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You Asked For It: How many Locations should I use?

January 14, 2012 3 comments

This dramatic exterior location from Nelvana's "Tales From the Cryptkeeper" is by artist Paul Rivoche. His amazing Rocketfiction artblog is full of astounding design work. Click the image.

This question about locations and Canimation’s response come from the comment section of our recent post, What Happened To Me Script? Part Three. It is  a common enough query that we wanted to share it with our readers who don’t make a habit of checking out the comment section for each article.

Reader Josh asked: “I’m curious about your comment on locations – how limited are most animated series in terms of creating new backgrounds?”

Great question, Josh!

While animation can do more with backgrounds than many live action shows, they still have to be designed and rendered by the animation team. Remember, it’s not just a single design for each location, It’s backgrounds for EVERY shot that have to be planned and produced and rendered.

Another "Tales From The Cryptkeeper" by Paul Rivoche. Click the image to see more at his Rocketfiction artblog.

A good rule of thumb is that in the first half of season one, the production team is probably still developing all the main designs and sets that will will be used the most over the course of the series – the main characters’ homes, rooms, yards, school or headquarters, etc.

Once those locations that will be re-used every episode are established there is more time to expand the world. Even adventure shows that tend take our heroes all over the place will attempt to make use of established locations like a HQ or the interior of Ben 10′s motor home, etc. and try to use any new locations effectively.

I’d suggest avoiding more than 2 extra locations, 3 tops (and that’s pushing it on most shows). Also keep in mind a single location may serve your needs. An Inca Temple is technically one location, even if you’re using the exterior, interior tunnels and a treasure room deep inside.

And don’t be surprised if a new location gets changed. If you’ve written a short scene where the hero gets his orders at the Eiffel Tower but haven’t used the location for anything else in your story (a waste of a great locale!), the scene may be moved to an established, reuse location like the hero’s jet.

-RP

Another piece of terrific Paul Rivoche location concept art. This time it's a desolate prison from Studio B's "Class of the Titans". To find out more at Paul Rivoche's Rocketfiction artblog, click the image.

WRITING FOR PUPPETS – Top 5 Rules

December 29, 2011 1 comment

On the set at Kids CBC

Because animation is primarily aimed at the kids market, it goes without saying that animation writers are also children’s writers.  But there are other formats in the children’s market that have their own rules you need to consider when writing, like puppet shows.  Writing for a show that is partly (or fully) a puppet cast has rules and pitfalls all its own.

THE CARDINAL RULES FOR WRITING PUPPETS

“What the heck is this doing here?!”

Most animation writers are also kids writers but not all kids’ shows are animated.  Sometimes they are strictly live-action, sometimes they are nothing but animals, and sometimes they are partly or fully composed of puppets. So I thought I’d share some insights I’ve gained, having worked with, written for, produced and directed puppets. A brief list of dos and don’ts (mostly don’ts) might be all you need the next time you find yourself writing for our fuzzy friends.

1. PUPPETS CAN’T PICK ANYTHING UP OR PUT ANYTHING DOWN. 

This isn’t exactly true.  But if you keep in mind that whenever a puppet needs to get something in their hand or out of their hand, the production needs to stop tape and actually sew the hot dog, bullhorn, apple or whatever they are holding onto the puppets hand, then you can appreciate the level of difficulty involved.

Puppets can pick things up, but it takes time.  So if you write a scene where the puppet picks up and puts down 7 things, the director may come over to your house and strangle you.  Fair warning.

2. PUPPETS AND FOOD DON’T MIX.

Not just food, also paint, water, ink… etc. These constructs can be very costly and depending on the level of show there may only be one or two copies of any single puppet.  What’s more, you can’t exactly throw a puppet in the washing machine if they get a little tomato sauce on them.

So keeping puppets and real food (or anything else that would stain their fabric) far away from each other is a worthy goal.  This also means if you have a puppet ‘eating’ the food itself will have to be faked, sewn onto their hands and then chewed but not swallowed.

3. PUPPETS HAVE NO FEET.

I know. I just blew your mind.  In fact, this isn’t exactly true, most puppets do have legs and feet, but they don’t often attach to the puppet and are only used if you want them sitting up on something or a POV of their feet.

Patty Sullivan and Pier Kohl as Saumon on Kids CBC.

There’s a big, out-of-context human right below the waist, and we need to always keep them in mind – and out of the shot.  Sure, it can be done.  We’ve all seen that awesome shot of Kermit riding a bicycle in The Muppet Movie, but that was an amazingly complicated shot that Henson really wanted to pull off because no one had seen a puppet do that before.  

So when you picture your puppets, always picture them behind something or in a medium shot.  A wide-angle shot of a puppet in the middle of an empty street is simply not possible.

4. A PUPPET IS A PERSON HOLDING THEIR ARM ABOVE THEIR HEAD.

Ali Eisner as Mamma Yamma on Kids CBC.

Puppeteers are some of the hardest working people I’ve met in this industry.  They cram themselves into small spaces under tables or behind boxes, and hold their arm in the air till they are sweating with the pain.  Neck and shoulder injuries are commonplace for puppeteers.

Henson built all his sets up high, so the puppeteers could walk standing upright, with braces on their arms to avoid fatigue.  This elaborate design is usually too costly nowadays, so puppeteers are sitting down on rolling apple boxes, craned over to the side, holding their arm in the air all day long.  Just remember that if you are writing a huge monologue for a puppet.

It’s often very humane if you are writing a long scene to add a moment where the puppet needs to disappear behind their counter (or box or garbage can) for a moment.  This will give the puppeteer a second to rest their arm, sometimes just a few lines is enough.  This is especially true if you find yourself writing a LIVE show.  A human being cannot keep their arm in the air for 30 minutes.  The puppet needs to go away and come back several times.

5. PUPPETS ARE AWESOME!

Puppets add a lot to a live-action show.  A puppet is like a live-action cartoon character.  They can be big, they can be ridiculous and they can be the comic foil for nearly every situation.  Though there are certain things to keep in mind when writing for them, puppets are a great addition to any live-action show.

The Canadian industry is filled with top-notch puppeteers whose creativity, performance and characterizations are a wonder to behold.  Consider them when coming up with a live-action property.

So there you have it, a primer on puppet proclivities.   Hopefully these few simple rules will help you if you find yourself writing for (or, better yet, decide to augment your own pitch with) puppets.

-PM

More behind the scenes of Kids CBC. Phil McCordic directs Sid Bobb, Patty Sullivan, Bruce Hunter as Captain Claw and Ali Eisner as Mamma Yamma.

All photos courtesy of Phil McCordic and Kids CBC.

What Happened to my Script?! – Part Three

October 25, 2011 4 comments

The length of this discussion concerning why an animation writer’s script gets changed after they’re done writing it has turned into a freaking trilogy, there was so much to say about it. I don’t usually write this much material without getting paid for it, so clearly I must feel impassioned and or enraged about the subject. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

In Part One, we discussed possible reasons why your script was changed between your last draft and the finished episode, with an emphasis on changes that could be due to stuff you did.

In Part Two, we discussed the various people who may have changed your scripts for reasons that were out of your control.

The final area of discussion, returns to the creative heads we mentioned earlier who handle your script after it’s finished. These are some specific types of changes that are made by these individuals, listed in chronological order of production stage:

Script Length

"My script started out thiiiiiiiiis long!" - Bob the Builder knows length matters. Do you?

Your script is too long, even after the Story Editor does their final pass on it. This problem is usually caught right away, and other times not until after the voice record, when all the actors’ takes are cut together in their proper pacing and the end result makes the episode many minutes too long.

Unless the series is called The Sopranos, the episodes must always be the same length – without exception. Which means stuff has to get cut. Jokes are usually the first casualty, because cutting them doesn’t affect story comprehension as severely.

Often times, if a line is rewritten at this stage, it’s usually to help with a story hole that was created because of other material that was excised.

Actor’s reads

"Oh yeah! We're tossing out the script and ad libbing, baby! Let's make this sucker our own!" (Image from Phineas and Ferb)

Professional voice actors are a joy to behold when they read your script. The best ones make your dialogue sing. But it isn’t until all the lines are cut together sequentially that the creative heads discover where the episode’s weaknesses lie:

In the story itself.

In the pacing.

In deliveries that sounded great during the record that now sound too manic, too subdued, too over-enunciated, too everything.

These lines must either get re-recorded, or rewritten to help them play better in the finished episode.

Storyboards

(Image from Karen J. Lloyd's Storyboard Blog)

Your lovely description of a Yak valiantly climbing up Mount Everest over a long, arduous week proves to be incredibly boring when it’s storyboarded.

So a new scene showing a TMZ-type reporter doing a story on how the Yak– who already climbed to the peak months ago — is now the most celebrated Yak in all of Yak-dom and just wants to be left alone, is written by the Director to make the show faster and peppier.

Animation

Animation is a team sport, with the script passed around after it leaves your desktop. It's how you play without the puck that makes the difference. (Image from Chilly Beach)

The quality of the animation being done is a big determining factor in what cuts and changes occur, post-writing. If a character’s walk cycle always looks silly when they try it, any scene you wrote showing that character walking will be changed to that character driving a car, taking public transit, or being hauled about in a rickshaw.

Editing  

Once all the editor splices together the various changes to your script, your episode becomes the sum of many parts. (Image from Spliced)

The culmination of all the above instances reaches its endgame here. Do we really need that one line from a minor character whose five other lines we cut earlier, or can now eliminate his part entirely? One action sequence is animated so well, the editor reuses it multiple times, adding extra length which must now be cut from another part of the episode. A decision is made to add a recap from a previous episode, or a new V.O. is added, leaving even less time for your stellar writing.

Sound Mix

"Uh, Mister Sound Editor? Can we get a level on my diabolical, alien kat here before he shatters my eardrums?" (Image from Kid vs. Kat)

A heart-swelling music sting or kickass explosion sound effect is emphasized over some less-than-pivotal dialogue, which was O.S. anyway, so nobody but you ever knew it was dropped in the first place.

By this point, if the cumulative rewriting done on your script is bad enough, you’ll wish they put music and explosions over the entire episode.

Looks like we’ve finally reached the end… of my patience for listing reasons why your animated script gets changed after you’re done writing it.

Not the list itself.

Because just like George Carlin’s famous routine “Seven Things You Can’t Say On TV” grew from its initial seven words to a list that takes seven minutes just to say them all, the plethora of reasons why a cartoon script gets changed will inevitably be expanded in the future.

– DeeAzz

Categories: Uncategorized

2011 Gemini Awards – Animation Winners

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Canimation belatedly celebrates this year’s Gemini Award winning animation writers and shows!

“A big congratulations to all of tonight’s Gemini Award winners,” says Helga Stephenson, Interim CEO, ACCT. “We are delighted to be celebrating with such sensational Canadian talent who are truly outstanding representatives in their fields.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. So let’s take a moment to celebrate all the nominees as well as the winners.

Best Animated Program or Series

(Sponsored by the Canada Media Fund)

Nominees

Glenn Martin DDS

City TV (Rogers)  (Cuppa Coffee Studios)

Adam Shaheen

Jimmy Two Shoes

Teletoon (Astral/Corus) (Breakthrough Entertainment)

Ira Levy, Mark Evestaff, Peter Williamson

Kid vs. Kat

YTV (Corus) (DHX Media Ltd.)

Blair Peters, Chris Bartleman, Chantal Hennessey

March of the Dinosaurs

Shaw Media (Shaw Media)

(Yap Films, Wide Eyed Entertainment)

Elliott Halpern, Pauline Duffy, Jasper James

And the winner is:

Hot Wheels – Battle Force Five

Teletoon (Astral/Corus) (Nelvana Limited)

Doug Murphy, Tina Chow, Ken Faier, Ace Fipke, Chuck Johnson, Pam Lehn, Audu Paden, Ira Singerman, Barry Waldo, Irene Weibel

Hot Wheels - Battle Force 5

Best Direction in an Animated Program or Series

Nominees

Kid vs. Kat – Kat To The Future Part 1

YTV (Corus)

Rob Boutilier, Josh Mepham

League of Super Evil Voltina

YTV (Corus)

Sebastian Brodin, Steve Sacks

Hot Wheels – Battle Force Five – Sol Survivor

Teletoon (Astral/Corus)

Johnny Darrell, Mike Dowding, Andrew Duncan

Rob the Robot – Puzzled

TVO (TVOntario)

Phillip Stamp

 March of the Dinosaurs

Shaw Media (Shaw Media)

Matthew Thompson

And the winner is:

Glenn Martin DDS – Date with Destiny

City TV (Rogers)

Ken Cunningham

Glenn Martin DDS

Best Original Music Score for an Animated Program or Series

Nominees

Kid vs. Kat – Fangs For The Memories

YTV (Corus)

Hal Beckett

Sidekick – Identity Crisis/Fart of Darkness

YTV (Corus)

Don Breithaupt, Anthony Vanderburgh

Rob the Robot – Space Race

TVO (TVOntario)

Serge Côté

And the winner is:

League of Super Evil – Ant-archy

YTV (Corus)

Hal Beckett

League of Super Evil

Best Performance in an Animated Program or Series

Nominees

Jimmy Two Shoes – Bird Brained

Teletoon (Astral/Corus)

Sean Cullen

Stella and Sam – Night Fairies

Playhouse Disney Canada (Astral)

Rachel Marcus

Stella and Sam – Night Fairies

Playhouse Disney Canada (Astral)

Miles Johnson

League of Super Evil – Force Fighters VI

YTV (Corus)

Colin Murdock

And the winner is:

Babar and the Adventures of Badou – Neigbourly Nice Day 19A

YTV (Corus)

Gordon Pinsent

Babar and the Adventures of Badou

Best Pre-School Program or Series

Nominees

Dino Dan

TVO (TVOntario) (Sinking Ship Entertainment)

J.J. Johnson, Matthew J.R. Bishop, Blair Powers

Kids’ Canada – Wowie Woah Woah

CBC (CBC)

Phil McCordic, Sid Bobb, Erin Curtin, Ali Eisner,Nadine Henry, Marie McCann, Patty Sullivan

Stella and Sam

Playhouse Disney Canada (Astral)

(Radical Sheep Productions)

John Leitch, Michelle Melanson

TVOKids – Gisèle’s Big Backyard

TVO (TVOntario)

(TVOntario)

Jennifer McAuley, Gisèle Corinthios, Patricia Ellingson, Paul Gardner

And the winner is:

The Mighty Jungle

CBC (CBC)

(DHX Media Ltd.)

Katrina Walsh, Charles Bishop, Michael Donovan, Beth Stevenson

The Mighty Jungle

Best Writing in a Children’s or Youth Program or Series – Sponsored by the Independent Production Fund

Nominees

Almost Naked Animals – Better Safe and Sorry

YTV (Corus)

Seán Cullen

Degrassi – My Body is a Cage Part 2

MuchMusic (Bell Media)

Michael Grassi

 League of Super Evil – Voltina

YTV (Corus)

Philippe Ivanusic-Vallee, Davila LeBlanc

How to be Indie – How to get Plugged In

YTV (Corus)

Anita Kapila

And the winners are:

Spliced – Pink

Teletoon (Astral/Corus)

Richard Elliott, Simon Racioppa

Spliced

Best Cross-Platform Project – Children’s and Youth – Sponsored by the Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund

Nominees

Skatoony Interactive

Teletoon (Astral/Corus)  (marblemedia)

Mark J. W. Bishop, Ted Brunt, Julie Dutrisac, Matthew Hornburg, Johnny Kalangis

Stella and Sam Interactive Adventures

Disney Junior (Astral)   (Zinc Roe Inc.)

Anne-Sophie Brieger, Robert Ardiel, Jason Krogh, Davin Risk

The Baxter Online Experience

Family Channel (Astral)

(Shaftesbury / Smokebomb Entertainment)

Shane Kinnear, Jay Bennett, Daniel Dales, Nicole Mickelow, Jarrett Sherman

And the winner is:

Babar and the Adventures of Badou Interactive

YTV.com (Corus) (Watch More TV Interactive Inc.)

Caitlin O’Donovan

Babar and the Adventures of Badou

The Call me Fitz pilot took top honors for Best Sound in a Comedy, Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series.  But two animated entries also earned nominations in this category.

 Bolts & Blip – Robots Don’t Dream Part 1

Teletoon (Astral/Corus)

Roberto Capretta, Kevin Bonnici, Melissa Glidden, Edwin Janzen, Tim O’Connell

League of Super Evil – Ant-archy

YTV (Corus)

Jonny Ludgate, Ewan Deane, Steffan Andrews, Pat Haskill, Gordon Sproule

And finally, an animated property won for Best Cross-Platform Project – Fiction.

DatingGuy.com

Matthew Hornburg, Mark J. W. Bishop, Ted Brunt, Julie Dutrisac, Johnny Kalangis

The Dating Guy

Congratulations one and all. Better late than never, right?

Categories: Uncategorized

What Happened to My Script?! – Part Two

Canimation's got a bucketful of creators and executives who weigh on your script after it goes in. (Image from Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs)

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.

"We've searched the entire universe for someone to blame. I say it's that binary star's fault!" (Image from Flying Rhino Jr. High)

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

"Bwahahaha! Now I, the Story Editor/Head Writer/Executive Producer, shall have the final laugh with my infamous 'sparkle pass'!"

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

"Seriously dudes and dudettes. You've gotta see this show through an animator's eyes. Try mine." (Image from Beetlejuice)

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

"Hey guys. Is there room for a little product placement for this way-cool, zoomy car? It'll help pay for all the bloody actors your script is using." (Image from Gerald McBoing-Boing)

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

"We must find a way to put my stamp on this perfect script, Minimus. Or I swear, someone's gonna get atomized." (Image from Atomic Betty)

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!

 DeeAzz

Categories: Uncategorized

You Asked For It: Writing with a Partner

May 20, 2011 1 comment

We have mail!

It’s time to dip into the digital mailbag for more reader questions here at Canimation.

We recently received a request for info on writing with a partner, balancing a creative and business partnership and collaboration in general.

Here are some basics to keep in mind for a successful team-up.

First question. What types of things need to be discussed going into a writing partnership?

Trust and respect are key.

Knowing you respect the other person’s ability and ideas and they respect yours is the first unbreakable rule. If you find your ideas being dismissed all the time without a real discussion then that’s bad sign. If you think the other person’s ideas are stupid then you will probably make for a very bad partner.

It also helps to know what you both want out of it.

In my partnership, even when we are struggling, I know we are both working toward the same goal (sometimes from different sides of the problem). So our arguments are always about the work, not about each other. If a personal issue comes up, we have to quickly separate it out from the work and deal with it so it doesn’t get in our way.

"You messed up my clever wordplay, partner!" "Serves you right for deleting my awesome fart joke!"

You may also have to discuss how you like to work. Different duos write different ways. Some alternate scenes and trade up, some write in the same room, some do the first pass solo then hand it off. You may find that you start out working one way together but over time it switches as you grow more comfortable as a team.

Most importantly, you need to decide if you can maintain a friendship and work together. If one of you is precious about taking notes, combative or worse, never speaks up for their ideas and lets resentment fester, then the partnership is doomed to fiery, ugly death.

Are there some standard agreements available to help clarify the business part of a writing relationship?

Nope.  Agreements vary from team to team. I don’t know of any writing teams who started out with a contract. Though eventually, you may have to work out an agreement as to who deals with the creative and where the money goes if one of you passes away or quits mid-stream.  My partner and I don’t do anything we haven’t decided on together. Sometimes one convinces the other, sometimes the one with the most passion rules, and sometimes the most tired one simply caves!

What advantages/pitfalls have you experienced (or witnessed) in writing partnerships in Canada?

Advantages to Writing With a Partner

Number one is the idea well you draw inspiration from is magically doubled. When confronted with a blank page or a challenge we have two brains to chip away at it instead of one.  So I guess it basically lowers that inevitable fear of failure!  As long as you have something to show, even if it feels uninspired or still has problems, your partner can usually see something there and build on it.   This eliminates (or at least, diminishes) that fear of failure that cripples writers at times. You are no longer alone. It will be okay.

Uh, partner? Can you help unravel this convoluted plot?

Partnership also opens your writing up to true surprise and improvisation. Sometimes you toss out a silly or outrageous idea you’d normally skip and your partner latches onto it and cries, “That’s brilliant!”.  Suddenly you are off on a new direction instead of your default choices.

Another plus?  You suddenly find yourself creating something that feels more thought out and fuller than something you do on your own, simply because there is more than one point of view and set of experiences weighing in. This especially helps when writing stories with multiple character voices and viewpoints. Suddenly, the characters don’t all sound like you.

You can work faster and accomplish more with a partner. As Cheryl Binning said in her article, “In This Together: Screenwriting Partnerships” (Canadian Screenwriter, Spring 2010, vol. 12, no. 2) “On a practical level, writing teams typically work faster, share the workload, divide responsibilities, and, best of all, can even take vacation knowing the other will be there is broadcaster notes suddenly arrive in the middle of their trip.”

Having a partner also helps overcome the ever-present desire to distract yourself or put off working. If I promised a first draft to my partner by 6 pm, I damn well better deliver, no matter how interesting I find that graph about whether Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton is more likely to be taken in the rapture.

You can reach new heights with two creative brains working together.

Finally, it’s much, much easier to deal with script notes and business issues with two heads. We can see the separate sides to an issue or problem better. And if something pisses us off, we can vent to each other and inevitably the calmest one takes the lead on the diplomatic work.

Disadvantages to Writing With a Partner

When the two writers in a team have differing expectations or work ethics, problems arise. The one doing more work will resent it while the lazy one may feel they are contributing all the inspiration (That by the way, is never true).

Who gets control of the ideas or scripts when the split happens? If it’s amicable, then likely you will be able to negotiate the split. If you still hate each other, you will likely have to abandon it all and start over!

The perils are great but the rewards are many. Choose your partner wisely and you will have a true ally and creative inspiration.

Good luck.

Now get writing.  Both of you.

-RP

What Happened to my Script?! – Part One

May 10, 2011 1 comment

My words! What happened to my precious words?

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.

I had to disintegrate most of your script, Johnny Test. But several words in the new draft are still yours, like "sasquatch", "the" and "end".

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.

What Happened To My Script – Part Two

What Happened To My Script – Part Three

DeeAzz

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