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"Characters can do anything, including flying, defeating all evil and staying forever young. They can do all this because they are made of the stuff our dreams, wishes and imagination are made of"
Jeffrey Scott talks about "How to Write for Animation"
Jeffrey Scott needs no introduction. The grandson of Moe Howard of the "Three Stooges" has written over 700 animated cartoons and his credits include motion pictures, TV and the stage. Many of our readers will also know Jeffrey Scott as the author of "HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION".
In the foreword to this important book Joseph Barbera wrote, "With HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION, Jeffrey has cut a clear path that will take aspiring animation writers from their first confrontation with the dreaded "blank page", past the dangers of falling anvils, all the way through to a confident understanding of how to write animation. Jeffrey has done a masterful job of condensing 25 years of experience into an easy to read, step-by-step journey through the cartoon writing process."
Characters Engage spoke to Jeffrey Scott about "HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION".
CE: Jeffrey Scott, your book has received the highest praise from industry giants such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Roth, Stan Lee, Andy Heyward and Haim Saban. What made you write “HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION”?
JS: About 15 years ago I wrote a column for Animation Magazine called “The Write Stuff” in which I discussed various tips on animation writing. The column ended after about two years, at which time I didn’t give it much thought. But then, after getting many emails and questions about how to write animation I realized that I could put these columns together, fill in the blanks, add a premise, outline and script for a "TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE" episode and a full series bible I had developed, and turn it into a book. And best of all, instead of writing individual answers to all the queries I was getting, I could just say, “BUY MY BOOK!”
CE: SVP Playhouse Disney Worldwide at The Walt Disney Company, Nancy Kanter, said, “Jeffrey Scott has written the definitive sourcebook for anyone interested in the world of animation and script writing...”. Who did you write this book for and what will they find in it?
JS: Well, as noted above, I wrote it for all the folks who were asking me questions. But seriously, it’s designed for several audiences. First are those who want to learn how to write for animated television. It should be noted that this book is not for people looking for information on how to write animated features (though there are some great tips in my book that would help them, and so they should read the book). The reason I didn’t go deep into animated feature writing is because they are written with virtually the same structure as live features. So if you’re interested in learning how to write animated features you really need to read Robert McKee’s "Story", Syd Field’s "Screenplay", Christopher Vogler’s "The Writer's Journey", John Truby’s "The Anatomy of Story", and other top books on screenplay structure. The only difference between animated and live features is that animation is more visually oriented, and the audience is almost always what’s called “crossover”, meaning it crosses over between adults and kids. So the story works visually for little kids, while at the same time working emotionally and comically in a way that’s satisfying to adults. The second audience for my book are TV animation professionals, including writers, editors, producers and execs, because everyone in the business needs to know how the stories work. There is a lot in the book that can be very helpful to professional story editors and producers who need to get their writers writing right...and right away! And finally, the book is for any writer (animation, live, novels, etc.) because there are many creative tips that cross all genres of writing. And one, good, useful tip is worth the price of any book.
CE: You worked with and for the people who invented scriptwriting for animation, for decades. How important was this practical experience and to what extent is it reflected in the book, when it comes to practical tips and hints for scriptwriters?
JS: Well, certainly working for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera was a wonderful experience. Working in the H-B environment you couldn’t help but absorb the writing techniques that Bill and Joe pioneered when they virtually single-handedly created the animated TV market. Animated movies, such as those done by Disney, used to be created by “story men” who didn’t write stories, they visualized everything and put up little drawings on the wall until the entire room was filled with pictures. And after lots of drawing and push-pins there was a movie on the wall. But when Bill and Joe needed to get several TV episodes in production each week they couldn’t afford the luxury and expense of several men developing stories on the walls, not to mention that it would take too many walls! So they brought the concept of live TV script writing to animation and hired TV writers to write cartoons. The main difference being that the writer in cartoons does a bit more visual direction than the live-action writer. In fact, back in the late seventies when I started working at H-B we’d call out every shot in a script. TWO SHOT SUPERMAN & BATMAN...CLOSE ON WONDER WOMAN...WIDER ANGLE ON BRAINIAC...page after page after page. Some of the 22-minute scripts were 50 pages long. Today I write some 22-minute scripts that are 24 pages with virtually no shots called out other than the master slug line (e.g. EXT. THE BANK - DAY). All of this experience, as well as getting a personal cartoon writing apprenticeship at the time from my brilliantly creative dad (Norman Maurer), was priceless. And everything I learned is in the book.
CE: To what extent do you focus on characters in the book and which aspects of characters do you discuss?
JS: There isn’t a great deal of discussion of character in the book for the same reason there isn’t a lot about feature animation. For the most part, characters are characters, and you can learn about them in books devoted entirely to that subject. Most of what I discuss about character comes out of other aspects of writing, such as dialogue, action and comedy. Cartoon characters, after all, generally don’t have great character depth, nor do they have much in the way of character arcs. Neither Superman nor Bugs Bunny is going to make much character change. Truth is, we love them for who they are and don’t want them to change. Though there isn’t a chapter on character, after reading the whole book you’ll gain some definite understanding of basic cartoon character development.
CE: Where can people buy “HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION”? Are there any non English language versions available?
JS: Though the book just had a new printing, it’s not that easy to find in brick-and-mortar bookstores that don’t specialize in movie and TV books. The best place to get it is still Amazon.com. To the best of my knowledge there is a Korean version still in print. I’m hoping that a new Chinese version comes out soon.
CE: Thank you Jeffrey Scott. To buy “HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION” please click the link below:
Please also check out Jeffrey Scott's website:
In this issue: