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Script That Classic


With all the debate over scripts versus storyboards, animation writer Steve Marmel (Fairly Oddparents, Danny Phantom, et al) has jumped into the fray, and put his money where his mouth is.

Marmel, on his Animation Writers blog, has started a contest challenging writers to craft a script from a classic Bob Clampett cartoon. The film chosen, Falling Hare, was selected by scripter Marmel with the help of Stephen Worth of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, one of the most outspoken on the subject of storyboard-driven cartoons.

Once he receives qualified entries, Marmel plans on reaching out to other board artists, directors and story people to help judge and give opinions, but would like the final arbiter of this to be Stephen Worth himself. Marmel asks Worth:

Pick the best of the bunch. Show script writers what’s right. And in return, you can take the worst of the bunch, and gut it.

Here’s what happens when a winner is picked. I will see that the winner is paid a “teleplay fee” for a short-subject script – as determined by the IATSE/TAG 839 rules. I think it’s a little less than $2000. This may be out of my own pocket… (and) I will personally make an in-kind donation to the ASIFA-Archive.

The contest will begin when Worth accepts the terms Marmel proposes. For more information, go to Marmel’s blog.

  • Kevin Martinez

    Holy sweet Jesus, not THIS garbage again.

    Is it any real wonder why people don’t take animation seriously when we can’t even rise up above this nonsensical pettiness.

  • It is disappointing that FALLING HARE was chosen for this important competition. With TORTOISE WINS BY A HARE, it is one of only two cartoons in which Bugs is portrayed as a frequently humbled, buffoonish wannabe sharpie rather than the genuine article. I’m not going to call it “out of character,” because it’s clearly how Clampett, Clampett’s followers, and the vast majority of 1940s comic book writers saw Bugs. And it’s a funny, perfectly valid and internally consistent interpretation.

    But it’s going to be much harder to get into the head of this Bugs in animation terms—when scripting him—because it is not a Bugs one can familiarize oneself with by watching very many other cartoons. It’s a Bugs who either is atypically not in control of his world—or who (if the final scene is interpreted a certain way) HAS been in control the whole time, but has spent five minutes pretending otherwise to no conceivable gain.
    I understand that THE BIG SNOOZE was almost chosen for the contest. It would have been a far better choice, insofar as it squares very easily with Bugs’ personality the way most of us usually understand it.
    Perhaps FALLING HARE is considered easier to see because it’s in the public domain? In that case, why not choose THE WACKY WABBIT, a PD Clampett Bugs with a more typical understanding of him?

    By the way, übermanly Spumco Clampett people—I’m not saying I’m not up to the *challenge* of scripting FALLING HARE. I’m no chicken. I’m only saying that this is really a contest to do TWO things: tell a highly visual story in words, and get into the motivations of an unusual Bugs Bunny. And I don’t think this is what the contest holders intend.

  • Writer – And Proud of It

    I would no sooner let Stephen Worth judge my work than I would let him sit in my lap.

    Yes, that’s a nasty, uncalled-for low blow, but then, my opinion of Mr. Worth’s opinions is equally low.

  • I don’t think the cartoon was chosen because of Bugs’s incompetence or because it’s public domain. It’s just that it’s a Bob Clampett cartoon, full of actions that are too fast, wild, and crazy to script.

    It reminds me of a post on John K.’s blog. Check out the part where he talks about the Famous studio Popeye. http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2008/01/takes.html

    A picture’s worth a thousand words, as they say.
    (Sorry if everything I’ve said has already been said, which I’m sure it has, many times in blog land.)

  • Tom Pope

    Sounds like a great challenge.

    BTW, “Writer-and Proud of It”, have you got a name you’d like to share?

  • Hm. Now that you mention it, Writer And Proud, Worth is on some level the wrong judge for this contest. No matter whether one agrees or disagrees with what he has to say, he isn’t himself an artist, so would never really be faced with the chore of translating the scripts we create into artwork. At the bottom line, he can only presume to know what the hands-on experience would be like.

    On the other hand, Worth’s fellow “bigshot,” John Kricfalusi, can certainly draw—once again, irrespective of whether any one of us agrees with him or not.

    Kricfalusi, not Worth, is the man to provide the Spumco point of view on what a good script should be like; for a Spumco point of view, after all, is what we would receive from either man given their many years of working together.

  • Charlie J.

    Wow, I love how people find excuses to bash Steve Worth, when he’s by far one of the nicest, most helpful and most diplomatic critics in the industry. If you disagree with his opinions, disagree respectfuly like a real man.

  • Tony

    Rather than spending time writing an academic example of something that isn’t really relevant to our enjoyment of a cartoon, I ‘d perfer a good animation historian use that energy on a long overdue, and well deserved, decent biography of Bob Clampett.

  • This is going to be very interesting, but considering that in real production, it’d be done the other way around — they’d be crafting a cartoon out of a script, not a script out of a cartoon.

    I’ll be watching this closely, but I’m not sure what the results will tell us…

  • Yes, I must admit that I see something somewhat redundant about writing a script for an already existing cartoon. Given that one of the main criticisms levelled against cartoon scriptwriters is a failure to come up with visual gags, the fact that all the visuals have been handed to the contestants on a plate means that I’m not sure what, if anything, this experiment will prove.

  • Paul N

    Charlie, no one engenders animosity who hasn’t done something to create it. If you find Steve diplomatic and helpful, it’s because you’ve agreed with his point of view. He can be very harsh when someone’s point of view doesn’t mesh with his.

    Respectful disagreement is a two-way street.

  • Groan. This whole cockamamie idea strikes me as being so desperate and idiotic that it tarnishes the entire animation community. That it is being put forth by the writers side of the argument is a damning fact as well.

  • Norman G. Alvidsen

    Were the industry judging a written animation script, the task would fall to a person with scant real production experience who’d never professionally drawn nor written for any length of time. In other words, a development executive.

  • Sounds like a fun way to kill two hours, but I agree whole-heartedly with Mr. “Writer and Proud of It” (thanks for the laugh too). Who the hell would want Worth’s approval? Or Mr. Kricfalusi’s?

    I’d like to think writers would not want to seek the approval of mean-spirited revisionists. But then again, $2K is $2K.

  • Rick Farmiloe

    OUCH!! this really seems to have opened some wounds. I’m coming late to the table…..but I’m not really sure what this accomplishes. An already existing cartoon having a script written for it……What’s the point?? It might be more constructive to compare films that have had scripts compared to films that have only had storyboards. The problem is, there are great examples of both being successful. In my experience……which has been many years, my PERSONAL feeling is that features tend to hold together better with a well written, structured script…..whereas shorts benefit more from a looser storyboard approach that allows for changes and better ideas. Just my opinion. I’m not sure the debate will ever really be decided one way or another….just too many variables.

  • This sounds phenomenally pointless, and unhelpful to both “sides” of the “debate”.

  • How about, instead, someone writes an original script for a cartoon that doesn’t suck? I don’t know if it’s ever been tried before.*
    I think if there was ever an animated feature with a script up to the standard of certain classic live-action movies, it would be great. Great enough, maybe, to make people forget the whole ‘script vs. boards’ thing. Anyway, it’s not like the two are somehow mutually exclusive. For example, Coen bros. movies have good, distinctive scripts AND are extensively boarded.

    *Yeah, I know…except Pixar…they’re pretty good, right?^___^

  • PCUnfunny

    Gerstein: FALLING HARE is a Bugs cartoon period. It’s Bugs but he isn’t winning, that’s it. He is being made a fool out of by someone who is smarter then him, just like the Tortise.

  • Writer – And Proud of It

    Thank you, Paul N. You took the words right out of my keyboard.

    And besides Worth being the judge (someone who does not draw), this isn’t a useful experiment. As people have pointed out, it’s not how well you can describe something that is already drawn that is the problem, it’s how well can you describe something that NEEDS to be drawn. Can you paint the picture with words so the artist can understand it and translate it into a drawing or a visual gag? That’s the argument that the Spumco people make is not possible. I’ve been told by many artists that I’m one of the ones that “gets it”.

    I know it’s chicken to hide behind an anonymous post, but I didn’t want to get into a flame war with anyone. I thought it was better to just “Insult and Run”, so to speak.

  • Chuck R.

    With all due respect to Bob Clampett, nothing in “Falling Hare” is as loopy as this thread.

  • This started because Nicktoons new executive has put the mandate that new pitches need to be in script form and they’re looking for spec scripts, especially from live action shows, to find new talent.

    I commented on Steve M.’s blog – how odd it seemed that they would alienate those who chose to write cartoons with boards rather than scripts considering Spongebob has been their biggest hit.

    Steve’s suggestion in response was to have board guys who had show ideas to board it first then “reverse” transcribe it into a script to pitch to such companies.

    I and others challenged that suggestion and Steve’s reply was that any cartoon could be done that way. After a few suggestions were dismised because he admitted that they would be impossible to do – he resolved on this one, which was one of Stephen Worth’s suggestions.

    The challenge is to write a script that will be able to convey the visuals of this cartoon, so if execs read it, it would put these images in their heads. The winner is the one who could do it the most justice. There you have it in a nutshell…

  • Baron Lego

    This whole mess is about as pointless as that Rubik the Amazing Cube fan site. What exactly is this exercise supposed to prove anyway? So if I create an original transcript from watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, does that mean I’m qualified to write comedies starring Jim Carrey?

    That would be great, ’cause I really could use the money.

  • Adam

    This is just getting ridiculous.Who cares if a writer wants to think cartoons should be written?

  • Danny

    I don’t understand the skepticism in regards to Mr. Marmels suggestion. His post seems like a genuine offer to further the debate on what words can/can not achieve and how to use them effectively if possible at all.

    We’d be able to compare various approaches of writing with each other, with storyboards and the final cartoon at the same. And the way i understand it this would be about the use of language in comparison to storyboards, not about if writers actually have fun ideas – an aspect that keeps this from becoming a personal, “writer” vs. “artist” thing and instead sticks to an almost scientific word vs. image debate. A debate that’s overdue given words seem to have been a bit underrated in this discussion so far, i believe.

    So why not engage a curious debate on what is possible with the written word? What ways for its use? And to which effect?

  • Okay, so 24 posts later, I figured I’d weigh in.

    Bob’s partially right – but this debate, for me, goes back a lot further. I know there’s a schism as to how cartoons were made, are made now, how people feel they “should be” made… etc., etc.

    I started this with the insane point that any cartoon could be scripted. Well, that was stupid. And wrong. It didn’t take me long to realize that was a dumb sweeping generalization.

    That being said, I also think “there is no case for script writing in animation” is an equally poor sweeping generalization.

    I am honestly, genuinely curious, to see if script writers can take a classic cartoon, and turn it into a script that reflects the cartoons that are held in such high regard.

    Why Falling Hare? Why not? I was given a list of a bunch of great classics, and that’s the one I chose. Simple as that.

    Why Stephen instead of John K?

    John K is a person, entitled to his opinion. He can be as stubborn and as entrenched as he wants, and be as opinionated as he chooses… because he is speaking as himself, for himself, to his audience. Fair enough.

    Stephen Worth is a historian at the ASIFA archive. This means he chooses what is worthy of history. As a script writer, that’s the guy I’d like to sway… if I can.

    Maybe I’m wrong… again. Maybe every one of these scripts will be ass, and none of them will be able to capture “Falling Hare.”

    But if one of them does – just enough – and it’s clear and obvious “the right way” to script a cartoon… wouldn’t that be great? If – as many say – it would be better for everyone if the scripts came in “better,” wouldn’t it be great to take an old, great cartoon and show exactly how, from an artist perspective, that could be done?

    That’s where I’m coming from on this. I appreciate the debate – positive or otherwise.

  • Or better yet, why doesn’t a writer watch a fireworks display and then write down what they saw! Then we’ll compare their words with the actual experience. It would be just as fruitful an exercise.

  • Here’s an idea: why don’t you Lilliputians just write and make great cartoons from great storyboards, and you Blefuscans do the same based on great scripts, rather than whining at each other on the internet and setting up fan-fiction competitions?

  • The Knife Thrower

    I don’t know what works best for whom. And it’s probably not a case of either/or.

    Read this excerpt from the upcoming short story “Cat ‘n’ Mouse” by Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser.
    Starts halfway the page.
    A cartoon like this doesn’t even need pictures.

    He’s also written “The Lonely Island”, a picture book without pictures (see his book “Edwin Mullhouse: the Life and Death of an Amercan Writer”) and “Klassik Komix #1”, a comic strip without pictures (for his book “The Barnum Museum”).
    Real animation buffs should read his “The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne”. The most moving story ever written, about an animator with a real passion for what he does.

  • Chuck R.

    Steve, It sounds like you’re trying to prove that creators should follow their instincts and use whatever tool gets them the best result. If so, you’re preaching to the choir.

    Brad Bird devotes a lot of time
    talking about the Pixar approach: forgo market-testing and conventional wisdom in favor of trusting the instincts of capable artists. You’d think Pixar’s track record would be all the proof you’d need to validate that philosophy. All this Nicktoon exec needs to refute it is to point out that Shrek 2 is the 3rd highest-grossing film of all time. Lesson learned? Just follow the rules —sequels with big-name actors, over-rendered characters and fart jokes aplenty.

    If this exercise is fun, that’s reason enough to do it. But bear in mind that no matter what “evidence” is thrown at them, there will be no convincing people who just don’t “get it”. You need to give ’em some rope, and hope they learn the hard way.

  • Jim

    An exercise of describing a fireworks display, if competently written, might land the writer a gig with a network. Network suits are notoriously partial to ‘adjective writing’, resulting in prop-heavy cartoons that deliver little but hardware. If you take the time to carefully read Mike Barrier’s interview with the late Joe Grant, you’d glean something of the way the Disney of old did it, which isn’t that far afield from the working methods of the Pixar of today.

  • purin

    Ooh, that’s one of my favorites!

    I guess the thing is that if you were to come up with all that stuff, you’d make your script all garbled and wordy trying to explain it all.

    I still think it’s a little redundant, not just because the process is backwards, but because everyone reading the scripts probably knows so well that there’d be no challenge guessing what the script is talking about, and we wouldn’t know what it would have conveyed to an animation company if this was being made today. What if the classic (or not so classic, maybe an uknown kept in the vaults for decades) was kept a secret from the judges, possibly resulting in them thinking what may be a classic upon watching was the worst cartoon ever when read as a script.
    Or, how about having a script team and a board team to write the same story (give them the outline, the characters, the main events) and see which one translates better… but that would require a LOT more money than the prize.

  • Looking at the cartoon again veeeery carefully, It’s obvious that it couldn’t be scripted, or drawn even. That cartoon just could not have been invented by the human mind. How could anybody make that stuff up? Surely it must be some form of rotoscoped documentary, no?

  • I guess I don’t understand this “Challenge”, especially one that is judged by an individual.

    All I can say is this: When my 5 year old watches most any modern scripted cartoon, he rarely laughs. (Sponge Bob seems to be the exception) If I put in a dvd of a classic Tom and Jerry, he howls with laughter.

    How about a challenge that involves a “laugh-o-meter” and . Have some writers pick their best example of a scripted work, and some animators pick their best example of an artist driven work, and let a theater audience decide.

  • Ceaser

    This is a silly silly silly argument. What say you of slapstick, written work which is sometimes even wackier than Clampetoons. The scene with Gene Wilder in the producers, Charlie Chaplin. Or howabout the action sequences in Batman Begins. All written. Its so easy to write Falling Hare. Besides, this argument is irrelevant. Ratattouille was written with a screenplay originally, and was beautiful. Just because Disney did it, doesn’t mean everyone has to. Isn’t that the lesson the company learned before they made ‘The Little Mermaid’?

    You can describe the scene THEN LATER DRAW IT. Much like you write the scene THEN LATER FILM IT. Ooooh…

  • Ceaser

    The entire ‘he never laughs’ argument is weird and subjective.

    Plus, Steve Worth has already a preconcieved opinion that he’s pretty gung ho about. Its like getting Ron Paul to judge your tax system, he’ll just tell you to get rid of it.

  • I’m not sure Chaplin belongs on your list of written slapstick, Ceaser. Have you seen the documentary Unknown Chaplin by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill? They show with tons of out-takes how Chaplin developed scenes through long improvisation, beginning sometimes only with the vaguest idea of a locale, putting the carpenters to work and then trying to come up with something on set. He also refers to this in his autobiography – the caption to one photo therein is “Building a set with not an idea in my head”.

  • “Much like you write the scene THEN LATER FILM IT. Ooooh…”

    you are omitting an essential element there. it is written, then performed and filmed. “Ooooh” indeed.