Interview Transcript – Episode 13: Roger Eschbacher

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AL: What’s your relationship to Scooby-Doo, did you watch at all?

RE: Yeah, I watched it growing up, the original series, and various other versions along the way. When I heard that there was a possible opening for a writer on Mystery Incorporated I was like “Yes,” and I called my agents and talked to them to have them get me in on a meeting with Mitch (Watson). The meeting went well, he knew me from my work at the Groundlings, which is a comedy theatre up here in Los Angeles. Next thing I know, I’m writing scripts.

AL: How did you come to write for animation to begin with?

RE: Once again that’s through the Groundlings. Basically, a friend of mine who was in the Groundlings with me, named Mark Steen, was working on a show called Aaahh!!! Real Monsters which was a Klasky Csupo project that was on Nickelodeon. It was about sort of the alternate world or alternative world of monsters that sort of exist within our everyday world. Mark Steen was the head writer, the story editor I should say on Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and he asked me if I wanted to pitch some ideas, and I did. Then I started getting into it and writing animation scripts. I’ve always loved animation, especially like early anime like Speed Racer and Astro Boy and all that, so that sort of reveals my age, but I’ve always loved that stuff. So when I had an opportunity to get into it, I jumped at the chance and have been doing it ever since.

AL: Was writing animation something you had ever considered as a career?

RE: Not up until that point. I’d been trying to get into writing sitcoms since I came out here in Los Angeles. But it’s just one of those things where it kind of pays to keep your eyes and ears open, and even if it’s something that you weren’t necessarily thinking you could do, or even had an inclination to do it, you know, Mark mentioned this, and I thought “Whoa, that’s pretty interesting, it sounds like a lot of fun.” And I do love watching animation, to this day I enjoy it. So the right thing to do, from my perspective, was to kind of just go “Alright, well I’ll give this a shot.” And I went along and I’ve been enjoying the ride ever since.

AL: Was there ever a specific moment when you realized that you wanted to be a writer?

RE: I would say like back in grade school. I’m also an author, but back in grade school, early grade school, I started reading, I’m a (voracious) reader. I read a lot, and I always have. I don’t know, for me anyway, when you start reading a lot, that led me to want to maybe someday, sort of a pipedream, but someday like write a book. So I eventually got into that. I always had sort of an inclination to be a writer and when I came out here to Los Angeles, I’m originally from St. Louis, and when I came out here, I was almost immediately trying to get work as a writer on different shows. I don’t know, I’ve always had that inclination, but I would say that it started out with me liking to read books a whole lot.

AL: When it comes to writing shows, what’s the difference between writing for animation and writing for a live action sitcom?

RE: I would say the main difference is that in animation you have to make sure you pretty much describe anything that you actually want to see. ‘Cause you know if you think about it, with live action, the actors have been hired to interpret characters and interpret the script, and they’ll actually add a lot of their own to that. But in terms of animation, if you think about it, basically you have artists sitting at their desks, basically looking at the script and if it’s not on the script, I mean the artists are so talented that work in animation, they’ll add stuff if there’s gaps and all that, but it really helps if you, as the writer, are very diligent in describing what needs to be seen on the screen. So I would say in a script, the descriptions part of it, the action, tends to be a little more drawn out than definitely like a screenplay, but also even for a standard sitcom, the descriptions in sitcoms and in film are generally, unless it’s a high action thing where it’s very specific, let’s say like a Marvel universe sort of thing, the descriptions are pretty short because the interpretation of the descriptions and of the scenes are left largely to the director and the actors.

AL: When it came to Scooby-Doo specifically, were you given a premise for the episode before writing it, or did you get to kind of run wild and come up with the monster and things like that?

RE: A little bit of both. I would say, if we’re going to split percentages, I would say like 10 percent of the time, 15 percent of the time it was stuff that I pitched, like a story idea or whatever. The guys who were running the show, Mitch (Watson), Michael (Ryan), Tony (Cervone), and Spike (Brandt) and all those guys, really, this Scooby series in particular was really well thought out by people like Mitch ahead of time because they not only had a sort of monster du jour, but they also had a series wide arc that was spread out over two seasons. So they really kind of had to know, they knew where they wanted to go and so they would give sort of a general premise, and then I would, I or the other writers, would come into the office and we would work out the beats of that particular episode. Then I would go away and sort of clean up an outline and send it back, and they would tweak something and send it back. Then once I was given the go to write the script, it was pretty much all on me. Those guys are so funny, I mean, they contributed mightily to dialogue and all that stuff, but a lot of the fun sort of dialogue and little takes, the characters’ takes on the kind of stuff that was going on, and a lot of the story, the actual story, the nuts and bolts of the story were left to me, and the other writers too. So it was actually one of the most fun shows I’ve ever written on in that regard. We were able to put a lot of, they were totally open to a lot of smart aleck jokes and what have you. So it was a great fun show to work on.

AL: And what were some of the ideas that you had pitched?

RE: Oh, it was mostly stuff early on, again, it’s been a while since we did the show, so if I had to come up with something in particular, I could go back through the scripts and go “Oh yeah, that was mine.” But I would say it was pretty much a collaborative effort, but a lot of the actual story, for reasons that I mentioned, that it was a two seasons series wide arc, came out of those guys.

AL: What was it like to write for a Scooby-Doo show that did have that overarching story across the two seasons?

RE: Personally, I loved it. I thought it was really cool that they gave a lot of thought to that, you know, obviously ahead of time, that’s how it was pitched. I thought that it was a lot fun that they ended up doing something like that. It was a little out of the ordinary, as I’m sure you’d agree, for what a standard Scooby series might be like, and I really appreciated the amount of thought and the storytelling that went into that. I write science-fiction and fantasy novels, it’s sort of my side hustle, so I appreciate a good sort of deeper story and you know, don’t get me wrong, I love the monster of the day angle, those are always a lot of fun to write, but I really enjoyed that there was sort of a deeper level to this series than is normally the case with other series. Not a knock against the other series, it is what it is, I mean, that’s the beauty of Scooby-Doo, but I really did enjoy the sort of deeper aspect of a series wide arc. That was actually sort of the beauty of it, in my opinion, and I’m biased because this is the series I worked on, but I think it’s the best, personally, no offense to anyone else but I think it’s the best. But that was really sort of like the fun, cool aspect of it from my perspective, is that they had worked out a lot of this stuff and were able to tell a story with, in my opinion, great depth. Like I was saying with the books and stuff like that, you kind of have to dig a little bit deeper with the story if you’re going to plot out a novel. It’s got to be a little bit deeper. And I think those guys accomplished that just on an amazing level.

AL: In the episodes that you had written, there were a couple interesting reveals, like in the Hodag they find the piece of the Planispheric Disk in the cheese, and the Night on Haunted Mountain they have that Spanish conquistador story revealed. What was it like to be able to take a stab at writing that?

RE: It was a lot of fun because like I said, we would go, we writers, or I would go in to have that big session where we sort of beat everything out, and it was really cool to discover that in my particular episode a certain piece was revealed. The sort of fun challenge to that was working it into the monster of the day sort of challenge, because the two were often connected. So it was just fun to use your brain to like see how that was going to work out, but also just to learn from them that at this point, this piece of the disk is uncovered and the gang have found another one. So I thought that was pretty cool, to be honest.

AL: How do you keep the voices of the characters consistent?

RE: That’s, people like Mitch (Watson) and Michael (Ryan), that’s sort of what their job is. Their job is to keep track of that kind of stuff. In terms of just writing for different characters, you’ve got five well-known characters that everybody knows how they talk. And everybody knows that every dialogue point that Shaggy has, he has to say “Like,” in there somewhere. So you kind of pick up the show and with those guys, having our backs, having the writers backs in terms of what they want, keeping the characters’ voices consistent, it’s actually a lot of fun. I kind of describe it as like, I’ve had the benefit of writing for like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and then Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated, and for me it’s like writing for animation royalty, as kind of odd as that sounds. But I really believe that it’s like a privilege to write for those characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and to answer your question directly, those guys, the story editors, that’s their job, is to make sure that everything tracks towards what we would expect from the characters, even new ones. It all sort of fits in with the tone of the show.

AL: Out of the gang specifically, who’s your favourite character to write for?

RE: I really liked Velma. I thought Velma was a great character, she’s my favourite character. Beyond her, Shaggy’s awesome and I don’t know, they’re all awesome. They all have their fun moments and that was kind of a cool thing, like going a little deeper on Daphne let’s say, and her sister and what that family was like, and so what kind of reaction they would have, a little snarky-ness and all that. I would say my favourite was Velma, followed closely by Shaggy. 

AL: Out of the really cool supporting characters in the episodes you had written, was there one that you particularly enjoyed writing?

RE: Let’s see. I liked the guy, his last name was Shepherd, in the Hodag of Horror. He was sort of a huckster who brought the traveling curio show into town, Gene Shepherd was his name. I enjoyed that character quite a bit. But there’s a lot of fun characters, you know. The brothers in the Battle of the Humungonauts. I guess the villains. I also liked Sheriff Stone, he was a lot of fun because he had so many conflicting urges, that was always a fun character to write.

AL: For the minor characters that would be featured in just episodes that you had written, were you able to come up with the names for them or was that already decided?

RE: As I recall, it was a combination of both. Like in Hodag of Horror, the waiter, I think his name was Umberto or something. As memory serves, and as people listening now know my memory is somewhat sketchy, I was able to come up with names like that.

AL: Out of the episodes that you had written for the show, do you have a favourite?

RE: I would have to say it would be the Hodag of Horror. That’s the one that I use, as an indicator of that, that’s the one that, when I’m going for a job, and my agent will send out a list of “Well this is what he has available,” the most requested are my Scooby scripts. So out of those, I’m asked by my agent to pick the one that I think would be the best sample, and I always pick Hodag because it’s number one, pure nuts, but it’s also a truly pure Mystery Incorporated sort of story and I think I served the main characters well, and present them in the best light possible. So that’s the one that I pick to send out as a writing sample.

AL: When it came to writing an episode, what was your specific process?

RE: Well, I get word that they wanted to give me another assignment, which was always very cool. Then I would go in and meet with those guys, and like I said, I’d have the premise ahead of time, whether it was supplied by me or by them, and then we would go through and we would beat it out, in terms of this has to happen, we’re going to reveal this part of the disk in this episode, and that sort of thing. And then once I had that happen, I would go home and I would write all that stuff up, taking copious notes, I would write all that out and come up with sort of a first draft of an outline and then send that in. Then it would go back and forth maybe a time or two, and then once I had been given the go, the greenlight to go to script, start writing the script, I’d basically do that. I come up with a first draft based on that, and often there’d be little snippets of dialogue that we as a group came up with or I came up with in the meeting, and those would be inserted. And I would write a rough draft or a first draft and I’d send it in. Then we’d get notes, first from the creative team, Mitch (Watson) and all those guys. Then once that happened, I would adjust to their notes and refine it, and maybe do another draft or two, finishing up with what is called a polished draft, which means that most of the rough edges have been knocked off of the story so to speak, and the polished draft is just making everything smooth and making sure everything is connected well and there’s good transitions and good dialogue and all that. Then that would be it. So I would say, you know, a rough outline, a polished outline, a first, second draft and then a polished draft.

AL: Were there ever any challenges to keeping the darker tone that Mystery Incorporated has, while also still inserting a lot of the comedy and lightheartedness of Scooby-Doo?

RE: No, not for me anyway. I grooved on all that stuff, I thought it was awesome. I liked that this particular series had a little bit of a darker tone to it. There were consequences, you know, that were kind of serious and I liked that, in that it was a true mystery with peril, with actual real peril in the storyline. So that didn’t bother me at all, I actually thrived on that, I loved it.

AL: I have a couple of episode specific questions. For the Battle of the Humungonauts, what was it like to write that relationship feud between Velma, Shaggy and Scooby?

RE: That was fun. I enjoyed that. In all the series there’s always a little bit of that going on, but I think it was sort of highlighted in this particular series. So when there was conflict, it was fun to do it and I would say the underlying note to all of that, is that at the end of the day, even though they were sort of really hardcore not getting along, there was always, you knew that there was underneath it all, there was always affection and loyalty. So I don’t know, I enjoyed writing that.

AL: Was it your idea for Fred’s solution to the feud to be group uniforms?

RE: That sounds like something I would do, so I’m going to say yes. I’m going to say 85% yes.

AL: In this episode specifically, Mr. E has a riddle that he gives them, but more broadly, what was it like to be able to kind of craft those Mr. E clues?

RE: Again, I would say those characters, characters like Mr. E who were sort of the purview mostly of Mitch (Watson) and the other creatives on the show. So I got my cues on a lot of that stuff from them. And that was done obviously to sort of keep the voice of the show consistent, and you know, those characters weren’t necessarily all over the series, but it was really important that when they showed up, what they contributed to a particular episode or to the series in general was very clear and consistent.

AL: Moving on to the Wild Brood, how did you come up with the gag where Sheriff Stone wanders into a closet in Daphne’s house?

RE: Again, that sounds like one of mine, so I will take an 85-90% credit for that. And how I came up with it, I don’t know. How I write in general is I’m kind of, I have all my information that I’ve gotten story-wise and all that from everybody, and then I kind of do it in sort of a stream of consciousness way. I have my skills that I apply to it, and if I went back and looked at the actual script, I might be able to tell you something, but offhand, I don’t know. I’m sorry, I hope this is not disappointing to you or your listeners.

AL: And in the beginning of the Siren’s Song, the episode starts with Fred and Daphne walking through the museum and they come across statues of Flim Flam and Scrappy. Do you remember how that scene came about?

RE: I think it was just looking for what would be in that museum, and just sort of going back and almost like a sense of tribal memory of like stuff that had happened in previous series and stuff. I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here, but I remember specifically Scrappy being, well, not one of my favourite characters, let’s put it that way. So I just remember thinking about a way to sort of get a little dig at Scrappy. I don’t know, I’ve described him before as being sort of like the Jar Jar Binks of the Scooby series, sort of this bizarre character that some people love, but not everybody likes.

AL: All of your episodes have so many great lines that have occasionally turned into the odd meme, like Velma’s response with the chick mustache, and Scooby’s questions about love sequence. Did you ever expect that lines like that would get that kind of reaction?

RE: I’m always very pleasantly surprised when anything like that happens from any of my scripts from any show that I worked on. But I mean on this one in particular, I consider it an honor when that kind of stuff gets repeated. It’s so much fun, like I said, for me, the thrill was writing for this animation royalty, and so coming up with lines that fit totally into their character, ideally, and are fun and repeatable to me is just a real super nice kind of bonus.

AL: And just generally, why do you think that a cartoon about a mystery solving dog has held up for so long?

RE: Boy, I don’t know. That’s great. I just think over the years, there’s been some, even with some of the stuff that’s sort of campy, sort of traditional Scooby stuff, I think that whether it’s the voice acting, or the writing, or the direction, or the expectations that the audience has, that at the end of an episode the mask is going to be pulled and the town whatever, curmudgeon is revealed as the true villain. I think all that stuff is just, it’s just sort of a fun thing that people have sort of grooved on it. As to specifically, I mean, why that would have gone on, I know like early on, when they pitched that stuff, I know it was because Hanna-Barbera had a great track record with getting shows that kids liked to watch on the air. I know that they had probably somewhat of an easier time pitching that sort of thing. But in this case, a lot of that show, I mean for years and years and years, sort of the same formula repeating itself, I think that half of it has to do with the sort of like appeal of something that you recognize and you look forward to and how are they going to do it in this particular episode.

AL: And what was it like for you to hop on to writing a show that you had grown up watching?

RE: It was so cool. Like I said, I heard about it, and then I got my agents to go in and get it so I could go in and meet with Mitch (Watson). Like I said, the meeting went well and I got hired. And to me, that was like, talk about thrilling moments in animation, for me, it was one of my thrilling moments. It was so cool to be involved in that show that I basically grew up watching the original series. The Saturday morning cartoon thing was in force and every Saturday morning watching a Scooby episode was pretty darn cool, many years later, being actually involved in the making of it. And same for Bugs Bunny and the Warner characters, very cool.

AL: Is there anything else you wanted to add at all?

RE: I would say just in general, it’s been a dream come true that I was not expecting to happen that I’m an animation writer. So many great shows and stuff I’m working on now, stuff I’ve worked on recently, Scooby, stuff prior to all that, Klasky Csupo stuff, all that. I love writing animation, and I always feel lucky and privileged when I get the chance to do it.

AL: Just before we end, do you have any recent projects you’d like to promote?

RE: Yeah. I’ve been working on this show called Hello Ninja, which is a pre-school show. It’s about these two little kids, Wesley and Georgie, and they sort of work through life using ninja ethics codes to solve their everyday problems, like the first time they ride around the block on their bicycles, that sort of thing. It’s a lot of fun and above all it’s not preachy, but it’s just a lot of fun. There’s a bit of a message, but it’s not too heavy-handed. So I’ve been working on that. And then I mentioned it before, I write science-fiction and fantasy novels, and I’ve been doing that for years and I just love doing it. I’ve got a couple books coming out that will be out before the end of the year. So yeah, I keep busy. I like to write, so I like to keep busy with that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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