• Joe Ballarini (MLP Movie Writer) Did an AMA on Reddit - Here Are the Responses!

    One of the writers in charge of the My Little Pony movie hopped on reddit a few days ago and did a short AMA. Quite a bit of it involved pony, but you can get a good idea of his writing style from his responses to other questions as well. Everything from defense of glimmy glam to how the movie will tie into the show's overall story are detailed.

    I'll let him do the talking though. Head on down below the break for all the questions and answers extracted from the mess!


    Q: How did you get roped into doing a movie for an established universe like My Little Pony?!?!?

    A: I had written a great deal of animation and Hasbro liked my writing, particularly the adventure stuff. I was a fan of the show and so when they asked to meet and discuss, I went in hooves blazing.

    Q: I need to know: will there be horse puns? The fandom thrives on horse puns. It's the only thing that keeps us stable.

    A: Nonstop. They're the Mane Event.

    Q: Did you coordinate the movie's story elements with the show-runners much? Especially in recent seasons there's been a lot of references to events and characters from previous episodes, it'd be nice to see some cross-referencing between show and movie.

    A: The producers are very aware of the timeline. When I was working on it we all wanted the movie to fit into the show as much as possible so the movie wouldn't feel too randomly out of place within the ponyverse.

    Q: Do you plan Starlight to be a main part of the movie? And if so, do you plan to do something to fix her character and make her less of a mary-sue?

    A: Starlight ain't no Mary Sue.


    Q: When your working with your own material vs something established (like mlp) what's your preferred way of fleshing out a character? I often run into snags going from character concept to something fleshed out that feels like a solid person.

    A: Character is the most important and the hardest aspect. I don't start writing until I know their voice and attitude. I brainstorm their past, their desires-- all in an effort to know what they want. Get that want and you've got the character-- or so you think! That will drive them and give them a purpose, but their attitude, their opinion, the way they see the world... that's important. Usually, it takes me a whole draft to really start to know the character. It's only until their final line do I often say, yes! that's who you are! And then I goooooo back to page one and shape the character, make their POV's stronger, make their fears, and points of view sharper.

    Q: How do you know when a draft is good enough to turn in or show somebody? I find myself re-writing to death until it all falls apart.

    A: It never feels good enough, does it? Set a firm deadline for yourself and see if that saves you from rewriting it too much.

    Q: How did you come into contact with people in the industry?

    A: I was lucky enough to be an established screenwriter when I wrote my book and my agency, Paradigm has a wonderful book division that submitted it to publishers. Contests are okay, I guess, but your time is better spent seeking out an agent. They are the gate keepers and will get you to the top of the pile. Query letters are okay, but you need to know someone who knows someone.

    Q: First, are you more of a pantser or planner? If you're a planner, what methods do you use? Second, any tips from a professional on not letting personal troubles pull down the quality and quantity of writing? Is it, as we often say here, just about discipline?

    A: A panster? Oh, a seat of the pants-er! NEW SLANG! Nice. No, I plan everything. As for personal troubles-- you need to create a space for yourself to write. The more you do it, the better you will get at ninja-style of writing where you can grab a few hours between other major responsibilities, but as a general rule, I get to the office by 830 and I don't leave until 6. Every day.

    Q: What project was the most fun to write and why?

    A: Good question. Each screenplay is a different adventure but the best time I had was writing the book because it was so free and unlimited. Just me and the page. No one else. It enabled me to be director, producer, costume, set design, casting, actor-- all while not leaving my house!

    Q: What feature do you wish was added to one of the movies you worked on, but was rejected by the other people on the project?

    A: As in, what ended up on the cutting room floor? That floor is littered with more dreams than stars in the sky, my friend.

    The Cat Lady Story from Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting. I wrote a whole chapter about the creepy cat lady and where she came from and it was all about how she started to grow whiskers because she loved cats so much and when her parents demanded she get rid of her thousands of cats, she fed them to her cats... and my editor said, nope, gotta go. Cat Lady is still in the book, we just never learn about her childhood. Maybe I should post that...

    Q: I can see in the bio that you went to USC to study the craft. I'm wondering if you can tell us what you think you learned there that is really valuable, and also what is something that you figured out for yourself the hard way.

    You also seem to have projects touching a whole lot of different genres. How do you balance switching between them without being "overly influenced" by what you've done before?

    And for my last one: The writing industry has been shaken to it's cores because of the rise of self-publishing. I don't really know how the screenwriting industry works, but do you feel that something has changed in the last years that has changed it significantly?

    And of course, if I write 3 novels and sell two of them, how many do I have left?

    A: USC taught me great technical skill and gave me the tools and resources for me to go wild. They always encouraged creativity and vision. We saw everything there, all of the classes where we watched movies and then analyzed them were invaluable. You see the way the greats did it. And I met some of my closest friends there who I still work with!

    With the different genres, I just like all kinds of movies. As a screenwriter, though, I've found it's helpful to do one very well and target that if you want to work. However, sometimes, I can't help it. The heart wants to write what the heart wants to write.

    1! You have one novel left! How am I doing? Is anyone keeping score?

    Q: I tend to think of screenwriting as a collaborative process which involves other writers, directors, producers, and potentially talent. If my expectation is correct, how do you deal with not just other writers but directors and producers that want to re-tune your ideas? What do you do if you have a difference of opinion?

    A: It's extremely collaborative. And yes, people do suggest changes, but here's the thing, most of them time, they are helpful changes. These are smart people. They help make me a better writer every day. Now, you just have to know how to implement the notes without bombing the whole script. Playing the politics of the changes, that's a whole other bag of eels. But Craig Mazin has a great saying "They are not the enemy" and that's true. If you want to be a screenwriter, an enormous part of the job is team work and working together. If you want sole authorship, write a book (but even then, your editor will offer changes which will be a huge help!)

    Q: Although I enjoy your writing, my favorite of all your work is The Gospel of St. Bernard!!! Any chance of a reunion show?

    A: Yes! I hear the Duffer Brother are planning a reboot! Points for the reference. You've done your homework. Or... you're the horrible bully who made me steal a tape recorder!

    Q: What environment do you write in? Do you need quiet and shut everything out, or do you have music on and look at facebook etc ?

    A: I like quiet with headphones on, blasting soundtracks to my stories. I use Freedom to shut down the internet for as long as I need/want.

    Q: Who were some of your creative idols?

    A: Ray Bradbury Neil Gaiman Sir Steven Spielberg Rod Serling Walt Disney Jim Henson

    Q: I am going to graduate soon with a bachelors in English and a minor in Mass Communication. I want to do what you do. What advice could you give me?

    A: Congratulations on your impending entrance into reality. It's going to be a bumpy ride. My advice? Don't ever stop writing. You are going to need to write as much as possible, every single day until you break through. Get a job with zero responsibility where you're behind a computer and write there (don't tell your boss). Then, push, push, push. Give your stuff to anyone and everyone who will read it. Give it to people in the streets. Give it to producers. Don't be precious about it. Get your stuff read and get out there. Be bold. Ask people for help and advice. Get knocked down, get up. Repeat.

    Q: You've obviously had a ton of success throughout your career, what has been your greatest achievement thus far (besides Chef Jeff & Ali)? Give my best to Kara and Theo! Whoop whoop!

    A: Why, thank you, cuz. The pinnacle, the zenith, the coup de grace of my career was filming the cooking cult classic, Chef Jeff & Ali. Starring The Tonight Show's Jeff Mauro and Outback Steakhouse CEO Ali Kahn. Working with these two giants of the industry changed my life forever. I want to thank the Academy for recognizing this towering achievement. It was all downhill after that.

    Q: I had an idea for a children's book, but I'm unsure of how to figure out what age group to aim it towards. Do you have any tips on how to find your audience BEFORE writing it, so you know what style you should write in? Or am I going about it all wrong?

    A: This is important to think about. Middle Grade is all crushes and first kisses and best friends. Not much violence. More action. This is for ages 8-12, which is what Babysitters Guide is. Know your audience and you'll know your tone! YA is much more adult and can push the envelope more. Also if your main character is 13 you're more likely to fall into the Middle Grade category. It's a great place to be!

    Q: "A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting" sounds like a YA novel straight from the 80s. Does it borrow or take inspiration from things like Goosebumps?

    A: Goosebumps and... Goonies Something Wicked This Way Comes Where the Sidewalk Ends Fright Night Nightmare on Elmstreet 3: Dream Warriors Salems Lot Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

    Q: If you could give your younger self advice when it comes to writing, what would it be?

    A: Keep writing. It's going to happen. Write what excites you. Even if that involves puppets! Especially if that involves puppets!

    Thanks to Mutton Bash for the heads up.