"Sola: Terrify yourself"

by Michelle Ouellette

I was in the middle of a frustrating job where all of the illustrations kept turning out wonky. I needed to take a break to feel like I knew how to hold a pencil again. I quickly drew up an alien girl in a cool uniform with blue dreads, against a blobby background of stars and shapes. It made me feel better and I was able to jump back over to the frustrating job with fresh energy.

But this alien wouldn’t leave my mind, so I drew her on a spaceship. I drew her with a crew. I drew her world and her solar system. It was like all of my years of Star Trek watching were coming out of my fingertips and wouldn’t leave me alone.

Soon after, I was scrolling on the Ottawa International Animation Festival’s website and saw they had a TV pitch competition. I’ve always wanted to work in entertainment and a TV pitch was new and exciting for me. Plus I had all these alien illustrations collecting dust.

With the courage of a person who has no idea what they’re doing, along with a three-week deadline, I threw together a pitch bible for an animated series called “SOLA” along with this new artwork. I submitted it and forgot about it, because who am I kidding, I knew nothing about TV, pitching, or pitch bibles.

A couple of months later I received an email that my pitch was accepted; I would be going to the film festival in 3 weeks to pitch my show. ON STAGE to TV buyers.

Well, bananas. I didn’t know anything about pitching a show and I certainly didn’t know anything about making one. But it was a great opportunity and I wasn’t going to miss it. I teamed up with my Yeah Haus studio mate Chad Thompson and we wrote a stage pitch that included us wearing matching jumpsuits, a talking robot, and a loose idea of a story for a series. It was exciting and terrifying, but if we were going down, we were going to go down swinging… in matching jumpsuits.

I’d love to say it was a hit with the judges when we pitched it, but I’m certain they were more confused than impressed. Still, though, we got a ton of pats-on-the-backs and ended up doing a much more traditional pitch to Disney and other big studios at a different time during the festival. Ok, that was terrifying too, and nothing really came of it, but I felt really good about taking the risk.

This was a crash course and I met so many nice people from all over the world at that film festival. We didn’t sell the show, but that didn’t matter. I had a blast. Since then, Sola got put on the back burner, but this past summer another opportunity came along.  A group I’m part of called Women in Animation was offering a pitch mentorship. I still had all the Sola materials, applied for the mentorship and I was accepted! During this experience, I learned a lot about what makes a tv show and was able to work a lot more on Sola’s story. It was actually (potentially) turning into a real show! Through this program, I had the opportunity to pitch my show to Dreamworks, Sony, and other movie and tv executives for feedback.

I wish I could end this story with “and now Sola is in production!”. But projects like this take a long time to develop and it’s totally possible that a Sola tv series will never see the light of day. However, this project has taken me to new places and opened my eyes to experiences I didn’t think were possible. Put yourself out there and show your work to others. Connect with a community and you never know where it will take you. Most importantly, share your work in places that are different, exciting, and a little bit terrifying. I’m really glad I did.

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