What is your name and your current occupation?
Shaun McLaughlin. Currently I’m working on getting my own projects up with Cheapjack Partners, my company with Gabriel Benson. I’m largely a producer/writer but I’ve directed some of our live-action shorts and do a bit of everything. We’re running some webcomics and video content on our site. We did a live-action web comedy called The Bullpen and a feature called Gene-Fusion most recently. I’m also freelancing scripts for animation and comics and doing a little consulting on getting projects up and running.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I ran a cowboy stunt show at an amusement park. I played “Marshal Rick” and did the fist fights/gunfights and fell off the occasional roof.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Gene-Fusion, Batman Beyond and Static Shock.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was always interested in movies, TV and comics. Never specifically in animation. When I was 8 I told my mother I wanted to make movies and she said, “No one really does that.” So I turned to art and wanted to do comics. I was identified as a gifted child in art and put into some classes for that. But I suggested that perhaps that identification was wrong since I thought my drawing and painting hit a wall and never got any better. I took an undergraduate degree in theatre and my first thought was to be an actor and a writer. Life took me into animation.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Buffalo, NY by way of Vestal, Brooklyn and Stamford and Santa Barbara. My years in L.A. were the longest I ever lived in one city. After I finished my run as writer on Aquaman, I had a friend who was a director at WB and I got on as a PA. After that it was keeping my mouth shut and my ears open and working my way up.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Now that I’m on my own, there’s no typical day. Last week I was working on a pilot for an animated series. Yesterday it was a stage play until I got word a network was interested in a reality show I was on. And then I had to take my daughter to lacrosse! Today I dealt with some business stuff pertaining to a pitch, juggled a couple of other scripts and then I’ll do some phone calls later. Tomorrow I’m painting the deck. The nice thing is that I can make my own hours. The bad thing is that I wind up working a lot more.
In general terms, I go weeks when I’m not very busy and then everything seems to happen at once.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like when things are cooking on a project. When there are decisions to be made and ideas being traded.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I’m good at confrontation, though I don’t necessarily like it. It think people need to be told when they’re out of line and I don’t have any problem doing it. But that doesn’t mean I like it. As a producer, I’m often the one sent in to bait the bear.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The fact that buyers often have hard-line presuppositions on what the market wants. Market testing and focus groups can’t work for one simple reason: They never take anything new into account. Many times people will reject the idea of something new, but actually like it when it’s presented to them. I wish more people would go with their guts. It’s self-evident that you can’t have 5 shows that are all the same thing, but I seem to be alone in that thinking.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
A MacBook, an iPhone. In terms of software, I used Final Draft, Frame Forge, and Final Cut the most. I play with Blender and 3D Studio max but every time I get a head of steam up on learning them, a paying gig pops up.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
The first time I met Joe Barbara. I was standing in the hall at the WB Sherman Oaks building and he walked up to me and said: “Jesus. You’re a big fucking guy. Are you one of them weightlifters? I got off the elevator and thought, ‘Look at that motherfucker’s back.’” It’s not what you really expect in your first conversation with a multiple academy award winning legend.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I had an editor on Aquaman who never really knew what he wanted. As a result, my dream job of writing comics became a nightmare. I could never do the right thing because the right thing was a moving target. At the end of those 13 issues, my spirit and my confidence in my own creativity were really broken. I was not long out of college and it took me a long time to have faith in my own instincts again. It took me a long time to realize that just because someone had a job, that didn’t mean they knew every thing. Or even knew anything. You have to always remember who you are and do the best you can.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I got my MFA two years ago and I’m a part-time college professor in a theatre department where I teach acting for animation and the business of performing arts. I’m a produced playwright, my first play “Cheapjack Shakespeare” went up last fall and my new play “Internal Continuity” is going up THIS fall. I also still act from time to time on stage and in commercials
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m not sure I have any USUAL talents. Okay: I know stage fight choreography. I can break down and choreograph a 2-handed broadsword fight. Not that there’s a lot of call for that.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Any job in the business is better than any job outside the business. Get in however you can, sit down, shut up and do your job. Don’t think that’s the job that’s going to make your career, but get in and learn. You have to learn how it works. You’re going to have the hew to the business. It ain’t gonna hew to you.