Special Panel on Pitching Marks Release of Dave Levy’s New Book

Posted by on Sep 20, 2009 in ASIFA Events | No Comments

Article by Linda Beck.

Last night’s qualified pitch panel of Carl Adams (Clambake Animation), Janice Burgess (Nickelodeon), Fran Krause (FranKrause.com), and Amid Amidi (CartoonBrew.com) spoke to a packed amphitheatre.  It looks like quite of few of you are interested in pitching.  Good!  We could use the jobs.

If you’re going to do this yourself, the first thing to ask yourself, is who are you and why are you pitching your property as an animated show?

According to Burgess, “You have to think about the audience.  With younger children, you need to consider who they are and their lives and their developmental issues.  With 6-11’s, what will they relate to?”  Using Sex And The City as an example for adults, “They knew the audience and went after it.”

Echoing Christy Karacas’ pitching advice at ASIFA’s Super Jail panel back in February, both Burgess and Amid Amidi stress the crucial importance of feeling strongly about whatever you’re pitching.  But Burgess warns of some inflexible network age groupings:  ages 3-5 as the preschool demographic and 6-11 their older siblings and friends. Fran Krause admits that some past pitches of his haven’t been entirely successful because his team gave no thought to audience, focus groups, or age groups.  He reports, “it made it difficult for my friends at the Network to sell to their bosses.”  “Don’t try to reinvent the network,” says Carl Adams.  Agreeing with this Burgess adds, “Know what the channel is, what shows [they have] picked up.”  Once you have that knowledge, you’re armed to show them something they haven’t seen before.  Burgess continues, “Create a point of difference between what you’re doing and what everyone else is doing.”

Where can you meet people who are interested in accepting pitches?

According to Krause,  “Festivals,” and Adams, “Old-fashioned networking.”  Adams routinely asks the people he knows to make introductions for him.  And for those of you who hate the idea of networking, Burgess reminds us: “Networks employ large numbers of people to find you.  You have to trust that they are looking for you!”

What’s the importance of the pitch book?

According to Adams, “a pitch book forces you to get your thoughts on paper.”  While pretty much everyone can come up with an idea, if you ask them to write it down, you’ll weed out about 70%.  Adams’ advice:  you should pitch to everyone you possible can (given you trust them, I suppose) so that you get your pitch down to one “funny soundbite”.  Kind of like a cooking reduction (my words, not his) – boil off all the excess and you have a small, but concentrated pile of deliciousness.

An assembled pitchbook doesn’t, however, mean you’re going to close a deal.  In the words of Amidi, “Fancy pitch materials aren’t as strong as an executed film.”  In fact, he continues, “One of the most harmful things to a young artist is to concentrate on creating a show rather than improving as an artist.”

On the subject of artists, Adams makes a good point, “We’re asking a lot for every animator to be a writer.  It’s enough to be a great artist.”  However, according to Amidi, “Any creator needs to have a clear vision of how they want the show to look.”

So should you form a partnership when pitching?  Krause’s theory is that you should find somebody you like working with.  “A Team should balance itself out.”

Even with a stellar team, one thing remains:  coming up with a perfect pitch is hard and getting your show optioned and picked up is rare.  But if you’re one of the lucky few, there are some things you should know.

The panel was unanimous that you should proceed with a lawyer whose job it is to work out the details of the agreement: money and credit negotiation, the best profit-sharing deal possible, and a sturdy tie to the property.

Other things to consider and look out for:  an exclusivity clause (do you want to be able to work on other things for other companies?) and an exit clause in case you need to leave the project for any reason or reduce your services to that of a consultant.  A lawyer should clearly define exactly what it is that you are selling and what the company is buying.  Levy recommends inserting a clause that ensures payment whether certain work eventually happens or not.

After a deal has been made, Burgess advises, “Anyone who’s trying to get into the business of television should be realistic.  Try to think in sync with the network. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested.  They want and need talent.  Give them the other things too.”

If they’re not interested, says Amidi, “Ask why it needs to be a network-funded series.  Many people have been unhappy with the result and process.  Comic books… Web series…  Find another medium and you’ll have more leverage.”  More optimistically, Adams says, “shelve things that don’t get picked up and save them for later.”  His goal is always “to be invited back a second time.”

Levy reminds us all that nothing’s a “sure thing” so it’s important to manage your expectations.  You should concentrate on “relationships for the long haul.  Keep cool and admire everyone’s contributions.”  Just because it doesn’t work out with them this time, doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the future.  And if it does work out but it’s not the next SpongeBob Squarepants, Adams points out, citing Home Movies (funniest cartoon ever made) and Space Ghost Coast to Coast (also hilarious), that minor hits are still hits.

Amidi reminds us, “You don’t need money to make a film.  It’s free.”  Making your own film improves your craft, and presenting a finished film as a sample of your work to a Network shows that you can follow through and get a job done.

Levy’s final advice is short and sweet, “Make the show that you want to see.”  Seems pretty simple.

Check out his book for pitching advice in more detail Animation Development: from Pitch to Production is available on Amazon.com