Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Ain't That a Kick In the Head?"

…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." ...

From left to right: Dean Stefan, Alan Burnett, Nicole Dubuc, Charlotte Fullerton, Stan Berkowitz, Jim Krieg.


Anonymous said...'s amazing how little they know about what goes on after they finish their script.

Anonymous said...

let's have a panel about that. at negotiation time.

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything in the post to indicate that any of the writers were ignorant of the process. But as an artist I'll admit that I've seen some evidence of it at the studios.

The thing is, I don't blame the writers. I've often gotten the impression that studios do what they can to keep writers ignorant of what goes on in the rest of the studio. Many years ago I dated a writer, and she told me her story editor was hostile to our relationship. The same editor said he didn't want his writers to be "clouded" (his word) by having to think about how animation works.

I've never understood this, I just wanted to say that I don't think it's necessarily the writers' fault.

Steve Hulett said...

When I was writing tv scripts at Filmation, my story-editor boss Arthur Nadel got angry because he found out I was consulting with directors and board artists as I cobbled my 32-page masterpieces together. He ordered me to cease and desist. (I just got more secretive about my meetings.)

Collaboration seems the best way to go, far as I'm concerned. But many bosses protective of their precious turf don't think that way.

Anonymous said...

Wow. There are so many blatant misquotes in this recap (even the ones presented in quotation marks!) that I'm amazed the author of this post was actually at the same event I was. I guess this is how so much misinformation gets out there onto the internet. Too bad.

Kevin Koch said...

I was at the same event, and thought the quotes were, by and large, reasonably accurate. The biggest problem is that these quotes lack the context of the ongoing discussion. You're more than welcome to provide corrections or context in the comments section. Or you can just leave that 'misinformation' out there.

Steve Hulett said...

There are so many blatant misquotes in this recap (even the ones presented in quotation marks!) that I'm amazed the author of this post was actually at the same event I was.

I took down the stuff as it was being said. I put additional verbiage in brackets to give it a bit more context.

Lots of stories were left out, very true. My shorthand is rusty.

Unknown said...

I was also at the event and find the "quotes" range from inaccurate to simply baffling. The additional context seems to consistently miss the point, at least in my opinion.

Dwayne McDuffie

C.M.B. said...

If it's permitted, I would be glad to videotape one of these panel discussions and let TAG post the video, so we don't end up having a sort-of stenographer writing down comments.

Anonymous said...

A directors panel, film and television, would be great, if you are taking requests for panels. There is not enough information out there about the job that truly makes the difference for animation. And it puts the writer/artist relationship in context. Put the directors in the drivers seat for a night!

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