Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Writing For Animation - 26

The Role Of The Story Editor (Cont)

            For reasons already discussed, animation coproductions often have a number of partners, often in different countries, and sometimes with different ideas.  These partners will all want some form of editorial input.  At the same time, the production of animated series can be an organisational tour de force, with different elements being produced in different places, with a tight budget and a schedule that requires a fixed set of deadlines.  Animation is still very labour intensive, and studios cannot afford to pay their artists to sit around waiting for work to arrive.

To deal with this, the contract will usually require those with editorial input to comment and approve the work at particular stages and within certain timescales.  For example, you might have a situation where every script needs to be approved at outline, treatment, and final script stage, by three or four people, usually broadcasters and distributors, but sometimes authors. These will be obliged to respond with a fixed period.  If they fail to comment in the timescale required, the producer is entitled to continue without their input.  Because this means that scripts will have to go back and forth for revision, the producers usually allow an amount of slack in the schedule (and budget) to allow for slippage.

This is rarely enough.  Although there are some broadcasters who will strictly observe timetables and stick to their opinions, there will always be some buyers who pay no attention to deadlines, change their minds at a late stage, and generally disregard their contractual obligations.  We’re in a buyer’s market.  Broadcasters and other investors know that producers cannot take them on without the risk of professional suicide.  How ever much you may be legally entitled to continue production of an episode without the approval of one of your investors, this will not stop them expressing their opinion at a later stage in the process, often with destructive results.

Needless to say, this can make the story editor’s job a nightmare, and I know of many occasions where story editors have buckled under the pressure, either giving up in disgust, or, on more than one occasion, having a nervous breakdown.  How can you supply a series of approved scripts to a tight (or even a loose) production schedule, if those with editorial control don’t comment on time, or, when they do, contradict what they have said before?

When they do comment, of course, they don’t always agree.  This can be a problem, but does not have to be, if everyone respects the process.  We always take the view that if there is any disagreement at outline stage, we drop the story.  A good story editor can find solutions to detailed comments about character, structure, etc if everyone is happy with the basic storyline.

He can only do this if he has direct communication with those making the comments.  For some reason, some producers feel there should be an intermediary to co-ordinate responses coming from different sources, someone to synthesise the different comments and provide the story editor with some sort of consensus.  In my experience, this is always disastrous.  These coordinators are usually neither experienced in scriptwriting or animation production, and their interpretations are rarely helpful, and often extremely misleading.  They also delay the process, since these co-ordinators usually wait till all the comments are received before communicating anything to the story editor.  What is worse, they do not always pass on the story editor’s suggestions and solutions to the editorial team.

The story editor needs to establish a good relationship with those making editorial decisions.  He can only do this if he is allowed to communicate directly, and given some responsibility. He needs to be able to ring up and say I really need a decision now because otherwise we’re going to miss the deadline or The other broadcaster has made a comment which may seem at odds with your point of view, but I think we can accommodate it by making the camel a giraffe. Or even I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. A bullseye is the circle in the middle of a target, and not literally the eye of a bull.  Things do get lost in translation, and many of the best story editors speak more than one language.

If you have established good relationships with the editorial team, story editing a series can be a real joy.  Certainly, that has been the case with many of our series, Hilltop Hospital, Hana’s Helpline, and Igam Ogam.  Others have been much more problematic.  On one series we had four executives who all needed to sign off the scripts at various stages.  Their comments were channelled through a coordinator who had no experience of either scriptwriting or animation production, and who seemed reluctant to pass our comments onto the executives.  One of the executives, who had had an important position at a large broadcaster, changed her mind continuously throughout the production.  Another spent weeks in Detroit on business and delegated editorial responsibility to a freelance who had no experience in television.  When she returned to the UK, she countermanded everything that the freelance had said. 

These horror stories, unfortunately, are not rare.  If the editorial team do not know what they are doing, it is probably best for the story editor to bow out gracefully.  Delays and contradictions in the editorial process can make the scriptwriting so painfully slow that neither story editors nor scriptwriters can make enough money to justify doing it.

Next:  Common mistakes made by writers of animated series.

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