Bronycon 2016 Press Interview Series - M.A. Larson

Because Bronycon was such a big event, they decided that instead of having interviews - they would hold press releases which were pretty much interviews but with everyone in it. So not only were Horse-News (all 2 of us with press passes) there, but others from other areas such as Equestria Daily, Equestria Confidential, ILoveKimPossibleAlot and her crew of slave labors co-workers, and a bunch of other randoms I can't tell apart from the rest by just voices alone.

Note: If you were a part of this press release and I got your names wrong, let me know and I'll give you proper credit.

This edition focuses on Mitch "Coronate-A-Bitch" Larson. More after the break.

Horse News: First question, how much have you had to drink?

Larson: Went unanswered, for he was too busy looking for Sharpies. Wait, what's going on here? Should I sing? Is that it? Are we done?

Unidentified Flying Object: I wanted to throw in some questions about Pennyroyal Academy since that's one of the things you're working on right now. When does the 2nd book come out? And has the writing process for that changed for you at all? Are you planning on continuing the series past the three books?

Larson: It's already out, about two weeks ago and the third one is the next one to be released sometime next year. As far as how long the series will continue, after the 3rd book - that's it. I've been working on this idea since 2006 when it was a TV show on Disney Channel, so I'm excited to be done with it. I'm doing the last one now, and also "3" is a very fairytale number. Fairytales are totally big to this thing. Or 7, those are the two big "fairytale" like numbers. So I've always wanted it to be three books, since it's three years that you're there. I talked to my editor about possibly doing a sort of spinoff thing, where maybe one of them becomes a teacher and features new characters - that sort of thing. But, we haven't really decided whether we want to do that or not. I have other ideas I want to do. Right now I'm wrapping up the climax part of the 3rd book, and just wrapping things up pretty much. It's so much fun, for there's stuff from the 1st book that I can finally reveal, and I just love doing that. But I'll be happy to be done with it.

Random 1: I also heard that Reese Witherspoon was involved for some kind of movie deal, or something? Is that happening?

Larson: Right, well, I wrote the script, uh.. I think the script is better than the book, but it's in a weird place, because the option expired in February. But now Lionsgate is asking, "Can we do this as a TV series?" Other studios have asked to do an animated version of it, which I've never really considered because I always intended it to be live action, but that's way more expensive, obviously. So we're trying to rethink now, and there's a bunch of places we've never went to the first time around - and basically we're trying to figure out what we want to do, and regardless of what, it's not an easy thing to get greenlit. Who knows? We'll see what happens. I did meet with Reese's department last week, and we have a big strategy meeting in the upcoming weeks with both my and her agents.

Random 2: If you had to give a TED talk, what would it be about? Also, have you had any involvement in Season 6?

Larson: Oh my God, that would stress me out so much. I'm sweating, just thinking about that. As far as Season 6 goes, it's long done and I had no part in it. I haven't even seen it yet, and I should probably catch up cause I'm way behind. Honestly, as far as the jobs go, we are all freelance writers and every episode could potentially be our last one. If you get another one, if there's a slot open, if whoever is running it wants you on it - there's tons of factors that go into it. None of us have contracts, you're not signed into a season or anything like that. You're signed up for a single episode, and if you're lucky, you get another one.

Horse News: Has there been any talks between you and the studios for Season 7 or any other future work?

Larson: I don't know what I'm allowed to say about that. We signed this thing so... let's just say there's no official confirmation of anything. It's their [Hasbro] secret to blow, like they've blown every secret before... with their marketing... not referring to any specific episode of season 3. Just saying.

Equestria Daily: Is there anything you'd like to go back and rewrite, if you had the chance to do so? And is there anything you'd like the show to do, that you'd like to see personally?

Larson: It's harder to do that these days. It was much easier to have your own ideas in the early days. Now there's one hundred cooks in the kitchen, where there used to be like three. I've always wanted to do "A Day in the Life of Celestia," - which is basically just the ordinary stuff she'd do on a daily basis. In Ponyville Confidential, that little bit where she's eating cake, it was a direct parody of US Weekly with her coming out of the gym, and she's all sweaty, with a gym-bag, and the title would be "Princesses - they're just like us."  
I want to do that kind of episode, where she goes to the gym, and maybe some dumb thing happens that she has to solve. But it's basically like, what does she do all day? I don't know why that hasn't happened yet, it just hasn't. The story editor or whoever is "Lauren of the Day" comes up with the premises, and they tell you "here's the one you're doing," and you basically just roll with that.

Horse News: We can tell you that there are quite a few people within the fandom who would be on board for such an episode. The demand is there, so to say.

Larson: Well yeah, she's such a regal figure. I want to see her in her carriage when the wheel breaks off. What is she going to do? And I think the key to it is low stakes. In TV writing, it's always "well, what's the stakes?" - the stakes aren't high enough, and in an episode like that, you've got to have really low stakes. But they have to matter, you know, like if she doesn't do X, then Y will happen. The point is to keep things funny, yet not get too crazy with it. But I'm probably not going to get to do that so... I'll probably write a fanfic...

Someone else: What was your initial response to the Brony fandom?

Larson: Well...

Someone else: That's a good response. [Audience Laughter]

Larson: That's pretty accurate, but that was a long time ago. I first found out about it in a story meeting, I think during either "Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000," or the Spike getting bigger one [2.10 - Secret of My Excess] and Lauren was talking about it, and wrote "4chan" on a piece of paper and gave it to me. And I lost it, I didn't look it up.

So the next story meeting we were at, I asked her what was that thing she was telling me about, and she showed me this video - the first thing I ever saw - and it this video of some Russian day camp of like 50 kids, just doing day-camp kind of things, and the camera's going around, it's all in Russian, and it stops on these two guys who then start playing "Winter Wrap Up." And they all start singing in these thick Russian accents. And I was like, "Wait, this is in Russia? What's going on? Those aren't little girls." - that's when it dawned on me that this thing was going on, and that was deep into Season 2 for me, but for you it was when the show was starting.

And I didn't get it at first, I never was a part of any fandom before - didn't watch any animation. I know nothing about anime, I've never watched Dr. Who, I've never watched Star Trek -  I know nothing about fandoms, and I didn't really understand it, and it all seemed to have coalesced out of nothing. But the more I talked to people, the more I realized that there's a lot of common likes in the Pony fandom; tons of Dr. Who fans, tons of Star Trek fans, video games... So it took me a while to realize that there was that commonality beyond ponies, that it wasn't just random people getting together. But yeah, it's all new to me. Not just bronies, but the whole fandom phenomenon that I knew nothing about.

Horse News: So did you do some catching up on things, like references or other fan-based questions/stories/etc that fans would pose to you, to get a better understanding of what and whom you were dealing with?

Larson: There are some things you just can't avoid, because when you go to enough conventions, you start to learn what the meaning behind some things are - yet there are still some things you guys do that I still have no idea the meaning behind them.

I do try to avoid looking as much as possible, because I believe that the more the show can stay within a bubble, the better off it will be. But there's honestly way too many outside references in the show now, for my tastes. I know that sounds weird coming from the guy who wrote Episode 100, but that was a different story.

In Episode 100, there were supposed to be as many references as humanly possible, all fit within a 22 minute window. If it were up to me though, the show wouldn't have so many fan references as it already has, but it's not up to me.

Horse News: Like the "Jumping the Shark" visual gag from that same episode?

Larson: Haha, that wasn't me who did that, that was Neal who added that. In that episode though, I actually wrote an email to everyone; Hasbro, DHX; and I told them I know that it's really long, but it has to be [compressed down to] really fast, and you need to add more [references]. I said to them, anything you can think of, put it in there - jam it full. So they added the horse masks, the shark, etc - and the whole idea for that episode was to go totally nuts. Aside from that, I think there's too much referencey, self-referential stuff going on. But, what are you gonna do? Everybody has their own tastes.

Equestria Daily: So you were the story editor for Season 5, or at least the first half of it. Prior to that it was Meghan, and even further was Rob. What was it like for you, going from a writer only role to becoming a story editor?

Larson: I was psyched, because I was excited to take it back to how Rob and Lauren used to do it, because Meghan does some things more like every other show: which is namely, you submit a premise, and if they like it, then you can write that episode. This is pretty standard across most shows. But Lauren and Rob did it in such a way, that they would write all the premises and just told us, "you're doing this one." - and it was something I have never experienced before - except when I worked on "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends."

It is a little jarring as a writer to be told, "here, you are writing this episode." - you are just not really used to that, not working on your own idea. But I liked it a lot. Like, I got told, "Hey, you're doing the one where Luna comes back for Halloween [2.04 - Luna Eclipsed]," and my response was, okay cool.

So, I wanted to go back to that, where I wrote all the premises and what not, but when I actually got in there, I noticed that Meghan didn't really do that sort of thing before because she was working on the movie, and around that time there were already drafts for 5.01 and 5.02 "The Cutie-Map", including 5.03 Castle Sweet Castle, and 5.04 Bloom and Gloom. Those were all done, except I went back and polished them. And then the next couple, 5.06 Appaloosa's Most Wanted, 5.05 Tanks for the Memories, they had outlines done already and were already going to script. 5.07 Make New Friends but Keep Discord already had an approved premise - basically most of these already had most of the writing done. And all the premises I wanted to put forth, I couldn't because they had most of the stuff already done by the time I got there. I also wasn't going to write any of them, but story-edit them; but I ended up writing a third of them. So instead of coming in and putting my stamp on things, it was already done for the most part and I was just kind of taken along for the ride.

Horse News: Basically every season has had each individual episode self-contained in its own slice-of-life format. Have you or any of the writers considered doing a quarter/half/or even whole season arcs?

Larson: Well, you know how this goes. There's a soft arc where they reference it about three times over the season. That's not my thing though, for I like the slice of life thing a lot, and I would rather keep it that way. I know a lot of people are clamoring for these longer storylines, which is fine - if they want to do it, I'm cool with it and I won't stop them or say "No, it's stupid!" because I don't think that it is stupid. I just prefer it the other way, especially for this show.

Horse News: Is it much easier that way to keep original ideas coming in, like this episode they will do X, then next episode Y will happen - without keeping too much of a tie-in between the two, so to say?

Larson: Totally. Particularly in a show like this where we are all freelance writers - see, these writers all live in Los Angeles like me, but I never see them except for at conventions. I've met tons of the show writers at conventions, because we're all freelance. There's no room at Hasbro where we go-

Someone [interrupting]: What about Lauren, since she moved to LA? Have you seen her?

Larson: Never. And I likely never will, because I don't hang out with others - I don't leave my house. But anyways, to keep such a fragmented staff like that, where everybody is off doing their own thing, of whom may be back again or not - to keep track of an overarching story like that would be really tough. I mean, you do have to keep track of the characters, if they've developed at all, so that you don't repeat other ideas. Especially when you get into like season 6, or 7.
(Crowd Titters)
Theoretical seven.

Someone: So, how do they choose story editors for the show?

Larson: Damned if I know, that's a good question. Rob was on "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and My Life as a Teenage Robot," which is why he and Lauren had so much experience, and they were a perfect match to work with each other, because of their differences: Lauren is so creative, and Rob is so pragmatic. He would always call Rainbow Dash "him", because he just could not process that she is a girl. Anyway, Lauren chose Meghan McCarthy, since they've worked together before, and noted that if she were to leave for some reason, she wanted Meghan to take over. Meghan chose me as she was leaving, I believe, but she wound up coming back. After that, I have no idea [how they choose story editors].

Horse-News: In the writing process, how do you prevent ideas from being repeated? That is, so to say, how do you prevent one writer from writing an episode covering a theme or a friendship lesson, that the ponies have already learned?

Larson: We're supposed to read everything. Every show I've worked on, I made a conscious effort to read as much as I can, because it makes the process so much easier, and to avoid the aforementioned situations. Then you also have people like Gillian [G.M. Berrow] who knows everything. I've been in story meetings with her, where someone will propose an idea, and she will interrupt them, saying that that idea has been covered already. Despite the fact that she's only written one episode in the show (so far...) she has really proven she knows her stuff. In fact, I myself done the same at one point on an episode in Season 3's writing process. Nevertheless, it's your job, you must read through everything; and it drives me crazy working with writers who don't watch the show, or read through what they're supposed to before writing a script. It's your job to watch a cartoon! I think you can handle that.

Someone: How long does it take to get an episode ready, from being either given the idea or coming up with one on your own?

Larson: The whole process takes about two months from start to finish. First you get the premise, which is typically a paragraph long. That then gets approved by first the story editor, then everybody else [Hasbro, DHX, etc...] - it used to be just Hasbro, but that has changed, for they gave DHX more power after season 3, opening the door to many cooks...
But it was more streamlined in the past, and Hasbro would not really meddle in things. I remember doing the story for "Cutie Mark Chronicles," and the only note from Hasbro was to keep an eye on one particular thing. Yet for "The Cutie Map", there were about 17 pages worth of notes, so you can get an idea just how things have changed. Despite that, the process still takes about two months. With every stage, you make two outlines; you do one, get notes from the story editor, do the other draft, that goes to Hasbro. In other words, there are two drafts of everything, and it's all email. You're in [the office] for one day just to break the story in, and that's it.

Someone: Has the presence of the fans affected the creative direction of the show?

Larson: It's hard to answer, because I've yet to see season 6. Though I don't want to sell anybody out, we've definitely been in an office at Hasbro and seen the executives on Equestria Daily, which I think is a bad idea. Despite my consciously trying to avoid [fan made] things, I still know far too much than I should. From coming to conventions, to people tweeting things on Twitter, there's just so much information out there that even for someone like me, who tries to avoid as much fan stuff seeping in, it's very difficult to do. I do believe that the more the show can live within its own bubble, the better.
And that's why you guys got into it in the first place, not because of jokes and references we made - we didn't know you existed at the time.

Horse News: We all know during season 5 that the CMC finally earned their cutiemarks. How was that decision made to finally tie up that extremely long loose end? Did you have anything to do with it?

Larson: I had nothing to do with it at all, actually, because that was the half of the season where I was already gone. However, I do know they were working on it while I was still working on 5.01 and 5.02, because of the fact it was a musical episode, and those always take longer to make. So, it was in the process a lot earlier than a normal episode would've been. But I don't know anything of the decision making behind that. Sorry.

Comments (3)

  1. >Note: If you were a part of this press release and I got your names wrong, let me know and I'll give you proper credit.
    >L-look, we're not t-the KP 2.0, okay?

    Getting paranoid now are we?

  2. Slight correction, Pony Tonite has been kill for almost a year, Corp and others had press through Equestria Confidential.