Thoughts on selling an IP to a big network

I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought as to the ins and outs of pitching to a big network, like Disney and Nickelodeon. These are some of those thoughts:

Is it worth it? I guess so. But – it has it’s caveats.

If your IP gets selected, it’s great – it’s a pat on the back, and acknowledgement that ‘you did a good thing and someone will put money behind it. So, in the beginning stages, everything’s rosy – we’re all buddies, life is good, the horizon is endless and the future is built on dreams – ‘maybe my idea will be the next big thing and I’ll be living in a mansion in LA and my show will be on repeat on channel x’ mired with the small thought at the back of my mind ‘but maybe it won’t though.’ Anyways, contracts and signed, deposits are paid – ‘hey, I have some bucks! This is just the beginning.’ Work commences and onwards we go with developing the show or making the pilot.

With a big-gish project like this, support is thrown in every which way – mistake. If like me, you’re used to working alone, more people means you’ll now have even more gatekeepers to go through, more explaining to do, and your once great idea (which actually probably is great) is now being questioned from every angle by many people, each with their own ideas, and it slowly dawns on you that it’s going to take a lot of explaining to make this thing make sense. The worst is someone who feels it’s their job to change things. That person is costing money, slowing things down and detracting for everyone. (That said, I’ve worked with some great people who got the gist from the start and produced great work – much of the success of a job like this is about finding these people).

So, now your idea is exploded in a million little pieces, and you have to get it to make sense to people who are being paid, and you’re being paid. It can very easily become about the paying job now, and it’s easy to lose focus on the idea. What’s essentially happened is company x is paying your bills for a couple months which allows you to work on this great project you’ve created. However, when money’s involved, it seems as though people like to get their pound of flesh – in fact, with almost every network / studio, it seems like they want to own 100% of your idea.

Repeat: they will own 100% of your idea.

What you’re selling is *everything*. So, mid-way, you start thinking ‘hang on. They’re going to own everything, and they may not even use it? What’s the incentive now?’ You realise the amount of money that once sounded AWESOME, is running out, the process is taking longer than you anticipated, it’s more expensive, you’re working for far less over an extended period of time, the bright sheen of ‘being selected to work with a company that had a halo for you as a child’ is wearing off, you’re exhausted, and it’s become another service job. The difference to any other service job though is you may have been working on this idea for a long time already, you’re emotionally invested in it, and there seems to be a lot at stake.

I’ve never had a baby, but the thought dawns on you – I’m working so hard to make this baby, and they’re going to take my baby and may not even rear it into an adult, because then you realise – company x is signing up so many willing creators so often to hand over their baby’s, they don’t have time to attend to each one. And then the thought is ‘why am I giving them my best stuff?’

Anyways, being a professional, I do my best to deliver what I say I’m going to deliver, make it the best I can, and remember once again – don’t prostitute my best stuff again. Ever. Rather find a way to self-finance and just do it myself, on my own terms, answering to no-one, this makes it much easier to keep the focus on the idea. The world has changed – we don’t need network x or y. If an idea is good enough, an audience will find their way to see it through the Internet. Network x or y, or studio x or y is not my friend. It is a business that wants to make as much returns as possible no matter how shrouded in goodwill it is – I also want to make money, and don’t want to wake up 10 years later realising I’d have much better spent my time building my own brand instead of giving my best years away for a deal whose outcome is probably more uncertain than if I just did things myself.

I’ve had this conversation with a couple other creators and we are alarmed that we’re being asked to sign away 100% of the IP, and even more ridiculous is that we’re willingly agreeing to it. What’s happening is network x, y, z is signing up whoever, for not that much money, in a kind of ‘spread-bet’ strategy ‘in case’ someone has the ‘next big thing’. It’s not much outlay for them, but if something *did* work, they’d own 100% of it.

I’m already jaded after doing two of these projects. The ‘next big thing’ doesn’t really just happen like that – I believe Spongebob wasn’t received well at all when it first started airing, but after listening to the creator plea that they give it a chance, people warmed up to it after some time.

I know my 2 shows – ‘Moosebox’ with Nickelodeon and ‘Dogshow with Cat’ with Disney are excellent shows and absolutely will be the ‘next big thing’ if we just made them, didn’t overcomplicate matters, and put it out there. However, if they’re going to be tossed on top of a pile of other pilots, or put on the back-burner, not only is it frustrating for me as I’ve signed away all my rights to it and essentially need to consciously uncouple from these projects I’ve poured myself into, it feels like I’ve lost the months and years I spent on them.

Glad for the experience, definitely wiser for it. Would I pitch to a big network again? Nah. I don’t see the point anymore. It’s a bit like gambling, and if you ‘win’, you’ve actually lost in a way. The series that are being green-lit are from industry vets, and for my 2-cents aren’t really offering anything noteworthy, so while I can see myself as part of Africa’s animation story, and in many ways it’s great that these 1st world countries’ networks are giving a helping hand to Africa, it feels like charity somehow and I’m not sure how seriously we can take each other in such a situation. I also somehow feel embarrassed when I tell people “I’ve sold a show to Disney.”

I also feel I need to be able to be critical, because if I can’t, it’s something I’d rather not be part of. Yes, Disney laid it on for us in LA and yes Triggerfish gave us a great time during StoryLab, but I do realise what Disney and Nickelodeon is good at is putting stars in hungry young artist’s eyes, and if you’re not careful, you’ll sign away your best work for a pittance while they promise you the world.

The next illusion I need to dismantle is ‘I need to go to LA to crack the big time.’ I’m still trying to figure out if this is the case and if I should actively be pursuing this, or whether it’ll also be a case of ‘oh no I should have just stayed in South Africa if only I realised it was my difference that made me special now I’m just another LA douche.’

If I had a project picked up again, I’d do so on terms where I could work by myself, probably take myself away to Prince Albert for a month, and just try figure out what I have to say, what personal message I have to communicate, and offer something non-derivative. If the network / studio didn’t like what I had to offer, I’d like to good sense to take the deposit, miss out on the rest and walk away. Otherwise, it’s a compromise here, and compromise there, and *boom* – a year’s gone by, you’ve paid your bills and you could have used that time to work on your own projects and probably paid yourself better by taking on freelance jobs.

One way or another, been knocking some ideas about in my head for Bru & Boegie, have given myself one whole glorious month to focus on them – and luckily I’m able to make a short movie myself from start to finish – being able to produce a whole short is something I realised is fairly unique after having spent time around the industry for a while.

Artists have a long history of biting the hand that feeds them. I used to think ‘silly artists’ but I’m starting to see how it must be so. The money system is broken, the artist isn’t so much biting the benefactor’s hand, but the system’s hand. The ‘needing money to survive and being dictated to.’ A world without art is pointless. It’s important to me that I love the work I do, and need to realise that as soon as that changes, I’m doing myself and my client a disservice by continuing. My work is amazing when I’m doing what I love, and the onus is on me to tell my client when I’m being asked to deliver something that doesn’t agree with me. With limited time available on this Earth (as far as I know), I’d be much better spending it on stuff that I love, and not to keep learning the lesson ‘wow I don’t want to do that again.’

If you’d like to work for Disney / Nickelodeon, please be aware you’re making content for a particular audience, and there are a lot (A LOT) of restrictions on what you can and can’t do. If you’re an artist, before signing that deal, consider other avenues which may give you greater freedom of expression. TV is an outdated medium that’s slowly fading away. If you’re already familiar with what restrictions are in place and feel like you can work within these parameters to voice whatever idea you have, go at it. Please understand, when company x says they’re looking for ‘strong voices’, understand what they really mean is they’re looking for ‘compliant voices’ – you’re likely to be challenged every time you use your strong voice, and if you feel like you’re offering something new, it’s worth asking yourself whether you’d like to be fighting every step of the way. If you go into it realising you’re going to be compromising a lot, it’s likely to be a much more pleasant ride for both you and company x,y,z. Does democracy produce great work? I don’t think so. In fact I’d say it never does.

I remember reading a quote from one of the creatives who was responsible for Spongebob during its nascent stages: “Everything you see up on screen is a compromise.”

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End of 2016

Hey guys.

So. The end of 2016. What a year, what a year. It’s truly been one of the busiest years I’ve had. Went overseas. Disney trip to LA where they kept telling us we’re the future but we’re wondering if they really mean it, a road trip with buddies from LA to San Francisco over a few days, Joburg and Cape Town a few times, Afrika Burn, Otter Trail, I put in 2 offers to buy a house but both were refused (kind of thankful for that, but also it had an amazing big study with a view. Hmm), Mauritius to make video games, and loads of kiff stuff inbetween. I also reconnected with an old flame which was quite amazing, and though it was brief it was nonetheless special.

Firstly, some artwork from my ‘Dogshow with Cat’ show mini pitch bible that Disney and Triggerfish invested in, and is now being shopped around to various interested parties and distributors.

I guess this is the part that’s called ‘Production Hell’ because Disney will only invest further once a distributor’s on board, so with so much money at stake, I guess it’s tricky to ensure returns and to instil that confidence. All I know is the show is amazing, it’s changed a lot since the 2-min pilot, it’s got a killer pilot script, the characters are awesome, they have a great thing going between them, and we’ll see if the distributors see the same kiffness that I do. I have a couple regrets I guess, that’s letting my guard down once or twice with decisions made to what should be included in the show bible – I did a great cactus dude that was taken out, I was tired by the end of it so didn’t challenge the decision enough to get him back in. A few silly jokes that I thought were funny that I’d have wanted to include but didn’t because I wondered if others may not get it. The whole experience was a fight from start to finish to get what I wanted and to protect that still small voice / flame that can so easily be destroyed by louder voices or blown out by committee-decisions, and it left me exhausted for a while. If nobody buys into it, s’all good, learn from this, move on to the next thing and make it even better.

With my brief experience on Moosebox and Dogshow with Cat, I can boil down the advice to this. People can explain away anything. ANYthing. And they’ll make it sound like something should be this way or that way. Don’t listen to them. AT ALL. IT’S A TRAP. They’ll lead you down the garden path, YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT, EVERY TIME. Even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong, YOU’RE RIGHT. It’s your show and you KNOW when something should be this way or that, you don’t need to explain it. Better to fail on your own terms than try and get a better chance of success trying to please everyone else, and still fail. It’s also easier for everyone if you just say THIS IS THE WAY IT IS and leave it at that. Trying to be a gentleman / nice guy / people pleaser and going ‘hmm that’s an interesting idea’ when you KNOW it’s wrong for your show is a BAD IDEA and WRONG, unless you’re into wasting yours and everybody else’s time. If you bend easily you’ll end up with something that isn’t a unique point of view, but rather a generic idea that’s fine for a committee. I’m going for that unique point of view, and that may mean saying ‘no’ a lot.

Now we’re in December, we made a bunch of Kiffness t-shirts to sell, they sold well at gigs. Though I’m probably going to keep KIFFSTUFF.COM for my own wares, you can still buy the few ‘Brokaleh’ shirts I have!

#Repost @lindutoit with @repostapp ・・・ #kifffans #kiffshirts #kiffnight #thekiffness

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yoh yoh yoh. Sold out show, had to turn peeps away, sold lank merch. Nice one @thekiffness

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I’ve ordered a Yoco credit card machine that I ended up not using due to me not really being part of The Kiffness merch situation, it feels like I should step away from that. In all fairness though, the shirts are cool and I’m glad I decided to print the ‘Brokaleh’ design because at first my brother was going to pass on it and I decided to just print some anyway. It’s been a best-seller. Earlier in the year I’ve met with Clayton, the owner of Surf Cafe in Plett to have my bro play some gigs there. We eventually got it together and the first Kiffness this last Friday was sold out! Great success.

I’ve been busy with a couple projects for this end of year. I finished a new animated Goldfish music video a couple weeks ago but it hasn’t been released as their record label has a release plan for the song, and that impacts the release of the video. Here are a few sneaky stills:

I’ve also been doing this fairly big project, a 6+ minute retrospective narrative story from a previous Olympics 400m relay silver medalist. It’s all been done in 8-bit pixel art style. I’ve brought on Ben Rausch who I (finally) met in Mauritius who did some great stuff, and unfortunately another pixel-buddy from the US who’s previously done some great work for me, let me down after repeatedly assuring me he’d send through the remaining big 16-second shot, and then going silent. Anyways, I’ve done the shot myself this last weekend, learned some Aseprite (a pixel program) in the process, and the short is pretty much done, and THAT is my final commercial gig for the year!

Here’s some footage of a game called Yojimbrawl that I helped with in Mauritius. I did quite a few pixel animations of the fighter, and 2 backgrounds – the brown forest with a Buddha levitating, and the brown bridge with the bell.

I’ve put a pencil-line through Jan to work on Bru & Boegie 🙂 and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve made enough tom this year to support myself for a month or two, and for a holiday to Japan next year hopefully, so, that’s all worth looking forward to.

Here’s also some footage of ‘Frog Smashers’, a game I made with Ruan Vermeulen from Free Lives. It should be getting a public release as soon as I can finish off some of the art for it:

It’s flippen’ fun to play. The idea is to try hit the other frogs out the screen. Local co-op. Here are some videos of us playing it in Mauritius:

❤️

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Also, they filmed a documentary while we were there in Mauritius and I starred in a few of them! It’s worth watching the whole series (link) from start to finish as it gives a great behind-the-scenes peek into videogame development:

I did these 10-second shorts with my buddy James Wolfaardt for a company in Boston called ‘Cartuna’ that were doing them for a company called ‘Brother’ for SnapChat. I got a few lines brief for each short, explained to James the tech specs, he drew the still images, I added animation frames and got stuff moving, my bro David Scott aka The Kiffness did the sound, and there ya go:

All in all, busy year, really looking forward to resting. Already been surfing these last few days, has been lovely. Even tried stand-up-paddle boarding in the sea, and my partner and I did an evening Moonrise paddle board with a buddy and a crew he took out which was nice. Unfortunately a Great White Shark took a big chunk out of someone’s canoe recently in Plett, so, that’s been a bit of a cooler for the surfing. Damn. I thought the shark activity had died down a lot.

Games-wise, highlights are Rocket League, Batman: Arkham Knight and INSIDE on PS4. Worth a mention – other games I enjoyed a lot this year: Parappa the Rapper 2, Grim Fandango Remake, Day of the Tentacle Remake, Journey HD, Wipeout 2048. Got a PS Vita and recently got a 32GB card for it, so I can install more of my library onto it. I just got Overwatch for PS4 but haven’t really tried getting into it. My next game is prob ‘The Last Guardian’.

Thanks for reading, even if it’s only my friend James and my mom that comment. They’re da bes.

New Stuff end Oct 2016

Friends. My friends onna Intanet. And real friends. Welcome to the house of PAIN. Jks. Thanks for reading.

Some new things!

First up, I designed this mascot dude for the first ever ‘South African Adaptive Surfing’ championship that took place in Muizenberg, Cape Town. Here’s this bunny:

adaptive_surfing_poster_v1

Kiff. And then I designed a sticker set for iOS 10! Funimalz, available on the App Store!

stickersfunimalz_v1

funimalz_appstore

Aaand then, I inked and coloured some stickers for Triggerfish’s ‘Khumba’ sticker set, sketched up Lorraine Alvarez Posen. I don’t know if they’re available yet in the App Store:

khumba_stickers_v1

And then my bro and I collab’d to make this single design for his new song with Josh Wantie, which is a kiff song. My bro did all the concept work, I just neatened it up:

love_go_cold_single_design

Then I did this Medical Chronicle cartoon:

medchron_sept_2016

Then I’m busy laying out a book that my mom Susan Scott and her friend and collaborator Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D wrote called ‘Aging & Becoming’, it’s pretty much done and looks like a great book. Been an interesting challenge because traditionally my type layout skills haven’t been that hot, but, I’m learning. I followed this great tutorial on how to lay out a book properly and set it up the right way in Indesign. I figured I may as well learn how to do it right from the start:

aging_becoming_v1

Then I got a job from this Boston / US based company that’s making 10 second shorts for another company for SnapChat. I gave the boarding and character design work to James Wolfaardt and my bro did the music and sfx. I animated it. This is the result:

ysthumbs2

Then I did a review of my Wacom Cintiq 22″ HD vs. my olde Wacom Cintiq 12″:

Then my Pac-Man vid Carl Douglas and I did for Take has clocked over half a million views! Rad:

I’ve also put up a couple tutorials for using Toon Boom Harmony Premium 14. I bought the upgrade recently and have to admit, I’ve been loving it. Has sped up my workflow a lot, the node view has made comp’ing way easier, the top light is a life-saver for dimming other layers when onion-skinning, I take my hat off to Toon Boom because I’ve slated their previous stuff, I bought TB Animate 2 and it frustrated the heck out of me.

THEN I’ve pretty much finished a brand new Goldfish music video! Hopefully it’ll be released soon. That’s been on the cooker for a while now and most of the production was done this month (it’s been a busy month).

Crunch time weeeoooeee!!! 🙂 going kiff.

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A video posted by mikdog (@mikdog) on

Full list of contributors to this vid on release. Has been a pleasure working with others on this.

AND THEN tomorrow I fly to Joburg, and then off to Mauritius to join Free Lives who are busy making videogames there! Rad! You can check the video documentary they’ve made about the experience thus far here:

I also finished making this short for some US comedians but will post that once they put it up.

In other news, put in an offer for a house three times, offer wasn’t accepted. Planning to spend January working on Bru & Boegie stuff, the voices we recorded for this new Beatboxing Dave short are (I think) hilarious, and I recommend a free program called ‘Post Haste‘ for generating a consistent folder structure before you start projects to make backing stuff up easier and general workflow better, and I’ve been enjoying this (paid for) app called ‘Paste‘ for Mac that lets you keep 500 or more ‘copy’ histories, you know every time you CMD+C to copy something then accidentally copy over it with something else and think ‘ah man’? Now you can copy loads of things and paste selectively. So obvious that this should be incorporated into an OS.

Also, shout-out to some hardware: my 2011 iMac that is still running like a beast. It earns me bucks by being fast and responsive and reliant, it’s a maxed out custom-order iMac with a fancy graphics card, and SSD and HDD and 16GB memory and has done me so well ever since I’ve had it – I can run Photoshop smoothly while Premiere’s rendering video and loads of other apps are open at the same time, without it breaking a sweat. Great machine. I found it off Gumtree from a guy who had just taken order of it after waiting the 6-8 weeks delivery it takes for a custom order, and he just got a job at the Apple store so he was able to get an even bigger discount for himself.

My RCT 2000 VAS UPS, a recent addition. I plug my Wacom Cintiq and iMac into it and when there’s a power outage it kicks in automatically and keeps things running, allowing me enough time to save my work and power down properly. Has paid for itself very quickly. I’d consider a UPS a must for anyone owning an iMac.

Wacom Cintiq 22″. I was skeptical about the outlay to get this thang but it is so kiff and WAY better than my Cintiq 12″. Amanda told me she’s spend anything if it helps speed up work, and she’s right. As my friend and ex-boss Andy Wood used to say:

“Don’t Neglect Your Tools.”