THIS Is How to Make an Animation Pitch Bible That Sells Your Show For You
One of the most important tools you can use to sell your idea is the pitch bible. This uber-important document can make or break your chance of getting your cartoon made.
Since your amazing idea isn’t tangible, you’ll need something that is. Something that allows the development exec the opportunity to really digest it, and share with their colleagues and boss. A skeleton key that will open the door of acceptance.
And that tangible thing is your pitch bible. (Also called a pitch document or pitch deck)
Some common questions I’ve heard are: What should I put in my pitch document? How long should it be? Why are you smiling like that?
The simple answer is: Everything that makes your show stand out. Some people spend tons of money printing full-color, glossy, poster board presentations, and others just have a one-sheet with art on the back. I’ve seen both approaches work.
The truth is, there is no hard and fast rule to what your pitch document consists of. It needs to be long enough to do its job. But not too big!
That is, to entice the team of execs that your show idea is worth developing after you’ve left the building. It needs to not only represent your idea and characters, but also convey your skills, passion, and personality.
After your pitch, your pitch document will be tossed on the corner of a desk, on a stack of other pitches, right next to a quirky desk toy. It might not get touched again for that day, or week.
When it’s re-read, it needs to zap the exec’s memory, reminding her of how excellent you and your show idea are.
“Oh yeah,” she’ll think to herself, “This was that hilarious pitch with those breakdancing hats! I’m going to share it with the boss. Right after this kale smoothie.”
That document needs to sing!
It’s got to be impressive. Why? Because the amount of time the boss looks at your pitch bible will be exactly 1/5th of the time the first exec spent looking at it.
The short list of what your pitch bible needs:
The front cover that features an amazing piece of art that shows tone, genre, and personality in one glance.
A clear, tight description of your show. 4-5 sentences tops. Remember to show off your creative voice and tone!
Your contact information. But only if you want to see the inside of their offices ever again. Don’t forget this.
If those first two things aren’t as solid as your aunt’s biceps, the third one might as well be written in Aramaic.
What do you mean “an amazing piece of art?” Unless you are a professional artist, you should NOT, I repeat, should NOT include any art in your pitch.
If you’re reading this, you’re smart enough to know that animation is a visual medium, and your art will make or break you. Your awful art will make you look like an amateur. It will ruin your pitch, and you won’t be invited back.
Now, it doesn’t have to be finished art. If you’re an artist, and you can make the character’s personality shine from a rough sketch, that’s okay to share.
The art should feature your character doing something. Every (good) picture tells a story. You’d be surprised by how many times I’ve seen pitches with characters just standing there. No personality whatsoever.
It can be the most incredible drawing in the world, but if that character isn’t showing me some kind of personality, MISSION: FAILED.
If it’s a comedy, that character better be doing something funny. If it’s an action show, that character needs to be doing something active. If it’s an action show about fighting hats, you better show some fierce hat-on-hat action.
The development exec’s boss is busier than you think. They only have a few seconds to speed read and pass judgment on your pitch bible. Make those seconds worth their time. Make them want to work with you!
Bonus tip: Consider making a tagline that you would see on your hypothetical poster for your show. “Some hats are worn. These hats are war-torn!” BATTLE HATS! I came up with that in 4 seconds. I know you can do better.
Now, a tagline isn’t mandatory, but a strong one will make your pitch stand out and not easily forgotten. I’ll never forget the poster to Beverly Hills Chihuahua. It simply read, “I, Chihuahua”. Painfully simple, yet, it lives on in my mind years later.
Two more items you should include: a brief bio, and a copyright line. You want to show off your experience, and you want to protect your property, right? So don’t forget these!
Now, let’s break down what each section of an animation pitch bible entails.
Remember, this isn’t just for your benefit. You’ll be leaving a copy or two with the development exec.
Hook – The logline that describes your project. Also called the high concept pitch. One or two sentences that best describe it. Be sure to include the twist!
Cover art – If you can draw, (or know someone who can), that cover image can make or break your idea. People do judge a book by its cover. Execs judge a pitch by the first piece of art they see. Make it amazing.
Set up – Describe what makes your world special and unique, yet recognizable. Are there certain rules or laws that are a major force within your world? (Like the Force in Star Wars.) A good simile goes a long way.
Main Character(s) – Arguably the most important section in your entire pitch. Your show needs a main character who is not just interesting, cool, and/or funny, but who execs can see as a representative of their network. Someone their audience will love, want to root for, want to be, or want to be with. How does your main character see the world that you just set up? Again, similes and metaphors are your squad homies here.
This is optional, but a quote from each character can sell their personalities in a way their descriptions can’t.
I’m sounding like a looping Vine video, but try to elicit some sort of emotion from the exec. Make them care about your main characters. If they care, they’ll believe their target audience will care. (Although not always the case.)
It’s tricky to do in a pitch document description, but it will certainly help more than hurt. How? Here are a few simple elements you can add to your protagonist—don’t use them all on one character though! *These are not absolute requirements, merely healthy suggestions!
– Loss of loved ones or parents, for example. Disney movies are notorious for this. See also the origin stories of Harry Potter, Batman, Spiderman, and many more.
– The audience tends to root for the characters that choose to hold back their true power unless absolutely necessary. Anime characters like Saitama from One Punch Man and Goku come to mind.
Great sense of humor
– Everybody loves the class clown right?
– These are the characters that sacrificially put others before themselves. They’re so likable! Superman comes to mind.
A strong desire of the heart
– An audience tends to sympathize with a character that is so obsessed with getting something, they go to great lengths to obtain it. That “it” could be a Red Ryder BB gun, the last slice of pizza, or revenge.
Antagonists and Supporting Characters
– Who do your main characters hang out with? Who is his or her biggest rival?
Only include the important recurring characters. If you dedicate two full pages on the main character’s parents, they had better be an integral part of the show!
Don’t write generic descriptions for the characters in your pitch bible, even the supporting ones. Give them flaws. Make them interesting. Show their outlook on life, and what they think of the other characters. “Sally Sombrero can’t stand Freddy Fedora’s constant demand for high-fives.”
There’s comedy in specificity. Don’t just say, “She annoys her neighbors.” Say, “Her 4 a.m. ritual of practicing peacock calls on her neighbor’s lawn is frowned upon.”
Pro tip: Rivals and villains are extremely important in storytelling. Some would say they’re even more important than your protagonist. Make them strong and memorable. The better the villain, the better the hero will look after they defeat the villain!
Not just for action-adventure shows either, this goes for comedies as well. Just remember that if your target audience is children, not to make the villains too scary, mmkay?
Episode Ideas – Write a quick log line for 5-7 different types of stories that could take place in your show. Variety is your friend. Don’t keep repeating the same story about the quest for the missing MacGuffin.
Unless they say otherwise, network execs are looking to develop and greenlight a series, not a one-off special. They need to see that your concept has legs. Episode ideas also show off your storytelling ability, and sell the tone of your show.
Consider including a piece of art that serves as a snapshot for each episode. As the unforgettable saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand something-somethings.
Each studio or network has its own unique requirements for submitting a pitch. Some only want to see an animatic with rough dialogue. Some want a finished script. Others may want to see the educational value and curriculum that your will feature. Some don’t care to see potential episode ideas, but most do. You can find detailed pitch information on their websites, so do your research!
Check out this fantastic article that tells the Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching with Linda Simensky, the Vice President of Children’s Programming at PBS. She shares a TON of useful advice, such as the key ingredients of a pitch bible: Your one-liner, characters, setting, story ideas, curriculum (if necessary), team description, and cleverly designed artwork.
One of the many interesting gems of advice she says relates to you and your team’s experience: A team should address different strengths, particularly story, design, and experience. “Experience is a big thing, if you want to make a show, you [or prominent members of your team] should work on someone else’s show.
Finally, here’s an example of a solid pitch bible totally worth checking out: Adventure Time by Pendleton Ward.