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Legal Tips for US Animation Pros: Bringing Your Projects to Life

Tags: How To Pitching Professional Animator Animation Pro

As a professional animator, one of your goals for your animation is to see it come to life for a broader audience. That usually means in movies or television. You may already have the entire series laid out in your mind, including the characters, the landscape, the theme, and possibly even the music. However, you may not have the funding or the capacity to bring it to full broadcast. Pitching your animation series idea to secure funding or to have it produced is a process you need to prepare for, which includes being aware of the legal issues involved.


Preparing the Concept: Pitches on Paper (POP)


American copyright law states that ideas are not protectable. That includes animation program concepts and themes. What is protectable is the tangible expression of the idea. Pitches on paper (POP) allow you to have something in a tangible form regarding your idea. The idea itself is not protected, but the way you envision it and have described it in the POP is. There is a specific format for POPs, which need to include a logline and synopsis. For animation, a character or production bible is sometimes also created to showcase the animated characters. POPs can be registered with the US Copyright Office as a literary work. You can also copyright the characters as a visual art. Standard in the industry is to have the POP registered with the Writer's Guild of America (WGA). There is a WGA-East and a WGA-West for each coast respectively. You can then put the WGA registration number on the POP underneath the title. In addition, having a sizzle reel or short pilot to show how the characters interact can help the person who is to receive the pitch visualize the concept.


Submitting the Concept: Concept Call


Sometimes a network will put out a call for requests, looking for professional animators with new animation program concepts. Nick Jr. (cable) and BatteryPop (online network) both did that earlier this year. In their call, they will outline specific instructions as to what exactly you should submit, including a signed submission agreement. Read that agreement carefully, as it will lay out what the expectations are for the concept, as well as what happens to the concept once you submit it. For example, they may indicate that if your concept is selected they will offer you a certain amount of money to produce it, or they may produce it themselves in exchange for ALL the rights to the program (characters and all).


Submitting the Concept: Pitch Festivals


Another way to get your concept in front of a producer or network executive is to attend a pitch festival – these are events where a number of networks and production companies make themselves available for a few hours or days and listen to individuals who have about five minutes to "sell" their idea. For example, there's the Great American Pitchfest in Hollywood in June and Kidscreen Summit in New York in February. Keep in mind you will be one of many hundreds or even thousands of others who have the next big thing. There are also fees involved, so it's important to read the fine print on the registration forms.


Submitting the Concept: Industry Calls


Having a friend in the business is always nice, but not everyone has that advantage. Many networks and production companies do not take "cold call" inquiries and will not accept "unsolicited materials" for fear of being sued for stealing the show concept. An attorney or agent can be a useful ally to get through the gatekeepers and set up the initial meeting. It's important to have an agreement with the attorney or agent to agree on what they will do for you and how much they expect to be paid for doing so. Sometimes it's a percentage of the overall deal and sometimes it is an hourly rate. Keep in mind that production companies and networks may not be open to signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before viewing your pitch, so you will have to trust them with your concept.


Pitch Meeting and Follow-Up


Be prepared during the pitch meeting (whether at a festival or one-on-one) to answer questions not just about the concept and the characters, but also about some of the business issues – such as social media outreach and merchandising potential of the animation franchise. Proceed as if you were going to an interview, and bring at least two other concepts in your back pocket. Even if they love your pitch, they'll probably still ask "what else ya got?"

If they love your idea and end up handing you a contract, don't forget to get it reviewed by an attorney BEFORE you sign.