Read about the second leg of creator Dave Warren's fear and loathing journey from struggling independent to working with Carmen Electra.
Read the beginning of Dave Warren's independent journey Indie Creator: Part I.
Being a relative unknown and selling a show is a bit like the Tour de France. Its a tough, long journey with a lot of hills to climb. As you struggle to survive, you learn a lot about yourself and your goals along the way.
When I ventured beyond my cubicle and entered the world of the Creator, I was sure I had all the tools necessary to go out and take the animation world by storm. The reality was I was naïve and had no idea how complicated and difficult the process is. I did possess some very important skills like passion and persistence, but other than that, I had little or no idea of what else was involved. My thinking at the time was Ive got a great show and I know it. Its just a matter of getting out there, pitching it and the rest will be history. Well, a couple of years have passed, and Im still writing that history, waiting for that triumphant final chapter.
There are subtle things involved with this process that most of us dont see coming and have to learn by experiencing. After the Pitch-Me competition and the amazing ride I had at NATPE, I was on an emotional high. I never stopped to think about how it felt when that ride came to an end. Coming back to my studio, I felt lonely and slightly depressed. Everything that happened was great, yet I didnt come back with a sale. That meant getting right back in the saddle, promoting the show and working on getting a deal. This is a cycle that continues to repeat itself over and over again with each new market, interested buyer or potential sale. Its something Ive learned to live with, but definitely not something I ever anticipated. Life is like a roller coaster; full of ups and downs and so is selling a show.
Shortly after NATPE, a distributor in Canada named Michelle Stratford who was interested in representing SoSophie contacted me. Honestly, at that time I didnt even know what a distributor did. I was just so thrilled someone was interested enough in what I had to offer that I quickly signed a deal with her.
Mentors many times come from places you least expect them. This was the case with Michelle. She introduced me to the MIP-TV market in France, buyers from all over the world, and, to this day, continues to pursue every opportunity that is available with efficiency and grace that is unmatched. From her I learned the importance of developing relationships, following up, what a co-production is and how shows are actually bought and sold. I was overwhelmed at my first MIP market to see buyer after buyer and how they interacted with Michelle. They had a genuine love and respect for her that transcended just doing business. I felt so very lucky, and still do, to have her by my side.
The MIP market is an amazing spectacle. Networks, buyers, sellers and distributors from all over the world gather to get down to the business of television. It can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming at first, but I quickly adapted to this strange new world and found opportunity at every corner. Ive met countless buyers from all over the world who provide instant feedback on your idea. Ive developed relationships with many of these people. I got an opportunity to see the competition up close and learn the business side of things. Those four days in France provided me with a priceless education and set the foundation for my future in this business. For that, I will always be grateful to Michelle and France, and will always hold both very dear to my heart.
When I first started pitching SoSophie, I had nothing but positive reaction from buyers, yet they unanimously scratched their collective heads as to what to do with it. At the time nobody was buying animation with mature subject matter. How things have changed in just a few short years. The lesson being is that if you have a good show but your timing is out of sync with what the market is looking for, then put it on a shelf for a period of time until the market is ready for it. Then again, if your idea isnt so good, be honest with yourself and move on.
Buyers dont want to see you again and again with the same show they rejected the year before. Take note, this is why developing relationships with these people is so important. Just because they didnt buy SoSophie didnt mean they wouldnt buy my next idea or maybe the one after that. It just meant that it wasnt right for them at the time. By developing and maintaining healthy relationships with other people in the industry you will greatly increase your chance of success.
I was starting to realize that SoSophie was going to be a tougher sell than I thought. If I was going to make a career out of this, I needed to have more product to sell then just the one show. I had a series of shorts I did inspired by my daughters drawings and the tragic events of September 11th called teenytiny movies. The premise was simple. Take stories written and drawn by children and animate them. In addition, I thought this was a good follow up to SoSophie because I wanted to show my creativity had depth and that I wasnt just an adult animator.
I quickly set about to package them up and get them out to the marketplace. Just as quickly I learned the flaws in the idea. The main rejection to the idea was that it lacked reoccurring characters, which therefore made it difficult to merchandise. This is a business after all. I decided to put teenytiny movies on hold until I get an idea on how to reformat it to better suit the marketplace.
Before I had a chance to begin development on my next idea, Rita Street and Jean Thoren, two amazing women who have championed SoSophie from day one, offered me an opportunity to have a centerfold in Animation Magazine if I was willing to hire a model to portray Sophie and autograph copies of the magazine at the upcoming Comic-Con. Robert Evans said, Stay in the picture, and Im a firm believer in that philosophy, so I jumped at the opportunity.
It was a ton of work, getting the art done and hiring a model and getting a costume made, but in the end it was well worth it. The Sophie model signed hundreds of autographs and introduced just as many to SoSophie. Even Gene Simmons of Kiss stopped by the booth to see what all the commotion was about. I was amazed that an unknown entity could attract a large crowd.
Shortly after Comic-Con, John Davidson of SMEC Animation in China contacted me. They were impressed by the show, the attention it was getting and offered to produce a short. Its funny how one opportunity begets another, but thats how it works. It never fails to amaze me how simply taking action in the direction you want to go can set an entire chain of events in motion. The trick is to recognize opportunities when they present themselves and take advantage of them. Dont forget to be grateful and give thanks or those opportunities will go away as quickly as they come.
Suddenly I was in a pinch. I desperately wanted to make a short but needed help. Ralph Sosa has always and continues to have my back. Hes an incredible artist, a tireless worker and the best friend you could ever ask for, but Ralph and I couldnt do it alone. We needed writers, prop artists, timers, etc. Not only that but I had markets coming up in the fall and at the beginning of the new year.
I needed something fresh to show besides SoSophie. Suddenly I was very busy and spending money I didnt have. I reached out to some very talented old friends. Peter Gaffney came on board to help with the script and Rob Davies and Atomic Cartoons joined forces with us to get the pre-production done. Tim Borquez and Hacienda Post rounded out the crew, agreeing to help with the post-production.
SMEC did an incredible job as did everyone else involved. Being my first experience working with a studio overseas, they held my hand and made the entire experience a pleasant one. Not to say it was easy. I spent countless nights on the phone with Dennis Deegan, the director overseas going over scenes at 4:00 am in the morning. This was after working all day and all night. By the end I was completely spent.
The short was finished hours before I boarded a plane for France. But it had problems, problems that fell squarely on my shoulders. The script Peter wrote was long enough for a half-hour pilot, but SMEC had only agreed to produce three minutes. Almost everyone involved donated their time to the cause or was working at a severely reduced fee. We were under an incredible time constraint trying to get the short done in time for the next MIP market, so we did our best to condense 22 minutes of material down to three. The end result was a story that left the viewer confused and me embarrassed.
Having no choice I took it to MIP. On the flight there I started to think it might be better not to show it. On our first night in France I took Rob Davies and Trevor Bentley from Atomic back to our apartment and showed it to them. They thought I was being hard on it and it wasnt as bad as I had led them to believe. Till this day I think they were just being nice and saw it for the mess it was. Thats what friends are for. Rob made one suggestion, why not re-cut it as a montage and set it to music using the theme song that everyone loved.
That's what friends are for: Trevor Bently (left) and Rob Davies provided moral and production support for Dave at MIP-TV.
The next day I had meetings back to back to back with buyers anxious to see the short. They werent as kind as the boys from Atomic. I quickly learned that it was a better idea not to show the short and avoid doing any more damage.
Upon my return to the states, I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact that all this hard work that everyone had done had to be either abandoned or adapted to make it presentable. It was a hard choice, but, nonetheless, had to be made. With help from Hacienda Post we transformed it into a music video and got it ready in time for the next market, NATPE.
While this was going on, Ralph and I started developing a bible and pitch pack for my latest idea, The Fupduck Show. I love underdogs. Sophie is an underdog because shes a woman competing in a mans environment. Fup is no different. Nothing ever goes right for this poor sucker and life has slammed him pretty hard. Despite all of that, his character always maintains hope of a better day. Im big on well-developed, relatable characters that somehow remind us of ourselves; yet on the surface appear to be polar opposites.
Its that common thread of humanity that runs through all of us that binds us together. Its what makes Tony Soprano so interesting. Hes a murderous, cheating, lying criminal, yet we somehow manage to feel sorry for him. To me thats brilliance, and thats the bar I go for when Im coming up with ideas.
Another Christmas holiday comes and goes with Ralph and I working through it. Our present was that we got the SoSophie music video and The Fupduck Show pitch pack ready in time for NATPE. I have to mention here that during the development of Fupduck, I was fortunate to come across two of the most brilliant comedy writers I have ever had the pleasure of working with Tom Mason and Dan Danko of Mad Brain. These guys are the bomb, and Ill work with them as long as they continue to put up with me.
January 2003 comes and its off to NATPE in New Orleans. Attendance was way down, and that was all everyone was talking about. Everyone, that is, except me. I saw it as an opportunity to meet buyers and other interested parties who normally wouldnt have time for me. It was the most productive market Ive had to date. The Fupduck Show was extremely well received. Just goes to show you, its all in how you look at it. Is your cup half empty or half full?
The icing on the cake came when I walked out of a conference there called Producers Boot Camp. As I left, there was a long line just outside the door. This was the biggest group of people I had seen at the market, next to the lines at the free happy hour every night. It was too early for happy hour so I decided to walk to the front and see what all the activity was about. Much to my surprise it was Carmen Electra signing autographs. She was there to promote a new show she was hosting called Living Large.
Immediately a light went on over my head and I thought, Man, she would be a great Sophie! Its amazing to me that Im standing there next to one of the most beautiful women in the world and my first thought is of this damned show. In that moment I knew there was something wrong with me. Regardless, I decided to take action. I joined the line and patiently waited my turn for an autograph.
Half an hour later it was my turn. Being a good Boy Scout, I was prepared and already had my pitch pack in hand, just in case the stars shined on me and she was interested. I informed her that I wasnt after an autograph, but instead wanted to know if she would be interested in voicing the lead character in this show I have called SoSophie. Much to my surprise, she said yes, and asked me to sit down next to her and explain the idea in more detail. So there I was, pitching Carmen Electra in New Orleans while she signed autographs and had her picture taken by every horny Joe within a 200-yard circumference. After several minutes, she said she would love to do it, and had her assistant give me her agent's name and number. Thank you Carmen, I will forever be grateful for those 10 minutes of your time.
Early on in this article, I referred to life as a roller coaster. At this moment I was on top of the hill. I was convinced adding Carmen Electra to the mix would make the show irresistible. As is often the case, I was wrong. First of all, most buyers at the networks arent horny little Joes, so its not as big of a deal to them as I thought it would be. Secondly, I had now thrust myself into competition against other celebrity-backed shows like Pamela Anderson and Stripperella or Kelsey Grammer and Gary the Rat.
The reality is thats okay with me. As a matter of fact, I think its fantastic. I love the challenge. Im incredibly flattered to be in that company. Ive got a great show and I know it. Some lucky network is going to be very, very happy when they take the chance on SoSophie.
Dave Warren is a two-time Emmy award-winning animation artist of the television series Steven Spielberg Presents Pinky and the Brain. Other animation credits include Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs and the Animaniacs feature film The Wishing Star, Ralph Bakshi's Spicy City, Scott Adam's Dilbert, Jamie Kellner's Camp Whatever and Angus Oblong's Baby Farm. To learn more about Dave and his company, please visit www.channelzero.org.