FXX’s Archer is back for its tenth season. To celebrate, I’m digging into my comedy loser archive to share advice from Adam Reed, creator of Archer and co-creator (with Matt Reed) of Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo.
Let’s take it back to 2005, a time when it was already pretty old fashioned and weird to send a letter.
I had finished college a year earlier and was equipped with my BTEC in Media, a Sony Handycam, and was ready to conquer Hollywood. The trouble was I had absolutely zero idea how to do anything. Literally, anything.
YouTube had only just launched and uploading my own content didn’t register as an option. It was nothing more than a way of being able to watch old episodes of Doug. Even two years later when James Bishop and I started making our video series…we put our money (and content) on MySpace. Hindsight, am I right!?
Back then I was BIG into Adult Swim. It was rough enough to look like something I could make and it was funny. Real funny. Like, the funniest thing ever, funny. It felt grown up and childish at the same time. I owned all the Region 1 DVD’s of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021 and watched them on repeat.
I can’t remember what my thought process was, but one day I typed out a letter, printed it off and posted it airmail to Adam Reed.
I have no idea what the letter said. All I know is that I was eighteen years old, desperate to start a career and looking for advice. I probably also mentioned that I had an concept for an animated series, which I was confident was the best ever.
Why Adam? I guess I just picked up on something from this guy. There was something that made me think that he would understand.
A period of time passed (I don’t know when I sent the letter…) and on the 31st March 2005, an email popped into my inbox.
adam reed on this end. thanks very much for your nice letter; we don’t get a lot of actual, physical fan mail. just the snarky comments in the chat forums. i’m not sure what sort of advice to give you; i don’t know if you’re a drawing-type person or a writing-type person.
but if you’re a writer (and this is just one man’s opinion) i wouldn’t spend a lot of money on writing courses; my take on those is the “those who can’t, teach” philosophy. one or two screenwriting or TV writing books will do the same, for a lot less money. check their reviews on amazon, or epinions. then, of course, you just have to sit down and write, like all the time. it sucks. i hate writing. well, i love it, but i also hate it. it’s one of those… i forget what they’re called. “something-something” relationships. oh. love-hate.
i have about 20 of these books in my office at home, but i can’t remember any of the titles. i usually go buy them when i’ve talked myself into having writer’s block. then i read them, and they don’t really help. but check customer reviews; there are some real crappy ones out there.
as far as pitches go, i personally like to keep mine short; around 6-8 pages, including some artwork. i usually do a 1-2 page overview of the entire show (premise, quick touch on characters, some sample plotlines, etc.) then a few more pages that have 1-4 character descriptions each (major characters may get a full page, while minors get crammed four to a page). quick bios, traits, etc. and also some sort of artwork for each character; for sealab it was easy, as the character drawings were already done for us. for the new show we’re doing, we nicked some art off the internet, just to give the suits a general idea of these folks (arch-villain, dashing hero, or ravishing blonde, etc). then our animators will come up with original drawings, but after the show has been bought. of course, if you’re a drawing-type person, you can just draw them. i have, in the past, written full sample scripts for pitches (in addition to the 6-8 page treatment), but i’ve moved away from this because if i’ve learned anything, it’s this:
don’t kill yourself working a million hours on something until somebody buys it.
the trick seems (to me) to be coming up with as kick-ass a premise as you can, and then presenting it with broad strokes. you don’t need to lay out $10K of your own money making a pilot (the sealab pilot cost us $22 for the tape we laid it off to; of course, we also had the masters of the original show which we had stolen from the turner library when we quit our jobs there). you don’t need to (unless you really want to) have every single detail of the show set in stone; the network execs are going to have (usually lame) suggestions about what the show should be like, anyway. and it makes them feel good to think they are creative, so we usually let them say something.
the trickiest part is getting in the door. i started as an $80/week intern for “turner in-flight movies” back in ’93; a whole department devoted to renting crappy turner movies to airlines. usually strange, foreigney airlines like romanian air, etc. then i just nagged everybody to let me write something, got handed a flintstones home video to write, then nagged my way into a job at cartoon network. so i would find out where they’re making animation over there in the UK, and go bug them for a job. might as well work a crappy job for a production company as a crappy job somewhere else; they’ll probably like you.
as far as cartoons go, i’m craziest about family guy. i never watched it on fox, but have now fallen in love with it. and don’t worry about not listening to the sealab commentaries; they weren’t about the show. we just got drunk and goofed around.
hope some of that was helpful. good luck with everything! and you’re right, it is a pretty fun job.
Adam’s the best.
His generosity and advice was very helpful to me back in 2005. Reading it back today, that single email is still full of wisdom that hopefully will inspire and help you out too.
If nothing else, it shows that sometimes it’s worth sending somebody a letter if you want to be noticed.