October 18, 2013

Exclusive Interview - Writer Steven Melching

Steven Melching was a freelance writer for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated 2002 series by Mike Young Productions.
He has also written episodes for Transformers: Prime, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Batman the Brave and the Bold. His latest project is Transformers Prime Beast Hunters: Predacons Rising.
With He-Man, he was essential in breathing life to the Snake Men, which had not gotten previously a full fledged animation appearance in previous incarnations.
How long have you been a writer?
I realized I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, since the time I realized that writing television shows was a job that people did. Why be a paleontologist or a doctor when I could make up stories for the Six Million Dollar Man? (I'm dating myself; it was the 1970s.) I wrote short stories and audio plays that my friends and I recorded. Later, I studied playwriting and screenwriting at the University of Southern California's film school, and kept at it after graduation until I was able to make a living at it.
What are your favourite animated shows you've written for?
I've been fortunate enough to write for a lot of great shows, including some that are new iterations of shows or characters I loved as a kid. Aside from the 2003 HE-MAN, my personal favorites include the 1990s X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES, ROUGHNECKS: THE STARSHIP TROOPERS CHRONICLES, BIG GUY AND RUSTY THE BOY ROBOT, and THE BATMAN. Recently I was able to write for three shows that I'm very proud of: BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, TRANSFORMERS PRIME, and STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. Batman was always my favorite superhero, and B&B allowed us to team him up with a wide variety of other heroes in stories that were just plain fun. I was a fan of the Transformers in the 80s (I still have a number of my old G1 toys) and this new series was a blast to write for. STAR WARS was one of the biggest (if not the biggest) inspirations in my life, so having the opportunity to visit Skywalker Ranch and write official SW stories for George Lucas was nothing short of a lifelong dream come true. All of those shows also had very talented casts and crews who brought my scripts to life and made them better than I dared hope.
Did you know about the original He-Man cartoon by Filmation?
Oh yes -- I was a little old for it at the time, but I watched it most afternoons when I got home from high school (along with GI JOE, TRANSFORMERS, and THUNDERCATS). I still have my original He-Man action figure!
You were a freelance writer for Mike Young Productions (MYP). How did you land that gig?
I had done some work for story editor Dean Stefan on other shows, and he asked me to come aboard. In addition, I had written some scripts for another Mattel-related series, MAX STEEL, so they knew me as well. Dean is a fantastic writer, and one of the funniest people I know. I was pleased to be able to work with him.
What was the process writing an "He-Man" episode?
It usually starts with meetings, where we decide what stories we want to tell. Some of the story ideas come from the writers, and some from the story editor, producer, or studio. From there we flesh them out and the writer goes away and writes an outline -- typically about 12-15 pages in length, with every scene and act break laid out. There's a round of notes from everybody on things they like or want to change, and then it's off to script. Repeat that process for a couple of drafts (about 33 pages in length), and then it's out of the writer's hands.
You wrote the episode "The Snake Pit". That was the first episode about the Snake Men. Did you think there would be more Snake Men-themed episodes?
Funny you should ask. In one of those story meetings the idea of introducing the Snake Men came up. I immediately sensed an opportunity for a recurring villain, and wanting to ensure more work for myself should the episode turn out good enough to warrant a return, I asked to write that episode. I worked hard on the mythology and tried to create a compelling Snake Men culture to rival Skeletor. Fortunately it worked out, and I went on to write ssssssseveral more!

Did you have to rewrite any of your scripts?
All of them. It's true when they say "writing is rewriting." We always look for ways to focus and hone the stories, and edit them to make sure they're the right length -- which can be a painful process.
Out of all the He-Man episodes you wrote. Which one was most fun?
I think I enjoyed writing "Rise of the Snake Men" the most. It was a fun, epic story with huge stakes and cool villains.
Which was was most dreadful to write?
I wouldn't say any of them were "dreadful!" Some episodes came easier than others, or were more fun, but I always find something to love about every story -- a scene, a character, a theme -- and latch on to it when the going gets rough. I do recall having a hard time with "Rattle of the Snake", but I don't remember what was so hard about it.
Did the writers get to see the toys or model-sheets of the characters?
I think we were shown designs of a few characters, vehicles, and locations in advance -- but only within the confines of Mattel Studios! That stuff was kept top secret, and it was really cool to see. They had some great artists and designers on that show. As we got into writing the series I didn't get to see much -- mainly because in most cases they didn't know what to design until we wrote it!
In season 1 episode "Underworld" that you wrote; Skeletor goes underground and discovers a Grayskull-facade and gate to the Castle. Was there any backstory to why there was an entrace to the Castle below ground?
Not really -- initially we just thought it would make a cool visual to see a subterranean entrance to the Castle. But in developing the idea of "Subternia" it made sense to us that such an important building would be accessible from the underworld.
In ancient times the Council of Elders transformed Serpos into the petrified Snake Mountain. King Hiss took shelter there and made it into his own fortress. Do you have any theories where did King Hiss reside before that?
I can't say that I do. He might not have had a grand castle before then, and only when he saw Snake Mountain was he inspired to claim it as his own, and use it to rally his people for conquest.
He-Man and Zodak were fighting in "Rise of the Snake Men part 1". Who would have won that battle if the Snake Men marching didn't distract both combatants?
Wow, that's a tough one! It's like Superman versus Batman. I know He-Man is our hero, and is extremely powerful, but I think Zodak's experience might give him the edge.

King Hsss commented that He-Man was no King Grayskull. Did the writers have the idea that He-Man would eventually grow in power and experience over the seasons?
I don't recall discussing that specifically, but it makes sense to put He-Man on a "hero's journey," in which he gains wisdom and experience, and learns how to use his powers more fully.
Were there any plans on restoring Snake Face from being a stone statue?
Not that I remember. Snake Face's power was perhaps too powerful, and that made him difficult to write for. But I'm sure if we had another season we would have found a way to bring him back.
Who is your favourite character from the show?
Probably Man-At-Arms or Zodak -- those kind of warriors are interesting, and they have cool backstories. And villains are always fun to write -- especially Skeletor.
Whcih Snake Man is your favourite?
Probably Kobra Khan. For all he did for the Snake Men he never got the respect he felt he was entitled to.
Had you been given complete freedom from restrictions, what would you have done with the Snake Men in future episodes?
It's been so long that I really can't remember where we left off, and what "dangling threads" were ripe for revisiting. I always like writing stories where there are multiple factions fighting for dominance, which can create unexpected alliances. I probably would have explored that idea further.
Heard you were gonna be this year [2013] at Power-Con but couldn't make it.
Yeah, I was looking forward to it, but a last-minute business trip foiled my plans! Maybe next year..
Thank you so much again for any answers.

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