Today we get a chance to sit and chat with animation writer extraordinaire Len Uhley! This man has worked on a ton of cartoons we know and love, like Duck Tales, Static Shock, X-Men the Animated Series, Ben 10 and so much more!
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Len Uhley – Video Interview
[00:00:00] Kenric: All right, guys. Welcome back to spoiler country today on the show.
It’s super special because if you’re like me and you’re a big fan of Ben 10, or if you like the He-Man relaunched back in the early two thousands, or maybe you have kids or you’re a kid yourself and you watched American tale three and American tale four, or maybe the land before time seven, then today’s going to be really, really special.
And he is the 2014 recipient of the American writers caucus writing award. And that’s Lynn Hughley. Thank you so much
Len Uhley: for coming on. Thank you very much for having me. I
Kenric: appreciate it. Yeah, no, this is, this is awesome. You’ve have been in the business now. For
Len Uhley: a little bit of time, longer than I care to admit in public, but yes.
Yes. I’ve, I’ve very fortunate that I’ve had a, a long and steady career in animation. We can go into the details, but I had, I actually started out as a precocious sitcom writer in college. I had my first sale when I was a junior in college [00:01:00] on a show, no one remembers. Called Holmes and yo-yo, it was on ABC for 13 weeks.
And I got my first assignment there. And then a year later I went as a senior in college. I was at film school at UCLA. I had a TV series, a format, something sort of a short form, explication of a television series co which was about the first black president of the United States. Like, like that could happen.
Right. But this was 1977. So, you know, it was before its time. So I said to myself, Hey, this is going to be easy. What a great career. This is going to three weeks, three years of radio silence after that. So I had a series of nice first breaks and I did a little work here, a little work there, and then eventually accidentally ended up writing animation.
I was writing industrials and corporate films. If you’re familiar with what those are, you know, the glory of international widget, that kind of thing. And so, One of the mom and pop companies that I worked for, the pop [00:02:00] was the voice of Duke in thorn on the gummy bears, named an actor named from radio days, Michael rye.
And so he introduced me to the story editor on the gummy bears. And I wrote one gummy bears for Jimmy Gunn and art . And then I did one DuckTales freelance, and then I was brought on unlike a lot of other writers and artists as Disney TV animation began to build up with DuckTales and then subsequently with all the Disney afternoon shows.
So I suddenly accidentally found myself being an animation writer. And so that’s what I’ve been doing as my day job ever since, which has been pretty. Okay.
Kenric: Yeah. That’s that’s nuts. The gummy bears were huge. Yeah, I’m remembering that was out. And that was a Saturday morning cartoon and it was everyone. It came out.
I remember thinking the gummy bears and then, but then it just. It didn’t go away. It was
Len Uhley: huge. I remember it was, it was fun [00:03:00] to write to the characters were strong and we had an extraordinary voice cast. The animation was very, very solid because Disney was sending it to the very best Japanese studios at the time.
Yeah. And so that was, you know, to be introduced to the world of animation on a show like that, and then on DuckTales and then. Tailspin and, and all the other shows from that period chip and Dale dark wing duck, all those shows that I worked on while I was on staff at Disney TV animation, you know, it was a, it was a cartoon making machine.
It says, especially when it is in the afternoon, started up, they were doing these enormous 65 episode orders. So they had people on staff, several floors of artists and writers in buildings in San Fernando Valley, making these shows. And you’d go from one show to the next, to the next. And I was on staff there for five and a half years, and that’s how my animation career started.
So, you know, again, a lucky accident, some luck timing, that kind of stuff, but it all worked out, you know, and then that’s when I transitioned [00:04:00] out of funny animals into superheroes and I’ve been bouncing around amongst the various genres ever since. So, you know, knock wood. Yeah. It’s been okay.
Kenric: You know what I remember from that timeframe, it’s all those amazing Disney shows.
And just that time in general was the theme. Music was so good. And it was like big production values. It felt
Len Uhley: like, Oh yeah, no, they, they, they did wonderful work. They were distinctive and engaging and, you know, kind of ear worms, a lot of them. And yeah, you, you, as soon as you hear the thump, thump, thump of DuckTales for the first initial guitar strings of the X-Men series, I wrote some of those too, you know, you’d say, Oh, I know what that is.
And you’re humming along with it because they were, so there were great songs, you know, I don’t know if theme songs have that kind of. Effect any longer, but at the time that was the style and it was nice to [00:05:00] have that as a lead into to bring the audience into the show.
Kenric: I think having that weekly episodic thing, and especially on the Saturday mornings, and I know someone like transformers and those maybe a little bit before your time on the writing, but those were like every day you needed something that kept the kids interest in having that ear worm was a great way of doing it.
Len Uhley: Yeah. And it’s repeatable, you know, which is the whole point of these kinds of shows. You know, how many times can you rerun it? And the answer is a lot.
Kenric: So then what, what, what were you like growing up? Were you a, an introvert?
Len Uhley: Were you, ah like probably many of the writers that you’ve talked with, I was both a shy and retiring and also felt that I had something that I wanted to share with the world.
And so, I mean, you know, my. I wanted to be a writer before I knew I wanted to be a writer. No, that’s cool. No, I’m somewhere in a file box is the first script I ever wrote in sixth grade. It [00:06:00] was a star Trek, not a spoof. Mind you. It was a very sincere, and I, you know, when we did it for my sixth grade English class, I, you know, I, because I already had the point of ears, I played Spock and it was like, so I was doing that kind of stuff.
And then doing student films in late elementary school and in high school. And then at my high school, there was this competition for the various classes called hello day. And I started writing those. So we were, I was doing musicals and, and, you know, I kind of a secret
Kenric: laugh musicals, right? I’m sorry.
You have kind of a secret love for musicals, right? Maybe kind of secret, but
Len Uhley: yes, the genre that shall not be spoken. That’s what I was doing. I was doing all of that. And I was hearing people laughing and applauding and I said, Oh, I could do this for a living, you know, because you know, when you’re 17 deciding what your life is going to be, that makes perfect sense.
Yeah. So, I then went to UCLA and I, when I got into their film [00:07:00] school, which at the time. The undergraduate program was the junior and senior year. I don’t know how it’s done now. Right? So that’s when I started, you know, saying, well, this is my career. I’m going to, I want to be a sitcom writer and what do they, you know, all the other students around me, they wanted to be, you know, writing the screenplay that changed the world.
And they all ended up writing. Our drum was, which is not a bad way to go either, by the way. Right. So, you know, it’s like, I kinda started on this path very early and since I have no other skills, it’s fortunate that this is where I ended up.
Kenric: Did your parents say, when you said, I want to write sitcoms, that’s what I want to do for a living.
Len Uhley: I’m very fortunate that my mom was very, very supportive. In fact, I’ll tell you the story of that, that first sale. I saw. That homes in yo-yo had gotten picked up. And again, I’m back in college and for your listeners, that’s a long time ago now. And I see the show gets picked up and I see the people doing it with the people who had done get smart.
And that was one of [00:08:00] the big shows out in my childhood when I was saying, Oh, that’s actually, so I wa you know, I called up the production office. I, by the way, I’m born and raised in Los Angeles. So I, it’s a very odd place to grow up where this is sort of like a company town. If I’d grown up in Detroit, I wanted, I would want it to build Fords, but said here I grew up in LA.
Yeah. So I called the production office. And at the time this can, this couldn’t happen today. But at the time I said to the woman who was in charge, the director of development there, I’d like to read a copy of the pilot script. So she said, sure. And she sent it to me. Right. So, I then wrote a story outline.
I didn’t even write a script. And then sat on it because come on, I’m a college student, nobody’s going to read this thing, right? So my mom said, I’ll tell you what, I’ll send it in for you. So she mailed it for me. And a couple of weeks later, the story editor on homes, new radio called on a Friday and said, I’m going to make your [00:09:00] weekend.
Wow. And that’s how I got the job. That’s amazing. They took my story and they took another story. They had already bought from a guy named John Landis. I dunno, whatever happened to him. And I slam him the two of them together, the reason I got to write it now, I think I’ve been told that the likelihood is that he was like, at that point, he was already in pre-production on.
Animal house. So, you know, things worked out differently there, but so I got a chance to write this thing and I was, you know, cocky. I was 20 years old. I didn’t know what I was doing. So I, I had, I had a certain amount of talent, but I didn’t have the craft yet. Right. So, you know, I did a miserable job.
I did a terrible job. I got rewritten, but that’s entirely appropriate, but that, you know, then I got bitten by the bug and I said, okay, well, I’ll do this again. And then I had that series option for the following year and then bumped [00:10:00] around and wrote spec scripts and things like that. And got into a writers internship program at MTM enterprises.
The people that did the Mary Tyler Moore show and Hills, and I, I was one of three people out of 400 who had submitted to that program. And I got assigned to w care P in Cincinnati. And so I got to see this, this wonderful, this genius, Hugh Wilson, who’d created the show, won the show for several weeks. And I, I did get a chance to write one.
Did you never got produced? Because it was similar to one that they already had in the pipeline, but who knew? Right. But you know, so that was, I’ve had a lot of nice first breaks, but, you know, you know, like everybody else I, you know, would have something option, get an assignment that didn’t get made or maybe it did, you know, Yeah.
Some few live action kids’ shows called kids incorporated, which had music in it, but I didn’t get the right to songs and stuff like that. And then, like I say, [00:11:00] industrials and corporate stuff and then cartoons. And here we are. I’m sorry. I digress. That’s good. That’s a journey. That was the first. That was the first 10 years.
Let’s not talk
Kenric: when you’re, when you were had that week of, of, of shadowing, who was the, the, the guy, the showrunner for w character Wilson. How much were you take away from that? Cause that must’ve been eye opening experience.
Len Uhley: Oh, fantastic. Because you was, I mean, a mad genius. He was just a terribly, terribly clever fellow.
And watching him run the show was fascinating. Being able to sit in on the writer’s room and to watch the rehearsals on the stage and all that sort of thing. I didn’t, I didn’t get a chance to sit down on any post-production, but those two aspects of it, I did see, and of course said, yes, I want to do this, please.
And, and it was terribly interesting and, and I just, you know, Today, you couldn’t do that. There [00:12:00] there’s nothing like this. There are some programs, there are apprenticeship programs. There are contests and competitions and things like that. But you know, today, if you wanted to be involved as, as a writer in animation or in live action, the best way in is to be a writer’s assistant to a producer’s assistant.
And then or production assistant on a show, then you’re in. The room and you, you know, those people that, the young writers that I know today, yeah. We all started in those positions and they became invaluable to their respective shows. They know the show better than the guy or gal running the show.
And that’s how they get to be writers. And there there’s easily a half a dozen that I’ve worked with who have just been brilliant, have done a great job. And I hope they’ll hire me soon because these are people who have great futures and great talent. So, it’s, it’s, that’s the way in now what happened to me was so long ago and a completely different world.
Now [00:13:00] nobody’s going to let you just, you know, send in something because there are armies of lawyers who will say you can’t do that. Right. But if you
Kenric: have something in the pipeline, that’s similar to it.
Len Uhley: Well, you know, you’re always going to have thanks. We love it. We have it. That’s, that’s, that’s the nature of the beast and it can be discouraging because, you know, I I’m, but before that, it’s how do you get in the room?
And if you have an agent, that’s great. But if you don’t. You know, there’s all of the other things that you have to do, the competitions and the you know, the programs that they have, the workshops that some of the networks and studios have, but it’s, it’s, it’s a big Hill to climb under the best of circumstances.
And certainly during the pandemic, it’s I I’m sure it’s been even harder because there’s no way to network in the same way, except if you’re doing so on Twitter or now in clubhouse or things like that. And those I don’t know if those are as satisfactory because you do. I mean, zoom is great for this sort of thing, but for [00:14:00] the, for the.
Getting to know a person really well in a casual, comfortable way. That’s been impossible for the last year or so, which is a shame, but that will change too. Anyway. We’ve now immediately dated this conversation. So I apologize for that. Not, not going to say what’s pandemic. What’s that?
Kenric: What does that mean?
Len Uhley: we hope that’s the
Kenric: question. Anyway, this
Len Uhley: is the last one. We go back to your question originally. What was I like growing up? I was Finner and and I, well, I just, I, I guess sort of made sense to me to be a writer from the get-go. Yeah, no, even before you know it, even before I, okay. Here’s another thing I grew up in Los Angeles.
It’s weird. Okay. Yeah. I mean, I probably attended my first filming. Not taping mind you filming when I was like seven or eight, it was the Dick van Dyke show. That’s cool. Yeah. I [00:15:00] went due to family connections. I, I went to the sets of shows, like, my favorite Martian and nice, and the green Hornet and my man from uncle and stuff like that.
So it sort of made perfect sense. Like I say, it’s a company town and this is what one, you know, I mean, Not everybody, but I, I happened to get, gets it on the other hand, I, you know, I’m a child of divorce, so, you know, for me, but you know, th that’s, that was the good stuff that happened. The rest of it. I won’t bore you with, because it would be years of therapy for both of us,
Kenric: we’ll avoid the free therapy.
Len Uhley: Well, there’s always a cost emotional or otherwise, but why bore you’re you’re you’re listening that
Kenric: when you’re writing some of these now classic animated shows. And do you have a sense of meaning of what they mean to people
Len Uhley: at the [00:16:00] time? Yeah, no, absolutely not. No. I mean, some of these cartoons, I mean, the, the ones that people remember fondly, you know, like, like the, the, the duck tail stuff and the X-Men stuff and things like that.
And then you mentioned working on American tale and land before time, things like that, the long forms that I did, those resonate with people and they were the greatest fund. Right. I mean, there are a lot of assignments that are just, you know, Oh, good. I have a paycheck, but there are some that really still work.
And to this day, people, I mean, when we were going to conventions. Yeah. You know, I, especially when I would go with my friends, Eric and Julia Lee Wald, Eric was the guy who was the showrunner on the original X-Men series. And, you know, he’s written a wonderful book. Actually a couple of books about the X-Men series.
Yeah. And we would go to these conventions and, you know, you have of a crowd, sometimes a pretty large crowd like it down at San Diego comic con and things like that. And people would line up to ask questions [00:17:00] and. Like I said, we would, you know, we were doing a job and we enjoyed our work, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty great to be able to do this for a living, but then you’d have these people come up to you and say, thank you.
You made my childhood is the common phrase. And it’s, it’s, it’s humbling. It’s it knocks you back because you hear these people saying how much this mattered to them. There was one guy that came up. I’m happy if he’s listening to this. I believe me. I mean, no disrespect, but it was absolutely. It, it just Florida’s.
We were all in tears. This guy came up to the microphone and he truly, he looked like Jack Black dressed as Wolverine, the lumberjack jacket and the haircut and the whole thing. And he broke us all up laughing. I mean, crying because he said. That he, he, he stuck around, it had a rough childhood and he stuck around because [00:18:00] he, he didn’t want to miss what the next episode wants on Fox kids that Saturday.
And we say to ourselves, thank you. We say to him, thank you. Because we, we don’t know the effect that we have sometimes when you hear stories like that and people, I mean, I wrote there’s one X-Men I wrote three of the original excellence series, a small contribution. One was called Nightcrawler. Yep. And it was the, probably the first to the best of our knowledge, the first mainstream cartoon series that dealt with issues of faith.
Yeah. And Eric had asked me to write that one and I’m forever grateful. Of course. And people come up to me and say, that was something I could talk about something with my dad and I could ever could do that before. And one guy said I became an evangelical because of shows like that. Now there were shows that were literally Davey and Goliath and things like that.
We’re on like Sunday morning. [00:19:00] But when you, when you see the effect of something like that, or if you write something about the environment and people say, Oh, wow, that opened my eyes. I mean, and I’m still getting a chance to write that kind of stuff today from time to time. Yeah. Usually it’s a ramp and an adventure, and those are great too.
But if you get the right something, that’s actually about, you know, An important issue. Yeah. That that’s, that’s icing on the cake. That’s a, like
Len Uhley – Combined: when
Kenric: you can mix it in and get it in there and it can maybe get somebody to open their eyes and look into something more than they would have
Len Uhley: if he if you have a chance, there’s a series that Rob hoagie ran.
Robbie’s a great guy, terrific producer writer. And he did a show called Thunderbirds are our girls, Thunderbirds are go, it’s a reboot of the old puppet series, but it was done in CG and it is absolutely the best looking thing ever. And the first couple of seasons are on Amazon prime. They have not released the last season.
More’s the pity, because the third and last episode I wrote of the series for him on [00:20:00] that was a, an environmental theme show. And it was about the great barrier reef. And so, you know, yes, we’re doing entertainment and we don’t think of ourselves as educators, but if you get a chance to say something, that’s.
About more than everybody after the treasure. Right. It’s such a thrill. And especially when it’s as good looking to show is that unfortunately, that, that season hasn’t been shown in the U S but for any of your listeners who are in the UK, they’ve seen it. Like they saw it last year, but anyway, I digress,
Kenric: hopefully they’ll bring it back.
No, that’s, it’s, it’s so interesting to or hoping that they release it because I remember watching the original Thunderbirds. Yes. I mean, me and my brother watched, my brother is five years older than me. I’m 46, he’s 51 now. And we watched, you know, he made me watch that with him. That was, it was, it was a
Len Uhley: great show.
That was a real hoot and very much of its time. It was it the Japanese music and everything, but this reboot was [00:21:00] absolutely stunning. Anyway, I didn’t want to go on and on and on, but it was, that was, that was even, even of late once in a while, you get to work on something that you just say. Man, I’m proud to have my name on that.
It’s such a pleasure and it beats, beats almost anything to be able to do. You know? That’s nice though. Anyway, so what else do you want to talk about?
Kenric: So I feel like there’s been a Renaissance on cartoons with the advent of streaming services, like Disney plus and Hulu and all that. And especially these, like I’m I’m very much, I was born in 74, so my childhood is steeped in the eighties.
So all of those classic 80 cartoons are all coming back and you, I mean, transforms never really went away.
Len Uhley: No, no, they’ll be doing those forever,
Kenric: but what is it? I think this is meant for the industry and meant for people that are working. And it’s
Len Uhley: got a probably Saturday morning back. Well, if, if how many, [00:22:00] but Saturday mornings 24 seven, now it’s hard to it on several networks and all that.
What in terms of seeing the stuff that my contemporaries and I worked on that’s always a pleasure, you know, way, if you go on Disney, plus you can say, Oh, look, I wrote that. But and, and it’s nice. And it’s introducing a younger audience, another generation to those shows because they, a lot of them still hold up very nicely.
Right. There is no, of course revenue for those of us who worked on that animation writers, generally speaking, don’t get residuals, but
I see what you can work out for us. But but it, it’s, it’s great fun, and it’s nice that people are sharing that with their children or even their grandchildren, I guess, you know, and that’s wonderful. But at the same time, there is a. There’s this great explosion because of the streaming [00:23:00] services.
There is, there are a lot more animated series being made, particularly in the pandemic era because they can do those. They can still produce those, you know, with everybody’s scattered to the four winds. It’s much harder to get a cast and crew of 150 people on a soundstage they’re trying, but it’s, it’s not as easy to do with an animated series.
They can do that. You know, a lot of voice actors have set up home studios, so you can sort of piece together a show. And so the networks and the streaming services have said, wait a minute, that’s a way to fill some air time. Let’s do loans. So that’s nice. And I’d like to be more a part of it. But as it is, I’ve been able to work on a lot of fun series over the last few years.
A lot more work is international. Now I’ve worked on a couple of series that are based in the UK and working with some lovely people over there and they turn out good looking stuff. And so, you know, [00:24:00] the business has changed a lot, but you know, we, we adapt, you know, I’m, I’m lucky that I I’m able to keep working and.
You know, branch off into new things you know, working on stuff, I’ve worked on preschool. I worked, I did one sort of dark anime thing called Kennan busters a couple of years ago. Ooh. That was dark and violent. A muscle, shall we say then? But very interesting. And I wrote my first, I wrote my first video game, which was released last year.
What’s the name of that game? It’s called rocket arena. And it was released by EA originals. And it was by a lovely company in Bellevue, Washington, not far from where you are called final strike games, really nice people. And they here’s another one of those weird how come this happened? They sought me out because I was one of the writers on the mini series that [00:25:00] started tailspin.
Okay. So again, we were all on staff writing these days, parceled out episodes and things like that. So I was one of the writers on tailspin. And these guys, like probably about your age, maybe a little younger said, let’s get the guy, one of the guys that wrote that funny dialogue for Don carnelian. Well, I was one of those guys for some reason, I got the gig and I got to work with these people.
And, you know, I did visit their office once in Bellevue. And they had, you know, they had the, the, the, all the paraphernalia from the show on their shelves. So they weren’t just making this up. They really did like the show. And so I got to write that and they had done some wonderful, wonderful character.
Cause I really. Feature like Pixar quality animation, or Dreamworks quality anyway animation. And it was just beautiful. And so I got, I got to play in their world for a while and it was my first real video game and it was [00:26:00] wow. What a business that is. I mean, it’s extraordinary. So I learned a lot and you know, I, I can’t be taught, you know,
Kenric: how different is it, how different is it writing for a video game versus a TV
Len Uhley: show?
Well, I’m sure it’s different on other projects for me writing on this, because they had already generated, created these characters and designing these characters. My task was kind of like writing a TV series Bible, sort of a lane out the world explaining who these characters were and what their interrelationship work and things like that because they’d had these wonderful characters, but I had to sort of, you know, do the connective tissue for them.
And so they could do their world building. And what’s also interesting is the, the pipeline is different. It was fascinating to see because they do stuff in a much more. Everybody here, all hands on deck collaborative thing, it’s probably more like doing a feature ad [00:27:00] at Dreamworks or a Disney than it is like the production pipeline, the linear line that is in television series production, where I write a script, I can give it to the story editor and story, and it does his, or her magic.
Then the artists are going storyboards and everybody does their layouts and backgrounds and it shipped overseas, the animated over season. It comes back and they do post production. And then you have a cartoon show in a year or whatever. In video games called different ball of wax where they’re all sort of working on the same thing at the same time in multiple pieces.
And I just, it’s just extraordinary. I’m not a gamer. Yeah. Full disclosure. But I, I D I did try to play the game badly. Oh, well, yeah. I mean, except for the carpal tunnel. Sure. It was great, you know, but, you know, it’s, it’s really, and, and I discovered because I, I work on, on max and it’s PC or, or other game platforms.
I needed to borrow a computer from them to have something that was [00:28:00] robust enough in the PC world to play their game, because it’s kind of, you know, resource intensive to actually properly. I’m sure you’re a gamer and you do this kind of stuff.
Kenric: I play games, but I’m not a, I’m not a gamer. I do play games, but just every once in a while,
Len Uhley: that’s fascinating because you know, I’ve gone to a lot of car conventions over the years, but to go to again, this was a couple of years ago now.
Totally different beast, which it’s loud. Cause you’ve got all these games playing at once. But it, it was a lot of fun and nice people. And so, you know, it was altogether a very, very positive experience and you know, the games out there you know, it’s not, it’s not like the stuff for blizzard. I have some friends, animation writers who ended up working at blizzard and that’s extraordinary.
They, I mean, they are world builders, parks, launch. They do brilliant work. Yeah. They’re up here too. You have blizzard up there as well here as well. Yeah. Cause I know I’ve visited my friends [00:29:00] down at their main campus and Anaheim. It’s just, it’s like mission control. It’s just, I, I dare not say anymore because I don’t want to get anybody in trouble and it was really amazing.
It’s really cool.
Kenric: Yeah. Do you miss the Comicons.
Len Uhley: I ne I, yes and no. Yeah. I mean, you know, you get together with 45,000 of your closest friends and I mean, close and it’s, it’s, you’re always kind of rushing to one thing. If you’re not on a panel, you are rushing to see somebody else’s panel. And if you don’t get in line nine hours ahead of time, you don’t get in.
Right. But you know, some of the smaller conventions a couple of years ago now a bunch of us went over, went to the grand Rapids comic con, and it was really well run, very nicely done. That was a great experience. There’s been a couple down here, local, smaller conventions as well. But I didn’t, I haven’t ever done the circuit.
Like some of my friends have done, you know, they’re in New York and then they’re overseas and then they’re back [00:30:00] here and then it’s crazy. Yeah. For the voice actors. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to one of these things. Oh yeah. They’re treated like rock stars. Oh my God. It’s you? When Rob Paulson or Maurice Marsh walks into the room, it’s the Beatles.
Yes. Fantastic. Nice guy,
Kenric: Rob Paulson. He’s such a nice guy.
Len Uhley: They’re all th the thing about voice actors, they’re extraordinarily talented and versatile and funny. Oh my God. There’s no greater pleasure than to go into a room and stand, sit behind the glass and hear people say your words and make them that much better.
And all of these people do that. They, you know, Rob and we’re raised and Carrie Walgreen and, and all the other people who are just Frank Welker, you know, who’s the voice of every thing. Dee Bradley Baker is. The guy who makes all the weird noises and animal stuff, [00:31:00] Jim Cummings, Jim Cummings, huge talent.
Oh my God. You know, it’s just th there, there are a lot that I’m forgetting his name, but they’re all so many so talented and generally speaking really, really nice people too, you know, there’s because for them, especially in the old days, when they would get everybody together in one room now, you know, I guess it’s all being done through the script and everything, but, but you, they have sites, it’s a party and you have any work with people like Andrea Romano, who is the voice actor, a voice director on all of the Warner brothers stuff.
And I’ve worked with her prior to that, on a Disney stuff. And then we worked on his car on Ben 10 and things like that, or Ginny McSwain of Sue blue. These are all wonderful, wonderful voice actors. It’s always a pleasure because they, I mean, Andrea is a genius. And she’s now officially retired, which is a shame because you just want, Oh, I want to do one more with her [00:32:00] because she finds all of them.
They find subtext. They find something that you didn’t know, you written, and they convey that to the actors. And then suddenly everything gets deeper and more. And the touching parts become more touching than the funny parts become more funny. And it’s just, Oh God, what a pleasure as you can tell, I enjoy this job.
Kenric: Yeah. I love it. I love your passion for what you’re doing, because
Len Uhley: that’s that. Or go back to the drug store I worked at in high school wearing the blue jacket and St. Metamucil. That’s all fine. I don’t want to do that again so better. I stick with it,
Kenric: man. I tell you what I’ve, we’ve done. I’ve done hundreds of interviews and you can tell the people that it’s a job.
You know, and people that truly love what they’re doing. Yeah.
Len Uhley: I mean, there are assignments. I mean, I’m not going to name shows, shows that are just thank you for the paycheck and blood and having to thank you and I’m gone, but then there are the, you know, the things like you get to work. There’s a [00:33:00] show that’s on Apple plus now called Stillwater again, Rob bogeys show.
It is completely different than anything I’ve ever worked on. Quiet and contemplate of it’s a preschool show and it is the sweetest. Nice calming thing you could ever imagine of anybody that has an Apple plus subscription, they should watch this thing with their kids. It’s so sweet. But then, you know, I get to do stuff like, you know, robo Zuna, which has robots hitting each other, you know, or, or natural, sweet, the noise and things.
But then, then there’s things I, you know, I had this weird parallel career where I’ve written some stuff with the faith based show stuff on for VeggieTales and that’s a great cast of characters too. So, no, I just, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to sort of be this utility infielder. I love playing in one field or another, but you know, I’ll just keep doing it until they told me to stop, I guess.
Kenric: do you find the voice for the, [00:34:00] for the characters that you’re writing for, especially
Len Uhley: on the,
well, look. It depends on what the show is. I mean, if you, if you been able to watch the show, if it’s something that’s been on a long time, or if they’re on strips or Bible or something like that provided by the show, runner, the story editor or producer or whomever, then you get a chance to hear that you see and hear the voice of each of the characters.
And you have to be a bit of a chameleon. You need to be able to mimic what’s being done. And you know, on the shows that have worked out well, for me, I’ve been a good mimic and on the shows, not so much, not so much. But you know, that’s the thing. You have to be able to a story editor. I digress, but there’s a point of it.
The story editor that I worked for who who’s a friend named Stan Berkowitz says that he hires people who make his job easier. Yeah. So the [00:35:00] point of the freelance writer or the staff writer, whatever. Your job is to turn in the best work you can possibly turn in so that your boss doesn’t lose a weekend, fixing the problems you created.
Right. And so that’s what I strive to do. And most of the time I succeed, I’m sure you could probably find a couple of people who said, Oh please. No, not him. You know, I I’ve been able to have you no strings of shows. I mean, you interviewed Alan Burnett. Who’s kind of like, you know, when I, when I grew up, I want to be on Burnett.
Kenric: we all want to be Alan Burnett.
Len Uhley: It wasn’t that I worked, I did, I did 16 static shots for him as both. Right. Right.
Kenric: Actually I have a question for you on static shock. Yeah. The. What that, that, that show means more than your standard superhero show, then believe for the content and who he represents.
And we don’t need to go into the whole [00:36:00] cultural aspects of it, but it’s there. And now he means so much more that I think that he, I think he met a lot when he came out because people saw him and was like, Oh my God, this is amazing. But when the writing was, was, was superior to a lot of shows on at the time, the animation was fun to watch and in the stories themselves were, were just were captivating.
Len Uhley: Well, and again, this is the kind of thing that you’re talking about earlier, when you get a chance to do, you know, nobody wants to watch your show, that’s pedantic and issue of the week and all that stuff. Right. And yet, because Allen. Was so good at his job. And because the characters lend themselves to this kind of storytelling, you could do things Allen and Glenn McDuffie, who is gone now, and we mourn him on a regular basis.
They want a Humanitas award for a show where a kid brings a gun to school. Yeah. Okay. I wrote a show for [00:37:00] that called Oh gosh, I’ve forgotten the title of it now, but it was
I think it was the title of it. And that was about mental illness and homelessness. I mean, it was about a girl who was lost and seemed like a villain at first, but it wasn’t really, but we could talk about things that mattered and, you know, You know, and that needs got to do, I mean, on static, I also got to do the first crossover episode, but it was called the big leagues.
And that was the one where Batman, Robin and the joker go to Dakota. Right. So, you know, and for a fan boy, you know, a guy who grew up reading comic books should be able to do that. And. Well, it was, that was a hoop. And, you know, I got, and I got to meet the voice actors who do Batman and Robin the joker, and that was kind of cool.
Yeah, that is awesome. Was awesome. Static was a wonderful show. I was very, very lucky that Alan brought me in. He and I had worked together at Disney TV animation you know, on things like [00:38:00] tailspin and stuff like that. And dummies, he, he wrote the first DuckTales feature that came out of that unit.
And then went back to Hanna-Barbera briefly and then went over to Warner brothers and was sort of the unsung, or at least under some hero of all of the, one of brothers animated series from Batman, the animated series forward. And Alan is just an extraordinarily nice fellow, but a really fine writer.
And he has this ability. Too. He’s like the comm center in any storm. He will walk into a room everybody’s running around with their hair on fire. He’ll solve the story problem, but will get calm. It’s just, it’s, it’s an extraordinary skill and he’s a lovely fellow too. So it all worked out anyway. So, there I go, you know, praising Alan, but I guess you’ll hear a lot of that.
The more you talk he’s talking
Kenric: to her, if you, if you think about, if you think about static shock and what it means, and [00:39:00] you know, the showrunners that, that are available to run a show like that, who else could run it the way Alan did and be that successful with it?
Len Uhley: You know, I don’t know. And, and to my mind, it’s a shame that it didn’t run longer.
We did four seasons on that and I, I I would have liked to see it go on, but at the time, The powers that be said, Oh, well, you know, we can’t sell the toys. Guess what you, you and I can summarize why they didn’t think they could sell the toys, you know? And well, the fact is, I mean, now we have a completely different universe where the black Panther, you know, kids of every Stripe and size and color are dressing up as one superhero or another.
And it doesn’t matter if the character is of one ethnicity or another, because everybody just loves these characters. And I think that’s the case for static too, you know, and now, you know, regional Hudson is working with the surviving members of the, the milestone group [00:40:00] and rebooting that. And there’s going to be a feature and, you know, I’m not involved, but I will certainly line up to watch it because it’s a Carrie reached
Kenric: out to you at all.
No, no, no, no. But 16 episodes is nothing to sneeze at on static
Len Uhley: jock. Well, you know, I had a great time writing that show, but you know, that’s a whole different thing. Oddly enough, nobody’s called any of us who worked on other superhero shows to do the $200 million. You know, Marvel and DC movies either.
I don’t know why perhaps they’ve misplaced our phone numbers, but you know, that’s, it’s, it’s a completely different world and, you know, you know, the X-Men series, we know that that had a big influence on Brian singer’s movies. Yeah. We got lucky.
Kenric: We had Eric and his wife on. Yeah, they’re
Len Uhley: awesome. Yeah.
Well, you know, they’re dear friends and, you know, we all got to know one another, even before they were married at Disney TV animation. And you know, when, when I was [00:41:00] done at Disney TV animation, thank goodness Eric was already running the X-Men series. So I had a soft place to land. So, it’s, they’re they’re dear friends.
And we were at each other’s weddings and all that sort of anyway. So I love it. It’s a small town
Kenric: actions like that and hearing about it because you know, you guys are, you guys wrote some. You guys did some amazing stuff, you know, and it’s fun to go back and watch. And it was fun seeing it come out as it went.
I’m, I’m, I’ve been a big kid, my whole life. I feel like I don’t want to grow up, you know, I Ms. Torres arrest because I don’t know,
Len Uhley: you know, this is the thing is, you know, for those of us who do this is a very weird job. Okay. But you know, for those of us who do this for a living, you have to have be able to be in touch with that kid inside you, you know, the joke version is, well, thank goodness. I’m incredibly immature so I can keep doing this.
But the [00:42:00] fact is you do have to be able to have that sense of whimsy and wonder, and then you have to have the craft. To, you know, build the stories that make sense. And then you have to have talent. So it’s, you know, dumb luck timing who, you know, and talent that makes your career. But you also have to just have the tools to do this.
You know, you can’t wait for the muse to strike. You have to be able to sit down. And, you know, I say to, you know, young writers, you know, aspiring writers, if you like having homework seven days a week, this is the job for you because you know, there’s, you know, Oh, I think I’ll take the weekend off. No, you, when there’s no more assignment, then you get a day off and you can sit and Twitch.
But in the meantime, you know, you just gotta get through these, especially since in animation, it’s a volume business. If you’re lucky enough to have work. And you know, that ebbs and flows. It’s the roller coaster ride. If you’re lucky to have work, you [00:43:00] work as much as you can while it’s there. And then you say, okay, what’s my next thing.
And you go chasing after that it’s piece work, you know, and as we mentioned earlier, there are no residuals. So you, you get your unit of compensation and then you try to find another one.
Kenric: Yeah. Yeah. So you’re always chasing that
Len Uhley: dragon. So to speak, I’m sorry.
Kenric: Say again, is that you’re kind of chasing that dragon so to speak.
Len Uhley: Yeah. Yeah. Unless you’re one of the people and apparently the, the model is going back to more of a staff-driven thing, which is what I started out in and more is the better for that, because you’ve got an opportunity to concentrate on one show. You’re not scrambling for the next gig and you can really dive deep and, and be part of creating something that it has cohesion and longevity, because all of these shows fail.
They do last usually a long time, which is good. No. Yeah. Well then it’s been an [00:44:00] hour already. Oh no, because I talked too much.
Kenric: I ask all the questions. It was no, it was great. It was great. And I, I hope you had a good time because I had a
Len Uhley: great time. Well, yes, I did. Kenrick thing.
Kenric: Have you come back any time and talk more, you know, God, you’ve had such a great career and you’ve worked on some amazing stuff and you, anytime I’d love to have you back on it,
Len Uhley: I’d be happy to, you know, I as you can tell, I’m happy to Yammer on at length about anything.
But you know, there’s usually interviews a lot of my, my cohorts and I think that’s great because we are very fortunate all of us that we’ve been able to make a living doing something like as, as killer and wonderful as this, you know, we, we get to put the words into, you know, these iconic characters and, and telltale it’s about them and that people still love them is [00:45:00] wow.
What a gift? It’s I just
Kenric: love talking with the people that are behind all these amazing things growing up. You know, and,
Len Uhley: and
Kenric: what you guys went through, what you did and, and, and just the comradery.
Len Uhley: I mean, I’m sure you’ve gotten some horror stories from people, you know, and I, you know, most of them are good.
Yeah. I mean, just a bit is good. Everybody has their tails, but on balance, you know, it’s been a, it’s been a wonderful life, you know? So there
Kenric: actually, let me ask you one more thing before we go. What’s the first and last thing you do when putting pen to paper
Len Uhley: outside of panicking, you mean you panic? Well, again, that depends on we’re going over your timeline.
We don’t have a time limit, so it’s okay. When you were working for someone else’s show. Yeah. Your job is, [00:46:00] it depends how you get in on it. You know, if, if you’ve got a show runner who is. Saying, bring me ideas, then you’re pitching ideas and then maybe one of them’s, you know, meets the criteria. It’s great.
If you’re working on a show, that’s serialized as a lot of them are these days, the showrunner may have the whole season sort of plotted out and to a greater, we have figured out what your particular episode is because it has to fit into the jigsaw puzzle. Some people they, they call you in. I mean, especially before the pandemic, they would call us in and we beat out.
The story. You’d either do that in a room with brainstorm writers, you know, the writers’ room or you’d be called in one-on-one and you beat out that story on a white border file cards, whatever the heck. Yeah. And then you’d go off and you write an beat sheet or an outline or a beat sheet and an outline, and then a script and then another draft of the script.
And then the story editor does his business. And [00:47:00] then off it goes, if you’re running something original, that’s a completely different thing. If you’re writing a spec, pilot or a screenplay, you know that it’s just you alone in your room, banging your head against the keyboard and trying to figure out because every time you go to bat, it really is the first day of school.
Yes. You’ve got certain skills. You’ve done this before, but you are. Reinventing the wheel to some extent, because you’re creating new characters and you have to figure out how they will behave. So, you know, all of it’s a challenge and, and writing a movie is very different than writing a 22 minute episode of a cartoon writing in 11 minutes is somewhat different than writing a 22 minute episode of a cartoon.
Right. And I have friends who have been writing three minute episodes for YouTube and stuff like that. So yeah. You know, everybody’s just trying to find a way to tell a story and sometimes you get lucky and you tell a story that people like, you know, [00:48:00] so that’s the last thing you do. You do the last thing you do before you send the script to your story editor.
If you’re smart, after you’ve proved it with your eyeballs, then you have final draft, which is the software that most of us are obliged to use. You’ll have it read back to you with its little computer voice, because you will skip. Things, you will not hear, see the missing word in a sentence. And then when you hear it spoken out loud, you say, Oh yeah, I know that’s wrong.
So that way you can take your best of your ability. You can prove it so that nobody else finds that gap finds that logic thing that, that repetition, whatever, whatever little speed bump you’ve introduced. And again, that makes your story editor’s job easier. You would want to turn them in something that they can Polish in an afternoon and send away rather than, Oh, geez.
I got to do all this heavy lifting and you know, I [00:49:00] won’t see my family all weekend. You don’t want, you don’t want to, you don’t want to be that guy. Yeah. Yeah. So anyway, so that’s what I do that the thing is. Be as professional as you can be, meet your deadlines as often as you can and hope to God you’ve done it well enough so that they call you back and that’s all you can ask for.
Right. That’s how you, that’s how you pay the mortgage.
Kenric: Exactly. Exactly. Well, thank you so much for stopping by today. I really
Len Uhley: appreciate it. I really appreciate your, your taking an interest and a happy to chat anytime and you know, we’ll get the whole band back together and we can all talk and make this seem like just, you know, a brief conversation because when we all get chatting, it’s embarrassing.
Oh yeah. I’d like it. Anyway. I’ll see you soon. Okay. Thank you very much.