What is your name and your current occupation?
Kevin Sullivan Staff Writer for Fairly Oddparents & TUFF Puppy.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I worked at Walt Disney Imagineering for years. I started as an assistant. On my first day, the show producer I was working for asked me to get him a helicopter. He was making a film for one of the parks, but he didn’t want the helicopter for that; he wanted it to take him home to Saugus so he could skip the traffic on the 5 freeway. Before that, I was a Production Assistant on the Academy Awards, and spent Oscar night in a tux in the green room, hanging with celebrities and holding their Oscars. That was a super fun job.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I am super proud of everything – I think all of Butch Hartman’s shows for Nick are a blast and I am proud to have been a part of them. For me, I’d say I’m most proud of TUFF Puppy. I think it’s not only funny, but really clever and smart, too. But FOP and Danny Phantom were where I really learned to write animation so I’ll always hold a special place for both shows. FOP has a zaniness I never get tired of. And I’d never written action before Danny Phantom, so that was a learning curve. I went from writing too vague sequences like “Danny and the Box Ghost fight” to descriptive paragraphs so overwritten I hold the record for the longest single script of Danny Phantom ever written. (And yes, I’m proud of that, too…)
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Connecticut, and studied communications at Gannon University in Erie, PA. I moved to LA with my college roommate. He got here two months before I did, but by the time I arrived he said he hated LA and was leaving, so I was on my own. I’m a great example of the old adage, “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know.” After PA work on bad sitcoms and the Oscars, and a 12 year stint at Disney Imagineering, I wanted to make the leap into script coordinating. I was lucky that I had friends at Nickelodeon who let me know there were two jobs open. I interviewed for both –one was for script coordinator on the Bill Cosby cartoon Fatherhood. The other was for FOP and Danny Phantom. I got the Fatherhood job. Six months later, the script coordinator on FOP and DP was promoted to writer and rather than interview new candidates, they moved me over and had me work on all three shows at once. That was my way in, and while it was crazy juggling so many shows at once, I loved it. From there I started pitching jokes, then whole episode ideas, and was lucky enough to be given a shot at writing an episode that I pitched. That was the start. And I should mention that one of the friends who let me know there were jobs at Nick was someone I met way back in college, so the “who you know” part doesn’t always mean someone new you bump into at an industry event.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
We write now like we’re on a live action sitcom – everything is done together in one room. All the writers work together, whether it’s breaking a story, pitching jokes, revising scripts, etc. Our typical day starts at 10:30, and we write til 5:30 or 6 – or until we break down and just can’t form words anymore. In between coming up with a premise for a new episode, or writing an outline from a premise that was approved the previous week, we’re writing the first draft of a new episode, fixing existing drafts of other episodes, punching final drafts so we can bring the actors in to record, and attending meetings to discuss notes. And this is on two shows simultaneously, since FOP and TUFF have two separate crews working side by side. We also get to attend recording sessions and storyboard pitches, which is a great chance for us to slow down a little and actually laugh at our stuff.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?Whether it’s writing, or in a recording session or at a board pitch, I get to laugh all day long. You can’t beat that. When you pitch a joke that cracks the whole room up, there’s no better feeling. And we all pitch the jokes in the voices of the characters – or at least our lame versions of them. So anyone walking by our room will hear us imitating Cosmo or Keswick (and will think we’re insane). But that chance to take someone else’s pitch and improve upon it, or solve a story problem, or just make someone else laugh, is great. We’re a very close group and it’s a very comfortable room to be in, and it’s so nice that this is how I get to spend my days.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I hate the schedule!! It’s taken me a while to learn to relax and just go with the flow. Everything gets done and in on time, so I need to chill out during those moments when I panic and start thinking about how much work is looming and how many deadlines are quickly approaching. Panic never helps creativity, so I’ve learned to just focus on what’s being worked on in the writer’s room at that moment. Also, what I said about the great feeling that comes from pitching a joke that cracks everyone up? Pitching one that tanks is just the opposite. =)
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
There’s no technology, unless you count the projector in the writers’ room (so we can project the script on a screen for all to see while we write). Otherwise, we’re as low tech as they come! The most tech has to be our smart phones, which we’re all playing with when we should be focused on the script in front of us.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
You really need to be aggressive in this business, always hustling, schmoozing and selling yourself . I stink at all of those things. I’m a wallflower. I remember a day as script coordinator when our exec in charge turned to me in a meeting and told me I was free to pitch jokes – I nearly peed my pants. It took me a while to come out of my shell – which is the worst thing to have to deal with as a writer. I’m totally over that part now – you can barely get me to shut up in a room – but the selling of myself outside of my day job has never been easy for me.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I brush up against animation greatness every day at Nickelodeon. I am always blown away by the caliber of talent here, from voice actors to artists to other writers. It really is inspiring and invigorating. I can’t believe I am a part of this group of people and a part of this world. When I saw what the board artist had added to my very first script (“Oh Brother,” an Oddparents episode where Timmy wishes for an older brother), I was blown away. The added jokes on just a visual level amazed me.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I’m gay, and when I was growing up this was not something that was as accepted as it is now. It was a struggle to accept myself and to come out to those people close to me. My family and friends have been awesome, but in the beginning I did lose a couple people who wanted nothing to do with me when I came out. I hope someday to be able to get a gay character onto a Nickelodeon show – be it animation or live action – so that kids growing up in some small town somewhere can recognize themselves on TV early on and never feel alone.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Three of us TUFF/FOP writers are working on several new pilots for Nick, which are very cool and fun. I’m afraid I can’t mention any details, but they’re as wild and imaginative as FOP and TUFF Puppy are, so I get to spend my days jumping from one cool world to another. That’s what I love about animation – you can create anything. It’s so freeing.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Not a one. I will say I am a demon on the dance floor, as anyone who’s ever attended a Nick Christmas party can attest. But I can’t even whistle (which I blame on having braces as a kid) so forget the whole idea of tying a cherry stem with my tongue. I do love to draw pictures of cars. I’m a car nerd. In all our writer sessions, everyone knows which copy of the script is mine because there are tiny cars drawn all over it.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
If you want to be a writer, write. Write spec scripts of your favorite sitcoms or dramas. Create your own pilot. Study the shows you love and understand what works about them. Enter writing contests or fellowships. Get your stuff out there. It’s so much easier in this day and age with the internet to find places and people willing to read your work. Also, make connections. Network. Like I said, I’m here partly because I knew people who helped me. I know I had to have the skills to back it up, but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if people didn’t help. If you get an internship or fellowship, stay in touch with everyone you meet. Schmooze and get your name out there.