The Big Guy (Monday, January 21, 1991 – Part One)

The next morning was the day we’d been waiting for, when we’d go to Amblin for the story meeting with Steven Spielberg and the TTA writers. The group of us met Jean MacCurdy and Barbara Brogliatti in our hotel’s restaurant for breakfast, though none of the three of us ate much.

A few minutes later, we were on the bus and on our way to Amblin Entertainment. Unlike you might think, there is no guard or anything at Amblin. Still, I think they were expecting us, because nobody stopped us. Tim just drove on through. Then again, Tim would have driven on through anyway.

We walked into Amblin, then into a room where all these cameras and stuff were set up. We all sort of stood around nervously. I still couldn’t believe what was happening.

Then Steven Spielberg walked in. He was wearing a denim Tiny Toon Adventures jacket and faded jeans.

When he walked in, every single camera in the entire room went off. I think all of us were blinded for a second. We introduced ourselves. Steven, of course, needed no introduction.

After a second he looked at us, smiling, and started pushing our shoulders down, saying, “Drop the shoulders, drop the shoulders, relax…” Then he said, “I detect these thick accents coming from you. Where are these from?”

So naturally we’re all thinking, “I have an accent?”

(And sure, we did — but not as thick as the ones we would wind up with in the show.)

Of course, the next thing was posing for pictures. And more pictures. And then some more pictures. Some standing, some sitting, and everyone telling us to pose, to do this or that. (Steven: “Do you feel silly? Because I do.”)

Meanwhile, people are telling us to “Get closer! Get closer!” We’re already half a millimeter away from him. What do they want us to do?

And since I’m behind him, people are telling me to put my arms around him. I reply, “What do you want me to do? Strangle him?”

Which I then jokingly did. (There was a rumor that that photo wound up in a tabloid somewhere, but we were never sure.)

(You can see some of those endless pictures in the various magazine articles here and here.)

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“Pretend like you’re whispering in his ear!” *sigh* FINE.

Once everyone had used up enough rolls of film (ask your parents, kids), it was time for the story meeting, which was slated for fifteen minutes but wound up being over an hour.

The story meeting was fun, hilarious — and being taped by 20/20. We just couldn’t shake those people.

At this point, our families went to the game room, and we heard later that there had been a huge spread of snacks and breakfast food set up nearby for them while they waited for us to be done with the meeting.

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A shot from Amblin’s game room, where we got a chance to play for a while after the meeting. (Note the timely sign added to the game on the far left.)

Then we started going over the script. When we got to a scene with the shark from Jaws, Steven said, “Really, though, the whole concept has been so overdone… I mean, it’s been done and done and… If I hear those two notes again, I’m going to hit someone.”

(Right then we all had the urge to hum the Jaws theme, but since Amy was in good hitting distance of him, we decided not to.)

Then Steven mentioned another animation rule of thumb. “You have to get characters out of the water as fast as you can. Water is very expensive to animate, because everything is constantly moving.”

I thought a moment, then said, “Maybe you could have Babs sit and gaze at the waves and then have Buster walk up and say, ‘Stop staring at the water. Do you know how much this is costing?'”

That should give you some idea of how the meeting went — ideas, jokes, odd notions, questions about what we liked or didn’t, what our favorite episodes were, a constant Ping-Pong game of conversation. What surprises me now, looking back on all of it, is how much the three of us (at least from my perspective) were taking everything in stride. The whole time we spent in L.A. was just one fun thing after another to us, with every moment being another chance to crack a joke, another chance to laugh, or another new big-city experience for three small-town teenagers to enjoy.

Really, I think the best part of the story meeting was sitting there with people who are as obsessed with cartoons as I am.

Thirteen had already decided at that point that she wanted to be an animator, though looking back, I wistfully think that my place, had I had enough self-knowledge and drive — and, well, courage — to pursue it, might have well been at that table of writers instead.

I still wonder, some days.

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The cap he’s wearing reads “Where is Waynesboro, Virginia” — we made it for him as a gift, since that was one of his first questions on finding out about us and our story.

 

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In the Spotlight (Part One)

And then word got out.

Here’s a sampling of some of our print interviews. (I should note that to this day, there are still resources online that get Sarah’s last name wrong — early on, a typo morphed it into “Creek” instead of “Creef,” and unfortunately it got copied along from there.)

PDF of articles from local newspapers

(The irony of a Warner Bros.-related story showing up in a Disney magazine was not lost on me.)

Once the story hit the wire services, it was picked up everywhere. We were sent clippings and copies from newspapers across the US (including Hawaii, of course), from The Stars and Stripes, and even from other countries. Interviews became commonplace (if a little boring sometimes because of having to answer the same questions over and over again).

The only story that never panned out was for TIME. They came and did an interview and a fun photo shoot (even to the point of buying us color-coordinated sweatshirts to wear in the photos), but the week the article was slated to appear, Operation Desert Shield became Desert Storm, and from what we understood, our story kept getting pushed back because of all the Gulf War-related news taking up page space. We kept checking each issue for weeks, but to our knowledge, the article never appeared.

Interstitial: Dear Mr… Speilberg?

Here’s the letter we sent along with our story. (Addresses and phone number there are long since defunct, by the way.) I don’t remember whether I wrote it solo or we composed it together, but I’m betting it was the former, since the letter’s in first person from my perspective. Amy then typed it in the school’s computer room and printed it out for us — those are her initials there at the bottom, in proper secretarial style.

To the question that always comes up of “did we ever think this would be made into an episode,” I think this letter makes it pretty clear that we really weren’t expecting anything much — just that “we would like your opinion,” and even that feels like something of an afterthought to me.

Besides, if you’re aiming to have your enclosed story made into an episode, it would seem a bad idea to misspell the recipient’s name — plus forget to, you know, actually sign the letter. (At least we made an effort to explain the teacher-related inside jokes in the story. Apologies to Ms. Coffey and Mr. Aylor, by the way.)

Two other quick asides: 1) I seriously have no memory whatsoever of that fan club, and 2) The blatant flattery in that last paragraph is so Thirteen.

Honestly, this entire letter is so embarrassing to me now that I try to avoid looking directly at it for long periods of time. So of course, here I am putting it up on the Internet…

Our letter to Spielberg

 

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

(We’re back! New posts will be scheduled for the 10th and 25th of the month, with occasional bonuses in between. To make sure you don’t miss anything, you can subscribe using the “Follow Blog via Email” widget in the right sidebar of the website, or follow our Twitter account for notifications of new posts. As a reminder, or for those just joining us, the quotes in these posts are taken from the journal I kept in 1991 at age 13.)

 

Since other kids at school kept reading this stack of notebook paper and saying “You should send that somewhere,” or “You should send that to Spielberg,” we finally figured hey, why not, if we can find somewhere to send it…

Amy ended up finding the address for the Fox network in a magazine. It was one of those teen magazines where it gives celebrity addresses. I think it was there if you wanted to write to somebody on that show “21 Jump Street.”

I have a feeling that “somebody” was probably Johnny Depp. (Hey, Thirteen was pretty lousy at being a typical 13-year-old.) Therefore, let it be known that were it not for Johnny Depp, “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian” might never have become an episode. Um… sort of.

Of course, we had no clue that Tiny Toons was a syndicated show (at that time, at least; it later went to Fox exclusively). The only thing we could think of was to send it in care of the Fox network where we watched the show, so that’s what we did.

By this time, it cost almost three dollars to mail it.

*waxes nostalgic about 1991 postage rates*

We never made another copy of it. We were going to, but Xeroxing it would’ve cost too much change, and we didn’t want to take the time to make another handwritten copy. We just figured that if it got lost in the mail, then it did. So we didn’t worry about it.

(We didn’t number the pages, either, so a few of them were missing when WB graciously sent us a copy.)

In a way, the story did end up getting lost in the mail — or at least, it took a winding path to its intended destination.

Our story was sent to Fox in Burbank. Jean [MacCurdy, executive producer] said that, under usual circumstances, it never would have gotten past Fox. It would have been stamped “Return to Sender” and sent back.

I think you’ve caught on by now that nothing about the next several months is going to involve “usual circumstances.” Bear in mind that sending an unsolicited story or script to a television show sets off a whole host of alarms from a legal standpoint — for example, if they were to inadvertently do a similar script in the future, we might claim they stole our story and sue — so nothing’s supposed to be opened or read.

However, the people at Fox opened the envelope. They took our story (and the letter that we enclosed) and put it in one of their envelopes. Then they sent it on to Steven Spielberg. Steven’s secretary sent it on ahead to Warner Bros. Jean said that the secretary probably figured if it got this far, it must be okay. She said that it was basically sent to people who didn’t really know what they were doing.

*polite cough* Which is not, of course, to imply that Steven Spielberg’s secretary was incompetent…

This was all told to us second- and third-hand and maybe some other hands besides, so it’s possible the timeline isn’t 100% accurate. The point, though, is that our package looked legit when it got where it was going, which eventually was the desk of Jean MacCurdy, the executive producer of Tiny Toons and, at that time, president of Warner Bros. Animation.

And she picked up the phone…

Up next: Out of the blue