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Concept to Creation: Pitching to a Studio, Network, or Distributor

Mark Simon continues his series of 12 excerpts from his new book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film, by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

This is the 11th in a series of 12 excerpts from Mark Simons book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film. This book is a full-color, concept-to-pitch guide that teaches animators, students and small studios the art and business of producing short, cel animated films. Animation producer Mark Simon has detailed the process in an accessible how-to manner using his award-winning series, Timmys Lessons in Nature, as a guide. This 432-page book contains more than 600 full-color images, interviews and a CD-ROM containing sample animation, animatics and sample software described in the text.

Animation is a bit different than other forms of television when it comes to pitching and selling a show. Since animation is so visual, it has to be sold with visuals. Many live-action shows, on the other hand, are sold with only a verbal pitch or a script.

Networks and studios are buying into the creators as much as they are the show concepts. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to produce a series, so the more energy and confidence you have during a pitch, the better. They need to feel confident that you will be able to do what it takes to make your show a success.

An animated short may be used to pitch a television series. Hit shows such as The Simpsons, Powerpuff Girls, and others started as shorts. In fact, before committing to a series the Cartoon Network often produces 7-minute shorts for shows they are interested in testing.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker speaking at NATPE 1999. Their early morning discussion covered their production process, thoughts about the show and examples of their early work. Photo courtesy of NATPE.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker produced the first South Park as a video Christmas card for a studio executive. It led to their deal with Comedy Central.

Full animation is not always needed. Often, presentations include only sketches of the characters in action whatever it takes to present the look and convey the concept of the show. Pitches include everything between sketches and full animation. Linda Simensky, director of childrens programming for PBS says, I like to see lots of drawings. I like to see drawings of characters doing all sorts of things, because the humor should be right there.

Timmys Lessons in Nature, a series of animated shorts, was used as a pitch for a half-hour series called The Troop. The shorts introduce our lead character Timmy and demonstrate the look of the show. A one-sheet and presentation package introduces the rest of the cast and explains the concept of the show. When we pitched the half-hour series, we showed the shorts and then verbally explained the half-hour version using sketches to introduce the supporting cast.

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The face of the one-sheet (left) promotional information package on Timmys Lessons in Nature, a great leave-behind for meetings with executives that quickly gives them an idea about your show. The back of Timmys Lessons in Nature one-sheet (right) with further information on the series.

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The front of the one-sheet for The Troop.

Author Mark Simon planning his next round of meetings at NATPE in New Orleans in 1999. I normally have 20 to 30 meetings in three days regarding my shows at each NATPE.

When we pitched The Troop, we talked about how we would like to see the shorts with Timmy air as interstitials (shorts that are aired between other shows) while the series is in production, which could take over a year before the first half-hour airs. This allows the audience to become familiar with the character, building brand awareness. The networks have liked this idea. Nickelodeon had been doing that very thing with Jimmy Neutron. They were showing Jimmy Neutron shorts prior to the launch of his feature animation, which led to a television series.

There are a few times when full animation is a detriment to a pitch. When the quality you are able to produce is lower than networks are used to, animation will not help. Some studios also like to be a part of the development process and are less likely to buy a project that is fully designed.

Your completed shorts also make great demos for longer shows or series. As long as your short tells a story, it can be used as a pilot. Bob and Margaret is another popular series that started as a short. (Chapter 51 is an interview with David Fine and Alison Snowden, creators of Bob and Margaret.)

There are industry events and conventions where you may present and pitch your ideas using your completed shorts as samples of your idea. Although everyone may have ideas, the presentation of finished work sets you apart from most. It proves that you are capable of completing a production and shows the quality of your concept.

NATPE, or the National Association of Television Programming Executives, is the main buying and selling convention in the United States. It happens every year in January and is now held in Las Vegas. You have to be a member of NATPE to attend. For every year that you go to this event, the more people you will meet and the better your connections in the industry will be. It takes persistence to properly get meetings and present your projects.

The largest content buying and selling convention in Europe is MIP-TV. MIP (Marche International des Films et des Programmes por la TV, la Video, le Cable et le Satellite. In English; International Film and Video Program Market for TV, Video, Cable and Satellite) takes place in March or April. [Editors note: There is an equally important second show called MIPCOM in October held by the same organization in Cannes.] It was at this show where we sold our show, Timmys Lessons in Nature, as a series to Dargaud-Marina in France.

The remaining chapter covers other sales conventions, how to pitch to studios and other benefits of completed shorts.

Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film, by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2003. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-240-80513-5.

Mark Simon founded and owns A&S Animation, Inc., an award-winning cel animation house in Florida, which develops and produces character animation for commercials, TV, training videos and the Web. He also owns Animatics & Storyboards, Inc., the largest storyboard house in the southern United States, which has provided work on more than 1,200 productions. Marks accomplishments include owning an award-winning advertising firm, being a syndicated cartoonist, production designer of film and TV, writing entertainment industry books and lecturing on both animation and storyboards. Winning more than 30 animation awards for his efforts, Mark has directed Timmys Lessons in Nature (which he sold as a TV series), My Wife is Pregnant, numerous commercials, training videos and television series special effects.