Writering / February 20, 2018 Smart Person Interview: Diana Moore

Welcome back to the wonderful world of smart people. Using advanced interrogation techniques (email) I’m trying to get at the essence of how wise folk think, so that less-wise folk like myself can pass through civilized society undetected.

Today we have Diana Moore, a writer, story editor and developer-of-shows. I worked with Diana on Ollie! the Boy Who Became What He Ate, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg… lettuce! Get it? Iceberg lettuce?

Never mind.

What is the actual role of a Story Editor, as far as you’re concerned?

In my experience they’re usually the “head writer” or writer who knows the most about the show. They make sure that the episodes follow the model, and unify a lot of different writing styles into one clear “voice”, which is unique to the series. Sometimes that means re-writing scripts or giving notes, doing punch-ups, or spending hours on the phone to hash out a story with a writer. That’s all part of it for sure, but I think there are also some intangible pieces to being a GOOD story editor too.

As a writer, I work best when I feel like my Story Editor is on my team, pulling for me, and shielding me from all the backroom, ugly, sometimes discouraging notes and politics. It happens every now and then that you’re writing under a story editor you can’t seem to please, who gives a lot of notes but doesn’t give solutions, who shows little faith in your abilities, and, the worst – sends along bad/mean broadcaster/producer notes unedited. That always seemed counter-productive to me, because most writers won’t write their best material when they feel discouraged or under attack. I think it’s an SE’s duty to be their writers’ fans, to lift them up and encourage them and I guess to protect them a bit too. No story editor is perfect, and most are under a huge amount of pressure coming at them from all angles, but to me, a good story editor tries to keep it fun and breezy. Life’s too short. Don’t be a dick, as Wil Wheaton always says.

You just finished SE-ing “Ollie the Boy Who Became What He Ate” for CBC. What are some quirks of that show, as compared to others you’ve worked on?

The main quirk is in the title of the show. It’s about food. Not just food but healthy food – imploring preschoolers to eat their fruits and veggies. Which, automatically, makes you kind of not want to watch it, especially if you’re a kid. Our task became to make a show about healthy eating NOT feel like a show about healthy eating. So we made it into an adventure/superhero show which is hella more palatable for the viewer and for the writers. And within that we had a lot of creative freedom in the stories we could tell. Ollie learned to speak whale by eating avocado, broke a dry toast desert with a spoon, jumped out of a helicopter into sweet potato mountains, ended up inside a mushroom video game, stopped a lemon (nuclear) power plant from melting down and launched a beet spaceship by throwing it into the sky. It was a dream to develop and write for.

You also do development work; how does that differ from being a story editor? Is there any overlap?

I was doing development work long before I ever got a crack at story editing. That’s probably a good thing, because it really trained me to not fear notes. Development is the shiftiest of shifting sands – everything is in constant motion, nothing is for sure, and the show is changing by the second. It’s like that improv game where you’re pointing a gun at someone and they tell you it’s a banana, and you have to continue the scene with a banana, where you once had a gun. I think if you can handle the constant uncertainty of development, story editing is a breeze. Because after you get dealt a lot of bananas, you just get used to it – assume everything will get changed during the course of a development phase, or from premise, to outline to polish, and you’re never disappointed. Bonus points if you can even delight in the changes – because if you enjoy the transformations, instead of dreading them, you’re really going to have a much better time with it. There’s probably a life lesson in there too.

What makes a good episode pitch?

Simple. Funny. On brand. It’s really easy to overwrite a pitch – too many details, too much complication, a pitch should just tell you what the story is, hint at where the funny will come from and pay off at the end. And it has to feel like the show you’re pitching for. Ideally you can answer the question why could this story ONLY be told in this world/universe.

Brutal truth time: what food would you STILL never eat, even if it gave you super powers like in Ollie?

Papaya. It smells like feet.

What’s one writing tip you wish every screenwriter knew?

I’m pretty sure most screenwriters (and writers in general) already know and practice this… but if you’re just starting out you might not know yet that it’s okay if your first pass is garbage. I always do a vomit pass of my first drafts. The dialogue is BAD. The slug lines are half-assed. There’s very little to be proud of in it, it’s really just a slightly fleshed out outline. But it’s done. I’ve hit the page count or close. I’ve gotten to the end of the script. The beats are all there. The story is told. THEN I go back and try to make things sing.

Story summits: yay or nay?

YAY! Love em. I love being in them. I love running them. I wish we did more of them in preschool. They get us freelance writers out of the house, force us to shower, interact with people, riff off other ideas… all good things.

If writers want to make your Story Editing life easier, what should they do?

Be flexible. Take the notes. Do your best with them. Sometimes we writers feel the need to defend our choices, or fight the note and, granted, sometimes the note isn’t a great note… but it doesn’t really matter, because if the producer or broadcaster wants something and the writer doesn’t deliver… the story editor will have to rewrite until the prodco gets what they want. So one way or another, it’s getting changed. It’s better to just take the note, and make the change in a way that you don’t totally hate.

If Nummy suddenly had the ability to speak English, and you could cast any actor, living or dead, for the role… who would it be? And what would be their first line?

I’m going to take a pass on this one because Nummy should never speak English. Rather, we should all learn HER language of Nummlish, which is so much more entertaining – because it’s a language that sounds like farts.

 

If you read between the lines, what Diana’s really saying is: “Jeff Goldblum on helium” which I can totally get behind, especially if he’s speaking in farts. I personally write all my scripts in a fart-esque language, so I’m ahead of this curve.

Thanks again to Diana for putting up with me, both here and in general. I feel decidedly smarter already, having read this, and I hope you do, too.

 

ABOUT DIANA MOORE

Diana has been writing and developing preschool and kids’ programming for over 10 years. Prior to writing and story editing shows like Ollie! The Boy Who Became What He Ate (CBC), Doozers (TVOKids/Hulu), Playdate (Family Jr.) and Kate and Mim-Mim (CBeebies), Diana was a key player in the development of the award-winning preschool series Stella and Sam (Family Jr/Sprout). She is currently writing on more amazing shows with more incredible people, including the upcoming school-age science series Blynk and Aazoo for TVO Kids, which she also developed for television.

State of the Union / February 19, 2018 All the progress. All of it.

Last week, Utopian Hit Squad was done, but it was a vomit pass. Normally, I’d take a break before starting a revision, because distance helps with perspective… but this time I had too many ideas.

So, for the record, Doc is gone. It’s too bad, because I really loved his personality, but he was always in the background, never connected to the moment… so poof he goes. As a consequence, the Sam you’ll (probably) see is more human than before. Doc’s absence pushed Meka more into clown territory, and that overlapped with Sam too much, so I gave her darkness. And a niece. Woo!

Anyway, all of which is to say: UHS is at a solid D1 now, and ready for alpha readers. Which means I should probably finish my alpha reader system. Bah.

In other news, Jacked is also fully upgraded with the new series twist fully integrated. I can’t say more than that, but it feels SO much stronger now.

Confession time: I always watch TV shows thinking: I don’t see how they’re writing 55-ish pages for this drama… it feels like AT LEAST twice that many to get all these moments packed in there. It’s possibly my tendency to write rambling dialogue, but I just feel like my stories are always so much simpler. But with this latest Jacked, I got there. It’s dense and fast AND rambling. I feel like I finally growed up. Vaguely.

This week I’m powering through my Jacked package, my Izzy package, and dear god I am going to get Red, Like out the door. Somehow.

Anyway, if you’re keen to alpha read a movie script, drop me a line. Otherwise, stay tuned for more fun and excitement!

State of the Union / February 12, 2018 Mark your calendars

UHS D1 is done.

Now, granted, the D1 is typically my “vomit pass” (wherein I vomit stuff into a file and hope it makes sense later — also see “livewriting”) but this script, in particular, was a real challenge for me. I’ve been fiddling with it, in my brain, for years… and now that the last line is down (and it’s a doozy) I’m kinda… sad.

Next up: going back and fixing all the crap that doesn’t work or make sense. I have SO much red text in this file, to help me find “things I should have seeded earlier on so they don’t come out of nowhere.” And I changed at least one relationship dynamic midway, which’ll have to be resolved.

Oh, and if, when you finally see/read this script, Doc is still a thing… well, let’s just say that at THIS stage, I’m not sure he will be. Which kills me, but there it is.

I got nothing else done last week, so Red, Like is postponed another few days while I run over UHS with a bulldozer.

Next week is for Izzy and Jacked (packages and scripts). Gotta keep moving.

Whee!

State of the Union / February 5, 2018 Oh hey, a trap door!

Last week was all kinds of fun, except in the productivity department. Let’s just say buying a house is infinitely more time-sucking than it seems at the outset… and it seems pretty time-sucking already.

This week is a giant U-turn of fun:

Utopian Hit Squad has suddenly jumped to the top of the queue for reasons I cannot explain just yet. I will be hunting for beta readers soon. Stay tuned on Facebook.

Red, Like is just about ready to release its second part this week. Just have to tweak a few things so I don’t kill my server. (I spent 4x as much on hosting this last month as I normally do… evidently Jiro’s interviews are popular!)

And that’s it for this week, partly because writing a feature script is a big endeavour, and partly because I don’t want to over-commit when there’s so much packing to be done 🤪

With a little luck, I’ll be ready to resume my prior activities by mid-month, and actually release something for a chance.

Wish me luck!

Writering / February 1, 2018 Smart Person Interview: Jiro Okada (Part 2)

When last we spoke, the industrious young story editor, Jiro Okada, was explaining to me how he would totally greenlight my True and the Rainbow Kingdom / Stranger Things mashup series.

In the meantime, please consider the second half of our interview…

 

What’s one writing tip you wish every screenwriter knew?

Don’t be afraid to present pitches at a very rough stage. Remember that writing is a process. My personal preference as a Story Editor is to work with writers from the very early stages of an idea. Don’t kill yourself trying to figuring everything out in one shot. Keep things loose and malleable. If you have a strong enough backbone for a story, we can flesh out the smaller details after we’ve worked out the bigger questions. This is especially important if you’re pitching on an established show beyond the first season. Those shows have already gone through LOTS of pitches, which means it’ll be even harder to craft fresh stories.

Story summits: yay or nay?

Hell to the YAY! If I had it my way, I’d do a weekend getaway to a nice cottage where we could relax and sit around an open fire, hold hands and sing kumba– ok, I’ll draw the line there. But seriously, the best thing about summits or ‘writers rooms’ is getting to know everyone’s personalities and for writers to feel comfortable enough to come out of their shell. (because we are such a fragile breed) I’ve been fortunate enough to be in summits where we get so comfortable that by day two, we’re sharing very personal stories and relating them to our characters. If your broadcasters or exec producers are also there, you’ll get to hear (and see!) first-hand what excites them, and what doesn’t. It’s SO hard to discern that from short-hand notes that were typed on a smartphone during a cab ride or, God forbid, in the middle of a red-eye flight. Let’s face it– that’s the reality for very busy execs!

If writers want to make your Story Editing life easier, what should they do?

I really enjoy working with writers who focus on collaboration. A writer’s job is to craft stories, not just to deliver a script that happens to be so-and-so pages long by a certain due date. So let’s have conversations about the notes and bat around ideas together. After sending notes, I don’t expect a response that simply says, “Got it, thx. Will deliver on time. BYEE!” In fact, that would actually make me anxious. It leaves me thinking, “How are you going to address that staging issue the director flagged? Or the broadcaster’s comment about the gag on line 133 not being funny enough?” I don’t expect to discuss every single note, but there are bound to be some big ones and I want to hear your thought process. Chances are, there are things about the show that you wouldn’t know about, just because as a freelance writer you wouldn’t have been part of the hundreds of conversations that happen between all of the other players.

Yes, story editors are usually swamped/stressed/sleep deprived (usually all of the above) but I’d rather respond to questions along the way or hop on the phone or (gasp!) meet in person to hash out problems.

True and Zee engage in a tickle fight; first one to laugh, wins. Who would come out on top?

Zee doesn’t do fights. He only engages in regulated introspective respiration followed by a non-confrontational exchange of mindful discourse. (Can I trademark that?)

 

A big thank you to Jiro for putting up with my silliness. Next time I’m in Toronto, I will buy you ramen.

 

ABOUT JIRO OKADA

Jiro has forged a diversified career path during his eight-year tenure with award winning Guru Animation Studio in Toronto. He was an integral part of Guru’s production and creative teams as he juggled responsibilities as Executive Story Editor, Producer and Writer on various productions including JUSTIN TIME (Netflix, Family Jr.), PAW PATROL (Nick Jr., TVO), DINOPAWS (Treehouse, Cbeebies, CBBC) and TRUE AND THE RAINBOW KINGDOM (Netflix).

Jiro’s work on JUSTIN TIME GO! (Netflix, Family Jr.) as Head Writer/Story Editor garnered a 2017 Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Preschool Animated Program.

Prior to Guru, Jiro worked at Ocean Productions Inc. in Vancouver, his hometown, where he produced the English adaptation of popular Japanese anime titles including DEATH NOTE (Viz Media), GHOST IN THE SHELL (Bandai Entertainment), BLACK LAGOON (Geneon Entertainment), KUROZUKA (Sony Pictures Entertainment) and GALAXY EXPRESS 999 (Toei Animation).