» Interview: M. A. Larson at Midwestria

Your career has gone from more adult-oriented content to children’s programming. How did that come about and was it a conscious decision on your part to go that direction?

That was probably just one of those lucky accidents, I never planned to go into children’s things, I lived in New York and was writing dark indy movie type of stuff. I was assisting on, like you said Sin City… did You just say that?

No I literally didn’t say Sin City.

You didn’t? Am I imagining that?

Maybe, I didn’t say Sin City.

Am I having a stroke right now?

No, I hope not, please don’t make me call 911. I don’t want to do this.

I assisted on Sin City and The Brothers Grimm and directed in a Mike Nichols movie The Graduate, so I was working on movies and then moved to Los Angeles because my wife got a job in LA and all of a sudden I had no job. A friend of mine who I grew up with in Minnesota who as like an amazing animator working for Cartoon Network heard they needed writers, knew I needed a job and honestly I didn’t know much about animation, so he said “You should just watch Spongebob, read a couple of Spongebob specs, read a couple of my own.” And I did, I read two episodes of Spongebob, I got like 20 DVDs from Blockbuster, when they still had Blockbusters and i just marathoned Spongebob. And I had the same kind of reaction to that as I did to My Little Pony “Holy cow, this is amazing” So I had never seen it, I’d seen the balloons and the kids in the t-shirts thinking it was so lame but I watched the show and was like “wow! Spongebob is great” So I wrote a couple of those and he submitted them for me to the show called My Gym Partner is a Monkey at Cartoon Network and that was another fantastic accident that they needed a staff writer, because there were very few staff positions in animation so my first job was on a staff, which was great. And then that was it, then I was in.

So now, more focused on the show, each character has their own specific character traits that you were saying from the bible they were very fleshed out, yet you also wrote Return to Harmony which is an instance where they are the complete opposites of their normal characters for a good portion of two episodes. How fun was it to write them in the complete opposite for what you normally had to do or maybe it was a pain and were there any other moments where you wrote characters out of character on purpose?

I’ll have to think about that, well defiantly Big Mac in Ponyville Confidiential, that’s the most obvious one I can think of. That episode, Return of Harmony was pretty stressful actually, I wish it would have been three hours long because you have two twenty-two minute chunks to tell a whole lot of story and you’ve got six characters and you want to spotlight them, have fun with them and you end up kind of getting one line in here, one line in there and it’s not enough, you want full scenes of these guys being the reverse of themselves. So that episode was really tough just because of the time constraint, I know it’s a two-parter, twice as long as usual but it was still fitting everything in there was really tough and some stuff got cut out because it was too long and some parts of the episode feel too rushed because of that, it’s always hard to get- I’m going to go on a tangent, the Cutie Mark Chronicles was another one where you’ve gotta tell six stories plus a wrap-around story in 22 minutes. It’s really hard. So after season one Lauren loosened it and said we don’t need to get all six characters in every episode now, we tried to kinda of do that as much as possible in the first season, make sure all six were involved and it’s hard to do. Especially when you’re inverting the personalities and trying to show that off, that takes extra time so it was hard to get the page count right. I’m guessing the storyboard artists would say I didn’t get the page count right.

Another thing that we see constantly in the show is the comedic bits and the gags and all that, I’m sure they’re really fun to write but I just want to know, what are some of your comedic influences that you’ve had?

Wow, that’s a great question. Well I love, I really learned about this guy Preston Sturgess, do you know him? He’s sort of like a filmmaker in the early years of Hollywood I randomly found some screenplay compilations of his stuff and just got absolutely hooked and found more and more of them. He directed too but I don’t think he directed as well as he wrote, his comedy and his timing on the page and in the scripts when you read the scripts, the interplay of the characters, it showed me how much energy you can get out of a page and how much energy you can get into a scene with just words. So that was huge in terms of screen writing, in terms of just comedy I’m a huge sitcom fan, you know, more then cartoons my brother and I would watch the Jeffersons or Threes Company or WKRP Cincinnati so I grew up watching all kinds of sitcoms, Seinfeld I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm is fantastic, I watch a lot of sitcoms.

Oh and Peewees Big Adventure and [Monty Pythons] Holy Grail. Those two I watch them over and over again. Hilarious movies.

Now I’m going to have to rag on you a little bit, because we saw you Karaoke the other night and you were trying to sing the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 song and you have a questionable track record with that but you did write an excellent song.

Thank you.

What was the process behind writing your songs in general? Because I believe you said that you were not a musically inclined person for writing lyrics.

No, I was very anti-musical growing up, I hated musicals, didn’t want anything to do with them until I saw South Park and I was like “Oh, I kinda like a musical” and then I kind of got into them a little more and softened my stance. I’ve only written the two songs, I did the one form Cutie Mark Chronicles which is a tiny song and the lyrics are so bad, you could tell that was my first one because the lyrics are just awful. The music is great, Daniel Ingram is unbelievable, that guy and that whole team, amazing. SO they make a good song out of really crappy lyrics and then the other one was just obviously The Music Man which I had never seen and Rob and Lauren said you’ve gotta watch this movie, I watched it and it just blew me away. I love The Music Man and it so obviously comes from The Music Man I just took those lyrics form that song ‘You’ve Got Trouble’ and tried to study how that worked because it was really a sing-songy kind of thing. How they work, where are the rhymes, what’s going on here and just tried to write like that but it was fun too, I had two guys who are basically the same guy who could play off of each other. And part of that when they are doing the real quick bit of “He’s Flim, He’s Flam” thing it should feel a little dizzying, they’re confusing the people of the town you know, they’re singing really fast and it’s all moving really fast and they storyboard it brilliantly, animated it brilliantly. There’s so much happening and you just watch the ponies of the town get swept up in it. So that was the whole thing with it, The Music Man is just one guy singing and it’s genius but with this I could use two of them and have them be confusing which served the story.

To play off each other, that’s good.

Yeah.

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  1. Nice interview. I guess i have to watch a marathon of a show to grasp cartoon writing :P

    Im really happy to hear him (From what i’ve heard, a Rainbow Dash fan) say: Applejack needs more episodes