Interview with Animation Writer Susan Kim

Our Beloved Leader, LB, spent a few years writing and overseeing TV animation series like THE SILVER SURFER, SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED, SPAWN (although he doesn’t want to talk about that; somebody ask him why!) and others. It’s a viable TV writing arena and a good way to get into the biz. But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what one of the biggies of animation writing has to say:

speerracersusankimInterview by Lisa Goldman

Baboon Animation’s newest shining star, the accomplished Susan Kim, has written for more than three dozen children’s TV series, including PBS’s runaway hit Peg+Cat, Scholastic-Sprout’s brand new Astroblast!, Wonder Pets!, Arthur, Martha Speaks!, Handy Manny, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Speed Racer and Pocoyo to name a few. She has been nominated for an Emmy and Writers Guild Awards four times. Lisa Goldman caught up with her at the Baboon studio in New York for a tête-á-tête on writing.

Lisa Goldman: What are your some of your funniest — or toughest — moments being a writer in animation? As a story editor? In a writer’s room?

Susan Kim: A tough (and universal) writer’s moment: When you’re new on a show, you bust your hump trying to write something fantastic, and the story editor goes through your script and says: “This is hilarious! But not quite our show. And I loved this! But too similar to something we already did. And this made me laugh out loud! But not something that character would say.” Afterward, you’re left with like two shredded pages and told, “keep up the great work.”

Although come to think of it, I’ve probably done the same thing as a story editor … hmm.

Goldman: How about the perks and challenges of being a writer working from home?

Kim: Major perk: Being able to wear the same T-shirt and stretched-out yoga pants for three days in a row if you want. Like your cat gives a shit? Theoretically, you could wallow in your own filth for three weeks if you wanted, although of course I am trés chic and always beautifully groomed. (And the fact that you don’t even know which statement is true gets back to my answer: You can do whatever you want! Who’s going to know?) Mostly, I find that there’s no comparison to the depth of focus you have when you’re at home … assuming, of course, you don’t have small children, an obsession with housecleaning or a noisy partner. I love being with people, but I find them way too distracting. In college, my friends stopped inviting me to the library because I’d always be bored out of my skull, talking nonstop and getting evicted by the librarian.

Goldman: As a story editor, do you think about gender at all when you’re hiring writers and trying to get the right mix for a show?

Kim: I do. It’s not just gender, although, of course, that’s important. In an ideal world, I’d love a blend of sexes, experience, race, straight and gay, younger and older. Look at late-night comedy: It’s hamstrung by the fact that 99 percent of their writing staffs are straight white guys fresh out of Yale. Not that I have anything against straight white guys from Yale, but you lose nuance when everyone’s the same. And, I’m sorry, there’s still a huge false perception out there that women aren’t funny, and that just blows.

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JOHN OSTRANDER: OLD STAR TREK TECH

Star Trek-Communicator

by John Ostrander

I’m a Star Trek fan. Not a rabid fan, but a fan. I‘ve at least sampled all the shows and some I liked better than others. I’ve seen all the films and some I really liked; the first Trek film – not so much. I even enjoyed the two most recent films although I have a nephew who may disown me for saying so.

I’m not a big tech sort of guy…but I do have a major tech gripe with the series. The original communicators very much influenced the design of cel phones – mine still flips open, thank you very much, and I don’t know how many times I’ve asked Scotty to beam me out of some situations. Unfortunately, all the communicators are good for is audio. No video. Star Trek is set in our future. My antiquated Trekfone can take pictures. We have cel phones that can take movies. ST communicators cannot.

You would think that having video capability would be valuable for away teams stepping foot on new planets and meeting new civilizations. Their space ships have sensors that can pick up life forms on planets below or peer long distances into space and throw up the image on the bridge’s screen but they can’t do video from the planet surface to the ship orbiting overhead. Here today we can get video to and from the International Space Station. Our probes can throw back images from distant planets.

I understand why that had to happen that way in the Original Series. The show didn’t have the CGI or the budget to make it work. Why not update the tech in the later series? Why not in the movies, especially the most recent ones?

They have teleporters, for cryin’ out loud. Figuring out how to get video from planet surface to an orbiting ship is harder than disassembling someone’s atoms, beaming them somewhere and re-assembling them? Seriously?

Are they keeping to the audio-only rule because that’s the way it’s always been? They’ve already alienated the hardcore Trek fans with the re-boot; are the fans going to get more cheesed off because now the communicators can send pictures? Are they afraid all the ST characters are going to start doing selfies? Although I could see Kirk doing an Anthony Weiner with his.

Why does this bug me? Because, in my book, it’s a failure of imagination.

I remember a great scene in Galaxy Quest (one of the best non-ST Star Trek films ever made). IMDB does the pocket synopsis this way: “The alumni cast of a cult space TV show have to play their roles as the real thing when an alien race needs their help.” Their fake TV ship has been lovingly created by a race of aliens who believe the TV episodes (which have found their way into outer space) to be a “historical record.”

In one scene, Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver have to get to the manual off switch for the self destruct button and are confronted with a corridor of large pistons slamming together from side to side and up and down at an alarming speed. Weaver’s character balks; there’s no reason for those chompers to be there. Allen says it’s because it was in an episode. Weaver screams, “That scene was badly written!” She snarls that those writers should have been shot; this always makes me giggle.

That’s my point. The aliens put the banging pistons in the corridor not because they make any sense but because they were there before. Same problem with the communicators for me: they don’t make any sense.

The early communicators were way ahead of their time and that’s part of what Star Trek tech has always done – inspired us and given us a sense of wonder, of possibilities. That stimulates the imagination. Communicators shouldn’t be able to do less than our cel phones; they should be able to do more.

The stories should also be more than re-makes of past stories. Tell us new ones. Take us boldly to where we’ve never been before.

Peggy Bechko: Writers Revealing What Characters Don’t Want To Show

secrets

by Peggy Bechko

Oh, come on, you know your characters are just like you. They say one thing and think something else entirely, try to conceal you’re really doing that – and then give it all away with a flick of an eye, a gesture or some muted (or otherwise) sound you make. Yep, that’s reality. Us humans evade, lie and maneuver (just for starters). We do it to protect ourselves, to protect others, out of embarrassment or an assortment of other reasons.

Now, knowing this it becomes a challenge for the writer. In a script for a movie the writer sets the scene, the mood, tweaks details to make things clear and then actors take over to do the subtle little things that portray what’s in the script, the character’s inner monolog.

For novel writers it’s a different kind of challenge.

The writer is dealing with characters who might be suppressing emotion, hiding them from outsiders as well as themselves. And the writer has to telegraph to the reader this is going on. So, just as we telegraph in real life, whether we intend to or not, the character can do the same in the novel. He or she can have something as obvious as a ‘tick’ of the eye when lying, or something as subtle as a lift of the chin. There can be a high-pitched laugh, the recognizable smell of sweat on the air or maybe hands that fiddle with a pencil or each other, or words that come out in a flood when the character normally speaks in a more reserved fashion.

All of these little signals (and oh so many more) telegraph through tension the movement of the story forward; they build up expectation for the reader and empathy from the reader for the struggling characters.

There are so many things that give us and the characters in a novel or movie away, things that let the watcher (or reader) know all is not as it should be.

As writers we need to remember how us human beings work, tap into our own experience. Remember smiling when you didn’t mean it, that stillness that settled over you when you were embarrassed or cornered, making excuses to leave a situation, using gestures that cancel each other out like telling someone no, but then stepping forward and reaching toward them, or the opposite, yes, then stepping away.  Can you recall avoiding eye contact or just flat out ignoring someone? Have you felt your chest tighten as you withdrew from a conversation or literally left a group of people.

All that and more you can attribute to your characters when writing. They are human. You created them. Fortunately for you, as the writer of a novel, if you’re writing the Point Of View character you can let the reader know something of the thoughts going through his or her head. The character can ‘act normal’ while all sorts of thoughts and intentions race through the character’s mind. And it’s a good idea to spice the novel with just such information.

However, to breathe intense life into the writing, you, as the writer, don’t want to depend on that little cheat exclusively. Seeing what’s going on and reaction to it is much more fulfilling and draws the reader or viewer much more deeply into the story.

So do a little people watching. Add to your repertoire, hone your writing skills and let the readers see just how writingly human you make your characters.

BALANCING WRITING AND LIFE

Good advice for writers and creatives of all kinds, courtesy of Rita Karnopp’s and Ginger Simpson’s fine blog:

by Rita Karnopp

When we hear the word ‘balance’ then add writing and life, an author could almost laugh.  It’s a bit of a facetious statement.now later

When I started writing my children were very young, five and three.  So I scheduled my writing time after they went to bed around nine and wrote until two or three in the morning.  But, that’s not to say I never wrote during the day – because I did.  My office space was in our front living room (because we never used it, we always used the huge family room to the back of the house facing the mountains) and my desk faced the hallway toward the bedrooms.  The kids, and their friends, came in and out of that front door – past me –  how many times a day?

I set rules and explained they could wave at me, but if they didn’t have anything really important to ask or say, they could just walk on by and not interrupt.  It’s called respect when someone is busy working on something that is important to them.  It took some time, but they actually got it.  I think my husband became the biggest offender of interrupting for ‘non-important’ things.

I’ve said in other articles, my kids now laugh about falling asleep to the clicking of my keyboard . . . and of course there are the hilarious stories of them listening to my printer’s endless buzzing and snapping back and forth . . . and how they waited for it to stop so they could go back to sleep.

Writing time should be designated, planned, and a habit.  When we steal more time to write we have to fit it into the whirlwind around us.  I find I can now write just about anywhere, with just about anything happening around me.  I’ve come a long way from the days when I used to say, “Unless it’s completely quiet – I can’t concentrate to write.”

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TVWriter™ Misses STUDIO READER STAN

Studio Reader Stan Logo

Back in the first decade of this century, a comic strip and animated web series called STUDIO READER STAN appeared, wreaked mirthful havoc for a couple of years and then vanished. We’re here to say “We miss you, Studio Reader Stan!” and to give TVWriter™ visitors who never got a chance to see this cynical little gem a taste of what it was all about.

And so, with no further ado:

YouTube Preview Image

Where are you, Stephen Kogon and Ledhed?

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path – Jason Richman

A series of interviews with hard working writers – by another hard-working writer!

Jason Richman pic

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jason Richman’s dedication to “just keep writing” has led him to a successful career in both film (Bad Company, Bangkok Dangerous) and television (Detroit 1-8-7, Lucky 7).

ON HOW HE FOUND HIS WAY TO FILM WRITING

I always loved movies and I was playing in a band at the time. The guys in my band took off to go back up some guy on tour, so I had time to kill and I just tried it. I decided I was going to write an idea for a film and I just wrote one.

And you know, the first one is always really easy. The first time you write a script, somehow it’s just seamless, it just kinda comes out. And I knew nothing, so I didn’t know how hard it was.

THE JOURNEY TO A WRITING CAREER

That script got me an agent and it almost got made. It was kind of an amazing roller coaster. I really didn’t know anything about the business, but the movie almost got made. And then it all, of course, fell apart.

And so I then went into the independent world for a couple years, and nearly got a film made there. It was the second thing that I wrote. It was a paying gig, that was cool. And that sort of sustained me for a little while. That whole time my agent’s sending me out, I’m taking meetings and trying to break in and get someone to say yes, which is like an impossible thing. You just hear, no, no, no, no everywhere you go for so long you embrace it. And then finally somebody said yes.

The yes was a job at Bruckheimer for a movie called, at the time, Black Sheep. It was a rewrite that I rewrote. I turned in my first draft and the movie got green-lit, which was astounding. Then I got an overall deal there and worked there.

The film turned into Bad Company, which was a Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins movie. That was really boot camp for me because I think I went into that movie when I got hired and they told me it was green-lit and they said, “Now you’re going to get replaced.” I didn’t really understand what that meant. But there were a lot of writers that ended up coming onto that film, but it was a great experience. I learned a ton.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FROM GOING OUT WITH THAT FIRST SCRIPT TO GETTING YOUR FIRST REAL, REGULAR GIG?

Four years. Four years doesn’t seem that long looking back on it now, but it felt like a really long time. I was kind of a struggling musician for a good 8 years before that so it all seems like one creative struggling period.

The pathway doesn’t feel apparent. When you’re looking and saying how do I get to a certain place, it doesn’t feel like you could ever get there. Just somehow, you’re put in front of the right person at the right time. Luck passes your way at the right moment that you’re ready for and all of a sudden you’re there.

WHAT WAS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

Before I ever got into television, I had to take a meeting with a bunch of television agents and the thing that they told me was, “Make sure if you’re going to do a TV show that you love it.”

And that ended up being the best advice, because in my experience you end up surrendering so much of your life and your time. Time away from your family, time away from your kids and you’re so deep in it that you gotta love it. If you don’t love it, it would be really hard to do it every day. So that was the best advice I ever got. Now it helps in the selection if I’m developing pilots and stuff like that. I really consider that.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Be persistent, keep writing and keep going, because the breaking in thing is very strange. I thought I broke in and I really didn’t. I thought when you get an agent that you’re on the way; that you’re on the road.

But it took me four years to get hired for real on something in this town. That I think is short for a lot of people. A lot of people spend a lot more time than that. So I feel very fortunate. But I think the key is to just keep going. You can’t give up.