Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Page At A Time interview...Sam Agro, part 2

And now, the conclusion!

DC: I'm curious about the scripting process for writer/artists. Do you write a traditional script or is it done with rough layouts of the actual comic page? Is the process different for you if you're writing a story that you're later going to illustrate?

SA: I have a lot of different ways of working out a comic story.

On the Looney Tunes book, I delivered a full, or “DC Style” script. However, I had a rather unique approach to creating it. After pitching a bunch of short idea springboards, the editor would choose a couple to be scripted. At that point I would rough out pages in sketch form, working out gags, rough dialogue and visual continuity. I would then write from those roughs to create the final script. I think best visually, and this allowed me to describe the content of the panels effectively. I often got something very close to what I’d written from the artist, which for me was a good result.

I have also worked with a few people in the “Marvel Style” where you create an outline of the story beats, the artist draws the pages and the final scripting is done last.

When creating a story I’m going to illustrate myself, it’s kind of a mash-up of the two techniques. I start the way I did for DC, using my premise as a jumping off point and creating rough page layouts. However, instead of going to a full script at that point, I refine the layouts further, and then create the full pencils. Lastly, I finalize the dialogue.

I actually wrote an article about writing for kid’s comics in issue # 39 of Sketch Magazine, if people want to check it out.

DC: Continuing with process, and speaking an aspiring writer myself...I'm always curious about how scripts are perceived by artists. Are you a fan of detailed scripts, or do you prefer to have some "storytelling leeway"?

SA: I think most of us are fundamentally selfish and I’m certainly no exception. As a writer, I prefer a full script because that affords me the most control. As an artist I prefer an outline because that allows me the most input.

But, comics should be a collaborative process, so I try and discover what works best for each new partnership. I like to keep myself receptive to different ways of working, and most people are open to a little back and forth on the material if you offer it diplomatically. Of course, I’ve worked with some people who are utter control freaks, and that’s never pleasant.

DC: You've also done some very interesting storyboarding work on some heavy hitting Hollywood properties. I'm assuming that when you do storyboards, you work directly from the script. Are you essentially interpreting the script in your own personal way, or is the director/producer very "hands on" in the process?

SA: Well, ONE heavy hitting Hollywood property at least. I’ve worked on the last five installments of the SAW horror franchise. I also worked on Fly Away Home, which got an Oscar nomination for cinematography, and a few other fairly big-budget Hollywood movies that didn’t really take off at the box office.

The storyboard serves two basic purposes: First, as a development tool so a director can really nail down what he wants, and effectively communicate his vision with his crew. Secondly, from the producer’s point of view, the board is a way of planning out stunts and special effects sequences to determine budgeting. The stunt coordinator or the effects house look over the boards and put forth a budget for the work Then the producer goes back to the director and tells him he can’t have most of what he wants. Then we re-board and the sequence is brought under realistic budgetary constraints.

I’ve worked with about 40 directors and while each has their own approach to the storyboarding process, they’re all definitely “hands on”. I’m never just handed a script and told to go away and board. Usually I sit down with the director and he gives me some idea of what he wants in the scene.

Sometimes it’s fairly general info about the feeling they want, such as in the case of Roger Spottiswoode. His was a very collaborative process where he gave me the overview, I boarded out a first draft, and then he looked it over and made a few revisions. For him the boards served as a general guide or jumping off point. Then, because he was such an accomplished craftsman, he improvised a lot during the shooting process.

Other directors, like Darren Bousman know pretty much exactly what they want, and they just list the shots while I make roughs on the spot. Then I go home and clean it up. Not to say Darren wasn’t open to any suggestions I might have, because he certainly was, but he always had a very strong vision of how the sequence should look.

One particular director, in our first meeting, took ten minutes to explain to me in great detail why he didn’t like to do boards. He carefully illuminated me on how they stifled creativity, and how you were never able to get the same shots on the real set or location anyway. After all this we went on to the boarding process with no real unpleasantness. Ironically, he shot almost exactly what we had in the storyboards.

This all applies to live-action, of course. Animation is a whole different kettle of fish.

DC: Are storyboards essentially comics without dialogue? Is the point of the boards to tell a story or is it to help the director and crew plan out how they're going to attack their jobs? Is there even a difference between those things?

SA: Storyboards and comics seem quite similar on the surface, but they don’t truly have that much in common.

Storyboards represent a series of film shots with a kinetic intent. Things move in film. Though we cut between shots, we are trying to smoothly represent that movement. We also try to create pace, tension, humor and excitement. The board attempts to represent the dynamic physical flow of movement (or stillness) in the film with a series flat drawings. That’s why we have a lot of arrows to indicate the movement of characters, cameras and other things.

Comics are static by nature, but we try to create a sense of dynamism with pose, angle and eye direction.

Also, there is no “page” in storyboards, each drawing is a singular part of the implied visual flow of the film. Conversely, in comics, several panels make up a larger unit, which is the page. This is a whole different type of composition. Each panel is it’s own little composition but is also, in turn, a part of the larger page design. Effectively leading the eye from panel to panel is crucial to good comics storytelling.

Additionally, the size and shape of the panel in storyboards never changes, while in comics (modern comics, anyway) the panel can be any size and shape that helps to effectively tell the story or make an interesting page layout.

DC: Any teases that you can give us regarding your upcoming Crystal Fractal Comics project, "Project Epsilon: London Town"?

Publisher Derrek Lennox and writer Shawn Smith have come up with a terrific story to add into the larger Crystal Fractals tapestry. Shawn spent some time in England, and has worked some specific London landmarks into the story. I've completed pencils on the first two issues, and we hope to finish the remaining two this year. I've seen some of the completed pages, with inks and colors, and they look terrific.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it involves corrupt government agencies, masked assassins, and warring crime families.

DC: Would you like to drop any hints about projects you're working on in any of your various fields?

On the storyboarding front, I'm doing some work on an upcoming TV pilot, which, unfortunately, I can't say anything more about.

On the comics front , I'm drawing a few intriguing short stories written by a certain talented fellow named Dino Caruso.

On the personal front, I've been working a great deal on my writing. With my writing partner Jerry Schaefer, I've developed the pilot for a kids animated TV show, and on my own I'm working on developing a television drama. I'm also about halfway through a novel which I'd loosely classify as a thriller. And, as always, I'm working on developing my skills in illustration and comics art.

If people are interested they can check out my companion blogs, FIGHTING WORDS and MOVING PICTURES, where I discuss my struggles to become a better writer and artist, and the path that led me to these creative pursuits.



DC: Sam, thanks so much for all of your time and insightful answers. I enjoyed our "chat" very much!

SA: You’re welcome. Any time, Dino.

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