Some 20 SVA students recently had the chance to pitch their ideas to Nickelodeon, presenting a two-to-three-minute clip of their work and discussing their concepts with network executives. This opportunity came via Nickelodeon’s Animated Shorts Program, which is designed to identify and develop promising animation talent. Program finalists are provided with artistic and production support to help them complete their original, humor-based and character-driven shorts.
Months before the pitch meetings, Nickelodeon visited SVA and gave students a “pitch bible,” which offered guidelines to help them prepare. Students also met with executives for an initial critique before presenting their formal pitch. “I just brought in what I had,” says Karina Farek, a fourth-year BFA Animation student, who pitched The Bottom Floor, her cartoon about deep-sea fish. “They told me, ‘This is what’s good about it and this is what we like, but this is what we think you could change to make it better, to make it more suitable for us.’ I rewrote the story based on their notes and then I presented it.”
Phil Rynda (BFA 2003 Animation), vice president of artist development at Nickelodeon, described the program as a way to make the network more accessible to young storytellers looking to find a venue for their work. “This is a really exciting way for us to partner with SVA, with students here, to build a relationship at the ground floor.”
The Animated Shorts Program differs from the traditional means of development in television. Typically, when a show is pitched to a network, its creators present an overall concept and cast of characters that they believe will provide several episodes’, even seasons’, worth of entertainment. Nickelodeon’s program focuses on just telling a story, which for new animators is often a more manageable project. “Tell us a story that you really think is awesome,” Rynda says, “and then we can think about that other stuff down the road.”
This was SVA’s first year participating in the program, which began in 2012. Not surprisingly, many of the students admitted to being nervous. Jimmy Calhoun, director of operations for BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation, and Visual Effects, says, “[My co-worker] Mark Minnig and I tried to convince students that it’s safe and fun and a good opportunity. Even if a pitch isn’t the greatest in the world, it’s still an opportunity to sit down with a professional and interview and critique and see what that’s like.”
Comparing the experience to a class critique, participant Diego Guanzon says, “It’s basically the same thing. I feel like there was no difference.” Fellow student Kevin Li agrees. “Their feedback was stuff I was aware of and it was reassuring in a way.”
There’s also the hope that with practice, subsequent pitches and opportunities won’t be so nerve-racking. “I’ll always be nervous,” Guanzon says, “but it wasn’t that hard. Someone commented that I had a very serious look on my face—that was just adrenaline pumping through my veins.”
Beyond the experience of pitching and facing one’s fears, there are, of course, other advantages to participating in the program. “Students might be considered for a job later,” Minnig says. “Just having these contacts through this process could be extremely beneficial.”