Sunday, January 22, 2006

Yahzaa!

So goes the cry from the fearless cartoon daredevils The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers whenever they accomplish one of their outlandish stunts. They’re currently showing off on Saturday mornings on CiTV as part of their 78, that’s right, 78 x 7” series.

That’s a lot of episodes. They need a lot of ideas. And this week, I got a commission to write one episode (that may lead to more). So, excuse me for a second while I adopt their “Rendoosian” language to celebrate: Yahzaa, Hoofi konko! (roughly translated: “All right! Here we go!”).

“The Adrenalinis originated in a live sketch show created by writer-performers Dan Chambers, Mark Huckerby & Nick Ostler back in the late 90s. In 2002 it was developed, with David Hodgson and Claire Underwood at Pesky in London, into a series of ten animated shorts.

Broadcast first on CBBC (and recently repeated pre-Sponge Bob on CiTV) and around the world, the Adrenalinis soon achieved cult status and won awards and nominations at the Annecy International Animation Festival, Anima Mundi and the British Animation Awards.”

The opportunity for me to pitch to the series came about like this:

In July 2005, I go along to a short film screening in Soho. It’s just one film, ten minutes long. I wasn’t going to go - the commute into London, busy with work, not knowing anyone ‘cept for the director - but the director is a bit nervous and sounds like he needs the support so I turn up to watch.

Screening over, I go to the bar, telling myself that I should stick around for one drink and tell the director ‘good job’. I notice another bloke by himself (who I saw at the screening) and think, sod it, I’ll chat to him - what’s the worst that can happen? (I’m not a shy guy but I’m no extrovert either, I can happily stay anonymous throughout an evening).

Anyway, this guy is a screenwriter, name of Nick Ostler. We immediately seem to hit it off and we share the same passion and approach to screenwriting. I spend the remaining evening with him, getting drunk on the free bar, but I slip away when he gets courted by the director for introductions around the room (he’s got a deal going with Working Title, I only read for them).

The next day, Nick sends me an email. We hadn’t exchanged emails or telephone numbers the previous night but he tells me that he got my email from the director, wanted to say it was nice meeting me and sorry he was taken away towards the end of the evening. So I think - classy guy, nice touch - and save his email as a new ‘contact’.

A few weeks later, around the beginning of August, I get a bit bored and frustrated with my day’s work so I seek procrastination in the form of email. I email Nick to say ‘hi! I’m going mad today, how are you?’ and he replies saying: ‘I’m really busy. We’ve just had an animation series commissioned by CiTV; know any good animation writers?’

So I’m like: “Hello!” Newfound chummery aside, Nick’s not going to hand me work willy nilly (I don’t think I’ve ever written ‘willy nilly’ before) so he asks to read one of my sample animation scripts and to take it from there. He likes the script I send him, and he passes on my details to his producer so that I have the opportunity to pitch some ideas.

Into September now and I haven’t heard from anyone so I get my agent to chase up Nick’s producer (at Pesky). He sends me the Writers’ Bible which is probably the best and most useful bible I’ve read to date. They encourage me to send in a few ‘springboard’ pitches (loglines essentially), and then they’ll pick one they like, ask me to do a one page synopsis, and then decide if they want it to commission it or not.

I pitch a few ideas. They pick out one they all like and ask me to do a one page synopsis. I write a first draft and send it in. They assign a script editor to deal with the scripts and the writers, and he gives me notes on the synopsis. I do a second draft. He gives me more notes and I do a third draft, which he likes.

It’s Christmas now and he sends my synopsis off to Canada (co-producers) for their approval, with a few minor tweaks of his own.

A couple of tweaks and suggestions are made from Canada but basically they love the idea and I’m asked to do a ‘step outline’ (a scene-by-scene breakdown). At this stage, I so want the job. I don’t want to mess things up. I genuinely love the show and the three main characters. I want to be sure that the idea’s great, the story rocks and, most importantly, I nail the tone. Nick’s been kind enough to grant me the opportunity so I don’t want to let him down.

I’ve been here before though for other shows. And I’ve felt the pain and disappointment of being rejected even at this late stage of pitching. The script editor seems confident that it’s a shoo-in for a commission but I keep my excitement in check. I submit the first draft step outline on Monday and the script editor responds on Friday: “It reads very well”; “only minor notes”. And those precious words: “Go to first draft”. Yahzaa, Adrenalini!

The great thing about the show too is that because co-creators Nick and Mark are writers, they know how tedious it can be jumping through commissioning hoops so they’ve tried to come up with a system that benefits everyone, i.e. the writer doesn’t feel left out in the cold, or is waiting for his cheque (which is common). And once you do one script that they like, they want to commission more from you, regardless of whether you’ve come up with ideas or not! A clever incentive methinks.

But for the moment, I’m going to focus my energy on this script, do a great job on that, and then see what happens from there. Recent experience has taught me never to take anything for granted. Ever.

Deadline is Wednesday so off I go.

6 comments:

Paul Campbell said...

That's great news, Danny.

I'd never heard of them before (my kids watch CBeebies or CBBC, on the whole - less pressure from the bloody advertising). But I just checked that website and watched half a dozen episodes - addictive stuff!

Is your script written in Rendoosian?!

Danny Stack said...

More of less! It's forming into its own language. The series bible comes with a handy phrasebook...

Nick Ostler said...

Well blimey. Here I am idly displacement surfing as I wait for the disciplined part of my brain to inform me that lunch break is over and it's time to get back to my script, when I check that interesting blog which I've been looking at on and off for months (and lazily not contributing to) and what do I see? My name! Up in lights! Well, on a website, which is the next best thing.

Great to hear that you're writing an episode for the show Danny. I know what you're thinking - I should probably have known that already! To explain... not long after I met you last summer, Mark and I realised that script editing a new long running animation series AND trying to fulfil our ongoing feature scripts was kind of impossible. Script editing a show like that is a full time job as I'm sure you know. We got lucky and found a great script editor called Andrew Brenner to take over from us, but by then there was a script backlog the size of Adi (Adrenalini in-joke) to contend with. So your original (and very good) springboard ideas got delayed in that handover period. That's my round-about way of saying, sorry it took so damn long to get commissioned, it should have happened sooner.

Now we are, like you, producing ideas for episodes and pitching them to the studio and writing as many as we can alongside our other work (see www.huckerbyandostler.com our VERY BASIC new site created just so that there is something uptodate about us on the web and not just credits for lots of old pilots we'd forgotten about!). We also get together with our co-creator Dan every other week and record the voiceovers, which is a lot of fun and makes us feel like students again (it's a small room, we sweat a lot).

We did indeed try to come up with a more streamlined commissioning process for the series when it started as we know only too well how self-defeating most show's systems can be - unproductive for the studio and unmotivating for the writer - and I hope you find that it is better than most. Inevitably international co-productions bring a great deal of jumping-through-hoops approvals stages along with their much needed finance, so apologies if things get bogged down by that. The most important thing (this will sound cheesy) is communication - dozens of people in different places and even countries trying to steer one little story from conception to finished episode without screwing it up - it should be impossible really, but with constant buzzing lines of communication and talented people involved (like the good folk at Pesky) it can work.

Hopefully people are enjoying the show and at least see that it is something different from the norm! It's already been picked out for special mention in the Radio Times, Sunday Times, The Observer and, ahem, the Daily Mail.

Good luck and get back to that bloody script NOW!

Regards,
Nick Ostler

James Moran said...

Well done geezer - the show looks hilarious, plenty of madness and things exploding. Now get back to work!

james henry said...

Indeed, jolly well done.

However, next time someone asks you if you know any good animation writers, please suggest me.

I accept I didn't know you at the time, all quite understandable, no offence taken, etc.

iBrotha said...

Congrats, and thanks for telling how it happened.

Jake