What Happened to My Script?! – Part Two
In What Happened To My Script? – Part One, we discussed the reasons why your script was changed between your last draft and the finished episode, with an emphasis on why those changes were because of stuff that you did.
Not anyone else — You.
Now comes the fun part where we turn the tables and examine the reasons why your script was changed that have to do with some other animal, vegetable, or mineral.
Meaning it’s someone else’s fault. They’re the one who ‘messed it up’… or made it awards-worthy, although you would never admit that.
The reasons why a script changes after the original writer has moved on has everything to do what goes on behind the animated curtain. Specifically, the later production stages. Many animation writers have no idea what goes on after they hit ‘send’. But they should, because it would help them become better writers and deliver more consistently ‘animate-able’ scripts. But until productions begin putting a “Welcome Writers!” sign up on the door for these later stages, how else are you going to learn why your sh%$ got changed?
(For more info on the Production Process, check out You Are Never Writing Alone -learning the animation process and The Animation Production Process, Part 2 – The Visual Stream – Editor)
Like their counterpart productions in the live-action world, animation productions are big collaborative efforts. Like a Final Draft baton being passed from hand to hand, your script travels through many different departments before it reaches the TV screen, and the reasons for changing your words range from the logical and budgetary, to the arbitrary and ego-driven.
The number of people who poke, prod, fondle, slap, or even stab your script to death is a long one. So perhaps it’s best to just list those individuals first, then explain the reasons why they changed your script.
The reasons they changed my script because of THEM:
● The Head Writer
Whether they go by that designation, or by Executive Producer, or Story Editor (the most common), the Head Writer of the animated series you’re writing for will often edit your script at every draft stage. This is preferable to the alternative where they only edit it after you’re done your Polish, for the main reason that you as the episode’s writer, get a unique glimpse into their creative mind by reading their revisions along the way. Reading their edited passes (always recommended) allows you to see what they like or don’t like about your writing, and helps you learn to write better for them.
NOTE: This is a very different thing than helping you learn to become a better writer. You will not always agree with the liberties the Head Writer took with your script. Many times you’ll think what they did suck ass. But in the greater employer/employee universe, never forget that you’re the subordinate being hired to give them what they want. Save your artistic expression for your own projects, and give them what they want already.
The alternative to a Story Editor editing your script at every stage, is when they just relay notes from the broadcaster, or whoever has a say in the script, directly to you, the writer, to implement. Only when you’re done your last draft in this scenario does the Story Editor do any rewriting themselves. From a notes perspective, all the bigger problems should have been ironed out by this stage, so anything from this point on is most likely the Story Editor getting their own creative rocks off, or juggling last-minute notes to get the damn thing out of their hands forever. Their draft can be anything from a light polish to a complete rewrite depending on their creative temperament.
● The Animation Director
This creative head always has their own vision for the series, and for your script. It’s what they’re paid to have. So in terms of what we will see on screen, the artistic buck stops at them. And in that capacity, the Director will put their stamp on your episode in whatever way they see fit. This stamp could include rewriting the odd line of dialogue, entire scenes, or in rare cases, the entire script.
Good Directors will only do what they need to enhance your script because the bigger story demands should have already been addressed by the Story Editor. This leaves the Director to focus solely on making the show look great and play out well dramatically. Not-so-good Directors believe that any script that wasn’t written by themselves sucks and will change every word that either you or the Story Editor wrote. Because they can.
Like it or not, your script will always be filtered through a Director’s sensibility. When your vision jives with theirs, the end result is magic, and the show becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. When your vision doesn’t merge with the Director’s, it’s usually a disaster in the making. Not to mention a heartbreaking experience for the writer who spent endless hours crafting a script that got moulded into some other beast for broadcast.
● The Producer
Somebody has to keep the budget and schedule of an animated production in line. If your script is a negative influence on either of those aspects, rest assured that the Producer will tag it with a bullseye. You included a new location in your script? The Producer has to pay an artist to draw it. You introduced a new character who only says two lines? The Producer has to pay an actor to read those two lines (FYI – you’d do well to research how ACTRA voice actors get paid. Word count matters. In some cases, losing one word from one line can save the production hundreds of dollars).
Unlike Directors and Story Editors, Producers aren’t always creative. Nor do they have to be. Some are only paid to handle cheques and calendars. In the live-action series world (specifically the U.S.), they’d be called ‘Non-Writing Producers,’ who deal only with logistics. This species of Producer generally leaves writers alone as long as they don’t mess with their budget or schedule.
Other Producers however, integrate themselves into the creative process in ways which overlap with all the other creative heads: the Writer, Story Editor, and Director. They give notes on your script. Attend voice records. Make cuts in edit sessions. In the animation world, there is no hard and fast rule for what a Producer does or doesn’t do within the creative spectrum. It’s different with every Producer on every series. And much like the Writer’s relationship with the Director, if the Producer is in sync with you creatively, the show will work fine. If not, expect to feel pain in all your creative places.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the Producer is the individual who represents the commercial and creative interests of the Production Company making the series you’re writing on. Your relationship working with this Producer could determine whether or not you’ll have a long, fruitful relationship with that production company, or never work for them again. Either of which could be a blessing or a curse.
● The Network Executive
This person wields a huge amount of power over your script. A single, dismissive comment from them could kill your episode at any stage. But like everyone else involved in the production, they want it to be as good as it can be. Their notes on your script can run the gamut from being constructive to infuriating.
When it comes to your script, the other creative heads on the production generally handle anything that’s too serious coming from the Network Executive. So when you receive the Executive’s notes, they’ve usually been edited down to the more manageable stuff. The more experienced you get, you’ll more likely you’ll get to receive all their notes (whoopee!). Be aware that the more you get to know Network Executives on a personal level, and the more they get to know you, the more receptive they will be to your writing… and to forgiving any choices you make that they don’t like. Meaning they’ll just ask for changes in the next draft… and not necessarily demand that you get fired immediately.
So those are the main culprits who are responsible for changing your script after you’re done writing it. But there are also some specific reasons that are worth mentioning as well. Specifics that will outlined in a rousing Part Three cliffhanger to this blog entry.
Stay tuned for What Happened To My Script – Part Three!