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The World's Finest Presents

Paul Dini
Archived The Warner Bros. Anmation Archive 2001 Interview

Paul Dini, writer and producer at Warner Bros. Animation, has worked on some of the most influential projects television has ever seen. From Tiny Toon Adventures to Batman Beyond, he has become a hero to comic book readers and animation fans alike. Dini was kind enough to speak with us about WB Animation, the Kids'WB! network, and where is careeris headed. He also addresses the issues of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and animation censorship in a post-Sept.11 world.

The WBAA: Given the prosperity of Cartoon Network and the transformation of an all-action Kids' WB, do you see CN as a more promising home to future projects?

Paul Dini: "It depends. I know [Cartoon Network] is very much behind Justice League. They do have their on slate of things they develop there. I'd say Cartoon Network is trying to diversify as far as some of their adult programming that they put on Adult Swim recently. They are actively trying to get more than just the kiddie crowd. ...You've got adults and teenagers watching Tom and Jerry at 11, [so] you're going to have an audience for new programming. FOX locally is running 'The Simpsons' at 11, so why not try to get that young audience too? They might not watch a talk show, but they'll watch something funny, they'll watch something a little more extreme. Kids' WB, is experimenting a little in there and I think that's exciting. That opens up a whole new place, potentially, to put new shows. So I can't say whether or not eventually I'd be involved in something like that, but as a fan of animation I'd be checking out to see what they're running. I talked to some of the folks over there recently, and they are interested in keeping a primary focused on kids, but they're also interested in diversifying a little. It remains to be seen what they'll put in to development next year."

"I'll talk to people at one network, and they'll say, 'Yeah, we're going to do nothing but action and adventure programing next year,' and suddenly you have disaster like September 11. Suddenly it's 'Well I think we're just going to run some more kids game shows this year'. Until there is anything definite, I don't think I can give you any sort of an answer on that."

The WBAA: How do feel that September 11 could effect Warner Bros. Animation in terms of censorship?

Paul Dini: "I think it will make a lot of the executives way more cautious about what they put on TV, not [for] the fact that it's 'imitatable violence' for the audience watching. It's just that they don't want to horrify children any more than they've already been upset or confused or scared by what's happened already. So I think there has been a big reaction in cartoons, in general, over the past three weeks to look at the content of what's coming out and make changes accordingly. I know that's frustrated a lot of people on different action adventure shows. They have to go over things and pull out explosions and all hints at the word 'terrorist'. I think that on one hand you don't want to scare kids, but on the other hand, how long are you going to bury your head in the sand and pretend that these situations don't exist. I think they have to have sensitivity on both sides. You don't want to exploit a bad situation just for shock value to give your ratings a little boost. The terrorists aren't the ones watching Saturday morning cartoons. You don't want to water things down so there's no point and call yourself an action adventure show when you can't show anything. And to some degree kids need to see their demons purged. Not necessarily an entire race or religion, but there are villains, there are evil people. There are evil people in cartoons. You don't want to shy away from that because kids need heroes and they need to see their heroes vanquish evil in whatever form it takes."

The WBAA: How do feel about the Return of the Joker edits? Do you feel that they have merit, that they were justified?

Paul Dini: "I don't think anyone was pleased with them, myself included. I thought it was unfortunate, and unfortunate it had that reaction. It upset me for a number of reasons because we just had done our job. When we started production two years ago we were given the freedom to write the Batman movie you guys always wanted to do. If they thought it was too strong, I certainly would have rather heard of it at the time. If I'd turned the script in and they'd said 'It's too extreme here, you can't have a kid shooting a villain' I would have listened to it at the time. But when it happened at the eleventh hour when everything was ready to be shipped overseas and then we had to go in and change it, it wasn't doing anyone any favors... It wasn't promoted, it kind of leaked out on the shelves and it was not what anybody wanted. There was a big overreaction."

" It was a powerful story. As far as the level of violence, it's pretty much in line with what DC Comics is publishing. It's the same sort of intensity there, and we thought we could at least do that in the video. But I was hurt by it professionally and it did no favors because they lost the window of release, it wasn't reviewed or held up to any response positive or negative. I think it sold only fairly well. And part of that, they were saying 'Commercials, what the hell, we're going to put one here and there. We're going to do an MTV video. We're going to do this and that. We're going to have a huge opening.' In the end everyone got scared and it did poorly. I think it's unfortunate that everyone got scared and ran away from it."

The WBAA: Do you think you have more creative freedom in a teenage demographic?

Paul Dini: "There's an audience for it. One is never completely free of the attitude of cartoons in America, that it really is for kids. It doesn't matter if you have an R-rated movie and advertise it and say, 'This is extreme stuff with extreme dialogue for teens.' Someone is always going to be complaining, 'Well, it's a cartoon - It's for kids,' where as in Japan, apparently they don't have that problem (at least not as much). Without a doubt there would be more freedom in something like that."

The WBAA: If logistics were no object, what character would you like to reinvent for the 21 century, like you did for Batman in the nineties?

Paul Dini: "I don't know, It's hard to say. There are a lot of characters I love a lot that I'd love to take a shot at. I love the old Looney tunes characters, I love some of the old Disney characters too. If I was not hampered by any sort of restriction, then I think some of the classic Looney tunes, the classic Disney characters I'd love to take a shot at. Superheroes I love, but I've done a lot of them. I actually have had offers from comic book companies to come in and take over whole runs of books with some of the best known characters. I think that's very flattering but I just feel like I'm moving into a new direction in my career where I'd rather concentrate on characters I create myself, or different types of writing. I love comics, I will probably always be connected to them to some degree or another. But as far as settling down and [working] on a well established character, I don't see it happening anytime soon. I am going to release a graphic novel and some issues of the Zantana series for DC. That's a character I've always sort of liked a lot, and I've had a lot of fun writing that. That's something I said I'd do a while back and I'm looking forward to doing. But other than that I don't see working on any other established characters right now."

The WBAA: What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Do you have a favorite book or author?

Paul Dini: "A lot of times when I sit down to read a book I read a nature book. I'll read a book about animals, birds, dry old dusty zoological manual stuff that I just like. I'll read books about certain species of animals, whatever looks good at the bookstore in the natural history section. I'll send away to museums and order technical manuals just because I like studying stuff like that. Stephen J. Gould, I think, is a terrific writer. He's a biology writer at Harvard. I'll read his stuff all the time. It's almost what I read for enjoyment. That's probably the weirdest answer you'll ever get."

"As far as fiction writers go, when I was growing up in college I loved Flanery O'Connor. Steinbeck I still love because I grew up in central California, the area between San Fransisco and Monterey. If you grow up in that area, you have to read Steinbeck. Hemingway I loved too, slightly less than Steinbeck. James Thurber, I thought was an incredible writer. I read a lot of Sam Shepard, Tom Stromberg. When I was in college I was a drama student and a creative writing student. So I just read every play I could get my hands on."

"Of course, I read a lot of comics too. I started reading more comics when I was in college because my roommate managed a comic book store in Cambridge. He had a huge collection of old Jack Kirbys ...I read all the Carl Barks 'Uncle Scrooge' stuff that I thought was just terrific. Whatever amused me I'd pick up and read."

His fans may not know that Paul Dini also has interests in natural history. He studied zoology, and admits that if it weren't for his math skills he'd have pursued it as a career. He enjoys wildlife photography and collects bones, skins and other forms of artwork.

The WBAA: What lead you to choose a writing career in television, as opposed to any other medium?

Paul Dini: "I got into television at the early age of 21. I was drawing cartoons for a college newspaper, and I met a producer at Filmation. He liked my cartoons, and I'm a terrible artist. But he liked the writing in them. He said, 'Why don't you take a shot at writing some of this stuff.' I came out to LA in about 83 or 84 ...and went up and worked for George Lucas at Lucasfilm in the mid eighties. It was something I latched onto early on I always liked it. As it worked out, after working with Lucas I'd gotten to know some of the folks [with] Speilberg who said 'We're going to do a show called Tiny Toons.' There were some friends I knew from animation who were going to be working on the show, so I sort of eased into that and then into Batman."

The WBAA: With the absence of talents like Jean MacCurdy (former president of WB Animation) , Tom Ruegger (Animaniacs), where do you feel WB Animation is headed?

Paul Dini: "I definitely feel it's headed down a different path. It's few people from the early days are here. Bruce Timm and myself are the only people who are here since the place first started. I came on in mid '89, I think Bruce predated me by a couple of months because he was working on the storyboards for Tiny Toons. Even now, I just come and go. I'm just back doing development and writing scripts for a couple shows. Tom left last year, we all miss him. He's off doing some other things. Tom Minton has been here for a big chunk of the long run. And of course, Jean MacCurdy, who we miss most of all because she was the one who really kept the place going. She was very visionary as far as assigning people to shows that she thought they could really make a positive contribution to. Where it's going, I really can't say. It's changing, hopefully for the better. It'll be about a year or two before we see how we've done as far as TV shows and feature films, stuff like that."

The WBAA: How do you feel about people taking your work and sort of running with it? For instance, Karl Kessel on Harley Quinn?

Paul Dini: "I think he's done a pretty good job on that. I don't read every issue, but you know, I think he definitely latched on to what the spirit of the character is and added a little of his own. So that's a good thing. She's sort of a communal character now. The door is open if I wanted to go back and say I want to do a special project with Harley. I think people are agreeable to that. But after working with her for 8 years in animation... I almost feel like I'd like to see someone else take a shot at her."

The WBAA: Do you consider Batman Beyond the future of B:TAS or "Elseworlds"?

Paul Dini: "I think of it as Elseworlds. I don't want to be tied to one particular thing. If I had to put it in purely fans' terms, I'd have to say it's Elseworlds. I like to leave to door open so you can go back and do things with our standard batman character. I'm not a big fan of continuity. Whenever I'm doing a show, I define continuity for the love of that particular show. So Batman, Batman and Robin...the new look in '97 [I see] as one complete thing. I look at Batman Beyond as a probable future for that to happen. On the other hand I'd like to leave the door open to go back and restart old batman animated show and take up new stories and not having the characters stop and say, 'hey that conflicts with what we did with Killer Croc when he said this.' I'd rather not be held to that. I like continuity to a degree, but I also like playing loose."

Presently, Paul Dini is working on development at Warner Bros. He keeps quiet about most of the projects, but the new ideas range from classic Looney Tunes projects to DC Superheroes. WB's goal is to maximize these assets, and Dini is involved in developing several classic characters. The studio is also looking at several new Direct to Video projects that "again, are all over the place," including a soon to be released Tom and Jerry video and more Bugs Bunny. "Alan Burnett and I have worked on some new Batman Direct to Videos," Dini told the Archive. "We wrote scripts for two of them and have no idea when [Warner Bros.] is going to proceed and put them into production. We will make an announcement as soon as those get a little more real."

When asked who'd be involved, Dini replied, "It's hard to say who would be the art team because most of the art team that worked on 'Batman' is working on Justice League. There are some people we've looked at as far as directing and storyboarding, but you know, they'd all be jazzed about doing it again but for now it's in that wonderful development center where nothings going on until someone says 'Yes, go ahead and make things', we're not going to worry about that. But I think if we would be able to pull it off, it'd be terrific"

The WB Animation Archive thanks Paul Dini for his time!

Interview performed October 2001, archived on The World's Finest with permission

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