Thursday, June 15, 2006

Writers? Collaborate With Board Artists?

As I run around to studios with my 401(k) enrollment booklets, I've been caught up in some discussions about writers and board artists... Seems that a popular show at one of the studios is going from being done on storyboards from 1 1/2 page premises (no scripts) to scripts before it goes to boards. (It appears that one of the suits up at the top of the food chain has all of a sudden discovered that he "can't deal" with storyboards anymore, but needs paragraphs and blocks of dialogue on a nice, white page.) As the story's been told to me, the show's creator is not overjoyed with this turn of events, nor are the board artists. Some board artists figure they can write scripts, since they've been writing with storyboards through several seasons of the show. Me, I wrote animation scripts for thirteen years but I'm agnostic on the subject. Board the show, or write then board the show, anyway people do it is fine by me. But here's what gripes my hindquarters. Most times, across the business, television board artists have relatively little contact with the writer. Artists get the writer's script, and punch it up as much as they can (or are allowed to), and the boards move on through the production process. And what bothers hell out of me is that few of animation top-kicks see any reason to have the writers sit down with the board artists and spitball gags and ideas for the script before it's written, when it would improve the product. Now I know everybody is ferociously territorial, and that upper management is afraid that this would make the process more expensive, but I've seen such good results from it when it's used, that I'm forever amazed that more studios don't make it bed-rock policy.

13 comments:

Steven E. Gordon said...

I suspect the idea of credits and residuals also enters into the discussion.
I've worked any many projects that very little of the writer's script finally made it to the screen, but it would be heresy to suggest that the story artists or even the director get written by credit.

Kevin Koch said...

I don't know that it's a credit or residuals thing. If it's a show done under our contract, the mandatory residuals are going into our benefits, regardless of collaboration (or lack thereof) between story artists and writers. And credits on TAG shows don't follow WGA rules, either. I think the problem is that some kind of counterproductive tradition has grown up. When some producer gets the bright idea to put the story artists and writers back in the same room again, the results could be a real step forward on our shows.

Anonymous said...

You said it, Kevin.
The ultimate irony is that while expensive writers are hired to help a film, what always happens(I mean every time)is that once the story artist gets the pages, it's up to them--and everyone knows it, too--to make it "work". Much of the subsequent bending, rewriting(of dialogue and action--both are parts of scripts btw)and restaging are what make the scene work--in other words, the buck stops with the STORY artist--and he is the one who must make it good. He's also uniquely qualified to do so, as it's he who's known the characters and story intimately since day one. Few of the hired writers have that luxury...doesn't mean they aren't terrific or even brilliant at what they do, but so are the usually very undersung story people.

And as far as I know, many top-level screenwriters(NOT all, but many)would be somewhat insulted to have to share working time or an office with "artists". They're looked upon as wrists, not minds. And that's dead wrong(not to mention counter-productive).

Kevin Koch said...

See, I'm not so sure those top-level writers would be insulted. Has any producer asked them to do that? Just spend, say, 20% of their writing time in spit-ball sessions with the story artists. In the prime-time, writer-driven animated shows, a team of writers will spend a ton of time together, jointly building up and tearing down a script. If good writers can do it with other writers, why not do it with the story artists?

I guess it sort of happens in features in the rare cases where one of the directors is also one of the writers, and I think those films tend to be better. I really think we assume there are reasons why writers and story artist are kept seperate, but what if we stopped assuming and just tried it?

Steven E. Gordon said...

I've been in many story/spitball sessions where the writers were present - usually in feature films, but don't kid yourself if you think screen credit isn't an issue. It's near impossible to even get 'additional story by'. And I don't know for sure, but I suspect the type of residuals a credited screenplay writer makes are a somewhat different than what is being put into our benefits.

RedDiabla said...

The other snag I see in this is that studios are cutting and cutting cutting the schedules so ridiculously short that there's literally no time to do the thinking to make a decent result.

DanO said...

all the best directors i have worked with treat scripts with drawings that illustrate scene staging before the script goes to the storyboard artist. this simple step can both reduce the workload by clarifying things for overworked story artists, and reveal a writer's weaknesses to the director.
and if a director can't draw?
then he shouldn't be directing now should he.

Kevin Koch said...

Steve, any individual residuals those writers get on animated features were negotiated individually as part of their personal service contracts, and that's something any story artist is equally free to negotiate. Also, per the local 839 contract, anyone working on the story for a feature must be credited. The screenplay credit on non-WGA films is (I believe) determined by the producer, regardless of what meetings the writers sit in or don't sit in.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

The best cartoons were written with storyboards, period. Try writing a Road Runner cartoon with a script.

When a cartoon starts with the script stage it almost always ends up as a talkfest. Shows like The Simpsons are more akin to live action sitcoms than they are to something that requires animation.

Most scriptwriters are ivy league educated; to ask them to sit in the same room with someone whose job they consider to be merely technically illustrating their words would be insulting to those writers.

Anonymous said...

A well-known screenwriter on a recent animatred feature was paid handsomely for a script that wasn't used. These things happen and will continue to happen because executives are mesmerized by "name" writers. Just as they are mesmerized by A-list voice talent.

The practice will continue, I think, because management is always on the alert for a (perceived) insurance policy. Sadly, they are often looking in the wrong places.

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone -- although many storyboard artists and directors are male, is it possible to avoid using only "he" when talking about them? Especially in light of Geena Davis's response:

http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2006/06/response-from-geena-davis.html

Anonymous said...

Sure, absolutely. We should mix it up. Kindly note the photograph above.

Diane said...

j.j. -- "Ivy League-educated"? Oh please! None of the writers *I* worked with would have qualified for a description like that. (Especially the one who, after my co-story editor and I sent him back for the second rewrite on a script, described us as "talentless bimbos who'd f****d our way to the top." I'd have hoped that a couple of semesters at Harvard would've left the guy able to spell, let alone plot. (As for us, we just sort of gasped in unison, "This is the *top*??" and collapsed laughing.))

For my own part, I'd have loved to work a lot more closely with the artists. Any writer gets those moments when the physical action is eluding them, and some idea-spitballing would have been more welcome than anything. But our main problem right then would have been just finding the time, at that point, since we were having to finish 65 half hours in four months... (It's giving me a headache just thinking about it, now.)

Absolutely, stick the writers and artists in adjoining bullpens and let them commute at will! And the sooner the better.

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