The King`s Speech writer and keynote speaker David Seidler closed out Animfx with his musings on writing, subversion and sticking to one`s guns.
“I`m not quite sure how I got roped into this,” he admitted.
“I have remarkably little experience – I`ve written two animated features that were spectacularly unsuccessful.”
Like all good storytellers, Seidler wasn`t going to let any apparent lack of success put him off. Although with an Oscar under his belt – one of four The King`s Speech won – he isn`t really lacking success at all.
Seidler came across as the elder statesman, the one who`s seen it all, isn`t that impressed and is always willing to offer a barbed appraisal – a male version of Maggie Smith`s dowager countess, for Downton viewers.
“Fleas upon the buttocks of creativity” was his assessment of critics, before explaining his view of the world and all that lies within it.
“You don`t have to work within the American studio system (in New Zealand) – and I would encourage you not to.” However, he noted, NZ is small and for an industry to be successful or even sustainable it must export.
Of animation as a means of storytelling, he described it as subversive. “It gives magical powers,” he suggested, citing Disney films` ability to endure. Having cited Disney, Seidler reminded that the man and the work were not the same thing, dismissing Disney the man as someone whom “if he were alive today the Tea Party would run for president.”
Seidler did acknowledge that Disney`s early shorts were “subversive, not the saccharine conservatism that Disney is known for”. He also assessed Snow White, Disney`s 1937 first feature, as “not a fairy tale, but a tale about sexual awakening and a mother`s fear of being usurped by her daughter`s beauty.”
Sex and animated kids titles became recurring themes, often simultaneously. The Lion King was, he claimed, conceived (no pun intended) on a flight home after a premiere, during a discussion about first experiences of sexual awareness.
Its template is Hamlet, Seidler suggested, a play nobody has ever accused of not being about sex. Just to make sure the point was made, Seidler cited 16th century erotic flip-books as one of the earlier forms of animation … and moved on from sex to death.
“I pitched a series called Kill George Washington,” he shared, “the story of the American revolution from the British POV.”
Washington, Seidler suggested, was the Osama bin Laden of his day in the eyes of the British. “They liked it,” Seidler said of the network he pitched to. “Then they changed it.”
Seidler suggested that there were no original stories left, only original ways of telling them. That search – and the ability to keep searching – for a new angle, a new perspective, a new voice, was what made some writers and stories successful.
After all, “It`s about a Ber-ber-ber-ber-British guy with a stutter” wouldn`t be a pitch you`d necessarily rush to finance. But Seidler described himself as defiant, a trait which he believed explained both how why he`d found success – albeit somewhat later in his career than he might have chosen.
The ability to have a vision, to hold on to it and to promote it, to argue against its dilution or derailment by others, and the ability to execute it, was what had enabled Seidler to succeed. He suggested that those traits were, like the best stories, universal, whether one was writing a drama, and animated children`s film or developing a game.