Friday, July 23, 2010

Inspiration City

*images above and below from Stephen and Joel Moss Levinson's pilot, currently called "Noah's Ark."

Two weeks ago I posted a piece inspired by Meredith Gran, congratulating the artist on her first published work. It's been said, inspiration is wherever you find it, and this week I unexpectedly found it again.

As an author, I speak at a few animation industry events each year, and one of the benefits is that it serves as my introduction to some interesting people in the audience. This past April, fellow filmmaker Elliot Cowan and I gave a talk for The New York Television Festival on the subject of animation development. In the audience was Stephen Levinson, who works at Comedy Central's on-line division, and has aspirations to helm his own series.

Since my book Animation Development: From Pitch to Production was published, I've been contacted by one or two creators a week, wishing to show me their pitches for advice, encouragement, or help finding development executives. For those who haven't read my book, the answer is simple: "Read the book and if you still have questions on development or pitching, let me know."

I don't have the time to counsel on one or two projects a week, nor do I want the potential legal nightmare that goes with that––so it's rare that I'll check out a pitch by a perfect stranger. But that's just what I did this week. And I'm glad I did.

Shortly after the April panel, Stephen Levinson friended me on Facebook. Last week he wrote me that he and his brother, Joel Moss Levinson, created an eight-minute animated pitch film featuring the voice of a major comedy figure, Jonathan Katz. This got my attention, especially since the comedian is one of my all-time favorites. So, Stephen and I made a plan to meet for drinks in my neighborhood so he could give me a copy of his DVD and his two-sheet pitch proposal. Their self produced pilot, based around Noah's Ark, is an outgrowth of a series of shorts they made called God & Company for the on-line Jewish magazine Tablet.
Stephen and his brother are smart cookies, instinctually making some very good moves when they developed their project. First off, when looking for a subject for a pitch, they thought back to some childhood skits they would perform for their family at holiday time. Second, they wrote a tight script with full-blooded characters, and third, they took a chance and asked top comedians, without knowing any of them personally, if they would come aboard and voice their soundtrack for free. Guess what? They all said yes! The key was getting the main comedian to sign on, after which all the other talent followed suit. Like I said, the Levinsons are smart cookies. When I expressed my amazement that he landed such big-name actors to voice his film he agreed, "I know, I still can't believe it myself."

I've already watched their self-made pilot twice and plan to watch it a few more times. It's terrific. These brothers are funny guys with a sharp vision. When I asked Stephen what his brother did for a living, he told me he was a professional video contest winner living on prize money won from corporate video contests. So, next time Crystal Light lists a video contest on the back of their box, think of Joel Moss Levinson.

I love being around people like Stephen that dream big, follow through, and despite their accomplishments, hold onto an "Aw shucks, I can't believe we pulled it off" attitude. Besides the amazing soundtrack, the pilot was animated under the expert supervision of head animator Ed Mundy (Archer, Sealab 2021), and designed by illustrator Mike Herrod.

The brothers have just begun to pitch their project but are already feeling a major sense of success and achievement. And isn't that what it's all about? Very inspiring stuff indeed.

I wonder what kind of inspiration I'll find next week?

1 comment:

Mike said...

Here is a shameless pitch for the guys...I grew up with the Levinson boys. They've always been clever and hilarious. Take their show and run with it. Joel is about to be a dad. Stephen lives in NYC and that's expensive. Pay them lots of money. C'mon - you know you want to =)