Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ideas


Hey Steve...

How do I know if my idea is a good idea?

To be honest, that question is irrelevant. It's not the idea - its what you do with it that matters.

Case in point: The famous novelist E.L. Doctrow wrote a book called "The Waterworks".

Set in 1890's New York - The Waterworks deals with a series of grisly murders around the Croton Reservoir. There's a lot of political intrigue and the protagonist is a crusading newspaperman.

At about the same time, a little known writer named Caleb Carr wrote "The Alienist".

The Alienist is also set in 1890's New York City. It also deals with a series of grisly murders around the Croton Reservoir. And yes - there's a lot of political intrigue and believe it or not, The Alienist's protagonist is a crusading newspaperman.

Two identical books? They should be the same, right?

Hardly. The Waterworks is as boring as Hell. The Alienist is a gripping page turner.

Same idea. Same setting. Same time period. Same characters.

One is a failure, the other is a brilliant success. <-- my opinion - but you're welcome to check out the reviews on Amazon.com. I'm not on the minority.

Happy Reading!


30,000 Hits

Well folks, we hit 30,000 on the Sitemeter today. That's kind of amazing. Thanks!

Sorry that I haven't posted in a while. What can I say? I'm busy. That's a good thing.

With 30,000 hits come a number of letters, notes, requests, etc. Got one recently. A gentleman asked if I'd review his Pitch Bible. "Sure", I said. Send it over. Which he did.

In his cover letter, he mentioned that "another" pitch-bible expert had reviewed and liked his pitch. He wanted my thumbs up on it as well.

So here's the situation. Last year, someone asked my opinion of his pitch. I was honest - I said that it needed work and explained what I thought would improve his bible. He replied that (another writer) had reviewed his bible and thought it was fine.

I said, "fine" - accept the other guy's opinion and ignore me. But he wouldn't leave it alone. He called me from England and conferenced in the other writer from L.A. - so the two of us could "debate" the merits of this guy's Pitch Bible.

Excuse me?

My reply wasn't the least bit polite. If you disagree with what I think, you're welcome to find another opinion - but leave me out of it.

Getting back to the recent guy - collecting letters of "support" from Pitch Guru's means nothing. The only opinion that matters belongs to the production company or broadcaster who's prepared to option your property.

I'm always happy to lend and ear and give advice. But please don't go Guru shopping.
Thanks!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Hollywood Paradigm in Action

Well, I'm back. Sorry for not writing in a while. I've been busy and on top of everything else, just got back from vacation.

While sitting on the plane, I had the opportunity to check out this past summer's "Captain America". It was fun. Mindless fun - and I enjoyed it. I'll be sure to see The Avengers movie that they plugged at the end of the film.



One thing that I noticed was that "Captain America" plotline followed followed Syd Field's paradigm - see my earlier post - to an insane degree. Case in Point: When Captain America raid's Red Skull's base in Norway and frees the captured soldiers - I stopped the film and checked the timeline. It was exactly - and I mean EXACTLY 1/2 way through - to the minute. When Bucky is killed, setting of the final confrontation, it occurred precisely where the second Plot Pinch indicated it should be. You could literally set your watch by this movie. Rarely have I seen a movie that was constructed (in the editing phase) to match the paradigm this closely.

To be honest, I didn't (I should have, but didn't bother) check to see if the inciting incident that starts the second act, hit at the 20 minute mark. I'm sure it did.

So, the end result - while it isn't Shakespeare, "Captain America" is a textbook example of Syd Field's paradigm in action. And it's a fun movie, too. I'd call it a "good renter".

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"A" Story - "B" Story - Running Gags


How do you get more ZIP out of your story? Many early writers fall into the trap of writing single plot stories. They follow on group of characters throughout an entire adventure. But life isn't like that - people and events that affect your life come and go. If you can build that element (let's call it the "B" Story) into your story, it'll make for a better script.

Let's get started. You might recognize the diagram below as Syd Field's famous Hollywood screenwriting paradigm. The vast majority of movies and TV shows follow (consciously or unconsciously) this model.


From my own experience, I've found that when a story works - it's on model. If a story isn't working - the first thing I do is check it against this template.

For more information about SYD FIELD, the PARADIGM and all that other good stuff, please visit www.sydfield.com or buy his books THE SCREENPLAY or THE SCREENWRITER'S PROBLEM SOLVER. These books are essential reading. If you haven't read them yet - RUN TO YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE AND BUY THEM.

And now, on to MY paradigm... Which I've scribbled over top of Syd's. Hope he doesn't mind...
You'll see that I've scribbled some lines in pink and green marker. Sorry, they're all that I had available. The Pink lines represent that "A" Story and the Green lines represent the "B" Story (or the secondary characters).

I'm going to use a gross simplification for demonstration purposes. In the FIRST ACT - the main and secondary characters are going about their business together. There's even a GAG or short joke about their situation.

At the PLOT POINT which begins the SECOND ACT - the Primary Characters (A Story) and Secondary Characters (B Story) separate and go about their businesses. Throughout the Second Act, we cut back and forth between the two groups of characters, to keep up with what they're doing.

Likewise, there are situational GAGS - called RUNNING GAGS that mirror the "A" and "B" stories. There's an "A" Story Running Gag and a "B" Story Running Gag.

The "A" and "B" Stories should MEET at the SECOND PLOT POINT or CLIMAX of your story. Then in the resolution or THIRD ACT - if you're very good (and lucky) you get to write a climax for your RUNNING GAGS.

This structure works for a simple short 11 or 22-minute adventure. If you were to write a longer piece, you would add more Stories - "C", "D", etc.

And no - I don't sit in movies counting the number of stories going on. But next time you watch your favorite sitcom, check it out.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Animaniacs Bible


The previous link to the Animaniacs Bible is down. However, I've located a new link, which you can find... HERE.

As noted before - this appears to be a writers guide, rather than a pitch document. Either way, it's fun reading.

Cheers!
S

A Typical Day

A potential client contacted me about writing a pitch bible for him. Only one problem: After speaking with him, I knew that what he wanted me to write, wouldn't sell.

The core idea was okay, but his format was way off. It was confusing - so much so, that anyone reading it would be left scratching their head, unsure what the project was about.

Which left me with the moral dilemma; "Should I take this guy's money and deliver the product that he wants, but which I absolutely believe will fail? Or, should I argue with this man - and get him to see things my way?"

The problem was - if we did it my way and forever reason, it didn't sell - then I'd be to blame.

It was a no win situation. I wished the guy luck with his project and I've moved on to other things. But in the interests of Public Service, here AGAIN are some Things that a Broadcaster looks for in a Pitch.

Ignore them at your peril:

  1. A solid proposal must demonstrate:

    • A strong understanding of Network X's audience and schedule;(Hi. This is me, here in the italics, commenting on their notes. About the "Strong understanding of Network X's audience and schedule: In all fairness - don't waste their time. If your show is really not what they're looking for - a knitting show for "The Hunting Channel" - you're wasting their time and your efforts.)
    • A strong overall fit with Network X's programming needs; (If they show 1/2 hour episodics, round the clock - don't try to sell them on a Movie of the Week. They've got nowhere in their schedule to run a one-off.)
    • Originality in subject or treatment; (This is a bit of a... I dunno. On one hand, they always ask for ORIGINALITY, while on the other hand, they really want "tried and true" - meaning SAFE programming. If the show tanks, "you know who's" job will be on the line.)
    • Clarity of approach and focus; (Meaning - Know Your Stuff. If your show is about sea creatures, you should have a pretty good knowledge of sea life.)
    • Creativity and imagination; (Goes without saying.)
    • Top-quality writing, research and presentation; (Ditto again. Don't go in with some half-baked idea scrawled on a napkin. It ain't gonna fly.)
    • Credentials of production personnel including a proven track record with professional and creative broadcast series production;(This depends. When I got my first development deal, my credits were really thin. If you have THE GREATEST IDEA IN THE WHOLE WORLD, the broadcaster may require that you partner with a more experienced producer. Don't let this stop you.)
    • A thorough budget and financing scenario, if requested. (You should have a realistic idea of what it will cost to produce the show. Do your research and have it ready if needed.)

    Please submit the following with your proposal:

    • Summary of show concept, series focus and treatment; (Hey! They want a Pitch Bible! Go figure...)
    • Outline of its relevance and appeal to Network X's core audience;(In your words, why will people watch it?)
    • Show format and sample rundown (if applicable); (Ya know? In all my years, I've just done my first one of these. And it was only after I'd done it - that anyone asked. Its a good exercise and it helps you to prepare for the pitch.)
    • List of key creative personnel and complete resumes. (Good to have on hand - but the truth is, if you get your show up and running, you can buy all the creative people you want. Make up a "such as" list. Example - "This character will be played by an actor such as Tom Hanks". The reality is, you'll never get Tom Hanks - but it gives them a taste of what you have in mind. Same goes for artists.)
    • Corporate profile with credits; Have your resume handy. ( Or, if you're more experienced, a link to your imdb page.)
    • Video samples of your past work and, if applicable, of proposed host (Makes sense. It's always good to have a demo reel. I'm sure that I sold Freaky Stories on the strength of the 5 minute pilot that I made in my basement.)
    • Signed RELEASE FORM (Yeah, yeah, yeah... They might make you sign one of these to protect themselves. You might have an idea similar to something they already have in development. This actually happened to me - I pitched a show to a network and it was EXACTLY what they had just shot a pilot for. They told me that my pitch was better - incidentally... but no sale...)

Monday, August 29, 2011

NEW EYES

Image from "The Goon" by Eric Powell. Please
check out Eric's work and THE GOON, here.

I spoke recently with the head of programming for a major cable network. During the course of our conversation, I asked what it is, that he looks for in assessing a new show or project. His answer:

"New Eyes" - Will this show bring new eyes (new viewers) to our channel?

In today's market, the goal is not only to satisfy the current viewers, so that they remain loyal to the channel - but to attract NEW viewers to boost the ratings.

So how do you do that?

When we were producing Freaky Stories, we were writing for adults. It wasn't a kids show. It looked like a kids show. It sounded like a kids show - but there was an adult subtext - smart stuff was going on.

The kids would be happily watching the show - while the parents, listening in the next room and interested in what they were hearing - would come in, sit beside their kids and watch the show too. We brought "new eyes" to the broadcaster.

While everyone was watching the episodes - I was watching the commercials - because I knew that the ad agencies had the exact audience demographics. The first couple of weeks, it was mostly promos and PSA's. Then we got commercials for breakfast cereal. I knew we were reaching the right audience when we got our first mini-van ad.

Check out the really successful animated series of the past couple of decades: the Spongebobs, the animated Batmans, the Ren and Stimpys. They're smart. They're subversive. They appeal to multiple audiences. And most important from a show sales point of view, they bring New Eyes to the broadcaster.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

There ain't no cure for the Summertime Blues...



Yeah, yeah, yeah - I haven't been writing much. It's Summertime. It's nice out - and as I sit on my hilltop, trusty dog beside me, watching the clouds roll by - I'm thinking of amazing, insightful things to write. Notice how I keep procrastinating about finishing my book?

Nobody to blame but me. My fault. But I promise to put my shoes and socks back on and start writing new material in the next few days. That said, here's something to tide you over...

Collected here are links to The Very BEST of The Pitch Bible Blog.No searching - it's all right here!

NEW!!! (I just want to add one note: You generally get one shot at pitching a project to a broadcaster. If they pass - its over. Got it? You get one try at it. While there is a lot of good info posted below - if you're really set on pitching your Million Dollar Idea, it might be worth your while to hire a Pro - someone who knows what they're doing when it comes to pitches.)
Everyone owns a hammer, pliers and a drill, right? But who among us does his own dentistry?

Subtle Sales Pitch over... Here's the goods...

TOPICS - In No Particular Order - But all very important...

PITCH BIBLES

TOPICS - In No Particular Order

Happy Reading - More To Come

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

20,000 Hits

I know that in the big world of the internet, 20,000 hits isn't much - but for the little old PITCH BIBLE Blog - that's a lot. Thanks everyone for your support.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Two Routes to Sucess

I spoke recently with a very successful entertainment entrepreneur, asking (yes - I interview people asking for the secrets to their success - which they usually provide) - about how to produce a successful new show.

His answer: "Do something original. Or do something that's been done before - only do it better."

Let's examine that. Do something original. That's a tough one. I'll be honest - Original is a hard sell, because people have no idea what you're talking about. They've never seen it before, so you probably have to create it - and then sell it. Of course, they'll still have no idea what it is.

I ran into this problem with Freaky Stories. I produced 3 pilots (limited animation, graphics, etc.) and it took many years to get the show into production because the powers that be, didn't grasp the concept.

Here's a brilliant example of something original. It's simple - One guy singing a song - yet has huge "WOW" factor - because it's done in a completely novel way. And brilliantly produced.





Here's something that's been done before: STOP MOTION ANIMATION - but done brilliantly. Two examples from Sumo Science(Ed Patterson and Will Studd). The first, "DOT" is the smallest Stop Motion film set ever made.




Next, "GULP" uses the largest Stop Motion setup ever done.




In both cases, the filmmakers were able to rethink a conventional idea and use it to attract attention and financial backing to their very successful projects. Its nothing that hasn't been done before from a content point of view - just very well and in a new way.

Also - the scale of the projects fit perfectly with the content of the films.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Pitches

I want to be very clear about something: I like to see new pitches. I want to LOVE everything that crosses my desk. I want to be the first person to see the NEXT BIG THING. So I get really excited when I see something great - and I'm really disappointed when I see a lost opportunity. I'm not trying to be mean - I'm just being honest. And maybe a little selfish - because I WANT to love your work.


I've received two pitches in the last couple of days. Coincidentally both were from teams of filmmakers in the U.K. Those were the only similarities - except for the fact that both teams claim to have studied my blog and wanted my feedback.

The first to cross my cathode-ray screen was from a duo calling themselves "tea and cheese". I thought their pitch was pure gold. Flawed, but pure gold. It had everything that I wanted to see in a pilot and online bible. It told me who the characters were. What they were trying to do. Who was trying to stop them? How, Where, Why, etc. And it was stylish and fun. I laughed out loud a couple of times.


They'd pitched the idea all over L.A. and it hadn't sold. I could see why - there were similarities to another (hugely popular) show. But their technique and material was impeccable. Brilliantly put together. Great dialogue and timing - as good as - if not better than the other, hugely popular show.

I suspect that I haven't seen the last of "Tea & Cheese".


Then something else slithered over the transom. Again, from a team in the U.K. and again, they swore that they'd studied the blog.


The video was cool. A team of heroes in a post apocalyptic world - struggling to stay alive. Yeah. It looked good. It looked very good. But...

Okay. Who are these guys? What happened to Earth? It IS Earth, isn't it? Who are the bad guys? They look cool. What do they want? ..and Why? I mean, if they've destroyed 99.9% of humanity, why worry about one guy with a rusty sword?

The pilot didn't answer any of the questions - and wasn't a strong enough presentation to make me want to see more. I don't remember the characters names or even the title of the show. They put all their energy into the video - with no thought as to the content of the show - the result? Utterly forgettable.

I don't mean to be harsh - but if you're going to pitch something - DO IT RIGHT. Otherwise you're wasting everyone's time and your money. The pretty pictures will be wasted unless you put your focus on the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW of your series.

I hope that I haven't crushed anyone's dreams. Well... maybe a little...

Now get back to work!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Letter of Rejection

Yeah, it happens to all of us.

You pour your heart and soul into something. You seal the envelope and take a deep breath as you pop it into the mail. You send it off and wait. And wait. And finally get a note in return. Just one simple piece of paper that shreds your hopes and dreams into kitty litter...


This was I believe, written
by Hunter S. Thompson to Mike Peters,
an aspiring writer who'd sent a satirical piece to Rolling Stone.


I've had worse.

You see - a Rejection Letter isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's actually a good thing. Any salesman will tell you that a "NO" is better than a "Maybe". "No" means "we're not interested, move along." "Maybe" means that you have to hang around and wait. And there's nothing worse than waiting.

Of course, there are some ways of saying "No" that are nicer than others.

I pitched an idea to the good people at McDonalds many years ago. A couple of days after dropping off the package, I got a call from the VP of Marketing. He explained their marketing strategy and why my project didn't fit within their plans. He spent at least 20 minutes with me because I had taken the time to include McDonalds in my plans. Very nice. What more can you ask of them? I ran out and ate a Big Mac to thank him.

I pitched a project to William Shatner once. He called. We spoke. He turned me down for scheduling reasons - but offered a number of very good creative suggestions which improved the overall quality of my project. Advice from Captain Kirk??? BONUS!!!

These days, you often don't get any feedback at all. You send in your project - and it falls into a black pit.

Nothing...

At...

All...

...hello...?

They don't even bother to say that they're not interested.

There are a few good people out there, real gems who do offer feedback and comments. They're the ones who earn your respect and put on a good face for their companies. They're the kind of people you'd want to work with on future projects.

Even this form rejection slip is better than nothing. It's impersonal but informative.

Essanay Studios made Chaplin films back in the day.

They actually used this slip when rejecting screenplays.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tony Stark: Superhero


I come to the Marvel movie franchises as a newbie. When I was a kid, you were either a Marvel or a D.C. guy. I was a D.C. guy. I followed Batman and Superman. I knew who Spiderman was, but I'd never read one of his comic books. That goes for the rest of the Marvel canon as well.

When the Spiderman movie came out - I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I knew all about the radioactive spider before the movie, so no big surprise.

But then this "Iron Man" guy came along. I'd heard the name, seen the covers - but never got into it. (To be honest, I'm still not "into" Iron Man - I don't buy the comics.) But I do enjoy the movies. Why?

Tony Stark.

He's cool. He's flawed. And he knows it. Forget the tin suit, I'd watch a Tony Stark movie any day of the week. That's what makes for a great superhero - when his secret (or in Tony's case, not-so-secret) identity is as interesting - or MORE interesting than his Superhero identity.

I've come across a number of pitch properties where the hero derives his powers from the suit that he or she wears. I call these "the magic golashes" - as in, "He can fly when he wears The Magic Golashes". But as soon as he kick them off - he's just a regular guy.

And that's the problem - nobody wants to see a "regular guy". Your hero has to be as amazing and cool in his daily life as when he's in the suit. Bruce Wayne as played by Michael Keaton in the Tim Burton Batman movies (and by Adam West in the 60's TV series) - was boring. The persona only exists as Batman - which frankly - and I hate to say it - is bad storytelling.

Nope. Take it from this D.C. guy - Iron Man is a brilliant character because of who he is, when he isn't in character.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fortune Telling


I attended an industry function last week. Everyone was milling about discussing the biz: who's working where and on what, to who, etc. The topic turned briefly to a small studio owner. He's got a decent business providing service work to larger studios and making TV commercials. Great for him - he's living the dream.

Now let's flash forward 15 or 20 years. Our studio owner is ready to retire and wants to sell his studio. What is a studio - and what is it worth?

If he's bought the building that his studio occupies in downtown Toronto - he's sitting pretty on some prime real estate, so he's set. Let's not worry about him. If he's renting his studio space - then the asset is the studio itself - so let's look at that.

What is a studio?

A studio is made of up three things: People, equipment and intellectual properties.

You can't sell the people. That's kinda, sorta... against the law. The new owners would have to keep the key talent from leaving. But that's a variable - they might stay. They might not. So that's not an asset.

The equipment. The hardware and software is outdated the moment it hits the store shelves. So the gear itself isn't worth much. Maybe 1/2 of it's list price at best. Maybe there are some rare and collectible pieces of art or autographed tchotchkes lying around. Who knows? But overall, the stuff ain't worth much.

And then there are the Intellectual Properties. What characters, shows, logos, trademarks does the studio own? These little gems are what holds the value in the future. This is what people want.

I was watching Dragon's Den the other night - that's the show where people pitch ideas to Venture Capitalists. The lady who created Woofstock (a dog festival) was offered $500,000 for 50% of her business - with the opportunity to grow it bigger. The key interest to the investor was that she had worldwide trademarks on the name and the brand. A name and a reputation for quality is worth a half million dollars - and she turned them down.

I was chatting with the founder of a local festival yesterday. Someone has started a competing festival - calling it a "summer version" of the original. I advised my friend to trademark the name which she had originated and was now being widely used. Its one of those things that could be very valuable in future years.

Create something new and original. Grow it. Own it.

I met with a very smart man yesterday. He gave me some good advice - the equation for wealth.

Innovation + Harmony = Money



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catching Up


Sorry for not posting. I've been busy. Let's catch up.

I've pitched a number of shows and we have some interest. It's "wait and see" time again.

This past weekend I received a disturbing email. A fan of BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES demanded that I post new episodes "or else".

"Or else"?

BRAIN EATIN' ZOMBIE BABIES was an experiment. A test bed to explore new ideas, make mistakes and learn some new things. I would have liked for it to have gone viral and earn some bucks - but it didn't do that.

BEZB's failed to find their audience. It found 'an' audience - but not the right one. I had intended it to be a funny kids show, targeting ages 12 to 14. Instead we got some very strange men in their 30's and 40's tuning in on a regular - some might say 'obsessive' basis. Very strange men.

I am going to continue to make and post new videos as things appeal to me. But the BEZB's are done.


The pitching continues. I'm expanding my focus beyond kids animation and into live action reality programming. Again, this is simply because I want to produce shows that appeal to me. Shows that I believe in, rather than, simply "product".

I'm also laying the groundwork for a new venture. It's not TV - or media - but it is directly related. And my experience in pitching and creating pitch bibles has helped greatly in the past few weeks. More details on this as things progress.



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spell Fury - Product Placement


Check out the Product Placement that I arranged for Spell Fury. Hell - check out ALL of Spell Fury. It's a good little show. We'll get into a discussion of the who's, what's, how's and why's of product placement shortly.

What you're looking for - and more importantly, what the sponsors are looking for. Do it right, and you can make a deal in an afternoon, the way that Travis Gordon and I did.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Monetizing the Internet - Part 1 What Not To Do


(Okay. So the guy ain't Ben Turpin. But he should be.)

I received a note last week from this fellow, asking me to click on his blog so that he would earn funds from adsense:

Majid Ali said...

Please for humanity's sake please do it once
I have made a blog at blogger.com Since i have added a google adsense in the blog but haven't made a penny with this. I need your help and support to help me make some money to PAY MY Tuition Fees.


The entire plea is printed in the comments of an earlier post. To be honest, I didn't bother clicking on his blog. I hate spam and I don't want to encourage it. That said:


HOW DO YOU MAKE MONEY ON THE INTERNET TO SUPPORT YOUR PROJECTS?


You may recall my Brain Eatin' Zombie Babies project. Yes, it's still alive - but I'm working on other things at the moment. I will post more BEZBs later this summer. We've had a good response, but it'll take time to grow the property.


In my internet 'travels' I've met some interesting people. One of the most interesting and enterprising is Travis Gordon and his web series "SPELL FURY". Travis has been producing web series for a number of years and his total hits number in the millions. He's not viral by any means, but he's a known presence on the web. In 2009, Wired Magazine called him one of their "Seven Web-o-tainers Worth Watching".


And so you should. Why? Because Travis Gordon is doing it right. Check out his work at www.spellfury.com


So, what does this have to do with monetizing the internet? Everything. Because Travis has just finished his first web video with a product placement. Working with Travis, I was able to find a major corporation that is willing to feature their products in his show.


Hang in there, because I'm going to tell you how we did it.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Key Idea...

I've had a few notes over the past few weeks, people sending Pitch Bibles, links to 'pilots', etc., all asking the same question: "What do you think of my project?"

To be honest, some of them are good. Some are "less than good". I've heard one really neat, original idea that I think should be developed.

But the question that I ask in response to my correspondents is about the key idea behind their show: in the simplest terms "Why Should I Care?"

Why should I care? Why would I (or anyone) watch your show instead of some old House re-run? What's in it for me, in terms of the investment of my time and attention?

When you have a good answer to that question, you're well on the way to developing a successful pitch. So what is the answer?

Strong characters. Strong motivation. Clear goals. Clear obstacles to be over come.
All that 'writer' stuff.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I Hate When This Happens...


I was running some errands prior to an important meeting yesterday when my phone rang. It was the gentleman that I was supposed to meet in a couple of hours time. The Gods of Time had conspired against us - and he had to switch the meeting to next week.

AAAAARRRRGHH...!

I was prepped. I was ready. I had all my materials and my pitch, down pat. And now...

So we booked another time for next week, said our goodbyes and I went about my errands. Wouldn't you know it, but a few minutes after our postponed meeting time, I had an idea to enhance my pitch. It isn't often that this happens, but its going to work out for me.

Frustrating? Yes. Advantageous? Maybe... We'll find out next week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

LEGAL EAGLES - PART DEUX


Someone wrote recently in response to the last post - asking a legal question (of course). I advised them to consult a lawyer and... THEY DID! They actually consulted a lawyer about a legal issue.

I dunno about you, but I have newfound faith in humanity. Thank you, Pitch Bible Pen Pal!

Here's what they asked...

He essentially wanted to make a parody of an existing film property. I said, "Check with a lawyer". Here's what the lawyer wrote:

The short answer is that it is possible to make a film in the manner you are proposing. You just need to be careful that you do not reproduce too much of the original script, music, artworks or film. It can be a fine line between reproducing enough to evoke the original, without actually copying a substantial part of it.

A few years ago the line was shifted a little further in your favour by the enactment of a 'parody & satire' fair dealing exception in the copyright act - but this has not really been tested by a case yet so there is doubt as to how it would be interpreted.

You might also have other rights you'd need to be careful of - using a sufficiently different name to ensure you're not infringing any trade marks for example.

Where there is a significant investment in the film, the producer might decide to licence rights anyway, just to make sure there is no problem.

What's that? Run that last part by me again...?

Where there is a significant investment in the film, the producer might decide to licence rights anyway, just to make sure there is no problem.

A little louder, so the kids in the back row can hear...?

Where there is a significant investment in the film, the producer might decide to licence rights anyway, just to make sure there is no problem.

Yeah. That's what I thought. If you don't own it - clear the rights.

And there you have it. Straight from The Legal Eagle's mouth!!! CLEAR THE RIGHTS!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

LEGAL EAGLES

I've had a few emails asking questions about creative-legal issues. These are things such as, "I want to use (someone else's character) in my show/pitch/movie. Can I do this?"

My general Rule of Thumb - If you don't own it - don't use it. That includes "parody", "fair use" or whatever you want to call it. If you don't have a clear legal chain of title to a property, you won't be able to distribute it, sell it, etc. From my point of view, its more creatively satisfying to make something new - my own unique expression.

When I see a "Star Trek or Batman or (name any superhero) Tribute Video", I can't understand why, with the amount of talent and creativity evident - why they don't make an original work? I understand the concept of a calling card - but an original work - while it won't get the same number of online hits as a Batman-parody - would be just as good.

Let's put it this way. Assume you're a huge Joss Whedon fan. If you had the opportunity to meet him, would he be more impressed if you made:

A) An exact 10' long Lego replica of Serenity from Firefly.
or
B) A short ORIGINAL video - and tell him that he inspired your creativity.

Let me save you some brain-power. Ive been there. You will have a much better conversation with your creative idol - a "conversation of equals", if you choose Option B. Trust me on this...

ABOUT THOSE LEGAL QUESTIONS: I am trained as an Animator. I work as a Writer/Producer/Director. I am not a Lawyer. I am not qualified to answer legal questions. Nor am I qualified as a Dentist or Nuclear Physicist.

If you have legal questions - ASK AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What's Your Agenda?


I attended the Sheridan College Animation Department's "Industry Day", this past week. The student work was presented. There were some very good films, some outstanding work, some run-of-the-mill stuff - but surprisingly no stinkers. Overall, a good solid crop from this years graduates. Kudo's gang. Good stuff.

But one film stuck out. I'm not going to mention names because, honestly, I don't want this guy showing up on my doorstep - but... IT HAD AN AGENDA.

(Crowd: Oooh... GASP!)

It was a political work. Not especially well done from a conceptual or execution point of view. It was there to make a statement. Okay. Fine. Fair enough.

But is "Industry Day" the time and place to make a political statement - when you're trying to land your first job? In previous years, there were films featuring "dick jokes" - again, Industry Day is not the venue for this. Mercifully I didn't see any 'dick-joke movies' this year (although I left early and they could have been saved for the end of the screening).

So what's the point?

There is a time and place for everything. If you're presenting your best work - be it a pitch or a portfolio piece - keep the political (and religious) agendas (and the dick jokes) out of it. You are there for ONE purpose - to sell yourself or your project. Anything that will distract from that single purpose doesn't have a place in your presentation.

I wish the guy with his political agenda luck - but he isn't going to get a job - so he's flushed 4 years of his life.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Worst Pitch EVER!!!


This happened a number of years ago. I had a pitch meeting in the early afternoon, but met an old friend for a quick lunch. We stopped in at a small Middle-Eastern place and being brave, I ordered something (I forget what) that I'd never tried before.

Untried restaurant. Untried food.

It was delicious. We finished lunch. My friend went back to his office. I went to my meeting. But as I got to my car, I noticed something odd. I was sweating. Really sweating. Not the, "it's a warm day" - kind of sweat, but buckets were pouring off me.

It must have been something that I ate. I wasn't sick. I wasn't going to throw up. I was just drenched in sweat. And it was getting worse.

By the time I got to the meeting, I was sopping wet. My clothes were soaked and sticking to me. The guy I was meeting with asked if I was okay. I assured him that I was - but all he could do was stare at me. My hair was plastered down over my face...

The pitch didn't go well. I felt fine, but I was dripping puddles on everything. When I got up to leave, there was a wet puddle where I'd been sitting. Needless to say, the show didn't sell. We won't even discuss the squishy handshake at the end of the meeting.

So what do we learn from this? Know when to cancel. If you're sick. If you have a cold, a flu, something that you even think is contagious - do everyone a favor and put it off until next week.

Nobody wants to get sick - and spreading germs isn't the best way to pitch your show.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

I pitched a show to a production company yesterday. The pitch went very well - they "got" the idea - it's a cool show. It may turn into a development deal.

Nice. Nice. Nice... Yeah. Yeah. Yeah....

Moving on... They've asked me not to show or pitch the show/idea to anyone while "we" decide how to proceed. Its common that once you're out pitching, you set up a bunch of meetings - and you pitch your show around town until you get the right deal. But in this case, they've asked that I not show it to anyone. They want to keep it under wraps until we're ready to pitch it to broadcasters. (They like the creative, but feel it needs a bit of refinement.)

This is fine with me. Now I'll get to the point...

A faithful reader sent a link to his blog page a few months back. The blog was about the show he was (or maybe still is) pitching. I'll be honest, it was probably the best idea for an animated show that I've seen in a LONG time. And he's got it sitting out there for anyone to "borrow".

First thing - I told him to remove it from the web. Right now. This very second. Only show it to the people that you want to see it - don't show your fresh, bright, new idea to the world - because ideas can't be copywritten. They're like free intellectual properties.

Little minnows swimming in a shark tank.

But he didn't listen. His idea is still posted up there - and I expect to see it, or something very "similar" on the tube in the next few years...

NEVER POST YOUR LIVE OR WORKING PITCHES ONLINE!

YOU NEVER KNOW WHO'S WATCHING!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Animation Insider

I'm profiled at Mike Milo's www.AnimationInsider.com. <-- You can check it out here!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

BEHOLD! The Magic Galoshes!!!

I was discussing a show concept with a friend recently: Its about a hero who, when he puts on a helmet of supernatural origins, gains the power of ________________ <-- fill in the blank. And he fights evil...

To be honest, I didn't like the idea. "What happens when he's not wearing the hat?" I asked.
"He's just a normal guy - but WITH the hat - he's SUPERMAN!!!", said my friend.

I stopped him right there. THAT'S the problem. Your hero is only interesting when he's wearing The Magic Galoshes. Otherwise, who cares? The HERO of a show can't be an average, ordinary, normal guy. He's got to be extra-ordinary in his day-to-day life - because from a story standpoint, "What happens if he can't get to The Magic Galoshes?" What if he loses them? What if they're at the shoemakers? Without the boots - he's nothing.

Let's take a look at a "Magic Galoshes" premise that works - and works brilliantly: IRON MAN.

(Disclaimer: I'm a DC guy. I grew up on Batman and Superman. I've bought 1 Spiderman comic in my whole life - and I don't know those X-Guys from a hole in the ground. Point being - I come to the Marvel Universe as a Newbie. I don't know anything about them - so I have no preconceptions. But I like what I see!)

Tony Stark - billionaire, playboy, scientist - is Iron Man. And I'll be honest, Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr. is a hell of a lot more interesting as Tony Stark, than he is as Iron Man. Iron Man flies. Iron Man makes things go BOOM! Big deal.

They could make a "Tony Stark" movie and I'd go see it - because Tony Stark is an interesting character (with a lot of flaws and vices) and I like him. He's a richly written character, with a troubled past and an interesting present. Put Tony Stark in a rocket-powered tin suit - BONUS!

Point being - 'gimmick' shows usually don't work. That doesn't mean they don't sell. They do - but they don't have the "legs" or richness of concept needed for a strong run.

Bottom Line: Your Hero has to be interesting WITHOUT the gimmick.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In The Works

Just a note to let you know that my book, "The Pitch Bible - Bible" is in the works and well under way. I expect to have it completed and off to the publisher (Ha Ha Ha...) by the end of April. Probably the end of May is more likely.

The Pitch Bible - Bible will go far beyond the contents of the blog with everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) you'd need to know about creating, pitching and selling a TV show. This book has been a massive undertaking - so hang in there. I think it'll be worth it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

BRILLIANT ADVICE FROM AUSTIN KLEON

From the blog of Austin, Texas artist AUSTIN KLEON:

HOW TO STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (AND 9 OTHER THINGS NOBODY TOLD ME)


This is important stuff. Take the time to read it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Straight Talk About The Business


Someone made this video using 'extranormal' software and posted it on YouTube. It's getting some play, so I thought that as someone who has been actively pitching shows for 20+ years, I would weigh in with my comments and observations.

Whoever made this video ("Anonymous" naturally) gave their opinion. I'm going to offer mine.
First off - take 3:53 and watch the video.

Done? Okay. Let's get going:

"Stick it in the slot." It's true. Everyone will ask you to submit your project - but the reality is, they get a lot of submissions and their time is limited. They'd prefer not to meet, but if you POLITELY ask for a meeting, 99 times out of 100, you'll get one.

"What is the Canadian Content?" This is completely false. While everyone, broadcaster and production company alike would like to have the Maple Leaf tattoo'd to the butt of every show, I am never asked about the Can-Con quotient and I've pitched a lot of shows. The "Canadian Content" is made up by the people working on the show in key creative positions and through regional production programs.

Let's talk about "regional production". Yes, it can be difficult when you live in Toronto and you have to work in some place like Ottawa. But it can be done and done well. When I was working for a major Toronto studio, the attitude was, "If they were any good, they'd be working in Toronto". Yet this was the same attitude that we received from U.S. based studios. WE couldn't be any good - we were working in... Canada.

Yet, when I went to Ottawa and met the artists there - there were many whom, if they lived in Toronto - would be on my "A" list. So I put them on my "A" list. Bottom line - GREAT TALENT CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE. Just because you live in NYC or LA or TO - doesn't make you great. Or even good...

"Who's Going To Write The Stories?/Are You Members of The Writers Guild?" - This is completely wrong. You don't need to be a member of The Writers Guild in order to write for television. As a matter of fact, the way to join The Writers Guild - is BY WRITING FOR TELEVISION. Once you've got that first contract, then you're eligible to join. A production company or broadcaster would prefer to work with a Guild Member because Guild membership indicates that you are a professional who understands the workings of television production. It's nice - but not necessary.

"Safe and Non-Controversial Material" - Excuse me? In "Freaky Stories" we touched on EVERY bodily function/fluid except for menstrual blood. The broadcaster and production company allowed me to kill characters on-screen. I presented stories about "Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll" - but in smart, oblique ways. In "Atomic Betty", I re-staged "The Manchurian Candidate" for 8 year olds, INCLUDING themes involving drug use, brain washing and assassination. (I left out the incest.) Again, this was for 8 year olds - and it passed the network's Broadcast Standards and Practices without anyone blinking an eye. If you are smart, you can do anything on TV. Anything.

"The Writers Don't Even Work In the Same Building As You" -- True. Except for instances where the show uses a "Writers Room" - which is rarely done in Canada. I've never been part of a Writers Room - Writers and Story Editors work from home. On their own time. On their own schedule. So unless you want to see me writing stories in my pajamas and fuzzy pink bunny-slippers - you're going to stay at home too.

"If you're lucky, the whole thing will be animated in the Philippines for pennies a day" - Well folks - that is the reality of the business. It's TV - not feature films. You have to work overseas, or you don't work at all. You hire the best people that you can afford. You hire the best studio, the best overseas studio and the best OVERSEAS SUPERVISOR that you can get.

And you know what? Check out my notes (above) on Canadian Content. Some of those "pennies-a-day" overseas animators are better than you. Hell, I'd bet that most of them are better than you.

"Cheap Animation School Labour" - Well, someone's bitter. It looks to me that whichever "Old Timer" who made this video, never went to animation school - or scraped along to pay his dues.

"It's Cheaper To Develop New Content Than to Continue With Existing Shows" - Incorrect. Sorry, this is just plain wrong. The MINIMUM number of episodes required for syndicated distribution is 39. A show does not and can not make money in its first season. Production companies and broadcasters want and need to build an audience for their brands. Whoever made this video is misinformed.


OVERALL - I'd say this video was made by a bitter wanna-be show creator. He/She/It blames everyone without taking a good look at the CREATIVE of the show to be pitched. Let's be realistic about this. Not every idea is a good idea. Not every pitch is a good pitch. Most of them are pretty awful - it's that old "98% Rule". It isn't always the fault of the system. Trust me.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Selecting the Right Medium for Your Project


Teens at the Mall. As animation? I just don't get it.

I've always believed that if you can do it in live action - then do it in live action. Animation in whatever style should be used to show things that can't possibly happen in real life.

King Kong? Superman? A flying 10 year-old girl from outer space? Sure! That makes sense to me. But teens hanging out at the mall? At best, it's 'talking heads' - which we all know makes for great, compelling stories - NOT!

When you are developing your pitch, you should seek out the BEST medium or technique in which to tell your story. Case in point: When I developed my ROCKET RODENTS show (which never saw the light of day, despite a LOT of interest from multiple broadcasters worldwide), I explored many ways of producing it.

I shot a live action version with talking guinea pigs. It was hilarious, bizarre and I learned just how badly guinea pigs smell. Here's a short clip.




We explored the possibility of animating the show in Stop Motion.



This brilliant sculpt by an artist at the Cuppa Coffee studios in Toronto was, I felt, the closest that we came to realizing the characters' comic potential. For a variety of other reasons including production cost, we went with 2D Flash designs.

The point is, there was and should be exploration to find the right medium and technique that best suits the project.

As for teens in the mall - If it can be done in live action - do it in live action.

I'd rather look at a pretty "real" girl than a cartoon girl, any day.