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.


Anonymous said...

I also understand that the limited input or production pressures might not attract a group of very talented people. And that is completely okay.

Are we talking Butch here?

Steve said...

No, we are not. I'm discussing nobody specific.

We're discussing really talented board artists and/or directors that choose not to board on a show that is script driven.

Anonymous said...

Spongebob is so superior to Fairly Oddparents that it's ridiculous IMO to even compare the two. SB has great visual AND verbal humor. As for FOP, let's see..."I like pie!" "Blue is a color!" Yeahh...I see the words in those lines, but where's the thought? ;)

As for Yin Yang Yo, it's horribly overwritten. Everybody talks too much, (especially the goddamn cockroach) yet for all the gabble, nobody has any real personality. Just the usual "types" we've seen before. And *someone* - ahem - seems really hung up on those "types", which is very likely the reason why Cosmo and Wanda, who were once a fairly original couple, eventually deteriorated into cliches - and pretty offensive cliches at that. "Appeal to parents"? Trust me, plenty of them DO turn the show off (Hillary Clinton jokes notwithstanding). Just the other day a newspaper columnist characterized FOP as being so loud and obnoxious "it makes the dog hide in the basement". Lucky dog.

V Tonic said...

Nice breakdown.

But there's another type that's missing and that's the JLA, TT and Bruce Timm style action series with the big arcs that are driven by story and character supported by a unique art style. And this is the stuff that the fanboy/artists typically drool over.

Steve said...

Regarding anonymous - Hello JID, glad you could make it. You might as well just chime in with your name already because your opinion is welcome here, just like anybody else.

And yeah - V - you're right. I did forget that. Mostly because I plan on writing a blog about that some time in the future - hopefully with a few quotes from some of the people who write on those shows.

I'm taking some of the complaints to heart: That there's too much arguing and not enough discussion. So, I won't be slamming anybody in particular and I won't be fighting with people on theory, but I'm more than happy to discuss process.

And for the record, the FOP Hillary Clinton joke may very well be my favorite joke that somehow made it to the TV.

Get a drink and start hitting on all those girls out in the bull pen. said...

JID is Who?

Steve said...

JID is a frequent commenter on another board, who's disagreement style with later FOP articles is apparent in her writings.

I respect the opinion, but respectfully disagree.

Kent B said...

I think the best of the "Boys Action" shows are scripted, but not "script-driven". The script provides the structure and the dialog, but the "point" of the show is in the action.

v tonic said...

And we all know that "the structure and the dialog" are the most inconsequencial part of storytelling.


Kent B said...

Hey, Tonic - "structure and dialog" are indispensible to a good picture, certainly not "inconsequencial" (sp?) - It is the map, the plan for the rest of the production. All the cool plot twists, the highs and lows of the picture are plotted out in the script.

But the script is not the picture. And there's a difference between pictures which are an "illustration" of the script, and pictures that use the script as a basis for filmmaking.

Both these approaches are valid - Billy Wilder, Tarantino & Kevin Smith are writers who direct their movies primarily so that their scripts are executed as they intend them. The other style filmmaker would be a Ridley Scott, Francis Coppola or John Ford, who bring a visual & cinematic style to their work. All these filmmakers know the importance of a good script - but they have different ways of using that script.

The same thing with animation - my point was that "action" shows, (well done ones, anyway) while scripted, would use the script as a foundation on which to build.

v tonic said...

Dude... did you not notice the "emoticon" smiley wink indicating that I was JOKING?


Geez everyone's so friggin' touchy...


Kent B said...

Sorry, V - Sometimes on this blog you try to have a normal discussion and it quickly devolves into defensive and sarcastic finger pointing & name calling.

Fortunately WE are not of that ilk!

Anonymous said...

Gotcha' KB... while I don't agree 100% with your statement about structure and dialog in action shows, I completely understand where you're coming from and the intent of your statement. I couldn't help but drop in a friendly intended jab... to keep things lively... for "ilk" such as us.

Steve said...

What did you ilk call me?

v tonic said...

No no, not "ilk", "like"... We said we "like" you.. we just left out the "e" and got the letters in the wrong order.

Kent B said...

You're probably not allowed to use the word "ilk" in a cartoon script, because kids supposedly won't know what it means. Hence we're making a new generation that will not know the meaning of "ilk". (They probably won't know "hence" either, because that's another word I've seen excised from scripts - and "excised" too!) It is a doubleplusunggod situation!

V tonic said...

That's been a long-standing peeve and battle I've fought with execs regarding language in animation. Dialog is constantly being dumbed down for fear of the kids not understanding something. (sigh) I grew up reading comics and there were tons of words I didn't understand, but seeing them used in context or looking them up or asking my parents I learned! Imagine that.

But now there are some many levels of "concern" involved in animation that it all gets eroded down to the LCD.

mary said...

"As a producer, I choose to work the way I like to work"

Your productions probably suffer as a result of this... a good producer works the way that is best for the individual production, even if that means delegating to more experienced individuals.

Anonymous said...

I think it's important to write in a way that's *good* for a character, not have him or her act in a way that's detrimental to his or her personality or appeal, or would in any way damage an established relationship for the sake of a bad gag. One element left out of your analysis of Spongebob is the fact that the SB writing crew has retained and increased his appeal over the years. That's perhaps because they *understand* his appeal. It should never be all about the gag. Something I wish the FOP crew had figured out.

Get a drink and start hitting on all those girls out in the bull pen. said...

Well it looks like FOP will get another crack at it.
Without all the drinking and hitting on the girls in the bull pen.

Alex Weitzman said...

Steve -

First off, great blog. I love that somebody's made an animation writing-centric blog, given how many ones there are for artists.

As to this entry, is this all kinda spinning around a more simple triad of statuses: low, equal, and high? (Respectively based on the shows you list.) In low status, the writer is clearly made subordinate; in high, the writer is made superior; in equal, the writer is made a part of the collaborative process. It seems to me that this could describe any job's situation, as I don't see how there could be any other options beyond more, less, or equally important.

v tonic said...

Been checking this blog... just curious... where the hell did everybody go? All the posting just suddenly stopped.


Anonymous said...

He said he'd be out of town for a while.

warren said...

Well, I'm boarding on one of M'seu M's shows right now (YYY) and it's pretty okay.

Even better now, after reading this post. Nice to see he has a reasonable, grounded stance...

I even turned down a tryout for a spot on Family Guy for the same reason he's listed...

Anonymous said...

Hey Great Blog. As much as Family guy used to rock in the first few seasons, it is getting down every season with same stale comedy and jokes. IMO Souht Park and SImpsons are also going down the hill.

Anyway for those who can not download Family guy from torrents and are looking for all Seasons of Family guy, they can download it from here -

Hope this helps others.