Saturday, July 19, 2008

Is it a waste of time to write a spec animated feature?

Comic Book Guy ponders this question posed to me a few days ago (okay, weeks technically) by reader Matt.

Short answer: Worst. Idea. Ever.

Slightly longer answer: Or...maybe not. Depending no what you mean by that and (say it with me now) who you know.

From everything I've seen and been told by people in animation, in a very general sense, no one is going to buy an animated feature script on spec. The big studios with animation arms--Disney Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony--develop all of their projects in-house. These places have stables of writers they already know they like to use, and an army of artists chomping at the bit to get their own ideas developed into features. Not to mention that animation is slow, and the development slates for these places--even conservatively--are probably full through 2012. It's simply not worth it for Average Joe Writer to spend his time (or her time, if you're Josephine) slogging through a full 120ish page feature.

In fact, unless you are in some way connected to people in animation, I'd suggest trying to shove that animated feature idea into a deep, dark corner of your brain and move on to something else. That or re-imagine it as a non-animated script. Remember that the last decade or so has made it so that a lot of previously "animated" ideas are now possible in "live action." (And yes, those both deserve quotes.)

"But Josh," you say, "I love this idea and have to try. It's brilliant and will completely change animation forever." Fine, fine, fine. If you really like the idea, write a treatment for it. Or simply create a logline and send out some query letters. Someone bites, you'll know if you've got something worth spending a little more of your time on. Alex Epstein has suggested trying this method for any spec scripts over on his blog. The difference is that for live action feature specs, you've got a few hundred potential places to send your work; for an animated spec, replace the word "hundreds" with "dozens." And I think that's being generous.

The only--and I mean only--reason Jul and I started developing an animated project is because I got a job at an animation company and heard about a few specific ideas/types of characters that some of the higher-ups there were interested in finding and making. Without that information, I wouldn't have dreamed of attempting an animated feature. And even with that knowledge, Jul and I don't plan on doing much more than (as I suggested above) outlining the story and maybe putting together a treatment.

Still not dissuaded? Fair enough. The industry is still the industry, and the way to get your work in the hands of people that can help you doesn't differ all that much. Wanna write animated movies? Read the Animation Writers blog. Network. Get a job at an animation company. Doing whatever. This way, you'll have the opportunity to meet people who at least in theory can help. Do a good job. Befriend the storyboard artists and animators. Talk to the D-girls (sorry, D-girls) and see what they're recommending to their bosses and what kinds of stories and characters their bosses are passionate about. See if your company has an open door policy for pitching or certain times when it's acceptable to bring your idea(s) to them. And then, before you actually start pitching your story or passing out your script, make sure it's the best you can make it.

Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky and they'll buy your work and then hire someone (or, likely, many someones) to rebuild it from the ground up until your baby becomes an unrecognizable Frankenstein to you. Not that you'll be anywhere near the development process to see it. Sounds enjoyable, no?

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