compressing timelines significantly.
Furthermore, if it’s a series that will go out on the web, expect immediate release, perhaps even on the day production wraps. Simply put, if it isn’t online, it won’t be bringing in the bacon. South Park already exhibits this kind of behaviour in the famous Six Days To Air documentary which has also handily kept the series fresh after so many years where others have long gone stale.
Today, development executives and networks are pretty good at outlining the kind of content they are looking for. That said, there is still plenty of room for improvement and saying “I’m looking for a fantasy show for ages 6-10” is a heck of a lot less descriptive than “I’m looking for a fantasy show featuring a lead female amongst a group of four (50-50 gender split) who has been tasked with defeating an evil antagonist over the course of 13 web episodes of 10 minutes each.” Expect studios and networks to really drill down on what they are looking for but within tolerances.
The reason is simple: as audience measuring and tracking tools improve to the point of identifying individual viewers, studios will be able to create truly niche programming that they will [accurately] target at their audience. They will know this audience almost as well as they know themselves, and studios will request concepts accordingly.
Does this mean you have to create something with such a precisely targeted audience in mind? No, of course not, but be open to the idea that you’ll have to persuade someone to buy it based on who it will attract rather then simply ‘girls’ or ‘boys’.
Pitching and development is more of an art than a science but efforts like Amazon Studios is the first salvo in attempts to change that. Their rules are plain and simple and are available for everyone to see. That said, what happens after concepts are submitted is still a bit of an unknown.
Either way, expect future animation development to follow a more regimented pattern that should be universally known within the industry. There is a likelihood that we’ll see a greater number of steps in development primarily as a tool to weed out ideas before they get too far. In essence, development will become close to the ideal of a production line with set steps and procedures. You can also be sure that whichever studio develops an efficient pipeline will see it copied by others, thus proliferating it as a standard.
Lastly, all the above changes should mean that animation development should become a bit easier for all concerned. With development becoming easier, this can only mean that we will see a greater level of animated content being created and broadcast. Sure, it might still err on the expensive side of things, and it may still take some time to do, but overall, the easier it is to get animated content on the screen, the more likely we are to see it on the screen.
Is there something you would change about the development process as it stands today? Let us know with a comment!
Do you think you should?
If not, why not?
Going on right now, MIPCOM is pretty much the convention/expo/gathering when it comes to selling shows to international buyers. Thousands come from all over the world to Cannes to see, hear, meet and schmooze about TV programmes. It’s also preceded each year by MIPJr. a similar event for kids shows that is ostensibly the same format as it’s big brother.
MIPCOM is an important part of the global TV ecosystem because it allows content producers to sell that content to others. It’s much cheaper (and easier) to simply sell the rights to a local player and have them handle re-dubbing, marketing, scheduling, etc. Essentially what you get is money for your show with relatively little effort.
So should you develop your show with this event in mind?
Or rather, should you have an international mindset when developing a TV show or film?
The answer is you probably should, not to the extent that you design your entire show around the international market, but you should be aware that certain things don’t play too well in the foreign markets, such as:
The important point is that if a show skews too heavily towards American culture, it might be a difficult sell abroad, resulting in the network being more reluctant to buy it given that international sales are normally necessary to make money.
Of course the opposite is true too. You shouldn’t base you’re entire show around what the international market wants but you should at least be aware that your show will likely be sold abroad at some point and adjust your development accordingly.
The most popular TV shows out there are so for a reason, and that is that they have universal appeal regardless of the culture you live in. The simple reason this is so is because they make culture irrelevant. Think of SpongeBob, where you live has nothing to do with the show, Bikini Bottom could be anywhere in the world!
Just keep an open mind, that’s all!
PSS. Don’t forget to read Steve Schnier’s informative The Pitch Bible Blog
Animation is kind of a funny industry in that a vast majority of its ultimate customers have no idea about the nuts and bolts of the products or even the industry behind it. OK, granted, that could be true about any industry, for instance, do you know how roads are designed? Perhaps, but could you tell me how to lay out a road profile, complete with PVC, PVT, K, SSD, HSD and e values? You could! Oh I see, you were pulling my leg, well, shame on me.
One difference is that adults can generally go and read about how to do it but the real difference is that adults have a choice about whether they go and read about it. Kids (for the most part) do not care.
This morning as I sat down to write this post, it occurred to me that the path to my current career was pretty much laid out in advance, school-wise at least. I mean, civil engineering isn’t a spectacularly complex career; it’s not like we’re competing with the medical or law colleges for the best minds in the nation so planning for a career as one was fairly simple.
Which got me thinking, how would you encourage a child that seems hell-bent on doing animation? It’s a bit of a tricky one because plenty of kids love animation but only a select few can understand it and reproduce it.
The first way would be to find the signs. Do they enjoy watching cartoons? Do they doodle all the time? Do they make rudimentary comics? Have they created a universe for their comic/characters? These are all traits of a creative mind at work. I distinctly remember the kids at school who were always drawing or doodling. During the intensely competitive newsletter market in 5th class, there were one or two comics floating around trying to lighten the atmosphere a bit.
Now that you’ve noticed the talent, how do you go about building the foundation for a career? It can vary, but most animators I am aware of (and have talked to) strongly hint that their parents had a fairly large bearing in their early days. This ranges from buying the necessary supplies to, in Brad Bird’s case, driving two and a half hours to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a hokey-poke cinema in Oregon. So the answer would seem to be to encourage creativity and to ensure that the kid has plenty or opportunities to experience the artform.
The third and I suppose final way would be to ensure that the kid receives some sort of formal education in the field. I mean, it is one thing to have natural talent but more often than not, such a skill can run wild and some instruction can go a long way to channeling that energy into something truly creative. There are plenty of good schools out there, both expensive and not so expensive. What matters is that the child at least has the option of going to one.
The ultimate point of this post is that you sometimes hear the stories out there of how parents almost admonish a kid for drawing or doodling in the false belief that they could never earn a living from animation or the creative arts. Such a mindset is defeatist and such discouragement is a sign of ignorance on the part of the parent.
I kinda feel like I’m preaching to the choir on this one, but as a non-animator, this is the kind of stuff I see animators complaining about or regaling in stories about themselves or people they knew. There is no excuse for it so hopefully this post will serve as a bit of a reminder to everyone that we should be encouraging kids to take up the skills if they have an interest in it.