DJ: I suppose that because a line can change its meaning depending on how it is delivered, you have to make sure the artist understands your intention.
BK: Yes, but you have to be flexible as well. Sometimes you’ve written a line, recited it aloud – on your own, of course -and you know how it ought to be spoken. And yet at the recording session, an artist can take that same line, change it subtly or dramatically, and it sounds much better. Not always, And then the director will say, “Can we try that line again?”
DJ: How much of the story would be determined by the person who is commissioning you to write it?
BK: That varies from series to series. In the case of Bananaman, the series was backed by DC Thomson, the publishers. They owned the character – Bananaman -who appears in their comics. And while they didn’t tell us you must write this story or that, their people did contribute storylines and ideas. And that’s very useful. When you’re involved in a 13 or 26 episode series, getting enough good ideas can be very difficult. You know, in the old Hollywood days, there were whole story departments writing animated cartoons.
In The Telebugs series – where many writers were employed – John Mills, the producer, and Elphin Lloyd Jones, the director, provided very complete storylines. This ensured the series had a consistent feel to it even though many people were involved.
When I worked on The Pondles, Terry Ward often provided a starting point from which I could write a story.
For example, in the mythical world of the little Pondles, he suggested there was a berry called the pondleberry that could be turned into tarts, or juice, or cakes, or whatever. Eventually, that germ of an idea was turned into a story of three jackdaws who were stealing the pondleberries. And the story centred on the efforts of the Pondles to put a stop to this.
DJ: So your story starts with a problem?
BK: I think that is one useful approach. To put it quite simply: problem encountered, problem solved. That is one way of introducing an element of tension into the story. Without it, a cartoon can become very bland. You don’t necessarily have to have conflict, but you want some kind of edge -something that has to be resolved. Hopefully, in a happy kind of way.
Incidentally, here and in America, there is considerable pressure to reduce the incidence of violence, guns, bombs, etc. These used to be very staple elements in traditional animation so we’re all having to look for new gags that don’t rely on those elements. There is also pressure to avoid sexism and often to include little moral messages on the environment, conservation, etc. I’m not judging the merit of these views, merely including them because they’re important when you think about overseas markets.
DJ: How do you decide the way a particular character will react in a given situation?
BK: When you go into a new series, I can think of two ways of doing this.
Some people make a character list and describe each character in really great detail – their general disposition, their intelligence, even their leadership qualities.
Most of the people I’ve worked with, prefer to have a less specific idea; something as simple as: the hero is good and is strong. He is bright, but no genius. His best friend is a genius who can solve anything. Another friend is not so bright; he’s more happy-go-lucky. And there you have a basis for three characters inter-acting.
Then there are villains – with their strengths and weaknesses.
Anyway, I think that is enough to get started with because in a series, you continue to develop the characters as they react to the first few situations they find in the stories and then grow from there and sometimes they almost take on a life of their own.
When we did Bananaman, a crow was introduced in the second episode – for some reason I can’t remember – and he worked so well he became Bananaman’s crony and
wise-cracked his way through the whole series.
DJ: Do you think mainly in terms of dialogue or in terms of visual action?
BK: I start with the story. I was reading a book by an American scientist, Stephen J Pool, who stopped in the middle of one chapter to say, “Everything I say sounds as if I’ve planned it carefully. But life is not like that. Things happen, you build around them and then afterwards you impose a structure.”
One way a story starts is with an idea for an event, or a series of events, and I will try to build on it and try to resolve the situation. Another way stories happen is somebody thinks of a joke that will feature somewhere in an episode and you build around it – working from the middle to the beginning and the end.
DJ: Do you have any suggestions for grabbing the audience’s attention?
BK: I’m not sure about that. I suppose something startling or unexpected. I haven’t really thought about formula – if there is one – for grabbing attention. I have thought about holding attention – about engaging the viewer’s interest. And in addition to a good story, I think the hero or heroine should be someone you the audience sympathise with, feel you can identify with.