Fred Seibert

Through my internship/junior membership at the Producers Guild of America (PGA), I’ve had a number of incredible opportunities. One I’d like to write about was a recent talk given by Fred Seibert, an animation producer and owner of Frederator studios, and moderated by long-time friend and industry giant Herb Scannell, who is currently the president of BBC Worldwide North America and former president of Nickelodeon. This event was part of the PGA’s New Media Council’s ‘Spark! The Conversation’ series.

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Fred Seibert is a titan. On the official Frederator site, he gives a very good breakdown of what he himself has dubbed the five different lives he’s lead thus far, so I won’t redundantly give his backstory. A charismatic and gifted orator, it was entertaining to hear him tell his own story. His conversation was peppered with perfectly timed pauses, sideways glances to friend Herb, and a running jokes about his, to quote my friend Josh, “passionate ego-obsession.”

Though many of my non-animation major friends have not necessarily heard of him, or even Frederator, they’ve certainly heard this sound bite, and know the work that’s been put out. Titles include The Fairly Oddparents, ChalkZone, Fanboy & Chum Chum, My Life as a Teenage Robot, the recently kickstarted Bee and Puppycat, YouTube sensation Bravest Warriors, and golden child Adventure Time. He was one of the earliest in the business to jump on the teen/young adult wagon (MTV Networks), and more recently his ventures on the Internet (namely YouTube).

While Herb was president of Nickelodeon, he greenlit some of the channel’s most famous cartoons (Ren and Stimpy, Hey Arnold, Doug, Rugrats, The Fairly Oddparents, SpongeBob SquarePants, and even Dora the Explorer). His full bio can be found on the BBC’s site.

I figure I will share some of the notes I felt compelled to jot down throughout the evening:

  • Seibert is known for seemingly always being one step ahead of the competition
  • Brought branding to cable (MTV, Nicelodeon, Viacom in general); created bumpers for the network, and had different, up-and-coming artists to create bumpers
  • He is a champion for creator-driven content, which is what really made the Nicktoons of the 90s stand out (in my opinion, at least).
  • He had proposed pitches that were only for one show–NOT a pilot–but rather, one stand-alone cartoon, despite Nickelodeon only ever making pilots that then got greenlit into series. This lead to Oh Yeah! Cartoons being created, which of course lead to more opportunities
  • Fun fact! David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, worked for Fred when he was still a teenager. The Tumblr and Frederator NYC offices are blocks away from each other in Manhattan, and whenever I visit Tumblr I’m quick to notice the tons of Frederator art everywhere.
  • Throughout his talk, Fred championed for youth, and encouraged fellow producers to look to younger employees to learn from
  • While at Nickelodeon, he had shows like Ren and Stimpy (which was both lauded and vilified), that skyrocketed to success, and Rugrats, which was a 10-year property (that is a flawless masterpiece).
  • Fred took the animators from “the back of the bus to the front.” A quote Ren and Stimpy creator John K hung up read “You can’t write if you can’t draw!” and Fred took that to heart, feeling that animators were often seen as the second string in production teams.
  • New mediums require new brands (such as brand new cartoons debuting on YouTube). More on this in the future.
  • Sees himself as more competitive than talented, with a bit of a god-complex and hatred of people telling him what to do.
  • Briefly discussed the permeance of pop-culture–that convesation is always happening, even when the TV is off. He went as far as to say there would be no The Walking Dead without Madmen, citing the AMC Effect as a prime example. I’d like to return to this for another post in the future.
  • Bee and Puppycat Kickstarter–something for another blog post, too
  • This time period was interesting to note, as all of the different studios/properties (Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, Hanna Barbera) had the same goals, but had completely different strategies and approaches.
  • “Golden Age of animation comes from no one saying you’re wrong. Where they allow anyone stupid enough to try something new to act.”
  • “Seek to over-serve the underserved…”

As I said (multiple times) there are a number of things I took note of that I plan on returning to and expanding upon in the future. There’s much to learn from even his smallest quips. Following the talk, there was an after party where myself and some friends approached and chatted with Fred. He encouraged me to move to LA if I wanted to become an animation producer, among other things. It was a fantastic night.

Also worth noting–if you’re in the NYC area, there is a screening and Q&A with Fred on May 8th: http://www.bam.org/film/2014/frederator

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