Q. I was wondering how different the process is for breaking into the
cartoon industry, as opposed to other television.
While shows like "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" are animated sitcoms, channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network make shows that are traditionally cartoony (the format is usually not a full 22-minute[...]).
Do people get hired to write cartoons the same way as other TV shows (write spec scripts, get an agent who will help you land a job)? Can an unknown writer who has no skills in animation break into cartoons?
And if so, would one pursue the same California talent agencies as other TV writers (for example, if a show is made for Cartoon Network in Atlanta, how do I find out which agents have the connections there)?
Good questions. I've never worked in animation. Maybe some of you readers know the answers. I can make a few observations.
First of all, I'd avoid the word "cartoons," which makes me think of the D section of the newspaper.
Second, although the Cartoon Network may be based in Atlanta, so far as I know most US animation is produced out of LA. (A fair amount comes out of Japan, of course, e.g. Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokémon, etc.) The actual animation may be done in LA or it may be farmed out overseas. Korea does a lot of in-betweening, for example. But I believe they're written in LA.
In Canada, most shows are produced out of Toronto, but some are produced out of Montreal, with the animation done locally. A friend of mine is developing some animation shows here, for example.
I believe the process of getting hired is the same: write a spec. The animation scripts I've seen have been formatted much like regular scripts but with much more specific description of what we're going to see. Write a great Spongebob, for example.
You don't need to draw to write animation.
You're correct that you'll need to seek out agents who rep animation writers. It's a different region of the biz, and most agents won't know the players well. Here's how to find them: note down the writing credits of your favorite animation shows, either from IMDB or off the screen. Call the WGA's Agency department -- I think it's (323) 782 4502. Ask who reps the credited witers.
In Canada, animation writers are paid less than live action writers (the WGC only won rates for animation writers in the new contract). It may be the same in the States. If so, it would presumably be easier to break in.
All of the above is my impression, but it's not my part of the biz, so readers, please fill in the gaps and correct the errors!
A lot of writers make a good living here writing for animation ... we produce a lot of homegrown kids stuff. Yes, lower pay, but more chance of getting hired, especially because the little kid stuff is formatted as 15 minuters, so you have 52 eps. instead of 26. Good place to break in, as Alex rightly points out, because of lower pay and because of volume.
Also worth noting that Starz Animation is staffing up and opening a Toronto production house in the next couple of months, mostly to do feature work, but if that goes well, I hear they are also expanding into series.
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