Today we have a special video interview conducted by Fenster from last weekends Canterlot Gardens with Meghan McCarthy (Twitter @MMeghanMcCarthy) the Lead Story Editor for season 3 and writer of previous episodes such as “Dragonshy”, “Lesson Zero”, “Hearts and Hooves Day” and the two-parter “A Canterlot Wedding.”
Interview: Meghan McCarthy
If you prefer reading instead of watching a video, a full text transcript of the video is available beneath the cut.
Meghan McCarthy, 29th September 2012, Canterlot Gardens
This is Fenster from The Round Stable and I’m here with Meghan McCarthy. She was a writer in season one and two and wrote episodes like “Party of One”, “Lessson Zero” and “A Canterlot Wedding.”
You are now the story editor for season three. How are you adjusting to the roll of editor? The kind of challenges you have to deal with now: are they more challenging?
Meghan McCarthy: It’s different challenges. I was a freelancer on the first two episodes, so I would only come in when it was time to write a story and work with Lauren [Faust] and Rob [Renzetti]. Now, part of my job is management. It’s assigning the premises to the different writers, and ensuring they turn them in in a timely manner. It’s a lot of sending emails!
Similar challenges in that it’s taking stories and helping the writers break those stories, and delivery a script in the end. I just get to call the shots a little bit more now.
Have you ever done something like an editing job before? Where you get to overlook and manage things?
I did. I was sort of the showrunner on a show called Class of 3000, which is André Benjamin from OutKast’s short-lived series.
So you think you’re ready for this position?
Yeah. I had done it before. Actually, on that show I was even more involved on working with the voice actors and working on the storyboards and things like that.
Here, my work is mostly done once the script is locked, and then it goes off to someone else to take care of from there.
So how did you actually get pulled into the show in the first place? When you were first pulled in, what did you expect for the show’s reaction?
Oh no, I totally predicted this. I’m the only one that did that!
But as a show for the age audience of little girls, how did you think the editor reaction would be for them?
Well I had worked with Lauren before on Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, so that’s how I knew her, and how she knew my work to bring me on to the show. That’s how I got involved. I knew it would be good because she’s super talented, and cared so deeply about making it really good. It was really important to her that there be a show for girls that had really strong stories, and characters, and really meant something. That was her primary goal, and that was my goal when I came in to write the episodes was to deliver what she expected and what I expected of myself, as far as quality and good storytelling.
I think all of us were pretty shocked when a different demographic responded to it. But that didn’t change how we approached the show. We were always coming from a place of having these great characters, and telling interesting stories with them. That is going to appeal to a broad audience, as we have obviously discovered.
When you were writing for season one and season two, can you tell us about any guidelines that you had? Say you were given a story from Lauren Faust to write a premise out, were you given and guidelines about what to do in the episode in terms of your creativeness? Did you get a rule about how many pop culture references you could do, or was there any limit on how much technology could be in an episode?
No, there were rules in the world of just how it’s set up. You can and can’t do things — there won’t be robots and exploding things because that’s not the show. But other than that, there weren’t any rules beyond just the regular three acts and act breaks and all that kind of stuff. Otherwise I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted.
We would write the stories in pretty good detail in the room with Lauren and with Rob, or just Rob if Lauren wasn’t available. So we had every scene basically mapped out, but it would just be “Fluttershy goes and yells at the dragon.” Something very simple, and then I would have to flesh it out.
So the process of the story was they give you the premise, and then you start laying out the scenes? Then you put in the all the lines for the scenes?
Yeah, there would be note cards basically: ‘This happens, this happens, this happens.’ It would just be what the characters are going to do; what was going to move the story forward. Then I would take those home in a big stack, and hope to not get them out of order on the way home.
Then I would take those and write out the individual scenes, and the dialogue, and jokes. Sometimes we would pitch dialogue and jokes in the room, and sometimes we wouldn’t. Sometimes it would be a very loose “here’s what happens in the scene, go with it.”
Because you guys are given a good amount of creative freedom like you’ve said?
Yeah. I think, for me, was when I was writing ‘Party of One.’ It was the scene when she was talking to all of the inanimate objects. That was just me “What are the things she’s talking to? A bag of x! Rocks!” I was just pulling stuff out of the air I thought was funny, and was pleasantly surprised that they said “yes, let’s do that!”
You don’t get much turndown I bet?
There’s always notes, and 99% of the time I’m “yep, you’re right, that’s what we should do.” Because you get so close to the material, sometimes you get so close to the material that you can’t see things that fresh eyes will notice. You’ll always get feedback.
So for the writing of the show, I’m going to talk about the communication with Hasbro, and relating to the freedom you have as writers. How often do you talk with Hasbro in terms of getting concepts down? I don’t know if you were there when the initial story concepts were put down, but if Hasbro wanted to call you all and say “hey, we need this in this episode,” are they really flexible? Is it free, or do they lay down a mandate?
No, it’s a very open communication about what everyone wants to see on the show. There’s back and forth, and discussion about things. I haven’t felt like… [Closed-fist shaking, jokingly]
I get to tell a lot of great stories I wanna get to tell.
How often do you think Hasbro even gets into what you work on?
I know everybody sees everything, but beyond that I don’t know.
But how can they contact you guys and go “hey, I need you to change this or put this in”?
We just get notes on the script. We turn in the scripts and then we get feedback. That’s just the process on any show anywhere.
Regarding the concepts of episodes. I think we’ve heard before that Lauren Faust and a bunch of the other writers and would sit down in a room and throw out ideas. Now, usually within the show so far there has been a difference between the adventure and slice-of-life type of episodes. I don’t know if you can say anything about this, but was there ever anyone arguing or pulling for one or the other?
No, it kind of happens very organically where when we’re breaking stories, or when we have a writers summit. We’ll say to bring in five springboards that we can just riff on in the room. It just happens organically where we have one or two more epic adventures come to the forefront, but there’s not a plan of “two of these, three of these.”
No one is arguing about this?
No, it just kind of happens. If the story is good then it goes. If it doesn’t then we toss it out. There’s no formula, or if there is no one one has told me!
It doesn’t sound like you’re arguing very much either, so that’s good.
No, no, it’s good. Obviously, within the room, there will be back and forth between discussion, but part of a writers room is being able to let stuff go.
I know you guys don’t write together. All the writers pretty much do their own thing, so it’s interesting what you guys do when you’re together.
I just make a lot of jokes and ask when lunch will be there.
Just like today!
Focusing on the story editor and your position. When Lauren Faust originally created the show I think she tries to go for her expression of feminism of making a good show for little girls. As a story editor now, do you see yourself as a guardian of that vision? Do you still work to keep that in as a story editor?
Absolutely, absolutely. She started something that I have so much respect for her, and so much respect for what she created. I’m not going to be “It’s mine, and I’m gonna do whatever!”
I think that’s why it’s been so successful is because the type of stories and her vision from the start.
Do you all see yourself as this is actually working as a good show for little girls? That’s what it’s supposed to be of course.
Yeah. I have a daughter, and she loves the show, and I want her to continue to think I’m cool.
A good test audience.
Yeah, exactly. Having a daughter and being a woman, I appreciate the fact that this is a really quality show for that demographic. It’s awesome that other people are drawn to it as well.
I don’t sit there and think what is my audience going to think. I’m thinking “what is this character doing?” If I try to write specifically for the audience, or think of the audience, then I’m not in the mind of the character, and that’s whose brain I need to be in as I’m telling the story.
So the writing just comes natural? You’re basically not even thinking about making a kids show, you’re just doing what you want to do?
Yeah. To me, if I were working on any other show I would approach it exactly the same. Same sort of rules, writing, and the bar I try to set for myself.
Well the quality of the show is pretty high, as anyone will tell you.
I don’t know if you still do freelance work for other shows, but as you’re working as a writer what are the kind of stories you like to write on? What kind of stories that you’re really excited to do, or are there any kind of stories you aren’t excited about?
I try to find my way into a story in a way that keeps it interesting for me. I don’t want to be “ehh” half way through since I’m the first audience member.
I guess I’ve had a trend on this show of the characters going a little bit crazy. I think that’s an odd theme, but in my writing a lot of times is a character finding their way back to their middle. I seem to hit that theme a lot. I like to see someone go to an extreme, and then they don’t go all the way [180°], they have to find their way of being center.
I think you did that for Twilight twice. You did it in ‘Lesson Zero’ and ‘A Canterlot Wedding;’ you really like to portray her as crazy!
I like to put Tara [Strong] through the ringer. It’s really fun.
She enjoys it.
So I was going to ask about the lyric writing for the show. A number of episodes you’ve written for the show have songs in them. For The show writers are who write the lyrics for the songs. Canterlot Wedding – one of the most popular ones, This Day Aria – a lot of people are really impressed with it. People are really impressed with the amount of stuff you do with the lyrics. Are you musically inclined, or do you have any experience with lyrics?
I was in a really rockin’ band when I was in high school—
No. I mean, I was in a band, but we rocked moderately.
What did you play?
I can play a little bit of guitar. I’m a better guitar player than I give myself credit for, but I sang and wrote the lyrics. I think part of me wants to be that when I grow up.
I just like writing the songs. I was talking about this on the panel that I don’t hear the music in my head. To me it’s more like writing a poem, so there’s a rhythm to the song to me and also what I’m trying to convey storywise. I think every writer probably has a different process, and different writers on the show love to write songs and others don’t.
We’ve all heard about Amy Keating Rogers’s original smile song: how often do the lyrics actually change when you write them out?
I don’t believe that mine have changed significantly. I do try to make a really concerted effort to have that rhythm that Daniel [Ingram] can identify.
I think that rhythm is probably most identifiable in ‘This Day Aria.’
Yeah. I mean, it was very ‘this is how it needs to play out’ he can read it. He’s told me that “your songs scan,” and [he] doesn’t wonder how to fit this into a verse. I didn’t even know I was doing that; it just kind of made sense to me as a poem.
What was the song that was most difficult to write?
I think This Day Aria because it was this back and forth. I wanted to parallel, lyrically, what was going on both Cadences. Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it!
That was definitely the most challenging for me, and I remember being up very very late and trying to make that work. I think that’s one of my proudest things, and then when I heard what Daniel did to it musically I thought “this thing is going to be unbelievable.” Then when I saw the animation with it, I just…
And everyone loves it.
Yeah, and it got a great response.
It’s common to have a villain song, and then play it off the hero, but you do that within the same song. Was that just what you wanted to do?
Yeah. I just thought it would be fun. You have an imposter, and to play them back and forth – it’s the same person but with different agendas – was just interesting.
Speaking of ‘A Canterlot Wedding’, I heard that from the staff you enjoy working on the big episodes like the two parters.
It’s fun when you have a big story to tell. You feel that you have freedom to really tell that big story and explore a lot.
It’s interesting because sometimes with a 22 minute, or even within an act, sometimes seven minutes feels like “Oh my god, how am I going to fill this,” and other times it’s like “I have too much. I can’t cram it all in there!” It’s a weird thing depending on the story, but you can usually tell with something like the wedding that it needed to be big.
Some people want it to be even bigger. People keep asking you about a movie, and no one knows about that, but we would all enjoy it I’m sure. What are your inspirations for crafting a story, other than writing? Where do you get your inspirations from? What drives you when you write a story?
I never know where it’s going to come from. I always say that every time I start it’s as though I’ve never written anything before. That first blank page really is, and then it just kind of happens. It’s hard to explain where ideas come from. They just kind of do.
If you clean the slate every time that may explain why you keep going back to the crazy.
Yeah, really! I’m like, “that worked!”
One last question: if you could have any writer, just for fun, who would you like to see on My Little Pony just to see what happens?
Oh my gosh. That’s good. Uhm, the Coen Brothers maybe? I don’t know. That would be interesting to see what they come up with. Also to hang out with them in the room.
Are you working on anything else? Any other show you would like to plug?
Uh, no. [laughter] Yeah, no. It’s pretty busy!
Probably because you’re story editor and it’s pretty busy. Well, thanks for joining us!
You’re very welcome! ■