Insights for Non Artists:
Patric Verrone Interview
me looking for advice and insight on writing for prime-time animation,
so when I had the opportunity to meet up with FUTURAMA's Supervising
Producer, Patric Verrone, I asked if he would be willing to share
this information with readers. Patric agreed, and I greatly appreciate
his time. To give you an idea of his experience, his animation
credits include PINKY AND THE BRAIN, THE SIMPSONS, THE CRITIC,
RUGRATS, and FUTURAMA (which began running its final season of
episodes in Fall of 2002).
I wondered how Patric ended up involved in prime-time animation,
especially given he also has some non-prime time animation credits,
and these two areas rarely (if ever) cross over. "I started
out as a variety show writer," he explains, adding that he
was a Johnny Carson monologue writer in the late 1980s. "Actually,
I started out as a lawyer. But even before that, when I was an
undergraduate, I was an editor of THE HARVARD LAMPOON. There I
met more than two dozen men and women who went on to become important
writers. Two of them were Mike Reiss and Al Jean who, after running
THE SIMPSONS for two years, created an animated show called THE
CRITIC They invited me to work on it and I could hardly refuse."
After completing two seasons on THE CRITIC, Patric moved over
to the Jim Henson Company for a couple years working on MUPPETS
TONIGHT! before coming to FUTURAMA. He'd been involved with FUTURAMA
for four years when I shared questions with him.
who has worked in the production of non-prime time animation,
I felt it was important to clarify the process by which prime-time
animated stories come together, so Patric explained: "Prime
time television animation is much more like live action television
than it is like daytime or feature animation. It is writer driven.
The scripts are written and then heavily rewritten by large staffs
of writers. In prime time (and by that I mean NETWORK prime time)
the writers cast and direct the voiceover actors, supervise the
editing of the dialogue soundtrack, comment on character designs,
give notes on the storyboards, do more rewriting after the animatic,
do a lighter rewrite after the final color screening (again, directing
the actors in the additional dialogue that needs to be recorded),
spot the music and sound effects, and supervise the final sound
mixing and editing." In non-prime time animation, "the
writers often 'drop the baby on the doorstep' after a rewrite
pass by a small staff (or just a story editor) and don't see the
project again until it's finished." He further added that
in features, "writers often work hand in hand with storyboard
artists up front and, again, finish most of their work before
the actual animation is even begun."
to define the skill-sets needed for someone to write competitively
in the prime-time animation market, Patric said that "[y]ou
need to be willing and able to sit in a conference room for twelve
hour days, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, rewriting scripts
line by line. It also helps if you can direct actors, edit, design,
compose music and lyrics, and brew beer. On FUTURAMA, everyone
had to be able to do at least a majority of those things."
In other words, it seems you need be a jack of all trades willing
and able to take anything and everything. As far as preparing
yourself for the challenge, "[i]f you want to write, write.
It's a craft. It's a learned craft. Getting a job as a production
assistant or writer's assistant is a common way in, but the important
thing is that you will need a sample. Often many samples. Write
spec half hour comedies. Don't spend a lot of time writing a spec
animated show, but it might get you work elsewhere and, again,
it's a learning process, so I wouldn't reject it outright either.
Read scripts. Watch what's on TV and in theaters. Write as much
and as well as you can."
hour comedies are what gets read," Patric responded when
I asked what samples are appropriate for someone wanting to break
into prime-time animation. "For a long time it was SEINFELD
and LARRY SANDERS, then MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, now EVERYBODY LOVES
RAYMOND and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Soon it might be SCRUBS or something
I can't predict. Don't write a SIMPSONS. Writers on FUTURAMA have
gotten hired off of everything from a DARIA to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE
SLAYER. As for the odds, if you don't live (or plan to live) in
L.A., zero. You need an agent to get the sample script read."
As of Fall 2002, "only THE SIMPSONS and KING OF THE HILL
are making new episodes and the showrunners at both shows have
plenty of writers they know they want to hire in their in-boxes
already. So the odds of getting into prime time animation these
days are very, very slim."
Then we got
into issues of union representation, and whether or not prime-time
animation fell under the WGA's jurisdiction. "All television
animation is covered by the WGA unless IATSE Local 839 (the Cartoonists
Union) already represents the studio," Patric clarified.
"839 has deals with Disney, Warner, Dreamworks, and several
smaller houses. The problem is, many animation houses (like Nickelodeon)
are rabid union busters and so, despite both WGA and 839 efforts,
neither union covers them. WGA coverage is superior to 839's (in
my humble opinion as WGA west Secretary-Treasurer). The WGA gets
a writer minimum script fees, a pension plan, health insurance,
credit arbitration, and the all important residuals. 839 has a
fine health insurance plan, a decent pension, some minimums, and
they're working on credit standards, but they are not the kind
of union that will be able to deliver residuals."
I closed by
asking if he felt prime-time animation would be a trend that may
come and go in cycles, or do you think it would have longevity.
"THE SIMPSONS and KING OF THE HILL are likely to stick around
for a while. Non-network prime time animation is also likely to
continue (I'm talking MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, etc.)
but I don't think network prime time animation will grow beyond
its current programs in the future." As to why, Patric elaborated,
"Animation simply isn't produced on the same kind of schedule
as other prime time network shows - it has a much longer lead
time and that extra time conflicts with the snap judgments that
executives are forced to make when they order, air, and cancel
shows. It would take a daring and patient network executive to
order a new prime time animated show nowadays and I just don't
believe such a beast exists."
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.
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 email@example.com.
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