Sunday, March 28, 2010

Collaboration IV: Writing Bible

I just caught up and read the Batman: The Animated Series writer's bible that Isaac tossed up. (Yeah, anything that's more than one or two pages I email to myself to catch up on later). And I have to say, I find it infinitely superior to the Screenwriter's memo that prompted it.

Mamet's memo is a pretty useful "Don't do that, dumbass" memo that probably every first-year film student should tack onto their writing desk, but the writer's bible goes beyond that in scope: the writer's bible captures, in a direct and powerful way, to set up the metrics by which the show will be measured. To say, "This is what we want the show to do, and this is how you do it."

Especially with a source material as juicy and personal as Batman is (at least, to the sorts of people who would wind up collaborating on Batman: The Animated Series), it is important to define what you want to do. And you could literally do anything with it -- hence the enduring appeal.

Take on page 4:

"Our stories will be hard-edged crime dramas with villains who play for keeps. Yes, many of them will come from Batman's well-known Rogues Gallery, but they will be as wild, dark, and sinister as we can make them. Each episode will also feature a big SET PIECE, an incredible visual action visual that will be a looked-forward-to element in each show. This will be the climax, centerpiece, or show-stopper in each episode."

And the rationale is laid out on page 5:

"We hope to encourage our writers to take advantage of the almost limitless visual possibilities allowed by animation. With our animated Batman, we can "build" gigantic sets and create special effects that could never be realized with live action. Use this advantage!


We wish to pay special attention to the "arena" or setting of each episode. Stories which have a unified sense of place will always work better. This is not to say that Batman can't 'move around' in his adventures, but the locations (especially the climax) should be adequately established and foreshadowed."
Mamet's memo is good generic advice for any drama (although I can think of plenty of shows that I love that violate it up the wazoo). But this writer's bible is a very clear declaration of purpose for this project. In fact, the first quote reads like a mission statement for a single project.

I think I need to create a document like this for collaborative works. To say, "This is the kind of work we're working on, these are the tactics we're using to build it." Our last collaboratively devised work, based around the works of Kafka, came out well (especially since we created it from scratch in 9 rehearsals), but it could have used a unity of tactic/form a little more (one day we'll revisit it, I think, from the perspective of sound and silence). It would have been refreshing to know -- "This is what I find effective about the work of Kafka. This is how we can make that effective on stage. Now let's find out how we make that work."