For the past eight years, Fede Ponce has led a double life. For most of the year, the designer and creative director creates titles and trailers for blockbuster movies like The Avengers and Thor. But between commercial jobs, he funnels all of his energy into Sebastian: The Slumberland Odyssey, his own ‘science fantasy’ series – now looking for funding on Kickstarter.
Last week, we talked to Fede about the project, the team of creative collaborators he has assembled around him – including concept artist Shaddy Safadi, illustrator Phillip Dickenson, character designer Anthony Sixto and digital sculptor Petur Arnorsson – and the obstacles he has faced in his quest to get Sebastian made. You can read the interview here.
This week, Fede distills his experiences from that journey into 10 key tips for other artists hoping to follow in his footsteps and develop their own intellectual property.
1. Create something you believe in: not something you think will sell
My whole working life [in trailers and commercials] has been dealing with target audiences. But at no point while I was developing Sebastian did I think: ‘How do I cater to this market?’ I wanted to remove those considerations, and just try to share what was intimate and personal to me.
If you’re setting out to create your own IP because your end goal is to please people, I think you’re going to find it a very unsatisfying and empty journey. But if you’re doing it because it’s your world, your journey will be a lot richer. You’re not trying to please anybody; you’re just sharing something cool. And if other people want to come along, that’s great.
2. Be prepared to make sacrifices
Be prepared to make a lot of personal sacrifices. Over the past years, there has been a lot of seeing my friends go out to have fun while I stayed in. Or of seeing friends buying new cars and me restraining myself because I knew I might need the money to take some time off work.
Sometimes, I wake up thinking: ‘Has all this been worth it?’ I don’t have the car, or the big house, and I’ve made sacrifices in other areas of my life. But I’m doing something I love. I’m not redoing someone else’s franchise: I’m doing something that comes from my own personal experience.
3. Be in it for the long haul
A lot of people have what I call the ‘app mentality’: that they’re going to create something, make a million, and then retire. But that isn’t how this world works. You have to keep the mentality that this is a game of endurance, and that you’re going to have to work every single day.
For example, people think that if you run a successful Kickstarter campaign, you get the money and then you’re set. In practice, you raise the money, about 30-40% of it is taken out in fees and taxes – and then you’ve got to dedicate your time to fulfilling your promises. And that’s like working on any other production, only with a very small budget. It isn’t all roses.
4. It’s better to work sporadically than burn out
I’m an independent contractor, so during the development of Sebastian, I’d work really hard in my day job for six or seven months, then take three months off to work on the project.
There were times when I took on jobs with very difficult hours, or that meant I had to work during the holidays. It’s heartbreaking to be at your computer on Christmas Eve, even by your own choice. But it can be better than fitting in development work at evenings and weekends.
You can do your regular job in the day then come home to work on your IP at night for a while. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. After a while you get burned out, and your performance on both jobs suffers. Your relationships also suffer, and your friendships start fading out.
I’ve found that it’s better to do the commercial work, save up the money, spend time with family and friends, and then put up an announcement saying, ‘I’m going to be unavailable for a while.’
5. Remember: you’re only competing with yourself
When you visit a community like ArtStation, the amount of talent out there is incredible. In the Renaissance, there were maybe hundreds of [major artists working at any one time]. Now you go online and see thousands and thousands of incredibly creative people.
That can be overwhelming, but it isn’t a competition unless you make it one. Ultimately, you do need to attract other people’s attention, but on a personal project, the main person you’re competing with is yourself.
6. Don’t be afraid to share the project
When I was first creating Sebastian, I was very private about it. I didn’t want to share because I was afraid: afraid that someone might steal my ideas, or that they would lose their freshness. And that was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made.
If you want to create something big, you cannot be precious about your content, because it isn’t yours – at least, not in that sense. I didn’t create Sebastian from scratch: it’s a combination of my personal experiences and stories that other people have told me.
The notion that you’re creating something unique is erroneous. Think you have a brilliant idea? Google it. You’ll find that 25 people have thought of the same thing. It’s not about how amazing your idea is: it’s how you deliver it; how you tell the story and how it relates to your own life.
7. Feed off other people’s enthusiasm
Creating an intellectual property isn’t just about you. It’s about the community you’re going to create around that property. If you can inspire other people to be inspired with you, you’re on the way to creating something special.
Doing this stuff often feels like rolling a rock up a mountain. So when you meet someone who really becomes passionate about your characters – like Anthony Sixto, our concept designer – to the point where they end up calling you in the middle of the night to say, ‘But why would so-and-so do that?’, it really pumps you up.
We’ve had a lot of people like that through the years: strangers who have come into contact with the story, and seen something in it. And that has kept me going. When you see that you can touch another person’s life, it gives you [the will to go on] for another two years.
8. Do your homework
Be informed about the field that you want to go into. I’ve spent years researching, meeting people, going to film markets, trying to get a sense of [how the movie and TV world works].
It isn’t about crafting your story for the market; more about knowing what to expect. For example, studios will often buy the rights to a property, then shelve it. You might sell your movie script, then see it gather dust for six years. Know the market and have the right expectations.
9. Do your due diligence
There are a lot of really good people out there, but there are some really bad people too. While looking for funding, we came across a group of scammers who claimed to have an incredible Rolodex of investors lined up: the catch was that they required an up-front fee of $10,000.
Obviously, we never paid a cent, but these people are resilient. They rented a Mercedes, and they took us to some great restaurants. They went to great lengths to look convincing.
So do your due diligence. Google people, trace them on LinkedIn, get a lawyer to vet them – and be up-front about it. If people get offended because you’re asking for proof of funds – a letter from the bank, or a copy of a bank statement – get out of there. Real business people don’t mind that; they understand it’s part of the business process.
10. Remember you’re lucky, even when you don’t feel it
Developing your own IP is exhausting. There have been times when I’ve cried, when I’ve wanted to quit, and just have a normal nine-to-five life.
But ultimately, I know I can’t. I’ve been very blessed and protected in my life, and I know there are a lot of people out there who aren’t in a position to do this. So when I just sit back and just watch TV or play a videogame, it feels like a waste.