Power-Con, as in prior years, delivers heavily on quality programming for its attendees, and this year was no different, with panels discussing everything from toys to the big news of Kevin Smith bringing He-Man to Netflix. As big of a news item as that is, the acclaimed She-Ra and the Princess of Power had just started its third season on Netflix earlier in August. To commemorate the event and all that the cartoon has accomplished thus far, Power-Con gathered the writers of She-Ra for an in-depth panel on not just the She-Ra cartoon, but what it is like to be a writer for the show and the important aspects – from diversity to creating a safe space – that they encourage.
Rebecca Goldberg (She-Ra and the Princess of Power show manager) took to the podium to introduce the panel, and, afterwards, one by one to roaring applause, the writers of She-Ra took to the stage, each wearing matching pink jackets with “She-Ra She Wrote” emblazoned on the back: Noelle Stevenson (creator of the reboot, and author of the comic series, Lumberjanes), Josie Campbell, Katherine Nolfi, M. Willis, Laura Sreebny, and Shane Lynch. The convention room was probably at 80% capacity, filled with so many folks eager to hear what the writers of one of their favorite shows had to say.
Goldberg began the panel by asking how the writers had gotten into She-Ra and whether they had grown up with the cartoon. Lynch confessed to having had a crush on Skeletor while Willis had grown up watching the Dolph Lundgren film, Masters of the Universe (1987). Nolfi stated she was drawn to the cartoon for the pretty colors and girls while Campbell thought the cartoon was related to the Sailor Moon anime.
Next, Goldberg asked what it was like working in the She-Ra writers’ room. Stevenson began by talking about how the writers would not only talk in the writers’ room, but also loudly in the elevator. Campbell followed up with that other folks would overhear their conversations in their own rooms, and thus would be able to have their own contributions at the ready. Nolfi said many of the dialogues were talking about growing up, and how the show would speak to them, and how to bring those elements in. Willis followed up that the writers’ room dialogue often felt like a therapy session.
Campbell then segued into more technical details, in that the writers would spend two days brainstorming (characters, themes, how they felt about them, etc.) and then a full day doing the “nitty gritty.” She confessed that brainstorming days were the most fun but, at the same time, the most heartbreaking given what they would wind up doing to the characters.
Nolfi followed up by saying that Stevenson opened up the writers’ room to other folks insofar that other crew members would often times share their own spin on the characters. Stevenson added that she likes it when the crew cares and sees themselves in the She-Ra characters.
The third question was if the writers had any affinity for some of the She-Ra characters. Sreebny stated she had an affinity for Scorpia and stated the similarities between their hairstyles (to much applause). Lynch said she had an affinity for Mermista.
Goldberg briefly shifted the conversion away from the writers’ room to discuss season three of She-Ra, asking what the writers were excited for the fans to see. Stevenson said she was the most proud of season three but also that it was the hardest season to make; however, Stevenson said, “As soon as you see people pick up on it, it’s worth it that we busted our butts for it.”
Goldberg asked if there were any disagreements in the writers’ room in how to proceed with She-Ra. Campbell dispelled any negative connotations by saying the writers’ room was both harmonious and a safe space: “Let’s explore that, talk about that, with conversations on how much mythology or how things were opening new doors.” Stevenson added that since they were all fans of the show, they would often try to follow the characters in order to see what developed.
Next, Goldberg asked what the role of the head writer/producer entailed, with Campbell elaborating that they run the writers’ room, breaking the episodes, doing outlines, notes, and the script. The writers then come together using all this information to see the storyboard pitches and to give more notes. Finally, they work with the directors to help them get to the core of their message. Stevenson added that they were the ones keeping track of everything, such as arcs and continuity kept constant: “They are the guardians of the story.” Nolfi chimed in by saying that since they were producing so many episodes, they couldn’t all be in the room at the same time, so they have to be able to make adjustments. Willis stated that staff writers are not usually included in such dialogue, but Stevenson would include them, so they could get experience that they could take to other studios.
Goldberg brought up how they choose which classic characters made it into the new She-Ra iteration. Stevenson said that some folks went back to the original source material, not just the cartoons, but toys and other ephemera, to find what to bring in; however, other folks tried to throw in Easter eggs, as well. Campbell said that they watch the show during writers’ breaks followed by asking questions such as, “Oooo, can we do this?” Stevenson tossed in that one of the Easter eggs was that before Mara got her name (modeled off the Star Wars character Mara Jade), she was called “Brittany.”
Next, the dialogue shifted back to specifics of season three, with Goldberg asking about the character, Catra, and her descent into darkness. Stevenson said that “We get her. We’ve all been her at some point in our life” and that she is “unable to let go of her hurt and doesn’t want to be happy. The audience expects her to pull through, that she has a chance to walk away, but would it make her happy? The hole that she is digging, it is all her.” Stevenson followed up by saying that she loves writing villains, that they are able to express something we all feel. Campbell added that “both our heroes and villains are being motivated in the same, but heroes are able to do it with their friends while villains feel that the world is against them. What makes a hero and what makes a villain? It’s what is accepting of who is around you.”
At this point the panel turned to audience questions, with folks in attendance sharing their appreciation for the new She-Ra series and how it is a role model to children and even inspiring to adults. A question was asked about dealing with fan backlash to which Stevenson said she had encountered folks that were angry they had made changes, but she could see there was fans who were truly passionate about She-Ra and believed in the show. She felt that if they gave the show a chance, they would probably love it and concluded by saying, “All the caring of the show makes the difference. I love that they care.” Another question praised the show in regards to its embracing of diversity and asked if Entrapta was on the spectrum. Stevenson said that this would be a valid reading while underscoring that not only was She-Ra a diverse show, but the crew is diverse, as well, and they bring their own experiences to the show.
When the panel ended, the She-Ra writers took to a table outside the exhibit hall where an already awaiting queue had formed to sign autographs for posters and other memorabilia.