What Happened to my Script?! – Part One
Whether it’s your first produced animation credit, or one of hundreds you’ve created over the years as a professional animation writer, there is one emotion you’re likely to experience when you sit down to watch the finished product on television — bafflement.
What happened to my script?!!!
The finished episode bears little resemblance to the action-packed, true-to-character masterpiece you toiled through draft after draft to finish. Panic sets in as you wonder why the Head Writer — the Story Editor, in the animation world — changed it so drastically.
The moment you delivered your final Polish Draft, did the Story Editor just decide that you sucked and rewrote every word as a result? The final episode is so different from the script you delivered, a fleeting thought crosses your mind… maybe you should ask to have your name removed. Because clearly it’s not your work… right?
Before you jam your head in the paper shredder out of despair, there are some important things you should know about the animation process that can greatly affect your script. Some of which a writer might have no idea about because the reasons for the changes occur long after the writer finishes their job. Reasons that often have nothing to do with the quality of work you delivered.
We’ll get to those reasons later. Right now, we’re going to gaze in the magic mirror and examine the reasons that are entirely because of you. Because let’s face it, we’d be deceiving ourselves if we thought our scripts were never changed because of anything we did. Part of our job as professionals, is to avoid repeating our mistakes so we can become better, more reliable wordsmiths. So on that note, here a few of the reasons (some of which are very obvious) as to why your script was changed that have everything to do with you:
Reasons they changed my script because of ME:
● You’re new to animation writing, or to that particular series. People will generally cut you a bit of slack on this one, because while your best effort is always expected, no one expects a home run from you in your first appearance at the plate. Really “getting” a show takes time. There’s always a learning curve in becoming familiar with the show’s characters and its style. Even seasoned veterans get rewritten the first script or two they write for a series. The more you write on a program, the more you’ll become an ‘expert’ on the universe of that series, and the less you will get rewritten by the Story Editor on future scripts.
● You didn’t adhere to the formula for that series. For example, you gave a half-page soliloquy to a character who usually speaks one sentence. Or you decided to add a narrator where none existed before. Or your episode became action-heavy in place of the usual comedy. Or you threw in every character the show’s ever used into one episode where normally you only have a handful of characters. All of which make the show feel like some other series. This is not a good thing.
● You ignored the show’s format or ignored the notes. If this is the case, visit a confessional ASAP because you’ve committed a monstrous sin. You delivered a 20 page script where the standard length is 14. Or the Story Editor “suggested” (read: DO IT NOW!) that you lose the airborne battle sequence, but instead, you simply moved it to another page, or made the scene longer because you think your idea’s better. While it may in fact be better, until you sell your own series or become a highly paid showrunner and the creative buck stops at you, don’t get high and mighty with your ideas. Ignoring a request from your senior writer is a sure fire way to never get work from them again. Your job is to make their life easier, and the better you get at delivering a script they don’t have to edit much, the better your chances are of getting hired by them later.
Okay, so you’ve taken your tongue-lashing and heard the reasons why it was your fault your script got changed. But what about the other changes that were made to it? Weird changes like those random cuts, or the arbitrary substitutions? Why did they drop an entire action beat at the end? Or excise a character completely? You would have cut that character yourself if only they’d asked you. Why did they do it after the fact?
As an animation writer who’s been privileged enough to be involved in the post-writing production process, I can tell you that many things occur later on that can cause big changes to your script that have nothing to do with you. In our next instalment of “What Happened To My Script,” we’ll tell you what they are.