Wednesday, May 30, 2007

And with one response, Amid from Cartoon Brew becomes my hero.

First, go here:

...because from there, I backlinked and found this quote from Amid Amidi:

"Faulting Tell-Tale Heart for its lack of “expressive and skillful stylized animation” is like faulting Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care for its lack of pictorial imagery. It completely misses the point that animation is an infinitely rich graphic art filled with all types of visual possibilities.

That is exactly what the UPA artists were trying to prove with films like Tell-Tale Heart though that lesson apparently still hasn’t sunk in with people like the head of ASIFA-Hollywood’s Animation Archive who wish to limit the definition of what constitutes quality animated filmmaking. It’s depressing that somebody in charge of a project dedicating to promoting and educating people about the possibilities of this art form is so limited in his own understanding about what the possibilities of the art form are."

...countering the usual "everything sucks but what I think" opinions that were recently countered over HERE as well.

- Steve

Sunday, May 27, 2007

When an outline is a premise

Hey there! Finally found something that "doinked" me enough to post about.

Apparently, there was some discussion about "long premises" on the TAG BOARD
because, suprise, if you ask people to complain, they do. Damndest thing.

Here's the post in question:

A short while ago we posted "Complaints TAG Gets." We also sent out letters and printed an article in the newsletter.

And whattayaknow? E-mails flowed in confirming that yes, there are execs in 'toonland who insist on outlines (mislabeled "premises") that studios don't pay for. Who would have thought it?

I also got a phone call from the creator of a show asking: "What's TAG's position on two or three page "premises" that have guarantees of outlines and script (and accompanying fees) attached to them?"

The answer is, premises longer than a page which are part of an outline and script payment guarantee aren't the issue. It's long premises that end up orphans -- that is, without an outline, script or money trailing behind them -- that are the problem.

I keep wondering what studios think they're doing. Who the hell wants to waste long days of their lives working for free?"

So here's the deal. I don't know who complained to TAG about this. And, for the record, on any show I do - SCRIPT DRIVEN STUFF mind you - a premise is a page, maybe a little more.

Outlines? They're 3 to 4 pages and on 11 minute comedy cartoons, I avoid them. I find they hamstring the writer and that once the story starts being written, it takes a life of it's own. But the problem is, a network or studio has signed off on the outline and anything aside from that is a surprise. Premises are the "spirit" of the story... a spring board, if you will.

But the minute you go into a board driven show, that premise has a different responsibility. Because on a board driven show, you go from premise to a pitch board, to a final board. That means a network has two bites at the apple on that story - the thumb pitch (which is invariably loose) and the final board, which at that point, is done.

Compare that to a script driven show where you can tweak it at the premise stage, the first draft stage, the second draft stage, the final stage, the record script... and then finally the board.

Is it any wonder that executives, studios and networks want to see more detail in the premise for a story... if that story is more of a "spirit" of an idea that blows into a full fledge board?

That being said - there are board artist / story artists that are amazing at this - that can go from a logline to a finished cartoon - and it's better than almost anything out there. Dave Thomas, for example (El Tigre) always amazed me with his ability to take an idea and blow it into a full board with dialogue that's true to the characters, heart, story and big, big laughs.

But the freedom to tell those kind of stories in that manner of production comes with trust. Not every story board artist can do it, just like not every person who considers themselves a writer can write. The difference? A shit first draft can be turned into a better second draft and a solid final draft.

But a drawn board is pretty much finished. As well it should be, or that board artist is doing a hell of a lot of redrawing, and re-re-drawing.

If you ask me, the "bigger premise" debate is more "give us more information about what this story is" before you move on to the storyboard issue.

I reiterate. Premises I look for are about a page. Outlines, if I need them, are around 3 or 4 pages. And then, there's the script. And if a writer I trust drops in a premise I like, I may not even request an outline, but they'll still be paid accordingly.

It boils down to "What kind of production are you on?"

As always, I suppose. As always.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Since May 5th, I know.

So... twofold.

One - I've been busier than hell.

Two - I'm trying to figure out what to do with this 'blog... but I'm smart enough to know that if I, for any reason, let it go, it would be snapped up and end up pointing to a gay porn site.

So... what to do, right? Here is what I'm thinking.

1) Start moderating discussions. Honestly - that every debate turned into a flame war didn't help this place become a calm, rational spot to discuss writing. I'd like to change that.

2) Keep anonymity - But filter it. And yeah, that means me filtering, I guess. The fact is, every decent site has that kind of check and balance and I think the whole "lets leave it wide open" experiment failed. All Bees nest, no honey.

3) Have other authors. But perhaps knowing that the 'blog will be moderated will help bring other voices here. Hell... I really like it here and even I got tired of the constant fighting. To that end, I'll be deleting all author privs... and giving it to people who want to post regularly.

So that's the update that's open for discussion. One last "open for discussion" before I change the focus and reinvest in it.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Are you Sponge Bob, Fairly Oddparents, or Family Guy?

...because that is really what it boils down to.

All this angst about "artists vs. writers" is all crap when you boil it down to one simple question: What Genre are you writing in?

Spongebob type:
A creator has a clear vision for a show - an artist that knows EXACTLY the kind of comedy he or she wants and that driving vision drives the show. Usually surrounded by people with their exact vision on the board staff, which is good, because it is a board driven show. If the show even has "script writers," its for premises and outlines... nothing more.

This show exists, in my opinion, on character and gags. The stories are light, the direction is light... it's visual funny more than verbal and everything about the show supports that. If this show had a script, it would probably be one page per minute, and rightfully so.

Fairly Oddparents type
A creator has a strong vision for the show, but wants it to play more like a sitcom than a cartoon. The creator, or the writer brought on to "run the writing" run the show from premise (a page) to outline (three pages) to script (14 to 15 pages). This show is longer on the script page for any of the following reasons.
* There is an intentional choice for there to be verbal word play (which doesn't mean puns... it just means there's verbal jokes along with visual jokes).
* There is an intentional choice for there to be verbal jokes and references that appeal to the parents that are watching it so they don't turn the television off and, in some cases, maybe even enjoy the show.
* There is an intentional choice to run the process so there are the following steps: Premise, writing team (which I would say should include the director) breaks the story; Outline, writing team breaks the story, "A" draft of the script, writing team punch, First draft, address network notes, second draft, address network notes, final. Then, the board pretty much follows the script, with a board artist punching what has been written and approved by the Executive Producer, the Story Editor and, ideally, the director.
During this process, if there's time, you do a full pitch with a punch up session with artists and writers.
This cartoon is a mix of visual gags and verbal gags, doesn't have a story arc, and is a sitcom in the sense that things revert to normal at the end of every episode.

Family Guy type:
If you're a board artist who hates working scripted shows, then this is the type of show you hate. This, Simpsons, King Of The Hill, South Park... the board crew is in service to the script. Period. It's run like any other television sitcom - the script is the law, and everything else is beholden to it.

If you live in the world of prime time animation, and you work on a show like this... and you board on a show like this, that's it. You are, most of the time, a pencil to the writer's page. And you know that going into it.

Although I've never seen the script I wonder if the "chicken fight" scene in Family Guy in family guy was scripted to the punch, or if the board artist was given free reign to do as he or she chose.

This is also the kind of show where "writers are hailed as gods" when the big fights blow out, I'm sure.


It boils down to this. As a writer, if I'm working in cartoons, I would prefer to be on a show like Fairly Oddparents, or Family Guy. Or Yin Yang Yo, for that matter. I want to work where my words and thoughts are the driving force for the cartoons I'm a part of making.

As a producer, I choose to work the way I like to work, which means script first, giving board artists and directors wide latitude in changing, plussing, cutting or tweaking. I never have a problem with somebody taking a risk, as long as they don't get upset if I change it back.

I also understand that I am a job, not a career, to an artist in a job like that. And I also understand that the limited input or production pressures might not attract a specific group of very talented people. And that is completely okay.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Screw it. I'll take the bait.

Good God, there's so much disconnect here, I might have to reply sentence to sentence, but I will.

WHAT A LOAD (etc) writes:

"maybe they don't understand YOUR version of story structure with the typical cartoon writer's devotion to having an A, B, and C story (jammed into an 11 minute cartoon)"

Fair enough. But if the EP hired the writer, who hired the board artist; and the EP told the writer to write the kind of structure that drives you nuts; and it was obvious what kind of show it was before you took the job - then you need to suck it up and walk it off. You took the job knowing what you were walking into.

When I was a comedian, and I was "hosting" because I wanted to get better, I had to take all sorts of shit jobs that I didn't want to take in cities I never wanted to visit, so I could get stage time I needed to get better.

When I worked on Cow and Chicken, I knew it was a board driven show. To complain about that, to be furious about it, would be insanity. It was a really good experience, but clearly, it's not my first choice in narrative.

You take a job, you do the job. Soap Box stands are for those who can afford them, or are willing to sacrifice for them, or have enough toy/merch money they dont need to worry about those decisions or create the show.

"with a complicated and confusing "story arc" (a term people love to throw around to make it sound like their nonsensical scripts are justifiably over-written) and endless stream of bad puns and weak catchphrases."

For shows like Spongebob, you're right. You don't need a complicated story arc. But when it comes to boy's action, you do. It matters to the kid. And whether you want to admit that or not, the kid is who you're doing that show for. You don't like story arcs then don't board on those shows. Ta da.

"I've seen whole scenes torn out by artists"

oh the horrors! maybe this was in the interest of actually meeting the deadling and turning in a board that actually works within the timeframe of the cartoon.

And if the artist is right, and it works, then that artist has made an excellent decision. But if the artist has tossed out something that's important to the story arc you don't care about, or the story that you don't care about, then it's not great and all you've done is create conflict.

One of the things on "Danny Phantom" that made people's lives easier is when a board artist would come to me with the script, and point out things they thought were confusing, or unneeded. That artist usually read the script first, and thumbed stuff out on the script, rather than simply plowing ahead from page one as though the script was the word of God.

Those were the best episodes, by the way - the ones where there was collaboration.

"gags destroyed, and character arcs lost in favor of the artist going off on some tanget they think is "cool" visually, rather than holding to the integrity of the story."

i don't believe this for a minute since most storyboard artists are so browbeaten by the system that makes writers gods and board artists shit that very few have the bravery to dare deviate from scripts. but for the sake of argument, let's say that's true: cool visuals are why kids watch cartoons. period. be grateful the artist cares enough to try to make it cool. the clever wordplay and pop-culture references that make you and your sit-com buddies chuckle is lost on young viewers because they actually have taste.

Ill split the difference with you here. Yes, pop culture references are probably lost on kids. Clever wordplay, maybe not so much, depending on how it's written. But, at least from my experience, I like to put things in there that make their parents laugh as well. I try to make the comedy work on dual levels, because parents are the ones who keep the TV on, and turn it off.

Parents, by the way, are the reason we have to deal with S&P, not the kids. To me, it's important to not bore or offend the parents in a kids' cartoon so you can continue making it.

"And when the artist is approached about this in an effort to find an agreeable solution"

now you're REALLY creating fiction. this never happens. ever. writers don't give a good goddamn about artists no matter how many cocktail parties you throw or blogs you take up saying "we like you." bullshit.

Unless you've wired every animation production in Hollywood, you don't know that. Maybe you've worked for writers that don't give a good goddamn about you, but then again, you've got a pretty dour attitude and I can't say that you wouldn't get your attitude reflected back at you like a mirror.

if writers wanted to make nice with artists, they'd quit their bitching and learn how to write for animation and stop denying the overwhelming lack of quality in cartoon scripts.

So, do me a favor: Give me the names of some cartoon writers that you think are good examples of animation script writers and why. Name people you LIKE. That you RESPECT. That would work for and with without complaint. Who do you feel should be teaching the rest of the writers?

and by the way, blaming an artist for "killing a gag" is every bit as chickenshit as a board artist blaming the overseas studio for killing the board with bad animation... if your precious gag didn't work in the storyboards it's most likely because you didn't give the artist enough information to make it work. you guys forget that just because you can visualize it in your head doesn't mean everyone else can, and if it's not on the page it's going to get lost in the shuffle.

Agreed. Somebody was telling me that they worked on a show where the script would read "And the fight begins" followed with a "TBB" which stood for To Be Boarded. Yipes. I try to write just enough direction in action to keep the plot going, or if I have an image in my head that's really important to me, spell it out... but I also leave it loose so that the board artists don't feel totally confined by the words on the page.

Split the difference. Trust the team and the process.

i'm not saying there aren't shitty storyboard artists out there... there are plenty of shitty storyboard artists.
but storyboarding is about ten billion times more complex and requires about a million more seperate skill sets than being a scriptwriter. it's a harder job. period.

I dunno about that. It's a longer job, to be sure. It's a lot easier to tell who's great and who sucks, that's also to be sure. And with writers, there are a lot more people who think they can write and think they're funny and aren't, and don't know it.

The stand up comedy analogy is when actors and B celebrities go up on stage and take valuable stage time away from good comics who want to get better. You just... wait for them to get out of the business, and they don't, and it's soul crushing.

and shitty writers make an already impossibly hard job even harder.

maybe you'd get better results form your board artists if you helped make their lives just a tiny bit easier. being overworked breeds deep resentment and i'm sure lots of board artists hack out their work because if the script is shit to begin with, why should they break their backs to polish a turd?

oh... right... it's their "job" to "punch up" the script... add that to the already daunting list of "duties" a board artist has.

go write a bad pun.

See, and here I could say "go doodle something on a napkin and wonder why you didn't get a 20 episode pick up," but I tend to not go there.

Here's the way, I think, it works right now:

Cartoon Network: Artist driven, board driven, gag driven cartoons.

Nickelodeon: Mostly script driven shows, except for Spongebob. Before anybody goes "See?!?" Oddparents and Neutron are ALSO successful, and they are scripted shows.

Disney: Mostly scripted animation, but they are also beginning to do board-driven shows.

Now... go find a production you'd like to be a part of, where your contributions will be appreciated in a way that you feel they deserved to be, and you can work in a way that you want to work - and maybe, just maybe, you'll be a happier person.

- Steve

Thursday, May 3, 2007

I'm looking for a few good authors.

Hey, all.

So, as I get ready to zip off on an international tour - well, Canada - I want to throw this out to everyone: Writers and non-writers alike.

Writers: Who here would like to be an author. I want to keep posting, but I also want other opinions and viewpoints here. Any writer would like to post, this is an invitation.

Artists (and writers): You remain welcome here, anonymous or not. It's yet to get super personal and the points you bring up are good. Peridoically, I learn something. I'd love some direction on the kind of things you'd love to see writers 'blog about, even if you are just teeing it up for flaming.
I had a lunch today with an artist friend who opened my eyes to a theory on voice direction that I had never thought of before. It will absolutely help me cast everything I do in the future - in both the cartoons I do AND the live action show I have going.
I'd love more of that here.

- Steve, who is so tired I accidentally almost ate a dog treat

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Hoo! Miss a few days, miss a lot. (Responses to below thread)

Wow. Has it really degenerated to this? I leave for two days and viola?

Going off the below post, answering a few points.

* When John K isn't beating the dead horse that is his anti-script bias, I like his site a lot. I've said so, in comments, on his site.

* I never really imagined this as a place to teach young writers to write as much as I saw it as a place where script-based writers could commune and, yes, counter some of the "all animation writers that don't draw" suck sentiment that's out there.
But I'll tell you what: I'm more than happy to blog about whatever topic you think is important to animation writing, in the same way when someone said "you'd never put your script up."
Go ahead. Ask away. I'll blather on about that topic from my point of view, but understand that my basic blogging attitude is to see both sides and give merit to "the opposition" as I do. I'm not in this for flame wars.

* The reason John K is discussed as much here - by me, I suppose and others - is that he does have weight in the industry. He does have an audience. He preaches to his chorus, and his chorus listens. That being said, I wanted there to be a counterpoint that wasn't edited or moderated by the person that was being discussed.

* The thread about the script writing robot is hilarious. A few years ago, we did an "Art of writing" faux art show at Nickelodeon (on April Fool's Day) that included script pages blown up to the size of poster art. One of the writers did a "Triptych" that included a scene from Some show I cant remember, Ghost Busters and then Danny Phantom that had the same scene done three different times, exactly the same way called "Job Security" (I think.) It was self-aware and funny.

* The crack about body odor is completely unfair. It's a stereotype that works with ALL animation professionals, not just writers. But I think it's particularly accurate to those of us (self included) who read comic books. I have just recently learned the wonders of powder.

- Steve