Shaun McLaughlin: More Confusion Than Bitterness

A comics interview article by: Karyn Pinter

Just recently I got to have a little chat with Shaun McLaughlin, producer, writer and stage actor. We spoke about previous works like Batman Beyond and Justice League Unlimited, his current involvement with Eternal Descent and Cheapjack Shakespeare and what he's got coming up.

Karyn: So you've done a fair amount of work on some of the DC cartoons, most notably Justice Leagueand Batman Beyond. With Justice League, did you find it difficult to pull stories from the comics and keep them intact while having them translated to a 30-minute cartoon?

Shaun: The writers weren't necessarily pulling stories from the comics. There was some stuff that was inspired by what happened in the comics, but off the top of my head I can't think of any direct adaptations. You have to understand that there's a long lead-time between script and airing, as much as a year, and that I was done when the last episode of Justice League Unlimited was done. I left Warner in January of 2006. That was five years ago and, really, I'm not very bright. The other day my son was watching an episode with Deadman in it and I stopped and thought "When did we do Deadman?" I used to have all that on right at the front of the cranium. Could tell you episode numbers, storyboard artists, writers, etc. 

One of the reasons the first batch of Justice Leagues were 2 parters was the problem with servicing all those characters in a 20-minute script. If we ran into any problems like that it wasn't any big deal to do longer arcs. 

Justice League Unlimited was designed to deal with shorter stories and introduce more of the DCU into animation. You'll see that those stories were a lot less involved, but there was more of an over-arching season arc.

You'd think it would be easier to adopt a comic into a cartoon than it is. They're about the same length and there are structural similarities to the story telling. But you don't have commercial breaks in comics (there are ads but I never got a decent answer if there's any rhyme or reason where they go) and dialogue on the page is a very different thing coming out of actor's mouths. Something, I'm sad to say, a lot of people don't know or care about. Too many cartoons have lazy dialogue copped from comics or other cartoons. That makes me crazy.

Karyn: Then with Batman Beyond a whole new era of the Bat legacy was created. Was that just like walking on eggshells knowing or not knowing how fans of Batman would accept it?

Shaun: Ummm. Hm. I don't think so. We had just finished the run of the re-designed Batman episodes that aired as New Batman/Superman Adventures. People don't remember how radical that re-design was and a lot of the Internet word (ah, the halcyon days of USNET-- seems like the Flintstones now, doesn't it?) was that it would never fly, it was too radical, blah, blah, blah. There were people who had written on the show dissing it before it aired. So when that was successful I think we were pretty cocky when they started talking about a new, younger Batman. I think the big fear was just not to do something stupid and keep it cool.

Things were a lot different then. Bruce and Glenn and Alan and Paul came up with the concept and ran with it. When we did Static Shock it was different. It was a lot of fun to be around that much unfettered energy. 

Karyn: What was it like writing for TV? I saw on IMDB that you had done a few episodes for Pinky and the Brain and The New Adventures of Johnny Quest.

Shaun: Yeah. I wrote for Pinky and The Brain, Batman Beyond, Quest, Brothers Flub and a few other things. I started out wanting to be an actor, but I always wrote. My first gig was Aquaman for DC and I after that I wrote and developed a live-action pilot. 

People don't want to believe it, but writing for TV is like any other job and a lot of it depends on who you're working with. I've had great story editors and I've had people who seemed they were doing everything they can to make it impossible.

I LOVE the actual writing. One of the things I DON'T like about TV is outlines. Totally necessary to the process but it's like doing all the work without any of the fun part of writing. 

Also, the other thing people don't want to hear is that the biggest part of the job is getting your next job. I teach a Business of Performing Arts class at a local University and that concept seems to be the killer. Every time I tell a class something like that you should see the expressions on their faces. It's like I've killed their puppy.

Looking back the weird thing is that I was never really intimidated by doing any of that. I can sometimes get more intimidated now than I did when I was first starting. Hey! Maybe I'm getting younger! That would be cool!

Karyn: You mentioned Gene-Fusion when I first emailed you, could you tell me a little more about that project?

Shaun: It was the project I went on right after leaving WB. It was an independent privately financed DTV based on the Gene-Fusion property that Beckett published. It was created by Jeff Amano and written by Gabriel Benson, who also produced. It was released this past May from MTI Home Video and is available just about everywhere-- On Demand, iTunes and I think there's probably a zoetrope around, too. It was my first time doing a totally CGI project and I really liked it. We used software that's usually used for video games and a team who also usually did games. The director was Francois Brisson, who did amazing work.

The concept was to create something for people who have grown out of Pokemon. It's 2310 and the hottest sport is Gene-Fusion, a combat game with created animals. But then we find out the technology to create those animals was stolen from an alien civilization and they want it back.

I had so much fun doing this that I can't even describe it. Can't wait to do more.

Karyn: How did you get involved with Beckett comics?

Shaun: We shared an agent at one time. It was really as simple as that. I left Warners and they were looking for someone to produce this movie for them.

I was SO lucky that it was a great experience. I've interviewed for other jobs that you know are just going to be horrible and I've been lucky enough to avoid that.

Karyn: What role will you be playing in adapting Fade From Grace and The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty?

Shaun: I'm attached to Fade to direct it as a live-action feature. We've been trying to get it up and running with a very original concept. But we're finding that perhaps it's too original a concept. Oddly, no one seems interested if you go in and pitch them on a really good film and explain why it'll be a very good film. The replies are, basically, "How can you make this more like other stuff?" That's not bitterness. Well, okay. Maybe a little. But more confusion than bitterness. With a modicum of amusement.

It's a really lousy time for financiers of independent film. There's just not much money out there and what is out there wants big stars attached. Stars are great, but they don't really guarantee making money and if we wanted to make that kind of movie, we'd go to a studio.

Beauty isn't mine, but there are things we're talking about. It's a project I really like and want to be involved with. Gabriel Benson should get a lot more attention than he does for some of the new ground he broke in comics. 

I think I should be clear that I don't work for Beckett. I like their projects and I think they like me. 

Karyn: Can you tell us what's going to be happening with those comics? Will they be large market films, or smaller, independent works?

Shaun: Beauty, I don't know. As I said, I've spoken about it, but it's not mine. The idea for Fade is to do a smaller film. What drew me to it was that it was a smaller, more emotional story and I pitched them the idea of doing a superhero festival film. I really don't know where we're going to go with that. The market is changing very quickly. 

Beauty...well, it's a project that we like a lot and every few months there are phone calls and...

Karyn: Let's talk about Cheapjack Shakespeare. I checked out your website and that sorta seems to be your pet project. What's the story behind that?

Shaun: Well, I dabble in acting for the stage and the occasional web project (you can check out our webseries "Bullpen Comics" ). Cheapjack began as my memories about a summer I spent on tour with a Shakespeare company and grew from there. I would tell this story about a night we got heckled by some guys at a park and it turned into a fight between a bunch of guys in Cat Tractor caps and the cast ofRichard III. People enjoyed that story. I worked on it as a screenplay for years and could never get traction until one day it just clicked. I actually did it as a part of my MFA. Because it's so hard to get financing for a feature, especially a small feature about an outdoor Shakespeare festival, I started to turn it into an online comic. The response has been mixed from people who really get it to people who say "Nothing's happening" to people who are really confused and are wondering when the aliens were going to show up or the actors were going to be recruited to be spies. I didn't think doing a comedy in comic book form was going to be something that groundbreaking. Really.

The most interesting thing is that the people who really respond well seem to be people who don't really read comics. They seem surprised that A) it's easy to read and B) it doesn't have guys in tights beating the crap out of each other (well, it does, but in a totally different context) and C) it's funny. 

That may be something comics publishers should pay attention to.

Karyn: I also saw somewhere that Cheapjack is going to be or was produced into a stage play. How did that come along?

Shaun: We actually staged it last year and it went very well. It's a comedy about a Shakespeare company that has nothing and the stage version is about a company that had nothing trying to stage an adaptation of Cheapjack Shakespeare

I'm actually thinking about changing the title as we move forward. The title seems to scare people. It's really not about Shakespeare. It's about college student drinking and jumping into bed with each other. It's Animal House with tights. We've actually come close to getting this off the ground as a feature the past year and I think it's going to happen.

Karyn: Is there anything else you'd like to talk get out to our readers? Any up and coming projects you're really excited for?

Shaun: My new play, Internal Continuity, opens 9/9 (Roadless Travel) and I'm really excited about that. It's a play about pop culture geeks from the tabletop gaming/first Star Wars generation realizing that life-- and pop culture is passing them by. When one decides to make some changes it throws things into a tizzy because two geeks is exponentially lonelier than three geeks.

In addition to that, I'm writing 2 issues of Llexi Leon's Eternal Descent over at IDW and talking about doing some more comics, as well as something exciting with Eternal Descent. I don't feel like I've really done what I can do in comics and want to rectify that. 

And I just got some very interesting phone calls about some TV work. It's amazing how things you think you'd never hear from again show up.

Thanks Shaun!


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