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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Mark Mayerson's always excellent blog, MAYERSON ON ANIMATION has a brilliant piece on the benefits of owning your intellectual property.

While I don't agree with everything Mark writes on this topic (pitching shows IS faster and easier than creating and building an audience for an original property in another medium), when the man's right - he's right.

Also, BONE's Jeff Smith as Mark writes - is a one-trick pony. He's only got the one (now two) properties, so he was right to guard them, mine them and make them grow. Jack Kirby on the other hand was prolific. If he'd had the foresight to look after his affairs properly - whether he worked in tandem with publishers and producers - or went the independent route, he would have been much better off. The key is to know the business. Know your options.

Jeff Smith was able to find an audience for BONE. There are many independent creators who have not found their audience despite the quality of their productions. In that case, they'd be better off pitching.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Steve... Steve... Steve...

Let's talk about options and option fees.

Option fees are paid to creators (that's you) by production companies (that's them) so that they can represent your intellectual property to buyers on the broadcast market. Broadcasters don't pay option fees - they provide the portal for your property which gives it market value.

Let's say that you've pitched a show to a production company. They like it and want to shop it around. They need to get the rights, to "option" it from you - giving them the right to shop it for a specific period of time. The option doesn't allow them to own your property - they're only "renting" it for now. After a specific period of time, the rights to this property will (should) revert (return) to you.

Now this is where it get tricky. I've been in many meetings where the person who is interested in one of my intellectual properties - wants it, but doesn't want to pay for an option. This is the point where they say (in the nicest, sweetest voice possible...):

"Steve... Steve... Steve... NOBODY pays option fees..."

Now, let's stop right there.

Nobody pays option fees - UNLESS you insist on it.

Sure. They'll take your work for free if you let them.

A couple of years ago, a production company wanted to option one of my properties. They really, really liked it. But they weren't going to pay me for my work. "Sorry", they said. "It's not our policy to pay option fees."

Fine. I thanked them for their time and left.

A couple of days later, I pitched the show to another company. They also really, really liked it.
So they paid me the biggest option fee that I'd ever received. It was 3 times larger than any other option feed that I'd ever had. Just so that my property could sit on their shelf. Why? Because I asked them for it. Nicely.

Was the first company evil? No. The "no fee option" was simply their policy. I was free to take it or leave it. I left it - but let them know later that I'd had the property optioned for a nice chunk of change by someone else. You get what you negotiate.

So what happens if you're dealing with really nice people - who you'd really like to work with -- but they simply don't have the money to option your project?

If they have shows in production, negotiate a deal whereby you get to write an agreed upon number of scripts at Guild rates within a set period of time - a play or pay deal. You're a writer. Let them pay you to write. That way, not only do they get to option your work, you get your money and a foot in the door with their production company.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Before You Take That Meeting...

Before you take that meeting, whether it be at a Market, at a Production Company or for that "$2,000 cup of coffee" -- Google 'em.

Find out about that person sitting across the desk from you. What do they like? What have they done in the past? Where have they worked? Friends in common? Enemies in common? Know who you're talking to - because if you don't take the time to find out, you're an idiot - and they'll know you're an idiot - because I can guarantee that they've Googled you.

And another thing...

The pitch meeting has gone well. You like the other person. They like you.

DON'T "Friend" them on Facebook.

Keep your interactions with them strictly professional. These important new business associates don't need to see the cute pictures of your dog. They don't need to see your new tattoo ("My... that IS an interesting location for a tattoo..."). And they don't need to see the photos from your drunken party on Saturday night.

And make sure that your Facebook info/pictures/etc. are visible to "friends" only. Because you know that they're going to "Google" you. You guys Google me, right?