#34. A Conversation with Paul Dini

Jason Anders: So let's start with your time spent in school at Emerson College in Boston where you began doing freelance writing for Filmation, among other studios. What are your thoughts on Filmation and the work you did for them, and also tell me about the work you did for George Lucas during this time.
Paul Dini: I started off writing animation at Filmation Studios in the early 1980s. That was a good place to start, as they were producing many shows and they were always looking to try out new talent. A lot of writers and artists had their first jobs there. You got kind of a crash course in TV animation by working on shows like Tarzan and He-Man for a season. Maybe they weren't the prettiest cartoons on Saturday Morning, but the experience for first timers was invaluable.
After a few years working staff and freelance for various studios in LA, I got the opportunity to work on some Saturday Morning Star Wars-based series for Lucasfilm. The restrictions were very tight on animation then, and while I enjoyed working at beautiful Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, I was sorry we were not able to cut loose and really do a Star Wars-style action show. I got my wish years later when I scripted several episodes of the new Clone Wars series, so I guess it all evened out.
JA: In 1988 you were a story editor for Beany and Cecil; tell me about the episodes you worked on, and how you became involved in this series with artists like John Kricfalusi, Eddie Fitzgerald, Bob Camp, Jim Smith, and Jim Gomez.

PD: Beany and Cecil was a creative hotbed with a gang of great artists and directors working together to rejuvenate not only a cartoon we all loved, but the same unfettered spirit of experimentation pioneered by Bob Clampett himself. Unfortunately that was diametrically opposed to the network's manifesto that the revived Beany and Cecil be nothing more than safe, pretty eyewash for bored kids. Despite the talent and enthusiasm of John Kricfalusi, Bruce Timm, Eddie Fitzgerald, Lynne Naylor, Jim Gomez, Bob Camp and a score of other great cartoonists, the show died a quick death after five episodes. The good news is most of those artists would wind up making animation history a year later on The Ren & Stimpy Show, and the various Warner Animation shows.

JA: In 1989 you were hired at Warner Bros. Animation to work on Tiny Toon Adventures; tell me about your memories working on this series and your thoughts on the show as well.
PD: Tiny Toons was a fun show. We were allowed to experiment to a great degree. Not every cartoon was a comedy classic, but there were plenty of really good ones. More important, Tiny Toons brought a lot of artists and writers together who went on to do some amazing shows: Animaniacs, Batman, Taz-Mania, Pinky and the Brain, Superman and many others. It really was like working in an old-style cartoon studio, with lots of different units running under many different directors. Also, the studio execs were willing to let the creative people try different things, at least at first. If I got tired of super heroes after a while, I went off and worked on Freakazoid. Later I'd come back and write a season of Superman, then work on Duck Dodgers for a couple years.

JA: You are also credited as working on one episode of Family Dog, another Spielberg-produced series, before going to work on Batman: Mask of the Phantasm; what can you tell me about Family Dog?
PD: Sherri Stoner and I did some rewriting on the Family Dog series. The first few episodes had some growing pains, but the series began to straighten out toward the end of its episode order. I think the series would have done better if they were able to stick it out another season or two and get its footing like The Simpsons or Family Guy.

JA: Tell me about the work you did on Animaniacs.

PD: Didn't really work on Animaniacs, except guest writing a cartoon or two.
JA: Let's talk about your work on Batman: The Animated Series, where you worked as a writer, producer and editor for the show. You have done a lot of work with the Batman franchise, from the films and shows, to even being co-author of the coffee table book, Batman Animated. Were you always a Batman fan before becoming involved in animation, and what served as the most inspiration for your work involving the Dark Knight?
PD: I always thought Batman, as a character and series idea, had a lot more potential than the Filmation cartoon shows and his appearances on Super Friends. When I saw the Fleischer Superman cartoons in an animation festival at college, I thought that would be the perfect way to visualze Batman in a cartoon. Years later, when Warners put the show into development, that was also how the studio wanted to see Batman done. Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski created a look that had influnces of Fleischer, but also pioneered its own visual style. Alan Burnett, Michael Reaves, Martin Pasko and myself went back to a more pulp-influenced, harder-edged style of writing to fit this new vision of Batman.  (Key episodes to check out by Paul Dini are "Over the Edge", "Heart of Ice" and "Mad Love")
 JA: Around the same time you appeared in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back- what was it like working with Kevin Smith?

PD: Working with Kevin in any capacity is always a lot of fun. On Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back it was sort of like being in a live action version of The Muppet Movie. You never knew who would show up next for a cameo.

JA: You have received 2 awards from the Writer's Guild of America, one for your work in animation and another for your work on the writing team of the ABC series Lost; Tell me how you got involved with this J.J. Abrams series, and what it has been like to be a part of the writing team.
PD: I was asked by the good people at Bad Robot to join a group of writers willing to take a chance on an oddball premise of a jetliner going down on a mysterious island. No one was sure if the pilot was going to fly or not, and if you told us the show would become a runaway hit, no one would have believed you. But we were all game to try so we signed up. That worked out rather well.
JA: So what is next for you?

PD: As we used to say when faced with a tricky problem on Lost: "Lunch!"

Follow Paul Dini on Twitter: @Paul_Dini
Buy "Batman Animated" HERE