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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Greg Weisman Interview, Part 3 - Writing & Story Editing
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 the conclusion of my chat with Greg about these aspects of the business. In this segment: writing and story-editing.

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Writers craft the scripts, but Greg says a story-editor's job is "responsibility for the script process." A writer may story-edit his or herself, or a producer may story-edit, but story-editors always have writing credits on their resume. Multiple writers help shows meet deadlines, so a story-editor sees their stories are within guidelines, have a consistent tone, that the scripts are the right length, and are clearly understood for the actors, artists, and crew to bring to life.

On Gargoylesfour story-editors worked on the second season. All reported to Greg, who acted as supervising story-editor. They sought consistent work from their writers, and then Greg supervised them in turn.

Greg wrote for JEM --see http://members.tripod.com/~jemlist/ -- before he moved back to Los Angeles. At Disney, he story-edited the last five episodes of Ducktakes, uncredited because he was a development executive (see Part One). He developed premises, gave notes, and did some rewriting.

The amount of rewriting is "directly proportional to how in sync the writer is with the story-editor," says Greg. "I'd also like to say how talented the writer is, but sometimes that's not the case… if someone gives me a script that needs a lot of work, I'm going to be doing a major rewrite. If someone gives me a script that doesn't need a lot of work… I'll do as little as I have to in order to get it to be the kind of script I want it to be." A talented writer may not understand a show, so being rewritten doesn't necessarily mean lack of ability.

With Gargoyles' third season, Greg wrote and story-edited - but didn't produce - the first episode. It "can be a dangerous process but it's… more rewarding than having someone else story-edit," he said. An advantage is getting "the individual's unadulterated vision… strong but powerful, not always good… pure, and there's something to be said for that." As to dangers, he admitted, "you get concerned with little details and lose track of the bigger picture."

Greg explains, "freelance story-editing is tough. One is, financially it's not as lucrative thus you're forced to do more work in a shorter time to make an equivalent amount of money. The second reason… you're not on site. You're not engaged in… daily dialogue with the other people working on the show. The only advantage I can think of is the certain amount of freedom… that allows you to simultaneously do something else."

About writer/story-editor relations, Greg says: "when people are in sync… the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts… if you're self story-editing, you lose the opportunity to collaborate with another individual… who might provide additional ideas that make it better." However, it can become "an effort of mutual compromise and homogenization, where you're…not in sync with each other… not challenging each other… finally you wind up with nothing of interest in the story."

Greg feels a good writing team also challenges its members "to create something greater than the sum of its parts." Since the same pay often gets split amongst the members of a team, he states, "there's no real financial advantage being a team, unless… you get the X and Y name and you've got them working on multiple, multiple shows… it becomes a brand… the brand can cover more territory and thus bring more money in. Mr. X is working on Show A and Ms. Y is working on Show B… it becomes a quantity thing. A true team, it's not about quantity any more than an individual is about quantity."

On his early partnership: "I think we were really challenging each other to do better work… we went off to do some separate things… not because the partnership was failing… we had these opportunities. Having done that, I wasn't comfortable going back into the partnership, and I would say that was a failing on my part. I didn't want to subsume myself in the way that it was before, even though that was a challenging partnership I was appreciating the challenge of my own work."

About a writer's education, Greg feels that (besides writing) you need to be willing to self-edit, take others' notes, proofreading, and read extensively - this is classic as well as modern books, more than industry trades and newspapers. Also, watch contemporary and classic films and "look at the history of these mediums." For animation, he recommends taking classes, reading animation scripts, and studying series to see "what works for you and what doesn't."

Thank you, Greg, for taking time to share.

Click here for Part Four: Freelance Versus Staff.


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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