I have heard countless pitches from artists with ideas for animated TV shows.
Usually, a pitch is unoriginal or derivative or it’s just a string of pseudo-interesting concepts but there’s no story.
Sometimes a pitch has a snappy set-up or an interesting main character but it goes flat and formulaic in the “potential episodes.”
And still, despite every studio in Hollywood explicitly stating that they do not want to see pitches with licensed characters (especially characters that belong to ANOTHER studio) people pitch these taboo ideas anyway.
If you can avoid these Six Common Pitfalls as you’re developing an Animation Pitch, you will rise above the competition.
In this post I’ll tell you how to avoid the common Animation Pitching Pitfalls and I’ll share some insights that may help you leap across them to one day find a show of your own creation on Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon or elsewhere…
PITFALL #1: Iʼve Seen It Before:
You may find this hard to believe but I see this all the time. A lot of pitches I see/ hear are just reheated Harry Potter.
Iʼm going to focus on pitches for Animated TV Shows since thatʼs what I get asked about most often, but it doesnʼt matter whether your pitch is for a feature film, a comic, a childrenʼs book or a video game, if itʼs not new, itʼs not a pitch.
I could write a hundred pages on how to come up with ideas that are unique and interesting, but Iʼll contribute just one for now.
The originality of any story can be enhanced, if not entirely secured with an original character.
Budget the time and energy you spend creating your pitch and invest most of it in the main character and her/ his relationships with the supporting characters.
Plot, suspense, drama, comedy… …it all comes more easily with a vibrant, winsome cast of characters.
If the description of your main character starts with something like “Billy is a regular kid just like you and me.” …start over.
PITFALL #2: Interesting Thoughts/ No Story:
He went on and on about mythical realms, cutting-edge quantum theory and a character with a unique power and I had no idea what he was talking about.
And it wasnʼt the sophisticated subject matter that was melting my brain (Iʼm one of the biggest LOST fans on the planet).
After thirty minutes, I had to stop him and ask, “This is all very interesting, but whatʼs the story?”
I hammered him with questions, growing more confused with every response.
Eventually, I interrupted him, sythesized the bits and pieces Iʼd gathered and started pitching an actual story to him about his own characters. I was just making it up on the spot.
My improvisation was quite a bit like the story he had written and it was pretty good.
He took it from there and went on to detail – very specifically – the first few chapters of his story. Itʼs not that he didnʼt have a story itʼs that he wasnʼt telling me the story.
“Thatʼs awesome but thatʼs the part you should have told me when you started!”
I have no idea why he was pitching frustrating ambiguity when he had already done the hard work of inventing an actual plot with actual supporting characters and a clear character arc for the hero but we eventually came to a place of understanding and a momentary collaboration that made the story even better was sparked.
The problem with many of the pitches I hear/ read (especially the pitches from non-writer visual artists) is that thereʼs no story present.
To write a good pitch, you have to have work out the details of the story.
That means the hero, the supporting cast, their relationships to one another, the plot, the character arcs/ lessons learned etc… ALL have to be resolved.
Does it have to be as detailed as a finished script with all the dialogue and scene description worked out?
No. But a pitch is still a story.
Every story has a beginning, middle and an end. …and the Animated TV Show pitch is no exception. There wonʼt be a season-long or series-long story in most TV cartoons like on LOST or Avatar: The Last Airbender but thereʼs a complete story within each episode.
PITFALL #3: License Characters:
This one is pretty straightforward.
Donʼt pitch a Batman show to Warner Bros. Animation.
Donʼt pitch a Pirates Of The Caribbean series to Disney.
When big studios want to create a series spin-off of one of their known properties, they will recruit their own team to do so.
What they need from you is something they donʼt already have.
PITFALL #4: “Typical Episodes” Are Typical:
Thereʼs a section in every TV Show Pitch Bible that summarizes five-or-so “typical,” potential episodes in the proposed animated series.
The point of the “potential episodes” section is to give a quick idea of what will actually happen on the show week-after-week.
What you donʼt want to do is sabotage your unique, brilliant premise and your vibrant, winsome cast of characters with cliche set-ups and episode ideas. Billy and Cindy are late to class but this time, they get detention!
Your “typical” episodes should each be just as original and unique as your premise and characters.
The good news is that if you do succeed in coming up with a truly original premise and cast of characters, you will probably find it difficult (or at least very uncomfortable) to put them in conventional story situations.
And even when you do, the stories will take on an originality of sorts just because the characters are so awesome.
Isnʼt that a relief?
PITFALL #5: Monster Of The Week:
Iʼm not fully convinced that this one actually belongs in my top five pitching pitfalls but itʼs something thatʼs never been addressed in the many resources on pitching that Iʼve consulted in the past.
CONFESSION: I have made the “Monster Of The Week” mistake on several occasions.
I even pitched a show that was flawed in exactly this way to a friend at Disney. He was gracious with his feedback as he exposed the unsellable redundancy of my show.
My main character was very original and sympathetic and the supporting cast was hilarious.
The premise was truly something that weʼve never seen before.
The pitch failed when I got to the part with the episode summaries. It wasnʼt until I was sitting in the conference room of the Frank G. Wells building on the Disney lot pitching this show to my friend the development exec that I noticed an embarassing pattern.
Basically every proposed episode ended with a big reveal of some funny monster that the hero had to defeat.
“Monster Of The Week.”
A good TV Show Pitch needs more than just a “Monster Of The Week.”
It needs dynamic characters with complex, nuanced relationships. It needs surprises and the potential to keep generating surprises for a hundred episodes.
(And for anyone who might be interested, I’ve since re-worked that pitch and I’m really hoping to release the webcomic version after I finish season one of Greg The Megabeaver’s Prehistoric Sideshow.)
PITFALL #6: Huge PDFs:
When printing, use 300-400 dpi and don’t compress the files.
When sending the file digitally, make sure the file size can be downloaded very quickly.
That means use 72 dpi and optimize the file for web.
If every page in your PDF is 300dpi and uncompressed, it’s going to take a long time to download and many people just won’t have the patience to wait.
But check the PDF when you’ve optimized it to make sure it still looks nice and crisp. A blurry and/ or pixellated pitch bible is just as bad as one that’s big and slow.
What Other Animation Pitch Pitfalls Should We Avoid?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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