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How to pitch a cartoon by Erica Hughes

 


March 2005

Pitching a cartoon series to a network is Hollywood’s “backdoor” because cable networks are more open to unsolicited material and unproduced writers than other markets in the entertainment industry. When you pitch a cartoon you have more creative freedom than a writer presenting a screenplay for a live action television series or movie and could easily become the head writer for the duration of your show. If this is your cup of the tea, the question you might be asking now, is what do I do next? (4/15/16 update: please note, the following steps also apply to  pitching a live action television series with some minor differences. See What you need to know about pitching a script or television series )

A marketable concept

  1. A pilot script (standard spec, 22-23 pages)
  2. A bible (a thirteen episode outline of your cartoon series)
  3. Animation and character bios
  4. A  Network (or whomever you plan to pitch your cartoon to)
  5. A toy prototype (optional)
  6. A DVD presentation (optional)
  7. If you need help with finding animation software send me an email as I can recommend a few. Occasionally there are free easy to use animation programs out there (See below).

You will first need a high concept plot… for example, take the Power Puff Girls on Cartoon Network.  The Powerpuff Girls is about a scientist who mixes a potent brew of “Sugar and spice, and everything nice” thus inventing three adorable  little girls who happen to have superpowers and must save “Townsville”  from big ugly monsters. This is your outside story. The inside story? The three adorable girls trying to get the professor and “Miss Keane” to go on a date. The Powerpuff Girls is an action/comedy. An example of an action/drama would be Dragon Ball Z or The Avatar.

To pitch your idea, you’ll need to include a few important things. The first of which, is a pilot script. If you’ve already written a few screenplays this is the easy part – especially if you’ve got your story down pact. Most networks prefer a 22 or 23 page script for a thirty-minute program (but only 23 pages since there would likely be commercials). Your next step is writing a thirteen episode outline which is usually called a “bible”. Each episode must include a beginning, middle, and end. To convince a network to use your cartoon series will require you to prove longevity.  In other words, is there enough material to last a few years?

Once you’ve completed your bible you’ll need artwork or animation. These are professional looking drawings designed by you or a commissioned artist. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on artwork, a friend with a talent for sketching will do. You don’t need a storyboard either.  Each picture should include the character’s name and a brief bio.

Your pitch should have a standard card stock cover bound with acco brand fasteners, following the format of  a standard spec script. You may also include a toy prototype to show marketability and possible product tie-ins.  If the market for your cartoon is eighteen years or older you’ll need to specify this on your submission to a network that produces  TV shows  for an adult demographic, like Adult Swim for cartoon network or Comedy Central.

Put all these fine ingredients together, and you’ve got yourself a pitch. Good luck.

Questions? Contact Erica Hughes at

 

Frequently Asked Questions

I am asked the following question so frequently that I have decided to add it to the article. “How to Pitch a Cartoon” was written many years ago, sometime in 2005 I believe, and at this time it warrants a small update.

I try to answer everyone’s inquiries, but due to being busy I am often unable to. See below before you send an email:

Where/How/to Whom do I submit my cartoon?

The best advice I can offer is for you to find an agent. If that doesn’t work, try the following steps.

Once you have created your material and put your pitch together, you will enter the marketing phase of your presentation and will begin to mail it out to executives for their review. Who do you send the material to? Producers, directors, and talent (ie, actors). You can find contact information for talent most readily on web sites like IMDB Pro at http://imbd.com or you might invest in a HOLLYWOOD CREATIVE DIRECTORY book. This industry directory includes names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers to  people you may want to be in contact with. You could also go the poor man’s route and visit network websites. There, you may find names and contact information in the corporate information section. Some network street addresses are public.

  1. Many producers, executives, production companies and studios fear being sued so most will reject unsolicited material on the basis that they may have something similar already in the works. So you will need to have an agent send the material on your behalf. The catch is that most agents don’t accept unsolicited material or query letters from unproduced talent. So what do you do?
  2. You could work toward producing your own material and sell it on DVD  or develop a web series. You’ll spend less on this effort than the amount you’ll spend mailing manuscripts and projects.
  3. Or you can submit unsolicited material to someone in the industry and see what happens. For addresses and names, invest in a Hollywood Creative Directory Book or go the poor man’s route and visit the corporate information section of network web site to get the name and address of producers or executives you are interested in working with.
  4. When I was starting out some 9 years ago, I sent a pitch to a Cartoon Network executive producer  — in fact, I pitched my project over the phone to her voicemail. She called back and requested the script (I sent all of the aforementioned material listed above). From there it was sent to a director in Los Angeles.

Success is a combination of talent, luck, timing and persistence. So don’t give up. Good luck!

 

 

Example Episode Outline

This is just a rough example of what you’ll need:

Atomic High: Episode One
There’s a mystery brewing at Atomic High… someone is rigging the bleachers in the gymnasium to collapse at  school basketball games. Weary basketball coach George Prusky meets Jakey the Sleuth in his treehouse detective office and begs him to find the culprit. Ticket sales for Atomic High’s basketball games have plummeted. Jakey asks the Coach if he has any enemies, like a disgruntled player who may have been kicked off of the team. The coach mentions Dale Babcock, former captain of Atomic High’s Varsity basketball team. Jakey goes on a stakeout with his friend Amanda. They follow Dale but find very little to feel suspicious about, other than the fact that Dale is addicted to gum and has been sticking used blobs under the table in the cafeteria. Dale is “arrested” and taken to the principal’s office but Jakey soon discovers another kid, Jimbo, who is more than happy to see Dale go. Turns out, Jimbo tried out for the basketball team but was cut from tryouts. Amanda and Jakey go on another stakeout and learn Jimbo has been rigging the bleachers to collapse. He is arrested by school officials and all is safe again at Atomic High… till next time….
That’s an example of an episode outline. You will need at least 13-16 to prove that your show has enough episodes to last at least two or three seasons.  Your outline should be written in present tense.

 

 

Making a DVD Animation

There are a lot of tools available to film makers and writers who wish to go into animation. If you are not an artist, don’t know an artist, or can’t afford one there are alternatives available. Also, movie editing software is available to those who wish to make a DVD presentation to go along with your script. If you need one, send me an email. I can refer you to some free movie editing/3D animation software.

Good luck on your project!

 

Sincerely,

Erica Hughes

Log in to contact E. Hughes via private messaging.

 

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20 Responses to How to pitch a cartoon by Erica Hughes

  1. Cindy Martin on March 22, 2012 at 3:01 am

    Hello Erica, I’m so grateful to find your website.
    This is my biggest fear…. Having mailed my query to Amblin Entertainment on Feb 1st, enough time has gone by.
    They are either trying to steal it or they just threw it away.
    I am covinced my pilot story, future episodes and 2D cartoon characters are worth all the work involved. Truely novel.

    Moving on, I am having trouble finding an address to mail it to the right person at Veggie Tales Big Idea Production Company. (my project has no violence, sex, religion, or politics) maybe they would allow my submission even though there are no religious attributes?
    Thank you, Cindy Martin

  2. E. Hughes on March 22, 2012 at 4:13 am

    Hi Cindy,

    You have nothing to fear. When I was starting out, I sent a submission to a producer at Cartoon Network who then forwarded to a director in Los Angeles. It took an entire year for her to get back to me on the project. Often, it can take a while. If the submission was unsolicited, you may get an unopened envelope back to you in the mail with “no unsolicited material” stamped on it. Most producers will have you sign a release statement saying that you won’t sue them in the event that they already had similar projects in the works. Most don’t feel stealing your material is worth the trouble. Especially a company like Amblin Entertainment. That isn’t to say that some unscrupulous person wouldn’t. So hopefully your material has been copyrighted. If you have a contact, or the name of an insider at Veggie Tales Big Idea Production company, you will likely be able to obtain the address from any industry web site. If I happen upon it, I will pass the information along to you if that helps.

    Sincerely,
    E. Hughes

  3. E. Hughes on March 22, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Big Idea Production Company
    230 Franklin Rd.
    2A
    Franklin, TN 37064
    USA
    Phn: 800-295-0557
    Fax: 630-652-6001
    http://www.bigidea.com/

    • Cindy Martin on March 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Thank you Erica!! Yes, all is © registered. So far all I’ve mailed to Amblin is my query letter. I will mail one to Big Idea also and wait to see what happens. Thanks again, Cindy

      • E. Hughes on March 26, 2012 at 3:02 am

        Hi Cindy,

        Send me an email or a private message, re: your query letter.

  4. Johnathan on March 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Hey Miss Hughes thank you for posting this article you have know idea how much insight this has given me. I am currently trying to work on an animation pilot but the animation software I have isn’t all that reliable the software that I’m currently using is Pencil v0.4.4b I was wandering do you know of any other open source/ free 2d animaton software out there that you would recommend?

    • E. Hughes on March 27, 2012 at 10:51 pm

      Hi Johnathan, thanks for writing. I actually had a link posted somewhere for 2d animation. It was open source I believe. Let me see if I can find it and get back to you.

      • Johnathan on March 28, 2012 at 1:29 am

        Wow thank you sooo much!!!!!! 🙂

        • E. Hughes on March 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm

          I’m not sure what kind of tools you need and I didn’t get to do much with this program but http://www.creatoon.com/download.php – is free

          You can learn more about its features here: http://creatoon.com/features.php

          If this one doesn’t work for you, let me know what tools you’re looking for and I’ll see if I have anything on my list I can recommend.

          • Johnathan on March 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm

            Thanks but I already tried to download this before and dosent work on a MAC I also tried synfig but it also dosent work on the MAC 🙁

          • E. Hughes on March 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

            Ah. Didn’t realize you were on a MAC. Let me check and update you on what I have.

  5. Johnathan on March 29, 2012 at 12:21 am

    Thanks alot I like the program I have now its just that I cant exporting as a MOV file

    • E. Hughes on March 29, 2012 at 12:31 am

      Oh. Is there a plugin you can purchase that will work with the program? Or maybe render to a different format then convert it to MOV?

      • Johnathan on March 29, 2012 at 2:45 am

        Unfortunately there is no plug in for it and MOV is the best way for me to sync the audio and video together any other file only picks up one layer of the animation

        • E. Hughes on March 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm

          Can’t honestly say I’ve been in this predicament before as I’ve made a habit of choosing the path of least resistance. 🙂 There has to be a workaround out there somewhere, maybe in the software’s documentation if they don’t provide support. You can’t be the only person to have run into this issue.

          • Johnathan on March 31, 2012 at 1:55 am

            Yea I think I can find a way to work with what I’ve have I was just exploring other alternative programs if I could

          • E. Hughes on March 31, 2012 at 4:21 am

            Nothing wrong with that at all. Good luck and please do let me know if you find an alternative that works for you. You’re probably not the first person to have this issue with Pencil, hopefully someone else can provide an answer if you don’t. Thanks Johnathan!

  6. Johnathan on April 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks and sure thing 🙂

  7. Johnathan on May 6, 2012 at 10:01 am

    hey I found a solution to the exporting bug I had if anyone who wish to use the 2d animation software program I found this to be the best way to export http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Tve6y-girE

    • E. Hughes on May 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm

      Excellent. I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks for the update, glad you put this out here for the rest of us. I’m curious as to what might have been the cause.