Thursday, March 05, 2009

Goals of A Shorts Program 3 - To Discover Talent

Goals of a Shorts Program:

To Discover Top Talent (this seems such an obvious goal; why is it so hard for studios to do it?)

Execs today have a vague idea that they want to discover the next great cartoon creator but they don't really know how to recognize one - and if they are lucky enough to discover one, they wouldn't know what to do with him (or her).

I can use my own experiences as examples from someone who has done exactly what they all say they want.

I pitched to a few studios within the last couple years and all the execs laughed like crazy at each project.

After wiping the tears from their eyes, they then told me boldly that they loved my pitches (and my pants) but were looking for something "fresh" and completely new. They wanted the "next John K." Seriously! They had the gumption to say that to my face. People sitting in offices that I paid for.

Well, it's been 19 years since the first one popped on the scene. Where is the new one? Are they gonna wait another 19?

Execs don't really understand what they are looking for. They think every hit cartoon has to come from an inspiration and has to completely revolutionize the industry every time. Of course if someone pitched them one that would change everything for real, they would turn it down.

They also think that they will get the revolutionary idea out of someone's first day on the job - or while the kid is still in high school or college. They use Ren and Stimpy as the model and freely tell me so.

I think they think I was fresh out of high school when I made Ren and Stimpy and that it was some flash of inspiration that just appeared in my head, all ready to change the way every cartoon was done before. It wasn't. It took me 9 years to sell the damn thing and I was developing it and letting it evolve naturally the whole time. Plus, I was studying al the classics while gaining experience in every department of every studio in town. And It was never intended as a revolution. I was just trying to go back to common sense and do cartoons with the audience in mind, make them laugh - give them some fun and intriguing characters. It was only a revolution because the cartoons being made at the time weren't even trying to be entertaining - and didn't use a production system that encouraged and preserved creativity.

Here is what the execs are missing when they look for directors for their "creator-driven" cartoons.

To Find A Director with Experience as Well as Raw Talent (next post)

There is s a lot more to say about how to make an efficient sensible shorts program, but I am going to break it up into point by point bits to make it all sink in easier. I don't mind giving away my secrets because I know no one will do it sensibly anyway.


booleanspline said...

Interesting, john. I like this series of posts on shorts. your an honorable man for sharing your knowledge. It seems like these companys are looking for the next "it thing" and want it over night rather than a couple of good weekly entertaining shows. They like to stick with one idea and take it for all its worth. Case in point "Hannah Montana".

Whit said...

This is exactly how Henson landed Corey Edwards. (See yesterday's Cartoon Brew Blog)

Geneva said...

Perhaps you could find a hapless 19-year-old to stand in for you at pitches and be a puppet figurehead once you get greenlit.

I love Kaspar!

Constantine said...

Look at all these ideas - too bad they haven't been made!

Execs can't spot talent, and that's because you can't expect a business person to understand creativity, or to recognize talent(people like Thomas Edison, and Leon Schlesinger aside).

Alex I.R., Esq. said...

I feel your pain. It's hard to come up with wholly original cartoons these days: just think about how the 36 dramatic situations are pinning us in a corner.
And y'know what else? In Animation Magazine collums, execs are said to look for "the next SpongeBob". It's like they TRY to imitate past successes. Do these moronic executives exist in ANY FORM OF REALITY?!

JohnK said...

They always say that, then add "but not as weird".

Oscar Baechler said...

This is actually an unavoidable gripe every ex-Microsoft employee has about Microsoft. All the execs at Microsoft constantly blither about "Give me something INNOVATIVE...but at the same time, a PROVEN success!" failing to realize that Innovative and Proven are antonyms. And they wonder why everyone giggles when they copy whatever Google or Apple already did.

bob said...

you should check out bill wrays king crab pitch pilot, this could have been a fun show.

HemlockMan said...

Geneva's advice sounds cool.

But of course the 19-year-old would never get in the door.


Niki said...

Reading this, the Salem witch trials come to mind for some reason.

Maybe you should have Kali pitch the ideas and let them think it was hers.

Oh and I watched you "How to copy pictures" videos and I gotta say sir, you sound like your in the New york mafia. Use yer uh, how you say, "Connections"

Oliver_A said...

Dear John,

how many hits do you have on this site per year (2 million?) and how many donations would you need to finance and develop a full quality pilot with these awesome characters?

Oliver_A said...

Because every time, it's deeply depressing to see your concept art and knowing it won't be made into a series or at least a short.

Btw, could your former relationship with Nickelodeon be the reason you are still being turned down despite obvious superior art and skills?

Reynaldo Leon said...

Last year, I attended a writers summit by a "very famous animation capital network". They where looking for new "animation writers". But kept making references of one of their most successful series about a "squared pants" fellow. Which by chance, is not actually "scripted" but "storyboarded".
So... what gives?!

pablo pablo said...

Nice characters!

Alberto said...

Kaspar is absolutely beautiful and ridiculous!
Perhaps you could sell your shows to other countries; There are more than 200 of them...

flashcartoons said...

My question is where do we pitch, I have 100000 ideas that I would love to harass execs with :)

I have more ideas than boogers in a cold. Anyway I would love to see Kaspar animated, he looks like trouble. I know you will get another show on tv john, don't give up!

Rick Roberts said...

Producers in the pre-"Dumbth" era had some sort of entertainment credentials themselves. Leon Schlesinger did pratically everything there was to do in a theatre in his early years, including being an actor. Famed James Bond producer Harry Saltzman joined a traveling circus when he was 17.

Now look at the "Dumbth" producers today. Jeffrey Katzenberg, what did he do ? A failed talent agent ? Mark Talyor, head of the nick animation studio, he as a bussiness degree and nothing resembling any sort of entertainment experience in his past. Executives are simply too ignorant to determine what should be entertaining.

Rick Roberts said...

"They always say that, then add "but not as weird"

Wow, so they want to water down what is really a watered down Ren and Stimpy ?

Michael DiMilo said...

These are absolutely hilarious! Why are these shows not on TV?? The Goofy Gremlins, He Hog, Kaspar. I can't understand why TV execs don't pounce on this treasure trove of funny cartoon ideas.

nktoons said...

Thank you John for sharing your knowledge and experience. I did not know Ren & Stimpy took so long to develop, sounds like you were really busy at that time. It made me laugh at the end of your post when you said "I don't mind giving away my secrets because I know no one will do it sensibly anyway". I for one am all ears ( )!

Trevor Thompson said...

Hell, John K. wasn't even the 'next John K.' when he was 19.

How the hell could they expect someone to direct a cartoon without any experience in the business? That was as stupid as my creative writing teacher who never wrote anything.

- trevor.

Thomas said...

The execs think they're the ones creating the shows. They are the Zeus', from who's heads great ideas flow... they just need your help.

dancing platypuss said...

yup yup... when they say "dash " and "innovative" they really mean " but not too innovative 2 surprise us... steam worked for decades... why use electricity"?
oh btw... i love the russian bear thing :)

/\/\ikeB said...

Do you honestly think that's why executives
want young people? I don't buy for a second
that they want anything 'fresh'.

Generally young people aren't as established,
and won't ask for as much money, because generally, they aren't as skilled and easier to manipulate. Guys like you, John, are established, skilled, experienced and subsequently have backbone, and fight the good fights.

And as far as nourishing young talent or diamond in the roughs go, that's the LAST thing the money guys want. Heaven forbid one of them becomes a star, and has massive leverage over executives once the biz gets better, and initiate bidding wars which increase their value.

That's not what the executives want at all, I don't even believe what they're saying, and I doubt, deep inside the executives believe what they're saying either. They want less money up front ( even if someone like you makes them profit more in the long run ) because they only thing until the next financial quarter, and bounce into another high-ranking position.

Nate said...

This is terribly depressing.

The He-hog pilot was a great example of good cartoon fun. Why aren't we watching episodes of it right now?

Why have we not seen more episodes of Korgoth of Barbaria?

Why do we have to dig and dig through strata upon strata of crap to get one nugget of quality?

It's the same in music and comic books these day. Movies will be there soon too. Billions dollar industries run like wonder bread factories.

John, it would be great if you could do a post about the basic economics of producing a quality cartoon episode. Say, an episode of He Hog or George Liquor or Kaspar.

How many people? How many hours? How much money for space? supplies?

In other words, why can't good cartoons be produced without corporate/network sponsorship?

Whit said...

There was a stop motion series called "Bump in the Night" that the (long since canned) head ABC executive in 1994 proudly called "Our Ren and Stimpy."

smackmonkey said...

White & Waxy! Too cool.

Shawn said...

>>but were looking for something "fresh" and completely new. <<

What?!! Your pitches are of ideas that have never been made into shows by anyone...ever! Those ideas ARE "fresh" and new! Meanwhile they keep churning out shows that are all completely the same. How many freakin shows about dysfunctional families with a dopey dad and wise-cracking kids do we need???

Idiots! Hypocrites!

peldma3 said...

Hi John,

Just for kicks take a strong Idea of your's and get one of the young kids who works with you to set up an appointment and pitch it as their own idea... Just to see what happens. If they like the show great then you have a new show! Do it!

Rick Roberts said...

Hell, John K. wasn't even the 'next John K.' when he was 19."

In general I hate when people say "The Next etc.". The comparison is usually unfair or just unessecary.

"How many freakin shows about dysfunctional families with a dopey dad and wise-cracking kids do we need???"

1,720,654 more should just about do it and then executives will start to look for new ideas.

X180 said...

John, I really feel I have to ask this: do you seriously think Ren & Stimpy came across as a "classic" cartoon with "classic" cartoon principles?

I mean this with all respect, and I speak as a fan. But this has been bothering me ever since I started reading your blog. Nothing in Ren & Stimpy EVER struck me, when I was first watching it, as having anything to do with the Golden Age classics from WB and the rest.

Sure, they were lavishly animated with lots of squash-n-stretch and none of the depressing only-the-head-and-legs-moving limited animation that we were all used to from HB and the lifeless Saturday Morning comic-oriented stuff. But I for one didn't love R&S because it reminded me of Bugs Bunny.

Ren & Stimpy was so hysterically revolutionary because of the wacky character designs, the seemingly intentional off-model-ness from scene to scene, and the TIMING. You know? The sudden jump-cuts to the super-detailed close-up lingering booger paintings. The ridiculous 50s Muzak soundtrack. The way people would hold an expression for like five, six beats instead of just one (or none). It's the same timing you did years later in the Yogi Bear shorts, so I have to wonder if it's just a thing you do that you're so close to that you don't realize you're doing it. You know, like how Boo Boo takes about six hours of screen time to transform, whereas in a comparable cartoon (if there were such a thing) it would happen in like six seconds. It's *great*, don't get me wrong. But it's your signature. And nobody had ever seen it before, in a "classic" or otherwise. And it's how anybody can recognize a "real" John K. cartoon today instantly among all the clueless imitators who think it's just about fart jokes and shiny buttocks and giant scribbly heads.

John, you're so observant about all the little details that I think it's impossible you aren't doing this on purpose. But if that's the case, I think it's worth addressing how adhering to "classic" principles is a fine first step, but it's hardly the Secret of Your Success. If someone just made a new set of Bugs Bunny cartoons, nobody would buy them. They'd be way too bland and controlled and restrained for anyone to pay them any attention, especially if they stuck with the gentle prewar levels of visual and scripted humor found in early cartoons. People have come to expect humor they can guffaw at with a 21st-century sensibility, which is another thing you ushered in. You can hardly blame the execs for wanting something THAT revolutionary again. You're the status quo now. You ARE classic animation principles. They want someone who breaks the rules YOU set down as compellingly as YOU did.

And if someone comes along who can do that, it'll probably be someone who just thinks he's following your principles, but really is bringing something brand-new with him that everyone can see but him.

JohnK said...


Well thanks much for the praise!

Some of the things you mentioned were intentional, others were mistakes that people thought were on purpose.

The things that were intentionally "new" or "radical" were still based on the knowledge and admiration of classic principles. They would be puposely frustrating your expectatons.

It isn't wholly anarchy, created from thin air, which is how execs and amateurs think creativity works.

I naturally bend rules when I need to do something that isn't covered by generalities. It isn't random though; it's based on the story and the specific emotions and feeling I'm trying to convey at each moment.

But as you say, you gotta have the principles (or tools) as your starting point.

Mark Borok said...

They came to CalArts in 1992 or thereabouts looking for "fresh" ideas. They told us, "We're NOT looking for another Ren and Stimpy", then rattled off a series of requirements (funny animals, irreverent, etc.) which were essentially the formula for "Ren and Stimpy". They told us they had this great new show coming out called "Rocko's Modern Life".

I suppose it still hasn't occurred to them that the "next big things" turned out to be a show about a kid mad scientist, a trio of kindergarten superheroines and a sea sponge. I'm sure they still have their focus groups set up ready to tell them what it is that kids want these days.

Raff said...

>> They wanted the "next John K."<<


I have a couple of theories about that. They say they want something new, but I think they really mean something else. I'll explain.

I have to agree with X180, completely. I won't reiterate his points - he said it all. As for animation principles being the starting point, that's as much a given as starting with good grammar and spelling. That's not what we're talking about here.

This is about what happens AFTER the principles are in place; i.e. what you're using these things to say.

Looking at the pitches, I see references to the Hanna-Barbera era, old cereal commercials, middle-agers hunting and other old TV-isms.

There are things to talk about that are happening now, and I think you could get more mileage out of making fun of them in a cartoon show instead of complaining about them on this blog.

An Age Of Extreme Conservatism - pt 1
Amazing rant. That says more to me than this.

You've got George Liquor covering some of the ground in the Conservative post, but I see too much of an impression that the audience will get the same social commentary they already got from your earlier work.

I believe people - anybody - goes to entertainment to attain some kind of social intelligence - to get another person's point of view about the world we experience as it changes.

How about new caricatures as a starting point for inspiration and concepts instead of old cartoons. Or Eddie's Theory corner! What I'm saying is, you guys have things to say about the here and now, and I think they'd beat the hell out of sendups of Yogi Bear's ilk.

Sorry about the long post.

Jizz Wad said...

The contradiction I can't stand is that they think they can predict and control a NEW amazingly popular show. If that's true & they fully understand it they should either...

A) make it with the people/shows they already have.

B) explain it to to someone with talent who has done it before so they can do it/test their knowledge.

But they can't ever know this. They can never admit that how popular/money making something is, is totally random.

What they could control/predict is how much they as a business can risk and on average the return success rate to continue taking the risks, making varied shows and occasionally having a major hit.

The idea that they won't trust your ideas/pitches and are waiting for another original cartoon master is a MAJOR miscalculation, even the money people should be able to see this.

If the next John K did walk in they'd probably say 'If you had the proven success of the original John, we could do something.'