Starting at Hanna-Barbera in 1992 it was clear I wanted the studio to produce short cartoons, but I was only beginning to figure out how we should actually go about it.
Anyone who would listen I’d talk to about shorts. And I picked up tips anywhere I could.
Buzz Potamkin was our new head of production. His New York studio had produced my original MTV “Moonman” animation before he packed it in to go to Hollywood to make Saturday morning shows, and over the years he’d given me a pretty fair education on how TV cartoon studios worked in general, and in particular how Hanna-Barbera had gotten into the sad shape it was in. Together with my operating partner Jed Simmons we figured we could credibly ask for enough money from our boss Scott Sassa to make 48 short cartoons. It would cost about the same as two series, but instead of two chances to succeed (or fail, like with 2 Stupid Dogs or SWAT Kats)) we’d have 48. “Scott, I know I know nothing about making cartoons. But with 48 shots even someone as ignorant as me can hit,” I pleaded.
John Kricfalusi had long preached the difference between traditional writers and cartoon-artist-as-writers (“Fred, every writer puts a cartoon scene in where ‘the bomb blows up in his face’ and thinks it’s funny. A bomb going off is not funny! It’s how the face looks before the bomb, how long it waits to blow up, how it blows up, and what happens after it blows up that might be funny. An artist shows you that.”) and I bought it hook, line, and sinker.
As a pitcher and buyer of shows I knew the limitations of the traditional pitch: Here’s the idea, here’s two pages describing the idea, and here’s a few pictures of what the idea might look like. After listening to folks like Friz Freleng, Joe Barbera, and Chuck Jones talk about shorts pitches back in the day, I determined we would only put a short into production after a full storyboard pitch from the artist originating it. Please show us the actual film you want to make, not describe the idea of the film. I’d been in advertising long enough to know the difference between an idea and the actual execution; the gap was light years. If we saw the storyboard we’d have some idea of whether or not the creator had any real notion of cartoons (versus animation, not the same thing at all), whether he/she really understood their character, and whether or not he or she actually understood story.
OK, so there was a framework to operate in. Now what?
(More next time.)