Monday, January 21, 2008

Developing Shaun

Originally uploaded by jamesandthebluecat
The best bit of going to Aardman is peeking round the back of the studios afterwards, looking at all the random bits and pieces either set up for filming or packed away in bubblewrap.

And the best bit of that is having time to look at all the tiny details that whizz past in the film without you really having time to take them in: the tiny diagram of 'Plan M' to escape from the chicken hut from Chicken Run, the stack of miniature magazines next to Wallace's chair (I'm sure there was mock 'Hello' called 'Ey-up', but the phone on my camera isn't great, and possibly I imagined it'. Some test sets from possible upcoming movies from Aardman as well, but if I post those, all the ninjas I wasn't allowed to use in my Shaun script will come round and totally get me.


I was there to work though, it turned out, the next phase in my script being to run the story past the series producers, and the director. This is where you find out all the little limitations of stop-motion animation puppets. Bob the Builder, for example, had magnets in the bottom of his boots to keep him in position on set, which meant that for a long time, he could neither ice-skate, or climb up ladders. The first not a huge problem for a builder, the second more so, although they forked out for lessons and he's fine now.

Reading out my three page story outline, we quickly got to the main problem: there's just too much story for a six minute episode. Or there will be if I don't keep the story moving along as quickly and clearly as possible - and remember there's no dialogue on Shaun, so you can't cheat and have a character explain what's going on to another character (the 'what are we going to do today, Bob?' getout clause).

I'm reasonably confident I can keep it all cracking along however - I think pretty visually, so stuff that sounds complex on the page should actually crack along quite simply on screen. And if I plan it all out and there's still too much story, I can just jump in a little later. The first act finishes on quite a big sight gag though, and I'd like to keep that in if possible.

While we're discussing this, all the other writers pitch in with little visual jokes (there's one with a toaster I really like), and I try and write it all down. The ending needs a bit of work too, as at that point my episode accidently turns into one of the more disreputable Fellini films, which isn't totally what Aardman is after, bearing in mind they've already had to digitally wipe out some of the sheep poo for the American market. Finally we crack it without causing too much overtime for the prop-makers (one of the producers is sitting in the meeting specifically to wrestle to the ground any writer who make casual demands for things like 'zepplins, or a thousand moles, or Shaun's new holodeck').

Next stage is to go back to the outline, have another look at the structure to make sure I really can fit in everything I say I can, then break down the story into eighty separate 'beats' (one-line descriptions of what we'll be seeing onscreen). This second draft goes off to the BBC lawyers (I suspect the ninjas would have gone at this stage anyway), then, after some (hopefully) minor rewrites, the episode goes into the queue to film.

Which isn't to say it definitely will be filmed at this stage - sometimes they realize two episodes that seemed totally different are in fact eerily similar, or the schedule overruns, or it turns out it just plain isn't working. But there we go.


Anonymous said...

I would absolutely love "Ey-up" magazine to exist.

It'd be well good.

Anonymous said...

So no ninja sheep - I'm quite upset.

Sylvia said...

Hope it all works out - you must tell us which episode it is, as STS is very popular in this house. We used to have a little boy living next door to us who looked exactly like STS. Happy days.

Anonymous said...

If there's an "Ey Up" magazine then might I humbly submit "Warm" magazine? It's packed with articles about Gloria Hunniford's lovely jumpers and that nice antiques chap on day-time TV.

Tim Footman said...

Re: ice-skating builders. When I were a nipper, I distinctly remember gluing a metal badge (free with my new pair of Clark's Commandos if I recall correctly) to a pine cone, then hiding under the table with a magnet and making the cone move around, resembling (as I dubbed it) "an ice-skating hedgehog". Surely they could have done something similar with Bob?

James Henry said...

Sadly, I don't work for Bob any more, or I'd suggest that at their next big meeting.

Anonymous said...

Did Bob and Wendy ever get together? I don't have a reason to watch Bob anymore as the smallest boy is now 6 and into Star Wars.

James Henry said...

I believe their UST has remained pleasingly Unresolved.