By Marc Strom
Earlier this year, we let you know “Ultimate Spider-Man” would hit the animated airwaves in the near future. Since then, the show’s writers and producers have held a number of summits to hash out the stories for Spidey’s next animated adventure. So, we spoke with Marvel Television Development Associate Harrison Wilcox about how the most recent summit, held two weeks ago.
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In attendance were writers Joe Kelly, Steve Seagle, Joe Casey and Duncan Rouleau—collectively known as Man of Action—as well as Paul Dini and Brian Michael Bendis. Also pitching in were Jeph Loeb, Joe Quesada, Stephen Wacker, Cort Lane and Harrison Wilcox.
While most animated series have a single Story Editor who works with the show’s producers to break each story, then assigns different scripts to freelance writers, the “Ultimate Spider-Man” summits seek to emulate a traditional writers’ room on a live-action television series.
“Because this is our Spider-Man show, and the first show that Marvel is producing itself, Jeph wanted to do things a little differently and have a writers' room meet together to break the story,” elaborates Wilcox.
“In a live-action show, every day you have a writers' room where the writers sit together and they break all the stories together. In animation, it’s just one person doing that, or one or two people doing that as the Story Editor. So that’s why we have [the summits], so everybody can get together and come up with the best stories and really work it out then and there.”
From the very first summit, the show’s creators have had a roadmap for where they would take Peter Parker throughout the course of the premiere season, helping to guide them as they reconvene for each subsequent summit.
“The first summit was very much setting up who the characters were, the pilot that Paul wrote, and the overall arc for Peter, Spider-Man, the main cast and our main villains,” recalls Wilcox. “So from the very beginning there was a plan on how the show started and how the season ended, and what happened along the way for our characters. In the room we have a whole board that lists every single episode and what is the general idea of each one, who’s in it, who’s maybe guest starring, that sort of thing. We can all see the whole season on the wall, and from there we decide what should happen when.”
While not everyone in the room takes part in the actual writing of the individual episodes, everyone has an equal say in how the stories develop as they discuss different storylines.
“We all have the same role [at the summit],” explains Wilcox. “It’s just [to] try and find the best story. Find out what story we want to tell, who’s going to be in [it], and just the best way to tell that story [while] inserting as much Spidey humor and action into it as possible as we go. Everyone doing this has the same goal.”
The process for deciding who will write a particular episode comes about very naturally, according to Wilcox, as the group goes over the story again and again.
“As you break a story, it will click with one or two people really well, and it will become evident over the course of the discussion of the episode [who’s best to write it],” he continues. “[You see which writer] really has a good visual of what the story is and how to go about writing it. You’ll see for every question they’ll have an answer that everyone will agree with or nod their heads and say ‘oh yeah, that’s cool, that makes sense.’ They’ll gain ownership of it by understanding. No one’s claiming territory for it, there’s a consensus without anyone saying anything [that] this is the person to write it. It's then Man of Action's role as Supervising Producers to select the writer and guide him or her through each draft.”
Once a script comes in, everybody involved in the summits has a chance to go over it and give their own notes.
“Like the writers' room, it’s a group effort,” Wilcox says of the process a script goes through from its first draft to a finished production draft. “[A script] comes to all the people who are in that room. It comes back to the whole group and we all give notes on the drafts as they come in. It’s everything from 'structurally it’s not quite working here,' to 'here’s a great action beat.' It’s all about making it stronger. The first draft’s always pretty good, but by the final production draft it’s a very tight machine just because of all the really talented people who have given their input.”
Stay tuned to Marvel.com for all of the latest developments on "Ultimate Spider-Man!"