Saturday, December 12, 2009

Before You Close That Distribution Deal...!

Jerome Courshon over on the Linked In Animation and Film Jobs discussion site has started this topic.

Here's what he has to say: Too many producers & directors don’t know what questions need asking, when talking to distributors. Don’t make that mistake and “fall in love” during courtship... make sure your distributor will be the right one! Then it links to his site that has the usual ins and out - he's selling a course. Here's the link.

Fair enough as far as it goes. But really, it doesn't go far enough, so here's what I've added. Please feel free to suggest a few from your own experiences.

You'll probably be too excited about the deal and will sign your life away - but just in case you're not, here are a few things to check out:

Do your homework:

Does your distributor have a history of optioning projects and then shelving them? Do they have any similar projects on the go? Might your option fee be their way of eliminating competition?

Does your distributor provide accurate annual sales reports?

Does this distributor believe in paying ROYALTIES???
It doesn't matter what your contract says. Unless you have the $$$ and the stones to enforce it in court - they can rob you blind. So ask around - check with other people who have dealt with them - do they pay royalties?

Here's another one:

Does your distributor "get" your project? Do they understand what it's about?

Lemme explain: I don't like baseball.. Not that I don't really like it - I just don't get it. Sure, I understand the rules and how the games played. I even understand some of the subtleties of strategy, but the passion for the game eludes me.

My brother-in-law on the other hand is a baseball fanatic. He visits all the historic parks. He's made the pilgrammidge to Cooperstown. My nephew plays on a rep team. They live and breathe baseball.

Who would you rather have represent your baseball show and pitch it to buyers? The guy who gets it or the guy (who despite his best intentions) doesn't? Talk to your prospective distributors carefully - DO THEY GET IT?

IS IT A GOOD DEAL? Sometimes distributors simply offer crappy deals. I recently got up from a boardroom table, thanked everyone for their time and walked away from a deal. Why? It was a crappy deal. It stunk on ice and only a fool would have taken it. Know when to walk away.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

T'is Better To Give...

It's the season of giving - so let's talk about it.

We've all been to events; trade shows, conventions, etc., where as we walk past booths or tables, we stop and pick up free pens and stuff. Right? Everyone does it. We have drawers full of free stuff.

Likewise, when I'm at Sheridan College's Industry Day each year in April - the kids keep foisting demo reels and art samples on me. To be honest, I'm not in a position to hire anyone, so I rarely if ever take a sample. Better that you guys give them out to people who might actually hire you.

But in the pitching process, people often give out things - to entice the person on the other side of the table to take on their projects. If you go into the office of a Broadcast Executive or even a Develpment "executive" - they're filled with really neat treasures. Art, scale models - they invariably wear a cool "crew jacket" - or they did, back in the day.

A few years ago when I was pitching my "Egypt Side Road" movie in Toronto and L.A. - aside from the amazing book that I had made up for the pitches (see the earlier post) - I gave out sample animation cels. Here's a look...

They were gorgeous. 11" X 17" matted on acid free paper. Hand painted with amazing detail that doesn't reproduce here. And they weren't cheap - but because I was trying to promote my movie, I had quite a few made up. And as I quickly discovered - they disappeared fast. (I have a few left that might wind up on eBay at some point. Hint Hint...)

The point is - people started grabbing them because they were way-cool and free. I was getting calls and notes - requests for these great pieces of art - and people were chatting me up. But these people weren't interested in my movie - they were grabbing the art. I remember shipping a couple of these off to some sleaze-ball executives in L.A. - with the packing and insurance... Yeesh.

On another project - I pitched a live action show, where the lead characters drove around in a really amazing custom car. We would have built it full size for the show - but I made an incredibly detailed scale model for the pitch.

When I unveiled it - the Broadcast Exec gasped said, "I want that model." I looked at her across the table and said, "Buy my show - and I'll give you the model." She didn't blink.

I knew that if I didn't hand over the model car - there was no way she'd buy my show. And even if I did - there was still no guarantee that she'd buy my show. I handed it over. She didn't buy my show - and I'm down, one really, really cool model car.

Now days, I go in to pitch with very simple pitches - usually printed on plain paper, very simply bound.

So the point is - if your pitch needs some kind of gimmick to sell it, maybe it's not worth pitching. A truly great idea stands on its own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Never Can Tell...

In my experience, you never can tell what is going to happen in a pitch.

I mean, you've done your homework and hopefully the pitch is honed to the point where you have it down perfectly. You've rehearsed it. You have every base covered. You can anticipate every single one of their questions - and...

They hit you with the curveball that you're not expecting. There's always that one last question...

I had a meeting yesterday with a major web carrier about my new show. We'd met before. They not only like my show - they LOVE IT! So here's the curve: Their sales force will have to sell it - and although the numbers are right, they've never seen projected audience numbers as high as I'm forcasting them.

I was ready. I produced my data - the sources are accurate - but they've never seen a show like this. It's an entirely new model. They didn't know what to do with it. They didn't want to let it get away, but they can't justify the cost of the entire series.

So I suggested a pilot. We're going to do 4 episodes - and see what our numbers tell us. This is the ideal way to do a show. No focus groups. No guesswork. We're just going out and doing it.

Which is exactly what happened with Freaky Stories - we did our low budget pilot, that blew everything else away. The following week, we were greenlit for our series...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Practical Knowledge - Part One

In order to keep the Pitch Bible Blog from being more than a collection of "war stories", I will from time to time, invite experts in various fields in as Guest Bloggers. Today I'd like to introduce HEATHER SHAW, a graphic designer with many years experience in creating presentations for both the TV and film industry as well as the corporate and financial sectors.

Heather has put together most, if not all of my pitches. She creates my logos and we've been married for more years than either one of us would care to admit. Without further ado -

Hello. My name is Heather and in addition to being Steve's wife, I also partner with him in developing pitch bibles. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA) in graphic design and I have worked in the financial services sector for over 20 years in various capacities including communications (graphic design, copywriting and technical writing), product development and marketing. I am currently working as an Assistant Vice President developing and implementing marketing strategies.

Steve has asked me to contribute to the blog and I thought I could share some graphic design tips with you.

Hi Everyone - Steve here. Blogger won't let me cut and paste in the text, nor will it accept hand typed text. I'm not sure what's wrong - I've posted Heather's notes in the comments below. I'll fix it later when I have time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Can't Tell You My Idea....

...You might steal it.

How many times have you heard that one?

Let me clue you in - ideas are cheap. It's the EXPRESSION of the idea that is worth everything.

The story of Star Wars ("A New Hope" - Episode 4, for the purists) is hardly unique. Joseph Campbel outlines the plot in the index of "Hero with a Thousand Faces". The plot is repeated everywhere from "The Wizard of Oz" to the James Bond movie, "The Spy Who Loved Me".

The point is - it was George Lucas' unique expression of the story that caught people's attention.

That said - I can tell you EXACTLY what my new, secret project is. It's a cooking show.
Big deal. So what?

It's my unique expression of the idea - the "Steve Schnier Version" - the twisted, convoluted twist on the basic idea that makes the cooking show unique.

Another thing - how many ideas does a person have?

YOU'LL STEAL MY IDEA!!! (You've only had ONE idea in your whole life?)
That's a very sad - though interesting scenario. One solitary idea in a whole lifetime.

Ideas are cheap. They're everywhere. Take them, twist them - make something new.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No BullSh@ttin' Here

I have a very low tolerance for Bullshit. My friend Harlan Ellison (well, I hope we're friends) spells it out very succinctly in the above clip. The bottom line is that we're all professionals and we should treat each other as we'd like to be treated. Professionally. And that includes getting paid for one's work.

I got an email a few weeks ago from a production company. They're looking for a script writer for their upcoming animated series and wanted to know if I'd be interested.

"Sure. I'm always interested." They sent back the following note. I'm highlighting the key points as I see them...


Thanks for your response, we are happy to know that you are interested in working with _________________. We are looking for a full fledge animation script that could be produced into an animated series the target audience would be 4-14 year olds. The story should have an universal appeal and catering to all geographies . Our in house team has already developed a concept which we would like you to convert into a fullfelldge story and a script for a 13 episode animated series , along with this we would be more than interested to also view your other scripts Before we get onto the intimate details on the project and have more info exchanged, suggest we have an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) in place to prevent the details from being leaked out. Please find attached copy of NDA and fill in the necessary information in the highlighted part . Kindly sent us the dually signed copy of NDA as soon as possible.

The name of our series is XXXXX , in order to fairly review your work we would require you to write for us a two page basic story of XXXXX based on the concept developed by our in-house team you would have the freedom to change the concept if you want, along with this you would also have to submit the synopsis of remaining 13 episodes. Following are the parameters that we would like you to follow while conceptualizing and developing the script.

· The story should not be geography specific it should be universal.

· It should have a strong differentiating factor in terms of USP so as to make it stand out from other similar animated properties.

· The story line should not follow a logical sequencing pattern.

· The story should not be to try to preach i.e. it should not be too Moralistic or Educational it should be purely entertaining.

· It should not be Age Group Specific.

· It should not be Demographic Specific.

· It should not have Too Many Characters which kids find difficult to register.

· Character names should be trendy and not too Simple.

· The story should be Humorous , should have a strong Fantasy and Fun element, along with the potential for developing various sequences containing Visual Comedy

· Acting and Animation for Youngsters

· The story should have Dialogues for Elders.

· Flow in Story should not be too logical so as to avoid making it too realistic.

· The story should contain interesting Action sequences

· Should have Climaxes that are captivating

· Visual Connect of the viewer with the Characters should be strong.

So basically speaking, in order for the fine people at ___________ to assess my work, I have to create the whole freakin' TV series for them. I have to write the story - and submit outlines for 12 more. I can use their characters BUT I have the freedom to create my own - meaning that I'd give them a whole new, original property. Then and only then, they'll do me the favour of deciding if and how much they're willing to pay me.

I responded by sending them my rate and a schedule of how we would work out payments. Naturally, I haven't heard back from that fine production company . Not that I'm ever expecting to.

Some days, it just ain't worth chewing through the restraints...

Pitch Bible Discussion

There's a really interesting discussion about Pitching on the LinkedIn "Animation and Film Jobs" discussion group. You can link to it here. Well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Freaky Stories - Pitch Art

As I CONTINUE to dig around for that original pitch, I've unearthed some of the pitch art that sold the show in the first place.

This first example is from "The Hook" - a short 5 minute animatic that I produced in my studio. It was shot in 35mm with a lot of in camera effects; matting, multiple back-lit runs. There were stars in the background, demonic red glowing eyes on the killer, glowing white teeth - and the hook itself glinting in the moonlight. The short is what really sold the series - the broadcaster knew that I knew what I was doing. They insisted though, that the series be much lighter on the blood and gore as shown in the short. Not that we really showed anything - but we implied a whole lot.

Airbrushed watercolour painting from the story "Spiders in the Hairdo". It's a nice painting, but I'm glad that I had the brains to allow artist Glen Hanson full artistic rein when he designed the actual animation for the pilot. He did a brilliant job. Knowing when to step back and allow the experts to do their thing is key. Micromanaging only goes so far - and animation is a collaborative effort.

Airbrushed watercolour painting for "The Dog From Mexico".

The paintings and the video animatic were key to selling the series. More to come as I continue to dig...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Here are some grabs from the "Weird Oh's" bible. Weird Oh's wasn't a great series. Scratch that. It wasn't even a good series, but the bible was nicely done.

I don't care for the character designs but the layout, bible format and binding were great. The character designs were based on the model kits of the same name - which were fun, but ugly in a way that appeals to nine-year-olds. There was some nice nostalgia to it, but that didn't carry across to the show.

From Wikipedia: Weird-Oh's was a short lived computer animated series that aired on Fox Family during the late 90s. It starred a cast of deformed characters and their misadventures in Weirdsville, a place just off Route 66. Among the cast of characters were 3 main characters named Digger, Eddie and Portia. It featured a beginning sequence where the characters would be seen racing (similar to the product the series was based on of the same name). Only 13 episodes of the series were ever produced.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Danger of Development Deals - Part Deux...

The previous post got a lot of hits - I just wanted to point out that MOST development deals are pleasant experiences - some of which even result in "Happily Ever After"...

My "Buzz & Dewey" experience was a notable exception.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Danger of Development Deals

This has happened to me a few times over the course of my career - A company will option a property and then shelve it. Here's what happened...

Once upon a time, I had (well, I still have it) a property called "Buzz & Dewey"... It's a show about a boy and his dog and they fight Vampires. It's very cool and has a lot of neat twists. I didn't write or pitch it as a TV show - I wrote it as a book for my son. I had no intention of getting it published - it was simply a book for my son and his friends. I made 10 photocopies of the 125 page manuscript and as I'd bump into friends, I'd hand them out.

One day I was at a broadcaster pitching a show - I happened to know this broadcast executive personally - he's a pretty decent guy - and he has a kid. So as I left the pitch, I looked into my briefcase - and there was my last copy of "Buzz & Dewey". I gave it to him as a gift for his son and left.

I recieved a letter from the broadcaster a couple of weeks later - they were passing on the project that I'd pitched - but LOVED "Buzz & Dewey". The letter said that they'd be interested in it, if I could get a production company attached.

At that exact moment, my phone rang. It was a large production company. Someone at the broadcaster had tipped them off about "B&D". They wanted to option the project and possibly put it into produciton.

The initial meeting was great. They offered me the moon. But when the paperwork arrived, it was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The nice production executives had turned into monsters. The deal stunk like shit on ice. I don't know why I took it - they were rude and abusive - but I did. And once the paperwork was signed and they had "Buzz & Dewey" in their hot little hands - they shelved it.

Why? Maybe they had a similar project in the works and wanted to remove the competition? Maybe they were just buying up properties. I know that back in the day when I did development work at Nelvana, they had over 140 properties "on the shelf".

Long story short - when the option period expired two years later - the production exec had left the broadcaster - and the new person wasn't interested in the property. And so, "Buzz & Dewey" sit on my shelf - as cool as ever - waiting for their chance to shine.

So what do we learn from this? I guess, if something smells fishy - it is. I was recently in a meeting, invited by a large production company to talk about my new show. Everything was nicey-nicey, their staff were all polished up nice and shiny. And I was paying very close attention to what they were saying. When you came down to it - their deal stunk. I would have been better off dropping the soap in the prison shower - cause either way I was going to get...

I thanked them for their time and walked away. It was a bad deal - and if I've learned one thing in my sordid career, its... YOU DON'T HAVE TO TAKE THE DEAL. No one is holding a gun to your head - and if they are, its a bad sign.

Think about it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Freaky Stories Writers' Bible

Bear with me...

While I continue to search for "the original" 2 page pitch bible that actually sold Freaky Stories to YTV, I keep unearthing interesting stuff. Here's the Writers' Guide Bible. More on this below the art.

Interesting sidebar, this bible was borrowed, copied, studied and handed around by competing studios and shows as an example of what a bible should be like...

This bible was produced in 1996 (pilot made in '96, series production in '97) as a guide for the series' writers. This bible was written by our Executive Story Editor, Simon Munter, the art was by our Production Designer, Ted Bastien. Bible graphic design and layout by Heather Shaw. As you can see, if you know the show - what's in this bible differs from what got on the screen.

Bibles change and evolve. For example - in a particular episode, the first bible that you work to in designing funpacks, etc., is the script. Everyone follows the script. Once the episode is storyboarded (and approved) you throw the script away and work from the board. Likewise, once the project is filmed, animated or whatever - the editors' cut becomes the document that you work to. I remember sitting in edit sessions for a particular show - where the client kept looking from the screen to the original script and angrily noting the discrepancies. ...sigh...

Thursday, October 15, 2009


ROCKET RODENTS is a somewhat animated project. By somewhat, it started off as a live action comedy - starring live rodents. I have a thing for Guinea Pigs. I think that talking Guinea Pigs are about the funniest things in the world - especially if what they're talking is absolutely filthy.

This clip is from test footage that we shot as part of a pilot for Rocket Rodents. There was more - but it's not really suitable for polite viewing. Needless to say, the Rodents were talking trash. The pilot was produced under a developement deal with a local TV station. They saw the designs, read the script, knew the intent - and when they screened the finished film... well, everyone laughed their heads off - except the station's general manager who kinda flipped out.

I took the pilot - re-edited it (took out the nasty words) and Voila! instant kids show. YTV gave me a development deal and shortly thereafter, Breakthrough Animation came on board.

Here, the show went through the usual heartbreaking development permuations. Breakthrough introduced me to the good folks at Cuppa Coffee Animation. We were going to do the show in STOP MOTION. The designs that Cuppa Coffee produced were frankly AMAZING!!!

This was the original sculpt of our lead character Vic Vermin. They nailed the character right from the get go. When I walked into their boardroom and saw this, I knew that I was in the right place. All of their designs were equally amazing - but alas, the cost was too much for our budget.

Breakthrough shopped it around to other studios and we found a home at Atomic Cartoons, with whom Breakthrough had partnered on their hit series, Atomic Betty....

More on this development saga later...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The One That Got Away

I think that in everyone's career, there is "the one that got away". For me, it's this project - EGYPT SIDE ROAD. ESR was the spiritual offshoot of "The Suspect" series of shorts that I'd developed for Freaky Stories. It is a brassy sci-fi film-noir; detectives, femme fatales, psycho killers, flying cars, robots, jet-packs.

Each bible (8 1/2" X 14" - glossy, double sided, heavyweight stock) was custom bound with self-locking nuts and bolts to convey the "machine age" design esthetic of the project. I also created a series of Petty Girl inspired pin-up cels - all hand painted - most of which disappeared into the private collections of various broadcast and distribution executives.

Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE loved the project. If anything, EGYPT SIDE ROAD was ahead of its time. It was almost resurrected a couple of years ago - the broadcaster loved the art, design style and the pilot script - but opted for a mindless kiddie cartoon in its place.

The project is far from dead and forgotten. It's on my schedule - 3rd in line after my current show. Here's the pitch bible - deliberately small and blurry. Have a look...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Melvin The Magic Hotdog

Hang in there, gang. Visuals to come shortly...

In the Spring of '06, I was contacted by my pal and frequent co-conspiritor, Nathan Mazur about a small project. Someone at Walt Disney Television Animation had visited his site, liked what they'd seen and asked if Nathan would like to submit a pitch for a TV show. Nathan asked if I'd write the pitch, he'd do the visuals - and the rest was history.

(Hmmm... Use this link to Nathan's site - take a moment and check him out. He's really great and a pleasure to work with.)

Going back to the classics, I mined the Aesop's Fable about the Fisherman who catches a fish - which in turn promises to grant 3 wishes if the Fisherman sets him free. But in an oh, so perverse twist - I made the story about a boy named Billy who loves hotdogs. He purchases a hotdog from a local hotdog vendor... but just as he's about to bite into it, the tubesteak springs from the bun, grows to 6 feet high and is revealed to be that genie of a weenie, MELVIN THE MAGIC HOTDOG!

Nobody was more surprised then me, when Disney optioned this Freudian fantasy.

Nathan and I spent the next 2 or 3 months refining the bible and cobbling together a "Melvin VS Zombies" storyline that we were to pitch to the brass at Disney TV. The folks at Disney were great, providing us with advice and guidance - and free mouse ear hats (but no Disney cruises, like we'd asked).

Nathan also got singer/songwriter Parry Gripp to write a theme song to accompany our pitch.

Anyhow, the big day arrived - Nathan and I did the pitch by phone to the big Disney Kahuna's - and... they passed. They'd had a lot of submissions and Melvin wasn't exactly what they were looking for. Such is life. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, cash the cheque and move on...

The layout and design of the bible were kept very lean and simple - in keeping with Nathan's ultra clean character design. I didn't want to clutter the page.

As for the writing - taking a page from James Ellroy, I used Melvin's con man style of speaking as the basis for the bible's writing style. I tend to stay away from "dese" and "dose", as that kind of character slang tends to distract from the story and derail the reader's concentration. You can't afford to have him/her say, "What is that?" in the middle of reading your pitch doc.

I've found that even in writing a script, it's better to write the dialogue clean and allow the actor to add the character nuances. Often times, they'll bring more to the words than you imagined.

Hang in there - more Melvin art and cool stuff to be loaded shortly.

Be sure to visit Nathan and Parry at their respective sites. Thanks!

All artwork is copyright by Nathan Mazur. All Music is copyright Parry Gripp. All words are copyright by Me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Need a Pitch Bible?

Do you need a Pitch Bible?

And who doesn't???

If you're an independent animator, producer or small production house - or a large production company that will only settle for the very best - and you're in need of great development and pitch documents, why don't you drop me a line?

I'm fast, experienced & versatile. No job is too large, too small or too medium.

Feel free to drop me a line at steve dot schnier at rogers dot com or by phone at (416) 346-7228.

Selling the Dream

I sat in the boardrooms of two major companies this past week; a major bank and a very large public corporation. I'm in the process of finding sponsors for my new show, so I'm making cold calls, racing to appointments - and of course... I'm pitching.

But the pitching is the easiest part, because I have a great show bible. It's clear, concise, funny and laid out in a logical manner that explains everything about the project and their potential involvement in it. It's so good, that the first thing I hear in every single meeting - is how great my pitch bible is.

And it had better be, because pitch bibles are the lifeblood of my business. I have to sell the dream. Whether its a pitch to a broadcaster, production house or potential sponsor - I have to sell them on my dream before I can make it happen. So that's what I do, and over the years I've become fairly good at it.

And now I'm offering my services to the creative community. Pitch bibles, documents, presentations - very well done, at a reasonable price. More to come - including sample art, shortly... Hang in there.