READER QUESTION/GUEST PERSPECTIVE: How Do I Break Into Children's Animated TV?

Hey, folks–

A few weeks ago, I was teaching a TV spec-writing class, and I recently received an email from a student asking if breaking into children’s shows worked the same  as breaking into primetime… did you still need specs, original material, etc.?

I’ve never worked in children’s programming… so I asked my good friend Melody Fox, who has written and produced for Stuart Little, Teen Titans, Rugrats, and Dragon Tales (as well as adult shows like Flash Gordon, South Beach, and Skin). 

Here’s what she said…

“I started my career in animation and have a couple dozen credits.   And yes, people usually write a spec animated script or two when breaking in.  I only wrote one.  Then after that, I used my writer’s drafts of my produced eps as samples.  Animation writers will often have a sitcom spec too, (or a Simpsons or Family Guy, which are animated sitcoms) and the showrunners will read that as well.  I had a comedy feature.
“In my experience, getting in is all about contacts.  Many animation writers don’t have agents.  You get work through contacts and referrals, and recommendations.  But the good news is, YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE AN AGENT, you can make inquiry calls on your own and no one would think it odd or unprofessional.  After a while, you get work off your reputation.  There are a couple lit agencies that specialize in animated & children’s.
“Most animated shows do not have staffs.  Disney and Nickelodeon sometimes have small staffs, like three people.  Most work is freelance.  If you do a freelance ep for a show that has an order of 26 and they like your work, they will come back to you with more assignments.  They want writers who can deliver.
“The showrunner who hires the writers in animation is called the Story Editor.  The story editor may also be a producer on the show, but not necessarily.  Production in animation has to do with the boards that are drawn, etc. and have specialized producers.
“If the student is in L.A. I highly recommend he/she take the UCLA Extension animation writing class.  Not only will there great instruction, there are always guest speakers and that’s how the writer can start making contacts.  I took the class when I already had several credits and it was still useful and one of the guest speakers hired me to do 2 freelance eps.  At least 3 other people in the class went on to get assignments, so the peers in the class are also great professional contacts.
“There’s a book written by animation veteran Jeffrey Scott
called How to Write for Animation.  it’s on Amazon and also at Bookstar on Ventura Blvd. (in Los Angeles).  I haven’t read it myself, but he has a huge number of animation credits.

“Also, [most of] this info only applies to children’s TV animation.  Feature animation is a whole different ball game, and more artist-driven.  Also, [this info] does not apply to animated sitcoms (Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, etc.)  Those are sitcoms that just happen to be animated.  They are WGA and have writing staffs and writers rooms and are staffed like primetime shows.

“One more thing… I hope I didn’t make it sound EASY to get into.  It’s professional TV writing and it’s very competitive.  It’s enormously fun, so of course it’s going to be competitive.
“Here’s the downside… it does not pay anything close to what live-action union shows pay.  There’s no residuals.  It’s either non-union or covered by the animators union called The Screen Cartoonists Guild — if it’s a guild show then you CAN earn medical insurance.”

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