Animation : How Easy Is It to Sell Animation Scripts? by Lauran Childs

Lauran Childs

How Easy Is It to Sell Animation Scripts?

A while ago I looked into selling an animation script I'm working on and got the impression that if you don't work for DreamWorks, forget it. A lot of things have been changing very quickly in the film industry, do you think it's easier to sell an animation script now? And where? Below is a poster of what I'm currently working on - making a movie called 'Killer Eyes'. Feel free to check it out at www.KillerEyesMovie.com. Thanks!

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Devon McBride-Wilson

Hi Lauran, From what I've read and partially experienced myself, SELLING an animated feature script is very, very rare. The number of studios in North America who do feature animation (as opposed to television/web) is pretty low and most of those prefer to do in-house or Intellectual Property development. You might expand your opportunities a bit by looking outside of North America. But don't be afraid to use your script as a writing sample/calling card. Though it may not sell, if the writing is good enough, they may remember you for future script assignments. However, if instead you had an animated television series idea, then it's a bit more open. There are significantly more North American studios/production companies producing animated series. It'd still be rare to, you know, get your series made if you don't have contacts/experience, but it has indeed happened.

Laurie Ashbourne

The odds of selling any script are difficult to get past, but with animation it's true it is even more so. BUT as you said it is changing and changing quickly. The biggest issue is that an animated feature takes hundreds of dedicated crew an average of 4 years to make. That's why studios develop from within because they have invested in the infrastructure and contracts of these resources. An animated script is NEVER finished in that reality. Story artists take pages and completely re-imagine them, the boards are pitched and put on reels at minimum 8 times as a full work in progress before it goes into production and then each scene and sequence are yet again re-imagined by voice artists, directors and animators and workbook artists. That's the bad news reality. The good news reality is that if animation is your passion, there are many avenues into the industry where you 'could' one day do your own film idea. But it sounds like you have a script that fits the animation genre. I would just focus on the story if it's good there are a few production companies that work differently than the studio system AND if it's good it could just be a great writing sample so that when a Dreamworks or Paramount has an OWA you have that sample to present for the job. That's how Jennifer Lee became an animation writer and even Ted Elliot and Terry Rosio came from the live action world and were hired as project writers. The other thing to look out for is in the very near future there will be a platform that will connect animation talent globally so that work can be done in the cloud at a fraction of the studio cost and there will no doubt be a place for writers within that reality. So for now, make sure the script is the best it can be and look out for pitches on here that are looking for animation (they pop up frequently).

Lauran Childs

Thanks Devon, that's the impression I'd gotten! Seems a shame.

Lauran Childs

Just looked at your profile Devon - nice cartoon image!

Lauran Childs

Thanks Laurie, when I see those numbers I get the point that no wonder animation films tend to come from big studios. But why couldn't someone make an animation film as an indie? Probably people do but I just haven't noticed.

Laurie Ashbourne

They do, Lauran but typically it's a limited release or straight to VOD because it takes a ton to market them. It will change, and soon, with the technology and streaming services.

Devon McBride-Wilson

It takes a lot more time, effort and (often) resources to make a feature-length animated feature of any kind. Animated shorts, indie or not, are much more common - anything from half an hour down to two minutes.

Paul Abramson

I agree with Devon. It is a hard sell. A lot of the major studio productions are in-house. You should look to international sources. Good sources of information on what is selling are: Animation World Network, ASIFA Hollywood, and Kid Screen Magazine. All can be found online.

Regina Lee

Indie animation - a cautionary tale. This type of thing doesn't happen often. It's very, very rare. http://www.thewrap.com/legends-of-oz-box-office-flop-investors/

Laurie Ashbourne

Regina, do you mean the debacle of the 'OZ' project or successful indie animation features? It's a shame what happened to the creatives behind 'OZ" they are fantastic people. Sadly, many talented animation artists and directors have been swindled with the prospect of investors. Look at what happened with Digital Domain in Florida. As with ANY investment or business partnership due diligence would have avoided this debacle. The slide deck alone is full of everything BUT the numbers surrounding the actual film. All that said, indie animation is big business -- especially if it is content with International appeal and characters that can translate to a merchandise set. Even if indie animation has been typically of inferior quality in production and story, the landscape will be changing radically in the years to come with technology enabling 'Disney quality' at indie prices and a ton of Disney quality filmmakers looking for work on their own terms.

Regina Lee

I meant the debacle doesn't happen very often, and relatively speaking, indie animated features pop up less frequently in comparison to animated features financed by major financing entities. Weren't Doogal, Sprung, Gnomeo, etc. all financed by big players like Pathe, Canal, Miramax, etc.? None were true indies, right? I could be wrong. I guess it also depends on how you define "indie." (I know Bonne from Curious George. I was sorry to read that article!)

Paul Abramson

There is a common misconception about animaation. It is not a genre. It is a medium. Indeed, it is big busines. What makes it unique is that the best animation in the world cannot save a bad screenplay,, but an exccellent screenplay can save bad animation. My point is have a solid story firrst and foremost. Indie or not Indie, it doesn't matter.

Regina Lee

Technically, of course Paul is right. And, man I hate to sound like a nit-picker, but Animation is essentially a genre for classification purposes. Because Netflix, Best Buy, Amazon, Blockbuster (when there was a Blockbuster), etc. have a "shelf" for Animation. For practical, classification purposes.

Laurie Ashbourne

Absolutely. 'Technically' nearly every film (sans micro budget) has animation in it via VFX/CG. But when writing FOR animation there are components to the script that must lend itself to the medium.

GiVan Johnson

Paul, Regina, Laurie, I agree with you guys, THE INDREDIBLES is one my favorite action movies.

Laurie Ashbourne

Can hardly wait for #2, GiVan!

Paul Abramson

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT is the best tribute to toons ever. That's what I think of when I talk about animation. TOONS! The Loonier the better.

Laurie Ashbourne

A man after my heart, Paul. After seeing that movie, I knew what I wanted to do for a living.

Erin Hill

Cartoons are great and all but I'm really interested in the anime industry, the writers take the full translation from Japanese and need to change it so it sounds good in English for English Dub

Charles G. Masi

Okay, Lauren. I have to ask: why do you want to make "Killer Eyes" animated? I've dabbled in animation (I'm a multimedia artist) as well as live action and a mixture of both (a la Roger Rabbit), and would never animate something I could shoot in live action. It's WAY too hard to get right! I'm nearing the end of shooting a live-action microbudget short that has a 30-sec animated first scene. It's only animated because I'm not going to build -- and wreck -- a 16th century sailing ship just to set up a treasure-hunt story. I haven't read your script, but there's nothing in your logline or website that couldn't be filmed, so why ask for trouble? By the way, I like the story concept.

Mike Blum

Couple things: 1) You need to know the marketplace. Hard truth -- Killer Eyes will not sell either domestically or internationally as an animated feature. Fact is 90+% of all animated features are comedy forward. And look at your poster -- you have a photo of a woman selling your project. It's a disconnect. This is not a comment on the quality of your project -- it might be an awesome script, but you should look to make it live action. +Charles Masi is right on. 2) There are tons of indie animated features being made around the world. Budgets range from 500K to 30M. Most you won't see in theaters (at least in the US), but this is a burgeoning field with a lot of new players and a lot off money coming from China. And you will see more and more of these films over the next few years. Many high quality films are in production right now.

Paul Abramson

The rule in the animation business is if it doesn't need to be animated, don't animate.

Laurie Ashbourne

I don't think Lauren was referring to KILLER EYES when she was asking about animation, it's something else she is currently working on. Paul, you are correct!

Lauran Childs

Yes Laurie, the question was about another script. Mike - any idea who to approach for Chinese funding?

Mike Blum

Honestly, unless you have a track record in animation or are going in with someone established, it's gonna be tough for you. I can tell you that many, many indie studios are getting all or some of their funding via the far east or middle east. That includes vanguard, patchwork, wonderworld, etc. most chinese companies won't talk to people they don't have a relationship with but if you have a kick ass script you might get Xing Xing to read. again, if you are coming from outside the industry i'd strongly advise partnering with others. it's a truism that companies buy people as much as ideas. good luck.

Paul Abramson

Mr. Blum has a point. Animation or not, people want to place their money into something they are confident will result in a valuable return on their investment. The movie business is just that - a business. It is business first and art second. Many of you will disagree with me, but money will always be a major factor. If you truly wish to meet the right - repeat right - people in the animation business, contact the International Animated Film Society (ASIFA). If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, head north on Buena Vista, make a right on Burbank Boulevard, about two blocks east on your right-hand side you will find a one-story building with the words ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. This is the headquarters of the Los Angeles / Hollywood chapter. Ask for Steve Worth. Their web address is http://www.asifa-hollywood.org/ Tell them Paul Abramson sent you. ASIFA-Hollywood is the organization that puts on the prestigious Annie Awards, the industry's major stepping stone to the Academy Awards.

Laurie Ashbourne

In regards to Chinese funding what Mike says is true, also be aware that they are looking scripts that have an inherent merchandising tie-in. I had the leader of an investment fund ask me last week to send him anything I had that could easily have an 8-pack of character figures sold.

Paul Abramson

Ms. Ashbourne, would you please forward to me contact information for that investment fund of which you spoke? I have several projects available with marketable toy tie-ins.

Laurie Ashbourne

Sorry, Paul. Could you imagine if I shared a film fund leader's contact information on a public forum to someone I don't know at all? Not only would that investor have go into hiding and change all of his contact information, but I would no longer be on his list of people he trusts.

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