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).
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