Netflix's Channing Dungey Talks Network Notes and How to Pitch at "Not Real Art" Event

Birdman
Jorge Gutierrez, Channing Dungey and Scott Power

Animator Jorge Gutierrez takes lessons in executive kung-fu from Guillermo del Toro, while Dungey emphasizes voice, vision and persistence.

When it comes to pitching ideas in Hollywood, Netflix vp original content Channing Dungey knows a thing or two, and she shared her insight with an eager roomful of artists on Saturday at the Not Real Art Conference for Artists at the Highland Park Ebell Club in Los Angeles. 

Dungey and animator Jorge Gutierrez, a 2014 Golden Globe nominee for The Book of Life, sat on a panel called "Pitching Your Art to Hollywood," moderated by Dungey's husband: artist, entrepreneur and founder of Not Real Art, Scott "Sourdough" Power.

Here are the top takeaways for artists, animators and graphic novelists on breaking into Hollywood:

The Window and the Mirror: According to Dungey, what executives are looking for comes down to two main items — voice and vision. "What's the story that you're burning to tell? What's the idea that's keeping you up at night that you have to share? Cause that's going to be, at this moment, your best work," she told the crowd. "The best storytelling is a window and mirror. It gives the audience a window into a world or a life or a culture or people that they didn’t have before. But there's also something about that art that holds a mirror up to them so that it resonates with their life and their experience."

Getting There: "No one wants to see a movie about Mexicans, let alone dead Mexicans," is what Gutierrez was told when he was fresh out of school, pitching The Book of Life, centered on Dia de los Muertos. A few years later, after his Emmy Award-winning Nickelodeon series, El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, he returned to the same executive suites with the identical pitch. "The first time I wrote it, it was amateurish and weird and dark and not for us. The same project, 'This is so original, and brilliant and a new voice."

The Good News: "There are so many outlets that are looking at programs," Dungey said, agreeing with Gutierrez that it's a seller’s market. "It's never been easier for you to put your own stuff out. All you need is an iPhone and an internet connection." Gutierrez was even more sanguine, adding, "This is a golden era for women and people of color to be getting things made. Black Panther, Wonder Woman — white men had a really good run; it was awesome but it’s time of something new."

The Pitch: Frontload your pitch, advised Dungey. Make sure executives have a firm grasp of the concept in the first five minutes. "You probably have 30 or 40 minutes. But you don't know if 10 minutes into your pitch something is going to blow up and they're going to be pulled out," Dungey counseled. "Come in and be really clear and really concise and frontload what you’re telling. The first five minutes in the room are the most important five minutes."

Giving Notes: "When I give a note, it’s because we’ve talked enough about the story that I feel like I understand what it is you want to say. And what is currently on the page or currently in the cut isn't doing the job of telling the thing that I know you want to say," is how Dungey explained her process, while admitting that some executives "feel like they have to give notes for the sake of giving notes. They feel like if they’re not, then they’re not contributing."

Getting Notes: "I used to make the horrible mistake of when the notes would come in, I would read them and then immediately rage and reply. Now, more mature me gets the notes and reads them, rages but I don't write it down. I go to sleep, come back the next day, 10 o'clock in the morning, have a shot of tequila, reread the notes and write a more mature reply," Gutierrez told of lessons learned. "You have to have the heart of a poet, but you have to have the endurance of a boxer."

Executive Kung-fuWhen Gutierrez was confronted with merchandising executives who insisted boys would not buy a matador with pink socks in The Book of Life, he pointed out to them the October release date, when the NFL and NBA would be wearing pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "Are you saying 20th Century Fox is against breast cancer awareness?" he grilled them. "Mr. Gutierrez, you can have your pink socks," he was told.

It was a lesson in what he called "Executive Kung-fu," which he learned from Book of Life's producer, Guillermo del Toro, when he first pitched the idea. "He was a total dick to me," is how Gutierrez remembered del Toro when he arrived. He was given 20 minutes to pitch, which, as he opened his mouth to speak, was shortened to five. Just as he dove into it, a cadre of leaf blowers drowned him out. "So, I pitch him, we go inside. I say, 'I'm sorry the pitch was not very good.' He goes, 'Not very good? In my whole life this is the shittiest pitch I’ve ever seen!' Then he says, 'Of course I want to produce your movie,'" explaining that he watches El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera with his daughters every Saturday morning.

Fan Mail: "Our show came out at a time when I could have predicted Donald Trump winning cause we got a lot of hate mail — 'Why would I want to watch a show about my gardener? This show is about them, not us,' all that stuff," Gutierrez recalled about the debut of El Tigre. "It really gave me a glimpse into what a part of the U.S. was feeling about foreigners."

Rob the Bank: "Hollywood is a bank," Gutierrez said as a parting word of advice. "The way I broke into the bank and stole from the safe was my own way. But I studied all the thieves and the vault and figured out how it worked. There will always be a bank and there will always be thieves, so you have to figure out how you’re going to get in."

The one-day event included artists like Hueman, Logan Hicks and Julie B, licensing agent Adam Unger, IP attorney Ilya Kushnirsky and KCRW's DnA: Design & Architecture host Frances Anderton, sitting on panels like "How to Legally Protect Your Art," "Selling Art on Social Media," "How to License Your Art," and "Curating Art on the Street," among others.

At the end of the day, the conference awarded 12 artist grants of $1,000 to create original work for a fall exhibition at Art Share L.A., a creative hub with affordable residencies in the downtown Arts District.