Animation Screenwriting 101 – Part 2 of 2

It’s time once again, for our latest installment of Animation Writing 101™! This free and infrequent course will try to tackle and wrestle to the ground your animation writing questions until they scream “Uncle!”

If you recall, last week, some hipster named “Shaggy” whose best friend is a talking Great Dane asked: “Like, how does this whole freelance animation writing process, like, work?” Here is the second part of my answer for that meddling kid and his dog, too!

Step Three: The Outline Process

So let’s assume that you have an episode springboard approved, even better let’s assume you got several approved! Wooo-hoo! Now you can buy that 1997 Saab you’ve had your eye on!

 "Don't laugh, it's paid for."
“Don’t laugh, it’s paid for.”

But depending on the production schedule and your SE’s own workload, he or she will most likely have you write just one script at a time from one your approved premises of his or her choosing. You’ll be given a simple contract either directly by the production company or through your agent or representative on your behalf.  Once you’ve signed on the line that is dotted, you will start on the outline.

Usually the length of your outline depends on the episode length of the show you are working for (11.5 minutes or 22 minutes). So an outline for an 11.5 minute show might around eight pages. A 22 minute episode could be as many 12 to 20 pages. Again, this all depends on the kind of show you’ll be writing and what level of detail the SE expects from outlines.

After about a week or so writing your outline you will email it to your SE. He or she will read it and have notes. You address those notes, hopefully with a positive and professional attitude, and send in a re-written outline. You’ll likely have the outline sent back to you with more notes to address a few more times.

Step Four: The Script Process

After you and your SE have been kicking the outline back and forth, your SE decides that it’s in good shape and ready to go to script. Huzzah! You’re that much closer to eternal life through your credits!

Your SE may make a few additional requests when you go to script, perhaps addressing some additional network notes, like: keep things funny or add action here and there, but the SE knows you have a deadline and won’t stand in your way. This is the part where you’re going to be on your own for a while. This is where you’ll be bringing your story and characters to life.

Much like with the outline phase, your script’s page length depends on the length of the show. An 11.5 minute episode script might be about 12 pages or so. A 22.5 minute episode could be as many as 30-35 pages long.

After an intense week or so of writing you’ll be turning in your first draft. As with the outline, your SE will have notes and naturally, they will be more extensive by the fact that this is the script.  The network will chime in with their comments, too. And since they’ll have final script approval, your SE will take extra care to make sure their notes filter down to you and that you address them thoroughly. And naturally, you address those notes with a positive and professional attitude.

After a couple of drafts and some tweaks, you turn in your final draft of the script to your SE. Your SE may make a few tweaks of his or her own before the script is turned in to the network, but your job is done here.

Step Five: The “Gettin’ Paid, Yo!” Process

During the writing process, after the writing agreement has been signed, your agent or representative will invoice for what is owed to you. Usually, this is done in steps.

"Which step is when I get a bed made o'money?"
“Which step is the one where I get to have a bed made of money?”

Some series may pay in thirds, paying you for the outline, first draft and final draft (sometimes considered the polish) of the script. The first payment is for the outline, normally this includes the premises you pitched too as most shows don’t pay extra for premises. When you turn in the outline and it has been approved, you will go to the script phase, while you can expect payment for the outline in about a week or so.

When you turn in your first draft, you or your rep invoices for that draft. And about when you are paid for the first draft you should be well into writing your final draft.

The script fee, that is the total amount you will receive, minus any commission, is usually non-negotiable. You can end up writing a dozen animated freelance scripts for the same show and get paid the same amount money.

However, that’s not chump change, and it can add up to a very tidy sum, and do enough of these and do them well, then you get to have something I like to call a career in writing TV animation.

And that’s gonna buy you a lot of Scooby Snacks, know what I mean?
And that’s gonna buy you a lot of Scooby Snacks, know what I mean?

Animation Screenwriting 101 – Part 1 of 2

It’s time once again, for our latest installment of Animation Screenwriting 101™! This free and infrequent course will try to tackle and wrestle to the ground your animation writing questions until they scream “Uncle!”

Someone named “Shaggy” who lives in a psychedelic blue and green van with a giant dog asked me: “Like, how does this whole freelance animation screenwriting process, like, work?” I wanted to respond by telling him to stop chasing old farmers disguised as ghosts and get real job, you hippie but it is actually a good question.

There’s a lot I don’t know! Like how I’m the only one who can hear my dog talk.

The freelance animation screenwriting experience varies from show to show, but usually involves similar steps: In digestible Scooby Snacks these are: The Pitch Process, The Approval Process, The Outline Process, The Script Process and The “Gettin’ Paid, Yo!” Process.

For the sake of your eyeballs I will divide this blog post into two parts. Part two will appear next week.

This segment of Animation Screenwriting 101 doesn’t address how to find an animation writing job. We’re skipping ahead, assuming that you already found a show with freelance episodes available and you’ve been welcomed to pitch some episode ideas.

Step One: The Pitch Process

So you’ve pored over the series bible, read a few scripts and watched a bunch of episodes of the show and now you’re confident enough to write a great episode of your own. All you need now are some great ideas! If not already in the series bible, your boss, either referred to as Series Producer, Head Writer or Story Editor (we’ll just say Story Editor, SE for short) should provide you with an episode guide and a list of newly approved ideas, so you don’t accidentally pitch stuff that’s already been pitched.

The SE should give you some guidelines on pitching stories, including the kind of stories that never make the cut. He or she may also have specific “needs and wants” from the network or production company in terms of what kind of story they want to see done next. If the animated series is serialized and there is a story arc that needs servicing, the SE will advise you on that. If the animated series is based on a popular toy or video game IP (intellectual property) then the toy or game company will also have say on what they want to see from their characters.

All these considerations will have influence on what kind of story the SE will want next. And it won’t always be clear to you what’s going on inside her head, so don’t be discouraged if your first few ideas don’t impress her, even if you thought they were home runs.

Unlike pitching in a TV executive’s office where you get to sit on a comfy couch, sipping a bottle of Fiji water while admiring the 12-story view of the San Fernando Valley, your pitches won’t likely be made in person. Likely, you’ll be asked to e-mail over some springboards; your episode ideas, usually no more than a couple of sentences in length.

Depending on what your SE wants from her writers, you may be able to send in as many as a dozen springboards or more. Some SE’s will allow you to keep sending ideas until one or more click. Also an SE could cut you off at some point if the ideas seem way off to the mark and consequently she might tell you that you’re not a right fit for the show. Let’s hope this never happens to you.

Step Two: Approval

Depending on how busy the SE is you might be waiting a couple of days to a week for approval. When the SE approves of one or a few of your springboards, he or she passes them to network for their approval. Network executives are busy by nature and it may take another week for their approval. Production schedules are always tight and waiting for story approvals takes a big chunk of that time.

Because of this, the SE wants to get the script rolling just as much as you do, so he or she will pick the springboards that will most likely meet with network approval. You may be asked to tweak a springboard to improve its chances for approval. A good SE knows how to tweak a springboard to please network executives, so following the SE’s advice closely means getting that desired assignment that much faster.

Next week in part two we explore the fabric of the space-time continuum, as well outlines, script and payment steps! Like, stay tooned!

If you see this van parked in front of your house - call the police!
If you see this van parked in front of your house… call the police!

Live-action scripts vs. animated scripts

It’s time once again for our latest installment of Animation Writing 101! This free and infrequent course will try to tackle and wrestle to the ground your animation writing questions until they scream “Uncle!”

Someone I completely made up from Minneapolis, Minnesota sent me an email asking me: “Can you explain what the difference is between a live-action script and an animated script, please?”

Well, let me try to break it down into a few fundamental differences:

Most Animation scripts are longer.

At first glance a live-action script and an animated script (let’s say they are both half hour TV scripts) look the same. Dialogue can be found in the normal places, there are transitions where you expect to find them. There may be act breaks delineated on the page (ACT ONE, ACT TWO, etc). The scripts are similar. But if you look closer you will notice that the half-hour animated script tend to be several pages longer than the live-action script.

Why are Animation scripts longer?

The reason for that is you write more on the page with animation because it’s a very visual narrative. So instead of just writing, say, “There is a loud knocking at the door.  The man crosses the room and opens the door.” In animation you need to really bring a moment to life, like this:

CLOSE ON THE DOOR — there is an (SFX – LOUD KNOCKING).  The MAN MARCHES across the room, and OPENS the DOOR.

Yup!  You’re “directing on the page” more or less. And if you’ve been reading enough good screenwriting books or taking classes on the craft you’ve already been told numerous times “Do not direct on the page! You are not Tarantino!” And yes that is mostly true, you are definitely not Tarantino and you don’t call for camera angles or other direction and details that are left in the hands of the director.

But in animation you sort of have to “direct” the scene. It’s your job to bring it to life because you need to translate your vision as clearly as possible to other people in other departments and even other countries so they can do their job properly and efficiently to bring your script to life.

As a caveat, it’s important not to overwrite, too, as this will not make the storyboard artist’s or the animation director’s life easier. It will take time and practice for you to find the balance between underwriting action and over-writing action with too many superfluous details.

Animation scripts call for sound effects and grunts and oomphs!

You might have noticed in the above example that the action included a weird thing you’ve likely never seen in a live-action script before, the (SFX – LOUD KNOCKING). That means Sound Effects and I was calling for a specific sound effect that’s integral to the scene; a loud knock at the door.

That’s a real key difference from live-action, where you don’t normally call for a special sound effect, not this way, at least. Writing for animation has a lot in common with the radio plays of old in that respect. (SFX – BANG THE GUN FIRES!).

In post-production those important sound effects need be added to the final editing and mixing of the episode as they are important to the story. Imagine a villain shooting a gun at Batman, but there’s no sound from the gun. Was that supposed to happen? You’ll be left confused. In animation you need to write in calls for sound effects that will be important later.

Then there are the “Sighs!”, “Grunts!”, and “Oomphs!” etc, expressed in parenthesis in the dialogue. Again, these represent important sound effects that the actors will have to make themselves that will later translate on how the character is animated, particularly how the character’s mouth movements are drawn later. They often appear on the page like this:

(exasperated sigh!)

I didn't SAY SIGH, Pinky! I just expressed it as a sound in order to... or nevermind!
I didn’t actually SAY “Exasperated Sigh!” Pinky! I was just expressing it as a sound in order to… oh, nevermind! Sigh!

Anytime a character struggles with lifting something or sighs or shouts, etc. the writer needs to express this action in this way. The voice actor may read this line and perform various takes on this until he and the voice director are satisfied with their options.

As you can imagine, a slap-stick comedy script filled with this kind of thing would naturally make a script longer.

So, Mr. Fake Minneapolis, Minnesota, I have much more to tell you on this topic but for the sake of keeping it simple, I hope I answered your question. So go right ahead, attack that animation script armed with the knowledge I just dropped on you like a metric ton of “French In Action”* Text Books. I look forward to hearing from you soon… I’m sure you exist out there.

*French In Action was a French language immersion course featuring a lovely French girl named Mirelle. Look it up on Wikipedia.

Bonjour! How do you say, “French Kiss” in French?

Passion Plays or Why You Really Gotta Love What Ya Do.

What are you passionate about? Long walks on the beach? Running barefoot in a fountain? Learning about fancy, French wines? Cheesewiz? Somebody’s got to be passionate about Cheeswiz out there! Or is it Cheezwhiz? Or Cheezwiz? Honestly, I don’t know and I’m not going to bother to check because I have no passion for the stuff. But when it comes to your work, your true career, not your day job at the Java Hut, but what you want to do with your life, you need to have passion for it. And when it comes to writing, either TV Animation or films or books, you need to have an all consuming passion for the craft. You have to be determined to not only do well but to sacrifice a lot of things to make your dreams come true. So you better love what you do, because there are going to be some trade-offs. Here are a few:

Be prepared to not make a lot of money for a very long time – If you’re going to be a freelance animation TV writer, for instance and you want to strike it rich, you can do one of two things, build a time-machine and travel to the 80’s or move to Canada. Seriously. There is a third option, and likely the best, is have a day job. Freelance animation writing in L.A. used to be steady enough for most folks that it was a full time job. That has changed and likely for good. Most jobs have either moved to Canada or just evaporated along with the demand TV animation writers in general. Only about a dozen animation writers are working non-stop. That’s not some pessimistic exaggeration. Really, it is about a dozen. I can name them. Others should expect to get writing work a few times a year or less. You will need another job to actually pay the bills to support your writing, until it takes off. Yeah, it sort of becomes a hobby that requires a real job to support. But hobbies can often bloom into well-paying dream jobs.

Be prepared to not have nice things for a long while – If you feel a bit left out when you check the facebook status of your friends, celebrating the birthdays of their children or moving into a new house or vacationing in Lake Havasu, then you better get used to it. A spouse, a house a kid or two, all require money. And while you’re working your second job to support your job of trying to break into TV writing, you’re only going to have enough money for rent and Taco Bell. That’s not enough money for any responsible and compassionate person to inflict their dreams on a spouse or buy a house. Let them go. When you succeed there will still be time to get everything you want, those are part of the spoils of victory. But victory comes first.

Be prepared to lower your expectations – I once knew someone who joked that she was surprised that when she arrived to L.A. from New York after graduating from NYU that she wasn’t handed a development deal at the airport.  Yes in the world of writing there are immediate successes who’ve had “heat” on them while they were still in college. Sort of like first-round draft picks that go from graduation to going “pro” right away. If you’re one of those lucky stiffs to be staffed on a show rather quickly, then congratulations! The rest of the few jobs will be going to freelancers; a very talented and competitive field of freelancers who are more than willing to take jobs on shows that you might think are beneath you. If it’s not beneath them, it’s not beneath you. Don’t be a snob. It only keeps your pockets empty and your career at a stand still. Just do you best work and rock everything you do.


And be prepared to succeed – If this article hasn’t dissuaded you from becoming a professional writer, then you already have some of the building blocks of life that comes from passion. You know that success has to happen somewhere. Someone’s got to succeed, right? Maybe the passionate Cheez Whiz guy will eventually succeed at his fake-cheez-in-a-can obsession because of his passion. Maybe you will succeed because your passion has created a state of focus that has allowed you to write your best and write often. You’ve accepted the sacrifices and made contingencies, but not contingencies to hedge against failure but contingencies to prepare for success.



Another Attempt to Drive my Business Or, Why I am Really Reading your Script for Free, and Why you Need to Take Advantage of That.

Did you hear the Good News? What, no one came to your door this morning wearing a neatly pressed white shirt, holding a black leather bound book? Imagine if someone did, though, you should’ve let him in and offered him tea and scones, because the gentleman truly did have “Good News.” That news is (this very site you’re sitting on) is now offering to read your script once for free. Amen!

Hmmm, okay, so what’s the catch you might ask the earnest-looking proselytizer standing on your stoop? No catch. What he was offering you was a “free estimate” of sorts. That is, by having me read your script for free the first time, I’ll have a better sense of what kind of work your Television Animation or Televison pilot or spec script needs. I’ll be able to customize my services for you. I might be able to offer you special rates and savings, off the menu stuff (In & Out Burger Animal Style anyone?). Or, maybe, just maybe your Television Animation or Television pilot script is so friggin’ awesome; it needs no help at all! Can I get another amen?! Sure I can.

So sure, this is still somewhat another marketing ploy. Yeah, maybe, however this one benefits you greatly, not as just as a consumer but as an aspiring Televison Animation or Television Drama or Sit-com scriptwriter, etc. It’s good to get feedback, but feedback from a few of your old college buddies, all dental school grads, and your mom (who loves everything you’ve ever made and would stick your script to the ‘fridge if she had a strong enough ‘fridge magnet) isn’t enough. You need professional feedback from someone who actually has produced television credits under his or her belt. Unfortunately, though, most of the professional feedback out there will not be free at first and afterwards, their rates will be outrageous. That’s my difference. Free script evaluation and reasonable consultation rates.

Some restrictions apply, but there are not many. One particular caveat is that I will be unable to read a feature or book for free. Sorry, but that would be too time-consuming. I will read your series bible, short, half-hour or hour-long script for free, once. After that I will contact you to let you know, albeit briefly, my honest opinion and what I can do to help you. After that it’s up to you if you want my help or you want to shut the door on the shiny, happy visitor on the stoop. I say if opportunity knocks, at least open the door, it might be a free start to getting your Television Animation pilot or spec in the best shape it can be. Or it might be a copy of “The Watchtower”. Hey, either way, it’s free!

Amazon Studios Animation – Dare you Enter Its Jungle?

Remember, back in the day what was? It was just an oddly named online store where you could find the best deals on used books and new CDs and DVDs. Things were delivered to your home via someone called a mail carrier, sometimes wearing a pith helmet, always wearing blue socks with shorts.

Times have changed. Now things are downloaded; books, movies, music. Food now comes in the form of pills and cats and dogs have been outfitted with jet-packs. And online bookstores want to become downloading and streaming networks and movie studios.

Not happy with just selling everything from garden gnomes to auto parts and, yes, books, Amazon has decided to get into the original content game  producing their own movies. Last year, with some fanfare, it declared the opening of Amazon Studios, without laying one brick, without using any mortar. Being that this was a totally online venture, Amazon was betting that young unproduced writers were encouraged by the fact that the same place where they got their Neutral Milk Hotel downloads now wanted to buy their mumblecore screenplays. All the while professional writers and the WGA complained that it was a bad deal for everyone, especially them. Later, Amazon Studios made some amends; offering a better deal for writers, including an Amazon Studios affiliate called the People’s Production Company, a WGA signatory. Whether something called the People’s Production Company makes movies for Red China remains to be seen, but at least it’s Amazon acknowledging that professional writers are entitled to their minimum.

Last week, Roy Price, the Amazon Studios Director told Animation Magazine, “We’ve been working with movie projects for about a year and we received over 700 test movies and 7000 scripts.”

That’s quite a haul! Boosted in confidence that there’ll never be a “peak oil” of ideas they’re moving into the cartoon business, creating a separate division of sorts looking to option original animated content that they could develop into regular series. More details can be found on their deceptively indie-looking blog:, made to look that it might invite you for a couple of PBR’s at that ironic new Silver Lake dive bar.

But the question is as an amateur or even a professional animation writer, developer or artist, is Amazon Studios a good thing? For amateurs and freelance pros with nothing else going on, yeah, it’s worth a shot. For pros that have an agent and are actively pitching things to studios, I say don’t bother.

$50,000 and a 5% stake in toys and other licensing sounds great, (it’s not, really) if your animation project is picked up for production. But where is the profit participation for downloads? If Amazon charges to show your stuff, what percentage are you expecting from that? Expect nothing.

Also keep in mind that it still has a contest element to the whole thing. Unless you request to submit privately to the Amazon staff, visitors will judge your work. That sounds kind of scary but maybe it’s not. Ever heard of “American Idol?” The public is judging things right now, all the time. Whether that’s demonstrative of good taste is a whole other matter.

Maybe it’s not a bad thing for the public to decide whether or not your project is something they want to watch instead of an executive who may be basing his or her decisions on trying not to get fired.

It’s a brave new world out there. Cats and dogs are still getting used to their jet-packs and the model of distribution is changing daily. Maybe next you’ll be submitting your animation script to Facebook. If enough people select “Like” you’ll be getting a million dollar development deal, paid in Farmville tokens.

TV Writer Steven Darancette Doesn’t Blog!

A friend of mine recently complained that I don’t have any content here on the blog for Darancette Development, where I help screenwriters improve their tv animation scripts and work on their pitches to animation production houses, etc.

Maybe I’m a little lazy. But I had other reasons, many of them having to do with my own insecurity about being an interesting tv animation writer/blogger with original things to say. But mainly it’s been my strong belief that the world doesn’t need another damn screenwriting blog, even if it’s focused on animation writing.

Everyone’s got a blog, especially in the film industry. There are a few that I read on a regular basis, but there are hundreds more I don’t. I either don’t have the time or just don’t care. Probably both. Only a few blogs have caught my attention and impressed me enough with their vivid writing and original insight that I keep coming back for more.

I look at this whole blogging thing as a very big and very loud cocktail party, with people drinking and talking so loudly that the din of the room roars like a Rolls-Royce jet engine. Everyone is shouting and pushing to get each other’s attention. And unless you are standing on a platform, raising you above the fray, (that platform being you’re famous and have high Google rankings so everyone can find you) nobody is going to hear you. I just didn’t want to contribute to the noise. I didn’t want to be jumping up and down shouting, “Hey look at me! Let’s discuss scene headings in your screenplay!”

But now I have my own site, providing a service (helping writers improve their TV animation scripts and packages).  And that service should be giving you something to look at.

So from this point forth I will be writing on a regular basis with my takes on things in regards to writing, particularly TV and especially animation writing. If you’re looking for political rants or celebrity gossip go elsewhere. If you’re looking for free animation screenwriting advice and animation series tips, stories of my experience in tv animation writing, sometimes with very personal perspectives, here I’ll be. I’ve joined the party now. You’ll find me at the bar.

2012 Looming TV Festival and Fellowship Deadlines

The Tracking B – Late Deadline April 15th

Page Awards – April 2nd

Scriptapalooza TV – April 16th

CBS Writers Mentoring Program – May 1st

Script Pipline – May 1st
Acclaim – May 26th
Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop – June 1, 2011.

The Austin Film Festival – Accepting submissions for TV pilots and TV spec scripts through June 1st, 2012 
New York TV Festival – June 29th

NBC Writers on the Verge – end of June.