Pitching and Selling an Animated Series

By Ali Ismail


If you've worked behind the monitor doing movie VFX or creating game assets for a long time, like many; you might have the dream of one day telling your own story or developing your own characters.

What is known as an IP (Intellectual property) is a broad term related to all creations of the mind, when it comes to entertainment though, you can think of an IP as a story with characters, a video game, a comic book, a cartoon, etc.. basically anything that is original and you came up with it.

Making your own IP is really very tempting, not only is the process extremely creative, fun and rewarding, but if by a stroke of luck you managed to create something popular; the financial incentive will be well worth it. Of course, actually managing the copyrights, licensing* and "milking" of your creations is a totally different thing.

Now just for the record, I haven't yet actually created any IP or sold any animated series, but I worked for places like Lucasfilm where I was dumbfounded about the profit figures for licensing in an annual meeting, I also worked with smaller cartoon producers, have read a few books on the subject, done some research and asked around. This is something I am curious about and would like to share my findings and resources.

What is a Pitch

A pitch in business is some sort of a proposal for a client to accept and pay you money to do it.

For an animated series, this means preparing some material to explain what your show is about and present it to an executive working for something like Cartoon Network on the hope that he/she likes the idea and would want to invest in it.

To make it short, from what I learned, pitching is not all that glamorous or easy! a friend of mine who already has very good relations and access to executives; would be very hesitant to go down the route of pitching because it means losing ownership of your creations and your story might be changed beyond recognition.

Basically, no one is going to give you money for nothing!

From my own research, I also found that pitching is really almost a job on it's own. To me. It represented too much of an investment for very little reward.

But If you would like to learn more about this, I would like to recommend: Animation Development, From Pitch to Production by David B.Levy and Animation writing and Development by Jean Ann Wright.

Both of the above books go well beyond, pitching and marketing and are good reads, and you will invariably learn things like pitch bibles, log lines, etc..

This video on how to create a pitch bible by Heather Kenyon and How to Pitch a Cartoon by Erica Hughes are both quite useful, and you might find this one on winning animation pitches and this Quora answer good reads.

If you do decide to go the route of pitching you can check this article: How to Create an Animation PitchAnimation Pitch PitfallsFrom Pitch to Production and How to Pitch an Animated TV Series

What I Learned about pitching:

1- It's a lot easier to strike a deal if you know someone from the inside. It's more about who you know.

2- If you are a popular and famous creator or if you created an IP, short film, novel, comic, game, etc.. that have a large following it will be very likely to convince someone to buy your idea. Similarly if you are established in someway (an experienced 3D animator, storyboard artist, etc..) you will have some leverage and will be taken more seriously. Executives are quite conscious of your background. The character of the person they are going to be working with actually matters.

3- You can meet and find executives more readily in film markets like MIPCOMMIPTV and MIPJunior and you can also look them up in linkedin, blogs, forums  and specialized directories (Hollywood executives directory, AWN, IMDB). Executives can be found! 

4- The more material you have; the more leverage and rights you can negotiate, you will be very lucky to land a deal with a simple pitch and you should expect to give away most of your rights,  on the other hand if you sell a finished cartoon; you can negotiate a much better deal or keep your rights (yes, a finished cartoon defeats the purpose of a pitch but just to show the contrast)

5- A pitch consists of a log line, a two page, a bible and extras. it's basically just presenting your idea to a potential buyer. Don't go overboard unless you are sure of your product and know what you are doing. Short films and other promotional material can be good for marketing though. Just have a plan in sight.

6- Partnership with anyone? make sure all the details are settled and maybe get a lawyer on every stage.

My Conclusions on Pitching

Honestly, I wouldn't prefer to go that way, technology is helping us bypass this process and reach the audience directly, it is so much hassle that I'd rather promote my ideas on my own and find alternative revenues or do a kick starter than waste my time in pitching.

I solidly agree with Mayerson views, and I picked for you some of his blogs over here:

Don't Pitch to Buyers, Pitch to the Audience Part 1Part 4 and Part 6

Things are changing so much, you can now make you own simple show, live on advertising, or directly sell your merchandise.

It doesn't even have to be an animated series, you can consider web comics or novels.

These two threads on CG Society forum are good discussions: 

How to turn your IP into a living and Your Own IP?

Before learning about pitching and selling an animated series, I was really in the dark about all these subjects and thought it would be such a difficult knowledge to get; after learning more and asking people who are in the business and been to film markets, I got excited, maybe TOO excited and started learning all I can about this, thinking I could make a deal and create a series in no time. Now after learning more, I somewhat understand what it takes to pitch, what are the pros and cons. And most importantly what alternatives you have.

One other thing I would like to share with you about selling a series is, networks are usually trying to fill in a "slot". they have specific formulas and requirements, for example, they might want a children's cartoon targeted at ages between 2-6  with Bob the Builder style, because there has been quite some years without something similar. Or maybe they want the episodes to have a certain length or number.

It might be that one thing is on demand and another style or age group is over saturated, also each network has a different style. All I can say is, the business side is very different from simply doing something creative.

On the other hand if you had read The Long Tail by Chris Andreson or Tribes by Seth Godin and plan to promote your own creations; you know that you could possibly fill in any niche and not have to submit to any business or network presubscribed formulas.

I know that perhaps I wasn't the best qualified person to talk about this subject, but just like you, I was curious about this subject, learned about it, then eventually decided to continue in the successful visualization business I am in, and try to expand it to have enough revenue to fund experimentations into IPs, short films or simple video games rather than pitch.

I highly recommend visiting film markets like MIPCOM or film festivals and mingling with the crowd to learn more. Human interaction is always the best way to learn.

*Licensing in entertainment is the act of allowing other people to sell merchandise based on your IP for a fee. For example if you want to sell light sabers with Obi Wan Kenobi and a Star Wars logo on the cover, you need to ask Lucasfilm for a license first and hope it's not already taken exclusively by someone else.

You can do your own research and see that the revenue; companies like Disney/Pixar make every year from the sale of toys and merchandise far outweigh all of their box office profits!