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Live Chat with Rob Hoegee [Summary]
November 19, 2006
Summary of a Live-chat Q&A session with writer Rob Hoegee
MODERATED Q&A Session
(questions alternated between a prepared list by Butch, fan-posted questions at the TitansGo.net forums, and attending TGN Staff and TT fans asking guest Rob Hoegee one-on-one)
Butch: Rob, how did you become a writer (and then story editor) for the animated Teen Titans series?
Rob Hoegee: That old story about it's who you know is true. David Slack and I are old friends, and when he got the story editor gig on the show, he brought me along to write. I guess the studio liked me enough to promote me (and Amy [Wolfram]) in season three. It was a gradual process though. Two episodes in season 1 and 2, then more from there. Best job I've ever had!
Fledging: What was it that sold you on the story/characters/etc?
Rob Hoegee: That's a good question. The first thing I saw was the art - and that was very cool. David [Slack] pitched me the show - and the characters - in the broadest terms possible. It wasn't until a few episodes in that I fully comprehended what we had here. I think that was pretty much the case for all of us. We were just making a show we hoped would be different.
When the first episode was completed, it was a "Oh man, this is going to be huge! We all knew that it was going to be a hit. The voice actors really brought the characters to life though. I really believe that people wouldn't be responding to them the way they do without their talented acting!
Tara A: I heard that in the episode 'Mad Mod', when trying to un-hypnotize Beast Boy, Starfire says your last name in a joke. (Starfire: "How many Okaarans does it take to Hoegee a morflark?"). Is this true? Did you know that they'd use your last name in the episode? (If yes to either), how did you react to it?
Rob Hoegee: We love to do that. It's sort of an inside joke. I think pretty much everyone that's worked on the show has either been mentioned by name or drawn in. They never drew me in though. I'm sad. No joke. [Derrick] Wyatt (mumbo to you guys) is in almost every show it seems! What about me!!!
K: Did any other staffers not get drawn in?
Rob Hoegee: Other staffers you bet. Too many to list.
Fledging: Did you ever ask them to?
Rob Hoegee: Not really - I asked Glen [Murakami] (more jokingly) why he never did. Said he didn't want to "get me wrong". I leave the drawing descisions to the guys who can do it.
Butch: Since you were on the show fairly early, can you tell us about how the show's concept developed? There was alot of naysaying before the show really took off and proved everyone wrong.
Rob Hoegee: I wasn't really there for the actual development stage, but am familiar since David [Slack] kept me posted. What was so brilliant about the show was that nobody got it. At all. Only Sam Register. So they pretty much left us alone. It was: we have no idea what this is or what to do with it. So we were left to create mad brillance without much interference. Hope that answers. Oh, Tramm Wigzell - he got it too.
TheKaiser: When Jericho pointed to his eyes in "Titans Together", was he signing "I see", or just pointing to his eyes, with no meaning behind it?
Rob Hoegee: I think it was a simple visual joke. Essentially he was saying "I see" but not sure if it was literal sign language. My script says: "Everyone turns to silent Jericho. He smiles meekly and points to his eye. Beast Boy is flustered. No meaning other than to say here's where my power is. Not very encouraging at the moment."
Timekeeper: Were you ever talked to about a sixth season? And if so, any details at all?
Rob Hoegee: I'm sure this is one question that everyone is itching to ask. I'll try to give you the short and easy to read version.
At the beginning of season five, we were told that it would be the last batch of episodes ordered. In fact, we were slated to do 20 rather than the usual 13. Amy [Wolfram] and I (along with David [Slack] and Glen [Murakami]) mapped out a pretty ambitious season arc - with 20 eps, you have that luxury. After we planned everything out, it was, "Oh, by the way, now we're only doing 13". So we had to make some serious modifications to end up where we did. We also knew that season five would be the last one. This was from the very beginning. Also the reason we ended with "Things Change".
Now here's the part you want to hear about: we had almost completed the writing phase - I think I may even have been done - it was just Amy [Wolfram] finishing up TC. Sam Register at CN proposed the idea of doing a "rebranding" of the series. This was only development. By that time, I had already moved on to develop Legion of Super Heroes (remember - we were told there would be no more). I needed a new job! David [Slack] had gone to Law and Order, so the development of a possible new show went to the very capable hands of Amy [Wolfram]. Along with Glen [Murakami], and with Sam [Register]'s input, they did a proposal that was sent to the brass in Atlanta. Ultimately they declined.
So in many ways, and as hard as it is to imagine, the show was never technically "cancelled". There was an 11th hour possible reprieve, but it never came to pass. Had a season 6 been a serious possibility, we wouldn't have ended season 5 the way we did. As for what a "new show" would have been, my understanding is they were planning to expand the team with all the new characters. So there you have it.
Timekeeper: What about the 7 cut episodes? Can you tell us about that?
Rob Hoegee: At that stage we weren't to the level of detail that would have given us specific episodes, but as I recall, we had planned to bring Slade into the storyline.
Butch: How was writing for Teen Titans different from your other animation writing experience, including your new show "Legion of Super Heroes"? What were your main influences while writing for Teen Titans?
Rob Hoegee: It was much more free. Given the nature of the show, we were able to really push the limits. Thanks to Glen [Murakami], the visual style and storytelling mantra created an atmosphere where everyone involved was inspired. As far as influences, may sound strange but it was the characters themselves. They were - and still are - very real to me. When I'm typing at my computer, they really speak to me. Also, all of you had a part to play too. We very often would do things just because "the fans will love it".
Forau: Are there any of those fanservice moments that you enjoyed doing more than other scene?
Rob Hoegee: Loved seeing Batmans shadow. Oh, and Nightwing! I'd love to do a Nightwing show.
ShegoRaven: [What about] Slade in season 5?
Rob Hoegee: Okay... here's what I wanted to do: and keep in mind that this may very well never have happened, but at least it's what I wanted to do...
The BOE is not doing well in their efforts to stop the titans...
making a mockery of evil...
A shadow enters their hq...
Mallah looks up, Rouge is shocked, Immortus flinches...
Just as SLADE knocks over the brain...
His canister hits the floor and shatters...
Mallah scoops up the pulsating brain (just like the comic book cover).
Slade calls them fools. "Let me show you how it's done". And from that point on, they're working for HIM!
MagicalCat: Is anything going to be done with Kitten and Fang, or did you ever think of doing more with them? They were my favorite pair, admittedly, and they were only together in two episodes, only one of which they spoke in.
Rob Hoegee: Like a spin-off series? That would be cool! Otherwise, probably not.
Butch: Rob, Do you have any advice for anyone who's interested in writing for the animation industry as a career?
Rob Hoegee: My advice is this: don't quit your day job until you're established enough. I know so many people who get their big break with an assignment, say "cool! now I'm a writer!", quit their job and then not get another assignment for a year. It's the coolest job in the world, but unfortunately it doesn't pay that much compared to prime-time. You have to get a lot of work to really make a living at it. That's my advice. Breaking in is very hard though, but not impossible.
CidGregor: Is it a good idea to have, like, a broad range of writings in your 'portfolio,' so to speak? For example, samples from both kid-friendly things and more "Family Guy"-esque styles?
Rob Hoegee: It depends. When I look for writers, the most important thing is to find someone who I can communicate well with the writing samples are secondary. When I do read samples, what I look for most is someone who can really write great characters. Someone who is funny. Simply, a good writer.
The unfortunate aspect of writing for a show like Teen Titans or Legion is that we only get 13 episodes at a time. That leaves very little room for assignments. I have "go to" writers that I've worked with and trust - folks who will make my life easy on occasion I'll try out someone "new", but that a person who is new to me - not to writing animation.
And I depend more on reputation and recommendations from other story editors I trust than samples. But everyone needs a few samples when they're getting started. I'd say do a spec on a show you really know well and then have something original. The spec is going to show me you know how to work in the medium, an original helps me to see your own voice - and that's the most important part.
Butch: from Eve on the forums: In your opinion, is it still possible for the Titans to continue another season or DTV movie?
Rob Hoegee: Anything is possible, but right now another tv series seems unlikely. DTV however looks much more promising. If TT:TIT sells lots of copies, it will make the case even stronger. Warner Bros. Animation is in business to produce shows. If Warner Home Video says we want more Teen Titans, and Cartoon Network says they'll chip in for the broadcast rights, it will happen. Shows and movies I should clarify. Right now, around 50% of WBA's production is in DTV. Starting to be their bread and butter. So Teen Titans could fit well within that business plan.
Butch: next question....How do you guys tackle writing an episode script, from start to finish? Do you collaborate and bounce ideas off David [Slack], Amy [Wolfram], or Glen [Murakami] often?
Rob Hoegee: Good question. It's very colaborative. We would meet once a week and kick around ideas. It would be like "what about an episode where Beast Boy has to get a job, and it's at a place that only serves meat?" and Glen [Murakami] would add, "and what if it had talking space tofu?" I'd be cool! I'll do that one and Amy [Wolfram] would be: good. You can have it! So then I would go to my computer and write a premise about Beast Boy getting a job and saving the world from talking space tofu.
Then once the premise is approved by the network (with a note that says: "what were you smoking, Rob?") we get together for a story break meeting. Here we figure out the episode beat for beat and when I say we, I mean me, Amy [Wolfram], David [Slack] and Glen [Murakami]. If we're bringing in an outside writer, he or she will be in that meeting too.
After the story break, the writer (in this case me) goes off to write a 10-14 page outline about beast boy getting a job and saving the world from talking space tofu. The outline is broken into acts just like a script, we have scene headings to show where the locations are, but it's in prose form. After that I'll get notes from the network and Glen [Murakami], Amy [Wolfram] and David [Slack] will chime in with suggestions, and then I'll go and write a script. Most cases, we only do two drafts - sometimes two drafts and a polish.
The episode is then recorded a few days later so it's very collaborative in the early stages, but after a certain point, it's still a writer, alone, telling a story about beast boy saving the world from talking space tofu. This dynamic changes if I'm using an outside writer. When I use another writer, all the work flows through me first. Before an outline or script is turned in, I'll make changes. Sometimes these are big, sometimes not.
Forau: Sonds like a lot (fun) work. Quick backpedal if you don't mind: on getting network approval, what was (in your opinion) the greatest idea you guys had that didn't make it?
Rob Hoegee: Actually, CN was always pretty game. We had more trouble with DC - and only in the realm of getting permission to use characters. I can't really think of the network saying no to us. We edit ourselves pretty well so that doesn't happen.
Pameline: Who is responsible for cancelling Teen Titans: Cartoon Network or Warner Brothers?
Rob Hoegee: It was Cartoon Network who chose not to renew.
limel: What's your favorite part of the job?
Rob Hoegee: I really enjoy the recording sessions - it's awesome to see your words read by talented actors, but I think my favorite part is seeing a finished episode and knowing that in many ways, it all started inside my brain.
limel: Also what is your favorite episode and favorite season?
Rob Hoegee: Well, there is that one about Beast Boy saving the world from talking space tofu, but my favorite that I've written was "Lightspeed". Favorite season probably 4. I thought the Trigon arc was unbeatably cool.
limel: Favorite episode you didn't write?
Rob Hoegee: How Long Is Forever? and episode 257-494!
Butch: How is writing an edgy episode like "Apprentice Part 1" different from a comedic story like "Transformation" or "Employee of the Month"?
Rob Hoegee: I find the comedy eps more of a challenge. not that I think I lack comedy chops, but doing good comedy isn't as easy as drama. With the dramatic eps, you have plot to cushion you.
K: on that note, which character is easiest to write for comedy, and which for drama? And which are the hardest?
Rob Hoegee: You might be surprised by this one, for me, Raven is the easiest to write for comedy. For drama? Maybe Cyborg. Ony because Khary is a good friend and I know his range. Hardest on both account is Robin.
K: That's surprising [since] it always seems like Robin is the most dramatic of characters, with such absolute reactions to situations.
Rob Hoegee: I'd say he's definately serious, but of all our charactes, he probably has the least amount of emotional range.
JinxFanForever: Are you going to make another movie? If so, are you going to throw in at least some of the honorary titans? (examples: Jinx, Kid Flash, Argent, Jericho, Herald, etc.)
Rob Hoegee: I hope so, and if I'm involved, yes. By the way - I'm a Jinx fan forever too.
FocusedShadow: How did you and the other writers go about developing Slade's deal with Trigon in Season 4? Were there any complications telling this part of the story to viewers, especially in "The End Part 2" (because it involves a character siding with the devil)?
Rob Hoegee: It was a pretty straight forward deal with the devil. Though in this case, Trigon isn't literally the devil. We figured the only person powerful enough to save Slade from oblivion is Trigon. We had some broadcast standards concerns about how Trigon appeared so that he wasn't too clearly "satan-y".
Butch: So it seems you, David [Slack], and Amy [Wolfram] took equal part in writing Season 4's ender "The End". How did you three tackle writing duties for it, as it was the show's first (and only) three-part finale?
Rob Hoegee: I mentioned the "story break" aspect of the creative process. It was as simple as figuring out the broad strokes together and then going off on our own to write. We did keep each other in the loop in terms of how it begins and ends so that there is a good continuity. One of the things I really love about the Trigon arc - and if you watch all the episodes back to back you'll see what I mean - is that it makes one awesome movie that really stands on its own.
Stormcat: How do you adapt Comic book stories for TV? Is there any part that is especially hard or easy?
Rob Hoegee: That's a tricky question to answer in a forum like this, but I'll try. The way I do it is to take inspiration and then toss the rest aside. If it's going to be successful, you have to make it your own. the only hard part is explaining to the comic fans why you "ruined it".
moonlitshadow76: What are all five Titans ages at the beginning of the series, and then at the end of the series?
Rob Hoegee: That's completely up to everyone's imagnation. We never decided on specific ages. More like age ranges - between 13ish and 18ish, with BB the youngest and Cyborg the oldest. I'd like to think that like the Simpsons, they never age. I can give you my guess: BB-14, Robin-16, Raven-16, Cyborg-18, Starfire-156. That would be in Tamaranian, of course.
LIGHTNING ROUND Session
(All participants were given a brief chance to ask Rob Hoegee their questions on the fly, with Rob answering as many as possible)
RavenStar: How complicated were the action scenes to write - and also, all the anime refs - did you guys normally write those in detail, or did most of that get fleshed out in the storyboard stage?
Rob Hoegee: Action is way hard. Makes head hurt. Anime is all the artists.
ShegoRaven: What happened to the Doom Patrol? Why didn't they play more of a part in taking down the BoE?
Rob Hoegee: We wanted to focus on the Titans, not the Doom Patrol.
Tea: Jinx/Kid Flash, Jinx/Cyborg, or Jinx/Kid Flash?
Rob Hoegee: Jinx/Kid Flash all the way. Or maybe Jinx/See-More.
moonlitshadow76: What is your two preferred pairings?
Rob Hoegee: Robin and Starfire.
Java4918: Who is your favorite Titan and/or which Titan do you like working on the most? Plus, who else is your favorites on the show (besides the main five)?
Rob Hoegee: Favorite, Beast Boy. I liked working on Kid Flash the most.
ToboeLoneWolf: Okay, there's been a lot of backlash, I suppose, with Raven's characterization on the TT movie (namely that she slaps BB too much). Opinions on that?
Rob Hoegee: Raven only hits Beast Boy out of love.
Java9824: When writing an episode was it easy to keep the episode relativly clean but at the same time fun and exciting for all viewers?
Rob Hoegee: Yes - big part of the job.
moonlitshadow76: Do you like Terra?
Rob Hoegee: [I] love terra. Wish we could have used her more.
RavenStar: If you can tell us, can we expect to see Matter-Eater Lad in Legion any time soon?
Rob Hoegee: Yes!
ToboeLoneWolf: Gotta have this: Opinions on shipping, "canon" and "non-canon" ? Particular favorites of each "type" (if applicable?)
Rob Hoegee: [I] don't really have an answer for that, sorry. But shipping is amusing to me. Especially the odd combos.
homestar14: How have your experiences with Teen Titans helped with Legion of Superheroes?
Rob Hoegee: If anything its given me the confidence to tell cool super-hero stories.
ice: Any idea who Red X is?
Rob Hoegee: Classified, sorry.
tigerchic121: Are you still in contact with your Titan co-workers?
Rob Hoegee: Still in contact - yes.
ToboeLoneWolf: Do you know perhaps "how many" copies TT:TiT has to be sold in order to make a strong case for it?
Rob Hoegee: Copies sold? Sorry. Around the same as the Scoobies to make it a contender.
tigerchic121: Have you always wanted to write for animations?
Rob Hoegee: Sorta fell in to it, and glad I did.