Friday, January 25, 2008

Network attitude: Sell to me, don't try to change me.

Okay, so... Bob Harris makes a good point. And, before the waterfall of people who say I don't respect how hard it is to do a storyboard begin to anonymously flame, I'll start a new discussion.

I am not saying that Board artists waste their time and do a board, only to have it retrofitted into a script when they are in the midst of a production. That's dumb.

I'm giving you my opinion on how someone who writes on storyboard could sell a show to someone who wants a script.

Because it boils down to this: If you want to sell a show, and then you want it to be a board-driven show... YOU have to be in charge. If I'm in charge, or someone like me is, it's gonna be script-driven. That's how I think, that's how I work, that's what I like.

Whether I'm a good executive running a script-driven show in the eyes of the board artists who work on it... is another discussion.

But lets say you - the artist who writes on storyboard - has the greatest idea for a cartoon ever. And you, the artist who writes on storyboard - sells it... but the network wants to see a script before a board. But you, the artist who writes on storyboard... DOESN'T WANT TO WRITE LIKE THAT.

Then don't.

When it comes to scripts, you write, you rewrite, you rewrite again, you get notes, you get more notes, and then eventually... in a pilot, you get to go to board.

My suggestion to you, to beat this system, is play it to your strengths.

Thumbnail your pilot.
Write the way you know how to write.
Then, retrofit it back into script, to give it to the network in a way they understand it. Go and talk to a writer friend of yours who will help you turn it into a script, if you don't feel that's your strength. It entails making a writer friend, but you can do it. I believe in you.

This is no different than pitching your thumbs, getting notes, and then having to revise and clean up. It takes more effort to redraw than it does to rewrite... I get that. But do you want to sell a show to an executive that only gets scripts?

Give them a script.

Give them the script version of your thumbnail board pitch. Include your board if you want. Don't if you don't. In success, they tell you to "go to board" with notes. Then you'll get paid for that step. And guess what? You're half way done, ideally.

In an ideal world, I - as a script writer - would like to be able to sell a show without a board to back it up. But in cartoons, I can't. Boards are the second step in any of my pilot processes, finding a director who I can work with... who likes the show I've created or produce and wants to either work on it or add to it... is integral to its success.

But in the real world, a board artist can cheat the system... sell the show, do the board, hide the board, transcribe the script, get the notes and then sell the series.

And then, in success, you can fight to have the show "written" anyway you want.

Unless it's a network that only takes board pitches for shows. In which case, I have no place there. At best, I work on someone else's vision.

No writer - board or script - gets paid for their time, compared to the effort it takes to sell a show. The success is in series.

So I pose this as a possibility. If you could play to your strengths, and sell to what the buyer wants and understands... where is the harm?

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23 comments:

Anonymous said...

i truely mean no offense by this but i think you do not know as much about what storyboarding is as you think you do. i mean this as honest constructive criticizm. very few non animation artists know enough about storyboarding to speak intelligently about it so i am not trying to attack you as an individual. but this is part of the biggest problem in the animation assembly line. storyboards are the most laboreous and time consuming and most important to the finished cartoon and yet writers and producers and executives know nothing about them.
i do not wish to imply that scriptwriting is easy. i know it is not. i could not do it. but it is not as complicated and difficult as storyboarding.
i think writers and producers and executives should all take storyboarding classes just to understand the process. most animation schools require artists to take at least one story and writing class and it helps a lot. it did not make me a writer but i know the process and what makes a good script.
it would be nice if writers took the same interest.

Steve said...

Actually, I don't take offense to it, but I think you're wrong. Mostly because I am speaking, very specifically, about selling a show. Not producing a series. SELLING ONE.

Selling one where you can control the creative process.

Television is an assembly line. That's all there is to it. Every week, day in and day out, is a churn.

I'm talking about selling a show, and selling a show in the manner in which works toward your strengths, so that you can produce the show you want to produce.

Anonymous said...

i should have put this in the previous post. i apologize.

Anonymous said...

You can't be serious. Do you have any clue what visual storytelling is? translating a drawn board into a script is like asking marcel marceau to sing the national anthem at a ball game

Steve said...

Jeez, anonymous, aren't you precious.

Yes, I am serious. Did I put a " :) " or a "wink" in there to make you think I wasn't?

My point is - ANY show, any board, any cartoon - can be backwards transcribed into script form.

What I am suggesting here is that in the event that you, as a board writer, wants to pitch a show to a network that doesn't want to see a board show pitched... work backwards.

That means finding someone who can take that cartoon and retrofit it into a script in a way that's close enough for you to stomach it, but reads in a way an executive who might buy that show can understand it.

There is not a cartoon that has ever been animated that a writer couldn't watch, pause and transcribe. Some would do it better than others, and I'm sure you would die a little on the inside reading it...

...but it's transcribable.

So yeah, I am completely aware of what visual story telling is. I am also imparting an opinion on how to sell a visual idea to an executive that is used to reading scripts.

That's the whole point of this thread, to me.

Anonymous said...

the working backward suggestion really makes no sense for a pilot or production. if you want pitch a board, then you should pitch a board and that's that. if you want to pitch a script, do that. only the strength of your convictions as an artist will get you through the long run.

in hollywood, especially in television, and even more especially in children's television, the studio will hit you with everything they have to let you know they don't trust and believe in you. if they think the writings not up to snuff, they will load your deck with a story editor and some writers. if they do not like your choices for voice, they will load your deck with cross-marketed acting talents. and if they don't like your drawings, they will load your deck with a list of other names. and they will do it in such a way that you will actually believe that you hired them and that they work for you. it is not a game for people who bend too quickly. the original suggestion seems to be appealing to the idea that you might try to do whatever it takes just to get it sold. if you are doing that, you should REALLY step back, as hard as that might seem, and ask yourself if you should call your in-laws and ask them to mortgage their retirement for your art:)

it always starts with good intentions. the earlier you start pushing back, the better off you will be. and everything just gets ugly if you do it in a way that pisses them off. and usually, the difference between pissing them off and not pissing them off is if they are afraid to piss you off or not. and, well, that just depends on the size of your balls.

Load their deck before they load yours. Then whoever blinks first wins. Its no different than the playground, kids.

Anonymous said...

blinks first loses. i mean loses. ;) see. i'm ready for retirement.

Steve said...

First anonymous above the other anonymous.

Actually, you're missing my very hypothetical point.

But here's a breakdown.

If you're selling to a network that only wants to see script, you have to adapt. The last thing you want to do is have them assign a writer that you neither like nor want to your project. Right?
But: If you wrote the cartoon on the board and then had it backwards transcribed... (That makes it "Written by" you, BTW) you're giving them what they want but doing it the way you want.

I'm simply saying you - the artist who writes on board - have more places to sell cartoons, and more options on how to sell them, than I... the animation writer who cannot draw.

But it entails you working smartly, in a way the buyer can understand.

I know, by the way, that there isn't a single mention about "Creavitity" and "Quality" in this discussion. It's not about that. It's about selling.

But if you do sell a show, and you do maintain control, then you can do the board driven show that you want to do.

Moving on now.

Marty said...

Not sure if this would help or not, but in the early days of Eek! The Cat, Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp would pepper their outlines with the occasional funny drawing to illustrate the story. They weren't always necessary from a clarity standpoint, but they usually got a laugh, which went a long way toward selling us network folks (yes, I was a network folk back then) on the episode.

Matt Wayne said...

No offense, Anonymous #1, but many directors say that storyboard artists don't know as much about storyboarding as they think they do.

I've often heard of directors staying up late fixing boards because the artist didn't have the storytelling chops to stage the script. And just imagine what they say about all of us in Korea.

Anonymous said...

My point is - ANY show, any board, any cartoon - can be backwards transcribed into script form.

not for the purposes of editing or attempting to improve the show. any notes generated off a transcription would only push the whole process backwards to square one

Steve said...

This is not a creative discussion.

It's a business discussion.

Really? To square one? You don't think that what is visual can be turned into words?

How do you feel about books?

Anonymous said...

Cave paintings, music, and oral history came first. The alphabet tech brought up the rear and quickly became a favorite with religions, governments, anti-governments, and economies (much like the internet today, and blogging for that matter.) I have found the finest art usually follows the same trajectory through the mind. So does a good pitch. Not to say I don't love a good novel. And freedom of the press, of course.

There are no business discussions among artists except those that can be written off. Which is all of them.

Alex Weitzman said...

The key here to Steve's real topic (selling a show) is that the power is not in the hands of the artist. And before you complain that it should be, or that you can fight for it to be, consider that it has NEVER been this way.

It's a very simple - and painful, yes - truth: THEY HAVE THE MONEY.

Sigh. Sucks, don't it? But that's the brutal and ugly truth about the entertainment business: the guys who have the money get to set the rules. Once you've sold the show and you're in production, they still exert control but you have more leverage, since you can claim the "win" of having sold it and can insist that your vision is what they bought in the first place. But when it comes to getting your foot in the door, it's their way or the highway.

My perspective here is as an actor, so I'm especially used to the feeling of walking into a room where people can judge you and determine whether they want to start paying you or not. It's called an audition. And that's what selling a show is, also. They've got the money, so if they want to insist on scripts, that's all they'll accept. If they want you pitching your show in a bowler hat and a tutu, then by golly, you're gonna be in a bowler hat and a tutu or you won't be given a single chance.

The audition/pitch is not the time or place to be demanding anything from the guys with money. You're supplicating for a job. And hey, no actor likes auditions, so neither should you writers or boarders like pitches. But you've gotta do it.

Bob Harper said...

Steve - I appreciate your sincerity in your advice. As someone who does scripts and boards I would advise differently. For those who don't normally write scripts and really want to sell a show to a buyer who will only accept scripts, need to bite the bullet and get the Syd Field books and learn how to put a screenplay together. It is way less work to write a script than to do boards and especially do boards and then transcribe those boards into a script. Also, hardly anyone will know a good script when they see one, and most execs will most assuredly want to revisions on said script-so why waste the time doing unpaid labor by doing a board first. Just ask Bob Harris - he'll agree...;)

Matt - I've heard directors rant on writers the same way and some who were just too lazy or inept to their job correctly. My point is that from different perspectives, we all suck!

Alex - For the record Walt Disney started out as an artist and do did Hanna and Barbera. Considering that one was the king of animated features and the others the princes of TV, there has been a definate power shift in our biz. Time for creators to take matters I'm their own hands and follow those models for real power in the industry.

Anonymous said...

write a script for the russian dance from the nutcracker suite in fantasia and see if any of your friends who havent seen the movie thinks it might make a good cartoon

Alex Weitzman said...

Bob - Entirely true. It's always possible to create a creator-driven enterprise. But neither of the examples you list, Disney or Hanna/Barbera, just magically appeared on the scene with a production company and capital to run it. At some point, be it early in their careers or even later, they found themselves answering to people higher on the food chain. Disney worked as an advertising animator before ever getting out west. Hanna and Barbera created Tom and Jerry, but they had to sell it to MGM.

I'm not saying you can't be in control of your own creative destiny. I'm saying that takes clout, especially these days when widespread distribution of one's work literally requires working within the system. (Comparably, both of your examples came in the beginning of Hollywood's animation industry, where the rules were still being written.) Raging against the machine doesn't help you when you're just starting out and simply trying to get some animation studio to listen to your pitch, and if they want it in script form, I don't see how you're going to NOT give them a script and still succeed.

Anonymous said...

okay, look. you can't have your cake and eat it too. wga writers are doing plenty of raging and getting tons of praise because they refuse to accept the template the studios supposedly set. but really, what raging is going on when matt and trey pitch a show they already animated? please. it's about what you bring to the table. scripts are reflections of internal pitches to one another in a room of writers, artists, performers, whomever. when consensus is reached, it is pitched upstairs in any number of ways. each show or episode or new movie is a constant oral pitch with whatever talents you have at hand, all the way from dev. or pilot through production and to the audience. studios most interested in breaking it up from the usual are the ones to follow, and any of them bogged down with a systemic inability to take off the blinders are not worth changing for, as if they are inflexible at the outset, they will likely not be into breaking new ground down the road. its like responding to a studio that says we only take pitches through agents. or we only hire wga writers. ?!? no, new visions come from anywhere, and there are no rules. leave that for the formula lovers.

Bob Harper said...

Alex, I never suggested that Disney or HB magically popped up out of nowhere, just that both laid the foundation of Hollywood animation and were artists.

Every current executive, all the way to the top had to answer to someone in their career at one point or another. All the guys at Dreamworks did, and now they have done what I suggest doing.

It isn't rage against the machine -It's reconnecting to the roots that started it all.

Anonymous said...

New Anonymous --

I think this conversation is hilarious in that Nicktoons no longer wants to read animation scripts. They only want live action scripts submitted as specs, because the new 'exec of the week' in charge "doesn't read animation script because she's from live action." That bodes well. So submit your best live action sitcom spec for the moody animated action show you want to work on. Right. I noticed the ad in SCRIPT magazine that Nick is hiring anyone off the street to write their stuff -- they want new blood, I guess.

On a related note, a few years ago I did as Steve suggested and transcribed an old Tex Avery Droopy cartoon into script form... it was painful to read, as the words really couldn't communicate well enough the energy and beauty of the finished animation, but it gave me a sense of how to keep things simple, write descriptions and characterizations that will inspire the artist enough to want to bring it all to life.

In the past when I storyedited a "funny \ cartoony" show, I made NEW writers take board classes, and gave the vets xerox copies of boards and made them read them. This made me unpopular, but it made them pay attention VISUALLY.

Anonymous said...

new anon - yes. yes, yes, yes, and yes. there should be an emmy for that kind of appreciation of the art.

Anonymous said...

Actually I heard they want to read Dexter (the serial killer no the boy in the lab) specs...

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's possible to think outside the box?

How about a very scaled back simple animation just to initially convey the piece? Or a full animation of a snippet?

It's ironic, because my experience is that a big complaint among writers is that one sends a script to execs and then the execs never read it because they hate to read. They seem to love to watch short films though.

Maybe you can't send boards, but could you possibly send a much simplified full animation or a fully animated snippet that is enough to get their attention? Or maybe that in combination with the script they asked for?

The execs can definitely be idiots and writers complain about them just as much, but if they're the ones in charge of the money, then Steve is right in his overall point that you need to figure out a different way to reach them initially if they are not open to the way you'd prefer.

But maybe you can think outside the box...