Monday, July 25, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Glenn Leopold, writer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

How did you get the job to write for Super Friends?

I was a staff writer/story editor under contract at Hanna-Barbera so I was friendly with the two story editors on SF, Alan Burnett and Jeff Segal. I had given them their first writing assignment at H-B on a Johan and Peewit segment of The Smurfs, which I was story editing. So when Alan and Jeff got the story editing gig, they asked me if I would come up with some ideas.

How familiar with the characters were you before you got the job?

I had read plenty of DC comics as a kid, so I obviously knew Superman, Batman and Robin, and Wonder Woman.

Did you come up with the stories on your own or did producers guide you in any way (i.e. “we want a story with dinosaurs,” etc.)?

I came up with the stories for the three SF episodes (“The Curator,” “The Mask of Mystery,” and “The Wrath of Brainiac”) and one Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (“The Bizarro Super Powers Team”) on my own, from ideas I pitched to Alan and Jeff.

How long did it take you to write one episode?

I had a reputation for being pretty fast, and these were only 11-minute episodes, so after coming up with the premise, you had to do an outline so the story editors and then the network could give notes. The outline would take a day or so. Then once the outline was okayed to script, it would take another two or three or four days to write it, depending on whether there were other projects going on at the same time. Definitely not more than a week.

What challenges were involved in writing SF?

Just making sure all the characters were true to their origins.

The show (like many of the era) didn’t allow for much characterization. Did that make the job easier or harder?

I think with the 11-minute format in particular, there wasn’t much time to do more than set up the story. Hopefully there were still some touches of character in there, even if we didn’t have time to explore them more. Plus we were servicing quite a few superheroes in a short amount of time and that wasn’t always easy.

How did writing SF compare to writing other animated series? (Related: what has been your favorite series to write for?)

At the time of SF, I’d written mostly for Popeye, The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo. SF was more action-adventure as opposed to comedy, so that was a nice change. Most people thought of me more as a comedy writer and it was fun to do some superhero action stuff instead of gags. Not that Scooby isn’t a super action hero. As to favorite series, every one had its own challenges and rewards. Obviously, The Smurfs was fun because of all those characters and it was such a phenomenon at the time. And the first show I story edited. I really liked writing on Scooby-Doo because of the mystery-comedy blend. And later the Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island direct-to-video because I was allowed to pretty much do what I wanted on that one—and I got to age up the characters a bit. Plus I (finally!) got to make the monsters real! That was a treat.

Were there any characters you found more fun to write than others?

I liked the Bizarros and Braniac and Lex Luthor. I think it’s more fun to write for the villains on these shows.

Of the episodes you wrote, do you have a favorite?

I liked “Mask of Mystery” just because of the superhero wannabe aspect. Maybe Ronald Raymond was a precursor to Kick-Ass? And the Darkseid-Brainiac-faux Wonder Woman triangle in “Wrath of Brainiac” was kinda fun.

Were there any you ended up being disappointed with?

Those computers in “Mask of Mystery” look really ancient. And I always could find spots where the timing was not what I envisioned in my mind when I wrote the script.

Where did you write—at home, on site at Hanna-Barbera, or a combination?

Combo. There was so much going on at H-B with meetings, pitches, phone calls, getting/giving notes, recording sessions and such, that I would start scripts there and finish them at home. Quieter there.

How much interaction, if any, did you have with the voice actors? Were you there when they recorded?

On the SF episodes in particular, I don’t remember if I was there. I did try to go to the recording sessions on the scripts I wrote, and definitely to all the sessions on the shows where I was the story editor, to help make sure the scripts got the proper reading. And it was fun to watch all the actors work, of course!

Do you still have any of your original SF scripts?

I used to keep scripts and various drafts and notes, but when I had to move out of my office at H-B, most got tossed or recycled. I did try to keep a copy of every script and they may be locked away somewhere in storage.

Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, candid photos, etc.)?

Not that I know of. It was just a H-B show I wrote on, as opposed to a show I was more deeply involved in like
Smurfs, Snorks, Pink Panther and Sons, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, Rick Moranis in Gravedale High, The Pirates of Dark Water. I was a story editor on all of those.

How aware are you of the influence that SF had on the current generation of comic book writers?

Has it? If so, I hope it was a positive influence!

Have you heard from any current comic book writers?

No. But in 2007 Mark Waid and I did commentary on some of my SF episodes for the Warner Video DVD
Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show.

When was the last time you watched one of your SF episodes?

Before I was interviewed for the 2007 DVD and did the commentary, I hadn’t seen those episodes for 23 years!

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?

Just the interview for the 2007 Warner Video DVD.

Would you have liked to write for any of the subsequent superhero animated series such as Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League?

That would have been great. I was under contract at H-B when Alan Burnett first went over to WB to work on Batman, so I wasn’t available at the beginning. And even after my H-B contract ended, I was still busy working for them writing/story editing The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. That was right when the Superman series was starting, so I guess Alan had already built up his staff by then. And as to why I didn’t write for any of the subsequent superhero shows—well, like I guess it’s one of the great unsolved mysteries, Scoob!

How do you look back on your time writing SF?

It was a fun assignment on a superhero show in the midst of my blue period—The Smurfs. And it was great to work with Jeff and Alan, who went on to many more DC series later on.

What are you doing these days?

[In 2009], I wrote an episode for Season 2 of Wolverine and the X-Men. Just as the script got turned in, the show lost its funding and I don’t believe the series will be made. But it was great writing for those characters and the show’s story editor, Greg Johnson. I’m working on various movie projects, my music, and mentoring student screenwriters, and I’m involved with several charities. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t work on a superhero series if I got asked!

Next: Mark Jones (writer).

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