» Interviews: Charlotte Fullerton, Justin Chappelle at Midwestria

Today we have the last two interviews of guests from Midwestria.  Next up is Charlotte Fullerton who sat down to discuss her career path as a writer and what she’s done for pony. Fullerton is best known for writing episodes like “Sisterhooves Social,” “Suited for Success,” and “May The Best Pet Win.”

In addition, we have a bonus interview with the Midwestria con chair, Justin Chappelle.

Interview: Charlotte Fullerton
Interview: Justin Chappelle

For full text transcripts, check behind the cut.

Charlotte Fullerton, Writer

My name is JHaller, I’m here with Charlotte Fullerton, a writer for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and various other cartoons. Thank you very much for joining us here today.

Charlotte Fullerton: You’re welcome! Happy to be here.

Some questions about your work with the show…

Hopefully I have some answers. [Laughs]

We do too! Before going into the project, did you know anything about the people involved, or the show’s direction before you actually started working with them?

That’s a good question, because actually, I didn’t. I knew Amy Keating Rogers, and she recommended me to Lauren Faust. We hadn’t met at that point, so thank you Amy for getting me that job and getting me involved in the whole pony experience. It’s been fantastic. But all I knew about My Little Pony was the eighties iteration, and not even so much the cartoons from back then, so no offense to the writers that worked on that show. I didn’t know that, all I knew was the jingle from back then for the commercials

I was kind of worried for a couple of reasons. One, just professionally as a writer—what am I going to do to fill up thirty-two pages here—and the other thing was also as a woman, and having been a little girl, and saying “This is gonna be programming primarily aimed for girls. Who knew it would go to adults, and men?” Cause it’s good, hello! But a lot of times, programming for girls, having been a viewer of it as a little girl, and I’ve written some of it… It can be pretty darn insipid, and overly precious. I’ve talked to little girls like we’re all two years old, even though you’re twelve. It’s sort of… you shouldn’t be talking to two-year olds like that anyway! “Okay, everybody, lets…” Harry Potter was a great example about something that it can be cool, and clever, and intricate, and this wonderful world of mystery and adventure, and girls will read it! Boys will read it, big surprise, because it’s good. And Lauren just did an amazing job developing this series. Really, the tone of it, the whole overall vibe of it, certainly the look, the artwork. The feel of it, it’s all Lauren.

I was concerned going in, only knowing the toy commercials from the eighties. I might have said it during the first meeting. “Is this twenty-two minutes long? It’s not eleven and eleven? Are they just gonna brush each others’ hair for twenty-two minutes? How is this going to be a show?” and [Lauren] gave me the bible, lowercase b, which is everything you need to know to work on the show document. All the artwork, character description, locations, the different kinds of ponies, pegasus, earth ponies, everything defined. Some of the characters’ names changed since then, but the tone, the vibe of it… Once I read that, and got talking to her about what you all know, her love of the show growing up, and the property.

When I say “love of the show,” This is the show it should be! What a dream come true, to grow up and make the show that you wished as a child, you know, you could have as a dream. It’s great and fantastic.

That goes into the next question…

Happy to segue! [Laughter]

Sometimes when you think about cartoons aimed at girls, it can be insipid, and lack of depth of characters, or shallow characters in general. But this show does the opposite in a lot of ways. You have depth in your characters, the stories have an emotional set to them, and so when you were making these, and when you were finally getting a feel for what the show is about, did you feel like you were making something that was going to be new and groundbreaking at the time?

Well, we didn’t have any idea that it was gonna be this explosive, wonderful fan base that we’ve ended up with. I don’t think anybody can predict that kind of phenomenon. And it’s great. We all loved it, as adults, men and women. It’s a lot of fun, we loved it, but that doesn’t mean you have the same taste as everyone. But we definitely knew from a writing standpoint, girl characters in particular. At least, I knew, and the folks I’ve talked to, all the other freelance writers knew from creatively, from a writing standpoint, that we had something special on our hands.

Because there are so many female characters in this show, and usually, you end up with just one. The one girl, and she’s the fun killer. She’s the “I don’t think we should do this,” or “I don’t knooow,” or she’s just there to be rescued. Or if she’s a superhero, the female characters have passive powers. They have mind control, and they’re not hitting anybody. Well, Wonder Woman is throwing punches, people made exceptions to that, thankfully. Sort of all these tropes for female characters.

And the problem is that there tends to only be one. Or any minority characters, there’s only one, and they have to be all things for all people. It’s not just that girl, who’s her own person and has her own likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses. Including, you know, maybe jealous, or not so self-confident, or whatever, all in one character. It doesn’t have to be… the ponies could have been very shallowly written. You could have Sporty Spice, and whatever Spice, and that’s all there is to it. Nothing against that either, but it could be… You know, Rainbow’s only this, Applejack’s only this, okay? To look at it, if you didn’t know the show, you might think that. “Okay, Rarity, she’s the prissy one. Rainbow, she’s the sporty one.” Whatever. But they’re not! They’re more fleshed out as human beings, as full, well-rounded characters than most human characters are on other shows we get to write for. It’s because there’s so many of them. So there’s not the one girl who has to be all girls. She can’t do anything too negative, cause then you’re saying something really nasty about all girls. “All girls are petty and jealous, eh, okay.” No! One character, in this one situation, is feeling petty and jealous, or whatever it is, or feeling left out or whatever it is that’s a negative quality that they have to overcome that gives them some conflict, something to do in the story.

You said that these were more fleshed out characters, and so many human characters, and I think that’s part of why there’s so many adult fans coming to this show and feeling that it’s something worth watching.

I think you’re right. It just makes it an absolute joy to write. I know probably everybody says that as they’re trying to promote their show, but it’s true! The characters almost speak for themselves because they’re so clearly defined. You guys know, what would Fluttershy do in this situation? Well, it’s different than what Rainbow would do in this situation, and different from what Twilight would do in this situation, because they’re their own person. That’s all Lauren.

In the early part of your career you wrote for a lot of Japanese dubs, I believe…?

Yeah, it’s Japanese translations of different anime properties. Digimon, Zatch Bell, gosh, Transformers: Cybertron. And that’s almost like a lip-flap counting job. You sit there with the pause button, and what I used to do was just first do a map to myself of how many syllables so and so on-screen says this and that. Make a note of how many syllables, pause, and there’s a little caret and certain symbols you use in a script like that. The actors who do that for a living regularly all recognize.

They’re amazing. Yuri Lowenthal, who plays Ben 10 for us, does a lot of anime, as does his wife, Tara Platt. When they have to come in and ADR an American produced show like Ben 10, it’s like first take. Lip flap? This is nothing to them.

What is the main difference when you’re working with a translated script versus writing for an original script?

It’s a complete night and day difference. You’re looking at a finished product, and counting lip flaps, and you’re trying to match. They give you a translation of the Japanese script into English and it’s a really wonky translation. Sometimes you can’t even figure out… “What? That’s not a sentence. What is this character trying to say?” So you have to not only translate that again into something that fits in those exact lip flaps in English, you gotta figure out what the heck is supposed to be going on in this scene.

One of the fun things we got to do on a show called Duel Masters, which came from  Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro. They’ve got a new iteration now, Kaijudo, but this is in 2004, 2005. Kevin Rubio, who later was my songwriting partner on May The Best Pet Win. Nominated for an Emmy, we lost and proud of it! Kevin was the mastermind, the Lauren Faust behind Duel Masters of its day. It was very different kind of anime repurposed animation, where we didn’t just count lip flaps and try to tell the same story that they told in Japanese. We took the first 26 episodes into the edit bays, and cut them apart. When I say we, it was a lot of friends. Kevin, myself, and a wonderful producer Mickey Corchran at Plastic Cow Productions. Incredibly creative, super brilliance when it comes to this kind of thing.

We had started in on-air promos, first at Fox Kids, then Kids WB, and a lot of other friends who do those. The commercials between the shows, for the shows, for what’s coming up next. So we’re used to taking show material, and cutting it together, and trying to tell a different story or joke. Duel Masters is entirely constructed to tell our… it’s not like counting lip flaps and using the little caret marks. It’s not 100% standard original animation script either, where you write a screenplay, then the voice actors record, then they storyboard, then they ship it overseas and animate it, and it comes back months and months layer, cause they’re animating one frame at a time. So you’ve gotta draw all of this stuff. Yeah, don’t look at the whole idea of computers as “Oh, it’s so much faster!” Somebody’s still has to put it in the computer. The data’s gotta come from somewhere. So Duel Masters is kind of its own special thing. We made it into a comedy. Kevin Rubio’s sensibility was totally “What’s up Tigerlily the heck out of that thing.” The characters are very aware they’re in a cheap anime show, they comment on it all the time, and it’s quite fun.

Two of those songs that are my favorite songs of season one and two are Art of the Dress and May The Best Pet Win. You’ve already mentioned you have a partner, Mr. Rubio, who helps you with this—

I shouldn’t say he helps me with this, it’s a co-writing process. He has a freaky scary knowledge of musical theater. You remember the line about Fluttershy’s freaky knowledge of sewing? [Laughter]

Right, co-writing. That’s where I was going to go. The reason I like them so much is because they both have that musical stage type of feel to it. You have dialog in the middle of the songs and so forth. Because he’s co-writing these with you, is that where a lot of the influence for these songs and how they work comes from?

Well, yes and no. Talking on a panel earlier today, Mitch [Larson], Amy and I on our songwriting processes. It was really interesting to hear how they write and approach songwriting. It’s very different. Their way seems a heck of a lot more work, but I guess just whatever works for you. [Laughter] I definitely approach it from story first, and not so much from coming up with a jingle in my head and saying like, Amy in her panel, she hears a song and immediately starts writing lyrics to this tune that she’s hearing. I really start with “what does the song have to say?” The purpose of the songs aren’t to stop the show and let’s all sing for no good reason. I think we could do that if we made a joke out of it. “Why are we stopping and singing for no reason?”

Pinkie Pie started singing random songs.

Yeah! That’s for fun. But something like May The Best Pet Win takes up the entire first half, almost. It’s a musical, it’s telling a story. I certainly sit there and think what the story beats are in the outline and what happens. It’s a sales pitch that’s going on at first, and then obviously she’s not getting it. But then there’s that change up in the music, where Rainbow’s basically, you know, landed on the line of what she wants. “No, this is what I want.” “I’m beginning to suspect, I’m beginning to think you want an animal that can fly.” If you listen to the lyrics, it is telling a story, and the progression of the story as the song goes along. It’s not just a pop tune with verses and a bridge kind of structure to it. So it is musical theater.

Kevin is so useful, because I can say “Okay, this is the vibe that I’m thinking, what in musical theater history? Multiple songs have that kind of thing here, and here.” We don’t send the song to the composer in Vancouver, we’re in LA—we never actually met until the night of the Emmys! We’re like texting each other, he flew down from Vancouver. We don’t know what each other look like! I”m describing the dress I’m wearing, I’m here with my dad, cause it was Father’s day. Kevin’s not just freakishly knowledgable about musical theater, but super funny. So I can ask “this is what this needs to accomplish, pitch me stuff.” He doesn’t get his feelings hurt easily. I love writing with Kevin, he’s doing some scripts with us on Ben 10, I’ve known him for a lot of years. He wrote the and directed the short film Troops, the Star Wars/COPS parody, you know the sensibility. I can shoot down his ideas. “Eh, I don’t like it, try something else.” I don’t have to, you know “I think we’ll try, maybe…” Sometimes, dealing with creative people you have to be—and I’m one of them!—Nobody wants to be told “Nah, just… I don’t want to get into why I don’t like it, just move on.” And he’s like “No problem, I’ve got another one!”

In Suited for Success, you wrote the line “It needs to be about twenty percent cooler.” It’s one of the biggest memes and fan phrases we have now. How do you feel about that in particular?

I want to say that I don’t think… That line, “I’m pretty sure it needs to be twenty percent cooler” is a Lauren or Rob [Renzetti] line from the story meeting. Not necessarily that it needed to be in the song, but I think one of them said that when we were coming up with the story and I jotted it down and ended up putting it into the song. I can’t remember which [of Lauren or Rob]. I’ve written so many hours of children’s TV and video games between now and then.

It’s cool that it’s become such a thing. Mike Vogel, one of the Hasbro execs, I see him posting that on Facebook every once in a while, and I’m like “ooohhh…” and he’s such a good friend.

Are there any other lesser known projects you’d like to discuss or would like to promote?

Lesser known? Well, it’s not very lesser known, but Ben 10 Omniverse is about to premiere on September 22. And, that’s a big deal! It’s this tiny thing, you’ve probably never heard of it.

There you go! Anything other than Ben 10 you want to talk about?

Nope, Ben 10’s been my life for the past year. And, of course, I should say, the third season of My Little Pony, which I wasn’t involved in, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Meghan McCarthy was also nominated against us for best song, so we were like “No, one of us is going to win!” The Academy had our names wrong, I was listed as having written her song, she was listed as writing mine, Kevin was listed nowhere. Do we all go up? Daniel would be either way! Meghan is fantastic, and I’m sure she’s done a great job on Season 3, and I can’t wait.

We can’t wait either, I assure you! Thank you very much for your time!

You’re welcome very much!

Justin Chappelle, Midwestria Con Chair

I’m talking with Justin Chappelle who is the con chair for Midwestria. Thank you very much for coming out here with us.

Justin Chappelle: Very good!

What gave you the idea to run a pony themed convention and why in this location of St. Charles?

It began in December when we were discussing, the admins of Midwest Bronies division, just wondering, “Hey, we should have a small convention just for bronies, for everypony to get together and enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It was originally supposed to be a music festival, where we get a lot of different musicians to come in, and play and DJ in a concert kind of setting. The more we met, we were just bouncing ideas off of each other, and saying “Maybe we could have some guests.” It wouldn’t be like Bronycon, but it would be something just for fans, something a lot smaller. It kind of tumbled and rolled the more people found out about it and got involved. Eventually it turned into, around February or March, this big convention idea. And from there, we said “OK, can we do this?” A lot of us have a lot of jobs, or school, and this was part-time planning. We tried to get Collision on top of it to help us out with it. It has been quite an experience, a lot of work, a lot of hours, but it’s paid off.

I’m curious too about Kollision. I see their logo’s kind of all over the place, they’re sponsoring the event. What exactly is Kollision, just because we’re curious about what exactly they do, how do they play into this whole convention thing?

Well, it’s a convention company, they’re known for helping and developing conventions. I think they do about six or seven conventions, or help out with that. And we heard about them from a friend of a friend, and we asked them for help. They know a lot about logistics, how to run a convention. All of us, we didn’t know anything about running a convention, we’re really new to the experience. They greatly helped out with telling what we can and cannot do, what would be legal and illegal, contacting guests, and they did all that for us. We greatly appreciate their services.

A thing we’ve always noticed with these conventions, where the events are held. Usually hotels, sometimes you get weird looks from the staff at the hotel just because it’s like “what is going on here?” But how has Pheasant Run as a hotel treated everything? Have they been cooperative and helpful with everything you needed?

The staff has been very good at helping us out with the convention. Pheasant Run is like a real nice resort facility. You have a lot of swimming pools, bedrooms, and a lot of space. We looked around in the Chicagoland area and there isn’t a lot to choose from. You either have these enormous convention centers or something extremely tiny and this is just the perfect size for a convention like this. Pheasant Run is a very good place and there’s not a lot of traffic. It’s a little out, but it’s good.

For running a first time convention, what were some of the biggest challenges you had to face?

One of our major challenges is that a lot of the staff did not show up. [Laughs] Originally it was supposed to be eighty people that were supposed to come on staff, and we did it all with around twenty people.

Wow.

So we actually did a fantastic job, we switched, everything went perfectly. We did all of our jobs, and everything went phenomenal with that. Another challenge that we couldn’t really tackle, but other people had to tackle, was working with the sound systems. I mean, that’s an electronic thing for the businesses to do. Other than that, the artists and vendor thing went very smoothly, registration went really well, and everything with con ops and customer service was just very well planned. Everybody that was involved was very good and professional.

That kind of leads into what I was going to ask next, what were some of the biggest successes? Anything else you would consider a success with this convention?

What I consider a success is for both the attendees to enjoy themselves and have a good time. This is for all the fans of the show. Also for the staff to enjoy themselves while working on this. And so I think that was a major success also. Having the guests and attendees and press enjoy themselves, based on that.

We’ve been to Everfree and Bronycon so we’ve seen some of the bigger [cons] as well. Something that struck us as a group is that this has been running a lot more smoothly in a lot of cases. What do you think you could attribute to that?

A lot of the staff know each other. They either belong to Collision or Midwest Brony Division. And we all know each other, and we know how we work, and how we communicate with each other. And so i think that’s one of the major successes for this convention would be that.

Communication, that’s something we did notice too. If there was a lack of a person needed somewhere, you had someone pretty much talking someone else to be that place, and you guys were pretty much on top of it. It’s something we did notice.

I keep seeing you walking around with a binder, and going to all these different panels, I’m assuming just to kind of look at everything and make sure everything is running smoothly. Is there anything new about the fandom that you’ve learned because you’ve been looking at all this different content?

I dedicate myself about a couple hours a day—two to three, sometimes four hours a day—just to this fandom. Just to read through all the websites, all the blogs, all the different websites and media that there is out there. I kind of knew what to expect from everypony coming here but it was just fascinating just to see perspective from the guests, their input on the community. Other than that, I kind of know what to expect, so I’m always prepared just like Twilight Sparkle.

You had the checklist from the sleepover episode, basically making sure everything went by the book.

And if one of the guests had a question, I just look it up under this whole list of things about the episodes. “Oh, it’s this person,” and they’re all “Oh, how do you know that?”

Do you picture there being another Midwestria next year?

That’s still up in the air right now. A lot of us… it took a lot out of us. We really want to do Midwestria. We are talking with Collision in the future, trying to do some reorganization of certain things, and hopefully, yes.

Thank you very much again, that was Justin Chappelle, I’m Jhaller, and hopefully you’ll come back here to The Round Stable for more content like this. Thanks a lot!