Back in the early 1980’s when Carter Crocker first began writing for television, the landscape was much different than it is today. Animation was done quickly, inexpensively and often poorly; shows were spit out of the production machine like sausage links, and writers were mere assembly line cogs. It was difficult to rise above the herd and make a name for oneself, but he managed to do it by tackling some of the highest profile brands and making them accessible to the widest possible audience. TaleSpin, Winnie the Pooh, Darkwing Duck, RoboCop, The Jungle Book and Barney – those are just a handful of Carter’s extensive career credits. He continues his impressive run with one of 2013’s major hit series, the Disney ratings giant Sofia the First.
When you first begin a job with an established property, what are the initial steps you take? Is it important to know what has been created prior to your involvement?
Immediately after making sure the commencement check clears, I look for the reason to care about the show. If I can’t get to a place where I like or at least respect the series… I better not get involved. (Unless, of course, I’m desperate. Which is more often than not.) The best shows seem to have the shortest bibles: when the concept is right, pure & solid, it’s easy to communicate. I once slogged through an 80-page bible, and still didn’t see the point. I watched an episode when the series was done… and still didn’t see the point.
After that – enough scripts to understand tone & character. So, yes, everything builds on what came before. Way of the world. (Then again, some geneticists say the human genome is deteriorating. If that’s the case, I guess I should rethink my position.)
Do you prefer to write for established properties or are you keen to develop your own?
I’ll go with #1… assuming that established property is pure & solid, with good characters. I’ve outlived the yearning to develop a series. I’m happy (okay, desperate) to freelance scripts and spend the rest of my time writing novels (no matter how weak the sales may be). When I had my first conversation with an editor at Philomel Books, she told me: “Here, we edit with a feather.” A feather, not a flamethrower. What a concept. I’m guessing it’s a thornier undertaking to develop a TV series.
Network notes can sometimes be difficult to deal with – how do you face this challenge?
So in theory, having a fresh set of eyes on a script is a good thing. Let me get that out of the way so I feel like a good person. If you’re convinced a note is hurting the project, you argue politely… but in the end, it’s their money. So you kick the dog. Which I don’t do. Our dog died. Of old age.
(If I’m a freelancer, I know there’s a lot I don’t know. And with work from overseas, the notes sometimes address cultural differences… so there’s nothing to argue about there.)
It’s no fun when a project dies a death of a thousand cuts. There’s always the nuclear option: taking your name off the script. I’ve only done that once, but it was very satisfying.
Do you write for yourself more or less, or do you have the audience in mind at all times?
Best case scenario: it’s not an issue, right? But I tend to write for the younger set, and you have to keep them in mind – their vocabulary, comprehension level, and such. Kenneth Grahame (“Wind in the Willows”) said once: “I feel I should never be surprised to meet myself as I was when a little chap of five, suddenly coming around a corner…” That’s the ideal, right? Keep an adult understanding of story and know the way back to the place where you are a child.
Have you come to any conclusions about what kids most want to see in a TV show?
Um, no. Not a clue. But I hope it isn’t that random, free-associating style that’s everywhere these days. That feels like something adults are imposing on the young.
I used to think the ideal cartoon series was one that viewers could see differently at different ages. Where the humor had layers that kept resonating as the audience aged.
Favorite childhood TV shows you wish you could work on now?
Okay, so I am not young. And haven’t been for some time now. I grew up on repackaged-for-TV Warner Brothers shorts. Those are still the Gold Standard, aren’t they? Wisdom in the chaos. “I may be a craven little coward, but I’m a greedy little craven coward.” Otherwise, I have a vague memory of watching a cartoon called “Clutch Cargo” …and still bear psychic scars from it.