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.