“How cheap can you make it?” – why I’m making a TV series, but not for TV

For years I asked myself why Australia hasn’t had its own animated series for adults.

Now I know that it’s my own fault!

 

 

Sad Animator expects money. Laugh at him.

 

 

“Pretty cheap!”

Last year I went to a launch event put on by our state film funding body and SBS, Australia’s multicultural government TV network.

At the drinks part afterwards I asked a lady from SBS if they were interested in commissioning adult animation. She replied, laughingly, “How cheap can you make it?”

“Pretty cheap!” I replied. I can make funny cartoons fairly quickly if I want to.

So, since I don’t need their money to make the cartoons, I figured I should just make them myself.

I’m currently making them — in the form of an animated series called BE A MAN — using money I earn elsewhere.

People have asked me, “How will you make money doing this?” The answer is, “I won’t”.

I suppose the goals are to make something good and to make a reputation for doing so, each of which is valuable.

Waiting around for TV executives to pass judgement on my ideas isn’t furthering those goals. Better I just make the things, enjoy the making and stop to earn money when it’s possible.

 

 

A script. You could write one!

 

 

Devolving

I went to the SPAA Fringe conference last year. It’s reasonably priced and a good way to get access to some interesting people and hear things first-hand.

I attended a roundtable discussion with a ABC-TV development fellow who asserted that the best way to approach the ABC with your comedy idea is to NOT approach the ABC with it.

Instead, it should be taken to one of their “preapproved” production companies, ones they repeatedly work with (Andrew Denton’s, for example) so that they can decide if it’s ABC-worthy.

We at the table were a bunch of mostly neophyte dopes with TV show ideas. The impression I got was that he was sincerely trying to give us the good oil.

I’m not sure every ABC executive would give the same advice. The most interesting thing I learned from speaking to several of them was that none of them seem to agree on anything.

 

 

Storyboards. You could draw these.

 

 

“At least it’s not sitting gathering dust on the shelf, right?”

I listened to this podcast of a talk from the SPAA Conference (not the one I attended, the “big boys” one) which asks the question, “Will one of the people on this panel, who represent alternatives to network television, actually put their money where their mouths have been for quite some time now and commission some bloody content?

The moderator did an excellent job trying to squeeze an answer out of them. Their answer was muffled but sounded a lot like, “noooooo, probably not right now”. They’re currently doing fine paying pennies (or nothing) for your video once it’s been made.

“At least it’s not sitting gathering dust on the shelf, right?” said the nice lady whose salary is paid by people giving YouTube their work for free.

 

A character. You could build this.

 

 

“The right people”

Sometimes we complain that we aren’t successful because we aren’t friends with “the right people”, the implication being that “the right people” are TV executives or celebrities whose access to money or power could smooth the way for us.

What’s great is that if you’re more concerned with making a good show than with having a show on television, you almost certainly know “the right people” already. Your smartest, funniest and most eagle-eyed friends are capable of helping you make your show, or of making your show better. You only have to ask them for help.

Once you have “the right people” involved, it’s just a matter of renting a camera and some lights. Or sitting in a little room and  drawing lots of things.

 

 

Backgrounds and props. You could draw these.

 

 

Making stuff will save you

Working in animation, I sometimes find myself part of a large crew working to make a children’s show worth millions of dollars, and in the middle of that I sometimes forget it’s possible to make something better on no budget at all.

But you can! People do.

I’d say the following is as true for you as it is for me. It’s important, so I’m writing it in pink:

You have ideas and energy that the people in charge don’t want and wouldn’t know what to do with. Use them yourself.

 

 

Cartoons: you have to make them. They'll get you if you don't.

 

 

The reason Australia hasn’t had its own adult cartoon series

It’s because nobody in the TV industry wants one as much as I do, and I haven’t worked hard enough at it!

I apologise, and I’m fixing that now. Slowly.

 

David Blumenstein writes and draws, often simultaneously. He makes pictures and animation for money. He’s not saying anything you didn’t already know. You can learn more about his animated series via his Twitter feed and his Facebook page. Or go watch him making it at Squishface Studio.

The Precinct: here’s what an animated cop show pitch looks like.

In 2011, the Precinct team put this proposal to SBS — a proposal for a half hour animated cop show for adults.

We were told it would be good to have an idea of how three seasons’ worth of the show would work, hence the enormous cast and loads of plotting and ideas. We left out a lot of stuff, too.

In the end, it was more than the programmers at SBS really wanted to see, but making it helped us enormously in figuring out what we like about the show and what we would like it to be (and the divide between Adam, my co-writer and I, on that issue!).

I thought it might be interesting for people to see just how much work we put in. And obviously we’re still working on Precinct, but going in more of a “ACTUALLY MAKE CARTOONS” direction than a “PITCH IT AGAIN AND AGAIN” direction.

I should point out also that, although she didn’t go for it, Caterina (our contact and yours at SBS when it comes to comedy and drama shows) has been extraordinarily giving of her time and experience over the last year or so.

So, here’s our proposal! Is it a good proposal? Not sure, but this is what we put to them, warts and all, and I’d still love to see an animated Aussie adult cartoon on SBS more than just about anything. Obviously I’d prefer it be ours, but there’s enough talented bastards around that we’re gonna see one, finally, one day, and I’ll be bloody happy whoever it comes from.

Feel free to comment here or anywhere else (FB? Twitter?) as to what you reckon about it.

 

Precinct series is go.

 

Hey people.

I’ve been blogging about my “upcoming” animated series, The Precinct, for almost six years now!

In that time, I’ve learned a lot about the animation industry, and about animation itself. I’m a much better artist and animator than I was in 2006 (see here for evidence). A better writer, too, hopefully.

I’ve made countless plans as to how we’d make the show. 12 x 3 minute episodes. 11 x 5 minute episodes. 8 x half hour episodes. 6 x eleven minute episodes!

For a little while, it might have been a Canadian co-production. Or an Israeli co-production! Then it became an interactive story. Then it wasn’t. Then it was again! Then it wasn’t again.

 

 

Adam and I have written numerous episodes, in several formats. We’ve been very excited and also very cynical about its chances on TV. Every dummy has a show idea, and we’re funny dummies, but, y’know, still dummies.

Adam’s one of a big bunch of people who have been greatly supportive over the years. They’ve helped in many different ways, including with making the few short “teaser” episodes that exist.

At our high points, we got funding from the government to promote ourselves. We’ve chatted with production companies and networks about making the show. We’ve had a great producer and currently have a great animation company behind us.

The low points have been infrequent, but depressing, in the way failures often are. You’ve been there. You know what I mean.

And, though all this has been worthwhile as a learning process, the fact is: I’ve spent six years writing proposals and scripts and pitches… and it’s time for that to stop.

That’s why, come 2013, production will begin on a series of Precinct shorts. One minute episodes. Probably eight of them.

 

 

I don’t have funding or backing. That’s why I haven’t done this before now. As a freelance animator, finances have been wobbly enough that it seemed very risky to take a punt this big. I know eight minutes of animation doesn’t sound like a huge ask, but when you’re trying to pay bills, it’s a lot to add to your plate.

Still, others have done a lot more with a lot less, so it’s go time.

 

 

The plan has been to start pre-production as 2012 ends and work on it through a solid production period of several months, albeit one divided between the series and freelance work.

Budget will be my savings. So it will be miniscule by animation standards. I’m considering trying a small crowdfund whose goal would be to raise enough money to pay others to help me. We’ll see.

I’ve popped the new project on SPAA’s The Melting Pot site so you can see a bit more about what the series will be and what I’m hoping to find, help-wise.

Whatever happens: Precinct cartoons are coming! I may come looking for your help one day soon. Beware.

 

“Bret Braddock” drafting

I spoke on a panel at the Emerging Writers Festival last week and gave a little presentation on how I draft an episode of The Bret Braddock Adventures (a weekly webcomic about a lousy workplace you should really be reading).

They let me put up some images of the stages in doing one of these comics. I don’t reproduce them here to suggest anyone should work the same way, more because I’d never thought that much about my drafting process and was surprised at how much rewriting I do between roughs and final inks/shading.

Before I started on the new series of Braddock comics I plotted out an arc on little cards. They’ll change and switch order and be added to over time. But I know I’m trying to get to a particular ending within about forty pages.

This is the rough of the first new episode, #43. It recaps the previous episodes. It’s badly drawn, badly posed, overwritten. It was partially done on public transport. This is how I write the first draft.

These are the pencils. I use a blue pencil so I can ink over the top later. At this stage I tightened up the layout and drawing, e.g., in panel 3 I’ve separated Bret’s nasty daughter out more from the other characters. In every panel, words have been changed (and usually cut), even his speech bubble at the top right.

Inks are done, hopefully the drawings look OK. I used to fix everything digitally, until Ben Hutchings told me real men use paste-ups and liquid paper.

You can see in panel 2 of the roughs that Bret and Sally are facing 3/4 reverse. In the pencils I slipped and didn’t pay attention, and drew them looking more profile. Luckily I noticed and fixed this in the inks.

Lots of the lines have changed at ink stage. You can see that Bret’s line in panel 5 and the TV exec’s line in panel 6 have changed at every stage. I’ve probably still not fully happy with panel 5, but if I’m going to get one of these done a week I generally have to let it go at some point.

When I’m doing the grey shading I’m trying to smooth over any parts of the strip that aren’t clear, like making Sally pop out more in panel 6 by shading in the other characters. In that panel I’ve also tried to use the greys around the speech bubble pointers to make it clearer who’s speaking.

Thanks to Lisa and the EWF for getting me up to talk! And in such a swanky room, too.