Baboon Animation’s newest shining star, the accomplished Susan Kim, has written for more than three dozen children’s TV series, including PBS’s runaway hit Peg+Cat, Scholastic-Sprout’s brand new Astroblast!, Wonder Pets!, Arthur, Martha Speaks!, Handy Manny, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Speed Racer and Pocoyo to name a few. She has been nominated for an Emmy and Writers Guild Awards four times. Lisa Goldman caught up with her at the Baboon studio in New York for a tête-á-tête on writing.
Lisa Goldman: What are your some of your funniest — or toughest — moments being a writer in animation? As a story editor? In a writer’s room?
Susan Kim: A tough (and universal) writer’s moment: When you’re new on a show, you bust your hump trying to write something fantastic, and the story editor goes through your script and says: “This is hilarious! But not quite our show. And I loved this! But too similar to something we already did. And this made me laugh out loud! But not something that character would say.” Afterward, you’re left with like two shredded pages and told, “keep up the great work.”
Although come to think of it, I’ve probably done the same thing as a story editor … hmm.
Goldman: How about the perks and challenges of being a writer working from home?
Kim: Major perk: Being able to wear the same T-shirt and stretched-out yoga pants for three days in a row if you want. Like your cat gives a shit? Theoretically, you could wallow in your own filth for three weeks if you wanted, although of course I am trés chic and always beautifully groomed. (And the fact that you don’t even know which statement is true gets back to my answer: You can do whatever you want! Who’s going to know?) Mostly, I find that there’s no comparison to the depth of focus you have when you’re at home … assuming, of course, you don’t have small children, an obsession with housecleaning or a noisy partner. I love being with people, but I find them way too distracting. In college, my friends stopped inviting me to the library because I’d always be bored out of my skull, talking nonstop and getting evicted by the librarian.
Goldman: As a story editor, do you think about gender at all when you’re hiring writers and trying to get the right mix for a show?
Kim: I do. It’s not just gender, although, of course, that’s important. In an ideal world, I’d love a blend of sexes, experience, race, straight and gay, younger and older. Look at late-night comedy: It’s hamstrung by the fact that 99 percent of their writing staffs are straight white guys fresh out of Yale. Not that I have anything against straight white guys from Yale, but you lose nuance when everyone’s the same. And, I’m sorry, there’s still a huge false perception out there that women aren’t funny, and that just blows.
Goldman: Why do you think there aren’t more women writing in animation? Has it ever felt like any kind of “boys club” has impacted your career, or is that old news?
Kim: To be honest, I feel lucky in that much of my work has been for preschool, which is — I freely admit — a girl ghetto. Okay, it’s not exactly swarming with women, but most shows have at least a few female writers. It certainly doesn’t have the boys club feel as other places I’ve worked, e.g. middle grade, adventure or Cartoon Network stuff.
Goldman: Any advice for aspiring animation writers?
Kim: Keep it visual. If your script reads like live action, something’s wrong. Be nice and professional – it’s a business of contacts, after all. And if no one’s hiring you, screw them. Find an animator, produce your own stuff and put it online.
Baboon Animation is a U.S.-based collective of Oscar-nominated, multiple-Emmy-winning animation writers with credits on dozens of the most iconic animated shows of the last two decades.
Lisa Goldman heads up the Women In Animation in New York. She also writes and creates content for all media platforms and teaches a course called Pitch Bible Studies Class. Learn more at http://animateddevelopment.blogspot.com/