Power-Con 2018: Creating the Stories of Filmation ‘He-Man’

Aside from a large vendor room full of exhibitors, authors, toy dealers, and guests who had worked on He-Man and She-Ra, Power-Con had an impressive lineup of panels for attendees to partake in. Running for one-hour sessions, the large Lighthouse Ballroom at the Marriott was devoted exclusively to panels that ranged in topics from the He-Man toys to the cartoon to the mini-comics.

At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 25, was a panel called “Creating the Stories of Filmation He-Man” which was moderated by Zadoc Angell of Echo Lake Entertainment and had four writers and directors from Filmation who had worked on He-Man: Rowby Goren, Robby London, Robert Lamb, and Tom Tataranowicz. (Gwen Wetzler was listed in the program but not in attendance.)

Angell began the panel session by asking the panelist what had led them to pursue a career in animation. Goren began by explaining in his youth he was always doing jokes and wanted to be a performer. He wound up doing television and penning spec scripts for shows like The Munsters and Green Acres. He kept writing jokes for live-action programs until one day he got a call from Filmation. Lou Scheimer (Filmation producer) was searching for non-traditional writers for this studio. London had grown up in Los Angeles and grew up with show business all around him which was appealing. His biggest childhood obsession was Zorro, so much so that he even took up fencing lessons. On his first day at Filmation, he had no idea what he was going to do. His boss had asked him, “We are doing a Zorro cartoon, know anything?” Hearing that, London knew he was off to a good start. Lamb spent his youth glued to the television watching cartoons. He thought he wanted to do comics and felt Disney animation was a big push and wanted to break into the industry. He did odd jobs in LA until hitting upon Filmation who needed storyboard artists, and they took a chance on him. Tataranowicz grew up in Detroit and went to art school. Upon completing his degree, he knew there wasn’t much of a career there. At the time, Hanna-Barbera was doing a show called Heidi’s Song, and so he set out to California to give it a shot. At first, his time was miserable, with only $100 in his pocket and hitchhiking to gigs. He eventually landed jobs with Ralph Bakshi, at first doing The Lord of the Rings and then Fire and Ice. Because of his expertise with model design (Having worked with the legendary Frank Frazetta, he was skilled as drawing muscles and beautiful women.), he was hired at Filmation, where he continued to develop his skills day by day.

Angell’s next question was in regards to their transitions to being writers at Filmation (since many of them started in other capacities). Lamb had moved from storyboards to scripts. At the time, he was getting some bad scripts and thought he could do better, and Arthur H. Nadel (vice president at Filmation) gave him a chance. Tataranowicz actually didn’t want to be a writer, but he was always looking to do something different. For example, for the episode “Problem with Power,” Tataranowicz wanted to have an episode dealing with death, drawing inspiration from Prince Valiant. Another example was a She-Ra episode where he wanted to take all the stock footage and use it all for an action-intense episode; however, Donald R. Roberts (psychological consultant) nixed the idea.

At this point, London jumped in to clarify the role of Roberts. He explained that at this time, there was so much regulation of children's programming because of many folks attacking the cartoon for perceived negative messages. Roberts was a cut above the rest, and he made sure that he protected children from bad scripts. London gave an example that the crew of He-Man were so focused on positive messages in their scripts that one time they had a script sent back because He-Man would never break a branch off a tree. Tataranowicz agreed and said that the positive morals and little lessons in He-Man could be felt in his interactions with He-Man fans and convention-goers.

The third question for the panel was in regards to the best and worst aspects working at Filmation. For Goren, he was still gobsmacked that he got hired on to Filmation and was able to work on scripts. He did explain the difference in working practices between live-action productions and Filmation: For live-action productions, he was part of a union, but with animation he was not privy to the residuals from monies being made; however, he underscored the family-like atmosphere that Filmation had. London agreed with the family-like sentiments of Filmation, as everything was produced in-house in one building. He was able to follow his scripts through every single department. For London, though, the worst aspect was how everything was highly regimented, such as strict hours. Lamb agreed with the family atmosphere and the ability to go hang out in different departments and learn something. For example, he’d visit the camera department and take their feedback back to the scripts he was developing. Lamb also discussed what it was like butting heads with Nadel who has a philosophy of letting plot holes and inconsistencies occur in He-Man: “It doesn’t matter, why are you fighting me? This is a program for five-year-olds!” London inserted his own story dealing with Nadel: When he was turning scripts in, he would receive them back with a circled “A” on them, and he assumed he did a great job. One day, he got a script back that Nadel had wrote “DB” for “Do Better” on it. Shocked, London asked what the issue was, since he was getting “As” on his other scripts, to which Nadel replied, “The A means that I read the script.”

Tataranowicz thought the regimentation at Filmation worked which also helped create the family atmosphere. For example, at 10:00 a.m. every day, the food trucks were out, and everyone at Filmation was visiting them. Situations like this caused everyone to get to know each other, as everyone would hang out with each other. Tataranowicz also though the “DB/Do Better” was a useful tool and took it with him to successive jobs. It was much friendlier for a writer’s ego than writing “this sucks.” For Tataranowicz, his perception at Filmation was he that got to learn a variety of skills and got paid to do it, something he feels is missing from companies today. Looking back during the '80s, as other animation studios where closing, Filmation was able to weather the storm and hire the best talent from these other companies.

The final question for the panel was what it was like working with directors at Filmation. London clarified that in the animation world, a director as we know it is not quite the same and for him he felt the storyboard artists was more akin to a director. When a storyboard was locked, it became the blueprint for the episode. In this sense, directors didn’t have input into the creative process, they just oversaw the show. Goren brought up that Nadel didn’t want the writers talking to the storyboard artists, but he did anyways. Lamb thought Nadel was a stern taskmaster, but it was fun to try and see what he could sneak in without him noticing.

At this point, the panel moved to audience Q&A. The first question was what the panelists would’ve done if restrictions had been lifted for them. London stated he would’ve tried and gone further with the content which would’ve made his job much easier. It’s easier to make drama with violence (but without going toward gratuitous violence). Tataranowicz wanted to push the emotional end of He-Man, as the show was lacking in romantic elements.

Another question was in regards to how the team handled continuity errors. London explained that it was more or less a collective job; however, with Nadel reading every script, he’d ultimately be the gatekeeper. Lamb weighed in that at any given time, the team would be working on eight scripts simultaneously, and they were not always privy to what each team was doing with each script.

The panel was extremely insightful in providing experiences from the old-guard veterans from Filmation, giving much insight into the creative process that brought He-Man to life. Each person from the audience who asked a question prefaced by saying how thankful they were to the panelists for working on something so important to their childhoods and, in turn, the panelists expressed their appreciation back to everyone in attendance.


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