PSYOP: How long have you been Psyop and what is your role?
AM: I was working at a stodgy old school ad agency and I had a deep love of animation. When I joined Psyop, I knew that the format and distribution of advertising was already changing, so I wanted to be in a place that was prepared to thrive in that “new media environment” which is now really just a “media environment”. I started at Psyop as a producer and became an EP shortly thereafter. We had a development executive who was brought in to help explore the long form and original content space. She was super generous with her information and her contacts. Crucially, she helped me think about how creative works within the marketplace – where does your idea fit in the marketplace and how can you position your project? She also flogged the idea that STORYSTORYSTORY is the most important part of the long form space. I have since diversified my role outside Psyop. I manage all Supercell work which has been a career highlight, I’m part of the Psyop Originals program and I have a play in a variety of other projects working with the likes of Hulu, Nike and Google. But I also have projects that I produce independently including a short film anthology at HBO Max called Only You. I've had multiple projects in development at Netflix and Cartoon Network.
PSYOP: What projects have you been involved in where Psyop has helped to establish long lasting IP for a brand?
AM: The one that I have been closest to has been building the Supercell brand. We did their first cinematic in 2013 and we had from October 25th to December 22nd with Thanksgiving in the middle to deliver a :60 and around 6 x :15s. We were building everything from the ground up; I think I saw the sun come up at the studio every day during the last week of production. It was intense and it was painful and since we were spread across 10 hours of time zones, there were a lot of really early morning calls. We finally got the final spot posted on YouTube and went to bed. The next morning we woke up and kept checking the view count and couldn't believe our eyes – it had a million views overnight! By the end of the week I think it had 10 million. People were talking about the spot! We were famous! At that point myself and the team said “we’re going to do their short film.” Since then we have done dozens of cinematics, VR films, a circular room for Clash Con and . . . .the short film LOST & CROWNED.
It’s been really satisfying to make great work with Supercell but also to have a relationship with a client where you can reach out to them and speak directly about the work in an open forum. They have great artists and thinkers on their side, so they bring a lot to the table, we’re not just executing. And reading the comments on YouTube always makes me feel good – the fans LOVE what we’re doing.
PSYOP: What was your first foray into the world of original IP at Psyop and what did you learn from this experience?
AM: “Grandma’s Cats Are Trying to Kill Her” The concept is all in the title and it was fun to take it out and pitch it. The buyer was Dreamworks’ channel on AwesomenessTV and the budget was … insufficient. Like so bad. But it was the first sale, so we weren’t going to turn it down. I had to dig deep to get to my best ultra low budget garage sale skills to get that made.
Season 1 we recorded all the voices in the Fishtank conference room at the old Victoria Ave office so it sounded like trash. Also, trying to find a zillion unique ways to kill Grandma that are funny gets hard after a while.
What ended up being even cooler was that they kept renewing us which is like a miracle on a miracle. By the third season we convinced Awesomeness that if we could serialize the season and uncover an ongoing mystery it would be so much better. We were also able to improve the audio and the original hero kid’s voice changed, so we recast that role. By that point, Psyop Director, Jack Anderson and I were collaborating on the story and I have to say that that season is pretty bonkers. It’s on YouTube so you can judge for yourself. It started as the most stressful low budget thing I ever worked on, but I am proud of how we were able to evolve it.
What did I learn? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There was no way I was going to not make that cartoon. I would have learned Flash myself if I had to.
PSYOP: What is your proudest achievement to date (in the world of IP)?
AM: Ay yi yi you can’t have a favorite baby. All the projects have their own unique merits.
Every time you sell something it feels like a little miracle because it’s really hard – the marketplace is crowded and the executives and mandates are always moving around. Maybe someone didn’t have lunch and they’re not in the mood to hear your pitch,maybe there was another massive corporate merger, maybe the activist investor is calling for a 10% reduction across the board, it’s a bit of a crap shoot.
I think that the project with the most artistic integrity is Christopher at Sea which is a short that was created and directed by Tom CJ Brown. Tom asked if we could find a couple thousand dollars to put him on a cargo ship for research which we did, then we went to the Annecy festival to get funding alongside our French co-pro partners MIYU. We started that project in 2017 and then premiered at the Venice Biennale in September of 2022. When we were at Venice, I remembered that from the day we started Tom said that he would premiere there and that the focus of vision is incredible. His vision was complete and nuanced and we produced a film that has incredible visual and story integrity and has some moments that are genuinely shocking to the audience.
I feel honored to have been part of it. We’re still winning laurels.
Devil May Care was something I was proud of because that was also wholly home grown and it felt like the next step in our TV sales evolution. Doug Goldstein is the head of story on Robot Chicken and we’d been working together on some marketing projects, so having his name and his Emmys makes it easier to get a meeting. I asked him if he had a show that he wanted to develop and he pitched me two ideas. The one we settled on developing and shopping was Devil May Care. It’s about the life of Devil, the benevolent manager of hell, and his social media manager, Beans. So I got to name a character after my dog which is always a win. We sold the show to SyFy to launch their late night adult anim block RIGHT before Covid hit. We produced the whole thing in deep lockdown which was a trip because I got to see the inside of many celebrities’ houses because it was voice recorded remotely. (Including Lindsay Lohan) Sadly, when NBC merged all their channels into Peacock we were made into a one season show BUT we have 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, so nerd culture once again came through for me.
There was a kids show called Camp W about a little witch that accidentally wanders into the human world after a fight with her mom and she spends her summer uncovering a mystery and making friends at a kids camp. We had a lot of second and third meetings for that IP, but never got a deal. Instead, we ended up making it into a narrative game on Steam and we got some great reviews and a decent fan base, especially considering that we had zero for the marketing budget. The lesson there is that you can pivot your idea, it never dies. And now we have IP which we can take out and shop again.
I think another great example of “IP never dies” is the Bottlecap Project That Marco and Marie have been fostering for years. It started as a feature pitch, pivoted to a short that got some funding from UnReal, then was developed as a series and now is coming around to a feature take again. Marco, Marie and Andrew keep the flame alive on that one and as long as someone is going to keep believing in their project, it has a shot.
I recently completed a short film anthology for HBO Max called ONLY YOU. It was part of HBO/WB’s up and coming voices program and it was super scrappy and super rewarding. The only thematic thread is that the stories are ones that only the creator could tell, so we spanned all kinds of techniques and tones. It was like film school camp, also all over Zoom. The recognition that we got in the animation community and beyond has been overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many convos I have had about “how do we make more opportunities for underrepresented voices to break in?” Having the might of the HBO and WB machine behind ONLY YOU really helped it get the visibility it deserved. The industry has been through so much turmoil with all the mergers and layoffs and to be honest DEI is always near the top of the list for the chopping block. I hope that those types of opportunities don’t evaporate into the need to feed the beast of shareholder value. If everything we do is only for monetization then it’s a sad day indeed.
PSYOP: What have you got in the works at the moment?
AM: Psyop is in development for our first animated feature based on Werner Herzog’s book THE TWILIGHT WORLD. Andrew Linsk had that idea in a Covid fever dream which is fitting because the story plays with the themes of the elastic nature of time and reality. We will partner with Sun Creature and of course the great Werner Herzog. So right out of the feature gate we’re swinging for the stars which is super fun.
PSYOP: Any advice for filmmakers trying to see their ideas come to life?
AM: It’s like Dori the fish says – just keep swimming. Good things come to those who persevere. Also, you never know how relationships that you make now will turn into relationships in the future. I’m not suggesting that you suffer assholes or abusers, but animation is a small industry and if you stick around long enough you’ll keep crossing paths with folks. As we age and gain experience, you find allies in places that you might not have considered before.