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Spec Writing for Animation



As rare as selling anything on spec can be, animated screenplays seem even MORE rare, like finding a left-handed Big Foot after finding any Big Foots. That said, my advice would be similar to non-animated writing: don't write with the sole intention of selling it. You have to like the process of writing it because the likelihood of financial gain is so low.

One reason selling animation is harder than live-action is because generating ideas is easy and funny. Every development exec and distant cousin can come up with ideas. I'd be surprised if you haven't been pitched ideas from a non-writer before! The hard part is the actual writing (and/or animating). This is why non-animation writers can end up in animation. Michael Arndt is a great example of this; a live-action writer who animators (PIXAR!) liked and hired. Most staff writers on animated TV shows come from live-action, too. I wrote a few episodes for a children's web series and that gig was gained entirely from non-animated writing samples.

Conversely, a lot of animated show (or features) creators come from originally being animators or cartoonists themselves, albeit sometimes teamed up with a traditional screenwriter. Being a good cartoonist has a lot of overlap with screenwriting, so I figure if someone is connecting with a short animated film, they can trust the animator to do a good feature or series.

If you reverse-engineer a lot of success stories from animators, you'll see a pattern of short films (or graphic novels) leading to series-- The Simpsons, South Park, Rick & Morty, etc. Therefore, I recommend you get creating. If you can't draw, look into other forms of animation (hi, stop-motion!). And don't sell yourself short on what you can finance. You can do free versions of any idea-- it's just about costing time. If it's well-written, animated storyboards or stop-motion with toys won't stop the audience from enjoying the story. If it wasn't clear, I'm using myself as an example of this.

Alternatively, look into fellowships. One high-profile success story (animation on spec!) was Godwin Jabangwe making his first feature sale to Netflix after doing the Impact program.

If you have the means to attach an actor who moves the needle, you should always do that obviously. Chris Pine attached to your project is better than nobody attached. I can't imagine any major animation studio even looking at unsolicited animated specs, though. Again, this is because they like coming up with ideas themselves.

As Kevin Garnett screamed, "Anything is possible." But can you think of many examples of animated pilots produced from a spec script? I can't. Granted, every success story is different-- including your future success story-- but if you want to know about what's previously worked, it's a short list.
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