The Best Thing You’ll Ever Read About Pitching Animation Ideas

Storyman Warren Foster pitching to director Bob McKimson (middle) and exec Eddie Selzer. Photo via MichaelBarrier.com.

Mark Mayerson, a TV show creator, animator, and teacher, has written what may be the single best thing I’ve ever read about the contemporary animation pitching process:

Unfortunately, a pitch is a poor substitute for the finished product for a variety of reasons. The ability to pitch is a wholly separate skill from the creation of ideas. Extraverts have an advantage in pitching over introverts, but either type of person can have good ideas. Furthermore, there are so many variables between an idea and the finished product that a great idea can result in disappointment. Too much depends on the budget, the schedule, the crew, input from investors and chance. We are all familiar with movies that look like they will be great before they’re released but end up as failures.

There is another odd aspect to pitching. The person with the ideas doesn’t get paid to pitch, but the person without ideas gets paid to listen. Yet without people willing to pitch for free, the listener has no job. It’s sort of backwards.

Often, the people taking pitches have no history of creating anything. They have never written, drawn, performed or directed anything for an audience, yet they are the ones sitting in judgment of someone who most likely has. If the people taking pitches were genuinely creative, they would be creating their own projects for the company and would not have to listen to ideas from anyone else.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire piece on his blog. He is planning to write further posts about the topic. Today, more than ever, we should be having a discussion about the relevance of outmoded pitching processes used by studios, especially since, increasingly, some of the most beloved contemporary cartoon characters are created by individuals who bypass the studio pitch process.


  • http://www.antonio900.blogspot.ca Antonio900

    I want more!

    • Taco

      @antonio900:disqus if you want to more, Mark Mayerson is also going to be a return guest for the Guys With Pencils Podcast hosted by Adam Hines & Andrew Murray this coming Monday. Check it out if you want to hear more of Mayerson and other talking about Animation & commerce.

  • Mister Twister

    People who never created anything are in charge of the animation industry, which is about creating.

    My God.

  • Roberto Severino

    Mark Mayerson is on point and brilliant like usual. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Iamsam

    The cool thing today is now you can create your own series and pilots. In this tech filled world today it is possible to create it entirely by yourself but there are a lot of creators who simply try to go the standard “pitch” to network route and never see their creation come to life and if it does the network will rape you creation and throw you a nickel while they make millions off your creation. I wish more animators and artists would collab and create the next generation of characters. I frequent one forum and it is amazing the skill and talent folks have but they create nothing long term. Maybe a single picture but most end up being caught as cogs in the wheel and work for corporations vs creating their own IP. Sad to see.

    • Karl Hungus

      Thanks so much for posting your comments – because I was about to post the exact same sentiment. This industry robs the creations and returns from talented people when you create on their terms. It doesn’t have to be that way. If there is one truth its is this:

      When you work your butt off and you make the sacrifices that you need to take it to the next level, good things happen. You can’t deny a hard worker. You can’t deny somebody that digs down as deep as they can.

      ^ The exception to this rule is if you work that hard for a studio. Because they will deny you every chance they get. Thats their goal- To get as much out of a creative person while giving them the least amount in return. As sure as the sun rises in the east, that is a studio executive’s intent when their feet hit the ground in the morning.

      Create your own properties outside of their studio. If you have success, then they have to come to you. You have some leverage. When you work in their studio, you have zero leverage.
      You will always get shorted.

      • http://stephensheredy.tumblr.com/ Stephen Sheredy

        This is really good advice. Giving bad, worthless critique can be a failing system, in art college and on the job, as it can encourage cacophony and self-opinion, which I feel encourages destructive behavior. Giving good critique matters as it is an active discussion to help the artist create better work, always.

        This was a good post!

  • CM

    He’s Absolutely right. I always found it ridiculous that a show’s fate is decided by one or two executives. What makes their opinion better than anyone else? It saddens me when to think of how many amazing shows will never see the light of day because of someone’s poor judgement. Thank God for the internet. Now, creators are free to release all their amazing ideas for us to enjoy.

    Looking forward to future posts. Hopefully, Mayerson will address the many prejudices development execs have against show creators.

  • Jack Rabbit

    Everybody has ideas. Some are able to get a crew together and make an idea become reality. Fewer are actually able to do all the work themselves. Most that have an idea try to get others, or “an Animator” to do all the work to make their idea happen. They offer credit and copy. These projects rarely get done, as the Animator becomes wise to what is involved and gives up. That is the Animators fault for taking on such a project. Animators are not Producers. Producers know what something is going to cost and how long it will take. Producers are not creative artists. Their “upper-hand” is the assumption that artists are of lower life-forms than people who aren’t artists. Animators “under-hand” is the assumption that the Producers are the boss and the grantors of extreme privilege. The falicy is that animation is art, art is fun to make and therefore, & anyone who would do something that is fun must not be doing “real work”. But animation is hard work, bringing art and science together through engineering.>>> Animators are always given the work that has been in production and has already had a ton of money pumped into the project in areas that come before animation. Some Animators work in the areas that come before animation, but rarely in a big studio setting. The larger the studio, the fewer hats a person wears. The more hats a person wears, the less he is likely to know about all the areas of production than those that wear just the department hat that an expert wears. If you are one of the few who can make your idea happen by doing all the work yourself, you will address all areas of production and figure out for yourself how each area gets done. No areas will be perfect, and some areas will excel. What you want to excel in is the THE IDEA and THE ANIMATION. How you convey the idea. Always work to strengthen the composition, the LAYOUT of the animation. Work to tighten the timing through EDITING. (You will learn to be tight in the storyboard/animac process, but as you go on, slash anything that isn’t working out and hold nothing you’ve done so dear to your heart.) Include your skills in making your approach to SOUND as important as the animation. Give yourself NO DEADLINE to complete the cartoon, and expect a cartoon of 5 minutes to take at least a few years to produce. Full time. The result will be a film in the can, not perfect in many respects, but it is yours. Copyright it, and THEN let it be seen by others. After you’ve done all this, do it again. And again. And again. What will come of all this is one life-time spent, a style that has emerged as your own, and a belt of cartoons that are yours for future generations to be inspired by.

  • Bob Harper

    This is a great article. I believe in pitching and producing. There are some projects I have that I can’t afford to produce on my own. Those I pitch and if I’m lucky I’ll get an option and/or development money which will fund the other projects I am producing. Also if I strike lightning and the show gets made and does well, I now have more leverage on the next project that I am pitching or producing.

    As far as the point he brought up about not understanding the concept of a creator needing permission of revisiting the characters that he sold to the network, it is the same as if I sold someone a house, and expected somewhere down the line I could pop by and sleep in one of the bedrooms a bit. It’s property and it has a new owner now.

  • DC

    Great post, many thanks! As a content-creator whose been making a living pitching his own ideas these past few years, it’s nice to see the advice here gain some additional credence.

    The financial reality of developing your own content is always the trickiest or most difficult part. Not that the goal should always be to monetize your creations, but without that goal as a content-creator, you’re not being realistic or professional. I wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders much earlier in my career and told me to start pitching by building relationships with other producers, content-creators, distributors, financiers, broadcasters, investors, and so on. Having a good idea is great, being able to animate it into a pitch is great, but developing it into a pitchable product that fits into the market is both costly and time-consuming– and the cost is often your own time and money.

    When I launched my own company, I decided we wouldn’t be pitching to studios for “a sale” but rather developing concepts we could eventually realize ourselves and with our partners. So far this has been working, but man, it’s a tough racket! The artists I’ve work with to develop visuals in areas I’m not skilled have always been straight up about the cost of commissioning them, and even though you may offer the promise of credit and profit participation, very few artists I know have the interest in working on deferral or future profits. In other words, most of them have no interest or financial capability of being a content-developer in partnership with a small company… they’d rather see the pay from commission.

    There’s a line between what it takes to develop content yourself as a artist-producer, and simply being an artist. What people don’t often realize is that content producers are generally the lowest income lot of the bunch.. we can’t sell illustrations, or models, or renders.. we sell developed ideas which includes work by a writer, a producer, and artist(s)… and usually we foot the bill ourselves. Anyone interest in joining this club, need only have a never-ending desire to do whatever it takes to get their ideas off the ground while earning next to nothing for doing this. But it sure is fun! And yeah, its kinda rewarding when it actually works.