Interview - Dan Schaefer – principal artist/storyboard artist/director
Dan Schaefer has contributed his skills as a concept/storyboard artist to film and television productions for more than 29 years. His list of projects varies from animation (Teen-Age Mutant Turtles animated TV series), advertising campaigns (NBA, Microsoft, BMW, Adidas, Nike, Intel, HP, Clorox, Airwick, Cadillac) and feature films/television (BBC, NBC/Universal, MGM, Lions Gate, Paramount, TNT, HBO, Netflix). He has worked as a pre-visualization artist with Gus Van Sant (Paranoid Park, To Each His Own Cinema, Milk), Guillermo Arriga (The Burning Plain) Ellory Elkayam (Without a Paddle 2), Jonathan Frakes and Frank Oz (Leverage) and Rob Bowman (Staties). His diverse skill set has led him into art direction (Valley of Light for Hallmark), producing (associate producer on the film Deep Winter starring Kellan Lutz) and directing a series of documentaries (Mania, Kings of the Road, Figaro, and House By the Side of the Road). Works include concept/storyboard/prop artist on Grimm (NBC), TNT's Leverage/Librarians, The Break (BBC), Here and Now (HBO), and American Vandal(Netflix). The Break, season 2, is currently airing on BBC 3 where Dan provided storyboards for episode 4-5.
Dan, you first got involved with ‘Minding Mama’ back in October 2016 when you joined the team as Story Board artist. Can you tell our audience what initially drew you to the project?
I had joined the on-line networking group called Stage 32 looking for film projects and made contact with two different productions, one of them being the Minding Mama project. I’ve had an interest to create connections with UK creators making films and thought that Elaine’s project was interesting! The ad was for a storyboard artist; Elaine wanted to create a pitch for an animated film based on her short story. After some emails and Skype calls, Elaine, Amanda and I thought going the route of comic book was much less expensive than making a film. Also, an animated film would take much longer to produce.
You provided the storyboard and directed the pitch trailer for ‘Minding Mama’, can you tell us a bit about that?
The trailer pitch started, in a way, with the fact that I was doing storyboards. Storyboards are the basis for a film. I had looked at some of the Kickstarter pitches and noticed that most of them had a single view of the creator pitching the concept directly to the camera. It was usually kind of boring, so I thought why not create a pitch from the point of view of the main character in the story. So we developed a story that would take place in Mama’s world where she is regularly reaching out to the rest of the world for help. The double meaning is that she is also reaching out to comic fans to support the book.
This also, getting back to storyboards, includes making a film to create this, which was one of the original goals, to create a film. I was always a big fan of early British Sci Fi shows, so the fact that we had a limited budget was kind of an asset, in that we would be making a similar film to those we grew up watching. Kind of nostalgic!
‘Minding Mama’ was originally a short story which the author, Elaine Jackson, originally planned to release as a short, animated film. It has since evolved into a comic book series, the first issue of which is being crowdfunded right now. What are the challenges in translating a short story into comic book form? Are most comic books written in long form first, or is ‘Minding Mama’ unusual in this respect?
I’ve been working on a book called Johnny Scotch using the same method of adapting a comic story from a long form/prose-style book, so the transition was easy for Elaine’s story. As in Johnny Scotch, I break the story down based on the action, and then add in the dialog as it is in the story. I also eliminate descriptions of the things we see, since pictures do most of that work and it would be text heavy. This is pretty unusual in that most comic book scripts look more like a film script, with a brief description and dialog.
You often seem to have many ‘irons in the fire’ at any given moment in time; so besides ‘Minding Mama’, what else are you working on that you can tell us about?
I work primarily in advertising and film. This includes the series American Vandal for Netflix (season two) where I story-boarded the eight-episode run and it’s currently available for viewing. I also worked on a Disney film which is currently wrapping up (starring Ophelia Lovibond from W1A) and should be out next year.
The newest issue of Johnny Scotch is also out (#4 debuting at FanX comic con in Salt Lake City Utah) and it completes the current storyline, so I think you’ll like that. It’s a crime story set in a film noir style world with Johnny in a tight spot at the end of the last issue. It has a lot of action! You can get a copy at: www.johnnyscotchjustice.com
You can also see my earlier work on Grimm, which is available on Amazon Prime, so there’s plenty to catch up on if you missed that.
Thank you for your time today, Dan! Our last interview, on the penultimate day of the campaign, will be on Saturday 22nd September with writer Elaine Jackson.