Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Writers Versus Artists Versus Writers... Cause And Effect?

So, now that the whole anibation thing seems to have imploded into a free porn site (wow), I'd like to pick up where the angriest man in animation left off...

...take the rubble and maybe build something a little less angry.

But the one thing I've figured out in the last 48 hours is... there is a huge sea of untapped resentment and anger about non-drawing writers and producers in this business.

So perhaps that's a good place to start figuring out what THIS blog should be, now that apparently, Voldemort has disappeared for a bit.

Cause and Effect #1 - Doors and Walls

Writer Ingredients: New writer comes in to studio, instantly gets an office.
Artist Ingredients: Artists, regardless of time in the industry, find themselves in cubicles, or jammed two to three in a room.

This one's easy to figure out, I think. A pilot gets green lit to series through the work of an EP, and maybe ONE writer... then produced by a talented team of artists who see the vision through. It gets picked up, more writers are brought on...
...and then each of them, including the story editor, gets an office, while artists are placed in group rooms, or in cubicles based.

I think two things happen here:

1) The writer gets into work but... as always, these productions are lower budget, he or she has to hit the ground running, so as soon as that office is functional, the writer is squirreled a way in there, writing like a mofo, to catch up.

What it looks like, of course, is that the writer could give two craps about the rest of the crew, because the door is shut and he's "busy." The mistake is not to leave the door open, to meet the crew that will be turning the words into animation.

2) The artists see the writer disappear into the office with maybe a quick smile, but in general, disappear to work, or go away to work with the executive producer/creator of the show and by the time that first script is ready, there's already a "writers get access to EP, writers get to do what they want" hierarchy (real or imagined) in place and an attitude (assumed or real) that needs to be addressed.

Personal story: I've been lucky with that - all of my offices have been next to and near artists. Next to the art director, across from the character designer, spitting distance from the board artists...

...close enough to the color and background departments that when a script came in, and they could tell, in advance, what a nightmare it would be... I would hear it. Even if I couldn't do anything about it, I'd figure out SOMETHING else to do to make amends for it.

The common area for the crew was outside my office where I had brought in a Tivo so everyone could watch what they wanted to watch on their breaks. (Me: Daily Show and Venture Brothers.) Lunches were had together where we just hung out.

Consequently I felt like part of a team, rather than somebody who tossed words from on high and then went on with my life. I felt that I was creating on a show, even if it wasn't by drawing. Because these people weren't just humans huddled over a pencil or a wacom tablet or a stack of boards, they were people I saw every day, ate with occasionally, and went out for drinks with on occasion.

And because of that, I think people knew my door was open to hear story ideas for the shows I was on, and I learned more about the process, and the reprecusions of typing "1000 Zebras of Different color do individual dances down a flowered hill." Artists pitched premises. And at the same time, I pushed for doing a few board driven scripts.

I'm doing that on Yin Yang Yo right now.

Maybe I'm incredibly lucky, and incredibly blessed, and maybe I'm naive. But the easiest way to beat this part of the equation is simple:

Writers, make sure you mingle with the people who make your words animation. Artists, do the same and if you think a writer needs a little "impossible to draw 101" let them know in a proactive, constructive manner.

God knows that would have saved me years of figuring it out, and a lot of people pages worth of bullsh*t.

However, if in the process of reaching out to you, you find your hand slapped by ego, they have a word for that person. And it's not "writer" nor "artist."

It's "dick."

Lets all try not to be one!


Ben Balistreri said...

God bless the Packers and please smite randy moss.

Animation_creep said...

Well said, I really think if the two (writer and animators) stuck together and tackled projects as more of a "team" and not look at it as look what I have to fix and they don’t understand, there would be more interesting cartoons on TV. Personally I think that animators and writers should share offices. So they can keep each other in check and be on the same level at all times. And I think a respect would grow that neither of the two were better or more important.

Easy Zee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Easy Zee said...

I have been in the industry as an artist for a long time. I was very disenfranchised with the state of the industry, especially with the fact that the artists are at the lowest end of the totem pole. We should be at the top. All the resentment by us artists towards the suits and the writers would evaporate if there was respect, co-operation, communication and inclusion of us artists. Instead we are just peons. We get treated like peons. All we want to do make the shows better. We can contribute more than just our pigeon holed job descriptions, we can offer more than just character designs, or location designs, or storyboarding. It does need to be a team effort. Let’s start with a script as an outline and have the animators come in and add gags and interesting scenes, together with the writer. The more input you have from the funniest and most creative people in the world, the better the end product will be. Let’s talk and argue about ideas, lets fight against ideas that you think don’t work, and lets defend the ideas you are passionate about. It is not a personal attack, even if it gets heated; it is about the show; it is not about anyone’s ego.
I have a great story about a script I co-wrote last year with a fellow animator. I will share it with you in my next comment a bit later today.

Sib said...'s amazing how perception colors everything. I've never considered artists to be at the bottom of the totem pole. After all, it's animation...and without artists, there's no show. On the other hand, I recently spent a couple of years working somewhere (and I won't say it out loud, but it's easily Googled) where writers are paid quite well, but not treated with a lot of respect. Yes, we tend to have more daily interaction with the execs, access to the actors in recording sessions, etc. - but I don't know what all of that really amounts to and I think that, at the end of the day, most of us feel just as disposable as you do.

Again, we seem to have more in common than we realize.

P.S. Welcome back, Ben!

John S. said...

Yeah, there is some resentment created by the fact that writers recieve preferential treatmentin regards to offices, but that isn't the whole story. Writers are in general treated like royalty no matter how much work they do and the story crew is ALWAYS treated like a bunch of children.
One side note, it is awfully generous of you to assume that all writers are squirrelled away in their offices working like a "mofo", but that isn't always the case. On one movie I worked on, the writer was always in her office, but she was aways busy making phone calls, gossiping, making travel plans for expensive vacations, and on more than one occasion, having sex and blowing her boyfriend.
I wish I had more experience with talented hard working writers, but so far, in all of my years in animation I have only met one.

Easy Zee said...

I was on a production last year as a character designer. I loved the concept of the show! I thought it had HUGE potential. There was one writer for the show, he was also the creator. Every Monday morning the design teams would get the new script. We would read the script and highlight whatever we had to design. And every Monday, after reading the scripts, the 3 of us on character design, would go out to lunch and bitch and complain for an hour at how bad the script was. The scripts were easily the worse scripts, the most green, the most pointless scripts I have read in all of my career as an animation artist. After 13 episodes and 13 bitch sessions at lunch, the preproduction was finished and we moved from designs to storyboard corrections.
It was announced that there would be a second season. So as my friend and I were venting out frustrations with the scripts over lunch one day, I said “Lets write one. Lets just write a script the way WE think the show should be written.” We did just that. One hour a day during lunch, in one week, we had a script written, it was only a first draft, but it was a decent first draft. In fact, I think our first draft was better than the final versions written by the head writer/creator we have been working from during season one. We gave the script to the Director and the Producer. They read it and liked enough to use it as an episode for season 2. My co-writer and I were thrilled, we were going to get our first screen writing credit, and the extra money was good too.
Our script was way too long, so the director went ahead and made some MAJOR changes to it. The changes cut the length of the script down by more than a third. His changes were really good too. It made our story better and got to the point much quicker. We were grateful for his input and changes. But there were still a few hurdles we had to cross; the script had to be approved by the head writer/creator.
After months of not hearing any news about our script, I asked the producer and director if the creator/writer read our script. The producer said he received the changes and he forwarded the email with the changed script to my co-writer and myself. When we got home both my buddy and I checked our emails to see the changes in our script. We were in complete shock at what we saw.
Not only did the producer send us the revised script, but he forwarded the entire email by mistake, including the message that the creator sent to the producer and director; a message that was completely malicious toward us. In the message he completely trashes our script. If that wasn’t bad enough, the changes to our script were nothing but a hatchet job. He butchered our story.
I immediately received a phone call from my co-writer and the first thing he said was, “Is this guy just stupid, or is he an asshole?! Or is he a stupid asshole?!!!” Together, over the phone, we went through the revised script. I could not believe how obvious it was that the changes were made to sabotage our script, not to make it better. We were FUMING!!!
I marched into the director’s office the very next day and asked him if he read the changed script. He said he hadn’t. I said “He butchered our script! It is not the story we wanted to tell at all.” I also marched into the producer’s office and asked about the message in the email that was not meant for us to see, the message that was mean spirited and malicious. The producer said he did not read it that way. He was trying to calm me down, realizing that he should not have forwarded the whole email. But there was no other way to read those comments without a hint of malice.
The creator, clearly, had an issue with us writing a script. It was an ego thing for him. At this point, with the changes, the script was so bad that we didn’t want our names on it. Eventually we had a meeting with the producer, director, writer/creator and us (my co-writer and I). The plan during the meeting was simply to go in and defend our work. There was a very good reason for each and every scene and for every line of dialogue and for every line of script we wrote. We could easily explain why each line is in there, what we were trying to say with the story, why each scene was in there, and the over all message of the script. As long as we could stay calm and professional, and explain our work in an articulate logical way, we had no worries about the being unable to fight for our work. My co-writer was brilliant in the meeting. He was articulate and logical and calm. I on the other hand went nuts. I am a very emotional guy. Every sentence out of my mouth was “YOU did this!” and YOU changed that!” and “This change sucks!” and “How could you change that?!”
Our biggest issue was that he changed the ending. So I got up and acted out our ending the way WE wrote it. Then I acted out the changed ending; the boring, stupid, anticlimactic ending that HE wrote. And the director and producer turned to him and said “Yeah, actually, we like their ending better.” Then we went through every line, of every scene and explained why it was written. The creator was unable to defend any of his changes. An in the end the script stayed the way we wanted it. We let him change a couple of minor things. We wanted to give a little, not to be jerks ourselves. The 2 changes we did allow, do make the script better. If a change can be explained and makes the script better, I am eager to agree to it because it is all about the script, not about egos. I care about the art form of animation, so do most animators.
I have been in animation a long time. At the end of the meeting, the creator/writer leans over and says to me “Welcome to the world of screenwriting.” That pissed me off too. The nerve! I should have said “Welcome to the world of animation.” That is how I got my first screenwriting credit. It was a frustrating ordeal, but well worth it. I got to make the show a little better, tell the story I wanted to tell, and do something I can be proud of.

Anonymous said...

A big part of the problem is the vast majority of shows hire story editors on a freelance basis and don't even give them an office at the studio. Artists and writers never even meet, let alone talk.

I am currently story editing a series as a freelancer, but the EP offered me an office at the studio. I jumped at the chance (and not just for the opportunity to avoid my wife and children). Having the artists right down the hall is invaluable. I surround myself with their incredible designs for inspiration. And I make sure the supervising director and art director are invited to every story meeting with a writer. This not only avoids potential production problems down the road, but also gets the artists on board and excited about the stories so scripts are met with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Even as a freelancer writer I always make it a point to get to know the line producer or PA who can supply me with relevant character and background designs. This can help prevent staging problems (Oh, the giant robot couldn't fit through the doorway) and lead to creative staging solutions (Oh, the room has a balcony to the outside -- what if the giant robot scaled the outside of the building?).

It's all about communication, and the better shows I've worked on have always had strong communication between the art and writing camps, at least at the supervisory level.