Developing a Concept and Creating a Pitch Bible: Space Pirates
Hello again, fellow cartoon connoisseurs. I’ll begin in noting that this article will be a good shot different than my previous regarding Seth MacFarlane’s integrity. This article will actually be about a cartoon that I personally, and a few friends of mine, have been working on for quite some time. I was advised, and even encouraged, to begin a serial about the exploits of an aspiring series creator, and weigh in what little tidbits of information I have on the process of pitching and creating and whatnot, and I do use the term “little” quite liberally.
Like many of you aspiring cartoonists, animators, and writers, I’ve been spanning the internet looking for great advice on how to get a show out in the open. And, like many of you, I am working with little to no funding. But these obstacles aren’t quite what I plan to talk primarily about. What information I do hold in good quantity is the actual development of a good concept. The obstacles noted above will more likely season the primary theme of this serial of articles.
The text presented between the bars is an outline of the series concept we have created. This will give you an idea of the development of a full series concept, and the most important things you will want to have ironed out before you create your pitch bible, which I will discuss later in this article. These are things like characters, setting, theme, and conflict. Read on to get a full flavor of a complete series concept.
The cartoon I mentioned is an idea that has been in development for about seven years. It’s original title was “Conquistonauts,” and followed the exploits of a few explorers as they searched the universe for other life forms, finding a great many planets inhabited by the absolute most ridiculous creatures the team could conjure. As an example, a planet populated by the cast of the old “Squeeze-It” products, or a parody thereof. But as the idea continued to grow, and a new lead character was introduced, it slowly went through a radical change into a concept far more concise and conceivable. The doodles of a few high school friends (drawn initially on the backside of church guest cards and on various white-wash boards across the school and left to stain, I’m sure you can appreciate), became a story about a low-functioning schizophrenic that was abandoned as a child, and his exploits with his psychiatrist and an escaped convict. Quite the motley crew.
The lead character goes only by “The Captain,” as he did when he was a child. He grew up as a burden of the state, finding himself in countless misadventures. But the series begins shortly following his solo adventures. It begins when The Captain finds his way to his old childhood psychologist, Hektor Weinstein. After a short stint working with a young Captain, Hektor, then a young man, left the specialization and focused on adult psychiatry. But The Captain has found himself in an interesting predicament– one that only Hektor may fully understand, being the only man familiar with The Captain’s file. As a child, The Captain was prone to wild hallucinations, fancies of conquer, and extreme delusions of grandeur. This has not changed. Well, to be fair, it has in one profoundly significant way, which is why The Captain has come to Hektor. Those hallucinations have been steadily manifesting into reality, with all the subtlety of The Captain himself.
Now that you have the meat and potatoes of the back story, I’ll jump you right into the thick of the concept, titled Space Pirates. On the day that The Captain meets Hektor, the universe as we know it changes dramatically. The Captain inadvertently causes a split in the universe, where an alternate timeline comes into being in a new reality. In this new universe, it is still technically modern day. However, the events leading up to this modern day are drastically different. Man’s technological development is far beyond the point of the original reality, and in this new reality humanity has branched out into space, colonized numerous planets, and found intelligent life within our own solar system and beyond. Essentially, the world of Space Pirates is a macrocosm of Earth society, with strange and interesting assimilation between extra-terrestrial species. The politics of this new reality find man in the midst of another cold war between several countries of Earth and those of Mars, both primarily human civilizations. This is the more broad conflict overshadowing the series, but it connects to The Captain in an inexorable way. The primary military leader of the Russian colony of Mars, known as Nadezhda (one of the primary countries involved in the Cold War, surprise surprise), has come to know of The Captain’s capabilities, and is ever-vigilant in retrieving him.
Early on in the series, The Captain, Hektor, and the stow-away into this new reality, Noah Heckaman (the convict) are met with many new faces that become the lead crew of The Captain’s massive ship, The Dreadknot. There is Samantha Jackson (the mechanic/engineer of small crafts), Rocko Wallace (the chief engineer of The Dreadknot), Cybrus (the spider-frog in charge of computer programming, engineering, etc), and Cardnal (the bird-boy prodigy in charge of navigation), as well as a host of other well-known characters. The series follows the crew of The Dreadknot as they deal with the ever-changing world of The Captain’s creation. You may wonder how The Captain gained this ability, question it’s purpose even. This is the great mystery of the series, unraveling bit by bit as Hektor discovers the intricacies of the most prolific idiot-savant to ever disgrace the universe.
One of the first things an aspiring cartoon creator needs to do is develop the concept. Once you have the concept, the characters, and the theme ironed out into something conceivable to those not involved in it’s production, you create the pitch bible. This is a very important part of the conceptual stage, because the pitch bible is the advertisement you will use to prove to a television executive that you’ve got the creative talent, the story-writing talent, and most importantly, the confidence that you’re idea is worth a detailed look.
The design of a pitch bible is entirely up to the creator. How you choose to assemble the bible, how the pages are formatted, how the idea is revealed, is all up to you. However, there are a few things that every pitch bible should have. The first is a list of the primary characters, each with a page dedicated to him or her. Give a short description, or biography if necessary, about each character. Be sure to include the most relevant information about the character, the personality traits that define who they are and in turn define their role in the cast. This is important, because the person you’re pitching to needs to see the chemistry between the cast members. Secondly, you need to be sure to include an overview of the series. This is where you describe the show’s primary theme, setting, etc. Easy enough. The third is springboards. Springboards are short descriptions of episode ideas. These are important because the network execs want to know that your idea has the potential to run year after year if it becomes a hit. These three things are the most important parts of the pitch bible. Other additions that many have included are a page dedicated to important side characters, a page about the soundtrack if it is important to the concept, background designs, and anything else you think may be pertinent to the cohesive pitch of the cartoon.
As you may have guessed already, there is, in fact, a pitch bible for Space Pirates. I’m going to share the bible with you, not (entirely) out of shameless self-promotion, but also because I’ve had a difficult time finding examples of pitch bibles online. Now, most pitch bibles are technically supposed to be around fifteen pages at the longest. Mine runs a few pages over, but it will give you an idea of what you can do with a pitch bible, and how enjoyable an experience you can make out of it. The most important thing to remember is this: Make sure the text is readable! Be careful not to colorize your text and text backgrounds in a way that makes it difficult to read, because reading is the most important part of the bible! And just as important: Remember that your pitch bible is supposed to engage the reader into your concept, so conjure up any tricks you can to pull the reader in and really get them interested in your characters and their world.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it helpful. To conclude, here is a link to where you can view the Space Pirates pitch bible. Fear not that it is a link to a forum. Of all the places I’ve posted the pitch bible, this is the clearest and easiest to navigate. Just scroll down. Unfortunately, the file is too large to simply post into the article.
Thank you, dear readers, and I hope you will enjoy articles to come.