Legacy Content

Rhett Wickham: It's Baaack!
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Both Rapunzel and The Frog Princess are quite a ways down the road, as production takes time, but make no mistake that animation is truly an inclusive term at Disney. Exactly how long it will take before we see the wonders of great traditional animation on the big screen isn’t completely predictable, as most features take three to five years from script to screen, and Ron and John have a very particular approach to how they put their story together – which they described to this writer some years ago as follows:

RON CLEMENTS

I think it was pretty much an advantage that we had been animators and we had been storyboard artists – or whatever they were described as. But that was a help in terms of writing an animation screenplay. I don’t know that it’s going to look any different than any other screenplay but when we’re writing it we’re picturing an animated movie and visualizing how this stuff is going to translate into the medium, which is helpful. Our process has always been kind of that we start out together, even before we write a treatment we do a lot of research and inspiration and lots and lots of notes and idea s and thoughts. We always sort of work separately and then come together, and then separately and then come together, and so we do that in the treatment phase. And then in the script phase John always starts. He (referring to John Musker) starts with kind of just sort of writing sort of non-stop—

JOHN MUSKER

I kind of improvise on paper. I take the same scene and I write it five different ways and explore it - it’s kind of like visual exploration but on paper. And I don’t edit what I’m doing I just sort of try this, and try a different approach, and start the scene in a different place—

RC

Dialogue and bits of business

Rhett Wickham

In narrative format – just as narrative?

JM

Yeah, in long hand, just written long hand. And I feed it all to Ron and he goes and takes it and edits it and rewrites and adds his own stuff. He’s working his way through the script, and I’m going in order of the script. I start at the beginning and I keep writing that first scene until “Nyaaa..I don’t have any more ideas!? and then I go to the next thing. And then he takes and out of that fashions a script. But I don’t actually see…I keep going all the way from one end to the other and I don’t see it - he doesn’t show me what he’s doing while he’s doing it until the script is done that first pass.

RC

John doesn’t tend to worry about making it all work.

JM

I don’t, no. So certainly in some cases it’s like “Well if you use this version of the scene then you can’t use this other version you’ve written of this scene.? So I kind of have to entertain “well you may go this way you may go that way? so it’s an odd kind of … kind of a lot of choices that have to be made. We know the basic outline of the story--

RC

Sometimes if I made a choice and I’ve gone a certain way that I know would really throw him off—

JM

Yeah

RC

I will tell him that.

JM

Yeah, he’ll come back and say “I’ve used this version? or “I went with this idea? so as I come to that next scene if it’s something that will/could heavily change it I know about that. But if it’s more just the way it’s done and the manner and all that (shaking his head, no.)

RC

But I just kind of generally don’t show him anything so that he can actually…I can give him like sort of a finished screenplay and then he can read that…and the first time forgetting—

JM

And of course-

RC

Forgetting-

JM

Yeah, I…I have such a weird way of approaching what I’m writing that when he shows me the script I …you know …(wide eyed)…I may read it and “Well this part, why did you add this part?!? and he’s “No, no that was in your notes? and I’m “That was in my notes?? “Yeah.? And it goes back and I do take…I think eventually… we...we reach as story. But even after I wrote my stuff sometimes I think I went back and marked “Theses are the ones I like the best – sort of. Just so you know.? But I think in the early going I didn’t. And now it’s been, what? Like four years since we’ve really written a script? (Note: this interview was conducted just before the release of “Treasure Planet.? – ed.)

RC

Something like that…or more, maybe a little bit more. Well we wrote on TREASURE PLANET, but just scenes.

JM

Yeah we wrote scenes…when we’re in production we do it. Usually we’re working with another writer, they’ve come on and they’re adding new ideas.

RC

Yeah, but writing a complete draft of a screenplay…we haven’t done that in a while.

JM

Anyway, when he gets done with that first draft then I re-read it and I may have notes, and he has notes, and my notes, and that. It becomes very much back and forth, and see where it goes from there. Then usually of course you’re turning it in to somebody and you’re getting notes from them, and we kind of figure out how to address their notes and what we agree with and don’t agree with and how it’s going to go from there. So it’s sort of collaborative and yet we have our own space and I’d say generally that system is designed to take advantage of what we think are our strengths. He’s really strong with structure and I’m stronger with dialogue and business – not that I don’t have structure ideas and not that he doesn’t create dialogue and business – but dominantly I would say that’s playing to what we’re stronger at.

RW

Is that how you’ve always worked? Is that how you started working back with MERMAID?

JM

Pretty much.