LB Answers Your Questions about Animation Writing

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Well, maybe not your questions, but those from a certain DP for sure. Here’s what he wrote:

I’m working on a half-hour animated show for the People’s Pilot. How should I gauge my Act lengths, or even my script as a whole? I’ve got a few THE SIMPSONS production scripts that I use as a guideline, each one about 50 pages, though that is longer than what most websites say, and longer than past winners I have looked at for the People’s Pilot (they tend to cap at about 30). Is there a general standard on how many pages each act should be/the script as a whole? It feels incredibly hard to tell. And I don’t understand why single-cam vs multi-cam shows should have different script lengths.

3) I’ve read that animated shows/sitcoms are only 2 acts, with a teaser and maybe a tag. That to me would suggest that there is only one commercial break within the meat of the episode (between Acts 1 and 2), and that doesn’t seem right to me. Don’t sitcoms usually have 2 commercial breaks apart from the teaser and tag? Am I crazy, or am I misunderstanding the terms/act breaks.

Thanks for all of your help, I follow TVWriter every day.

DP

And here’s what I’ve got to say in reply:

First of all, thanks for following TVWriter™ every day. Second of all, thanks for planning on entering the PEOPLE’S PILOT. But if you could get, oh, maybe a couple thousand of your friends to do the same, we might be able to sell some advertising and actually cover some of the expenses of producing this site. And then, man, I’d definitely be thanking you bigtime.

(Wait, just kidding. You won’t see any advertising for outside products here no matter how much anyone offers. I mean, can you imagine munchman being able to write and edit this place while feeling beholden to anyone? Right. Neither can I.)

Where were we? Oh, of course. You need some answers. When it comes to the length and formatting of animated teleplays, guess what. It makes no difference. Every production company has its own way of doing things. What they have in common is simply that all their formats are based in some degree on the standard movie-TV script format and the standard live TV format.

If you were writing an episode of an existing show like, say, THE SIMPSONS, since you mentioned it in your question, I’d say to just do what they do, whatever it is. (I used to know, but I haven’t looked lately.) Single cam, multi-cam, single space, doublespace…whatever you’re comfortable with because you’re the creator. You’re the pioneer out there blazing the trail for your idea and you can do it in any way you want. If, sometime in the future, you get a studio or network interested in your show or – glory hallelujah – a network buys it, don’t worry, they’ll tell you exactly how they want it to look. (In every possible creative way as well as in the format, btw, so be prepared.)

That said, I’d suggest that if you use single cam/movie-TV format you should assume that 30 pages is your limit. If you’re using multi-cam/live TV format I’d say you can go up to 45 or 50 pages but you’d better have a lot of stage directions in there eating up the space. Especially since these days the average half-hour animated show runs for only about 15 minutes and a minute per page is still a good although no longer Biblical guide.

(I’m guessing about the running time, based on the fact that THE SILVER SURFER episodes ran 18 minutes and that was 15 years ago when interruptions were fewer and shorter.)

Speaking of interruptions, SURFER had a Teaser, two acts, and a Tag, with commercials between all of those, which means 3 breaks plus, of course, the commercials that came between the opening titles and the Teaser and those that came after the end. These days the number of breaks is pretty much the same, although it may vary depending, again, on the studio and network.

As for how long each act should be, I can only say that on SURFER we tried to keep everything proportionate with each act approximately the same number of pages and the Teaser, by storytelling necessity, probably twice as long as the Tag. I tried to never go longer than 4 or 5 pages for the Teaser and 2 or 2 1/2 for the Tag.

Actually, as I think about this a little more, I’d recommend that you use single-spaced filmed movie-TV format if you can. It’s the easiest for everyone – judges, producers, even agents – to read. The exception I’d make is that if you’re writing an animated sitcom I’d go with whatever THE SIMPSONS is doing now.

Hope I’ve been helpful. Now get to work because, you know our motto when it comes to the PEOPLE’S PILOT (and the SPEC SCRIPTACULAR but that’s not going to be open for several months): Enter early and enter often! (The enter early part is important. Our Early Bird discount price of $35 per entry ends March 1st.

LYMI

LB  

That’s it, gang. I love addressing these issues, but I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!

About LB

Larry Brody has been profiled in such national magazines and websites as Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Starlog, People, Electronic Media, IndieSlate, TechTV, io9, and of course TV Guide.

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world, with a career going back to the late ’60s, Brody has written and produced literally thousands of hours of network and syndicated television.

Brody has also been active in the TV animation world, writing, creating, consulting, and/or supervising the cult favorite STAR TREK animated TV series, the SILVER SURFER, SPAWN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED animated series, and was showrunner of the French animated series, DIABOLIK, as well as part of the team that developed and wrote the live-action/cgi animation sci-fi series Ace Lightning for the BBC.

Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including – yes, it’s true – Emmys.