• Everfree NW Panel Writeup: Meet the Writer


    Greetings from Everfree Northwest 2013! Since... February happened, there've been a veritable parade of conventions the staff of Equestria Daily wish they could have visited but couldn't. You'd be surprised how many restrictions Hasbro puts on the money flowing into our offices via wheelbarrows and husky dog sled teams. Thankfully, EFNW is my local convention, and having been to it last year and having the time of my life, I was determined to go again this year.

    It's only Calpain and me up here this time around, so I'm going to apologize in advance for all the stuff we're not going to be able to cover. I tend to gravitate toward the panels that give the fandom a glimpse into the making the show. Friday had two such panels with none other than Amy Keating Rogers reppin' the writers on her own, and her first solo panel contained a good mix of stuff we knew before as well as a few surprises!

    As always, hit the break for more!

    The panel opened with a quick recap on how Season 1 MLP episodes were made: Lauren pitched ideas to the network before calling together her writers, Amy among them, to spitball the first half of the season. Lauren and Rob Renzetti would then flesh those ideas out even further and submit them to Hasbro/The Hub once again.

    Once their ideas came back, they would pick writers for three-person conferences to begin writing the episode itself. With Rob's departure after Season 2, Meghan brought another writer into these episode meetings so that they always had three people. Rob used index cards, Meghan has her whiteboard (see our previous writeup on the topic), but the different tools accomplish the same goal: map out the teaser/opening and three acts of the episode, filling in "beats" and events as necessary and paying attention to placing cliffhangers at the ends of acts I and II.

    Long live the Princess.

    The writers were called together again to spitball the second half of Season 1, and Amy reported that these idea-generating meetings continue to occur over the course of the show. These frequent meetings and story-swaps between the writers was especially crucial when the first Season 1 episodes had not aired yet, and the writers needed to write each character consistently. On-air episodes made it easier for the writers to grasp what their colleagues were doing after that.

    How awkward is it to have the network turn down a story idea?

    The answer is not at all -- "episodes get turned down all the time, and you don't take it personally. That's just kind of what happens." There was an interesting bit where Amy composed a song for "The Best Night Ever", only to have the song cut for time. Fast-forward to Season 2, when Amy hears "Oink, Oink, Oink" in "Baby Cakes":

    Gosh, those lyrics are familiar. What are the chances that Charlotte [Fullerton] wrote a song similar to the song that I wrote? And I honestly thought she did. And so I went and looked at my lyrics and went, "Nope, those actually are my lyrics."
    So I wrote to Charlotte, and I said, "Hey, Charlotte? Did you write this? Because this is exactly like my lyrics."
    She's like, "No! I had no idea they put that in there!"
    And so, yeah, it was supposed to be in "The Best Night Ever" -- they put music to it and then it had to get cut -- and Charlotte's, they needed a song and just plopped that in there. I didn't find that out until after I was done watching the episode.
    What did Amy keep in mind when she was writing Bridle Gossip and its message of reserving judgment on strangers?
    Zecora was Lauren's idea from the beginning, and was originally slated to appear in the pilot episode before her scene establishing her mentor role got cut. So then you have this mysterious zebra, living in the middle of a forest nopony ventures into. The denizens of Ponyville are being honest when they're not sure what to make of this zebra walking into their town because she's so different. It was important for Pinkie to bring in her "Evil Enchantress" song to lighten the whole situation, as kids watching the show would have someone to identify with.

    Then you have Apple Bloom, the youngest of the ponies waiting for Zecora to go away, decide she's not going to stand for hiding any longer and tails Zecora into the Everfree Forest. It's a reflection on how people deal with unfamiliar situations and making things up in their heads about them, and I think this episode in particular is as good a warning as any to adults to never underestimate a child's tenacity or convictions.

    They just might pull the tree over your eyes.
    What's it like working on different shows with the same people when their position might change with respect to yours?

    Someone's boss on one show might be their writer on another, and that kind of thing happens in the industry. While she was head writer for Care Bears, Cindy Morrow and Corey Powell were her writers, while Amy wrote an episode for Ben 10: Omniverse under Charlotte. Cindy could just as easily have been head writer for Care Bears. It's not an uncommon thing for writers to ask each other for scripts, since that means working with your friends -- the position itself doesn't matter as much.

    When asked that she was returning to Season 4 after "leaving" at the end of Season 2 -- Amy needed to clarify the terminology. There was no MLP after Season 2. She needed a job, man. She didn't leave the show -- there wasn't any show to go on before Season 3 was confirmed, and Care Bears needed a story editor. The trick to succeeding as a writer in this industry is to be prepared at a moment's notice to take an assignment when it comes up. Amy found herself approaching Craig McCracken the same day he approached her about working on The Powerpuff Girls.

    If she returned to Care Bears, she'd juggle both that and MLP to the best of her ability. No rest for the weary. And when her favorite scenes in Season 4 go live, Amy promised to tweet about them.

    Both the comics and the TV show are treated as canon so how do the writers reconcile the differences between the two?

    Amy hasn't looked at the comics, deferring the answer to Meghan, who had previously reported in February that the two would not, in my own words, get force-welded together.

    As an Applejack fan, this next part touched my soul: It would seem like writing for Applejack would be a challenge because she's so grounded, because she's already attained her goals and doesn't have to worry about planning the next big party or unveiling a new fashion line, etc. Amy disagrees.
    People say that. I think she's fun to write for because you get write her country-isms and all of that. There's such a solid nature to Applejack, and I just like that she's very true. And at the same time, she's very competitive. So in "Fall Weather Friends", in the competition between her and Rainbow Dash, they both want to win. But [Applejack] has a different way she wants to win because she's so honest, whereas Rainbow Dash will fudge things a little bit. So for me, Applejack -- I have a lot of fun with her, and getting to write her stuff. And she has her family around her, which is very different from the other characters. Applejack has a different depth to her which you get to explore.
    Bask. Bask, I say.

    What other shows has Amy taken things from?

    While she was watching episodes of Danny Phantom to write for it, Avatar: The Last Airbender would come on right after it and she got completely hooked. She's very excited that The Legend of Korra is airing and is waiting like the rest of us for Book 2 to come out. Her daughter watches Regular Show. Adventure Time wigs Amy's brain out a little too much. All in all, she tries to be aware of what's out there, but it's more when she has to find out about stuff that she'll sit down and get to watching.

    This next part was pure magic, and y'all are gonna have to take my word for it because I deleted the video from my filming potato on accident. I'll tell you it involved ukeleles, a duet with Amy's daughter, an idea for a reworked MLP theme song... and the tune from Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."

    I'm gonna refrain from posting the lyrics out of deference for what Amy wants to do with them. Maybe she might record it as a full song and bring it to Bronycon? Just know it mentioned all six ponies (but no Spike :c), sounded super good, and was a beautiful segue to the audience Q&A portion of the panel.

    • What was her favorite scene to write? 
      • "Chimicherrychanga." It's Pinkie Pie getting to be as Pinkie as she is, and Amy got to play with words. During the story meeting with Lauren and Rob, they decided Pinkie's talking would be the weapon to get AJ to cave. "Fun! Crap, I gotta write fun." She ginned the words up as she nodded off to sleep. "Pickle barrel kumquat!" Pinkie 
    • A bunch of words to ask why she writes so many non-pony characters.
      • Most of the time, they're given to her like that. Zecora and the Diamond Dogs were Lauren's creations. For others, it's the fun factor. Given a griffon with eclairs, he has to speak with a Fancy accent. And adapting "Julia Child" to Equestria -- the choice was obvious.
    • What episode would you go back and change?
      • The original teaser to "The Last Roundup". It would have showed Rainbow Dash and Derpy bucking lightning bolts out of the clouds and given Derpy more characterization so that her cameo would not have been misinterpreted so badly. [Ed. This one hit a bit close to home for me.]
    • Is there a subject you want to explore that you can't use on the show?
      • Keep tabs on Amy's Twitter if she gets around to answering it.
    • How do real-life events affect your episodes?
      • They do. Nothing specific at the moment, but sure.
    • How do you get your foot in the door as a writer?
      • Amy was a PA for Johnny Bravo before moving onto the Powerpuff Girls. Now that the Internet is a thing, launch your own web series. Do whatever you can to get a job in the industry, though, and get your work out there.
      • She actually started out writing her own plays, being a trained actress.
    • You have your story outline, but you're stuck. How do you move past those points?
      • Listen to what your characters are telling you. You must be able to hear them in your head. Other than that, you gotta force yourself to write. Save revision for later, but ensure you do revise. Writing is re-writing.
    • There was one episode where the CMCs were trying to be publicists--
      • ?????
    Phone call. The room falls silent.

    Amy puts her phone to her ear, apologetically. "Hello? Oh. Hi, Meghan."

    "Hey," says Meghan, on mic-boosted speakerphone. "Yeah, I'm just calling to make sure you don't tell anybody Pinkie Pie's becoming an alicorn..."

    Cue uproar.

    "Um, Meghan, I... um. I'm on my panel right now... I might have told them that... I'm sorry? I wasn't supposed to mention that Pinkie was going to be an alicorn?

    "...Hello? Oh, I lost her."

    Don't worry, Amy. Your secrets are safe with us, cross our hearts and hope to fly.

    On with more questions!
    • So... did you write "Ponyville Confidential"?
      • She didn't. [Ed.: That would be M. A. Larson. A quick Google beforehand would have saved you some squirming up there, my friend.]
    • If you had to write about a princess minus Twilight (oooh), who would you write for?
      • "I dunno. I'd like to try Celestia, 'cause she's awesome."
    • Which pony do you think you're most like?
      • "I think I relate the most to Pinkie Pie. Just her silliness and light-heartedness, and yeah, Pinkie. I enjoy writing for her the most. She likes to sing and be fun. Thanks for asking!"
    • Does Jayson Thiessen still think you're dead?
      • Not Jayson! Jason Bateman. She's serializing her documentary on Youtube for free. Her hope is to start doing that before Bronycon.
    So the panel wrapped up -- but not before Amy asked if she could pull out her ukelele again. Everyone who had stood out of their seats to leave sat back down. What followed was a confession that she'd only learned the song about five minutes prior to the panel, and it took her what felt about that long for her to start strumming the chords.

    "... pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows ..."

    Some schmoe even stood up to do the little testing interlude that comes in the middle of the song, but A/V was pretty wise to shut off the audience mike by then.