A woman in an animation writers’ room sometimes seems more rare than a dodo egg omelet on your local brunch menu, with unicorn cheese. But why should that be? In this next pair of “Ask a Baboon” columns, Women In Animation’s wonderful Lisa Goldman checks in with two of the industry’s very top female Head Writers, Baboon Animation teammates Anne D. Bernstein and Carin Greenberg.
Anne D. Bernstein has been cracking up audiences for decades. Anne’s perhaps best known for her prolific and hilarious writing on one of the U.S.’s most beloved high school comedy series, MTV’s Daria. She’s since been a writer on nearly a dozen other hits, from Backyardigans to Angelo Rules, and is currently Head Writer for the new preschool series Super Wings from Little Airplane and Funny Flux.
Lisa Goldman: Any thoughts on why there aren’t more women animation writers?
Anne D. Bernstein: Being a television writer—especially in comedy—means you have to learn to speak up. When I was starting out, I would say something funny, no one would react, and then 15 minutes later a guy would say the same thing louder and get a laugh. It goes hand-and-hand with drawing attention to yourself and being outspoken, traits not always encouraged in women. Most of the time I work with people I like, I am accepted and I enjoy the healthy competition.
Any tips on being outnumbered in the writers’ room?
Bernstein: To prove that you are not easily offended, it’s good to pitch an extremely raunchy joke right off the bat. This usually does not apply to preschool shows, although you’d be surprised.
Women In Animation, for example, was born because of the boys’ club. How has the boys’ club impacted your career?
Bernstein: I have rarely felt passed over because of my gender. But I admit that I don’t even try for certain animation jobs. I can’t imagine writing a detailed fight scene without gags. Nothing more boring. Zzzzzz. So don’t call me for that Alien Dinosaur Robot Ninja League show.
I get a lot of calls for projects with female characters (especially sardonic teenage girl characters…gee, I wonder why?). This bugs me because I don’t like to be pigeonholed. On the other hand, the world could always use another sardonic teenage girl role model.
It is great when you can offer up a detail that is just right that draws from your own experience. I was proud of Quinn’s line in my very first Daria script: “Sheer, semi-sheer or opaque?”
Do you think about the number of women writers at all when you’re hiring writers?
Bernstein: I more often count the number of female characters. Characters are usually “male by default,” females outnumbered about six to one, and no one seems to notice until I point it out. And the girl is inevitably pink.
Any other memorable writers’ room moments?
Bernstein: Being in a meeting with about a dozen guys and they all turn to me and ask, “What do you think, Anne?” And I know that I am expected to represent the opinion of 51 percent of the population. Nope, it’s just me here.
Baboon Animation is a U.S.-based collective of Oscar-nominated, multi-Emmy-winning animation writers, with credits on dozens of the most iconic animated shows of the last two decades.
Lisa Goldman heads up Women In Animation’s N.Y.C. Chapter; she also writes and creates content for all media platforms and teaches a course called Pitch Bible Studies Class. Learn more at animateddevelopment.blogspot.com.