Making your big ideas manageable

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I have tons of big ideas, way too many. What if instead of spending years developing your idea, waiting for the right time, you could start building your audience. When you start something on your own it starts small. That’s part of the deal. You can only make what you have the capacity to do. So you have to start with something little. The alternative is to take a very long time. Years of development, of pitching and reworking. The shame is, that for years you will work without that work seeing an audience. That system doesn’t make the best cartoons. It just makes the best ones that can get through the gauntlet. It chews up and spits out a lot of promising shows, and creators.

That’s why we have to start small. Everyone who knows better, says that the way to get started is with shorts. Young animators rebel against the idea. We don’t want to make little things. Insignificant things. We want to make stuff that matters. I know I did. I wanted to make television, and movies, at a high level. But when I look at it, there’s only one way to start, and that’s to start small.

What if you have a big idea that the world needs to know about. I’ve always wanted to tell big stories. When I was a kid I would start giant comics full of ambition. About seven pages in I would give up. Then in college I kept on thinking that I’d make shorts and move onto longer projects when I was ready. Making something short is as much work as making something long, only you’ll just be finished sooner. Isaiah and I have are trying something new. For this year we are going to work only on developing short comics. After each short we’re going to develop a new one. What we want to see is if any of the shorts catch on. We want the audience to determine which one we keep working on. So if you have a big idea try and find a piece that’s a good small story.

How do you start small enough? I used to think of shorts as insufficient for my ideas. Then I realized that shorts could become bigger things. Shorts are part of a bigger story. There are two ways stories can be broken down. You can create a short that is broad or a short that is narrow. A broad short has little pieces of all the elements. You can think of this like a trailer or a synopsis. A broad short only has time to focus on things at a very shallow level. The other kind of short is very narrow. This is where you take one piece and focus on a small part. You might make a short that’s just one character, or a single scene. That short can feel deep, but on a small subject. Pixar shorts do this beautifully. Don’t underestimate how little you can fit in to a short time. Always cut it down and refine what you want to say.

A story is like a secret. You want to keep it close to you as long as possible. Just dolling out bits and pieces to people. That builds the tension and the intrigue. All stories are built upon smaller stories. So while you’re developing your story by making shorts. That way you can learn what’s working. See what catches, what things the audience brings.

After that short is done, make another one. If you have a big story to tell you’re lucky. You have all the material you need to make the next thing. If you have a big story buckle in. This is dynamic development. Insead of reworking a pitch over and over. You test your ideas on a real audience. If an idea doesn’t work, try it again in a different way. Win over the audience one person at a time. This method isn’t about the easy road. Building an audience is hard every time, that’s why it’s valuable. What you keep is your integrity, your voice. I hope I can inspire you to start working on your next little project.

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