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Author Topic: Behind the scenes with Eddie Guzelian and Matt Negrete  (Read 2606 times)

Matt

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Behind the scenes with Eddie Guzelian and Matt Negrete
« on: March 11, 2007, 02:44:39 PM »
You can find them on their blog at http://amdrag.blogspot.com - if however you are too lazy to visit there, simply see the other posts in this thread :)

Matt

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Re: Behind the scenes with Eddie Guzelian and Matt Negrete
« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2007, 02:55:56 PM »
2006

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Hello, World!
Hello everybody, this is an UnOfficial American Dragon Blog hosted by executive producers Eddie Guzelian and Matt Negrete. We thought it would be fun and informative to give you a peek inside the makings of "American Dragon": the joys of victory, the agonies of defeat, yadda yadda yadda.

We hope to give you a tidbit a day (more if we have time!) about the production of the show. We hope this will be a fun and informative experience for all!

Eddie and Matt

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The fart heard 'round the world...
American Dragon was a show that had been kicking around in development at Disney Television Animation for years.

I first heard about it while I was working as a story editor on Kim Possible and I remember thinking that it seemed like a slam dunk--A young kid discovers that he is actually a mystical dragon who is destined to fight for justice in the secret magical world hidden within New York City? That's pretty cool stuff. How can you go wrong?

About a year later, I was contacted by Meghan Cole, a Television Animation Executive. She wanted to know if I had any interest in coming aboard to work on American Dragon. They already had a rough animatic reel (a ten minute mini-episode made up of still storyboard visuals, a dialogue track, and temp music and sound effects) that they wanted to screen for the Disney Channel and focus test in front of kids in about four weeks. I was thrilled. I remembered loving the show's premise and I really wanted to be involved. Since I was a writer who had zero experience producing a show, Disney also wanted to team me up with another newbie, Matt Negrete, to work as Executive Producers on the project together. More great news! Matt was a good friend and we had worked with each other on stuff for years.

Meghan sent us the existing test reel and Matt and I watched it, slack-jawed. It was terrible. It was beyond terrible. It was one of the worst things I had ever seen. The story didn't make any sense. The characters were bland. There was no sense of magic or wonder. It wasn't exciting. It wasn't funny. And worst of all, it was boring. Boring is the one thing I simply cannot tolerate. I'd rather write something just plain bad than write something boring. At first, Matt and I thought Meghan might be playing a joke on us. Maybe they sent us the wrong tape? Nope. That was it. Matt and I knew we were going to have to throw out the entire thing and start pretty much from scratch. Meghan ultimately agreed. "But you have to keep the fart in," she insisted. The what? Meghan pointed out that the reel had a throw away fart joke in the first five minutes and admitted that it was the only thing in the reel that any of the Disney executives even liked.

Matt and I now had four weeks to produce a pilot that normally would take the studio about a year to make. We started by going back to the original show bible written by the show's creator, Jeff Goode. He had long since been kicked off the project (don't ask me why, I still am not sure) but his original vision of the show made a lot more sense than what it had become. Matt and I both felt like the show had the potential to be a kind of Harry Potter meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We wrote the pilot script over a weekend. I wrote the first half, Matt wrote the second half and we fused them together. Working day and night with director Chris Roman, we worked feverishly on putting together a reel that could sell the show.

And the fart? We decided to embrace it, to milk it for everything we could. Rather than use it as a simple gag, we built it up as an essential part of the pilot's story and even had it pay off again at the end. We found temp music that built up to the farts and showcased them in all their glory.

A few weeks later, Matt and I sat bleary-eyed in a conference room in the Disney Channel building, watching via satellite as kids in Denver were shown the pilot, our vision of the show. As the lights went down, we almost fell asleep. We were exhausted and were so close to the project that we could no longer tell if it was any good or not. We watched the kids watching the reel. They sat, stone-faced, while the first couple minutes played out. Matt and I glanced at each other. It didn't seem to be going that well. Then, the temp music built up to the first fart. And the kids exploded with laughter. That first laugh seemed to break the ice and the kids were hooked for the rest of the story. The pilot tested through the roof and a week later, Matt and I set to work on what would become American Dragon: Jake Long.

Moral of the story: never underestimate a good fart joke.

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A Rose By Any Other Name...
When American Dragon was greenlit, it was almost like Disney had suddenly called our bluff. Matt and I loved the material, but we had put together the pilot so fast, we honestly never really expected the show to get picked up. When it did, Matt and I quickly realized we were completely unprepared to produce an entire season of the show. And naturally, Disney wanted it done immediately and on a very tight schedule.

Fortunately, we had Jeff Goode's series bible. A lot of what Matt and I did as far as developing American Dragon was simply steering it back towards his original vision of the show. There were certainly a lot of details and shaping that Matt and I did as we moved forward with the writing process, but most of the fundamentals that made it onto the air can be traced directly back to that original Jeff bible.

The one essential fundamental element of the show that Matt and I contributed was the creation of the Rose character.

Matt and I had decided from the beginning that we wanted the series to have real story arcs that unfolded over the course of the season. We didn't want the show to simply be a bunch of stand alone episodes that could be aired in any order and it wouldn't matter. We didn't intend to create cliffhangers every episode but we definitley wanted some things to change and develop as the show progressed. We wanted Jake's friends to begin the season not knowing about their friend's secret dragon identity, learn about it, and then end up helping him on his adventures by the end of the season. Convincing Disney to sign off on doing this kind of series was not easy. Networks are reluctant to do these type of shows when it comes to kids' programming. It's more ambitious and it means having to air the episodes in some kind of order so the story arcs make sense. Networks also have a habit of truly underestimating kids. Deep down, Disney didn't think kids would pay attention enough to care about ongoing story lines. But Matt and I felt very strongly that we couldn't just do wall-to-wall fart jokes. Story arcs would build momentum for the show and maybe keep an audience hooked.

But to grab an audience, we also needed a really heartfelt epic story arc. We wanted Jake to have a love interest/crush. Originally, she was just going to be a Lois Lane type of school newspaper reporter. But the more Matt and I thought about it, the more we realized that great love stories are defined by the obstacles that keep the people apart. The bigger the obstacles, the more unlikely and hopeless the relationship seems, the more fun it is to watch it triumph.

So what would be the biggest obstacle we could find for Jake and his love interest? Who would be the most unlikely person for Jake to fall for? We decided it would be a dragon slayer. Only he wouldn't know it.

A character called the Huntsman already existed in Jeff's bible, but he was more of a Crocodile Dundee-type big game hunter of magical creatures. We decided to make him the leader of a mysterious group of warriors who were sworn to hunt magical creatures. And we gave him an apprentice who would be Jake's love interest--a girl named Rose who had been trained since birth to hunt and slay him. And we decided that Rose would be trying to lead a normal life at school, just like Jake. They would meet, start to fall for each other and then, over the course of the season, realize that they were mortal enemies.

Over the course of writing the show, we have made a lot of mistakes and done a lot of things that I wish we could do over. But the Jake and Rose story is the one element of the show we could always count on. It always felt real and genuine and I always found myself rooting for them to be together.

And when I talk with fans of the show, it's almost always the first thing they bring up.

Perhaps, even for children's programming, love really does conquer all...

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Jake Needs A Boyfriend
“Jake needs a boyfriend”

I remember distinctly these words coming from the mouth of an executive three years ago. Odd looks were exchanged around the cramped casting office where Eddie and I sat, and the executive immediately clarified his statement. “I mean, Jake needs a friend who is a boy.”

He had a point. We had rushed through the American Dragon development pilot so quickly, we’d left lots of things hanging in the air. Trixie didn’t have a last name, Mom and Dad didn’t have first names, and Fu Dog’s name was spelled “Foo.” (The merchandising department worried about how the letters “F” and “U” would look side-by-side on a t-shirt.) Creating a second friend for Jake was the furthest thing from our minds. But like it or not, we had to come up with somebody… and fast. Who would this new character be? A cool jock? A nerdy bookworm? How would he fit in with Jake and Trixie? We wanted to create a unique character unlike any other featured on the Channel. Crunched for time, Eddie and I returned to our offices, brainstormed for an entire thirty seconds, and came up with the perfect new pal for Trixie and Jake -- Rob. Yes, Rob. He had no last name. Just “Rob.” And his unique character traits? He was, well… a skater.

At some point, it dawned on us that “skater” doesn’t exactly make “Rob” a unique character. Nor was Rob a unique name (no offense to any guys named Rob who may be reading this). So we pulled out another named from the ether… Spud. And that allowed us to take the character in a whole new (and better) direction. Rob – Rob would be cautious, practical, probably good with math or naming the Presidents. But Spud – Spud would be weird, quirky, and unpredictable. He’d be someone who’d have crushes on cheerleaders and chairlifts. He’d dream of becoming a mime and a mer-man. He’d know how to decode Huntsclan encryption patterns, but wouldn’t know how to tie his own shoes. He’d be a great foil for Trixie, and in the end, he’d be Jake’s friend… who just so happened to be a boy.

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Cast Away...
The casting of any show is an absolutely critical part of the process. Here's a quick run down of how we ended up casting the actors that comprised our main cast on American Dragon:

JAKE LONG
When Matt and I first came onto the project, Dante Basco had already been cast as the lead. But in the original pilot reel we saw, Jake came across as pretty bland and flat. We even wondered about recasting the role. Then we met Dante face to face and immediately changed our minds.

In person, Dante Basco is anything but bland and flat. He's a hysterically funny, cocky, flashy player, the kind of guy who lights up any room he walks into. In addition to acting most of his life (he played Rufio, King of The Lost Boys in Steven Spielberg's 'Hook'), he also fronts a rap/breakdancing group with his four brothers and is an accomplished spoken word poet (featured on Def Poetry Jam). Matt and I decided not only to keep Dante, but to write the Jake character to try to capture some of Dante's glowing and magnetic personality.

In recording sessions, we encouraged Dante to ad lib and embellish on the written dialogue with his own flavor and flair. We developed something we came to call "Jake-i-tude," a cocky, hip hop flair that Jake always is trying to pull off, but can't quite do it. The show has taken a lot of abuse online from people who hate Jake's hip hop slang, but Matt I always thought it was just hysterical. We never were trying to actually write hip street slang to appeal to kids. If anything, with writing Jake, we were trying to poke fun at people who try to put on the whole wannabe MTV gangsta thing. And beneath all the cocky slang, we always made an effort to keep Jake a very sweet and likable guy, which also fits Dante's actual personality.

Interesting note--Dante also voices the villain on Nick's Avatar, so he gets to play both a hero and a villain at the same time. The real Dante is somewhere in between.


GRANDPA
Like Dante, Keone Young had already been cast as Grandpa when Matt and I came aboard American Dragon. He's great and was perfect to play the old and wise mentor that would play against Jake's flashy and impulsive nature. But the more we wrote Grandpa, the more we also tried to show little glimpses of Grandpa's fun side to show that he and Jake really aren't all that different deep down, and Keone always pulled that stuff off very easily. Plus, he can rant in Chinese like nobody's business. Since we don't speak Chinese, Keone assures us that what he says is perfectly okay for children's TV. If any Chinese speakers out there know otherwise, please e-mail us...


FU DOG
In the original pilot reel that we inherited, Fu Dog was voiced by Jay Leno! But Matt and I wanted to take the character in a different direction. We wanted Fu to be a sort of devil on Jake's shoulder. He's that bad Uncle that every family has who will buy the kids beer, gamble away the family fortune, but is a blast to hang around. We wanted an Andrew Dice Clay kind of vibe. There was also a lot of pressure on us from the network to make the show funny and we wanted to make sure that Fu Dog would be a reliable source of humor. John DiMaggio was an actor we knew from his work as playing Drakken on Kim Possible. He is the kind of guy who can crack you up just reading a phone book. He brings so much energy and enthusiasm into the recording booth. We were thrilled to get him on the show.


TRIXIE
Matt and I had no idea who we wanted to play Trixie, so the casting department sent us a tape with about a hundred auditions of different actors reading the same three or four lines. Out of all these auditions, one voice stood out from the rest. An actress who called herself "Kittie" had the perfect blend of sass, attitude, sweetness, and acting ability. And when we met her in person, she was a true force of nature.

In casting the show, Matt and I made a real effort to cast larger than life personalities. We wanted to cast actors who brought their own style and flair, and then write the characters to play towards their own strengths and traits. Like Dante and John, Kittie was another actor capable of ad libbing lines and coming up with funny stuff in the booth. She really helped shape and define the Trixie character and we wrote the character to fit her. The only problems we had were with some of her hip hop/slang ad libs, which we didn't even understand. I would whisper to Matt, "What she just said... is that obscene?" And Matt would shrug; he had no idea. But it was usually funny. Luckily, we haven't gotten any letters from angry parents about anything Trixie's said. Yet.

SPUD
Spud was another character where Matt and I had to sift through hundreds of auditions. The Disney Channel wanted the character to be played by Aaron Carter, a pop singer who they thought had some kind of fan base and following. But in the auditions, Matt found one voice that really intrigued him. It was a guy who gave a really strange reading of the lines, with odd pauses and beats, like he was truly in his own world. The actor was Charlie Finn and we fought to hire him onto the show as Spud. As with a lot of the characters on the show, a lot of Spud is based on Charlie's own personality and quirks. Charlie IS Spud. He's a trip.


ROSE
In casting Rose, we wanted to get a really strong actor. Rose had to come across as tough and cold as the Huntsgirl, but also sweet and likable as the object of Jake's affection. We wanted Mae Whitman from the first moment Matt and I conceived the character. Matt and I first worked with Mae on the show "Fillmore" and were blown away by how good she was at such a young age. She just nails her lines, take after take, and will give you anything you ask her to do in the booth. You can give her one of those impossible nonsensical notes--"Uh, can you say that line, but make it louder, only in a quiet way, and you have to be really hard, but also come off as soft, and we need you to be deadly serious, but also have a twinkle in your eye"--and she will just do it. Perfectly. Every time.

She is one of the few minors on our cast (most of the other actors are adults simply playing younger) and is still one of the most professional. We've gotten to watch her grow up over the course of doing the show (when we started, I think she was twelve or thirteen and she's now seventeen or eighteen) and it's been a joy. She's been acting all her life and you can see her all over TV and in the movies. She also does a voice on Avatar with Dante.


MOM
Lauren Tom was already cast as Jake's Mom on the show when Matt and I arrived and we loved her performance from the start. Like Grandpa, we also worked to bring out a fun side of Mom and Lauren is great at doing comedic, over the top stuff. In some ways, we would like to use her comedic skills more on the show, but Mom always has to be one of the more grounded characters, a voice of reason.


HALEY
The Disney Channel is really great at finding young talent and developing it by featuring their actors in all their different shows, TV movies, etc. They suggested we use Amy Bruckner, a star on their Phil Of The Future series, to voice Jake's totally perfect younger sister. She delivered exactly what we were looking for and was able to play Haley in a way that made her seem cute and likable and not just annoying.


DAD/THE HUNTSMAN
When doing an animated show, it's always a good idea to fill out your cast with the kind of pro voice actors who can do anything. Jeff Bennett is so versatile and so good, it's easy for him to go from being the goofy and oblivous Dad to the ominous and scary Huntsman. He also can do any incidental troll/ogre/elf voice that we need at any time. In addition to his tremendous technical ability to do voices, he is also a truly tremendous actor and brings a great energy to the show.


THE RECORDING SESSIONS
When we started the show, Matt and I wanted to do ensemble voice recordings. Often times in doing animated shows, the actors are brought in one at a time to record their lines. We wanted to get all of the actors in the recording booth together to play off each other. But when you get a bunch of funny actors in a room together, the discussion turns... shall we say... "inappropriate". Definitely not appropriate for children's television, or even prime time television, or even HBO, or even late night Cinemax. Naturally, most of this stuff never made it on the air, but Dante, Kittie, John, Charlie would have everybody in the room holding their stomachs, doubled over with laughter. Having them all in a room together was like a perfect storm of funny. It was up to talented voice director Julie Morgavi to preside over the madness and I sometimes wonder how we ever managed to get any work done at all. I hope some fraction of the spirit of those recordings made it onto the air, because they were truly special.

There were really rough days on the show... days when Disney Channel would kill the exciting 2-part episode we'd planned, or give us really harsh notes on a script, or tell us we weren't funny, or that they never wanted to see another Dark Dragon episode... and we'd wonder why we were putting ourselves through this torture. Then we'd go to a recording, full of delightful, talented, hysterical people who were putting their all into the show, and it would totally revive our spirits. It was in these recording sessions that we got to see the show actually come alive and no matter how beaten down we were going in, we would always leave smiling.

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"What Is, What Was, What Could’ve Been…"
Reading over these past few blog entries has got me thinking. Having executive produced all 52 episodes of “American Dragon: Jake Long,” Eddie and I have had to make more creative decisions than either of us would care to count. It’d have to be in the millions. Seriously.

Sometimes decisions must be made not by choice, but by necessity. For example, we were simply going to call the show “American Dragon.” But as luck would have it, a movie already existed with that name (see IMDB), and Disney Legal insisted we change it. So change it we did. We must have pitched out dozens of titles, including “American Dragon: NYC,” “The First American Dragon” and even “Extreme Dragon,” which in hindsight, sounds more like an energy drink than a TV show. Ultimately, the only title Legal would let us use was one that included Jake Long’s name. To this day, I sometimes forget if it’s called “American Dragon: Jake Long,” or “Jake Long: American Dragon.” Either way, it’s kind of a mouthful. Our entire crew simply refers to it as “Dragon.” Short and sweet.

Maybe the biggest bombshell dropped on us by the Legal Department was over the name “Thorn.” Thorn was the original name of Huntsgirl. Eddie and I had always loved the good girl/bad girl duality of “Rose” and “Thorn.” We’d nearly recorded all of Season One when the Legal Department realized that a DC comic already existed, featuring a character with two identities: Rose and Thorn. To protect ourselves legally, we had to give Thorn a different name. Again, we must’ve pitched out dozens of monikers (“Ivy” and “Poison” come to mind), but we ultimately settled on “Huntsgirl.” Then, we had to bring in every actor who ever said “Thorn” and record the word “Huntsgirl” over it. (A quick fun fact: The Huntsman actually calls Huntsgirl “Thorn” in “Shapeshifter.” That one slipped through the cracks. Whoops.)

Other changes we made…

* Originally, Mom had dragon powers, and the family secret wasn’t a secret to Dad. The whole “dragon” thing made him a bit uncomfortable, but he accepted it. (Think: Darren Stevens in “Bewitched.”) In the end, we felt Jake’s dragon-ness seemed less special if his whole family knew his secret and had powers of their own. Plus, we knew we could get lots of fun and suspense by seeing Jake have to keep his secret from Dad. We had actually written the first five scripts of season one before we decided to go back and revise the family dynamic.

* In the first draft of “Hong Kong Nights,” we revealed Chang to be Jake’s grandmother. In the end, we changed our minds. First, it didn’t really work with the timeline. Secondly, that would mean Chang probably had Mom out of wedlock. Not exactly a scenario Disney Channel Standards & Practices would deem appropriate.

* The upcoming episode “Homecoming” was originally conceived as a two-parter. It was dark and dramatic, and (gasp!) we even planned on killing off one our main characters. (No, not Rose.) Eddie even wrote the first draft. But the episode was deemed “too dark” and “too Jetix” so it was condensed into one 22-minute episode. And you can all relax; no one dies in the revised version. Well, not exactly, anyway.

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Under the influence...
When American Dragon began airing, many online haters immediately began accusing us of stealing and copying the premise and ideas behind the show from a variety of programs and sources. I think this is a simple knee jerk reaction. When people see anything new, they automatically want to try to find something familiar in it and point out where they've seen it before.

Matt and I had indeed borrowed and gotten inspiration from a variety of different existing sources. But what we found funny was that very few people seemed to recognize any of the actual sources that inspired the writing of the show (even though they seem pretty obvious to us). Instead, they insisted that we had ripped off properties like Danny Phantom, a show that Matt and I had never even seen (though I hear it's good). Juniper Lee is a show on Cartoon Network that shares a lot with American Dragon and people began wondering which show had ripped off the other. Once again, Matt and I had never seen or heard of the show until long after we had finished writing the first season of Dragon and I doubt that Juniper Lee borrowed anything from us either. The similarities in the two shows are probably just coincidental. This kind of "parallel development" happens all the time in the entertainment industry. Remember about six year ago when like four meteor-hitting-the-earth disaster movies all came out at the same time?

If we are going to be accused of stealing stuff for the show, let's at least make sure it's accurate. For the record, here's a quick list of some of the actual sources that influenced and inspired Matt and I while developing and writing the show:

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Matt and I are both huge fans of the Joss Whedon television series and we immediately wanted to steer American Dragon towards the general tone and vibe of Buffy, particulary the first three seasons of that show.

Buffy is brilliant at juggling really funny comedic moments along side genuine dramatic tension and high-energy kick butt action scenes and this is exactly what we wanted to accomplish with American Dragon. Walking the balance beam between comedy and action can be very tricky. If you veer too far into the comedic, then the action scenes don't work because you lose any sense of real jeopardy or menace. If everything is silly and comedic, you don't ever feel like the bad guys will win or the hero could be hurt and you start to not care about the hero's missions or goals. At the same time, if you make everything deadly serious and melodramatic, it can be hard to watch. You want to have funny moments, comic relief, to help carry you through the story. Buffy was able to balance the action and comedy perfectly. You got a lot of great laughs, but still cared very deeply about Buffy and felt that the threat and danger to her and her friends were always real. Buffy also had a Romeo and Juliet love story with Buffy falling for the vampire Angel and even though the specifics are pretty different, we hoped to capture some of that in the Jake/Rose story on Dragon (the similarities between their star-crossed relationships will become even more clear as season two unfolds, especially in the climactic "Homecoming" episode). Buffy was also a character who wanted desperately to be a regular kid and was cursed with the destiny of being a slayer. We wanted to do a similar thing with Jake, a kid who is torn between his magical and non-magical worlds and identities.

There is no other single source that influenced and inspired us more than Buffy. We provided DVDs of the first three seasons to all the writers and artists working on the show. When Matt and I would get stuck on a story point or had trouble coming up with new episodes, we instructed all writers to follow the simple mantra: WWBD? or What Would Buffy Do?


HARRY POTTER
Our other major influence in writing the series was the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling. Even though it seems obvious, a lot of people never really seem to bring up or notice the similarities between Harry Potter and American Dragon. Matt and I wanted to present the magical world of New York City in the same way Rowling showed the magical elements in Harry Potter, existing right beneath the surface of our own world. The sheer wonder and imagination in the books is incredible and we wanted to try to capture some of that same vibe in the show. We wanted viewers to feel that there might be herds of Unicorns roaming Central Park or clans of elves living in the archives of the public library and a lot of this was borrowed from the way Rowling introduced the magical world in the Potter books. We also designed the universe of American Dragon to have magic spells, potions, curses, etc. and a lot of that was inspired by Harry Potter.

We also wanted Jake to find about his dragon powers and struggle to control them the same way Harry had to when he found out that he was a wizard. We wanted Jake to have some great destiny, the same way that Harry is clearly a special wizard in the books.

Like Buffy, Matt and I also admired the way Harry Potter balanced comedy with very serious and dark story lines. There's a lot of hardcore danger and intense drama in the books, but it is all balanced out with very comedic moments and characters. Matt and I wanted desperately to do the same thing with American Dragon--tell very compelling, intense, and sometimes dark stories that are also laugh out loud funny.


STAR WARS (the original trilogy)
If you watch the show closely, you will probably notice that there are many elements that are borrowed directly from the original three Star Wars movies (we even have a shot in season one where you see the Huntsman's helmet lowered onto his head from behind that is a direct homage to a shot in The Empire Strikes Back). Even little things like the Huntclan's weapons and some of the holographic imagery (see the Huntsman's holograph in "Breakout") is taken from the look of these movies. We wanted the Huntsman to have a Darth Vader feel to him and the Huntsclan to come across like the evil Empire. We also tried to model the master student relationship between Jake and Grandpa after some of the interaction that Luke has with Obi Wan and later Yoda in these original Star Wars movies.

Like a lot of people our age, Matt, myself, and a lot of the writers and artists on the crew grew up watching these movies and just love to pay homage to them whenever possible. For example, the very first moment of season two (the dream sequence where Jake meets Rose in the tunnel in the teaser of "Half Baked") was inspired by the creepy moment where Luke enters the cave on Dagobah in Empire.

There are many other movies and books that influenced us, but those are definitely the major ones.

Also, I do want to make something clear about the involvement Matt and I have on the show. We are writers, not artists.

When I talk about these sources as influences, I am talking about their influence on the writing of the show--the scripts, stories, characters, dialogue, etc. Some people see that Matt and I have an executive producer credit on the show and assume we can also draw. Take my word for it, we can't.

We have always been very interested in overseeing the art and look of the show (always giving our ideas, thoughts, suggestions, etc,) but the real decisions regarding the art and visual side of American Dragon was usually ultimately left to our very talented directors/executive producers (Chris Roman in season one and Steve Loter in season two).

They probably could each provide their own list of influences when it came to developing the visual style of the show. I'll try to convince them to start their own blogs.

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Jake In Progress
This is a title of a TV show I love. Well, I’ve actually never seen the show, but I love the title. “Jake In Progress.” It implies that Jake – who I assume is the show’s protagonist – is an ever-changing character. He adapts, he evolves, but he is never really complete. There’s always something around the corner that will affect him, change him into someone new, someone different. For better or for worse.

As Eddie and I began working on Jake Long, it didn’t take us long to realize that our show would forever be a work-in-progress. Nevertheless, we set out with some firm ground rules for ourselves: We wanted the action and danger to feel real. We wanted villains who were serious threats. And I remember telling myself, I never want an act break to end on something seemingly insignificant such as “Jake can’t get a date to the dance!” or “Grandpa’s got a girlfriend!” But I can now say we’ve broken all those rules, in one form or another. What I’ve learned is that each episode is its own creature, each with its own demands. What might feel completely wrong in one episode, might feel perfectly right in another.

Brandon Sawyer, our second season head writer, has a rule of his own. He vows he will never write an episode of any show where the main character has two dates to the dance. He feels it’s a sitcom cliché (which it is) and would rather write something fresh and different, instead of rehashing a tired plotline out of “Perfect Strangers” or "Mama's Family." We’ve teased him that his episode “Siren Says” comes dangerously close to breaking his “two dates” policy, but as far as I know, he’s kept his word.

Regardless, when you do 52 episodes of anything, you’re bound to break a few of your own rules, especially in dealing with a network that has rules of its own. For example, one mandate we were given from the get-go: each story must be “kid relatable with girl appeal.” So, with every story Eddie and I considered, we had to ask ourselves: “What is Jake’s issue in this episode?” “Is this an issue that young girls everywhere can relate to?” In some of our best episodes, the answers to these questions are apparent. But in a lot of them, they’re not. These are the episodes the Channel deems “too Jetix.” In “Breakout,” one of our more successful episodes, it could be argued that Jake’s girl relatable issue is his acne problem and how insecure it makes him feel around Rose. The same could be said for Jake’s issue in “The Love Cruise.” In “The Academy,” I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what the kid relatable issue is, although that doesn’t stop it from being a great episode.

Yes, in the end, satisfying this “girl relatable” rule meant breaking a few of our own. Yes, Jake takes part in a school election. And yes, Trixie tries out for cheerleading. Those episodes led us to create a new rule: It’s okay to do these more cliché stories, as long as we put a unique spin on them. Sure, we’ve broken that rule too, but hey – it’s all a work in progress.

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Just A Few Fun American Dragon Tidbits...
I think all writers/artists/directors/producers like to slip little inside jokes and messages into their work. This might happen even more in animation, where every single frame has to be drawn and created from scratch. So just for fun, here's a small list of some of the seemingly random things in the show that actually have some obscure meaning (at least to us)--


NUMBERS 88 AND 89
In season two, we introduce these two bumbling Huntsclan students who are interning with the Huntsman. When we were planning out "The Academy" episode, wanted to present the Huntsclan as cold, so we hit on the idea that their beginner level students would not even have names, just numbers that are assigned to them.

So why the numbers 88 and 89?

When the show was first greenlit and Matt and I were made executive producers, we were assigned our own parking spaces on the Disney lot (under the Frank Wells building). Our parking spaces were #88 and #89 but we could never seem to remember them. Matt and I were just so busy that we constantly ended up screeching into work and parking in spots 84, 86, 82, whatever. Even when we got it right, we would tend to mix them up and park in each others' spaces. I'm still not sure which space belonged to which of us. For some reason, we just couldn't keep those two numbers straight in our heads. It got so bad that Disney security started issuing warning tickets to us.

When it came time to name the Huntsclan students, we decided that #88 and #89 would be funny (at least to us). We also just liked the way those numbers sounded. We'll certainly never forget those parking spots ever again. But the real punchline is that we were moved to offices off the Disney lot and assigned new parking spots for season two, so it didn't even help us.

I think we currently have numbers 22 and 23...or 21 and 22. I'm honestly not sure. I just park next to Matt's car and hope for the best.


THE NUMERICAL STREET ADDRESS OF GRANDPA'S SHOP
We don't actually specify exactly what street Grandpa's shop is on, but the number of the building number is 10048. That was the former zip code of the World Trade Center before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. When making a whole show set in the city of New York, it just seemed appropriate to pay some small tribute to the victims who died on that day.

It doesn't really accomplish anything, just a tiny gesture that hopefully suggests, in a very subtle way, that we haven't forgotten them or the terrible attack on our country.


MILLARD FILLMORE MIDDLE SCHOOL
With all apologies to history buffs, Matt and I chose to give Jake's school this name not in tribute to our country's thirteenth president but simply because Matt, director Chris Roman, and myself all worked on the animated Disney show "Fillmore" together.

That show was created by our good friend Scott Gimple and I think can still be seen on Toon Disney (though I believe they air it an some ungodly time slot, 2:00am on Saturdays or something). If you have Tivo or insomnia, check it out. It's a cool show.


THE NUMBERS 511
You might notice that the three digit number 511 appears every now and then in the show. It's just slipped in when ever a random number is needed for a street address in the background or some random line of dialougue, ie "We have a code five eleven," etc.

Of all the little things hidden in the show, this is probably, by far, the silliest and most obscure. When I was attending Syracuse University in my senior year, six of my best friends and myself lived in a big, run down house off campus. The address of that house was 511 Euclid Avenue (you can actually google map it if you like, not that there's anything to be gained by doing so).

My friends who lived there with me were always very supportive of my dreams to move to Los Angeles and try to be a writer in Hollywood after I graduated. I think they believed in me more than I did and knowing that really helped me summon the courage to do it. Even now, those guys seem to find the time in their busy schedules to watch the stuff I write and even try to force it onto their own kids. The five eleven references are just a little shout out to those guys.


HALEY LONG
Jake's little sister is named after rapper Eminem's daughter Hailie Jade. I guess Eminem is one of those figures that you either love or hate but I've always been a huge fan of his music and had one of his albums playing in my office when we first conceived of the character.


NICK FILIPPI
Just a small note, but in the upcoming season two episode "Dreamscape," there is a door in the dream corridor with the name "Nick Filippi" on it. He is the very talented director who came in to help Steve Loter finish up season two when Steve went back to work on new episodes of Kim Possible and you'll also soon see his name in the opening credits.

Note: Steve has still stayed on with us to supervise Dragon all the way through post production.


PROFESSOR ROTWOOD
When trying to come up with a name for Jake's nemesis and teacher, we just wanted something that sounded nasty and immediately evoked something kind of disgusting.

There's a cool C.S. Lewis book called "The Screwtape Letters" that are a series of fictional letters written back and forth between two demons who are named Screwtape and Wormwood. Those are just great nasty sounding names, so we took Wormwood and adjusted it into Rotwood.

Note: In my favorite comic strip of all time, Calvin And Hobbes, Calvin's nasty teacher is named Ms. Wormwood, presumably as a tribute to the same character in that book.


There are dozens of others but that's all I can really think of off the top of my head. But whenever you see any seemingly random number or name in your favorite TV show or movie, there's a good chance that little tidbit has some hidden meaning to someone somewhere.

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Breakout: Anatomy of an Episode
With the airing of our third Jake/Rose episode of the season, it occurred to me that now would be as good a time as any to discuss what goes on behind the scenes of an episode.

Each 22-minute episode is a journey. From the moment we come up with a story idea, to the day it airs, it’s not uncommon for a year to pass, sometimes more. On any given day, Eddie and I are overseeing the writing of six or seven episodes simultaneously. Each episode begins with a premise, then an outline, then a first draft, second draft, and (finally!) a final draft. Often times we even distribute Revised Final Drafts and 2nd Revised Final Drafts -- all before the actors ever see them! Eddie and I give our input at every stage and are ultimately responsible for making sure each draft of every script is as good as it can possibly be. Trust us – it’s not an easy undertaking. It’s not possible for both of us to be as hands-on with every episode as much as we’d like. Frequently, as with “Breakout,” we each contribute something, at different stages of its development.

Before I get to the specifics of “Breakout,” let me back up a bit and talk about how we came up with the Jake/Rose season two story.

When American Dragon was green-lit for season two, the show was focus tested for a second time (for info on the first time, see Eddie’s first post). The Channel picked out a handful of episodes to show kids -- in Denver, I think -- in hopes of getting their honest opinion of what they saw. Most of what the kids thought about American Dragon didn’t surprise us. They generally liked the show, but felt that the comedy could be funnier, and that the action scenes should be more suspenseful. We couldn’t have agreed more. And yes, some felt Jake’s slang and bravado was a bit much. Again, agreed. But a couple of things surprised us: Some younger kids thought that Rose seemed a lot older than Jake. (One kid, after seeing “Act 4, Scene 15,” thought Rose was Jake’s babysitter – yikes!) Because of this perceived age difference, some were creeped out by the Jake/Rose relationship. Also surprising – kids didn’t like the Huntsman. And not because he was a villain. They didn’t understand who he was, where he came from, or what his goals were.

So Eddie and I decided there were two things we wanted to do for Season Two – age up our main characters (to make them look the same age as Rose) and give the Huntsman one clear goal. That goal would be to destroy all magical creatures, and he would use the Aztec Crystal Skulls to do it. Ah, the villainy!

As Eddie was writing “The Academy,” he realized something: If Rose freed Jake after supposedly slaying him, wouldn’t the Huntsman wonder what happened to Jake’s dragon body? As Eddie and I talked about this, we came up with a cool idea for the next Jake/Rose story. The Huntsman would suspect Rose of betraying him, and she would use Jake’s shed dragon skin as proof she slayed the dragon back at the Academy. So we wrote up a premise: it was class picture day, and Jake had a pimple. Only it was no ordinary pimple, it was the early stages of his dragon skin shedding. He would ultimately shed his skin just in time for class pictures and all would be well. With the premise approved, it was time to find someone to write the episode.

We then got word that the very talented Amy Wolfram, from Teen Titans, was available and thought she’d be perfect.

Eddie and I got the writing staff together and we all met with Amy. We had sent her the premise earlier so she had some idea of the direction we wanted to go. As we all thought more about the story, we realized that the whole picture day/pimple thing seemed a little cliché and didn’t have a payoff, so we axed ‘picture day.’ Next, we talked about what we wanted to accomplish in the episode. And there was a lot. We wanted to forward the Jake/Rose story and establish the ground rules of their new day-to-day relationship. We wanted to establish #88 and #89 as new apprentices for the Huntsman. We wanted to reveal the Huntsman’s master plan. And for good measure, we also like the idea of having Jake and Rose (who weren’t supposed to hang out together) forced to hang out together because of a school assignment. That’s not too much to ask in one 22 minute episode, right?

We must totally commend Amy for accomplishing all of this and more. Not only did she bring all of these elements together, she added some cool elements of her own. The Guardian Serpent was her idea, and she figured out the perfect way to tie in Trixie and Spud’s project (“100 uses cream”) into the Jake/Rose story. Also, Amy had really responded to the idea that Rose could contact Jake in his dreams, so she thought it might cool if the episode ended with Jake and Rose using the dream charms to hang out – safe from the suspicious eyes of the Huntsclan. Eddie and I loved it. Not only was a perfect solution that tied into the mythology of second season, it was a great setup for future episodes.

Since Eddie was busy story-editing “Doppelganger Gang,” and our two story-editors were busy with “Hairy Christmas,” I made most of the tweaks and changes to the outline and script on “Breakout.” Mostly, I just made a few dialogue tweaks to make sure the characters sounded like themselves. And collectively, we all contributed a few jokes here and there. The only story change we made was in the third act. Originally, the final alley scene was Jake facing off against the serpent. But since we’d already seen Jake fight the serpent twice in the episode, we wanted to raise the stakes a bit. So we had the Huntsman use the serpent to locate Jake. The result? Jake faces off against the Huntsman for the first time in Season Two. (Actually, I stand corrected – Jake battles the Huntsman in “Hero of the Hourglass,” but that’s more of a standalone episode, not tied into the Jake/Rose mythology.) We also had to come up with the tag over the end credits. Brandon Sawyer ended up writing it – funny stuff! Just recently, we were joking that another tag could have been about two garbage men stumbling across the dead serpent’s body in the alley. How the heck would they dispose of something like that?

Once we completed the script and recorded it, Eddie and I were really pleased with the result. There were only two concerns: 1.) We were afraid Jake’s “molting” would look kinda horrific instead of comedic. 2.) The script was running long. Really long. Ultimately, Steve and the character designers took a few stabs at Jake’s molting -- and it ended up looking great. As far as the episode’s length, we had to cut quite a bit. (In fact, all of our early Season Two episodes came out long. We actually had to cut nearly EIGHT MINUTES out of “Half Baked.” Ditto with “The Academy.”) Eddie and I hate having to cut, because we usually end up cutting out the comedy. In the case of “The Academy,” we ended up cutting a lot of stuff between #88 and #89. There was also a scene where Jake reports back to Fu Dog and Grandpa after returning from the Academy. Again, cut for time.

For fun, I’ve decided to include transcripts from some scenes from “Breakout” that never made it to air. Enjoy!



The following exchange happens early in the episode while #88 & #89 are watching Dragon Jake and Rose fighting the Serpent in Central Park:

#88: Yo, is she fightin’ with that dragon? ‘Cause that would be so not Huntscool!

#89: You know what else is so not Huntscool? When you make up stupid words like “Huntscool.” (grabs telescope) Now lemme see!

#88: See with your eyes, not with your hands.

(they struggle for it)

#88/#89: Let go!/You let go!



(Jake stands with Trixie and Spud in Grandpa’s shop, debating whether or not to go on his date with Rose.)

Jake: Okay, my skin hasn’t cleared up… which means there’s only one responsible thing to do: Bail on Rose and flunk our science project.

(Trixie gives him a look.)

Jake: What? I have an easy out! She already thinks us being together is dangerous, so…

Trixie: Since when is the easy way the best way? Besides, if she really likes you for you, she won’t care about a little skin problem.

(Jake comically rearranges his loose skin.)

Jake: You call this a little skin problem?! Trix, Rose is brand new to the whole “hanging out with a dragon” thing. When she sees what hanging from this dragon – she’s gonna run for the hills!

(Spud puts a supportive arm around Jake’s shoulder.)

Spud: Bro, turn that frown upside down! You couldn’t be more wrong! The nearest hills are eight miles away. She’d probably run for the subway. Or maybe Grand Central Station…

(Jake gives Spud a look.)


(Later, #88 and #89 spot Dragon Jake flying off into the night, from where Rose is standing outside the library.)

#89: 88, check it out! The dragon!

#88: And Huntsgirl! Yo, this proves that something is going on between ‘em! Tonight, after our mission, I’m telling the Huntsman wassup!

#89: He should hear it from me. You know… seeing as how he likes me better.

#88/#89: Does not!/Does too!/Does not!/Does too!

(As they turn and walk off…)

#89: I wasn’t going to tell you this, but yesterday, at breakfast, me and him were sipping tea and sharing stories and he called you a weenie.

#88/#89: Did not!/Did too!/Did not!/Did too!

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Smoking Looks Cool...
When I was working as a story Editor on Kim Possible, we were writing an episode where Drakken injects Kim with a dose of powerful truth serum. For the next twenty-four hours, she is compelled to tell the brutal truth to friends, family, teachers, etc. If you've seen the Jim Carrey movie 'Liar, Liar,' you get the idea.

At one point, Kim is giving a speech in front of the entire school and starts going off, just blurting out bits of real truth that get more and more outrageous.

I wrote the following to close her speech before she is yanked off stage:

KIM: Oh, and another thing. Smoking looks cool. I mean, I know cigarettes are a nasty habit. They're totally bad for your health, make your breath stink, your teeth yellow, and all that. But let's face it--smoking just looks really, really chill.

Needless to say, this part didn't make it past the first draft of the script. Standards and Practices (the division of the Disney Channel that is supposed to make sure that everything on the air is "appropriate" to their viewers) lost their minds over this speech. They went absolutely ballistic. What kind of twisted and demented mind would put something like that in a kids' show?

I tried to defend it. We had Kim providing a very balanced view on smoking. She was pointing out all of the negative aspects of smoking as well. I honestly believe that one of the reason those anti-smoking/drugs/alchohol campaigns for kids don't work is because they won't provide balanced and real information, just one side. Kids sense they're being lied to and just tune it out. Furthermore, the Kim speech was also funny and most importantly for the story, IT WAS TRUE. But it wasn't a truth Standards and Practices wanted to hear.

The whole experience really got me thinking about the effect Standards and Practices was having on the shows we worked on. The Kim example is pretty extreme, but there are a thousand more instances where Standards and Practices would demand changes to a script in order to promote their agenda of presenting what they believed was proper programming for kids. But the changes almost always made the scripts worse. They made action scenes much less exciting and suspenseful and they robbed the comedy of any real edge or fun. Were we really serving the best interest of kids by giving them entertainment that was watered down and bland? And Standards and Practices was all powerful. No one was ever permitted to question or contest their rulings at the Disney Channel.

When I was growing up, my brother and I loved watching Bugs Bunny cartoons where Elmer Fudd would blast Daffy in the face at point blank range with both barrels of a shotgun. Over and over. It was hysterical. Did those cartoons have a negative effect on us? I can't say for sure, but I do know this--they started butchering and cutting out the "violence" in those great classic Warner Bros. cartoons for broadcast as standards got tighter and tighter through the late 1980s and 90s and it was THAT generation, not mine, that started shooting up their schools.

I also noticed that the "standards" are constantly shifting and changing, meaning that there is no real standard. They will change and flip in a heartbeat, depending on which way the wind of political correctness is blowing. We would be told that we can't make fat jokes because kids are sensitive about 'body self-image' and then a few weeks later be told that we needed to present programming content that promoted healthy eating and nutrition because obesity is becoming a 'very serious health issue among our children.'

When American Dragon got greenlit, Matt and I decided that the time had come to take some kind of stand. Don't get me wrong--I do believe that there should be a standard set for children's programming. It's just a question of where to draw the line and, in our opinion, the line was drawn several miles away from its proper location.

We started questioning the notes we got from Standards and Practices and caught hell for it. Standards and Practices responded by giving us more and tougher notes, ones that Matt and I simply refused to do. We certainly didn't win every battle, and I don't know what good we really accomplished, but we did our best to push back and I honestly think that the standards have loosened and become a bit more reasonable in our second season of the show.

Here is a quick sampling of just a few of the more outrageous S&P notes we got on American Dragon. I swear, these are not made up. We really got these notes and had to spend valuable time and energy contesting and ultimately refusing them. Just for fun, try to picture the show if we had actually agreed to take the following notes--


NO FARTING

If you go back and read one of the first posts on this blog, you'll see that a fart joke was one of the key elements that got the show greenlit in the first place. Kids responded very well to it in the focus testing and as far as I can tell, none of those kids have turned into deranged psycho lunatics as a result of having viewed it.

Despite that, S&P came out very strong against using the running fart joke in the show's pilot. Matt and I simply had to remind the Channel executives how important that element was to our pilot and they instructed S&P to back off--at least for that one time. We were still instructed to not put any fart jokes in any future episodes.


JAKE MUST WEAR A HELMET WHEN FLYING

S&P is crazy when it comes to safety issues. If Jake and the gang are skateboarding, all must have helmets, knee pads, and all proper protective gear. When riding in a vehicle, they must wear seatbelts at all times, even if the vehicle in question doesn't actually have seatbelts (like a snowmobile). This is fine and Matt and I don't mind all that much because these issues rarely affect the quality of the show. But that wasn't enough for S&P. They began to insist that Jake, even while in Dragon form, had to wear a helmet and proper protective gear if he was flying or leaping around buildings, etc. I mean, how lame is that? We're talking about a magical freaking DRAGON here. Can you even picture that with out laughing?

And yet, if S&P got their way, that's what you would have gotten. Instead, Matt and I refused to budge on this issue. We simply proceeded with the show without taking this note. S&P kicked and screamed for a little while and then finally told us that it was OK, but only when dealing with magical creatures. This was an important victory for us and gave us the latitude to do a lot more in the magical world on the show.


JAKE CANNOT BREATHE FIRE

At some point during production of first season, Southern California was devestated by several weeks of serious brush fires. Standards and Practices responded by telling us that fire safety was now a "very serious issue" and that Jake would no longer be permitted to breathe fire on the show. Or if he breathed fire, he had to blast the flames into a campfire-style circle of rocks, or fireplace, or some other "fire safe" zone. (Once again, I am not making this up. This actually happened). This is another thing that S&P loves to do--take some hot button issue from the news and use it to justify a new standard. A ferry just capsized in the Suez canal? No more action scenes on boats! Nevermind that animation takes years to complete and wouldn't be aired until long after the "latest" events had faded from the headlines, replaced by new "hot button" issues to become hysterical about.

Naturally, Matt and I felt that Jake breathing fire was an essential part of his character and the whole mythos surrounding dragons in general. We refused to take the note, the wildfire headlines faded, and S&P backed down.


THE HUNTSCLAN CANNOT HAVE WEAPONS

One of the ongoing problems with producing American Dragon is that we are really one of the only shows left on the Disney Channel that has a strong action element. We were greenlit right before the network launched JETIX (its true action block) and so we don't fit in very well with a lof of the other shows that are on Disney Channel. Because of this, we tended to get the same kind of notes that S&P would give to "Lizzie McGuire" or "The Proud Family." They simply refused to acknowledge that we needed to have cool and exciting action scenes in the show and did everything in their power to quash them. They are also very sensitive about presenting weapons of any kind and insisted that the Huntsclan be armed only with nets.

Matt and I fought it and only half won. We argued that the Huntsclan needed powerful weapons in order to be a real threat and challenge for Jake. We were ultimately allowed to arm them with an arsenal of unrealistic weaponry that Matt and I covertly kept beefing up as the series progressed.


NO VIOLENCE IN SCHOOL

This was a tough one. S&P insisted that school must be presented as a "safe haven" for children. There could be no violence, fighting, or action while Jake was at school. At the same time, the Disney Channel executives were pushing us to show more of Jake's school life and less of his life as a dragon in the magical world (so that our show would better fit in the "Lizzie McGuire" mold). Doing both wasn't easy and I'm not sure we ultimately succeeded. We simply steered the action away from the halls of the school whenever possible and tried to sneak some in here and there. You can't win 'em all. Not even close.


TEACHERS MUST BE SHOWN IN A POSITIVE WAY

S&P insisted that all teachers on the show to be presented as flawless, perfect beings. Naturally, this clashed with what Matt and I had planned for the Professor Rotwood character. Furthermore, we felt that this was a perfect example of S&P truly overstepping their bounds. Drama and storytelling is built on conflict and you don't get conflict by putting Jake in classes with great and supportive teachers. Jake needed obstacles to overcome and Rotwood had to be a key one at school.

Matt and I fought to keep the Rotwood character as a bumbling adversary and promised to show other teachers and the school's principal in a more positive light. In fact, S&P was thrilled when we introduced Principal Derceto and they saw she was in a wheelchair. They applauded us for including a handicapped, or "physically challenged" character on our show. Matt and I didn't have the heart to tell them she was actually going to turn out to be a mermaid. S&P would find out second season along with everybody else.

In addition to needing the Rotwood character for dramatic purposes, we also felt that presenting teachers as always perfect and postive was another example of lying to kids. Kids have been to school and they aren't stupid (by the way, S&P won't let us call any characters "stupid" or "dumb" or "idiots" but that's a whole post unto itself). Kids know know darn well that there are good teachers out there, mediocre teachers, and truly awful teachers. It's no different than any other profession. Most kids can also relate to having to put up with that one terrible teacher that is always on your case.

And kids can sense when they're being lied to. Like when you tell them that smoking doesn't look cool. Sorry. It just does.

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Less As More...
If you've read some of the earlier posts about American Dragon getting greenlit, you know that Matt and I had very little time to develop or even think very much about the show before it was thrust onto a very tight and unforgiving production schedule.

When you're thrown into a lake with ten pound weights chained to your legs, you can't really stop and devise a plan to make it back to shore. You just start swimming (or maybe thrashing) and try to keep your head above water.

The problem was that the show had a lot of stuff that needed to be figured out. Jeff's original premise was packed with the promise of an entire magical world that needed to be broken down and explained. What were the rules? How did it all work? What's the difference between a Mountain Troll and a River Troll? More importantly, what was the deal with the dragons? Where did they come from? What was their history and mythology? Why was Jake being trained as the American Dragon now? What exactly are the duties and responsibilities of the American Dragon?

To be one hundred percent honest, Matt and I didn't even know ourselves. There were certainly some basic rules and mythology we agreed on in the back of our minds as we began writing episodes, but we didn't have a comprehensive encyclopedia to explain how the world of the show worked. We knew what we wanted to do with the Jake/Rose story over the course of the first season, but that was about it.

As we wrote the first batch of episodes, we simply began slowly giving out information on a strictly "need to know" basis. What did you really need to know t

Matt

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Re: Behind the scenes with Eddie Guzelian and Matt Negrete
« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2007, 02:58:08 PM »
2007

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Awwww man!
A few weeks after we started our blog, we stumbled upon a nifty little feature on this webpage called the Site Meter. It told us how many of you were visiting the site, how long you visited, and it even showed us your hometowns. The stats it showed us blew us away. Not only were people were reading our posts – they were reading them from all over the world! As we write this, our tiny little blog has logged over 14,000 hits from places as far away as Rome, Vietnam, and Dubai (Michael Jackson, perhaps?). Let us take this moment to thank you for watching our show, blogging about it, and – in general – being great fans.

That said, the time as come for us to bring all of you some pretty sad news. After careful consideration, the Disney Channel has decided to end production on “American Dragon: Jake Long” after 52 episodes. As Jake would say, “Awww man!”

Yup, Episode 52 -- “Hong Kong Longs” -- will be the last episode of the series. We found out just before the holidays. We wanted to publicly break the news sooner, but we thought it’d be best to wait until our entire cast and crew had been informed first.

(Quick sidebar: Matt regrets his misleadingly optimistic tone about the “important news” in his last post. He was trying hard not to sound downbeat about it, and perhaps he overcompensated. Or maybe he was still excited about his Nordic cheese slicer. Either way, his sincerest apologies if you feel mislead. Okay, back to the topic at hand…)

We’re not certain we understand the Channel’s reasons behind the cancellation, but we certainly respect their decision. These last four years have been a great learning experience (see previous posts) and we wouldn’t take them back for anything. 52 episodes of any show is a great run. It’s impossible to be angry considering all we’ve accomplished. We are, however, pretty disappointed. We would’ve loved to have done more episodes. We certainly had more stories to tell, but alas -- 52 is where it will end.

Thankfully, the last few episodes of the second season wrap up the show in a nice little bow. Not to give anything away, but secrets will be revealed, surprising relationships will kindle, and former enemies will find common ground. Any loose ends (and yes, there will be a few) will surely be wrapped up nicely in someone’s fan fiction.

Since we’ve already thanked you, the loyal fans, let us also thank our tremendously talented cast and crew for all their hard work. Our 2nd season wouldn’t have been possible without our hilarious and hardworking writing staff, and our crack production team headed by the trifecta of talent that is Steve, Nick, and Wade. We hope to work with all of them again soon. Our thanks also to Chris Roman and Jeff Goode, without whom there wouldn’t be an American Dragon.

Next Friday will mark our last day of production, but the good news is that fifteen episodes of AmDrag have yet to air (nearly half of the entire second season!). It wouldn’t surprise us if the new episodes stretched into 2008. In the meantime, we’ll continue to update the blog when we can. We've both got some exciting new projects on the horizon (both animated and live action), which we hope to tell you about soon.

Until then, the adventure continues.

Matt & Eddie

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The Best of What's to Come
It was late summer, 2005. In a small bungalow near the soundstage where they tape the hit ABC show “According to Jim,” Eddie, Steve, and I were meeting with two-dozen members of the international press. They had traveled from Malaysia, France, and Italy to ask us questions about season two of American Dragon: Jake Long.

A question from France: “How do you plan to wrap up season two?”

Steve, Eddie, and I took turns answering. We responded that the finale we’d planned in our heads would be epic. It would be more than the 18th episode of our second season, it would be the culmination of two seasons worth of Huntsclan battles, and would bring everything between Jake and Rose to a head. Every last question would be answered.

A follow-up question from Italy: “So there will be eighteen episodes in season two?”

“Yes. Eighteen.” Eddie replied.

A Disney publicity executive chimed in from the back of the room. “Well, not counting the additional thirteen, right?”

Had Eddie, Steve, and I been taking simultaneous sips of water, we would have done the classic spit take. The kind you’ve seen a million times on TV. The kind they were probably rehearsing 50 feet away on the set of the hit ABC show “According to Jim.” But we clearly didn’t need water glasses and an overzealous laugh track to convey what the looks on our faces told every person in that room. “WE’VE BEEN GREENLIT FOR THIRTEEN MORE EPISODES?!?!”

A look of panic suddenly crossed the publicity executive’s face. It was that “fear-for-your-job” kind of panic. It seems that somehow, someone forgot to tell us we were doing thirteen more episodes – and we were finding out at the same exact moment as twenty-four people from across the globe. As journalists from around the world began furiously scribbling this surprising information in their notebooks, the publicity executive suddenly scurried about the room like a madwoman, literally ripping the pencils from their hands.

“But apparently we’re not ready to announce it,” she exclaimed. “Or we are, but you’re not supposed to know yet so stop writing!! Non scriva!! Non scriva!!!”

But it was too late. The news was out. Eddie, Steve, and I were producing thirteen more episodes of “American Dragon: Jake Long.”

As it turns out, each executive we spoke to that afternoon assumed another had told us about the pick-up for more episodes. “You didn’t know?” “Didn’t so-and-so tell you?” “I thought so-and-so told you at the Chicken Little DVD release party last May!” We weren’t surprised by the mix-up. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. In any event, the news was great. It showed us that the Channel had faith in the show – at least enough to expand the second season to thirty-one episodes.

Creatively, however, we had some thinking to do. Where would we take the show in the remaining thirteen episodes? What stories did we have left to tell? What issues were left to be resolved?

A lot, as it turned out.

So much happens in episode eighteen, “Homecoming,” that we would have to do a few episodes dealing with the aftermath. And then, once we figured out what our series finale would be, we knew we would have to do a few episodes to lead into it. In addition, we came up with a list of loose ends we wanted to tie up. Why was Jake chosen to become the American Dragon? Could Spud and Stacey ever work as a couple? Where does Dad work? Would Haley make a good American Dragon? Should Dad find out Jake’s secret identity? What would Rotwood do, now that he knows Jake is a dragon? Ultimately, we answered these questions, and not always in the episodes you might think. And in many cases, we were able to weave some overall series twists into what would otherwise be a standalone episode.

Along the way, we also threw in even more little surprises – Brad gets his driver’s license! Kara and Sara return! We reintroduce the dragon council with all new designs! Old foes strike back! And thanks to the additional episodes, we’ll also get the chance to finally meet the mom of one of our main characters. (I’m also grateful for the most hilariously executed “Dad” moment ever in the episode “Bite Father, Bite Son.” You'll rewind it and watch it many times, trust me.)

A week after our pickup, Eddie and I realized how much we could still do with thirteen more episodes. We had stories to tell and Disney had given us the opportunity to write them. We were suddenly thrilled not to have our pencils snatched out of our hands like those international journalists.

That event would come fifteen months later.

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Beyond Homecoming
Greetings,

As promised, a detailed behind-the-scenes entry about "Homecoming" will be coming to you soon. To tide you over, here's what's coming up beyond "Homecoming." (Wow -- how many times can I write "coming" in a three sentence post?)


"Young At Heart" March 24th
"Siren Says" April 7th
"Shaggy Frog" April 28th
"Nobody's Fu" May 12th
"Magic Enemy #1" June 2nd
"Bite Father, Bite Son" June 16th


Enjoy!