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Review of How to Write for Animation
Review by Shannon Muir

Book: How to Write for Animation
Author: Jeffrey Scott
Year: 2002
Foreword: Joe Barbera
dFX Review Rating: 8 out of 10
More Info from Amazon.com

Chapters:
1. Understanding the World of Animation
2. Tools of the Trade
3. Basic Overview
4. How to Write a Premise
5. Developing Your Story Beats
6. How to Write an Outline
7. How to Write a Script
8. Writing Description
9. Writing Dialogue
10. How to Write Funny Stuff
11. Feature, Internet, and Sample Scripts
12. Creating an Animated Series
13. Writing a Presentation, Bible, and Pilot
14. How to Get an Agent
15. How to Break into Toon Writing Without an Agent
16. How to Pitch Your Project
17. How to Prosper in Toon Town


How to Write for Animation enters the market as one of the first books of its kind devoted solely to writing for animation. Others have covered it in paragraphs, or a chapter, but only in the last several years have entire volumes come out on the subject. Jeffrey Scott's contributions as an animation writer include over six hundred animation television scripts going back to the mid 1970s. Mr. Scott began his career at Hanna-Barbera and has worked for such diverse companies as Jim Henson, Sony Pictures Family Entertainment, DIC Enterprises, Walt Disney TV Animation, and Fred Wolf Films; awards include three Emmys and a Humanitas Prize. His father also worked as a Story Editor, and he is the grandson of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges. This gives him a wealth of information and experience to share, in a volume that's easy to understand yet doesn't talk down to the reader.

Mr. Scott's credits mainly encompass comedy and action-comedy non-prime time series, which is reflected in the book. In order to provide examples that will contain relevance to comedy and action writers alike, he chooses to use samples of a premise, outline, and script for an action-comedy series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Generally this tact works successfully since the majority of animated shows range from comedy to action-comedy. If a writer intends to do preschool writing (think Clifford or Dragon Tales) or action-adventure shows such as Justice League, these samples still provide the basic groundwork but lack advice specific to the format. They're even less practical for those who aspire to write prime-time animation, as its format is a hybrid between screenplay and sitcom script format and does not use written premises since prime-time animation has roundtables like a sitcom staff. Mr. Scott does interview Futurama Supervising Producer Patric Verrone to get some contrast and insight to the prime-time animation world, but this book is not designed to teach prime-time animation writing.

Accompanying the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles samples are exercises. The reader is encouraged to try their hand at creating a written premise, beat sheet, and outline for the episode "Mobster from Dimension X" before being shown the actual versions of each as used in production. Being able to try and compare allows the reader to just not passively absorb the pages, or worse, think they understood but when they go to apply it find he or she didn't quite understand the information. It's interactive learning to be certain concepts are understood. I found the exercises to be extremely effective, more so since they related to an actually produced product versus a writer making up a script for the sake of the exercises.

However, since Mr. Scott's credits include a fair amount of educational and preschool writing, I would like to have seen more time also devoted to this challenging arena. In the dialogue section, he does refer to finding appropriate word levels for the viewing audience, and also deals with it to some extent in character development, but there are special considerations with these scripts in terms of how to deal with appropriate themes and storylines. There are usually special advisors hired on these shows to help assure they meet the audience's needs. A walk-through from premise to script on a Muppet Babies, Dragon Tales, or similar show I feel would have brought a lot to the book. Personally, I've never attempted a script in this area because I feel so daunted by all the nuances and I think exercises like this might help me break through.

If you've dreamed of creating your own show, Mr. Scott provides useful information in this area. The book includes a complete sample bible for a existing property he helped develop called The Extreme Adventures of Wacky Willie, a show about extreme sports created around a mascot for an 'extreme' shake. Mr. Scott also includes advice on how to write an effective pilot script; the most educational statement for me was that don't always assume a pilot is designed to be the first one aired. Also covered are whether or not you need an agent, how to get an agent if you want one, and guidelines for designing a show pitch.

Mr. Scott also deals briefly with feature and Internet animation. In the case of features, there's not much to say since everything is done in-house, which also appears to be true for direct-to-video. Internet animation is too new to speak to in great length. That said, it's to Mr. Scott's credit that the areas are at least acknowledged. He also goes to the effort to explain the pre-production process to readers so they understand the relevance of the script and what happens to it in the television animation process. However, having been a Production Coordinator on several shows, I do have to point out that what he describes is not the exact process at every studio; for example, his description puts dialogue recording after the storyboard, while every show I've worked on (for Sony and Nickelodeon) recorded dialogue first so that storyboard artists could work on acting poses from the dialogue track. These are however minor nitpicks and folks will get the general idea.

I want to emphasize that everything in this book is worth learning from, but due to the fact that there are delays in the book-publishing world, some references already make the book appear dated though its information is relevant. The introduction speaks of "Toon Town as a Boom Town," though the industry was on quite a downturn at the time of the book's release. Mr. Scott portrays Internet animation as "the frontier of animation," virgin territory waiting to be explored and exploded, but he does acknowledge this will happen "once the bandwidth increases"; unfortunately this is looking much later than anyone envisioned. I hope these are lessons Mr. Scott takes in mind for future editions of the book.

How to Write for Animation works best as either a primer for people new to the animation format but have familiarity with live-action scriptwriting, or as a refresher course for the more experienced animation writer. Even as someone who has studied animation writing for some time, the book brought me new and valuable insights. However, if you do not know general screenwriting basics of three-act structure, plot development, and character, study those before diving into How to Write for Animation. This book walks you step-by-step from premise to beat sheet to outline to script, but if you don't understand the principles behind the mechanics, it will likely be useless. There are sections that are very short that other people have written entire books on, such as getting an agent, but this book's goal is simply to stress what is specific for animation; knowing the live-action equivalent is required to get the most out of How to Write for Animation.

Pros
- Easy to read and understand.
- Interactive exercises.
- Samples from a produced animated episode.
- Complete sample series bible.

Cons
- Not immediately clear you need basic knowledge of live-action scriptwriting to fully appreciate the book.
- Comedy and action-comedy heavy; not much information for action-adventure, educational/preschool, or prime-time animation writing.

In conclusion, if you're familiar with scriptwriting fundamentals and want to take the plunge into writing a blueprint for the animated screen, get your hands on How to Write for Animation. If your ultimate goal is prime-time animation, it would behoove you to understand how non-prime time animation works so you can understand the differences. A man with Jeffrey Scott's experience has much to teach.



You can order How to Write for Animation by clicking here.


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.

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