How to Make DreamWorks Secretaries Not Hang Up on You

Mark Simon, an animation artist with 2,700 productions to his credit, frequently hosts Hit Makers Summits where he charges thousands of dollars to teach participants how to sell their TV concepts. In this clip from his “Thriving Artist” lecture, he shares his inspiring story of beating the odds and getting past the “gatekeepers” at DreamWorks. And even though the gatekeepers he’s talking about are the secretaries who answer the phone at the studio, you’ll find yourself cheering for Mark by the end when he triumphs over those evil phone overlords. The Dreamworks bit begins at 2:45 in the clip.

Now you might be wondering, How could somebody with over twenty years of industry experience not have fostered any professional relationships so that he could simply ask a friend who he should speak with at DreamWorks? You might also be wondering why someone who labels himself a pitch expert and charges thousands of dollars teaching people how to sell their TV concepts not only doesn’t have his own shows on the air but apparently has trouble getting past secretaries at major studios? Personally, I’d be content just knowing where he got his awe-inspiring collared Superman shirt.


  • Thomas

    oh no! The secrets out!!!

    That was a helpful video though, very inspiring and I’m excited to be a detective now as well!

  • http://thelift.kohrtoons.com Robert Kohr

    “Personally, I’d be content just knowing where he got his awe-inspiring collared Superman shirt.”

    Hot Topic

  • http://www.onanimation.com Daniel Caylor

    That’s exactly what my dad would do. And consequently, what I would do.

  • Mavis

    One might ask the same queries about Robert McKee, the Hollywood (and beyond) screenwriting seminarian. McKee’s story analysis and advice are solid and he’s a compelling speaker. Never heard of Simon, but he must be good at something.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for posting this.

    While I understand what Mark does, hustling to make a living, trying to inspire people, inflating the resume a little (or in his case, a lot) I disagree with him on two things.

    1. His fear mongering over copyright law.
    2. His use of DAVE school students to produce one of “his” projects. When he should have been inspiring them to follow their own vision at the best possible time, he let them spend their money and time giving him more for his reel.

    And where is the Dreamworks series he pitched anyway?

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/VujadeEntertainment#p/u/0/3HaupcJwAdk Steve Schnier

      Nobody ever said it was easy.
      His Dreamworks pitch probably died in Development Hell.

      BUT – At least he tries. At least he’s out there, pitching. It’s easy to sit back, say “What’s the use?” and wait for the phone to ring.

      But life doesn’t work that way. THEY never come to you. You have to go to them – which means Pitching.

      Interesting video. I liked his Gatekeeper Strategy. But there’s a much better one that will get you talking directly to Jeffrey Katzenberg.

      • http://kevinbparry.blogspot.com Kevin

        Tell me where to sign up for and how much to pay for your secret strategy seminar!

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/VujadeEntertainment#p/u/0/3HaupcJwAdk Steve Schnier

        Hey Kevin,
        I saw your work at the Sheridan Industry Day last April. You don’t need any secret strategies. Your work speaks for itself. Go get ‘em, kid.

      • holyduck

        I hear of countless titles picked up by DreamWorks. None of them ever come to fruition. It’s more common than you think.

      • steppo

        @ Steve Schnier – I work at an animation studio and my close friend who is a reception coordinator here gets hounded by folks who just want to pitch. They don’t want to work – they just want to pitch an idea and feel the profit. And yes, many have a name they want to get a hold of.

        You think NASA is any different? They get “idea” calls all the time. Or folks calling BP this past summer with “epiphanies” on how to fix the oil spill without understanding the physics of deep oceanic activity or the even the resources to back their own little eureka.

        Mark strikes me as an incessant personality type that is all talk and no mussel for the crunch. He wants nothing but cash for his YAPPING from those naive enough to assume the 99% perspiration commodity just magically follows the 1% inspiration box.

        To quote Amid:

        How could somebody with over twenty years of industry experience not have fostered any professional relationships so that he could simply ask a friend who he should speak with at DreamWorks? …..apparently has trouble getting past secretaries at major studios?

        “At least he tries.”
        After 20 years?! Sounds more like a Rupert Pupkin.

    • Cubano

      It is my understanding that he DAVE School projects are created so that students get the experience of working within a real production environment. Which is why they bring in outside directors to work with the students. Mark has worked on several projects with the DAVE School with the primary focus of helping the students get the best possible for their reels. I have worked with the DAVE School in the past and know this first hand.

  • oh geez

    There seems to be a lot of pitching ‘professionals’ selling books & lectures that have never actually had any shows themselves.

    It’s like “How to Win the Lottery” – written by some broke guy

    HINT: (make your own stuff outside the studios & put it online)

  • Mark

    I’ve been in the business for almost 30 years, and have NEVER ONCE heard of this guy.

    Now I know why.

    • http://www.pauloralvarado.com Paulo Alvarado

      Maybe you should get out more.

  • http://WWW.JOSESAENZ.COM Jose Saenz

    If I remember correctly, Mark had a 2d animation studio in Orlando. I’ve heard of him a few times since 2002, when I first came across his studio. He pitched this Timmy wilderness-boyscout-like show on some kind of Nick pitching project. He was featured in a couple of places. It’s all kind of hazy, but I have heard of him. He’s also a featured writer on AWN.

  • http://jessicaplummer.blogspot.com Jessica Plummer

    Ha, I recognized when this video was from (because you never forget a shirt like that) and I was totally sitting in that audience, though I can attest that I certainly never paid “thousands of dollars” to the guy that day (or any other day). Mark’s basic messages are clear and fairly inspiring at first – grab at even the simplest of opportunities and always think of unique ways to get your image out there for potential work – but they should be basic common practice especially amongst those who can’t seem to break out of their shell and make contacts. He’s more of a motivational speaker than someone whose big in the industry.

    • Cubano

      He knows more people than you might think.

  • Was my face red

    Motivational speakers have their place – but not when they’re wearing that shirt. Also nwhere on his website are there any details of the projects his pitching skills have advanced beyond winning that one Nick contest.

  • simon

    I was perusing Joe Esterhas’s book about the industry, where he rips into McKee. He says “WHO IS THIS GUY”?? What has he actually gotten made? If he’s so good why hasn’t he got tons of hit films out there. Made me chuckle, when I read that.

  • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ Mick

    I saw his website around 10 years ago, it looks like he still has the same three projects on the go. 2,700 productions to his credit?????

    He seems to be getting away with whatever it is he does so he has my reluctant admiration

    • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ Mick

      hold up… 2,700 productions in 7300 days (not allowing for weekends, holidays or sickness)… would that be a production every 2 and a bit days?

      is that right???

      • Cubano

        If you have ever worked with Mark you would know that it is a fact. I don’t know many people who work harder than that guy.

      • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ Mick

        You must admit Cubano, that 2,700 productions in the length of his career would mean he has completed each in a matter of days… if you factor in that he also does these seminars and MUST have had some time off in 20+ years
        then anyone who knows anything about the time consuming nature of animation would be at least a tad incredulous over such claims

      • amid

        Let’s say he’s had a 25-year career. That’s 1300 weeks. 2700 productions means that he’s consistently completed an average of at least 2 projects a week for the past 25 years. Even if the projects were just storyboards, that sort of output sounds somewhat inflated.

        One possibility to achieve that figure is that the storyboards were produced through his company, but drawn by other artists he hired, which appears to be the case in the storyboard section of his website. In any case, if I had 2,700 productions to my credit, I would hope that I’d have better samples to display on my site.

  • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John S

    What a douche.
    If you have to talk to a seceratary at all you are sunk.

    • http://www.pauloralvarado.com Paulo Alvarado

      Actually he’s a nice guy.

      • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John S

        I don’t care how nice he is, he’s a douche.

  • http://www.copernicus.ca Murray Bain

    the shell game of development is infuriating, but don’t hate the playa, hate the game, son!

    Amid, I noticed you hate the concept of pitching show ideas to the entertainment industry.
    I think it’s amazing to self produce your short, toiling for years in your free time (huh? free time? )
    put it up online for free, and hope a reverent audience pays you for a dvd down the road.
    Even though as Ralph Bakshi said, a computer is a magic film making box,people need money to live.
    Not everyone can be an epic animation Sisyphus like Bill Plympton, Nick Cross,or Nina Paley. I admire those folks to no end.
    It also helps if you have something important to say; it’s motivation to finish it. If you just want to make a fun cartoon for the world to laugh at, Why would you go the art house route? What’s wrong with making people happy and expecting a paycheck for hard work?

    Collaboration and teamwork is where most people thrive.
    Most animation artists have an area of expertize.
    People working on a project expect to be paid.You need tons of cash up front to make animation at an average viewers tolerance of quality, in a volume that tells a satisfying story,at the very least, 5 minutes, like a WB short.

    I love people like Don Hertzfeld, but he’s one in a million,like Bob Dylan.
    What do you think all us session musicians should do?
    If you have a magic answer,on how to produce animation without networks, I’m all ears.
    Otherwise, I want a time machine so I can assist Jim Tyer, smirking to myself all day at his crazy keys.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/VujadeEntertainment#p/u/0/3HaupcJwAdk Steve Schnier

      Hey Murray,
      Somebody’s gonna have to pay to make them Mickey Mouses talk – so yes, you do have to get past the secretary. You tell ‘em, baby!

  • http://sketchblakey.blogspot.com Stephanie

    Hey, that’s that guy whose book I read and didn’t learn anything from. Nice shirt.

  • http://www.octop.com Aleks Vujovic

    Guy looks like he hasn’t slept in years.

    But that was a very inspiring talk.

  • http://psychdrive.com Lenny

    I own a copy of Mark Simon’s book “Facial Expressions.” I really like it. It’s a great reference book.

    I own one of Mark’s lecture CD’s on how to get into the biz. The audio quality is miserable. The info was okay.

  • http://www.pauloralvarado.com Paulo Alvarado

    Its amazing to me how folks can get so worked up over someone they do not know, and after watching a 6 minute video of that person, think they can give a couple lines of text to define who he is and what he does.

    Yes many of us who have been in the business of animation might know the inner workings of how to pitch a show, or put a call into an executive but you would be surprised how many people out there do not. If Mark has the initiative and hustle to put together books, articles, and seminar that folks are willing to pay for, more power to him.

  • Gerard de Souza

    It’s a well told story but that’s the first thing one does is find a name to contact. It’s common sense. How to find a job 101. There would be less drama in the telling If he just picked up the trades and found a name in the first place. Cannot believe this is such earth-shattering advice.

    • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ Mick

      my thought exactly. Trade listings… all the names are there. I think his lectures are aimed at absolute beginners

  • Toonio

    At the end is very simple: Those who can’t do, teach!

    Nothing wrong with that just in case.

  • Cubano

    What an ignorant comment to say “those who can’t do, teach… Mark does DO.. (and so do many of those who teach) One thing everyone needs to understand, Mark has SOLD many shows. That’s right. Just because you don’t see his series on a network or his name in the credits of a Dreamworks production doesn’t mean he has successfully pitched hi shows. I know MANY people who have gotten their shows picked up only to be left in the dust as years go by. How many people posting have even tried to pitch to a network? There is a constant revolving door when it comes to tv executives. You have to be incredibly fortunate to get something you created see the light of day. I have worked with many people, some good and some bad. Mark is the one of the good guys. Over the 10 years that I have known him I can tell you that he is a straight shooter and a true asset to our industry. Like him or hate him, you have to respect him. If that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t stand up for the guy.

    And for the thousands of dollars he charges in his pitch seminars, if you do just a little bit of research about what that is and what it includes, and understand that there are people that need that help. Especially when you consider that attending a major show or convention means thousands of dollars of investment anyways, not including putting the pitch packet together. Anyways, don’t be so ignorant.

    • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

      Cubano – you seem to especially champion this fellows crusade.
      What is your relationship to him, I wonder?

      • amid

        Elliot – Cubano is not Mark Simon, but it’s obvious that he has a professional relationship with him. It’s also obvious that he didn’t follow our commenting guidelines that clearly state:

        “If you are recommending or discussing something, disclose any relationship you may have to the artist, film project or company. This includes friends, family, co-workers, employers, etc.”

      • http://www.pauloralvarado.com Paulo Alvarado

        Amid,

        I’m sure Cubano didn’t mean to violate the commenting rules, beyond spelling it out I think its obvious what his relationship is.

        Since we are spilling the beans. I knew of Mark Simon from back in the Disney days at MGM, since he was friends with quite a few people at Disney. When Disney shut down, I jumped in with some guys to start Project Firefly. When we were running Firefly we met several times with Simon about possibly working together, synergy but nothing ever materialized but I have always admired him for his strong work ethic and honesty.

        As for Cubano, also a great guy, who I have know since the Firefly days since we hired him as one of our I can do anything guys. Cubano knows 3D, 2D, Illustration, and on. He’s a work horse, funny and a nice guy as well.

        I know lots of folks in the animation industry here in Florida, New York, Canada and California, even Europe, but I am always surprised by the wicked streak especially when someone is successful or working to promote. It’s tough times out there maybe everyone should cheer the guy who’s making a buck instead of trying to tear him down.

        Enough disclosure? Or do you need more?

      • Cubano

        If you read my last post I clearly state that I have worked with him over the years. It is spelled out and in the open.

    • Toonio

      The only ignorant here is you my friend. You talk, talk, talk and talk and NO EXAMPLES of the 2700 projects.

      What are you afraid of?

      • Cubano

        ? I am not Mark Simon. Just trying to maintain a honest representation.

  • http://www.FunnyToons.tv Mark Simon

    Well, I figured I might as well comment. I’m Mark Simon, the dude in the crazy shirt.

    Let me briefly address a few of the comments:
    * My list of over 2,700 credits. While I work on features and TV series, I also do a lot of commercials, often more than one a day. This morning I am finishing 6 spots in 3 days. That adds up fast. I do have artists that help me finish spots and others that handle gigs on their own. Some series also move fast. I worked on 82 episodes of Dragon Tales and I had a 24 hour turn-around on my notes for each ep. I also often work on multiple projects at the same time. We average 3-12 projects a week. (and no, I don’t take many weekends off)

    * Dreamworks pitch. That story happened over 10 years ago (before the internet) when I didn’t have a contact there (I do have others now). That talk was specific to people wanting to land more work and how to get past common roadblocks.

    * Contacts. I actually work more in live action than I do in animation, but my love is with animation. I have many contacts at many studios, but it’s a big world and there’s always an executive shuffle.

    * Where’s the Dreamworks series? No where. They didn’t buy it. The point was how I landed the pitch.

    * Getting past secretaries. No matter who you are, you have to deal with them at some point and they tell the boss everything, so be nice.

    * My Summit. We get people who have no experience to top industry talent at our event. We offer a full refund if they don’t like it and we’ve had nothing but rave reviews from attendees. Doug Stanley, the longest-standing producer of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch, was an attendee and a speaker at our last event. Here’s a quote from Doug at our recent Summit, “Most valuable part of the Summit, was every single part of the Summit. As a TV professional, I was amazed at how much information I really didn’t know. Info taught in this course is not available online, and it’s not available through my producer buddies. It’s just not available. Most people who have access to pitch TV shows, don’t share their secrets. Most valuable part of the Summit is that M&J shares with you everything you need to know. I’ll be leaving here 10 times more confident going in to pitch.
    The money for this seminar is nothing compared to losing out on one single gig.”

    * Nothing currently on the air: For over a year I’ve concentrated on my recent projects with the comic strip properties B.C. and Wizard of Id. I am currently negotiating a feature and a series deal for these properties. It takes time.

    Many deals did not make it to air (luckily, some have). I’ve had two signed deals with Fox and Fox Family. The Fox Family deal was shelved (along with many others) when Disney bought the network. Fox also created a show called Simply Delicious as a prime-time series of shorts to follow the Simpsons. My shorts, Timmy’s Lessons In Nature, were the first signed to launch the series. The series was canceled prior to launch because the network couldn’t find enough other shorts with the sensibility they were looking for.

    This type of thing is common in Hollywood. You just have to keep at it.

    * No recent updates to my site: I don’t have a lot of spare time and seldom update lists of credits.

    * Copyright fear mongering. The Orphan Works bill was real. It hit Congress 2 weeks after my initial article. We helped gather over 300,000 letters and signatures against the bill and it was defeated, not once, but twice.

    * DAVE School projects. Every class project is set up like a real production, with outsiders or teachers producing. Students leave with practical experience, and in my case, the project they worked on won over 35 awards and the creator of the show landed a deal with a distributor. They are raising funds for the series now. More info on how the DAVE School handles these shorts is in my recent AWN article at http://www.awn.com/articles/cg/mind-your-business-star-wars-students.

    * And finally, my shirt. I have lots of these. I find them at comic conventions and online at http://www.StylinOnline.com

    Mark

    • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ Mick

      If i do the maths on that… 3-12 projects over a seven day week… and with you working at 14 hours a day… on average you would have around 12 hours to dedicate to each project before dashing on to the next?…. and that is without travel, eating, phone or email time factored in

      You are indeed the busiest man in animation.
      I advise a holiday

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/VujadeEntertainment#p/u/0/3HaupcJwAdk Steve Schnier

      Hey Mark,
      Good on you.
      But I think its kind of sad that you’d feel it necessary to defend your record. Oh well, chalk it up to the happy, happy world of animation.

    • Jonathan

      I don’t believe DAVE School to be a good choice for students. It’s benefits the “professionals” with a production crew at the direct expense of the artists. Maybe when the former students are years down the line they’ll regret missing their best opportunity to develop their own ideas.

      • http://www.FunnyToons.tv Mark Simon

        Very few productions are with outside companies. But, they have a high percentage of real industry placement. Last week they placed 18 students on a 3D production in 1 day.

      • Jonathan

        I have interviewed people for companies large and small. If I get a reel with something simple, but well done and original, I like it way better than the more elaborate group projects. When looking at any group project, I always have an ounce of doubt about what was actually contributed.

        DAVE school work is not impressive to me. What also doesn’t impress me are numbers. Numbers of placements, numbers of projects, numbers of awards, numbers of years.

        I won’t argue that thriving requires money, and that involves numbers. Which brings me around full circle. What’s the number of dollars needed to pay DAVE school to get that “professional” credit?

      • http://www.danimation.com/ Daniel Smith

        Full disclosure, I’m an instructor at DAVE. What you fail to understand is that the DAVE school is not a huge university. Out of a class size of 20 people, who never worked in the industry and never touched a computer before, 18 of them were hired at their graduation by a high end VFX company to work on real movies with real paychecks and real healthcare benefits.

        That was their goal, and the projects are there to serve the purpose to train. It’s nice when one of the projects gets a life beyond the school, but they produce a 5-6 minute short film in 12 weeks. Which is a huge task for anyone to pull off.

        These projects are for the students to teach them about production. I’m very proud of my class.

  • http://www.FunnyToons.tv Mark Simon

    But don’t you think graduating with a professional credit is a good thing?

  • Jorge Garrido

    Way to speak truth to power, Amid. Oh, wait…

  • Tom Cushwa

    This guy reminded me of Greg Kinnar in Little Miss Sunshine.