• Everfree NW Panel Writeup: From Writing to Storyboard

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    (N.B.! Because I forgot to tag the article properly, you may have missed out on yesterday's writeup featuring Amy Keating Rogers' solo panel. Go give it a read if you didn't know it existed!)

    The fandom's been lucky enough to have a super amount of panels featuring staff from lots of different parts of the show, and there's been some cross-department panel programming in the past such as this one between the writers and the VAs. Everfree Northwest 2013 was fortunate enough to splice together a writer and a storyboarder for the first time in brony convention history. Sabrina "Sibsy" Alberghetti and Amy Keating Rogers came together on Friday to discuss their roles in shaping episodes of MLP, so let's hit the break and see what we've learned so far.

    What is the process of writing a script?

    See the previous panel. Or read it here: all of the writers get together for a story summit every season and spitball ideas. Lauren and Rob took care of sending those ideas to The Powers That Be during the first two seasons, while Meghan has the writers send their ideas up themselves. The ones that come back approved are distributed to those writers according to their abilities. A three-person meeting ensues with either index cards or whiteboards--three people to avert the risk of getting stuck in two-person groups--and the opening teaser plus the three acts of the story get fleshed out with beats and jokes.

    The writer then goes home and writes up an outline to send up to the story editor. The story editor makes notes, a revised outline gets sent to the network, that comes back with more notes, and then that revision gets sent up. If it comes back, writers move onto scripting the episode -- the fun part. "Now you get to make the characters talk," Amy said.

    Teasers form three pages of a script, and each act is 10-11 pages. The total script runs about 30-33 pages per episode. You don't want 35. This script follows the same submit-and-revise dance the outline went through above, and then it's off to the VAs!

    What's the process of storyboarding an episode?

    The storyboarders receive the VA recordings and the script in tandem, and a quantity of groaning ensues correlating positively with the length of the script. With only 22 minutes to fit the story in, the back halves of most episodes tend to get really heavy! Beginnings just set up what's going on. Sibsy noted she seemed to get stuck with the back halves of episodes most of the time.

    Storyboarding is a hard job to describe in one word. In essence, storyboards are a visual representation of a script. Everything you see on the screen comes from the storyboards, and this is the stage where the characters come to life.

    See the wiki to learn what Sibsy boarded in Season 1. "Dragonshy" was the first episode Sibsy boarded for MLP. She recalled it was action heavy, especially during the avalanche scene. Her boards were actually a bigger version of the events that made it into the final show. It's about pushing to make the coolest shots in the limited amount of time you have available to do so -- the standard period seems to be about six weeks.

    When there's an element in an episode that a writer wants conveyed visually, do the writers convey this to the boarders?

    For "Bridle Gossip", Amy asked the boarders to pay attention to the detail that everypony was standing in the poison joke, but it was up to the boarders to design the poison joke itself; she didn't tell them to make it blue, for instance.

    For "The Last Roundup", however (boarded by Sibsy), Amy wrote a lot of stuff for the cherry-sorting scene. Even though this scene was based off of a gag from I Love Lucy, Sibsy didn't watch the original clip in order to generate her own vision of how to show Applejack accelerating the machine's pace, etc. and advance the joke. Amy is such an ILL fan that she didn't need to watch the show to know how the scene went, but she took advantage of the different characters and setting to make the scene unique.

    There needed to be two different groups outside of Applejack in that scene: those who're "bothering" and "harassing" Applejack to get answers from her, and those who're sorting the cherries. Twilight was obviously for grilling Applejack with questions, while Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy would react differently to the advancing cherries. Details like Pinkie stuffing her face occasionally show up in the script, but the boarders often have a lot of room to interpret these scenes for maximum effect.

    Have the storyboarders surprised the writers with additions or changes to the script in the final episode?

    Amy had no idea about the felt scene in "A Friend in Deed" until she watched the episode. She didn't write Pinkie breaking the fourth wall there, either. Pinkie's just become the kind of character who can do that.

    What was the most challenging piece of script Sibsy had to board?

    A scene in Season 4. Can't mention it yet!

    That aside, "The Last Roundup" presented Sibsy with a lot of difficult action scenes at the end of the episode when she's more comfortable with character emotion. She laid out a lot of thumbnails, knowing that sometimes her first idea could be the best when there's no time to overthink.

    Did the boarders have any kind of interaction with the writers and other departments of the show before the convention scene?

    Not so much. Boarders receive scripts in the mail and get down to work.

    Do boarders change things in the script?

    Minor changes happen all the time, ostensibly regarding tweaks in mise-en-scene and other layout issues. Sibsy spends three weeks producing really "tight" and clean thumbnails she doesn't have to revisit later -- the last three weeks she spends tidying up her thumbnails and making them bigger.

    Favorite characters to write or draw?

    Amy loves Pinkie Pie. She's funny, she's silly, and she sings. Amy loves writing music any time she can, and she wishes she had more talent for it. Pinkie just loves bursting into song, and she's a joy to write.

    Sibsy likes Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Pinkie's the only character the boarders can do whatever with. Most of the time, Sibsy didn't get to board Pinkie episodes -- and then she got "Too Many Pinkie Pies". Pinkie started out weird and went full on crazy.

    For Rainbow Dash, when Lauren was discouraging human gestures it was a lot easier to use body language with Rainbow Dash by sticking her in the air, as Sibsy did every time she got to board her. It's harder to emote with the body with all four hooves on the floor.

    Audience Q&A time!

    • Were you nervous starting on pony?
      • Amy was a little nervous. It was a new show, you hope it's going to be good. It didn't help that Lauren hired Amy as one of her first writers, so there was some pressure there. She was there for the first story meeting, and helped expand "The Ticket Master" from its original 11-minute form when the show went for full 22-minute episodes.
      • Sibsy was also nervous about the show. "You automatically go back to the ooold My Little Pony." Then she saw Lauren's show bible and she was absolutely on board.
    • How do the boarders match the storyboards with musical sequences?
      • Sibsy listens to the song a thousand times.  Then she puts down as many key visuals as she can come up with and pieces them together. Some Flash-proficient boarders can scrub through the song and make thumbnails in that program. Sibsy plays the song and scrolls through each panel with the arrow buttons in time with the music, which she admits is harder. Animatics is the main department concerned with finalizing the timing.
    • What's the best work you've done that got scrapped?
      • Amy: The original opening teaser in "The Last Roundup", where Derpy would have received a bit more characterization and Rainbow Dash's frustration would have context less liable to misinterpretation. Derpy wasn't supposed to hear what Rainbow was saying as she went around bucking bolts and making noise.
    • How has the fandom influenced the process of episode making?
      • The staff try not to let that affect their process. They're aware of us, but they won the bronies over by doing their own thing, which was writing for little girls. Changing that/pandering in that regard would upset people and the core of the show. A lot of the stuff bronies enjoy is what the staff enjoys, so the staff try to stay the course.
      • If Sibsy can sneak DJ P0N-3 into the episode, she will fight to do it.
      • The writers didn't know about background ponies for a while. The staff find it cool that the fandom have taken these characters and run with them.
        • Sibsy wasn't a fan of "Octavia", but she's not sure what she'd call her otherwise
      • Small aside on the legal tangles of reading fanfiction.
        • [Ed. This doesn't stop the staff from looking at art or comics, or listening to music :P]
    • Funniest gag you've ever written/drawn?
      • Sibsy: "Betcha can't make a face crazier than this!" It was the stupidest thing ever, and she wanted to do this for a very long time. She saw the script for "Too Many Pinkie Pies" and knew she would fight to the death for that cameo.
      • Amy: Fluttershy exploding and losing her marbles in "The Best Night Ever", as well as Rarity smashing her glass slipper. "No! *smash!*" Sibsy considers whoever drew Flutterage to be incredibly lucky, since she always has to draw Fluttershy as meek and shy....
    • Where did Amy get her inspiration for Sapphire Shores?
      • Sapphire Shores was Oprah Winfrey and RuPaul.
    • Does writing/boarding an episode take away from the episode when you watch it?
      • Amy loves watching the episodes, since she writes it and sends it away, never to know what happens until the episode airs. She loves seeing what's added upon, and she watches ALL the episodes.
      • Working on an episode kills it for Sibsy. She's too close to the final product and she's constantly nitpicking what's on the final cut. She likes watching what her peers do, however, just to see how they introduce nuances and evolve the characters. She said it was important to watch all the episodes, though, to keep up with what everyone's doing.
    • Did Sibsy board "Magical Mystery Cure"?
      • She didn't, but she helped cleaned up some of the songs. There was also the one scene where that mare shakes her hoof at a stallion who bumped into her. Seemed like a Sibsy thing to do.
    • How do writers handle two-parters?
      • Teaser --> Act I --> Act II --> Act III || Recap --> Act I --> Act II --> Conclusion
    • How did storyboarding for Equestria Girls change from boarding for the show?
      • They were given more time to board Equestria Girls. Five boarders worked on the movie due to the amount of scenes in it, and they were given a week to get used to drawing humans again. Drawing hands was a nice change of pace after three years of ponies.
    Gotta stop putting these panels off until the wee hours of the morning to put together. In other news, if there are kinds of panels you guys would like us to cover in the future, or if there were things I missed or outright got wrong, let us know in the comments! We wanna bring you writeups you're actually interested in reading, after all!