When animation vet Bob Harper (Prank Boy) and actor/comedian/director Dave Coulier (Full House) launched LA-based Grilled Cheese Media earlier this year, they knew they had some weighty credits backing them. Harper, for one, has worked exclusively on family-friendly content for Disney, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. And Coulier brought his Full House pedigree, plus a bevy of voice-over credits on animated hits including Muppet Babies and Scooby-Doo.
But despite their resumés—and a development slate of more than 10 original concepts —they knew it would be hard to make inroads in the kids space unless they were strategic about brand-building. For this reason, Grilled Cheese is rolling out its first IP—Major Marlo Meets the Monster from Mars— simultaneously as a self-published book and self-funded 2D-animated short film.
“We’re taking something simple with very little risk that could potentially grow into a bigger property for TV, publishing and the theatrical shorts world,” says Harper.
He created the preschool concept in 2010 to teach kids about the letter M through alliteration. “The main character was an imaginative girl who went to Mars to engage with a monster that was causing a great menace to the Martian metropolis,” he says.
Harper expanded the concept as a children’s book, launched a website, and re-designed and re-animated a short he had made based on the character. Now, Major Marlo Meets the Monster from Mars has launched as a paperback and eBook through Amazon’s self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing.
Grilled Cheese chose the on-demand publishing route so it wouldn’t have a warehouse full of books that might not sell. “It’s a low-risk way of introducing our character and growing a following,” Harper says.
Grilled Cheese also submitted the Major Marlo short to 20 film festivals using the free festival submission platform filmfreeway.com. It targeted the less expensive fests—those with entry fees under US$15—and shied away from the Oscar feeders, since the tone of the short wasn’t a fit. “The main goal is to get exhibited globally, as opposed to winning,” he says. “Buyers like to see a built-in audience, so the more audience we get, the more valuable the IP becomes. It’s very little financial risk with a big potential payoff.”
Grilled Cheese is also using the short as a teaser/pilot for a potential preschool show, tapping Coulier’s social media following to bring attention to the company’s overall brand of wholesome comedy.
“Besides animation, we are open to every- thing from live action to hybrid projects and puppetry. The nuttier and sillier, the better,” says Harper.
The studio is hoping its low-risk, low-cost approach to Major Marlo will help attract partners to its other projects, which include half a dozen series ideas for six- to 11-year-olds, a few feature film scripts and a handful of preschool concepts—one of which has already been optioned.
Moving forward, its biggest challenge will be patience. “Things will come easier once we prove that we can get our first big IP out to the market,” says Harper.