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Michael has extensive experience in TV and film, having written over 300 animation scripts, story edited series and developed bibles for studios such as Disney, Universal, Warner Brothers and DIC as well as companies in a dozen different countries. In film, Michael has been commissioned to write or has optioned eight feature films in both live-action and animation. His most recent project is a 3D animated feature (based on his original idea) for Starz Animation, the studio that produced “Gnomeo & Juliet.”

Michael pics _4 (indoors)

CE:  With your vast international experience as an animation writer and story editor (for a full list of credits, please click here), calling you an expert on character-led story telling would be something of an understatement.

What would you say is the central function of characters, and in particular lead characters, in a story?

Maurer:  Characters are your story, otherwise the story is merely being driven by action... and who really cares about that. Characters are what we care about, and it’s their journey through the story against all odds that makes us root for them. A great character is one that has a goal we can relate to and a flaw that challenges his ability to accomplish his goal as he faces the inevitable barriers he comes across. This flaw reveals the character’s weakness, and as we follow the hero on his quest, we are, along with him, learning something about ourselves and how best to live in the world.

CE:  What do you look for first for when developing a new lead character or characters?

Maurer:  It varies. Sometimes a situation creates a character, sometimes a character creates a situation. Often I’m searching for an every-man hero with an impossible dream like a fat lazy Panda who wants to be a Kung Fu master or a rat who wants to be a chef. Wish those were mine. :) I’m always looking for a hero with a goal and flaw that everyone can relate to.

CE:  Having worked on a number of international projects, have you experienced noticeable differences in how characters are seen and understood in other cultures, and if so, how do you, as an American writer, deal with such differences?

Maurer:  I’ve worked on projects for 13 different countries and so far everyone I’ve been involved with is looking for the next US hit or they are modelling their local projects around more internationally appealing shows. As an example, a while back I wrote a script for a Malaysian series called “Kampung Boy.” While it had a local feel with its Malaysian village and Asian looking characters, the stories were very universal. I had only a few cultural rules to follow. In fact, the script I wrote is so universal that I sometimes use it as a comedy sample of my work.

As I start to break further into the Asian market, I’m sure there will be cultural “do’s and don’ts”, but good story telling is what nearly everyone is looking for.

CE:  Three of your recent projects were Kookatoo (Skedaddle Productions), Vipo and Friends (Vipo Land Inc.), and seven scripts for the 2010 Emmy award winning Curious George (Universal Studios), all of which were projects involving animal characters. Writing for characters that are essentially humans in colorful fur is presumably relatively straight forward, but writing for a character that is actually supposed to be an animal, which on occasion displays child-like behavior seems to be a different ball game. How did you approach Curious George, a character that, except for the odd “Ahaaa!”, “Helloo!” or Hahaa!”, does not even speak?

Maurer:  Well, actually, if you think about it, George is not an animal, he’s a five year old kid. Everything he does and “says” is from a kid's perspective, otherwise he’d only be interested in bananas instead of piggy banks, rainbows and worm racing contests (three of my stories). What makes him so endearing is the fact that he’s a lovable 5 year old. So I don’t approach George any differently than I would a curious boy, who happens to be good at climbing. Same is true with the dialogue. George is always talking and pantomiming and responding to communication. Even though he can only make monkey sounds we know what he’s saying. In fact, when the scripts are written, what George is saying is often written in parenthesis to guide the actor to better communicate George’s intentions and emotions to the audience. He might just shrug and grunt innocently but we know he’s saying “beats me”.

CE:  What are you working on at the moment? Is there something our readers can look out for?

Maurer:  Nothing to look out for just yet. I’ve been developing and rewriting a lot of series bibles for various companies, and I hope they all sell and go into production soon. I’m not at liberty to mention any show names right now. I just finished two bibles, one for US producers, the other for a company in Spain. I recently turned in the first draft for the Starz Animated feature project (which is now Arc Productions).

Please check out Michael Maurer’s blog and success stories:
www.michaelmaurer.wordpress.com  
http://michaelmaurer.wordpress.com/success-stories/ 

Michael@Writer-Producer.com
1-818-508-4693 USA

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmaurerproductions

Do you know how much a character design can be worth?

According to Forbes list of richest fictional characters Scrooge McDuck was the richest in 2011 with an estimated fortune of 44.1 Billion $.

Ok, this is not really a serious figure as Forbes based their rich-list on fictitious information. However, characters can make the creators or rights holders a small fortune through licensing deals. Licensing allows the rights holder to control the use of the character for publications (comics, graphic novels, children's books etc.), animations, merchandising and branding. Therefore, it pays to be aware of IP rights you may have in your character - and even more important, how you can exploit them to make money.

Licensing contracts in publishing, film production (animation) or merchandising are very complex documents, and therefore, do not sign such contracts without first seeking legal advice if you are not represented by an agent. Even a small mistake can cost you big money and you may unwittingly assign all rights in your character while thinking that you can still retain some rights and make money yourself.

Beware also if somebody hires you to create a character. If you create the design in the course of employment, copyright in your character will be owned by your employer. If you are an independent contractor (a freelancer), you own the copyright and can either assign all rights to your commissioner or provide them with a license. Many commissioners believe that when they pay an hourly rate for your service they automatically own copyright in your design. Disputes often arise where there are no written contracts or even written email correspondence confirming the commission and terms and conditions. Creators, who don’t have written contracts or orally agree to certain usages without clarifying copyright do give clients an implied license to use the character in the way, which has been discussed. It is however problematic to interpret oral discussions without written evidence and creators are in danger of giving permission for usage they have not intended to permit without further payment.

Other rights to consider are design right and trade mark. While your character is in most cases considered to be an artistic work and as such protected by copyright, in some circumstances it may become a design, especially if you are creating it for 3D merchandising and your design is used for mass produced products. There is a fine line between design right and copyright and it’s important to be aware of the differences as it may have implications on ownership of rights and length of protection. Have a look at Own-it’s short article and factsheet on the subject.

Trade marks are signs of origin and core to the image of a company. You have probably won the jackpot if a big corporation selects your character design to become part of their branding strategy. They will either commission you through an advertising agency – in which case, they will probably also ask you to assign all rights in the character – or they may want to use an existing character, which already gained some reputation and may have a substantial following, eg. children’s book characters such as Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola or Axel Scheffler’s Gruffalo.

Where the character is already well-known in the market, it’s much more appropriate to grant a license rather than an assignment of copyright to keep control over further exploitation and protect the reputation of your character – Lauren Child (or the publisher of her books) certainly doesn’t want Charlie and Lola to be associated with a brand that is suspected of child labour.

If they want to register the character you have especially developed for your client as a trade mark for their company they must first own all the rights and therefore, ask you for an assignment, which should command an appropriate high fee. You can of course exploit your character yourself and register it as a trade mark for your own service or design business.
All rights including copyright, design right and trade mark can be licensed rather than assigned. Depending on the circumstances you may be able to negotiate a non-exclusive license or exclusive license (where you retain copyright but give your licensee complete control for a certain period of time and under certain terms and conditions – read more on assignment or licensing rights) but negotiating a license rather than a complete assignment will be difficult if you are in a weak bargaining position. In any case, you should ensure that the range and period of usage and extent of territory is reflected in the fee you are paid.

Please read Own-it’s Factsheet on Character Design for further information. For specialist IP register on the Own-it website and submit your query through the online enquiry system.

Own-it – Intellectual Property Advice for the Creative Sector
http://www.own-it.org/  (Own-it's advice relates to UK law)

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. View the license at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/

Characters Engage Showcase

Meet Kitty Lacey: An interview with Abie Longstaff

Abie’s series, The Fairytale Hairdresser, is published by Random House. It stars Kittie Lacey, the best hairdresser in the land.

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CE:  Who is Kitty Lacey?

AL:  Kittie is the hairdresser for all the characters in fairyland. She lives in a funky little flat above her salon, Kittie’s Cuts, and solves all manner of hair-related emergencies.

CE:  What is it about Kittie that appeals to children?

AL:  I think children like that she has a job they can understand. Kids see their mum or dad going for a haircut and they know what the job involves. Kittie’s also very independent. She lives by herself and runs her own business. I remember spending many hours playing hairdresser when I was little and being the boss was definitely half the fun!

CE:  But if she works in fairyland, all her clients are story book characters, right?

AL:  That’s right. She trims Father Christmas’ beard and the Big Bad Wolf’s whiskers.

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And she even dyes Red Riding Hood’s hair.

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So when Rapunzel is having a bad hair day, she knows just who to call.

CE:  Who illustrates the book?

AL:  Lauren Beard. She’s fantastic and there’s a kind of manga style to her work. She’s really brought old fashioned fairy tale figures into the modern world and her colours are so vibrant. Because it’s full of well-known characters, every spread is like a spot the character game.

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CE:  The first book’s in reprint and there’s a new Kitty Lacey book coming soon. What has made the book so successful?

AL:  I think it’s the world Lauren Beard and I have created. In our fairyland all the characters have lives and jobs: Mr Big Bad Wolf is an optician (all the better to see you with), Ms Goldilocks is a locksmith and the three little pigs work in construction, of course.

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The book is rich in detail and we have put a lot of humor in the text and illustrations so parents won’t mind reading it again and again!

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We’re so pleased with how the book is doing. It has been read on the BBC twice and the next story in the series will bring someone in to give Kittie a little help in her salon: enter Ms Cinderella. But of course, poor old Cinderella has a few problems of her own!

You can contact Abie via her agent, Eve White or through her website at www.abielongstaff.com

To suggest books, email...

info@charactersengage.com

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