Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bob Harper's List Of Things You Should Question In Your Script

From previous post:

Thoughts?

1. Non-sequitor gags requiring new visuals.

2. Scenes that have too many characters interacting.

3. Do the characters need to be doing odd tasks or moving through the scene for fear they may appear static?

4. Too much direction in the scripts. Let the board artist do what they do. (BTW - animators have some issues with some board artists as well)

5. Monologues that cause the board artists to overly "animate" the dialog.

6. Too many locations.

7. Abundant costume changes, lighting, color etc. of pre-existing models.

8. Crowd scenes

9. New characters

10. Singing and Dancing

11. New Exotic Locations

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

So basically... avoid anything that needs to be animated.

;-)

Roy said...

I disagree with:

1. Non-sequitor gags, provided they're relatively low maintanence (i.e. a falling anvil as opposed to a herd of elk) are cool and often carry a lot of punch without a lot of effort.

4. The reason to have a script at all is so that the board artists don't have a lot of guesswork.
The point is, board artists should have the authority to change stuff in the script that doesn't work in the boards.

5. I don't even get this one. At least monologues are easy to draw.

I sort of agree with:

7. When you need them, you need them.

9. When you need them, you need them.

6. When you need them, you need them.

11. When you need them, you need them.

The point is, don't fall back on this stuff just because you can't think of anything better to write.

I absolutely completely agree with:

2. Any more than 3 or 4 characters in any given scene and it just winds up being a muddled mess which is why shows like 'Rugrats' are so painful to watch.

8. and 10. Concerts, amusement parks, parties, proms, sports events, riots and stuff like that KILL a cartoon.
I don't mean they kill the artists, I mean they kill the cartoon. What's more fun? Watching a couple of characters you love doing fun stuff or watching huge crowds of badly animated anonymous background characters run around?
And, yes, unless you have a bottomless budget and no deadline to report to, then stuff like this will ensure that your artists will wind up resenting you for the torture these things represent.

Another rule to follow is: One minute per page. You can argue all you want against it but if you have an 11 minute show with a 15 page script it means some artist is going to run themselves ragged storyboarding 5 script pages of material that will never see the light of day. That's a waste of time money and manpower.

Yet another rule to follow: Simplicity. These are cartoons, not Mexican soap operas.

If half the cartoon scripts in the world followed even SOME of these rules SOME of the time the world would be a better place.

Unfortunately, most of the scripts I've ever seen have broken all of these rules in abundance over and over again.

But this is nothing new. If hearing us say it did any good this blog wouldn't even exist because there would be no problem because artists have been pleading for these things for years.

Evan Gore said...

I like this post; and I mean this in the most positive way--it's all the rules that were laid on me at my first animation job. It's Animation writing 101; the trouble is remembering it when you're having fun with the dessert cart of dialogue and jokes. You should tag this post under "Animation Writing" and "How to Write A Cartoon."

Regarding point #4: Let the board artists do what they do, some thoughts:

How literally a script is followed during the filmmaking process is not the decision of the writer, unless he is also the Exec Producer, and even then it depends on that person's management style. Nobody wants the writer who writes, "And then they fight" or "and then hilarity ensues."

The writer's job is to be as clear as possible, and set up the board artist for as much success as he can, and put in the time to imagine the scene--just like a good board artist must. Everything should be getting plussed at ever phase, and by "plussed" I don't necesarily mean "changed," I mean--best idea gets on the screen.

Whoever is the creative lead on a show is who shold make the call of whether or not to "let the board artist do what they do." It depends on the writer, and it depends on the artist, and it depends on how much time there is for the board artist to get it right.

The script can be altered at the board phase, and is all the time; but that doesn't mean the writer should leave a hole in it out of respect for the artist's craft.

From a technical standpoint, the best animation writing is a verbal storyboard. On my current show, we're telling the writers to "describe the coloring book version" of the scene, and not include langage which describes a shot that's difficult to envision in a coloring book.

Evan Gore said...

I like this post; and I mean this in the most positive way--it's all the rules that were laid on me at my first animation job. It's Animation writing 101; the trouble is remembering it when you're having fun with the dessert cart of dialogue and jokes. You should tag this post under "Animation Writing" and "How to Write A Cartoon."

Regarding point #4: Let the board artists do what they do, some thoughts:

How literally a script is followed during the filmmaking process is not the decision of the writer, unless he is also the Exec Producer, and even then it depends on that person's management style. Nobody wants the writer who writes, "And then they fight" or "and then hilarity ensues."

The writer's job is to be as clear as possible, and set up the board artist for as much success as he can, and put in the time to imagine the scene--just like a good board artist must. Everything should be getting plussed at ever phase, and by "plussed" I don't necesarily mean "changed," I mean--best idea gets on the screen.

Whoever is the creative lead on a show is who shold make the call of whether or not to "let the board artist do what they do." It depends on the writer, and it depends on the artist, and it depends on how much time there is for the board artist to get it right.

The script can be altered at the board phase, and is all the time; but that doesn't mean the writer should leave a hole in it out of respect for the artist's craft.

From a technical standpoint, the best animation writing is a verbal storyboard. On my current show, we're telling the writers to "describe the coloring book version" of the scene, and not include langage which describes a shot that's difficult to envision in a coloring book.

Anonymous said...

I noticed Stephen Worth posted that Yogi Bear board that we've all been waiting for on the ASIFA archive site (actually it is pretty great). I also notice in his intro he takes his usual potshots at writers and links to the discussion about writing on John K's blog. Interestingly he provides no linkage to the discussions here. Hmmm...

Anyway, can't he spare us the sermon and get to the meal? I pay dues to that organization. Then again, I pay even more dues to the guild, and they seem pretty happy to take potshots at writers on the TAG blog too.

Glad to see this one is getting past the same old go nowhere back and forth and into useful territory like this.

Bob Harper said...

Just to clarify - the non sequitor gag I'm referiing to is the prolonged "Family Guyesque" or "Homer Thoughtcloud"sequences that result in a simple gag that could be done more economically. Anvils, Pies and Face require a few frame and a prop (no problemo to do) and usualy are the result of a progression for a payoff.

Monologues that require heavy lipsynching and subtle acting are not easy to do, convincingly for a series, with the time constraints.

As far as #4 is concerned - I compare it to live action scriptwriting where directors don't like to see camera instructions, etc. from the writers. I do feel that writers should be part of this phase with the director and board artists, but as we know sometimes the way the system is setup, the board guy will do waht the scripot says, not to ruffle feathers.

Also, as a disclaimer, I don't propose that any of these things can't be in a scipt or that these are hard fast rules, just that they are problematic on the prodcution side of things. It's just alittle laundry list I have when I sit down to write a script.

I agree with the added items Roy proposed as well.

wurdhurlr said...

Guidelines, not rules. I push myself and my writers to make better scripts, and I don't have a problem pushing artists. It's all about being reasonable, creative, flexible, and shooting for good entertainment.

Have I ever seen any crowd scenes on "Spongegob," one of the best boarded-driven shows in recent memory? Sure I have. Is it really that difficult to create a new prop for a fantastic non-sequitur gag? Not unless the show is already heavy with new props. These are all good guidelines but no writer should be a slave to them. Keep the guidelines in mind and be reasonable.

BTW, I've seen this 11-page animation-script-rule mentioned before. Please stop. There are enormous variations when it comes to pages-per-minute, depending on how fast the show is, how much story is dialogue, and how much directing is done on the page. I've written on shows where 22-page scripts were the norm and virtually all the material ended up in the show. It was a very fast, very dialogue-oriented show with extremely detailed scripts. The detail was how the producers kept control of their show once the scripts were out of their hands. More power to them. They had a vision and a reputation to protect. If you're an artist running a show and you feel comfortable with fewer pages, slowing down the pace and vamping with sight-gags, have at it.

Hey Ev! It's me, Bart Jennett

wurdhurlr said...

Oh hey, Bob. I didn't see your last post. Ignore the strident tone of mine.

Marty said...

Hey, quick thanks to Bob Harper for posting this list. Clearly not definitive, but it has certainly led to a more civil and constructive discussion. So thanks for taking the bait. I've probably been guilty of every one of these at one time or another. That's the learning curve.

Just curious, what's your take on "cheating" things like crowd scenes i.e., focusing on specific characters in strategic closeups and perhaps indicating the rest of the crowd through sound and/or silhouette? Do-able, or just wishful thinking on the part of the writer?

Bob said...

We've specified painted crowds in scripts or held silhouettes, yet somehow along the way it always ended up being executed in the more labor intensive form. Not sure why, exactly.

Bob Harper said...

Regarding crowd scenes. I don't think the writer has complete control of how they get executed. Sometimes the board artist goes overboard as does some directors.

As a writer, you might suggest that it could be cheated and also not provide any crowd dialog or specific action, unless it's "story-centric". Refer to them as onlookers or a single unit, like "the crowd moans" etc.

Once again this falls on the board artist and director in the end.

Craig D said...

A random thought about crowd scenes...

One of my favorite Popeye cartoons is "King Of The Mardi-Gras."

It opens on a slow pan of a big, moving (cycles) Mardi-Gras crowd scene.

The action moves to a smaller animated crowd around Bluto's and Popeye's side show stages. (Uh, oh! They both sing an original song and dance!)

After the first minute or so, the action moves from the stage area into an amusement park midway. A big pan of Olive shows her running through the blurred midway background.

From this point on, it is a 3 character cartoon. (Mind you, there is a whole lot of complicated animation while the three of them ride a roller coaster!)

I guess my observation is, even classic cartoons had crowd scenes. This one used it to establish the location and then the crowds got smaller and smaller until the focus was on the three main characters. You'd think the park was deserted as soon as the roller coaster segment arrives! The cartoon is not ABOUT the crowd. There is not one of those "characters elbow their way through the mob" scenes, either.

This may or may not have been germaine to this discussion, but I thought I'd throw it out FWIW...

Bob Harper said...

Hey Craig,

Just as a point of reference. You know that they had more time for footage in those days.

Unfortunately TV production schedules don't allow for that kind of time.

Just to put it into perspective. Looney Tunes during the heyday produced roughly 25 shorts a year with and average of 5 per unit or director. 5 shorts = 35 muntes. Al together their output amounted to 8 TV episodes worth of footage.

Even more time is alloted for features. A Pixar animator said that her average output was 4 seconds a week.

Allot of us do 30 seconds to 2 minutes a week. As we have to produce 1 1/2 times as much as 5 Looney Tunes units in less time and with 1 unit.

Craig D said...

Bob:

Agreed, re: then-vs-now!

I don't know if I even had a point (!) other than here is a great cartoon that, wasn't inherently bad because of the inclusion of crowd scenes, an original song and characters dancing.

A Dora The Explorer episode (going back a few posts) with dancing and singing is painful to watch. And, yes, singing and dancing is included in every danged episode.

Crowd scenes? If you must include one, do like Popeye did. Establish that there is a crowd and then make 'em disappear, sez I.

As should be evident, I'm not an industry pro. Just a guy who watches cartoons and finds this on-going topic interesting. That's all...

Bob Harper said...

Hey Craig,

I see where your coming from. I agree with your sentiments.

"Good" or "bad" is definately subjective. Any of these things can add or take away from a cartoon, depending on the story.

I try not to let my personal taste affect my service work. I am just pointing out what makes things difficult to do on the production side of things, whether it is Dora or Iron Giant.

Eric Trueheart said...

Very good advice about the crowd scenes that I hadn't specifically considered before. But it's true: Once you plant the idea of "a lot" of anything in the viewer's brain, s/he will take it for granted from then on.

But I'm glad Bart pointed out:
BTW, I've seen this 11-page animation-script-rule mentioned before. Please stop. There are enormous variations when it comes to pages-per-minute, depending on how fast the show is, how much story is dialogue, and how much directing is done on the page.

Very true, that. Scripts are individual to the production process. We experimented with a number of different script lengths on "Invader ZIM" since it was a very visual show. We started with 15-16 pages (too long) and got as low as 10-11 (way too short, it turned out). In the end we found 13-14 was a good number, but again, every episode featured at least one, maybe two big visual sequences. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

this is why it's pointless to try to get writers to understand. you tell them with total conviction and experience that you should stick to one minute per page and they just say "no... your wrong"

Steve said...

Ah, but perhaps we have learned from experience that one minute per page doesn't work for the kind of shows we work on?

Scurvy Dog said...

I constantly hear the 1 minute 1 page rule from artist... and yet, I've worked on shows where that simply is not the case. Not even close. Getting footage back that is 3 to 4 minutes short is a bitch to deal with once production is rolling. It's all case by case... also episode to episode. Are there a set number of board pages per-minute? No. Depends on the action, type of show, amount of dialogue, the show runner, etc... interesting that, huh?

roy said...

::Getting footage back that is 3 to 4 minutes short is a bitch to deal with ::

I've never, EVER seen this happen.

Every single artist I know in the industry complains that their scripts are too long and they work their asses off on whole sequences that just wind up getting cut for time.

Are they all just full of shit or lying?

I doubt it. Because that's my experience as well.

::perhaps we have learned from experience that one minute per page doesn't work for the kind of shows we work on?::

How would a writer know? Since when do writers deal with the animation timing?

I'd also question your definition of the term "work"... does a "working script" in your opinion require a bunch of editing and rewriting and revising once the storyboard is finished? If so, it's not a "working script".

The point you're all failing to see because you're so defensive about these issues is that these rules are GENERAL guidelines.

A good animator can look at a script regardless of how many pages it is and tell you if it's likely to be too long or too short.

The real point is that if someone tells you your scripts are coming in too long, you SHORTEN THEM.

But, yet again, here you have another issue where the overhwelming majority of animators are telling you what one of their problems with writers are and your response is simply to say "There's no problem. We're right, you're wrong."

Vincent Waller said...

Hey look Anonymous Roy and I agree on something;)

I have been handed 62 page scripts for an eleven minute show. When I pointed out that this would be a problem, I was brushed off with "Oh but we're not doing one of those Nick type shows." Guess what? You can't shove a 65lbs hog into an eleven lbs skin.

I've watched the digital compression make the animation go a strobbing in an effort to shoe horn in words.I guess hat's okay if all you're interested in is the words.
We all over-write. I do it, you do it. One of things that seperates a good writer from the pack is the ability to say more with less, or you can just change the font size. Hahaha.... uh ya, that's not funny.

Scurvy Dog said...

Vincent Waller said...

"I have been handed 62 page scripts for an eleven minute show.."

------------------------------------

You have to be kidding. I've worked a long time in animation and never seen even a 22 min script go over 50 pages. I can't conceive how an 11 min script could be 62 pages.

Vincent Waller said...

Oh if you could imagine what these eyes have see.
I'm not kiding.

Scurvy Dog said...

Wow. Okay then. Whoever was running that show didn't know what they were doing then. That's ridiculous.

Obviously all writers suck because of this.

(actually joking with that last comment.)