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The following needs saying, so I'm taking time out from my very packed weekend - not to procrastinate, which would not be unusual - but to write up something that I think is important.
But first, some backstory...
I'm not particularly smart about very many things. I am in many ways a bear of very little brain. Ask anyone. I use an iPhone 4.0 because I literally believe that I don't have the brain space to deal with upgrading. I'm a slow reader. My dyslexia makes math difficult as I am constantly transposing numbers. I'm afraid of change. Etc., etc., etc.
But one thing - maybe the ONLY thing - I am smart about is STORY. Now, I've studied story for decades and decades in small ways and large. I also believe I have an innate gift for story. Like a great pianist, the gift itself would have been wasted without years of study and practice. I've had and done both.
What that means is that - when it comes to story - I have often (not always, but quite often) considered myself - with no modesty and tremendous arrogance - to be the smartest person in the room. In any room where this is a topic of conversation, but especially in any room where story was being professionally discussed. (You can see why - with an attitude like that - I'm so popular with animation executives and the like, and why I've been fired from so many jobs.)
Even on the many, many occasions when I have felt that I am among peers who understand story as well as I do, I never felt like they understood it better than I. As good, yes. Differently, sure. Stylistically, of course. But not better. I never felt anyone knew story better.
Oh, I've made mistakes, missed opportunities, slipped up, ad nauseam. I'm human and have never claimed perfection. I've collaborated with some brilliant and wonderful people. The list is nearly endless. But none of that ever shook my basic feeling that when it came to story, I was as smart or smarter than anyone in the room.
All that changed with YOUNG JUSTICE.
So let me state it for the record: when it comes to story, BRANDON VIETTI is the Smartest Human Being in the Room.
I'd love to tell you - BELIEVE ME, I'd love to tell you - that he learned all this at my ancient knee, and that if the student has surpassed the master, the master can at least take some satisfaction in that. But that, dear readers, would simply be a load of crap.
From Day One of YJ, as witness Kevin Hopps could attest, Brandon Vietti knew story, understood it deep, the way I do. And he was smarter about it than I.
The ultimate example of this dropped this past Friday.
Episode 307 of Young Justice: Outsiders, entitled "Evolution."
SPOILERS coming, so if you haven't seen the episode then please go watch it first before reading any further.
Like all YJ episodes this season, Brandon and I broke this story together. A pretty even 50-50 collaboration. There were certain things I wanted specifically to see, like the Cave Bear. Certain things I had researched such as that in (actual documented non-DC Comics) mythology, Nabu was the son of Marduk. And there were certain things that BV wanted in there, like the meta-human kid that Kalibak sacrifices. Certain things he had researched like The Art of War by Sun Tzu (a.k.a. Vandal Savage, a.k.a. Genghis Khan, a.k.a. Marduk, a.k.a. etc.)
And together, we created a pretty kick-ass story for the episode. I don't actually remember the day of the week, but for the sake of simplifying the story, let's say we finished breaking/building the story with index cards all neatly pushpinned into my office bulletin board on a Monday. Monday evening. We both felt pretty good about it, or at least I did, and we left for the day.
Tuesday morning, he comes in and says, "Something's missing."
I tell him he's crazy. There's nothing missing from 307. Nothing. It's a great damn episode. Maybe one of our best.
BV says no. Something's missing.
I say, "What? What's missing?!"
BV says, "I don't know yet. Something. Give me a day."
I roll my eyes in as pronounced a fashion as I possibly can and say, fine.
Wednesday morning he comes in and says, "I want to add a character."
I'm resistant. "It'll mess up the works, I tell him."
But he explains, and of course, he's right. Because Brandon Vietti is the Smartest Person in the Room.
The character he wants to add is Olympia. Olympia Savage. (I take credit for the first name only.) That's right. In our first version of this story, Olympia simply did not exist.
Try to picture "Evolution" without Olympia. Be honest. It's still a solid story. A few of the actual things Olympia does, we had Cassandra doing. But otherwise the plot remains almost completely unchanged.
But not the ending.
With Olympia in the story, the episode isn't merely a solid YJ episode. It's not merely a great YJ episode. To my mind, "Evolution" transcends YJ. It is a phenomenal, even revolutionary twenty-plus minutes of television.
And I tried to talk the guy out of it.
Of course, BV's contributions don't end there. He wrote the script, too, which is fantastic. And if you knew how much he contributed to every facet of production it would humble you. It humbles me, and as you can see above, I'm NOT a humble guy.
But screw all that. I'm not talking about pretty pictures, or color, or sound, or music or even dialogue.
This post is ONLY about STORY. And when it comes to STORY... BRANDON VIETTI will always be the SMARTEST HUMAN BEING IN THE ROOM.
I bow to his greatness. And trust me, I do not do that lightly.
To be honest, he's so good, it's pretty damn annoying.
But it's an honor to be his partner.
What is the hardest decision you've ever had to make, storytelling-wise?
The next one?
I've heard a lot about the "core truth" concept you and your team use in your approach to characters.
Are some of these core truths secrets, or would you tell us any that we ask?
I don't think they're secrets because we put it all up on screen. But my inclination is to let our interpretation stand on its own, influenced by each viewer's own interpretation, as opposed to explicating everything in writing here. Still, I don't mind talking process. I'm not going to go down a laundry list of characters, but if someone were interested in one specific character as an example of the process, I might - depending on my mood and clarity - answer this kind of question once or twice.
From what I understand, a lot of people tend to forget that what makes a character strong (metaphorically-speaking) is how he or she deals with his or her problems. Most seem to think that "strong" in the metaphorical sense means that they are tough and flawless, when in reality it is the exact opposite.
What do you think? Am I off course or am I on the right path?
I definitely think you're correct.
Hey Greg, theres something I would like to ask your opinion about.
You see comics have been notorious for being hard on average people to get into. You should know that your cartoons have been much more influential than whatever it's publised on printed form.
For millions of people when they think Young Justice they think of earth 16 and when they think of spiderman they think of spectacular.
Say Teen Titans Tv show' has Starfire as a cute alien and naive girl wich is among the best female characters ever in my opinion. While on comics she is a dumb bimbo with hardly more personalitybthan a brick
Comics on the other hand are harder to get into and well you might jot agree but the quality is much better in cartoons such as yours. I would rather watch young justice that get into the continuity mess that comics are.
It would seem that every continiuity reboot that tries to make things simpler just makes things worse.
In your experience what would you do to make comics as approachable as tv shows are?
Well, I'm going to start - without going point by point - by NOT agreeing with everything you've stated above. Some comics have issues. Some are both accessible and very well-done. In general, I'm really liking DC's REBIRTH, for example. I'm reading all of it - trying to keep up. I don't love every series, let alone every issue, but generally, I think they're doing a pretty darn good job. I'd particularly recommend Wonder Woman.
And I think there are plenty of crap television series, as well.
It's all about execution. Plenty of good comics series. Plenty of good television series. Plenty of lousy examples of both. But I'm glad you like YJ and Spectacular.
Is there some sort of prejudice against animation writers by live-action producers? For example, would the producers of the Flash hire one of the Young Justice writers to write an episode? Or, would their experience working in animation not be taken seriously, or might it even be considered a strike against them?
If this prejudice against animation writers does exist, I have to say I don't understand it. I mean... do you really have to be a genius to write an episode of the Flash, or Blue Bloods, or the Big Bang Theory? I can understand shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Game of Thrones being fussy about who they hire to write, but the simple reality is that most TV is not on that level.
I don't think there are any consistent rules, and there are plenty of writers who've done animation and went on to work in live action. But, generally, yes, I think there's a prejudice against animation writers. I've certainly felt that way, anyhow, though I admit I'm biased. I tried really hard just to get my foot in the door at Arrow when it was first starting up. Couldn't even get an interview.
Hi! I'd like to ask you a question from a writing standpoint if you don't mind. When juggling a lot of plotlines, how important is it to develop relationships on-screen? On the one hand, obviously the main couples should be. But for the minor ones/background characters, I'm not sure if it's better to leave their relationship status static (which would be unrealistic for most) until I can properly develop something for them, or sometimes put them in side relationships based on chemistry even without much prior development. This would be provided that these relationships could be used to further individual storylines, just not important enough to warrant too much attention from the main plot. It's okay if you don't have an answer, but I'm curious if you do.
Every character should have his or her own life, even if you don't always have the screen time for it.
Will you ever consider teaching a writing class? If so, teach it on MasterClass! (https://www.masterclass.com) I would love to be a writer half as good as you! You could make Family Guy good!
Ignoring the non-sequitor attack on Family Guy...
I have taught classes in Writing for Television Animation in the past. I don't think I have the time now. And the internet largely scares me.
I found a tumblr post that talks about great characters with the link below.
I also remembered you answered a question like that.
"I believe they exist as fully as possible. I create backstories for them, whether or not those backstories will be revealed on screen or on the page. I make them real to me."
So for the actual questions:
1. What do you think about the tumblr post? I think "compelling" and "fascinating" seem too subjective.
2. What exactly do you mean by "exist as fully as possible"? I'm guessing you want to give as much of an image of a character as you can, but I'm also sure that's the main task of any story.
3. You also said that you want to make the characters seem real to yourself, but how do you make them real to the viewer?
4. This one might be redundant, so it probably doesn't need to be answered. But just in case, how do you make characters and stories that the audience can enjoy?
5. I also know you've said that you write your passion, but how do you know it will appeal to others? It all sounds like being hopeful.
1. Perhaps. But so is "relatable" and "sympathetic". They're directions to head not a detailed map.
2. It's not the main task to make of any story to make EVERY character in the story fully realized. My feeling is - within reasonable parameters - that it SERVES the story to have fully realized characters, who have their own backstories and motives that are specific to them.
3. I cross my fingers that if it works for me, it'll work for a substantial portion of my audience.
4. I write what I like, and cross the above-mentioned fingers. The alternative is pointless. If I can't get passionate about my story, how can I possibly expect anyone else to?
5. That's all it is. Honestly. See above.
You recently responded to another poster who sent you his review of YJ season 1. Your response made me question what the point of doing something like that might be. I mean... I understand the poster probably wants to feel that his opinion matters, but what kind of response could he or she possibly expect from you? Did he think you were going to agree with him? Was there ever a chance that you were going to say, "You have made some excellent points, and I will take them into account as I am writing season 3"?
So, my question is: does audience feedback or reviews ever effect how you YJ in even a general way?
Nope. Doesn't mean they don't have the right to express them. But Brandon and I have to follow our passions and instincts. Have to. We can't let either praise or criticism effect our plans. For starters, for every person who likes something, there's bound to be someone who hates it and vice versa. All we can do is write the show we want to see - and pray that enough people like our work to make it successful.