Friday, October 27, 2006

Too-Long Scripts = Too-long Boards = Frustrated Artists

(Okay, okay. The above isn't a page from an animation script. So sue me.)

When I was pounding out half-hour scripts at Filmation, at least once every couple of weeks my boss Arthur Nadel would come into the office with a sheaf of pages in his hands and say to me: "The girls stop-watched this free-lance script. It's eight pages too long, so read through it and cut out eight pages, I don't care how you do it." Then he would drop it on my desk and move out the door, muttering over a shoulder, "That one you're already working on? It still needs to be finished by Tuesday."

I would smile and nod until the door snicked shut behind him, after which I'd drop the cheery facade, sigh heavily and start reading through the opus he'd just plopped on my desk. And one way or the other, I would cut eight pages of deathless prose, sometimes bridging an excision with a short scene, more often just chopping several old scenes out. It was crude work, but Arthur always seemed to be satisfied with my amputations...

At a lot of studios today, there doesn't seem to be much amputating that goes on, because production board artists keep complaining about how they have to board thirty-five page scripts, forty page scripts, and stay up late doing it. (Schedules don't expand to accomodate an extra fifteen or twenty pages.)

A few days ago, I was in a frustrated board artist's cube asking him how work was going. He shrugged, "Same old, same old. I have a forty-two page script to board, not enough time to do it, and the producer doesn't want to cut it back to half-hour length. 'We'll cut it on the animatic,' is what she says."

This isn't an isolated phenomenom. Today it seems as though nobody wants to rough time a writer's prose poem and get it down to the right running time. Better to let a board artist visualize all the excess angles and action, then trim it down on the story reel before shipping it overseas.

Wouldn't it be more efficient to cut the damn script FIRST? And save the board artist all the work that won't be used? Or am I nuts?*

*This past week, I sent a letter to one of the offending studios, asking for a meeting to discuss this issue and try and get some relief for board artists.


Anonymous said...

That's a long-overdue meeting, I'd say. Hopefully it'll be the start of a trend towards some actual thought going into the thought processes of these shows.

Anonymous said...

That's a sad story but not a surprising one.

When I came into the business many years ago, cartoons were made by people who knew what they were doing. I'll say it again. People who KNEW what they were doing.

I don't expect anything to change. Why should it? The knuckleheads in charge don't have to do the work. As far as they're concerned, everything is fine.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Steve, for raising this topic. There's more to the equation:

Too-Long Scripts = Too-long Boards = Frustrated Artists + Increased Production Costs = Unnecessarily Expensive American Cartoons = More incentive for vertically-integrated networks to import cheaper anime. Why is anime cheaper than American cartoons? The Japanese don't allow over-writing in their productions. The staff and crew know the animation process and keep that process -- and limited budgets -- in mind for their storytelling.

The formula 2 pages script = 1 minute of screentime is nonsense. Who came up with this? Adherence to this formula has made animation production more expensive than it has to be, and has certainly demoralized animation professionals in wasted time and effort.

If studios want to save money and enable artists -- and writers, for that matter -- to meet tightened deadlines, chop the scripts down to a page (or page-and-a-half, depending on the nature of the show and detail in the script) per minute.

Steve Hulett said...

For the life of me, I've never understood why producers don't cut scripts to length before board artists draw them up.

I mean, it's a simple enough process. And any writer worth his salt should be able to deliver a script at the proper length. Maybe somebody needs to exercise a little more self-discipline.

Anonymous said...

If you're talking about a prime-time animated sitcom, don't hold your breath waiting for writers to trim their scripts. They've got all the power. You don't see artists on these shows taking on producer titles except in very rare cases. Being expendable labor, board artists are expected to work under sweatshop conditions. It's their job, after all.

As far as the cable/Saturday morning product is concerned, writers often ape the style of shows like The Simpsons in order to appear hip and cool (and possibly break into the lucrative prime-time market), and therefore pad their scripts as well.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, it's not always the writer's fault. I've worked on productions where the writers were as overworked and rushed as the board artists. The producers are really the ones who should show some responsibility in this, as they don't seem to have a clue what a drain it is to over-write and over-board a show only to cut it down in the animatic process(where the animatics are mini-epics in and of themselves).

It's funny how the writers and artists are supposed to know how to do their jobs well under any crappy circumstances...when will the higher-ups be held to the same standards?

Anonymous said...

That’s interesting. I would love to know what studio he’s working at presently, because from my stand point as a writer we
Never turn in things over the page count. We’d get our buts kicked by the story editor and producer. My scripts must ALWAYS land at or around a certain page count. If the story editor tells me it’s gotta be 35 pages, I turn in 35 pages or 34 or 37 if it’s unavoidable. And still, he cuts it down more on his take before it goes to network approval then finally to the artists and director. So still this guy is encountering scripts that are eight pages over or whatever, then someone in the middle is not doing their job, either the writer or the story editor. I think that evidence will show that over the last decade scripts have actually been getting SHORTER on average. A script for the SMURFS used to run as long as 50 pages.

Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, it's not always the writer's fault."

It is when the scripts are over-written. That's the whole point of Steve's post.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the storyboard artist just go to the director to tell the story editor that the scripts are over-written?

Steve Hulett said...

There are also times when scripts are too short or a scene is underwritten (for any number of reasons), and the board artists is told by his supervisor to add material.

There is no absolute ideal solution here. End of the day, it's the story editor and/or director and/or board supervisor that has the responsibility to make the wheels turn smoothly. More often than not, writers and board artists are following directions.

Anonymous said...

"Why doesn't the storyboard artist just go to the director to tell the story editor that the scripts are over-written?"

I'd guess you've never worked in TV animation. ; D

For the same reason the storyboard artists doesn't ask the director to fire the story editor, or give him(the artist) a big fat raise, or get the board artists a decent work space(an office). Because the storyboard artist at any studio I've ever worked at in TV has, ohhhh, about ZERO power and influence over:
production managers.

That's where the union comes in handy!

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