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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Greg Weisman Interview, Part 1 - Developer & Producer
by Shannon Muir - This article originally appeared in Suite 101.

With twelve years in animation, Greg Weisman's career includes writing, story editing, producing, voice directing, and development. Welcome to Part One of my three-part chat with Greg about these aspects of the business. In this segment: his roles as development executive and supervising producer.

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After an earlier stint at DC Comics and freelancing one animated script, Greg became a development associate (a very junior executive) at the then-small development department at Disney TV Animation. His boss went away for what was supposed to be two weeks and ended up being six months. Since his boss' secretary was shared with publicity and he was the remaining executive in the division, Greg started aiding his boss' superior and became "indispensable." Greg admits it wasn't the path he sought -- he'd known since second grade he wanted to write -- but the development job gave him regular contact with writers and story editors (the distinctions will be discussed in Part Three). It also didn't allow him time to work on his own material.

Greg's job duties included managing script coordinators, writers, story editors and producers; he also regularly evaluated new and existing talent (writers and artists) for their suitability to current projects. New projects would come under his scrutiny; he evaluated studio efficiency to see where improvements could be made and that the products being made were what had been promised.

When I asked Greg what he thought someone in development needed in their background, he replied, "I don't think there are any rules. Definitely helps to have to have a liberal arts education. It helps to have done some writing yourself. Sometimes you don't get hired for that reason. I've known people who won't hire people on the executive track because those people were writers."

Greg moved from being in development to producing with the series Gargoyles, which still airs in reruns on Toon Disney (check http://www.toondisney.com for a current schedule). Gargoyles began as a notion Greg explored with his development team. Originally developed as a comedy about medieval gargoyles awakened in the present, it took two years to sell and became an adventure show different from other Disney projects. The timeframe caused a lot of turnover in the development staff; also, many talents Disney normally relied on weren't right for the project.

They found a line producer to get artwork for Gargoyles underway but needed a creative head. Greg had a "passion for the property" and stepped in to drive it forward for now. The first couple of writers didn't pan out, and Greg says, "as we worked on story I became involved in a more hands-on way than I normally would… but we had the green light and needed to keep things moving." He began making decisions producers make, not to overstep bounds but because there wasn't one.

Finally, Greg hired Michael Reaves to story edit, and feels that Michael and he "were a great team." Frank Paur came on as creative producer but Greg was so involved he "couldn't bear to give it up." His superiors at Disney did not let him become a credited producer and required him to continue his development job while being a supervising producer on Gargoyles' first season; when it was renewed, Greg became a full-time producer.

For more information on Gargoyles, visit the websites http://www.gargoyles-fans.org or http://www.s8.org/gargoyles -- on the latter, Greg has a moderated message board where he interacts with fans of his work.

I asked Greg the difference between producer and developer; he responded passionately. He feels the producer gets the show done, while the executive does his best job "keeping out of the producer's way." Greg firmly believes that if someone's hired to produce a show, there should be enough faith the person can handle it. "If you're in his [the producer's] face, telling him how to get his work done, you're not respecting that hiring decision in the first place."

Multiple executives often reread the same script and give notes. To Greg, this "fosters an absolute system of disrespect." A lower executive's notes can be overruled by higher up and "you know who you'll have to listen to," so it's hard to take a lower executive's notes seriously. He also feels many of today's executives don't understand animation; it's perceived as a stepping stone, but many never escape. "When I came in, I studied it," Greg says. "Every facet of it… I went to recordings, mix sessions, edits."

Today's executives, Greg feels, rely too much on focus groups and trends; they are "people without the courage of their conviction." He also points out that "the largest successes often have passionate creators behind them" (though the two are not mutually exclusive). In short, "it's got to start with the passion."

Join me next time for Part Two: Voice Directing.


Shannon Muir is known in the animation industry for her work as a production coordinator for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. She also served as a Production Coordinator for Extreme Ghostbusters and a Production Assistant for Jumanji: The Animated Series. Muir is an accomplished writer and often participates on panels or as a guest speaker at conventions like Comic Con International.

Muir moved to Los Angeles in 1996 from Cheney, WA (population approximately 8,000), knowing she wanted to be part of the animation business. Since then, she's never strayed far from making that dream reality, whether it be actively working on a production or writing articles about the industry.

You can email Shannon Muir at shanemuir@aol.com.

All editorialized columns, including this one, that appear in Digital Media FX are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of Digital Media FX, its partner sites, and its advertisers.

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