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coming up: The Toronto Screenwriting Conference, April 9-10

For those interesting in bettering their story skills, I highly recommend attending the upcoming Toronto Screenwriting Conference. I went last year and learned SO much about craft & structure. I also spotted a handful of animation writers who shall remain unnamed. It’s no surprise that some of their scripts are pretty dang solid. So, if you deal with story as part of your day job, and if you want to know how to cleave to the heart of any story that crosses your desktop, I urge you to go.

It’s not namby-pamby ‘follow your dreams’ advice they were doling out in 2010. A lot of it was pretty solid guidance for when something gets stuck. Personally, I really liked Sheldon Bull’s breakdown of how a sitcom functions between commercials and methods for dealing with up to five act breaks that the networks have been calling for. One of the showrunners for The Simpsons for over a decade, Tim Long’s illustration of how they ran that show revealed what was broken with the Canadian method of cartoon production. I was secretly hoping that every animation producer in Toronto was in the crowd on that one. Tim won five Emmy awards and earned thirteen nominations. He has also been nominated for a Golden Globe, and been awarded an “Annie Award” for outstanding writing for animation – so I think we was worth listening to.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Check out their list of speakers and YOU decide:

From their Facebook Group Page:

“Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, producer, director and author Pen Densham (ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, THE OUTER LIMITS, Author: Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing )

Emmy Award-nominated screenwriter and author Sheldon Bull (COACH, A DIFFERENT WORLD, Author: Elephant Bucks, An Inside Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms )

Leading industry consultant Dara Marks who is consistently rated one of the top script consultants in the film industry by Creative Screenwriter Magazine. (Author: Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc )

Chris Vogler, one of Hollywood’s leading script consultants. (Author of the much dog-eared and revered screenwriting book The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers)

Video game scribe and story designer Kevin Shortt whose writing credits include James Cameron’s AVATAR: THE GAME and LOST – THE VIDEO GAME

Comedy writer Christine Zander, Co-Executive Producer of RAISING HOPE, who’s writing and producing credits include 7 seasons of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, the award-winning 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN,and Showtime’s NURSE JACKIE.

And more! We’ll be announcing more top tier speakers through February. But don’t wait to register! Register now to receive the lowest registration rate available.”



  1. Michael Michael February 4, 2011

    “…revealed what was broken with the Canadian method of cartoon production. I was secretly hoping that every animation producer in Toronto was in the crowd on that one.”

    Well? Now I’m intrigued. Why don’t you write an article and tell those of us who weren’t there and might benefit?

  2. sir warren b leonhardt sir warren b leonhardt Post author | February 8, 2011

    Hey Mike –

    I’ll put it here for now, because it’s blazingly simple: A writer’s room that accommodates the medium they’re working in.

    My description that follows is not anything new to a writer. Especially to writers that cross over between live-action and animation. But to me, it sounded like an ideal situation and it was the first time that I’ve heard of this method used properly in my 10 years of ‘boarding for TV cartoons in Canada.

    If I recall correctly – the showrunner, the director (that title’s the ‘producer’ in the States), and the other writers break the season into synopsi. Takes about a week.

    For every meeting for the next (I’m guessing) 2 weeks, ALL the writers for the season jam out what could happen with a chosen episode synopsis. Assistants assigned to each writer type out the suggestions forwarded by that writer. Now you’ve got say, 8 sets of ideas for one ep. Those are given to one of the writers to compile a first draft. The season gets divided up between however many writers are in the room with this process. Each gets their scheds set up, and they’re off, armed with tons of ideas for every assignment.

    After any ep is ‘boarded, the writers reconvene and watch the story reel with the ‘board artist and director present – after getting network notes and reviewing them. Then they punch it up & deal with the notes, often building on what the ‘boarder added. If it’s too many changes for that one ‘boarder to do in a week, the revision artists dogpile and get it done while that ‘boarder goes on to the next ep. Goes to Korea. Not easy to do, but they make it work, the focus on adding stronger material at every step they can control.

    Now, it’s not all pats on the back all around in The Simpsons room. If you can’t cut it, give good notes and jokes on the regular, you get bunted out.

    Now, all of this requires some deep pockets, especially given Guild rates. BUT – a pared down version of this method of building on others’ works in a collaborative environment can be done. In fact it HAS been done in Canada a few times, most recently maybe on ‘Spliced’.

    The thing is, as you can hear in this interview, it was THE WRITERS’ IDEA to run a writer’s room. One gets the impression that Nelvana, the studio bankrolling the series, couldn’t have cared less about this step of the process. But I digress. Judge for yourself:

    With a little dough and flexibility to accommodate schedules, theoretically any Canadian production studio would increase their odds of making their money back on a show simply by using a method that helped create one of the most successful animated shows in history.

    I’m fully aware that a strongly-written & ‘boarded show won’t guarantee financial results, but it could push your product heads and shoulders above the competition, especially if your competition isn’t in the habit of creating an environment that increases their odds of success.

    My two bits, anyway.

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