…writing action for kids –6-11.
Tuesday night, The Animation Guild hosted a panel of animation writers discussing the world of action heroes in Toonland.
Writer and story editor Matt Wayne (who is also a TAG executive board member) moderated a panel which featured Stan Berkowitz, Alan Burnett, Nicole Dubuc, Charlotte Fullerton, Rob Hoegee, Marty Isenberg, Dwayne McDuffie, Jim Krieg, Eugene Son, Dean Stefan, Greg Weisman, Amy Wolfram and Christopher Yost.
The hour-plus discussion was wide-ranging and lively, and encapsulated the challenges of writing for Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and all the other citizens of the action hero universe. What follows are some of the highlights of what was said.. (My note-taking is too slow and the back-and-forth moved too fast for me to reference speakers, so summaries will have to do. Apologies for that.) …
The panel got into the nuts and bolts of writing for action heroes, noting that it was tough to have the leads on the shows own compelling "character arcs", but they try to work them in.
When asked: "When does action become violence?", the answers ranged from "When blood turns from green to red," to the difficulty of showing consequences of violence and action. Network biggies don't focus on consequences, and the creators want to show "That War isn't good or fun."
It was pointed out that the benchmarks for what can be done on screen and what can't be done changes over time. "We once couldn't get away with a character saying gun, but now you can say gun ... or blaster ... and I'm so used to not being able to say [those things] it freaks me out." ... Today, sometimes the objections to onscreen violence is that the laser blast sound effects are dialed up too high.
The panelists allowed as how the Standards and Practices people don't want to horrify children, but also don't want to trigger lawsuits. The creators of the show, of course, have different agendas: "We're contrarians. As soon as S & P says 'you can't do that,' we want to find a way to get it in."
As another writer said: "Sometimes you write a good line of dialogue, and it goes through. The trick with double entendres is, they have to be double. For instance, a female character saying to Spiderman shooting his web: "Don't get your goop in my hair," went through. For kids, it's obviously the web goop that she's talking about, but for adults it can be something else. And you can alibi with the overseers that you were really, truly talking about his web."
And from another panelist: "On Duck Tales years ago, we got an angry letter from a parent about the magic and witchcraft in an episode. It went: "How DARE you show witchcraft! Walt Disney would be spinning in his grave!" Our response was: "Hey. Have you ever seen 'Snow White'?"
All in all, it was a lively evening, and you really should have been there. As one of the action writers said near the end:
"All of us ... would like to do animation action shows for other adults, but that isn't the reality now. Now it's fartjokes for 7-year-olds." ...