by James Harvey
June 20th, 2008
Concerning your work on the DC Animated Universe, let's work our way backwards a little bit. Your last listed work for the DCAU was the DTV film Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. How did that project come about? Did you pitch the concept initially? And were you pleased with the outcome?
How it came about was simple — WBA decided to do one last DTV about Batman. They gave it to Alan Burnett, who was my producer on TAS, and he hired me to write it. He had to fight for me a little, since WBA’s (perfectly sensible) attitude was, Why hire an outside writer when we have writers on staff? But Alan went to bat (so to speak) for me, and you know the rest.
Reaction from Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman was a bit mixed. Some fans really loved it, particularly the introduction of Batwoman, while others were hoping for a little bit more substance for the last Batman: TAS DTV. How do you respond to that? Do you think the fans are being ungrateful or . . . well . . . just fans?
Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. It was a conscious decision to lighten this one up a bit; we felt that, over the years, we’d put Bats through a fair bit of angst and suffering, and since this would be our farewell to the TAS universe, why not let him get the girl for once?
DC has really dug deep into the DTV format, as well as the feature length live-action movie genre. What type of freedoms, or even censorship, do you come across when writing for this genre? Basically, how does writing for a feature length movie differ from writing a standard length episode?
Obviously, a movie is much more complex in terms of story, and much more lenient in the matter of censorship. I remember in B:MOTP, we, the storyboard guys, went a little nuts in the opening fight with broken glass, something we were never allowed to show in the series.
If we go back a little further, to Batman: The Animated Series, you've written, or at least co-written, a host of fan-favorite episodes, including the amazing "Second Chance" and beautifully done "Feat of Clay" two-parter. When working on this series initially, did you know it was going to be something as redefining and important to the animation industry at the time?
Well, we were hoping it would. The series got off to a bit of a rocky start, story wise, with some less-than-memorable initial episodes, but once Paul Dini came on board to write “Heart Of Ice” we knew how far we could push it.
And, right now, my apologies in advance for bringing this up, but you also wrote the episode "The Terrible Trio." How did that episode come about and were you disappointed when the reactions came back as so negative toward it? How do you compare this episode, one of the least popular of the series, to one of your highly acclaimed work (like "Avatar" for example)?
I guess the law of averages says you have to come up with a stinker every once in awhile. I’ve written over 400 TV scripts, the vast majority for animation, and of those I’d say that I’m very proud of maybe 50, cringe in shame on seeing maybe 20, and the rest are just ... there. A script is a blueprint, a schematic — not the finished product. There are so many variables over which you have no control. You sweat blood writing something really great and then, depending on which production house is up next in rotation, see it shipped to either TMS and be animated brilliantly, or to Akom and be animated ... not so brilliantly. It’s the luck of the draw. Regarding “The Terrible Trio”, I don’t remember that much about it – it was just one of many on my schedule. You try to make every one of them as good as you can, but ultimately airdates must be met.
During your time, you've also adapted some comic-book stories into episodes ("A Bullet for Bullock"). What's the process of adapting a comic book story onto the small screen? Is it relatively simple, or harder than it looks? Why?
Generally it’s harder, because unless you’re adapting multiple issues you tend to run out of material before the first act is finished. Since there are usually three acts to the show, this presents a problem.
Finally, to wrap up this segment of the Q & A, looking back on your time at BTAS, what work are you most proud of? What will you always take from working on this series?
I think I’m happiest with the quality of the work I did — especially an episode called "I Am the Night" — and grateful for the opportunity to stretch.
Any thoughts on your episode "I Am The Night" being included on the Batman: Gotham Knight video release? Are you excited that this episode will reach a potentially new audience?
I'm very pleased and flattered to have my episode in such august company.
Before I forget, you wrote a Batman novel called "Fear Itself", which was released last year. For those of us who may not have come across this book yet, can you fill us in on the book? What's it like to work on a Batman novel as opposed to an animated episode?
It’s a story featuring the Scarecrow, and it’s an idea I had back in my TAS days: A well-known horror novelist losing his ability to scare readers, who in desperation makes a Faustian bargain. Trouble, as usual, follows.
Now, working on Batman wasn't your only major animation work. You've worked on Spider-Man Unlimited, The Real Ghostbusters, Gargoyles, Roughnecks, He-Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for example. What draws you to these types of series and what challenges do they bring to you, as a writer?
Well, I’ve always enjoyed action-adventure to cutsy-poo stuff, and the more realistic scenarios to squash ‘n’ stretch styles. I started writing animation very early in my career, and found I had an aptitude for it. And I enjoyed writing for various new incarnations of the heroes I had as a child. I’ve written for Tarzan, Flash Gordon, the Phantom, and a bunch of other pulp characters — not to mention a slew of comic book characters and new ones as well. It’s a great way to keep the inner child and the outer ones all nourished at once.
Now, after that fairly loaded question, one of your upcoming works is Star Trek: New Voyages, something you tagged as the ultimate fan film. Care to fill us in on what this project is? Give us the full nine yards on this project!
It requires a bit of backstory, but, since you asked ...
This started about a dozen years ago (actually, it started over three decades ago, but more on that in a minute), when a ST:TOS fan named James Cawley decided, in the best tradition of Our Gang, to put on a show in the barn. In this case, the barn was an abandoned auto dealership showroom building way the hell up in the Adirondacks, and the show in question was Star Trek. It was Cawley’s contention that, since the Enterprise was on a five-year mission, and NBC had cancelled it after the first three, fans were owed two more years. So he decided to by God provide them. Using money from his day job as one of the more successful Elvis impersonators (I swear to God, it’s all true), he got the blueprints for the original sets, built most of them (bridge, sickbay, transporter room and a couple of wild walls), recruited a bunch of friends and they did a sort of proof-of-concept pilot. It was pretty bad, but still got a huge amount (millions) of downloads when posted. More importantly, they learned from their mistakes. Their second one was much better, and got them the attention of Walter Koenig, who enlisted D.C. Fontana to write an episode featuring Chekov.
This is where Marc Scott Zicree and I come in. Over 30 years ago I pitched an idea to the Star Trek series that never happened, back in the’70s — they decided to do movies instead. But while they were open to pitches, I ran past them what was substantially the story for "World Enough and Time." They liked it, but unfortunately (I thought at the time) the show closed before they could buy it. (Which turned out to be for the best, ultimately, since CBS would own it now and we couldn’t have done it without buying it back.) Anyway, Marc remembered it, and suggested that we put it on the slab and see if we could run a few gigavolts through it and get it up on its feet. Which we evidently did, and not too shabbily: the “webisode” has won a TV Guide Online Award, beating out (among others) Battlestar Galactica; it’s been nominated for a Nebula Award, and as of this writing it’s still in the running for the 2008 Hugo Award. And, last but certainly not least, we’ve been made fun of by the MST3K guys, which really means we’ve arrived.
It also means I hold the record for the longest turnaround between a pitch and a greenlight on what is essentially the same show. So the moral is, Don’t throw anything away. Ever.
Outside of animation and this upcoming Star Trek project, are there any other entertainment projects you'd like to fill us in on?
Haven’t done too much TV lately, unless you count the “webisode” (I’m sorry, but that portmanteau has to hang around the dictionary awhile longer before I’m comfortable enough with it to take the quotes off. I mean, have you ever seen a more ungangly neologism? Outside of “neoligism” itself, that is). Anyway, I mostly write books these days, and the (very) occasional movie. I did a novel with Neil Gaiman last year, called Interworld, that sold very well. And Star Wars novels, which keep the lupine pests from piling too deep on the doormat. But there are some interesting things possibly pending on the Internet. If I’ve learned anything from my Star Trek experience, it’s that “There are always possibilities.” The Final Frontier just might be the Web. So stay tuned ...
The World’s Finest would like to thank Michael Reaves for his participation in this Q & A.