Thursday, April 26, 2007

75 writers walk into a bar...

...maybe more.

This time, we needed name tags.

I'm hoping that one of these days, we wont.

Thanks, all.

See ya June or July...


- Steve

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


70 peeps so far.


Monday, April 23, 2007

When you give step by step instructions on how to do what you do...

...the way you do it...

Sometimes this is the result.


Originally found by our friends at Cartoon Brew but I can't help but post it here as well.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this is like having sex with a mirror.

- Steve

P.S. All kidding aside, who did this? Does anyone know? It's so... spot on, even down to the font, that I have to think it was done by Spumco alum...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What's your favorite S&P note?

(S&P, BS&P, B&E, legal clearance...y'know, "the censor.")

It's been over two years since we got this one, and it's beome a "house number." We only have to mention the punch-line to relive it:

In an episode in which a character was to play an onerous number of practical jokes (a subject I now refuse to write about), we had him place a "kick me" sign on someone's the back. Not a brilliant bit, but the 22-minute episode needed about fifteen practical jokes. This proved really hard in the harsh light of the "Imitable Behavior" bugaboo.

S&P reminded us that we don't want to encourage violent behavior. "Perhaps the sign could read 'Tickle Me'." Tickle Me. The writers slapped "Tickle Me" post-it's on each other's back all day long after that.

If you're ever pitching episodes to me, don't even try "The Practical Joke episode" it can't work nowadays. We wanted to have a birthday cake frosted with toothpaste--couldn't do it. Money glued to the ground--defacing currency.

Then there's a flip-side to this: all the things you wrote when you only meant the thing you wrote--yet you get the note about a more-obscene variation of your scene which you were not obscene enough to have even thought of.

Pretty much every writer for the tween audience I've ever met takes their obligation to the kid audience seriously, and doesn't want to show the charagter burning himself alive with gasoline--because what self-respecting kid wouldn't want to at least try that if they saw it on TV. Most writers I know laugh at the constant implication that we have a secret agenda of corrupting the audience.

Sure, there are the rare occasions where scripts are turned in with the attitude of "Hey, it's funny, it's on the line, let's see what the studio thinks." Still, I'll bet every writer reading this has met the Unbelievable S&P Note.

When Tragedy Strikes, so do scene, story and dialogue changes.

Whenever there is a tragedy, it invariably trickles backwards and becomes a standards note.

First one that comes to mind - was From Lilo and Stitch (quoting wikipedia) where:

"The original plan for the ending of Lilo & Stitch was completely changed due to the September 11, 2001 attacks. [1] [2] The original ending featured Stitch stealing a 747 then joyriding among the office and hotel towers of Honolulu; the revised ending uses a spaceship racing through clouds and through a tight valley with Dr. Jumba (the gradually friendlier mad scientist) at the controls while Stitch steals a full tanker truck and rides it down the crater of a volcano. "

I'm not gonna blog about yesterday. It's a bummer. But, it did get me thinking... what other "this happened so change that" stories you guys got?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Smackdown at Tag Central

Well, one good link deserves another.

The folks over at gave us a little shoutout, and it only took 12 hours for the first slapping to begin.

According to Google Analytics, that link was responsible for 15% of the hits that hit the 'site today.

For the record, I only know this because Dancing With The Stars was on, and I figured it was an excellent time to check for links and hits.

Hey, other authors. Feel free to post at any time.

Friday, April 13, 2007


First, the story:

Cartoon Network tries the big screen again

Will ‘Aqua Teen’ sink or swim in theaters?

Consider whether you’d make the following bet — that an animated, talking meatball can be a movie star.

Atlanta’s Cartoon Network is taking just that gamble with a film based on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” an odd but successful cable TV show.

Network execs think their weird little movie will make money, in part because DVDs of previous “Aqua Teen” TV seasons have a good track record. The movie also cost so little to make — about $1 million — that it should be easy to recoup costs.

Mike Lazzo, who runs Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim operation, said “you’d have to be a moron” not to turn a profit. Then he added, “I may regret saying that.”

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

So. Thoughts on the movie that cost a million dollars, has 500, 000 fans and is opening in 800 theaters?

- - - - UPDATE! - - -

So, the movie took in 3 mil for the first weekend.
Three million equals cost of movie PLUS cost of kissing Boston's ass (1 mil plus 2 mil).

I wonder... will this end up being a good decision?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why I didn't really like "Boo Boo Runs Wild" - This May Be My Last John K post for a while

The usual caveats: I know many of the people who worked on this cartoon, and can’t speak highly enough about their talent, and that includes John K.

But on John’s blog he holds up Boo Boo Runs Wild as what really works in a cartoon. I remember watching it a few times – once, the first time, in shock and awe that he got away with what he did. And then, afterwards… Well, that point is for act III of this post.

I have to say, he’s pretty good at making his case over time. I was wondering where this whole “gruntspeak” posting was going – being baffled by how much time and effort he spent discussing the grunting bear in Roger Ramjet.

(For the super hilarious SOMETHINGAWFUL.COM version of these posts, click HERE
and root around. It's awesome.)

Then, of course, I figured it out. It was a couching mechanism for him to pat himself on the back for previous work and point out how words and writers are unimportant in a cartoon.

Fair enough. It's his blog, and it's moderated and doesn't allow anonymous comment so there's no point in even trying to have this discussion there.

So we'll have it here.

But if this is the case, and this is the cartoon is the example of what goes right with animation:

…then lets talk about that.

The cartoon starts at :24 as we pan past a bunch of signs – and ends on a “no shaving” sign on a moose’s ass punctuated by a Bullwinkle Moose, “Hey Watch it!”

From 1:09 to 3:30 – Yogi and Boo Boo wake up, do a funny walk cycle WITHOUT their clothes. There’s a (to me) really funny verbal joke about how all bears must wear at least one human item of clothing, and the bears return to the cave and walk out, repeating the funny walk cycle. We’re 3:30 into the cartoon now.

3:31 – Ranger Smith spends 30 seconds talking to the camera, letting them know he can’t wait to see Yogi screw up.

4:08 – 5:00 – We spend a minute learning “There’s only one thing bears like more than picnic baskets.” Only to have Ranger Smith plop a sign down that says “No tearing of bark.” This sign is never read. And for a cartoon, there’s a hell of a lot of “read me” jokes in here.

From 5:00 – 7:00 –Boo Boo is tired of rules, and is returning to his bear nature. His lips go gray, his nose blue and he now has a different walk cycle as Yogi looks on in horror.

And so ends Act I of a 20 minute cartoon.

I could keep going. I actually did. But as I went on, I found myself getting snarkier and snarkier, and more petty, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I swear to God.

I think there are some really funny drawings, some excellent timing and some great comedy in here.

But it’s worth asking this: Does this cartoon work because it’s intrinsically hilarious? No. I’m not saying it’s not funny… I’m saying it’s funny because it’s PARODY. A Moose. That isn't Bullwinkle. Talks in Bullwinkle's voice. Parody.

Things work and are funny here because you know the characters already.

Boo Boo SHOULDN’T run wild. Yogi SHOULDN’T attack the ranger. Cindy SHOULDN’T be swapping tongues with Boo Boo. The Ranger shouldn’t be pulling out a gun to shoot Boo Boo.

In the end, this is a story about:
• Boo Boo meets self
• Boo Boo loses self
• Boo Boo gets self back.

But if you don’t know Boo Boo is the sweet bear, and you don’t know Yogi’s history, this might be amusing, but it doesn’t resonate. Every thing that works in this cartoon works because it’s winking at the past.

It is a cartoon animated to entertain animation professionals and animation enthusiasts. THAT’S IT. While there are great things about this cartoon, it’s not work. It’s REWORK.
Even the Gruntspeak isn’t original - it is admittedly an homage to the Roger Ramjet grunting bear.

This work is exactly, I might add, what writers who write scripts have been accused of doing to destroy the industry.

Does the fact that I don't worship "Boo Boo Runs Wild" as the second coming of the animation Christ mean I can't appreciate the joy these people clearly had making the cartoon? No. Does any of the above discussion mean the cartoon shouldn't have been made? Also no.

Why shouldn't people who love something be able to do it, and within doing that, have fun with it?

But honestly - come on. The difference between a Family Guy parody of Yogi Bear and John K's parody of Yogi bear is the Family Guy parody of Yogi Bear would have been 19 minutes and 30 seconds SHORTER.

I’m posting this for three reasons: One, you can dissect ANYBODY’S work and show how it sucks, or how it’s great. Two: You can do it in a civil way, without taking cheap shots and dismissing an entire profession of people. And three, one person’s “homage” is another person’s “blasphemy” and it’s really in the eye of the beholder.

And with that, I throw to the floor.

- Steve

Something Awful Dot Com

Oh lordy, this makes me laugh.

Get to the John K post.

- Steve

Why don't animation writers have more of a community?

Simple question, I think.

One of the things I'm always struck by is the fraternity of artists. And the other thing I am occasionally struck by is how distant and in their own world writers tend to be.

I think part of this is shared history. Artists commune from the past and have a shared history of toiling to learn their craft by learning from others and learning with others.

Writers tend to seclude themselves - in their own offices, or in their own head - and crack their ideas internally.

I wonder: Does the fact that artists tend to be more collaborative than writers lead them to be more connected with people that share their skills?

Late night pondering, as I forwarn Gordon Biersch, is all.

- Steve

P.S. Got a blog over at that I'm particularly happy with. If ya get a chance, peek at it. But since it's not about animation, I'm just linking.

Mayerson On Sympathy

One of the most intelligent blogs I've found on the subject of animation is Mayerson On Animation by a multi-hyphenate from Tornto, Mark Mayerson. He consistently writes thoughtfully and intelligently on the subject of animation from the perspective of a writer, director, teacher and Masters candidate.

My favorite of his posts is the first one I discovered called The Importance of Sympathy. It's an interesting look at character, in particular the the conventional expectations of a lead character, both then and now.

Here's an excerpt:
The conventional thinking these days about film scripts is that you need a main character to actively struggle against obstacles to achieve a goal. Thinking of characters, I found it interesting that some of the most successful early animated features starred passive characters.

Snow White is almost an entirely passive character. She yearns for her prince, but does nothing to win him. She is a victim of the evil Queen and is rescued by the prince. The only positive action that Snow White takes in the film is to befriend animals and to serve as a housekeeper for the dwarfs.

The Importance of Sympathy

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Nevermending Story

Logic--the bane of a cartoon writer's existence sometimes. The argument, "it's a cartoon" too often fails to win the day when trying to justify actions in the script that defy logic--even if you're writing about a dead child's ghost who befriends a suburban everykid.

Oftentimes, when presenting scripts to studios, it feels like the goal isn't to entertain kids, it's to make sense. Are kids tuning into their favorite shows because, "Hey, this one makes sense!" "I love Skippy & Flippo because it's so LOGICAL!"

The link below will download an article by Andrew Nicholls, who's wrote the book I posted about last week, "Valuable Lessons."

Click Here for The Nevermending Story

Here's an excerpt:
Meanwhile, you are trying to think of a way to have a character who’s never been on a date or talked to a girl stun an auditorium full of kids with his dancing skills. Sorry; skillz. And the same people who want you to do that because it will be funny (actually, because it was in a movie they saw) urge you to keep it “truthful.”

Hard work and craft get us through 99 percent of our days, but every writer prays for an epiphany. Over the past year – my tenth writing animation, overlapping 30 years of live action – I’ve begun to have a heretical one. It’s that when we alter reality in order to entertain, Story cannot be fixed, not properly, anyway. It’s not only broken, it’s inherently broken. The best we can ever do is to find the least conspicuous fudge to glue it back together.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

It's the budget, stupid!

(For the record, I'm not calling anyone stupid. I'm simply recalling the old "It's the economy stupid" comment from lo those many years ago.)

There's been a lot of discussion about how much overtime, and weekend time, the storyboard artist has to put in. I have seen this first hand. I think the previous post did a fairly good job of pointing out that whether a script is 22 pages or 50 pages, it can still end up being a 22 minute cartoon.

With that in mind, lets do some math:

Let's pretend we're working on, for the sake of argument, a show that just got a 20 episode pick up. WOO! Now, lets use the 839 animation guild "average" weekly salary for a production board, which is $1900.00. (Woo?)

You're the studio: Here are your options.

Two board artists doing 11 minute segments in three weeks, or in five. For the sake of easy of math, that means each half hour episode will either cost six weeks worth of work, or ten.

six weeks - 11,400. Round that up to about 14,000 bucks when you start considering insurance, office costs and stuff like that. I dont know the specifics on that as well as I should, so that's a rough guess.
ten weeks - 19,000. 23,000 bucks with the same rough guess.

So what we're really talking about is the difference of about $180,000 in story board artist costs over the course of 20 episodes.

If somebody can tell me what the domino effect of the above is, that would be great. Do the prop / character designers need more time? Do timers? Because if it's just the board artists doing the extra time, then all we're talking about is a hypothetical $180K. Maybe that's a lot, maybe it's not. Depends on the show. But it is several people's salary on a production.

Now, here's the economic reality of it.

At three weeks, it makes sense to bring this storyboard artist into the studio. Figure it's $7000 for the three weeks. But at five weeks, suddenly, that artist is costing $11,500. The average 839 rate for a freelance 11 minute board: $6000.

So suddenly, a money tight studio or production is going to be forced to decide:

* Pay $11,000 more per half hour episode to have the board artists around which, creatively, is a very good idea. It's good to have them in the pitches, it makes the show better... everybody contributes. Artists can talk to the writers and vice versa. The show will, by the nature of the production, be better... how much so, eye of the beholder.


* Freelance the board out for $5500 less per 11 minutes, $11000 less per half hour which adds up to nearly a quarter million dollar savings for a 20 episode production.

A lot of the issues that are being discussed here come down to dollar and cents discussions... and suddenly, it becomes a very distasteful discussion about art and commerce. Maybe my math is wrong. But I think the theory is intact. On a spread sheet, to a buyer, to a studio... if the board artists can't do 11 minutes in three weeks, it suddenly becomes less cost effective to have an internal board team.

What do you all think? How to you twist the math to make it work in favor of what many clearly believe would be a more reasonable deadline?

- Steve

Happy Easter, from my rabbits to yours.

From your bloggy Jewish pal.


- Steve

P.S. I'm about to send out an evite for the Gordon Biersch thingy on the 26th... if you have any E-mail addresses you think I should include, for god's sake, let me know. Thanks!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

"Rules" for Storyboard Artists

The board artists are about to come on for season two of The Replacements and we'll have a meeting in which we go over what we liked and didn't like about season one and what we hope to accomplish in season two. Last year, I only had one "rule" for the artists regarding the scripts.

If you think you have a better joke than the one in the script, feel free to put it in. The only caveat was - if the new joke changed the plot in a major way - come discuss it with me first.

This year our scripts have gotten longer, mainly because our Director has asked the writers to be more explicit in our scene and action descriptions. The idea behind that is to help our board artists by being more clear on the intended visuals. To that end, the Director is in our first draft script punch up sessions not only helping add jokes but also actively asking for clarification of unclear stage direction and avoiding board blunders. (Do we really need that herd of buffalo?)

At the same time, I want the artist to feel free to improvise and riff when they get the script so I think the rule for season two will be expanded to-

If you think you have a better joke, or staging of a scene than the one in the script, feel free to put it in. The only caveat is - if the new joke or staging of a scene changes the plot in a major way - come discuss it with me first.

Anyone got any thoughts on this or any other "rules" you would suggest?


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Old script online. And Vincenet Waller said it would never happen!

So, I found a site that has a Danny Phantom recording script.

And while I'm sure I'm setting myself up for a beating, I'd be some sort of hypocrite if I didn't point this out to the group.

You can find it here:

It's a 22 minute episode, 30 pages of script.

I had hoped to provide a Youtube embed in here, but no such luck. So... if you want to compare the script with the cartoon, you'll have to grunt your way through turbonick by clicking here:

Enjoy or don't enjoy... but either way, there ya go.

- Steve

Andrew Nicholls Valuable Lessons

Andrew Nicholls & Darrell Vickers have written more television than you. The number of shows they have on their resume is in the hundreds. In the past ten years, many of those shows have been animated series for the very company you're trying to get to hire you right now. Since I'm not their press agent, I'll stop there, except to say this--they've written on a lot of shows. They're also wickedly funny, prolific and fast. In the time it's taken me to write this post, they've finished act two.

Andrew Nicholls wrote the tell-all book "Valuable Lessons" about their life in television, and the fun people they've met along the way, I predicted success. I was wrong, but Andrew's loss is your complete gain. He links to the manuscript for a free download on their website, and you should read it. The book is eloquent, acerbic, terrifying and depressing, as he tells the stories about the rollercoaster ride of their career. He talks about money, he names names, he shares his valuable lessons.

If you would like a free download of the manuscript no publisher has yet been smart enough to pick up, then go to their download page, and click on the button for "Valuable Lessons" for immediate download as a .pdf.

Bullet Point Beliefs #1

* I believe that just by sheer volume, there are more talented cartoonists in animation than there are writers. But I also believe that when you're talking about who is "great" the ratio of great:good:mediocre is probably equal.

* I believe we are living in an era of disposable cartoons. Shows that are meant to get laughs now, and if they stand the test of time later, so be it. South Park is a perfect example. Many of those episodes won't stand the test of time, but I wouldn't want to live in a world where they didn't do "Trapped in a closet" or the "World of Warcraft" episode.

* I believe if John K thinks you can do cheap animation well (ala Roger Ramjet, and I agree) and that grunting bears are hilarious ("Boo Boo Runs Wild" was a hilarious cartoon.) and that he has the vision and ability to make great cartoons (which I agree) he should stop complaining about what's wrong with animation and use his friends, clout, believers and connections to make a series already. For a guy who hates words, he sure uses a lot of them.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A day in the life of a non-drawing cartoon writer

(According to a few people anyway)

8:00 AM - Alarm goes off. Hits snooze. Sleeping comfortably on piles of money, rolls over and goes back to bed.

9:11 - Phone rings, waking writer as baffled story board artist calls to find out what the hell he was talking about. Throws sack of Kruggerands at phone to shut it up.

10:27 - Finally wakes up. Goes to the rest room. Takes a crap. Looks at it, realizes once again, he has crapped gold. GOLD! And peanuts. But gold!

11:14 - Saunters into the studio, accidentally knocking over a pile of neatly organized storyboard pages that were about to be pitched, causing her hours of work rearranging it for for an 11:15 pitch.

11:20 - Passes cubicles on way to gigantic office, saying hello to board artists, but getting half of their names wrong.

11:30 - Leaves for lunch.

2:30 - Returns from lunch, smelling of gin and stripper.

3:00 - Calls agent, asks how it's looking for a job on Fox's "War at home." In lieu of that, looks for joke writing for Jay Leno. Or Letterman. Or anybody who will pay WGA minimums and residuals.

3:30 - Realizing no residuals will be coming anytime soon, forces a meaningless song into an episode. After spending 30 minutes on in an attempt to find words that rhyme with "Fart," pronounces the song emmy-worthy. Song takes up pages 24 through 27 in the revised script.

4:45 - Starts writing new script with the words "100 zebras of different colors run down a hill of daffodils, rose bushes and apple trees that have rainbow colored apples. The thorns glisten in the light, like the sun rippling against a lake on a windy day."

4:59 - Heads home, asks board artists to not raid the 'fridge of his diet cokes when they leave that night.

8:00 - On way to Hollywood, realizing he lost his watch while patting himself on the back. Swings by the studio to pick it up, saying hello to the board artists on the way to, and back from his office. Stops to count "diet cokes" - unsure of he the number he had in there, takes a moment to leave a bitchy note with the line producer, just in case.

9:30 - Parties with Paris Hilton. Has no shot at her, of course, because when he answers the quesiton "what cartoon" he mentions it's a basic cable kids show. She disappears into the bathroom with two guys who were smart enough to say they were the creators of South Park, but were actually the Valet parkers.

1:15 AM - Drives past studio. Lights on in the studio as the board artists continue working. Accidentally breaks wind and smells it... sure enough, it smells like roses.

P.S. - Happy 4/1... including to John and Stephen, who probably believe this. :)