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Author Topic: storytelling two
Trilby
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Hello. This is my first post.

I've been following the storytelling thread. Dermot wanted comments from a writer. I'm a writer. What would you like to know?

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EustaceScrubb
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quote:
I'm a writer. What would you like to know?
Don't they do all that stuff with computers these days ?
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dermot
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Hey Trilby...thanks for speaking up .

I hardly ever post as well......but I was redoing my CV and thought by now I better preface things a bit so I wrote that piece .

Here's a good question for starters...

Whats your feeling on writing for animation ? As a director I have been told on more than a few occasions that I shouldn't feel inclined to comment on scripts / or attempt to contact a writer except through my producer .
On the other hand I find myself with considerable license when I am staging action in boards...for the most part client comments focus on minor things that don't bother me . Of course , there are many things I wish I could improve with productions....But number one I would prefer the writing aspect to be more collaborative .

whats your experience?....are you happy / surprised by results ? Frustrated ?....

feel free to ramble!

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http://zoomfrog.blogspot.com/

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SquarejawHero
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What he said. [Big Grin]

I've had a number of scripts in the past that seem to bypass a lot of design work in favour of the writers own geography. This is normally the number one mistake that many writers make, IMHO. Naturally, I'm not accusing you of doing it [Big Grin] , but I would like to know more about animation writing.

As a board artist, I've got license to change angles on backgrounds etc. as long as I stick to the designs. How rigidly to you stick to the source material, personally? Do you work from the same design sources we do? Naturally, on a pilot you would have lots of room, but as a show goes on there are base locations.

What are the general parameters for a show with regards to what a writer can do? How much do you personally understand about visual narrative? Or do writers usually throw caution to the wind and then tone it down based on the directors comments afterwards?

Meh, it's late and I've been boarding most of the day. Sorry if I came off incoherent. [Smile]

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Bowendesign.com

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Calvin
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I've worked in the biz for 23 years. MOST of my experience with writers have been good. It's often the producers that get in the way. Especially those from the jeffery katzenburg school of producing. (underline that last sentence).

A few bad experiences.

A producer pushed a writer on a project I was working on who wouldn't talk to the directors because they were "animation people." He would ONLY talk to the producer (in this case not instigated BY the producer). After a few weeks--he wouldn't even talk to the producer. He took a lot of money, disappeared for 2 months, and handed in a 180 page "version" of the film that was so off course, bad and unusable we fired him on the spot. Since we couldn't get ahold of the first writer at all during that period (and with deadlines looming) a writer friend popped in and did another GREAT draft in collaboration with the director in 2 weeks. The first writer threatened legal action when he found out we'd hired another writer--and it scared the studio enough that they shut the project down. Unrelated to this project, the first writer was arrested a few years later for killing his girlfriend.

Worked on a movie that had a couple of writers whose work was tossed entirely. Another scriptwriter was brough in (a very good one) and he collaborated with the head of story to write the screenplay and learned about the storyboarding process and really enjoyed the collaboration. When the movie was coming out, the first 2 writers fought for credit--and because of a technicality they got it. The film was a HUGE success, and they've been living off the success of the film they had nothing to do with ever since; they have yet to have another movie produced.

On another film, the story board artists wrote the dialogue as they boarded from an outline. Late at night, the "writer" would come in with her computer, write up what the story artists had written, and claim it as her own.

Of course it's a 2 way street. A lot of story artists get lost in "sequenceitis." Or get lost in a fantasy of "we don't need a script." Scripts have been used in feature animation from the beginning--but the better films know how to balance the script and storyboarding phases to yield the best end result.

Producers that put themselves between the animation artists and the writers are doomed to fail. Putting their own inflated sense of purpose above the FILM is nothing but an ego run amuck. Those producers should be bound and tickled until they promise never to do it again.

I always insist on writing and registering the FIRST treatment myself for legal and protection purposes. I advise everyone else to consider doing so as well.

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SerafinsGirl
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I'm not in feature animation, I've been in TV for almost 15 years and my biggest comment about the writing in general is that it is way too sitcom oriented. Most of the time I haven't even felt like I was boarding an actual cartoon, but a live action dialogue between characters that result in HUGE PARAGRAPHS of talky, talky dialogue which is wearying to board and results in ponderous, weighty cartoons where characters are forever overexplaining themselves.
There is also an overdependance on pop culture references and "schtick" that is reused repeatedly that is not particularly entertaining. Maybe it's just the scripts I have been handed over the years, but all I can say is thank goodness story artists can have a go at rewrites and pumping up the gags. I have been dealt scripts that are awkardly paced, word heavy and miss great opportunities. These same scripts are also viciously defended by their creators (we all get defensive about our work, of course) but to deny that improvement is possible is counterproductive to the project as a whole..cartoons are a team effort, and you'll still get credit as the writer.
One more note about the sitcom quality of the writing..I know this isn't entirely on the writer's shoulders but alot of writers either have come from live action or that is what they *want* to do instead of cartoons. Also I understand that oftentimes executives tend to see everything in terms of "being a sitcom" and will refer to cartoons as things like "Seinfeld meets Sex In The City" or whatever...and that is how the scripts are expected to emulate.
Plus today you have the extra burdens of politcal correctness and safety issues and not hurting anyone's feelings..so I guess it's a shock if *any* script feels like a "real cartoon".

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Chris Roman
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One of the biggest complaints I've heard from storyboard artists (myself included) is that scripts for TV cartoons are not only too talky, they're always way too long.

The too talky part, or as said above, 'sit-com' style, I'd blame the executives in charge for, because when they read a script they can't visualize, but they understand dialog. Plus, if the exec. reads that a character visually does something, like "A determined look goes across Jack's face as he decides to climb the beanstalk." they'll invariably give the note that the audience won't get it unless he SAYS it...which is complete nonsense, but they don't trust visuals as conveying story.

But script length...having both storyboarded AND written a script or two, I understand why cartoon writers write LONG. While doing storyboard it's easier to do LESS, when writing a script under deadline, it's easier to write MORE. When you're barrelling through writing a script, often all you think about is all the info you're suppose to be conveying. It's more difficult to condense information and still have it all clear; in my opinion that's the mark of a great writer.

Animation writers have crazy short deadlines just like storyboard artists. But instead of the writing ending up shorter, it ends up longer. I don't know if Trilby will back me up on this, but it certainly was my experience.

Also, because of time constraints, when a writer gets a note to add 'such-and-such' information to a script they usually tack on the information in a new scene or new dialog instead of re-writing or merging the information into the original script, thus making it longer.

Finally, and unfortunately I've found this to be very true...many writers instead of being willing to 'cut' from their script, would rather have the long script boarded and make cuts after the board artist has KILLED themselves boarding a too-long script. I think this mainly comes from being too close to their work and unwilling to make cuts because they really can't see what's working and what isn't.

Thankfully the project I'm working on now, the writers I've been working with have been very open to my suggestions and cuts. It's been very collaborative and fulfilling and I'd work with them again in a heartbeat.

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SquarejawHero
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Very true, but I personally believe long scripts come under the dictum of the director to cut down with assistance from the writer. A writer can't hand in a 30 page script for a 11 minute toon, it normally comes in at around 19/20, for example (with your average 12 sized font), but some insist on doing this. Luckily everyone I've worked with has had such scripts cut before they get to me.

Even worse for a director is a writer adding new characters and scenes to a show with enough background material to fill a series. I NEVER get why this happens, but it always does even on the tightest production.

Sorry, monumental whinge! I'm looking forward to hearing from you, though, really! [Big Grin]

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Mr. Fun
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I haven't boarded for television in a long time, but I do remember working with good animation writers and poor ones.

I hate to say it's as simple as that, but some writers, most with a live-action background just don't get it. That meant I had to work a lot harder to get the overwritten script on the board. Of course, there were good animation writers, and boarding their stuff was a breeze.

Finally, some writers just can't do the job. I had a writer friend who wrote an animation script, and it was horrible. Because he was a friend I told him so. It didn't mean he was a poor writer, he just didn't know how to write for the medium. My advice is either learn how, or don't do it.

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Dickie Crickitts
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Maybe its just me, but Atlantis seemed more script like than the others. Dreamworks flix sometimes seem that way, too - especially Sinbad. Something in the dialog, low action, backdrop scenery sometimes seems very live action to me.

I know people have mixed feelings about ENewGroove, but I think that movie really worked for the cartoony gags and pacing especially. It seemed to fit the animation genre better than most at the time.

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Trilby
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Eustace - Sometimes. But other tools include paper, pens, post -it-notes, crayons, prayer, long drives alone, meditation, rabid curiosity, a banana muffin and a cup of coffee, obsessive house cleaning and organized daydreaming. Sometimes I sketch my characters to help make them real.

By the way, I really enjoyed the picture of Don Bluth and company in the pickup truck. Thanks for posting it.

Dermot - My feeling on writing for animation: Someone has to make up the story. It’s often said that early Disney was all done in storyboard yet many of their films were based on preexisting, public domain fairy tales.

Screenplays are structure. The writer creates that structure. We have a very short amount of time to tell our stories. Imagine you’re building a bridge. You have the exact amount of wood you’ll need but only if you structure the bridge properly. Build it right and you’ll reach your goal. Build it wrong and you get wet. There are many poorly built bridges finding their way to the screen.

Keeping the director away from the writer is like keeping the jockey away from the horse. I wonder if your producer is trying to justify his/her job. Or maybe the writer has rabies and they’re trying to protect you. Myself, I prefer collaboration. I welcome feedback. I’m hoping the animators and directors here will help me understand what they need in a script.

Square Jaw - I’m coming at this mostly from a feature film perspective. I’ve only written for one tv show. It was in the pilot/development stage. I don’t think it ever got produced. The company stiffed me on my last script payment and went out of business. My only contact was the producer. She asked me to change one shot because it would be too difficult to animate. It was no problem to change it from a moving camera to a still camera because it didn’t change the story.

On the ill-fated show, I was given a spiral notebook of character drawings and descriptions. I was also told which animated shows the creator most wanted to emulate. The creator was a non-writer who inherited money and thought it would be fun to do a show. He had a long, wordy script where every character spoke like a mother lecturing her child.

I made notes pointing out all the structure and character problems. I included what would need to be done to fix it. The creator and producer liked my notes and I got the job.

I can’t remember everything I did but the most important were to give each character a unique voice through sentence structure and word choice, let the kids act like kids and use kid logic, and make the protagonist pursue a goal through rising action that explodes at the climax. I also wrote gags based on the character’s personalities and occupations.

Do I understand visual narrative?

Here’s how I was taught at CalArts:

We were given a paragraph from a novel. The first day it was from Moby Dick. We were told to write the scene of this paragraph as a script so it took the same amount of time to read as it would take projected on the screen.

The paragraph was something about a little boat being pitched about between mountainous green waves.

CalArts is a creative place and people got creative. I was kicking myself as the teacher read the other scripts. I’d only written what was on the board. I felt so outclassed.

Then the teacher reamed them. “I did not tell you to write about space aliens and galactic whales. I told you to write this paragraph exactly as you see it on the board.”

We did this for an entire semester before he’d allow us to write our own stories. In a nutshell we learned to see the film in our heads and write exactly what we see.

There was no dialogue involved.

It’s a common misconception that live-action is based on dialogue and animation is visual. The rule is always - show don’t tell. You should be able to understand most of any film with the sound turned off. I’ll give you two examples:

Live-action - WINGED MIGRATION
Animation - THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

Okay, WINGED MIGRATION is a bit of a cheat but try RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. I think it would be easy to understand with the sound off except you would miss the gag on the ship when Marian whacks Indy on the chin with a mirror.

Calvin - Be happy you only worked with the psycho writer and didn’t date him. He was a liar when he called himself a writer and a liar when he called himself that poor girl’s friend.

Serafins Girl - I’m starting to understand why my Road Runner script where RR recites the Declaration of Independence tanked. [Wink] *

“cartoons...like “Seinfeld meets Sex In The City” - Are you working for DreamWorks?

Sitcoms are basically a one act play. Or maybe it’s two acts with a commercial break. Plays are mostly dialogue. Perhaps Vaudeville would be a little more appropriate.

The question is not - What’s wrong with writers? The question is - Why do your producers keep hiring writers who depend on dialogue to move the story rather than the much more efficient pictures? Don’t they know the difference?

The answer may not come until animators start producing their own shows. I’d rather work for a producer who knows the art form. When you open shop, call me.

Sorry. This is tiring and I'm getting a little punchy.

On script length:

The hero’s journey is the most common Hollywood story. It’s basic form can be shortened to a log line:

A protagonist struggles against an antagonist to reach a goal.

The log line is used to sell the script but more importantly, it's a tool used to create the story. This is the spine of the story. I may write exploratory scenes while looking for the story but once I have it, I delete them and stick to the spine.

Scripts run long and ramble when the writer or story artist begins without a solid logline. You see their exploration instead of the finished product. You can't build a house on a weak foundation or shoddy framing. They blow over too easily.




*(Note writer's clever use of image to convey friendly sarcasm)

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SquarejawHero
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That pretty much sums it up, Mr Fun. A good writer can make even a humdrum show interesting. At the moment I've got a brilliant script for a kids show, and it almost boards itself and gives me a ton of room to breathe for comedic timing and acting... even though it suffers from a too-many-characters on screen ending! But that's really part of the show, so I can't complain, and kids would like it.

However, a previous script I worked on had horrendous geography problems. Figures!

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SquarejawHero
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LOL! Thanks for posting the same time I did, and many thanks for taking the time to create such a long and constructive post. Sounds like you're my ideal writer, and yes - totally with you on visual narrative thing. Even with sound turned off, you should understand everything that's going on on-screen. An animator friend of mine borrowed my Japanese edition Spirited Away last year and watched the entire thing. Despite not being able to figure out how to turn on the subtitles, he understood it and loved it all the same. And Tripplettes transcends all language barriers.

I'll write more tomorrow. I'm tired! BUT THANKS! [Big Grin]

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EustaceScrubb
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quote:
quote:
"I'm a writer. What would you like to know?"

Don't they do all that stuff with computers these days ?

quote:
Eustace - Sometimes. But other tools include paper, pens, post -it-notes, crayons, prayer, long drives alone, meditation, rabid curiosity, a banana muffin and a cup of coffee, obsessive house cleaning and organized daydreaming. Sometimes I sketch my characters to help make them real.

Well, whatta ya know ? Those are the tools I use too !
(all except the obsessive house cleaning .... everytime I get the urge to do any housework I lie down until it goes away.)

Of course I was just kidding with my wise-ass remark about "don't they do all that stuff on computers these days" since that's often the type of comment I get these days when I tell someone I do animation. I trust that doesn't happen too much to you writers (?) . It's amazing how the public confuses the tools used with the artist who creates the work .

Thanks for your thoughts on the storytelling thread and belated "Welcome to AN" from me . I hope you'll post more .

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Trilby
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It's okay, ES, we're cool.

Writers get hit with these situations:

Everyone thinks they can write, even those who have never composed so much as a letter are sure they can whip out the great American novel or the next blockbuster film in an afternoon.

Everyone has a great idea that I should adapt into a sceenplay. This is usually followed by the generous offer of splitting the pay and the screen credit after I write and sell it.

People who don't work with their hands (or their brains) rarely understand or appreciate the years of study or months of work it takes to do it well. The Philistines!


[Smile]

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Jennifer Hachigian Jerrard
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quote:
People who don't work with their hands (or their brains) rarely understand or appreciate the years of study or months of work it takes to do it well. The Philistines!
Peter David, one of my favorite writers, once wrote a column in 1990 called "Why Writers Are Scum." He's never written for animation, but you might get a kick out of the column. [funny]

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tstevens
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Funny how the same problems seem to apply in the commercial world as well.

Copywriters in advertising will do the same thing with concepts that TV and film writers seem to do. Things are dialogue heavy with little or no action. Sometimes you get lucky and the creatives will leave the door wide open for Dialogue changes and creative alterations, but in general you are there to flesh out the idea.

I just boarded a spot for an auto parts dealer and the scenario played out pretty much the same: They had an existing character (more or less real in style) that was suppose to be speaking about the store while standing on a white BG (The creative at the agency wanted it to look clean!!!). Fortunately they were open to combining some nice visual cues with some animated camera movement. Sometimes trying to figure how to liven up lame copy can be a challenge. However, many of the creatives and copywriters look to production houses to fill out thier ideas and make them work - I think most of them know where thier expertise ends and where someone elses picks up.

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dermot
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Thanks for the posts Trilby .

Funny how you mentioned Moby Dick ( I use that film a lot to explain some very cool aspects of boarding and film direction .) I wonder if you read " In the Heart of the Sea " ? It's a great piece on the sinking of the whaling ship that inspired Melville ; it's a recent book so you might find it at Barnes and Nobles . The Gregory Peck version is a bit more to me than the Patrick Stewart remake . Forgive me......but I still love Dawn Patrol or Captains Courageous ; movies with great direction , characters and stories that don't try to cover every concievable angle of entertainment .

Regarding collaboration.....I just wish in these days of free-lancing and people working from home that studios supported it more . ( Missing the Synergy.....you know )

On the other hand....I just saw Shark Tale this morning with two of my daughters and thought it was fun . Personally I don't love being fed that much Will Smith at once.....but there was lots to entertain . I accepted it for what it was even though it was predictable .

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Trilby
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Hi All.

Thanks for the article, Jennifer. It certainly rings true. There are a few articles about animation writing on the Writers guild web site.

www.wga.org

Look in the archives for their magazine, WRITTEN BY. (I had the dates written down but the note seems to have slipped away.)

tstevens - TV commercials may be dialogue heavy because people tend to turn away from the screen during the commercials to make popcorn or visit the little animator's room. Audio is harder to tune out than visuals. It also tends to stick in your head like certain songs - "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."

There are, however, exceptions. A recent Volkwagon commercial tells the story of a young couple who drive their Taureg up a mountain. They drive through several habitat zones and stop on top of the mountain to take a picture of the view. Then they drive down.

Now here's the kicker.

Back in civilization. The man gets out of the car with the camera and hands it to an old woman who is boarding a tour bus.

It's a classic tale. A knight sets out on a quest to find the Holy Grail and bring it back to his queen.

For some of us, every little act of kindness is a step toward saving the kingdom.

Dermot - "I still love...movies...that don't try to cover every angle of entertainment.

Clarity of a through-line is very important in a story/script. This is why it's so important to have a clear log line before you write the script. Otherwise it's like listening to a clownfish trying to tell a joke.

I have not read HEART OF THE SEA. Right now I have a stack of books about the history, religions, languages, etc. for the location of my current story. I'm also boning up on mythology with a stack of Joseph Campbell books. It's important for me to cover the classic characters and images of a journey. And it's equally important that I don't use images from the location's culture unless I understand the local meaning of that image.

[Smile]

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