Glenn Norman & Michelle Goodeve Interview

Martin: How much work on the series is done when you get involved?

Michelle: As the Story Editor, Steve determines a schedule and breaks each book down into a season of thirteen episodes. Each writer is assigned an episode with specific Start and Stop chapter numbers and it is our job, as the series writers, to adapt those chapters from the text in Brian's novel to the screenplay's visual blueprint.

The first stage of a teleplay is the Outline, which basically contains the so-called "black stuff" or "Action." Each scene is laid out with specific "Beats" (ex. Cluny is captured. Or, The Rat Army charges! etc...) including Act Breaks (+ cliffhangers - don't touch that dial!) but, no dialogue.

The second stage is the 1st Draft, where the scenes are flushed out to their proper length (approx. 1 min. of screen time per page) and the dialogue is added.

The third stage is the 2nd Draft, where Steve will collate notes from Brian and different members of the production team and send them to the writers. Necessary changes are then made for animators needs or monetary concerns or for the purposes of keeping your specific episode consistent with the overall plot development and character arcs over the run of the entire series.

The final stage is The Polish, which is usually just tweaking small concerns to make the episode come together as smoothly as everyone possibly can.

Glenn: A LOT! Steve did an enormous amount of work getting the series up and going - and continues to do a huge amount before each new season.

Roughly what happens is - Nelvana & Brian decide which book will be adapted, then Steve sits down and creates a "Writer's Bible."

This is an enormous undertaking - Steve has to find a way to break the book down by chapter and sequence into 13 equal parts. He also has to give a character synopsis for each and every character, give scene location notes, story points, producers' concerns, etc.

Steve always writes at least the first and last episode. Since Season Two, his son, Toby Roberts, Michelle and I write the remainder.

The division of episodes depends on how busy we all are [g]. We were busy in the first season, so did 3 each. Steve and Toby were busy in seasons 2 & 3, so we did 4 each.

Martin: What sort of guidelines were set down for you? Were you told to be especially vague in violent scenes and so-forth?

Michelle: The episodic television screenwriter's guidelines are set out in the series "Bible". In the case of the "Redwall" series, the Bible has been written by Steve and specifically outlines the do's and don't's that have been agreed upon by the author and the production house and it's team. (In some series, the negotiations include the broadcaster, but I don't know if that is the case here.)

The Redwall "Bible" addresses the issue of violence directly in it's own chapter: the first word of which is simply, "Don't." And I quote the last sentence of that chapter: "We will flatly refuse to diminish the Redwaller's communal respect for life and each other by using death or injury as entertainment, Redwall is head and shoulders above that."

Glenn: The Writers Bible contains a lot of guidelines for writing the show - most of which pertain to the problems of adapting a novel to the small screen - but, you are correct in realizing that violence is indeed the greatest concern.

And that is no comment on Brian or any of the Redwall books. Their continuing popularity clearly shows that readers have no problem with the level of violence.

This is solely a response to the realities of network television. It would be quite simple - a lot easier, actually - to transpose the battle scenes, as written, from the books. But, if we were to do that, many networks that currently show Redwall would reluctantly decline to air the series.

So, it becomes our job to find ways of implying the violence without actually showing it. I think Michelle's handling of Cheesethief's death is a good example - done with shadows and silhouettes that clearly told the story while avoiding graphic violence.

Martin: Have you read any of the books themselves?

Michelle: Yes, I read and re-read Brian's books. I know GN does this differently, but I read the whole book end to end before I start writing. In some cases, I have been lucky enough to find audio tapes of Brian himself reading his books. (These I have passed onto my nephew, Tyler, who is an avid Redwall reader.) In this way, I imprint the important moments (what one remembers most about a film or an episode is it's 'moments') and turning points into my mind in order to give them their proper due on the page.

Each book plus the writer's bible are my constant companions throughout the writing process. My Redwall paperbacks are filled with scribbled notations, bookmarks, and post-it notes and are proudly displayed on the bookshelf in my office.

Glenn: This is an innocent, but very interesting question.

The truth is - When Steve called and asked if we'd like to write "Redwall," that was the first time we'd heard of the books.

By way of explanation - Michelle and I have very different ways of writing - and reading.

I shouldn't speak for her, but I will tell you that Michelle is a voracious reader - Extremely well read - takes stuff like Proust to bed with her! - and her literary library includes, for example, all the works of Tolkien, whom she adores.

I USED to read voraciously, but when I became a screenwriter, I discovered that once I slip into the world of the author I'm reading, I have a VERY hard time getting back into my own stories.

So, sadly, the only time I get to read novels any more is when I'm on vacation (which happens rarely!)

Of course, I DO still read - Several newspapers a day, plus a steady stream of technical books on Astronomy, Aviation, or The Workings of the Human Brain - topics I find fascinating but can put down and pick up without any real involvement.

I have to admit, I also adapt the Redwall books in a somewhat unorthodox manner.

Because Steve has done SO much work in the Bible, I know in advance what chapters I have to cover from the book. So, I read the chapters leading up to the episode I've been assigned - but (and don't tell Steve this [g]), I DON'T read the whole book in advance.

Why? Because I want to be SURPRISED.

When the time comes to read my chapters, I don't want to know where the various events will eventually lead - I want to find those parts of the story that JUMP OUT at me and DEMAND to be included.

I'll stress here that this would be impossible if Steve hadn't already mapped out the important parts of the book in his bible - but as he has, it allows me to discover the best moments in Brian's books just before I write them.

And, I believe "MOMENTS" are what TV & The Movies are all about. These are Visual Mediums and the more great MOMENTS a show contains, the more memorable it will be for the viewer.

Think of Casablanca. Is it the whole convoluted story you remember? - or is it Bogart slumped next to the piano, telling Sam, "You played it for her, you can play it for me!" Perhaps it's when he holds Ingrid Bergman in his arms and says, "We'll always have Paris," and "Here's looking at you, kid." Maybe it's Bogie walking off into the night with Claude Rains saying, "This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Those MOMENTS last in our minds long after the importance of "the letters of transit" have faded from our memories.

And it is those MOMENTS that any good screenwriter searches for and builds her/his story around.

A final point - Not reading the book also means I'm excited about writing every new episode because - just like the reader - just like the viewer - I'm dying to know what happens next!

It's unorthodox, I'll admit - but it's worked well for me ... so far [vbg].

Martin: What's a typical day of work like for you?

Michelle: My typical writing "day" is, I suppose, atypical... I know Steve likes to get an early start on the day, as does Glenn. But, when I have the luxury of working at home, as is the case on "Redwall", I like to write deep into the night, as late as 4 a.m. sometimes. The night is magic time for me. The rest of the world is asleep. The phone won't ring. There are no other demands on my time and I can slip into that other fictional world where the series characters are my friends whose stories I'm helping to tell.

So, about mid-morning, GN (who has already put in several hours writing) wakes me with a cup of coffee, I try not to growl too much, then we have drive off for breakfast at a local restaurant in the nearest town. We read the newspaper and plan our day, then come home, make calls, return "E's" which starts the creative juices, then progress into the script at hand.

Glenn: Again - Michelle and I are very different. And, again - my writing style is quite unorthodox.

For the Redwall adaptations - as I mentioned - I'll read the episodes leading up to mine, then sit down somewhere quiet and read my own chapters for the first time.

I'll highlight the passages that surprise, intrigue, or excite me - then, I'll put the book down and go do something else ... sometimes for hours - sometimes for days!

But, all the time I'm cleaning the cat litter [g], or dragging the telescope outside for astro- photography - or tinkering with airplanes - I'll be daydreaming about my episode.

And, when I finally see the shape of the show - sense the flow of events and characters - I usually sit down at my computer and write the whole thing in one sitting!

Mind you, there IS a structure to the way these episodes are developed. Off the top, Steve suggests which episodes he'd like us to write - but, we're free to trade eps with each other if there's one we'd really like to do (Steve has the last word, of course, but that's never presented a problem.) Then, we submit an "Outline," which sketches out the way we intend to adapt our assigned chapters. Steve "fiddles" with our Outlines, then sends them on up the line for comments and notes from Producers, Directors, Animators, and, of course - Brian [g]. (Note: As Story Editor, it's Steve's job - and his right - to change things that he knows Brian or the producers will not accept {i.e. using "hands" instead of "paws." Describing a death in too violent terms - that sort of thing.}

Steve then receives notes back from EVERYONE, and here's where he REALLY earns his money - for one producer could absolutely LOVE a certain sequence while another will DEMAND it be removed.

After the poor man has found a way to keep everyone happy, Steve ships us his version of all the valid gripes and concerns.

We then have to find a way to adapt our original outlines to include these changes before going ahead on the First Draft - the first run at writing down the entire episode - Dialogue - Direction - Everything that makes up a screenplay.

Once the Draft is done, we'll ship it to Steve who goes through his "fiddling" routine again before sending the Draft out for more comments.

More notes will come back. Steve will assemble them, and we will include those changes in our Second or Final Draft.

Even after we are done and have moved on to write our next episode, Steve will still be fiddling with minor changes until the script is finally approved and ready for production.

As I said - Steve really earns his money [vbg].

Martin: Do the two of you influence each other's episodes in the writing phase, such as offering your insight to the other as to what would suit a character/scene better?

Michelle: Yes, Glenn and I rely on each other for input. It's extremely valuable to have another story editor type person in the office across the hall. We trade screenplays and give what I like to think of as 'insightful notes' (I bet I hear Glenn laughing out loud when he reads that!). Sometimes elements you mean to include in a screenplay inexplicably remain inside your head and another writer will see what is not "on the page." Whoever's screenplay it is has the final nay or yea to include or ignore each other's notes. Then, in the case of "Redwall" , we "E" our teleplay to Steve, who in turn passes it on up the line to the production company in Toronto, Nelvana.

Glenn: Well, yes and no [vbg].

When Michelle started writing her own screenplays, we decided the best way to protect our relationship was to write separately.

But, when we were offered the position of Executive Story Editors on White Fang, we realized the only way we could do that 24/7 job was as a team.

This worked well for us, so we did it again when asked to Story Edit "Mysterious Island."

In terms of Redwall, what this means is - Michelle and I live in a rambling old preachers' manse in rural Ontario, Canada. We each have our own separate office. And we write our episodes on our own. But - Once we are done with the outline, draft, whatever - we DO ship our stuff off for comments to the Story Editor sitting across the hall [g].

We are free to ignore or agree with the notes we give each other - but, it gives us an extra edge to know that our scripts have been "Pre-Screened," before they go off to the "Real" Story Editor.

If I had to summarize our strengths, I'd say mine is Story Structure and Michelle's is Character Development.

Which works out quite nicely for both of us [vbg].

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