Sunday, December 26, 2010

Scooby Doo, H-Bombs and Characters

A client asked that I add a new character to the pitch bible that I'm writing. Without going into detail, I'll say that its an interesting character - but unsuited to the stories they're trying to tell.

This guy is all powerful with tremendous resources at his disposal. BUT --

Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? How does he fit with the Good Guys' dynamics - or on the Bad Guys team? How does he affect the balance of power in the show? Huh? "Balance of Power"? What's that?

Referring to The 21 Things a Broadcaster is Looking for in Your Script or Pitch post from last year, Number 11 says:

There should be a balance between the forces of good and evil. Even if the good guys are vastly outnumbered, the audience should have some hope (however faint) that they will succeed in their quest. Otherwise, what's the point?

In the case of my current writing assignment, the client had asked me to add a character who's powers and resources vastly outstrip those of the protagonists and antagonists. It's like grafting an H-Bomb onto Shaggy's right hand. That gives him tremendous power. Suddenly "Scooby Doo" is a whole other show. (I had the idea of grafting an H-Bomb onto Gilligan's hand - and with that, "Gilligan's Island" REALLY becomes a "whole other show". I may just pitch that one...)

Back on subject - At the beginning of Star Wars (Episode 4 - for the nerds), Luke Skywalker is no match for Darth Vader. However over the course of the trilogy, his abilities grow and he defeats Vader - there is a balance because the threat of Darth Vader forces Luke to grow - so that he reaches his potential. If Vader could (and he can - but he chooses not to) snuff out Luke Skywalker then there is no balance in the storytelling. It's all one sided and unsatisfying.

Balance or a shifting balance - keeps the characters and storytelling interesting.

Monday, December 6, 2010


As the year draws to a close - people are starting to think about THE KIDSCREEN SUMMIT - the first major market of 2011. It's never to early to get your pitch in tip-top shape!

We'd be glad to help. Whether you need a pitch document written or polished, or if you simply need the best script in the world - we're your one stop creative shop.

Need fantastic world class art and design? We can put you in touch with the right people.

Remember - You only get one chance to make a great first impression!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's Pitch Day

We (my Freaky Stories partner, John Delmage and I) are pitching shows this afternoon. Unlike most producers, we don't pitch often. We only pitch show concepts that we really believe in -- ideas that would make for really good television programming. There are a lot of people who pitch whatever and whenever they can, but we strive for quality.

We're using a different strategy this time - rather than coming in with a specific project, we've assembled a spectrum of properties. Some are old, some new. Some have been pitched before (but the time may be right) and some have, for one reason or another, never seen the light of day. There are 5 shows in our bag today.

Our strategy is to meet with the Broadcast Executive and see what kind of show they're looking for. Girls? We have one - with a strong reason that this might be very strong for them. Boys - action 8 to 12? Got one of those. Again, very strong - with reasons this might be good for them.
A show for fans 17+? Got one of those, too. And DAMN - it's good. Real good.

How will we do? I have no clue. All of our pitches are strong - but there's no telling what they're looking for - what they have - or what they've just committed to. There are 1000 different things going on behind the scenes, of which we have no inkling. All we can do is try our best.

Wish us luck! I'll update this later....


In case anyone is wondering - we didn't pitch anything. It was an informal meet and greet. We discussed the broadcaster's needs; where they were going in terms of direction. We discussed what had and hadn't been working for them in the past couple of years and why? Frankly, I was surprised - several shows that have been widely touted as "hits' have actually been performing poorly and are to be seen no more.

We paid close attention to what they're looking for and will be fine-tuning our material to suit their needs over the next few weeks.

One of our pet projects just isn't right for this broadcaster. Following the meeting we strategized where and to whom we could pitch this project. A very interesting opportunity has presented itself and we'll see where it takes us.

All in all, it was a very interesting and informative meeting. We were on the right track with most of our material, but the information we gleaned from this conversation will make our pitches stronger.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

I spoke to one of my clients this past week. I'd written a bible for him and was following up to see what had come of it. Apparently his financial partner hadn't seen the immediate sale and financial return they'd been expecting and has shelved the project. To be honest, I don't know if they ever completed the visuals for the bible - I was just involved with the writing part - or if they'd ever pitched it to a broadcaster or production company. They just stopped working on it.

There's an old saying, "No one ever fails in Show Biz - They just give up before they succeed."

Freaky Stories took about 8 years to reach the TV screen. There were so many years when everyone thought I was crazy. But I kept at it and while today the show is ancient history - it's well regarded ancient history - and I'm fine with that.

At the same time, my latest project BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES hasn't taken the world by storm -- yet. But it's young, we're learning and pushing it in new directions. We're about to re-jig the format a bit. We're planning a community event (so all you Toronto Zombie Fans stay tuned) and 2011 may be BEZB's breakout year. Remember none of the big YouTube sites went big from Day One. Like the subject line says, "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day".

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Two-Page Pitch Document

The growing trend has been to create a Two-Page pitch document. The Two-Pager is brought to the meeting and used/referred to, during the pitch. The complete pitch bible is used as a 'leave behind', so that the broadcast or development executive can report on the meeting to their bosses.

Here are some thoughts, having recently completed a few Pitch Bibles and Two-Pagers:

If it's a high concept project - SNAKES ON A PLANE!!! - they're either going to buy into it, or they won't - the Two-Pager isn't necessary. They'll either get it or not. And if they don't get the concept - the Two-Pager ain't gonna help.

Write the Two-Pager LAST. Refine your concept. Make the Bible as perfect as you possibly can. Then extract the essence - the core of it, into your Two-Pager.

A "Two-Pager" means exactly that. Two Pages. And a cover - which technically makes 'three pages'. That is, unless the two pager needs and extra half-page (and the cover) which means FOUR pages. But never, ever let your Two-Pager exceed four pages - because then you're into a mini-bible. Are we confused yet?

What did William Goldman say about 'nobody knowing anything?'

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Don't Fall In Love With Your Project - Business Models

Someone asked recently what I thought of some new Zombie movie. "I dunno", I said. "I don't watch Zombie movies. I'm not really into Zombie stuff". The person was dumbfounded. "But you do BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES. You were in the Toronto Zombie Walk... How can you NOT be interested in Zombies?"

It's just business. It's not that I don't like Zombies. I actually find the Zombie stuff that I do, to be a lot of fun. But would I go to every Zombie movie that comes out? Nope. I saw I AM LEGEND (but liked Richard Matheson's novel more). I love AMC's THE WALKING DEAD - but its more of a people story - a broader canvas, like The Sopranos, Mad Men, House. (I do find Haitian Zombies horrifying and fascinating, but there are very few - read: almost none, zippo - movies about Haitian Zombies.)

So then, why did I choose Zombies as the theme for my YouTube show?

I was looking for something that was inexpensive to produce - something spooky, creepy (that always sells) that was popular - that I could re-imagine and recreate as my own unique expression. Young Frankenstein - Been Done (thanks Mel!) Young Dracula (Been and being done 1000 times as we speak). Young Creature from the Black Lagoon? (This is Canada - it would have to be Creature from the Heated Pool - too expensive.) Likewise Kong was out and the Mummy, I dunno.

So I decided on Zombies and did a 'Muppet Babies' makeover on them -- Cute Zombies! Voila - my theme!

BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES are fun to make and I'm really proud of what we've done. We're about to do a major overhaul on the creative to reach a wider audience - which brings me to my point. I don't love the BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES. They're just business.

That means, that my major interest in the project is to make it popular. If I change the format a little - and it helps, I'll do that. If I have to revise the puppets - I'll do that too.

This is a huge change from my working attitude on FREAKY STORIES. Freaky was my baby. I loved that show - still do. But it was my baby and it was personal. EVERYTHING was personal. I took personal offense if someone proposed the smallest change. I admit, it was very hard for people to work with me - but the show was successful, so maybe the ends justified the means. Or maybe not.

But that isn't the way to go about making a show. It's all about the business. Your show, your project, your pitch is a business - or a business-to-be. It can never be about LOVE. Always think about the bottom line. How can you make your project more successful?

"Make it better", you say? What is "better"? Better is a subjective intangible. Popular is objectively tangible. You might say that popularity breeds mediocrity. True, but the reality is, "You had a million hits on YouTube this week? Step right into my office..."

So let's look at "Love" and business.

Does Penn like Teller? Yes. Of course. They're friends - but business partners first. The business of PENN & TELLER comes ahead of Penn and Teller's personal interests or feelings. Check out the video. It's very enlightening.

Hiam Saban the creator of MIGHTY MORPHING POWER RANGERS, when asked about the show that had made him a billionaire remarked, "Five retards in spandex". Is he proud of his shows? Yes. Does he love them? No.

So, no. I don't love Zombie Movies. But I'm very proud of BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES - and I'll continue to push it towards popularity and business success.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Magic School Bus & Spaceship One

There was an anonymous response to the September 29th post, "So Lemme Ask Ya" that has stuck with me. Here's the post:

Anonymous said...

I'll be honest Steve and say that this is something that just can't be 'made' to happen and it seems to me

attempting to make it happen will only make it more difficult. It kind of feels like attempting to "invent" spontaneity, like when someone stages a funny (supposedly un-orchestrated) scenario to get a shot on America's Funniest Home Videos or some such. I'll be honest and say that the entire Zombie babies concept feels contrived and a little weak to my sensibilities. It feels as though it's going for a cutting-edge shock thing but in my opinion (only my opinion) is about as cutting edge as my Grandpa's record collection. Maybe I'm missing the point, and please don't think I'm trolling for trouble here, I've been following your blog for a while with interest and wish no ill to you or your brainchild. In my opinion the entire concept is, dare I say it... corny, and attempting to create a viral sensation out of sheer hustle and will, without much in the way of compelling content, will likely result in failure. It's easy for one like me to armchair QB from the sidelines. I commend you very much for actually producing something (even if I don't see a ton of redeeming value in it ultimately). I'm sure you don't hesitate to give honest feedback to those who request it and I hope you'll take this feedback in the spirit it's

intended. Best of luck

I was the Producer on the first season of Magic School Bus. Up until the show came out, it was a book property for Scholastic. Admittedly, it was a well known book series - but MSB didn't have the ubiquitous status that now enjoys.

The show premiere coincided with the launch of a line of McDonalds Happy Meal MSB Toys.

My family went to McDonalds on the Saturday the show premiered. We wore our MSB crew shirts and my son had a denim jacket with a huge MSB logo embroidered on the back. (It's now a family heirloom.)

Nobody know what Magic School Bus was. They'd never seen it - but the ads were everywhere. WE were swamped - there were people asking questions, wanting to know What was Magic School Bus? We had a blast and the only way I can describe it is like dropping a pebble into a wishing well and instead of a splash - getting a tsunami in return. Anyhow, the show was a huge hit - and ran for many seasons.

I was also part of the Atomic Betty team (Executive Story Editor) and privy to the negotiations with another hamburger chain for similar Atomic Betty-themed toys.

Getting back to Mr. Anonymous' note - the successes of Atomic Betty and MSB were created by hype. They were created by corporate media machines. This was before viral vi

deos and social networking when it was actually HARDER and MORE EXPENSIVE to do this.

Is BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES the best show ever? Of course not. (FREAKY STORIES was the best show ever.) But it's cool, people like it (for the most part) and it's mine.

I know that the anonymous post came from a Canadian. There's a huge difference in attitudes between Canadians and Americans. While I'm proud to wave the Maple Leaf, there's something lacking in the Canadian spirit - it's that "Can Do" attitude that you find in the U.S.

Take a look at the photo of Spaceship One. For me, personally - whenever I see anything that comes out of Scaled Composites (the company that built it) I remember as a boy at an airshow, how Burt Rutan (Spaceship One's Creator) let me sit in the cockpit of one of his early experimental aircraft. He was so damned proud of that thing. He'd started small as an independent aircraft designer (building homebuilt planes) and years later - is the cutting edge in space travel.

THAT'S THE AMERICAN WAY, people. They have dreams. BIG dreams. They go for it.

Up here. Well, we wait for our government grants. We wait for someone in authority to 'approve' our dreams... We have a lot to learn from our pals just over the border.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The More Things Change...

Jim Henshaw in his always brilliant The Legion of Decency blog has written about the nature of creativity and how it relates to new and emerging media. Jim has graciously given permission for me to reprint his recent entry, "The More Things Change". I recommend that you bookmark Jim's blog for essential reading:


My first Christmas hiatus on "Friday the 13th: The Series", one of the Executive Producers presented me with an arcane little book containing the collected memos of Jack Warner, compiled during his tenure as head of Warner Brothers Studios.

My Exec said he didn't want me to go without the pleasure of reading studio notes over the holidays.

The book turned out to be a fascinating read. It not only covered a niche never mentioned in the other Hollywood histories I had devoured since childhood, but it made me realize that almost nothing had changed between Jack Warner's era of production and my own.

Oh, sure, the tools were all state of the art in my world, but the people using them and they way they did their jobs were identical to those who lived in his. Somebody will always invent a better android, but the human soul is eternal.

With a simple "Search and Replace" of actor names or show titles, the notes I was getting via Fedex or fax became perfect copies of the ones Warner was dispatching on monogrammed stationery or courtesy of Western Union.

"Take that hat with the feather off (Errol) Flynn! It makes him look like a fag!"

"I love that we cast Bogart, but who's gonna give a shit about a goddamn bird statue? Can't we find something better?"

Or words to that effect. Likewise, the mantras of the gatekeepers and the rainmakers are unchanging.

Warner's memos made me realize that for all that changes in the film business from the coming of sound to Technicolor, from THX to 3D and digital distribution, at its heart the job of creativity hardly changes at all.

And that's worth considering in the face of the technological sea change rolling in on us now.

You can't open your email box these days without finding another invitation to a conference or workshop designed to prepare you for all the new media markets.

And I won't knock any of them because any forum that collects people with a particular goal is going to end up sharing a lot of valuable tips and insight.

But at the same time, I see a culture evolving that appears to believe we need to find or construct an entirely different way of telling stories.


A screenwriting guru I once met claimed we all spend too much time analyzing how each new technical improvement or societal trend might impact the stories we write. He insisted it was just another of the ways we use to avoid the risk of actually making something.

And it's not just screenwriters who get caught in that trap. I once wrote 8 different drafts of the same script for a major studio to fit the physique or perceived range of each new leading man they were certain they could interest in the role. For each of those leading men was predicted, as development dragged on, to be about to embody the popular zeitgeist.

By the time they finally settled on the right guy, somebody else had gone to camera with an almost identical story and the project was shelved.

I got paid, while those who had spent so much time chasing the next wave got themselves played.

The moment of true certainty in any venture never arrives.

Anyway, in my Guru's estimation, the work of the story teller is unchanging. He deals in the human condition and the conflicts and comedies which result.

Ever since the nights we all sat around a roasting Mastodon haunch, that's all anybody else in the tribe has been interested in hearing. In fact, all that has ever changed in our continuously evolving and modernizing society is context not content.

To illustrate that, he'd line up a bunch of different sized or shaped glasses to represent the various eras, pointing out that while a shot glass, brandy snifter or beer stein might appear to require a major alteration of craft to utilize, they were really just different containers.

And the bulk of your audience only cared about what was inside them. The content.

The crafts of the vintner, the distiller or the brewer do not change because there has been a revolution in glass blowing.

I was reminded of all this again Monday night when TCM debuted its magnificent documentary series "Moguls and Movie Stars: A Hollywood History".

The first of what will be a 7 part series focused on the earliest days of the movie business (titled "Peepshow Pioneers") was loaded with remarkable never-before-seen footage and incredible interviews.

But you couldn't escape the realization that everything we're struggling with today from monetizing the internet to cross-platform storytelling also faced these cinematic neophytes and is just a glass whose shape we haven't encountered before.


Just as some network exec in LA is even now trying to figure out the possible season arc of a Twitter feed, "Moguls and Movie Stars" recounts the ways artists and businessmen a century ago searched for the audience hook which might wring value from flickering images and nickelodeon machines.

They asked exactly the same questions every new media mogul asks today.

Could it all be just a passing fad? What if they all go back to Vaudeville -- or watching TV from the couch?

How often do you need to give them something new? Do I roll out a new offering every week -- once a month -- when the hits start to slip?

Will anyone pay attention for more than a 10 minute story? Do I stick with the established "one reel" or "Youtube Standard" or do I push the envelope?

Do you need a story or is the audience simply enthralled with the technology? If they're happy watching two people kiss or somebody falling off a skateboard, do I complicate the experience if I give them anything more?

Could anybody be an artist with these new tools? And if they can, how does the real Artist set himself apart?

According to Jon Wilkman, the filmmaker who spent 2 1/2 years making the TCM series,"In many ways, we are back in 1890. This whole world of the movies is being rethought and rebuilt: How are movies made? Who makes them? How are they distributed? What's the subject matter?"

Watching long forgotten movie pioneers create a business that would go from nothing to the fifth biggest industry in the America in 20 years, it becomes very clear that no matter how much we think we're on the verge of a brave new world, history is simply repeating itself.

So maybe we need to make sure we don't make some of the same mistakes those pioneers made.

Maybe we need to stop concentrating so much on how Storytelling might need to be tweaked and start looking at what is preventing a simple alteration in the manufacturing and delivery system from allowing artists to make the most of these new tools and once again build a vibrant new industry.

One thing that "Moguls" clarifies is that the major support for the new art form didn't come from the established players. Legitimate Theatres and other entertainment venues felt as threatened by the nickelodeon then as film studios and TV nets do by the Internet today.

The only way these current corporations can see Internet entertainment offerings is as either a farm system for their product or an extension of what they are already marketing.

And for the most part, most current web series creators and Youtube stars are, in turn, either hoping their creations get picked up by television, land them a studio deal or that by establishing some form of web celebrity they'll transition to more lucrative work in TV and film.

There's nothing wrong with that. But it leaves those who currently own the industry, and who, through new copyright legislation and DRM locks, want to make sure their control over both storytellers and what reaches mass audiences continues -- well, it leaves them in complete control.

In the same way that Bell and Rogers want control of bandwidth to prevent Netflix and others from staking a claim to their VOD gold field and are locking up content like NFL games for delivery to mobile devices, they see little need to find audiences for storytellers who don't want their creative work owned by someone else.

The entrepreneurs who built the original film industry, on the other hand, all came from outside it. Adolf Zukor, who founded Paramount, began his professional life as a furrier. The original Warner Brothers ran an ice cream stand and a bowling alley. Louis (MGM) Mayer bought and sold scrap metal.

Therefore, they approached the business from the point of view of making their customers and suppliers happy to keep them coming back.

That's a much different philosophy from the corporate mentalities of Shaw, Rogers or Bell, which demand that their content be amortized over as many platforms they can charge new fees to access as possible.

Their goal is not to support the storyteller or enrich the lives of their customers, but to increase their bottom lines and improve shareholder profits.

That's not an environment where new, groundbreaking or risky ventures can survive, let alone lead to the construction of a creative industry that can be more than a hobby and evolve something economically substantial for the country as a whole.

What "Moguls and Movie Stars" illustrates is that unless government money and policy backs those who create and innovate the next Hollywood will be built elsewhere and Canadians will remain consumers of cultures not our own.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Necessity is the Mother of Re-Invention

Damn. Talk about a crappy painting. But it'll have to do...

(Sorry for not posting recently but I've been busy, what with scripts, video shoots, pitch bibles, Zombie Babies and the Toronto Zombie walk. I've also learned a lot of things like - if you're making a full-body wearable puppet -- COUNTERBALANCE THE DAMNED THING!!!) Back to the topic...

Mark Mayerson in his excellent blog recently posted a map showing the key locations of animation studios globally. Reader jpilot pointed out that many of the stellar animators are nomads, moving from one production city to another and that once you set down roots to raise a family, your career stagnates. If you can't follow the work, you have to take what you can find in the given market where you're located. But that may not be the case. You can stay in one place and be nomadic at the same time.

I've lived in the Toronto Canada area for all of my life. Over the course of my career, I've had to continuously invent and reinvent myself because of interests, where I want to go career-wise, or out of necessity. (Generally I make a career change every 5 to 7 years. Its always within TV/film, but it involves a different job.) This has been a long and interesting process. But whatever I've done, it's added to the skill pool that I've developed.

I've been a cel painter, FX animator, title designer, airbrush illustrator, freelance TV commercial producer, sound editor, TV series producer, independent TV producer, movie producer, writer, story editor, and now it seems - puppeteer/internet entrepreneur. What a long strange journey it's been.

I was lucky enough in my early days to work for Vlad Goetzelman at Cinera Productions. Cinera was a small boutique animation firm housed in an old candy factory. The stairwells smelled like chocolate. You name it - we did it. Stop motion, 2D, FX and even some rudimentary 3D using a borrowed Cray Computer at the Rochester Institute of Technology. But the best thing about Cinera was Vlad's philosophy - he ran Cinera as if it were a WWII submarine: everyone had to be able to do every job. If something needed to be edited - there was an editor, but you might wind up doing it yourself, because he was helping the cameraman. It was the best training you could ever get - and it's served me well during my career.

Did I ever think I'd be a writer? Nope. My goal in school was to be the best animator in the world. That fizzled pretty fast and I developed new skills as new possibilities arose.

And I haven't abandoned or forgotten anything that I've learned or done in the past. I use that experience every day - on every project. These are exciting times to be in tv/film/media. There are lots of opportunities - but you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and when necessary, reinvent yourself.

Friday, October 8, 2010


THE PITCH BIBLE BLOG is One Year Old Today!
  • 88 posts.
  • 6,556 site visits.
  • 12,787 page visits
  • 5 bibles commissioned.
  • 1 development deal.
All in all - a pretty good year!
Thanks Everyone!
Stay tuned. There's more to come...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Official Freaky Stories Facebook Fan Page

I've launched THE OFFICIAL FREAKY STORIES fan page on Facebook.
If you're a Facebook member please remember to "like" the link and join the group.

I'm going to load everything that I have onto it:
  • scripts,
  • links to videos,
  • behind the scenes photos,
  • character designs,
  • color models,
  • background keys,
  • layouts,
  • storyboards...

You name it - if it exists, it will be on the site. This is the perfect way for any student or fan of animation to examine all the elements that go into the making of a TV series.

This is a site made by the creator of the show, for its fans. Its not a fanboy site. It's the real thing. If you have any questions about Freaky, send me a note care of The Official Freaky Stories Fan Page.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

There's a Big, BIG World Out There!

Well, ask and ye shall receive...

Travis Gordon, creator of the very successful Web-Show SPELL FURY was kind enough to give me a quick tutorial on the ins and outs of generating maximum web traffic for Zombie Babies. In return, I've passed along some marketing info and business contacts. It looks like Travis and I can do some serious business. In the meantime, be sure to check out his excellent and very highly rated show SPELL FURY.

Quid pro quo, Clarice... Quid pro quo...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So Lemme Ask Ya...

It's not every day that a colossal egotist like "Moi" asks for advice... But what the heck, I give enough of it, so why not?

As you know, I'm developing a new web-based (or as the kids call it, "Transmedia") property entitled BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES. I've got seven episodes online with more coming shortly.

I've followed my own advice (See my earlier post "Guerilla Marketing 101") and have contacted the usual media outlets (stuff is pending). I've crafted a custom ZOMBIE BABIES video to appeal to the owners of a hugely popular site, in the hopes of getting a link + the accompanying spike in hits to my YouTube Channel. We're submitting it for consideration next week.

On the community level, we're sponsors of the TORONTO ZOMBIE WALK, taking place on October 23rd, with links on their site and Facebook pages. I'm also having several hundred really cool ZOMBIE BABIES pins made up to give away at the event.

SO HERE'S THE QUESTION: Despite all my hard efforts, I've only got about 2,500 hits on my YouTube Channel. I need hundreds of thousands. How can I build traffic more successfully?
Any suggestions?


Monday, September 27, 2010

Start Small...

We were chatting with an Intellectual Properties and Trademark Lawyer the other day. He specializes in doing licensing deals for entertainment brands. He's worked on some very large accounts, having started on some of them, when they were very small accounts.

As we chatted about BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES, he told me about a game that he plays: When a new project crosses his desk, he keeps notes about which ones he thinks will win - that is, which would become big successes - and which ones would fail. And he was honest about it: He was often wrong. He's been in the business a long time, so he goes waaaay back:

The Pet Rock - He figured this to be a loser. The creator of the Pet Rock actually made an awful lot of money.

Cabbage Patch Kids - He thought Xavier Roberts was crazy. No one would ever buy these ugly dolls.

He ran down a long list of properties where he'd been wrong. And a long list of properties where he'd been right. It worked out to be about even. Again proving William Goldman's rule: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

So what advice did he give me? With the internet and social networking as they are today, the opportunities for an individual to build a brand have never been better. If you're lucky, it doesn't cost a lot of money and it doesn't take a lot of time. There are a lot of people who create memes, but its accidental, so they don't know what to do with them - or don't have a plan in place until its too late.

Be ready. Work at it. Start small and work to grow it as you would any business.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

As I sit down to write...

Exciting times. Things are busy. I've got a lot of commissioned work in house. Turning out more Brain Eatin' Zombie Babies episodes and while I have a minute to breathe, I get to sit down and write.

My old producing parter from Freaky Stories and I have teamed up to pitch a new project - a live action comedy for the tween market. Its a great meeting of minds, drawing insight from both of our industry experience. Will anything come of it? There's no way of knowing - except that we have to pitch it. You will never win if you never try. Fingers crossed!

Friday, September 10, 2010


Okay. So let's talk about manners. Manners are the way you present yourself to the industry. What raises this topic? Lemme tell ya a story. Pull up a chair...

I was contacted by an up-and-coming, would-be producer who wanted his script polished, so that he could pitch it to a broadcaster. That sounds reasonable. He represented himself to me as being an experienced animation producer - but something was fishy. What he said, didn't add up. In a few minutes, he confessed that he was really in fact, a first-year animation student who wanted to pitch a show.

I have to confess that I too, was once an eager young filmmaker - ready to take on the world...

Okay... so he emails over his script. I read it. It was "okay". Not great. Not stinky. Just "okay". I asked what his intended use would be for the finished film - Is this a student project? Or is this a promo film for a pitch?

You see - if this is a student project, the script would be fine with some tiny cosmetic changes. But if he's pitching this in a professional arena, he's talking on everyone in the world to make that TV sale - and his script needs to be GREAT! "Okay" won't do. He said that this was intended to be a professional pitch. I told him that it needed some work and suggested that he read THE SCREENWRITER'S PROBLEM SOLVER by Syd Field and watch DUCK SOUP by The Marx Bros. Honestly - that's good advice that I'd recommend to everyone.

Our young would-be producer told me that another screenwriter had read his script and thought it was fine as-is. I agreed that everyone was entitled to their opinion and wished him well.

End of story, or so I thought.

The next night, the young would-be producer called me. He had the other screenwriter on the line - demanding to know exactly how I thought the young producer's script could be improved. He thought it was fine! Then he demanded to know my credits. What I'd written, what I'd sold, when and to which studio...

What a complete yutz. I hung up on both of them. Then I sent the would-be producer a note, instructing him never to contact me again.

Okay guys. Here's the thing: Everyone is entitled to their opinion. When you combine that with the sage wisdom that "Nobody Knows Anything" - you get some key information. What I like, may not be someone else's cup of tea. And vice versa. The other screenwriter thought it was fine - I thought it needed work. Both opinions are valid... BUT...

If someone turns you down, thank them for their time and insight - THEN LEAVE.

DO NOT EVER trot out your own expert/mother/teacher to argue with the person who has turned you down. That is the epitome of amateur-hour behavior. You will never get another meeting with your contact - and you will get a bad reputation in the industry - FAST.

Consider this a Public Service.

Now, I may be entirely wrong. The kid might be a genius. His film might be Oscar caliber material (I've been wrong in the past - but not often) and in two years time, he'll be wagging it in my face, going "Nyah Nyah Nyah... Told ya so!" But in this case, I don't think so.

Monday, August 30, 2010

BATMAN: The Animated Series Writer's Bible

Okay. So this isn't the original Pitch Bible for BATMAN: The Animated Series - but it is the Writer's Bible that would have been commissioned during the show's development. This is massive, gorgeous - and goes into much more detail than you would ever do on a 'regular' animated show.


Because BATMAN is a property with a canon. There is a history that has to be adhered to, or reconciled with. If you fail to address Batman's history - who he is, where he came from, why he does what he does - then it isn't Batman.

An original property doesn't have that sort of history, allowing your writers more freedom to create the canon of your series. Also, BATMAN had a HUGE budget, the kind we're not likely to see again.


So against my better judgment, I'm involved in a couple of internet discussion groups.
Why do I do this...? Never mind.

In one of the recent online topics, they discuss how to pitch a show and the various options available to them. Should they make a pilot? Should they mortgage their homes and just make the whole series? (I know someone who did this. Don't do this.)

I suggested that they build their brands online, as I'm doing with Brain Eatin' Zombie Babies.
While they've pointed to successful online producers such as Shane Dawson, nobody in the animation community seems to 'get it'. You must create a constant flow of content in order to build a brand. Viewers need a reason to revisit your site. And they must revisit it often. If you can only put up a new video sporadically, then you're not going to get a critical mass of viewers.

My guess is that it's nearly impossible to do that in animation because of the cost. If you're on a budget (and who in the 'independent world' isn't?) then you're probably doing it yourself - while you're working that day-job.

As you know, I've gone the puppet-route for my latest project. My feeling is Creative = Creative no matter what the medium. For the life of me, I can't understand animation purists - "If it ain't Disney (Pixar, Dreamworks, Anime... the list goes on) it's crap!" My feeling is that whatever best conveys your idea is what you should go with.

Check out the clip posted above. It's great. Watch the whole thing - then come back. Don't worry. I'll wait for ya...

(whistles... files nails...)

Okay. What did you see? A street performer. A Busker.
The guy earns his living by performing in the streets.
The thing that separates him from the other Buskers is that he's performing (brilliantly) in a medium that we don't see all that often in street performances. He's a puppeteer. And a damned good one. People don't usually see puppeteers - and it catches their attention.

That's we should all be striving for in our pitch bibles - A) Quality and A) Uniqueness.

Yes, I've mentioned "A" twice - because those two elements are of equal importance if you want to sell a show. Give them something they haven't seen before - and do it brilliantly! Add volume - as in a large number of episodes and you have the magic combination of success in any aspect of showbiz - whether it be pitching bibles or in live/online performances.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Savoring the moment...

I've worked on some projects that have gone big (Freaky Stories, Atomic Betty, Magic School Bus), some projects that have died on the table (Rocket Rodents, The Seven, Buzz & Dewey) and a bunch of stuff in between.

The one thing they have in common is that special point in time, where people just don't get it. Its the early stage where they think you're crazy. I love that point in time - its the pugnacious, "I'll show them!" attitude that really gets the creative juices flowing. And its amazing how fast you can go from "Zero" to "Hero".

Those who remember Freaky Stories, remember it as a good, smart show. I still get emails every week from strangers asking about it. But in my mind Freaky brings back bitter-sweet memories where everyone said that I was completely out of my head. And I heard that from a lot of people.

With my feature, "PUBIC LICE: The Motion Picture" - There was a tipping point, where it went from a crazy idea in my mind - and turned into a real tangible motion picture. That fact that it hasn't found a distributor is irrelevant. PUBIC LICE went from an idea to become a physical product.

And now, with BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES - I'm at that same wonderful place. We've got a few micro-episodes out there on YouTube. We've had about 1500 hits so far. Not viral by any means, but people seem to like it. All it needs, is to be discovered. But what I really like, are the naysayers. The people who don't believe in it. The ones who don't get it. Maybe ZOMBIE BABIES will take some time to build, but it will - and today's naysayers will be its biggest fans tomorrow.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Very Important Message

Check this out. For the record, when I was trying to get FREAKY STORIES up and going, I was told by one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry:

"Freaky Stories will never get made. And if it ever did, no one would watch it."

Believe in yourself.

Friday, August 6, 2010

If It Ain't On The Page - It Ain't On The Stage

I recently met with a production company to discuss revising their new Pitch Bible in preparation for MIPCOM. I'd read over their notes 3 times before the meeting and thought that I knew it quite well, when I sat down with them.

Then as we discussed it - I learned something about the project that wasn't in the bible. It was a comedy. I was floored. What I'd read was a grim, action-adventure piece. There was nothing remotely funny about the set-up or the characters. At all. There was not one CLUE that this was an adventure-comedy. The producer was very upset when I pointed this out to him. I think I hurt his feelings. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.

But I can imagine the hilarity that will ensue when they try to pitch the project to a broadcaster. It's like pitching a romantic comedy without mentioning the romance. Or the comedy. Cue the sound of CRICKETS. Because there will be an uncomfortable silence in the room.

You have to be specific up front about what your project is. You have to understand and communicate the genre, up front - so that everyone understands what you're doing. If you bible implies that your project is in one genre - when its really in another - then you've confused your buyer and I guarantee that they will pass on your project.

I had no idea it was supposed to be funny. Honest.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bag and Tag

The family's coming over for a civic holiday BBQ, so I've been stashing the Zombie Babies puppets and props. One thing that I learned during the production of Freaky Stories was how important it was to properly store your assets for the next season of production.

Each year when we finished the puppet shoots, the puppet crew would powder, wrap and very carefully store the puppets and their props. It seemed like a lot of work the first time I watched them do it - I would have just thrown them into boxes and been done with it. But when the next season rolled around, the puppets were in great shape and everything we needed was right where we expected it to be.

So, what does this have to do with Pitch Bibles?

They are assets. They have value - whether you've sold them or not. So store them carefully. Even if you're not actively pitching and selling, you want to know that your creations are in good shape. How do you do that?

First, register your latest or final draft with the WGA (WGC or whatever).

Next, back up your work on a disc and even print out a hard copy. To be even safer, store it "off-site" on an FTP site. You can upload the files and have access to them at any time. This way, no matter what happens - even if your house burns down and your computer is destroyed, your work will survive. As one who has survived some catastrophic computer failures - its a nice feeling to know that your work is safe.

I've actually started uploading my work to our FTP site on a daily basis - to back up the writing that I do. Its a good habit to get into.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Brain Eatin' Zombie Babies was just profiled at - a website devoted to promoting creator driven genre video. You can check out the words of wisdom from yours truly, its genius-creator here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yabba Dabba DON'T!!!

NOT SAFE FOR WORK - Rude content. Sorry if you're offended.

Okay. A frank discussion. Someone asked today, what I thought of his pitch/demo.
Not to spend much time on it - it was "The Flintstones with dick jokes". The jokes weren't overly funny and the dick jokes... well, they were dick jokes. Now if the writing had been funny - and the animation well done, that would have been another story. But this was mediocre humor and art, relying on dubious shock value to carry it.

That's not to say that some low rent humor isn't very well done. It's a genre. Its a style - and like everything else in life -- 98% of it is worthless. But that 2%. Ooh... that sweet 2%. That's what's worth living for.

But this wasn't that sweet 2%.

So getting back to a show about dick jokes. A couple of questions: Who is the audience? and Where are you going to sell it? Well, the audience is guys. Probably 14 to 35 is my guess. But it will be only guys - because women won't find this material funny for more than one viewing. Nor will they want it on when they're around.

Now comes the bigger problem. Who are you going to sell this to? Because most of the Broadcast Executives are... wait for it... WOMEN. And this will become a very short pitch meeting.

Okay - so if you take the dick jokes out of it - you've got "The Flintstones" - but that's been done... about 40 years ago and much better.

Sometimes an idea just isn't a GOOD idea.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Social Network Marketing

Four days in and we're well in excess of 400 views. Good - but ultimately not good enough. While I know that Zombie Babies theoretically could go viral at any time, I want to make it happen sooner rather than later. Frankly, if I have any hopes of monetizing the project, the numbers will have to be in the millions of views. Hundreds is flattering - but I need millions.

I'm somewhat in awe of videos that are innocently posted and go viral overnight.

Through FaceBook, I've pestered everyone that I know into watching the video. I'm sure that by now, they're cringing the 29 episodes yet to come. For that reason I've decided to expand my horizons and go after a much wider audience.

I've signed up with several Social Network Clearing sites - sites that skim the ongoing media stream and post interesting links to their readers. These include,,, and The premiere video has been submitted - as will all the subsequent episodes. There are a few key sites, such as - where I'm waiting until we have a number of videos posted before I make a submission. If "Brain Eatin' Zombie Babies - Episode #17" is the one that breaks big - everything will break big. A single episode gone viral will lead people back to the other chapters.

I've also started a FaceBook group for Zombie Babies. For those who are interested (and FaceBook Members, you can sign up HERE. It'll be THE place for all the news Zombie Babies related.

MEANWHILE - I've actually started work on the Pitch Bible for Zombie Babies. Why would I do that - considering the first look is up on the information highway? When the time comes to speak with potential sponsors, we need to leave them with material to review. Also, should there be mainstream media interest in the project - again, we need to provide a comprehensive overview of what the Zombie Babies are. Having it all down in a well produced document means that I'll never be at a loss for words.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Here is the premiere episode of my new web-show, BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES.
The plan is to release 2 mini-episodes per week for the next 15 weeks. Can we build an audience? Will this go viral? Like a great man once said - nobody knows...

Wish me luck!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Return on Your Cultural Investment

Many years ago, when I was a sound editor on The Inspector Gadget Show, I enjoyed a unique experience. As my wife and I walked past a schoolyard, we heard one of the kids call out, "Go Go Gadget Penis!" When we finished laughing, I said that was one sound effect we never got around to making...

The point is that for the first time, I got to see my work enter the public consciousness. It wasn't a case where people, being polite, mentioned my show. These were complete strangers who were oblivious to me and my part in its production.

Similar things happened during my work on The Magic School Bus and later, on Freaky Stories. I would hear complete strangers referencing my work. And believe me, that is a strange experience. It continues today where Freaky Stories has almost 8,000 fans on FaceBook. EIGHT THOUSAND people (!!!) signed up to get notices about Freaky Stories. Complete strangers. It must be absolutely mind boggling to the creators and production team of major hit series to get millions of fans liking your work.

So what is the "cultural investment" in a show? I really don't know. You do your work. You be creative - but the one thing that you have to keep in mind, something that most people forget during the hustle of production: The show that you're working on, is somebody's favorite show. Ever.

I think there's a responsibility that comes with that. The thing that you've created touches someone's life. Maybe they go on to a career in film, TV or the arts. Maybe "House" inspires someone to become a doctor. Maybe that doctor finds the cure for a terrible disease - all because of a prime-time TV show.

Often the creators of a show don't realize what it is that they're working with. Case in point, this New Yorker article on Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers mogul Haim Saban - in which he smirkingly refers to the Power Rangers as "Five retards in spandex".

I guess they were - and those "Five retards in spandex" made him a billionaire. Who knew?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why I Do What I Do

Jim Henshaw's excellent blog, THE LEGION OF DECENCY this week features an article about the state of "the art" here in Canada, and probably most places for that matter.

It's well worth the read. You can find it HERE.

Probably more than anything else, its a dose of reality that explains why I'm pursuing independent productions like Brain Eatin' Zombie Babies.

Go. Read. Learn from Jim. Tell him I say Hi.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Further to my last post - another thing to consider is whether your new partners will be "network approved".

What is "network approved"? you ask.

The network, broadcaster, distributor or production company is paying for your production. Face it - somebody has to pay for it, or it doesn't get made. Their big concern (because of schedules, advertising revenue, etc.) are the "Deliverables" - the material which you as the producer are supposed to provide to them in a timely manner.

Clear so far? They give you money - you give them the program. Okay. Let's move on.

They (let's call them "The Network") need to have a level of comfort, in that you and your team can deliver The Deliverables to them, on time and on budget. How does The Network do this?

For one - they usually insist that your team is "Network Approved". They have to know your players. You might not have to be Network Approved. You're the creator - so you're in. But you will most likely have to partner with someone who has demonstrated experience by working on a show in the past. And this can be a deal breaker. The Network absolutely needs this.

Here's the thing. If you're free and clear - and The Network insists that you partner with Producer John Smith (and you like John Smith's work) - you're in good shape. If on the other hand, you've got Eddie, your best pal from high school, locked in contractually as Producer - then you have problems. Because The Network doesn't know Eddie (assuming that Eddie is from outside the biz - if he's experienced - GREAT - otherwise not-so-great). And if they don't know Eddie or his work, there is no level of comfort that he (and by extension, you) can deliver the show. They don't want people who are 'learning on the job' to be running the show.

Make sense? Entourage makes for great TV. Hiring your best buddies works fine if you're an A-List actor, producer or director. But for those of us in the trenches - not a good thing. Fun show though...

PLEASE NOTE - The "No Bullsh*tting Here" post has been removed for the time being. A troll has been fixating on it. Time for him to move on. It will be reposted sometime in the future.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Rule of Thumb

A guy wrote to me asking if I wouldn't mind looking over a contract for him.

Huh? I'm not a lawyer. I have no legal experience. Why would anyone want my opinion about a contract? I advised him to find an entertainment lawyer - a good one, and the money would be well spent.

Hire the right person to do the job. Hire a pro. Get the person who will do the job right the first time and you'll live happily ever after.


But wait. There's more...

Same guy writes, saying that some people want to get involved in his project -- they want to be in senior positions, creatively and in production. What do I think? I reviewed their credentials - and they had no related experience. They'd never produced or directed a show. Hell, they'd never even worked in TV production in any capacity.

Scratching my head, I asked they guy who wrote to me - why he'd even consider working with people who admittedly didn't know what they were doing? He said that they were good "family men". They had the same values as him.

More head scratching on my part. I wished the guy luck. He's going to need it. Lots of it.

There is a very good Rule of Thumb in screenwriting (or any kind of writing for that matter):
If a scene doesn't advance the plot or character development - cut it. Every scene should advance the story or tell us more about the character. If it doesn't, its a waste of time.

Likewise, everyone who you bring onto your project should be able to advance it in some way. Your agent should set up meetings. Partners should bring something to the table with them - money, skills, connections. Otherwise, they're not helping you - they're dragging you down - and you should ditch them.

All the good intentions in the world won't get the job done if you don't have the right people with the right skills.

Monday, June 28, 2010

WE LOVE PIXAR: The Secret Ingredients

I came across this great, very well-written article on The Big Hollywood blog archive. It's well worth a look. The things we learn from PIXAR can be applied to any of our projects.

WE LOVE PIXAR: The Secret Ingredients
by James Hudnall

Not since Walt Disney created a film studio based mostly on animation has a film company had such a string of successful family films. In fact, Pixar has had more successes in its run than Disney did in its early years. Lucky for Disney, they distribute Pixar.

Many in Hollywood may be scratching their heads trying to understand why this company has had so many winners. But the secret ingredients are the very things that Hollywood often forgets are the most important elements to any movie. It’s like baking a cake without eggs, flour or sugar. It can be done, but good luck with that.

Let’s review the simple ingredients that makes the Pixar cakes so delicious.

1. Story Fundamentals: Every story is an argument. It should have a point. The point should be made strongly and you should either learn from it or come away with more understanding than you had going in. A story is really there to put things in some kind of perspective. A protagonist is given a set of problems they have to solve in order to achieve the thing they desire. In overcoming those problems they learn about themselves and grow as a person in some way.

If the story is well told, we relate to the characters and identify with them. Pixar does that. They create stories that we can relate to, that show us a world we understand. These tales give worthwhile meaning to the lives of the characters we just went on a journey with. And because of this, they are stories we remember and want to see again. They teach you this stuff in writing school, if you had a good teacher, but many studio execs completely forget all this and go for effects and exploitation and anything else they think will fill the seats. They completely forget is that no one cares about characters they don’t like or relate to. This brings us to ingredient #2.

2. Strong Characters: Pixar creates good stories around strong characters. When I say strong, I don’t mean they can beat people up. In most cases, the Pixar characters are a threat to no one. They are like most people, easily harmed by life’s cruel ironies and twists. But they overcome these problems by being proactive. They heroically defeat their obstacles. And often, through teamwork with others who they often disagree. Through these experiences everyone learns something and the audience is satisfied. Characters in stories need to grow because there has to be a net change from the beginning of the story to the end. Or a movie can feel neutral or pointless. Again, this is a simple truth known since Aristotle’s time that so many movie-makers fail to grasp.

3. Great endings: Endings are at least 50% of what makes a movie good. If your ending is lame, predictable or doesn’t live up to the preceding parts of the film, then the whole picture is forgettable. How many movies have you seen that thrilled you until a stupid ending ruined it? The ending is the last thing an audience remembers. It isn’t called the climax for nothing. Our excitement is built up to a point and If the ending is a fizzle, there are no fireworks, kids. And you don’t want people walking away disappointed. Pixar always delivers satisfying endings. You get plenty of bang for the bucks.

4. Magnificent Art Direction and Animation: These are animated films after all. Pixar has always been one of the most cutting edge animation houses in the business. Their work is superb. It’s the icing on the cake. And the cake they make is moist and delicious.

The rest of Hollywood could learn a lot of Pixar, but hubris being what it is, they probably won’t. Noneth less, we are very happy that Pixar is with us and keeps delivering fine films.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some Words of Wisdom from Frank Zappa

Here is the late Frank Zappa on the decline of the music industry. I'm posting this because it parallels the creative development of TV and movies at the studio and broadcast level. This is Frank Zappa's take on William Goldman's "nobody knows anything":

One thing that did happen during the 60’s was that some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded and did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times – not hip young guys. These were cigar chomping old guys who looked at the product that came in and said, “I dunno. Who knows what it is? Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, all right!”

We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives who are making the decisions about what people should see and hear in the marketplace. The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the artform than the old guys with the cigars ever were.

And you know how these young guys got in there? The old guy with the cigar, one day goes – “Yeah, I took a chance. It went out and we sold a few million units. All right. I dunno. I dunno what it is. But we need to do more of them. I need some advice. Let’s get a hippy in here...” So they hire a hippy. They bring in the guy with long hair. Now, they’re not going to trust him to do anything except carry coffee and bring the mail in. It starts from there. He carried the coffee four times so they figured they could trust him. “Let’s give him a real job.” He becomes and A and R man (artists and repertoire) . From there, moving up and up and up... Next thing you know, he’s got his feet on the desk and he’s saying, “Well, we can’t take a chance on this – because its simply not what the kids want – and I know.”

And they’ve all got that attitude. And the day you get rid of that attitude and get back to “Who knows? Take a chance” – that entrepreneurial spirit. Even if you don’t like or understand what the record is that’s coming in the door, the person who’s in the Executive chair may not be the final arbiter of the taste of the entire population.

So what does that have to do with pitching shows? Simply that the internet and YouTube specifically have allowed all of us to be the "cigar chomping old guys". We have toe opportunity to say, "I don't know what it is. Record it." The truth is that 99.9999999% of the stuff on the internet is shit. That's a given. But there are the occasional gems that get discovered. Pitching a show at the best of times is a risky business (but the odds are much better than playing the lottery) - that said, why not take your concept directly to the audience? If it goes viral and its a success - you're in a much better negotiating position when the big boys come knocking at your door.