“Guys, this was one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen!”. Not the words you’d expect before getting shot down for the project of your life by the head of content at Disney. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind back a bit.
My girlfriend claims that I have forever ruined film and TV for her. I guess not everyone enjoys the constant yammering about all the on-screen mistakes. A set light in frame, a render bug that makes the highlights noisy. Some people just want to enjoy the show. But I can’t help it. I just really love what I do and noticing that my favorite show has flaws, just makes me appreciate the fact it’s made by humans, like you and me. Which in a weird way makes my pipe dream of someday having a show of my own a bit less, well, pipy.
Now, obviously, there is much I can’t disclose here due to the implied legal consequences of our contractual obligations with the Disney company. So, I can’t tell you what the show is about or go into any details whatsoever. I can, however, share my modest experience in “the big leagues” and what I learned from it.
So, this is the story of how we almost got our own show on Disney+ and why hard work is only half of the equation.
Back in 2021 we were hired by Nat Geo Japan to develop an original show inspired by one of their existing IPs which we were to pitch internally to the head of content at Disney. As final deliverables we had to create a pitch deck (20-ish slides that give you the gist of the show), a pitch bible (a fat ~100 page doc with concept designs, sketches, detailed character descriptions etc.), a first episode script (I penned that at roughly 50 pages) and a teaser trailer (initially intended to be 60 seconds which we later blew up to 2 mins).
The way these things work in the age of post-covid is you get 30 zoom minutes with the big boss, 20 of which are for the presentation and 10 for a Q&A. But let me tell you, presenting an entire world in the time it takes to cook a simple pasta dish is no easy task. And naturally, if this meeting goes bad, nobody is even going to bat an eye at your “incredible” screenplay or your captivating characters. So, we built out the pitch deck and vigorously refined it over the span of 2 months. It was going to be three of us presenting. We had the exact notes, scripted word for word to specific animations inside the pitch deck. And this brings us to point one of three I want to make about pitching online (and in offline, for that matter).
Plan for the unplannable.
I don’t know about you but I get irrationally frustrated when tech gives out on me. I can understand when people make mistakes. That’s, well… human. But when tech fails, I tend to pull a Drake and go from zero to a hundred real quick.
Keynote has always been our go-to piece of software for presenting. Works flawlessly. But for some reason, that fateful day of the meeting, half an hour before we were supposed to go on the call, the presentation started crashing. Over and over, and over again. At the exact same slide every time. We tried everything but just couldn’t get it to work. As a last minute hail mary, we switched out the machines, downgrading from a then brand new M1 Mac to my personal decrepit 2015 macbook pro which albeit slow, at least kept its bytes together.
In hindsight, I would have rather we recorded our entire pitch and just played that on the call instead. I can still hear my heart pounding in my ears when it came my time to present. The profuse sweating, the hot flashes. Oh my god! I’m pretty sure these kinds of situations take days off of your lifespan. A pre-recorded video gives you a few notable advantages - no chance to get words dropped from the latency, no false takes on your end and if the decision maker leaves their camera on, you have a front row seat to their first impression. Which I’ve come to understand is what makes the sale most of the time. So, people, please: pre-record your pitches and send the links on the call. Never before.
Like I mentioned, the pitch went great! It went so well in fact, that the big boss stayed on not ten but forty minutes, shooting questions back and forth. You could see in his eyes that he was thinking about the world and the concept’s potential. He had to leave only because his assistant kept pushing him to join another meeting.
It’s been 18 months since that fateful day and we’re still not making our own show. Which leads me to point number two.
Even if you have the best pitch in the world, that’s only half of the equation. Being at the right place at the right time is (at least) the other half. Going into this development, we knew what we’re doing is a bit risky for the Nat Geo network. They knew it too. But we were committed and the goal was to push for something that could broaden the network’s audience, drawing some much needed fresh blood in. When, after a couple of months, we officially got the boot from the NG committee, we pitched again in front of Hulu, which is also a part of the Disney family. We did great there as well but two months after that, Disney layed off a massive amount of people and announced they’ll be shrinking their content push effort for 2023. Axed again.
In these moments it feels like you just can’t win. Our project is probably sitting on some metaphorical desk, gathering metaphorical dust, waiting for some metaphorical intern to metaphorically discover it for it to see the light of day. We’re waiting too. There is so much politics, economics and sheer chance that play a role in the entire process, that you just can’t afford to take rejections personally. This segways nicely to my third and final point.
We do IP development because we love to do it.
As artists, there is no greater freedom in having the power to flesh out a world and breathe life into it. It’s like a mini version of playing God. Inevitably, during the process you leave a part of yourself in the work. That’s the painful part. But it’s also just as inevitable since great ideas come from authentic points of view.
So, as tough and unforgiving as this job is, the only way forward is through. Keep pushing, keep ideating and creating. Put in the work for your half of the equation. Leave the rest to the Universe.
Because the Universe needs more originality.
P.S. If you want to know a bit more about this story, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see what we can do without voiding our contracts.