Tuesday, February 28, 2012


At the same time that we were producing FREAKY STORIES, the studio was producing a huge budget puppet/CG show, BRATS OF THE LOST NEBULA. How huge was it? It was a co-production between The Hensons and Warner Bros.

It was huge.

To give you an idea of the scale, our FREAKY STORIES puppets cost between $5,000 and $15,000 each to create. The BRATS puppets cost $65,000 each - created by The Henson Creature Shop - and they were gorgeous. It was an amazing set, huge, lavish. They had monsters. They had spaceships...

We had a cockroach, a maggot and a giant toaster. There was no comparison.

There were tons of BRATS scripts lying around the production office, so naturally - I checked them out. That's when I saw a problem. Here it is, in the finished clip:

"Uh... Houston? I think we have a problem..."

The kids' parents get killed in the first act of the first episode.

That's not good. That's a downer. Anyone who has kids - or works with kids - knows that one of their primal fears is being abandoned. Yeah, yeah, yeah - they do it in every Disney flick - but this is TV. As soon as the action stops, the kids at home will realize that the characters onscreen are orphans and...

So I pointed out the problem to the BRATS production staff. I suggested that they have the parents taken prisoners - so the kids are fighting for something positive.... to be reunited with their families....

But no. They shot it as is. They made 13 episodes. Warner Bros. pulled the series from The WB after only 3 episodes had aired. The audience didn't like the show.

The point is - WE as show creators are not our audience. We have to be careful not to alienate the very people that we want watching our shows.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Questions from The Mailbag

A Reader writes...

Hi Steve,

I'm completely new to the idea of pitching TV shows (my background, such as it is, is in kids' lit), but was hoping you might give me your views on a couple of things? I'd be really grateful for your opinions.

1) I'm getting the impression most cartoon shows are, these days, pitched by those in a position to produce the content themselves, rather than by just 'a guy with an idea', would you agree?

2) Do you have strong feelings (as I believe, for example, John Kricfalusi does) that only animators can write/conceptualise effective animated shows?

Thanks, and thank you for the Pitch Bibles blog.

Best wishes,
(name withheld to protect the curious)

Okay - I would have to disagree with the first one. While all studios pitch concepts, broadcasters are always open to (and the smarter ones welcome) CREATOR DRIVEN MATERIAL. It's as simple as that. No one knows great idea is going to come from.

And... I have to disagree with the second one as well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I tend to produce strong script-driven stories. I enjoy well written plot, structure, dialogue, etc. Name your favorite movie - live action or animated - someone WROTE IT. It didn't just happen. Writing great dialogue is an art.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong at all with "animation mayhem" like John K produces. It has a wide audience, but it's not my personal taste.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Suspension of Disbelief

I saw "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Ghost Protocol" last week. It was a good movie and I enjoyed myself - with one exception. There were elements of the movie - events happened where I couldn't suspend my disbelief.

The gadgets? Yep. I believe that all of those amazing gizmos could and do exist - and are being used in the Special Ops field today.

Do I believe that Tom Cruise is 6 feet tall - or at least taller than all of the people around him? Sure. Why not? It's a movie. Go with it.

What I don't believe is that someone (Tom Cruise) can take a hard smack in the head and continue to function normally immediately afterwards. I don't know about you, but I got clobbered a couple of times in my misspent youth. I know from first-hand experience that after you've been hit, you're not seeing straight - let alone saving the world. Your only concern is "Which one of the three images in front of me is real?"

Tom Cruise get hit - and I mean CLOBBERED several times in MI:GP. Any one of those hits would have hospitalized a human being for days - yet, he took the licking and kept on ticking. That totally removed me from the story. The "Wait a Second...!" is all it takes to lose your audience.

In the 1988 movie, "U.S. Marshals" actor Joe Pantoliono's character was T-Boned in a car crash. The character was shown woozy throughout the rest of the movie. Not an ideal situation for a lead character - but perfect for a supporting role. It was 100% real and I loved it. Not only that - but it gave consequences to the rest of the action in the movie.

In CG Animation they deal with it, calling it "The Uncanny Valley" - where the animation design moves beyond cartoon style, becoming too realistic. This alienates the viewer - because the people just don't look or move properly - almost like zombies. This was best shown in the Robert Zemeckis film "The Polar Express".

So what's the point? Stylize it. For CG - 100% lifelike motion and design shouldn't be the goal. For live action - there should be consequences to action sequences. If there's a bone crunching accident, acknowledge the crunched bones.