Last night I was at the Disney lot celebrating the completion of production for our long run of 'The Replacements'. To sum up this whole experience I would have to say that this show was a childhood dream come true for me.
A lot of people ask me, what was this whole experience like?
It was four years ago when I pitched this show to Disney Channel. It was the first idea I ever pitched and the third pitch meeting I had ever done. I consider myself to be EXTREMELY lucky when you realize that less than one percent of shows that are pitched are even considered for an 'option' to be made. Once it was 'optioned' it then became a one year flurry to be picked up into a show.
(When a network 'options' a show they basically buy the copyright of the intellectual property for a specific amount of time. In this case it was one year.)
'The Replacements' was one on nine shows optioned by Disney Channel in 2005. Of those nine only three get what is known as a leica reel. (A leica reel is basically an animated storyboard with sound and music) Then after much focus group testing of those three leica reels, one gets the show.
I spent hours in initial development of the show trying to protect 'my baby' from being torn to shreds, which was my first impression of Disney. I worked on storyboards, concept drawings, and attending development meetings. On top of all this I had a full time job at a video game company and worked on children's books at home. Admittedly, there are a lot of emotional highs and lows. One day you'll love the show and on other days you'll hate the show so much that you don't want it on TV. Many executives come and go and put in their two cents. There are both good and bad ideas exchanged and everything is taken into consideration. In the end, about 80% of the original vision was kept in tact. Much higher than the 50% I had originally guessed.
Jack was appointed Executive Producer of the show and supervised everything. Coming from a children's book background I was very uncomfortable dealing with large rooms filled with executives so I glady was open to all his advice and he handled the network better than I could ever have. At the same time Jack was very open to my requests and demands and made sure that the show was strongly intact to my original vision. Did I mention Jack used to be a stand up comedian/lawyer and his previous experience to animation was being the original story editor of 'Fairly Oddparents' from their first 60 episodes? I remember the first time I went into his office at Nickelodeon and seeing a photo of the Caesars Palace billboard in Las Vegas. It had his name up in lights opening for Drew Carey.
I was in awe.
From there he used all his connections in the animation industry to get my show in shape. He asked lots of his amazingly talented friends from all over Nickelodeon (who you now see working on amazing shows all over television) to help out with storyboards. At this point everything was just a big learning experience for me. I knew NOTHING about the animation industry and here I was surrounded by the best helping me make my dream come true.
It was a about a month later we picked up Heather Martinez to be our Director....
This was her first shot at directing but she was considered a diamond in the rough at Nickelodeon having previously worked as a storyboard artist on Farly Oddparents, Spongebab Squarepants, and My Life as A Teenage Robot.
She became the yin to Jack's yang. She spoke to me clearly from the artistic side while Jack spoke to me from a story side and with their help they made the process so much fun that it helped me stay on my feet and be positive when I wanted to give up on the show. It's impossible not to be thankful when you see folks fighting tooth and nail for the integrty of your own ideas. When we found out the show was picked up by the network we all celebrated in equal excitement.
Favorite moments from working on the show....
1. Sitting in a voice recording with actor Bruce Campbell
2. Hearing the Replacements theme song for the first time.
3. Going throught he first storyboard punch up of our animatic
4. Being surrounded by a horde of Pirate of the Carribean extras in the Disney cafteria during lunch
Last night was especially touching for me because it felt like saying goodbye like a family
Here's a shot of most of the crew...
There was even some Replacements wrapping paper which I had never seen before....
We also got nifty crew jackets...
So now everyone asks me, "What's your next show idea?"
There are still 18 or so episodes that still need to be aired of "The Replacements" and the last episode reveals who Conrad Fleem really is
To be honest I'm pitching more shows as we speak, but I'm fully aware that the odds of it all happening again are not guaranteed and the odds of getting another show is probably about the same as my first (less than one percent). I'm also fully open to the idea of my original concept being tweaked and torn apart without taking things personally. To a certain degree I've become somewhat emotionally unattached ot my animated ideas than I am to my literary ones.
I realized that after all this I much prefer doing books. Books, for the most part, is a very small personal production but it's 100% of my vision. There aren't eight executives, and a slew of production people strewn about in a room. It's you, an editor, and an art director. You don't collaborate ideas and go with what the execs think focus group testing wants. It's the editor simply helping you clarifying what you want to say but it's up to you as the author to make those changes and you're not trying to please anyone but yourself. I don't want to say I'm selfish with my ideas, but they are still my ideas and I think a person wants ultimately to put 100% of themselves out there and see the reaction you get from your audience.
I have to say, when I saw 'The Replacements' aired on television for the first time the feeling was a little lackluster. I think I was expecting more from the experience. I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be and I think it was because the whole experience was so surreal. I'm still grateful for the show, It helped me buy a house, and helped me break away from the video game industry (which I loathed) and now my childhood dream is going to be kept in a Disney vault somewhere among it's long history of animated ideas.
But hey, if lightning strikes twice, I'm ready to hop on board and hopefully get the family back together again for another go.
Thank you all for watching. Now, go read a book!