Q: What’s going on at Big Idea?
A: If you haven’t heard, there have been big changes at Big Idea over the last year. Technically speaking, Big Idea Productions, Inc., the company I started in 1993, no longer exists. It was dissolved in bankruptcy court in November of 2003. Yes, you read that right. Due to a whole host of unfortunate events, Big Idea fell into bankruptcy in mid-2003. All the assets (characters, films, songs, file cabinets, Sharpies… everything) had to be sold through a public auction process governed by the court to try to repay as many of Big Idea’s creditors as possible. While a whole host of interested parties showed up to place bids, the winning bid came from Classic Media, a NYC-based media company that owns a trove of classic characters like Lassie, the Lone Ranger, Casper, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and Underdog. Classic formed a new corporation called “Big Idea, Inc.” to hold these assets, and hired about 30 former Big Idea Productions employees to continue producing more VeggieTales videos and manage the business on their behalf. Some key folk like Mike Nawrocki, Kurt Heinecke and Tim Hodge have joined Classic and will remain involved with VeggieTales.
Q: What about YOU, Phil? Did you sign up with Classic, too?
A: Well, that part was a bit tricky. The Classic guys are decent enough fellows and I really didn’t want to abandon the characters I’d created or the fans that’d grown to love them, but there was a catch. First, they had no interest in letting me run Big Idea (which, given the state of the company when they found it shouldn’t really surprise anyone). Second, if I had taken a staff position with Classic, not only would they have owned VeggieTales, but they also would own by default any new ideas I would create while under their employ. So Lisa and I would have lost ownership and control of everything we created in the past, and everything we would create going forward. Since we consider our work a ministry first and a business second, we really feel called by God to maintain as much control as possible, so our ideas can always stay true to God’s call and any profits they make can be reinvested into more ministry work. A staff position with Classic Media, unfortunately, would have made that impossible.
Q: So are you gone from VeggieTales forever?
A: No. I worked out a deal with Classic Media where I will write one VeggieTales episode for them each year, and give notes on up to two more that are written by the in-house creative folk or other writers. In addition, I’ve agreed to continue performing voices for my little troupe of veggies (rather vital, since I voice about half the characters). I’m doing this work in exchange for creative fees, plus an ongoing participation in the profits from VeggieTales videos, which Lisa and I can reinvest in new ministry work. So God has really done something interesting. He has taken a situation that started out as a complete disaster (literally the loss of everything I have done in my adult life), and brought out of it an opportunity for me to return my focus to new stories as he directs, while allowing VeggieTales to provide the funding. To be honest, trying to run a ‘big company’ didn’t fit my personality or gifting in any way. And the bigger the company grew, the less time I had to use the creative gifts God had given me. I was so convinced that God wanted me to be “Walt Disney” that I kept banging my head against that door, even as the company was unraveling around me. And amazingly, God used the disaster of Big Idea collapsing to gently whisper, “I don’t want you to be Walt Disney. I want you to be Phil.” To which, of course, I replied, “But I’m not sure I know who ‘Phil’ is!” And then he responded, “Just slow down, take a deep breath, and I’ll show you.” Pretty cool, huh?
Q: So what are you up to these days?
A: I’m starting again, and I wanted the name for my new company to remind me every day of the lessons I’ learned. So he picked “Jellyfish.” Why? Because jellyfish can’t choose their own course. They can’t loco mote. They can go up a little; they can go down a little. But overall, they’re completely dependent on the current to carry them wherever they’re supposed to be. For a jellyfish to make a 20-year plan would be ridiculous. And so it is with us. Rather than crafting my little plans and laboring to force things to go “my way,” I and my new cohorts at Jellyfish are committed to seeking and following God’s direction, each and every day – committed to staying in the “current” of God’s will, and letting Him carry us where we need to be. No long range plans, unless they come directly from God.
It sounds a bit weird. Practically “un-American.” How do you run a company without long range planning? To be honest, we’re not exactly sure. But that’s the Jellyfish experiment. Stay tuned – we’ll tell you how it goes.
Jellyfish is the creative shop founded by Phil Vischer to develop new faith-based projects for kids and families. Prior to founding Jellyfish, Phil founded Big Idea Productions and led the team that brought VeggieTales to life. Joined now by a small group of key Big Idea friends, Phil is applying the lessons learned from Big Idea and VeggieTales to new Christian family media projects.