“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!




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.

SBS/Film Victoria presentation

Click for full size


I’ve been mostly working on comics lately, so my animated project The Precinct has only occasionally peeped out for a sniff of air, but yesterday I went to a Film Victoria presentation by a group of SBS staff and took some pictorial notes.

Here they are, in case you’d like to learn what they’re up to over there (heavily flavoured by my own POV. Don’t assume anything is a direct quote unless it’s in “quotes”).

The general theme was, “We’ve had no money for a few years, but we have some now, so we’re going to do stuff with it”. Go SBS!



There were probably lots of big TV/film producers there, but since I don’t know who they are, I was very pleased to encounter the (just as big, but more animation-friendly) Ivan Dixon from Rubber House, Peter Viska and Kate Mills from Viskatoons and director “Tall” Paul Andersen.



OH! And here’s what you can expect from the Q&A at an event like this:



The Precinct — SBS submission

Finally, some Precinct work again!

I’m putting together a new submission to SBS for The Precinct. We’ve actually submitted The Precinct to SBS twice before, but those proposed different show formats and lengths, and we’ve developed our ideas a lot more since then, especially thanks to our being funded to work on cross-platform strategy by the good people at Film Victoria and MEGA.

One new idea was a series of short interstitial cartoons, called Deadly Secrets of The Precinct, which would tell individual, self-contained little stories about the cops at The Precinct. There’d be lots of flashbacks to their seamy pasts, mostly to the 1980s.

The Precinct's '80s flashbacks will take on a "CGA-style" colour palette.

At some point I decided the ’80s flashback scenes should take on the CGA colour palette (to evoke a “look” of the time), so I did some art to show how that might appear (above).

I’m just popping that comparison into the submission now. The basic proposal is that we produce fifteen 90 second episodes of Deadly Secrets of The Precinct: twelve would appear on TV, in the Monday night or Saturday night “fun time” blocks, and three would be online-exclusive, to get people checking the whole series out on the SBS website.

Even now that everybody’s predicting the swift death of TV, I think it’s important we get an Aussie TV channel on board with what we’re doing.

I’m in favour of just making more new Precinct animation without support (and will soon, if I have time aside from the John Howard’s Knees film and other stuff), but I still feel strongly that there’s a place for Precinct on TV. Even on free-to air!

But at the moment, that place is only a minute or two long…

Precinct planning resumes

I went to COMICS CAMP a couple weekends ago, and since then I’ve been hard into (my day job, my freelance work, and also) my two current projects: a short film called John Howard’s Knees and the animated cop show currently known as The Precinct.

While I was on comics camp (which I blogged more extensively about over here), I spent some time putting my Precinct plans into comics form (sometimes I find it easier to think about stuff when it’s drawn rather than just written down).

The idea involves the funding and production of a series of one minute Precinct episodes introducing the characters:

“ABSBSBC” refers to the two local TV networks I think the show is appropriate for, ABC and SBS.

Hopefully “FILM SCREEN VICSTRALIA COMMISSION” doesn’t need explanation.

I’ve been meeting with some smart, creative people I know and asking for their advice on this plan, which has been very helpful. I’ve also been asking about their ratio of businessy work (which makes the creative possible) compared to the creative work itself. In other words: how much time do you spend on the business end of things?

One successful producer of TV and film said “20%:80%” (in favour of creative). I hope to get to this ratio one day!