53: John Derevlany: (Super Narrative – Storytelling Across Platforms)

Danielle Krage interviews writer, creator, and brand builder John Derevlany. John is an award-winning writer, animator, and showrunner who has written or produced hundreds of hours of TV (including for the Jim Henson Company and LEGO). John has also been a game designer, street artist, investigative journalist and played Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken for Michael Moore’s TV Nation!

In this episode John shares learnings from his creative career, and how he now thinks about Super Narrative – his approach to planning a story across multiple media platforms.

Chapters

00:00 Introduction and Background

02:05 Founding a Comedy Newspaper

03:09 Using Comedy as a Defense Mechanism

04:12 Transition to TV Comedy

05:40 Working with National Lampoon

07:25 Creating Crackers, the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken

08:47 The Power of Reaction Shots in Comedy

09:56 Transition to Animation and Children’s Shows

10:38 The Concept of Super Narrative

15:08 Understanding Super Narrative

16:00 Differentiating Super Narrative from Transmedia

24:02 The Need for Innovation in Hollywood

24:49 Adapting and Pivoting in Creative Projects

25:15 Navigating Humour and Broad Appeal

26:04 Considerations for International Audiences

26:34 Keeping Content Broad and Timeless

27:02 Challenges with Technological Advancements

27:49 Creating Characters and Expanding Worlds

28:18 Using AI for Idea Generation

28:57 Simplifying Stories and Layering Content

29:25 Creating a Multitude of Characters

29:58 The Challenges of Naming Characters

30:25 The Role of AI in Joke Generation

31:26 Using AI as a Tool for Creativity

32:09 The Increasing Speed of Content Production

33:21 The Importance of Trying New Things

34:19 The Uncertainty of the Entertainment Industry

35:28 Take Risks and Embrace Ignorance

36:36 Being Playful and Creative in All Aspects

37:35 Finding Inspiration in Comedy and Entertainment

38:16 John’s Website and Projects

40:01 The Resurrection of ‘Squish’

41:21 Dealing with Fan Obsession

You can find more about John’s work here:

https://johnderevlany.com/

Videos – https://johnderevlany.com/video-trailers-episodes/

(Including Squish, Legends of Chima, Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken, Uke Til U Puke.)

The “Give me a job LEGO” animation

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZznS4Y06_Cc

The big, outdoor board game:  https://culverland.johnderevlany.com/

CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT

Danielle (00:00.611)

Hey everybody. Today I am thrilled to have John Derevlany with me. Now John is a writer, creator and brand builder extraordinaire. When I was going through John’s bio, trying to decide what to pull out from his creative projects, I was so spoiled for choice. It’s like, do I tell you he was Crackers, the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken back in the day on Michael Moore’s TV Nation, or do I mention his speed metal ukulele band, Uke Till You Puke, which is such a fun name.

More importantly, that he has written hundreds of hours of TV and produced TV for big companies like the Jim Henson Company and for LEGO and so much more, all of which positions John brilliantly to be a person to help us out with how we can think about storytelling and design that works across multiple platforms. A concept I think is really important to us as creators in today’s age. And John is such an expert in this that people hire him to bring sense to it. And I’m going to dig into one of the terms that he’s coined, Super Narrative, what that means in terms of storytelling and design. So, so many things to ask you about today, John, but before we dive in, is there anything else people should know about you and your work or connections to comedy?

John Derevlany (01:07.51)

Thank you. Well, first off, thanks for having me on. I just do try a lot of things. Because a lot of them fail and a lot of them fail badly. So you just, you know, four out of five things I do fail. Some of them succeed and you know, I’ve been managing to pay my rent and you know, live so that’s basically my overall philosophy and keep trying different things as you can see from your description of what I’ve done. It’s pretty eccentric sometimes.

Danielle (01:37.775)

Yeah, but really inspiringly so, and so necessary as a creative. So I love it. And normally I don’t go back through people’s career, but actually you’ve done so many interesting things I want to just touch lightly on before we work our way to Super Narrative, because I do think they’re really relevant in terms of comedy and how we like stack our skills up and how we might move from one thing to another. So I’d actually love to go way back and ask you about founding a comedy newspaper.

So I believe that you founded or co-founded the Haboken Review and also were a contributor to National Lampoon, which is super fascinating in terms of comedy. If you were just going to just pull out one or two things that you really remember from that time or that you feel like you learned from that time in relation to comedy or creating, what do you think they would be?

John Derevlany (02:11.202)

Yes. Well, I can go even farther back to why I started doing comedy. It was basically I mostly grew up in a place called Bayside, Queens, which is a very nice neighbourhood, but also Especially in the 1970s really kind of tough and people are always sort of like fighting. If you’re familiar with Donald Trump Donald Trump grew up in Jamaica States. That’s a few miles away from Bayside. So a lot of peoplehave that same sort of abrasive, aggressive, alpha male quality, you know, where they’re always making up nicknames and always sort of bullying people. That’s just how Queens is. So I was born later in the year, in October. So in my entire grade, I was always smaller than everyone. You know, I was basically surrounded in a class of these sort of Donald Trump-esque characters. You know, and I was like the quiet, you know, book-smart guy, you know, kind of trying to speak in full sentences as opposed to the common street thug vernacular of Queens. So I was a super easy target to get bullied and beat up. And I realized if I could make people laugh, they would maybe not punch me in the face, to maybe confuse them enough that I could run away. So that’s where I started honing my comedy skills and reading National Lampoon and watching Monty Python, which was eye-opening at the time for me.

You know, that there was this other kind of comedy, not this American vaudeville stuff that we fill our sitcoms with. So, that’s how I started doing comedy. Didn’t realize you could make a living from it, so I went into journalism. And I actually went to journalism school and became a journalist, which is rare, because most of the people in journalism programs do something else. And I got a job doing working for a newspaper in Hoboken, New Jersey. And worked my way up, a staff of two, I worked my way up from reporter to editor. And eventually the publisher was like, it was the late 80s at that point, there’d been a stock market crash in New York, he’s like, oh, everyone’s depressed, we’re in this economic malaise, was that late 80s malaise, we need to make people laugh, so I’m gonna give you a tiny budget and you’re gonna make a comedy newspaper.

Basically, it was kind of like The Onion, when The Onion came out, it was originally a newspaper, it looked like…I actually have copies. It looked something like this. And it was called the Hoboken Review. And we basically reviewed things, reviewed like ridiculous things like parking meters or weird books at the library or buffets at strip bars, which pizzeria and Hoboken had the best celebrity headshots. But it was an excuse to review things and just sort of make jokes and also sort of maybe reach some sort of truth about the world. And It lasted 21 issues, but it was kind of groundbreaking in a way because it was 1990 when it came out. No one was doing this. There were college humour magazines and there were… Spy Magazine was something and that was very prominent in New York at the time. But this was a local Hoboken humour newspaper. The benefit of it was a lot of people in Hoboken also work in media places in New York and someone from National Lampoon saw that and I ended up writing for National Lampoon before it went out of business.

So and then of course from there, once you’re in National Lampoon, that feeds a lot of the TV comedy TV jobs in New York. So I ended up working at a show on Comedy Central called Night After Night with Allan Havey, which is a late-night talk show just doing gags, you know, reading the newspaper and making jokes. It’s every day, every day. So it’s pretty brutal.

Danielle (06:04.043)

Yeah. And what do you think that has in common with, if anything, with then Cracker the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken, in terms of that comedy journalism? What do you think? What function does that fulfil? What’s great about it?

John Derevlany (06:11.418)

Oh, every, I mean everything. Cause I had an actual real sort of journalism background. I could go out and I could report things. I mean, I always, whenever I would go to a story, I was always sort of more interested in the eccentric qualities of people. Like if it’s a mayor or some head of the planning commission and they had a snow globe collection, I wanted to write about that. Or I wanted, you know, I would somehow put the real quirkiness of all the people I met. So I was always sort of putting that in my journalism, but at the same time, I was also actually reporting, you know, oh, they changed the zoning laws or the sewage treatment plant is broken or what, you know, the stuff you do in local journalism.

So when I eventually moved into comedy, I had this background both in journalism and comedy and somehow got connected with Michael Moore and it made a lot of sense at that time because he was literally inventing this new form of TV that’s become really prominent now that mixed sort of a journalistic approach with humour and sort of stunts. So it was very easy for me to get in there. Once I got in, I mean, I could pitch things. I could say, this will be funny and it has this point that we can make at the same time.

And Crackers, so at the time in the US, there was something called McGruff the Crime Dog. It was this dog mascot, take a bite out of crime. It was like, yeah, it was like about street crime, report street crime. And Michael’s idea was we should do something like that about corporate crime because those are the real criminals. If you get mugged, you lose $50, but there are white collar criminals stealing millions and billions.

So we’re gonna have this corporate crime mascot called Crackers, the Corporate Crime Fighting chicken. And I was, I sort of got put on that as a writer and you know, helping direct it. And I spent a lot of time shouting into the original performer’s ear and… say this and this. And they, I said, can I just wear the suit? You know, and I think he thought I had a funny voice. And if I pitch it up, it is kind of a funny voice, but if I pitch it up a little, it sounds even more cartoon to my Crackers Corporate Crime Fighting chicken, you know.

And at any time you, you know, doesn’t really matter how effective your interview is, the moment you walk into sort of a corporate office dressed as a giant chicken, you win. They lose, the CEO at the other end of the table has lost because for some dumb reason, he wanted, he saw cameras, he wanted to be on TV and he didn’t realize it would be an interview with a giant chicken, so.

Danielle (08:47.339)

Yeah. And when you think back to like what you were sort of itching to get the other person to say, what do you think you were trying to do if there were any patterns to make the joke work better or to make it be sharper? What kind of things do you think you could see that maybe they couldn’t?

John Derevlany (09:00.65)

Uh, it wasn’t that hard. Well, I mean, I, it was like an eight-foot-tall chicken. And I mean, I, you know, I’d ask hard-hitting questions. Why didn’t you correct the llution at this factory, but what it’s coming out of the mouth of a chicken, you know, and then whether he would, the person would give a serious response, you cut back to the reaction shot of me being a chicken or sniffing my wings or something.

So it was almost like doing a straight interview as a chicken. So you couldn’t win. And I mean, the thing about comedy, it’s always the reaction shot. The laugh, at least in American comedy, a lot of the laugh comes on the, there’s a joke and then you cut to the person reacting to it. And in that situation, you just ask a question and cut to the chicken and it works. The downside was it was physically exhausting. It was so hot. I had them put a fan in the suit, but we couldn’t leave the fan on during an interview because of sound issues.

The good news, it was the 90s. It was a simpler time. People wanted to be on camera. They were just thrilled to be getting attention. I think the world has changed now that anyone can put themselves on the internet.

Danielle (10:21.183)

Yeah. Oh, that’s wild. And from there to like Nickelodeon and so many of the long-term contracts that you had working in animation and children’s shows, what was your focus through the comedy lens and how did that fit with animation?

John Derevlany (10:38.87)

Well, everything sort of came from Crackers because someone from the Henson company saw that and they’re like, oh, you can do a walk around. I’m like, yes. This is the thing I’ve learned about Hollywood. Just say yes. People ask, can you write a song? Yeah. Can you direct? Yeah, sure. And then figure it out on the way. And at that point I’m like, sure I can do a walk around. I’m like, what’s a walk around? And a walk around, it turns out is that suit. It’s like Big Bird. So I somehow got their attention and I pitched some ideas and you know, I was a huge, huge Muppet fan growing up. The Muppets, I mean, no one seems to remember this, but they were an adult sort of brand. There was a Sesame Street Muppets, but then the Muppet show was like, you know, teenagers and adults would watch it because it was so, it was so hip and funny at the time, 70s and 80s. So getting to work there was, was phenomenal.

Except for one time, one time I was in a studio and they had all the Muppets laid out in plastic bags. And you know, we think about it, these muppets are alive in my head, but I saw them all laid out and I thought, oh, it’s like a muppet plane crash. They’ve just, these are the muppet corpses in their body bags. And I was kind of upset about it because, you know, these are… Gonzo was there and he’s not moving, you know, wanted to give him CPR. But other than that, it was good. It was a good experience.

And from there, you know, they, we started doing kids TV. I had kids. and had some success in that. I’m also Canadian, a lot of production is done in Canada, so that made a lot of sense. And then that led to the toy and branding world because I did some shows and I did this one show, Wayside, which was an adaptation of a very popular kids book called Wayside Books. There’s like three of them.

Danielle (12:28.135)

Yeah, is that Louis Sachar? Yeah, I love those. They’re so fun.

John Derevlany (12:35.402)

Yes, the Louis Sachar books. Yes, worked a little bit with the Lousi Sachar. I don’t know if he loved what I did, but I do a lot of adaptations and you have to finesse that sort of relationship. So that was a success, you know, it was…there’s this whole thing, it’s an old saying I heard in TV, it’s like to have a hit show, you need a great concept, a great script, amazing actors, you know, incredible director and if it’s a linear TV, a great time slot and then you have to hit the lottery.

Danielle (12:37.421)

Right.

John Derevlany (13:04.454)

So it’s like, even then you have to hit the lottery. You know, it’s all, there’s still this X factor of luck. So we got this show and we got a great source material. I wrote what I thought were good scripts. We had a great director. We got Nickelodeon, you know, following SpongeBob, great time slot. And it did really well. You know, everything worked. It was gonna get renewed. And the parent company, Nirvana, I think wanted to do, they didn’t wanna renew it because it was not toyetic.

Danielle (13:35.375)

Toyetic? What’s that?

John

A word that I hadn’t until that time heard. And toyetic, T-O-Y-E-T-I-C. That is a character in a show or property must be easily translated into toys. So Batman is toyetic because he’s got a vehicle. You know, Paw Patrols, it’s, well, that started, it’s a toy basically. But Wayside, which is just about kids in a school, there’s no toys.

Danielle (13:50.464)

Right, got you.

John Derevlany (14:01.078)

I mean, even SpongeBob is, I wouldn’t even call that toyetic. Toyetic is usually action shows. So once I heard that, I’m like, next thing I’m doing a show with toys. So somehow, my agent found someone at LEGO and they had just started Ninjago and I really wanted to work there. I actually animated, I’ll send you this after the podcast. I actually animated myself in LEGO begging for the job because I do actually have animation skills.

And yeah, I had made a little LEGO figure of myself and made the mouth move and say, I really wanna work for this job, I really wanna do this. And it worked, I was second, in a lot of jobs I’ve been second choice and somehow I get in there.

Danielle (14:44.035)

Oh, that’s fabulous. Oh, listeners, and watch out for that. I’ll share that example, because that’s a lovely way, again, of just…like I say, you are wildly creative, but then it’s had a practical payback.

John Derevlany (14:49.567)

Yeah. You have to be. And then we did a show called Legends of Chima, which I think made billions of dollars. I’m not sure. I mean, it went on for three years, over 40 episodes. And that’s where I sort of developed this Super Narrative kind of concept. If you wanna go into that.

Danielle (15:08.415)

Yeah. Brilliant. Yeah, I do. I do want to go into that. And as I say, amazing to have that very quick zip time travel through…. And we probably missed out about 40 destinations on the way to arrive at Super Narrative. So I’ve read about the concept, through your website and I’m very interested in it in the sense of… I think we’re quite in unprecedented times in relation to how many different kinds of media and platforms and where attention goes and how things are constructed right now.

So as a creator I really want to learn from you about how you at least think about storytelling and design in a thoughtful way. But if some listeners may have heard different terms like transmedia or whatever, but will have not have heard… and I know it’s different, so I’d love to clear up first of all what you mean when you say Super Narrative, just on the most basic of levels.

John Derevlany (16:08.498)

It’s adjacent to transmedia, it’s very similar. So the traditional model is you create a property, you create a SpongeBob, a Pokemon or something, and then you figure out, oh, how can we make toys? Because really at the end of the day, in animation and in kids TV, you don’t make money until you have toys. You could survive, you could pay your bills, you could keep your studio open, but if you really actually wanna make money, which most people do, you have to have some sort of consumer products entity, something’s gotta be sold out in the real world beyond just a license fee or a production budget.

So previously I had worked on like ridiculous shows where they would, they’d always wanna add a vehicle. Actually, a friend of mine worked on a Spider-Man cartoon and the producers wanted to add a vehicle. Why does Spider-Man need a vehicle when he could swing through the air? Because they can sell a toy. So you get all these ridiculous things like, we have this great property, how do we turn it into a toy? In a Super Narrative, you start from the top thinking about all the things that are going to come from this. So it’s not just a show. It’s a show that’s going to be a book. It’s going to be a game. It’s going to be a toy. It’s going to be something we haven’t even imagined. It’s going to be a live experience. It’s going to be something. It’s going to be all these things. And you plan right from the start.

So in the instance in Legends of Chima, you know, there, a character will show up for five seconds in the episode, but he has a whole game or he has a whole book series based on him. So we pin him up, put him up here, and then he gets his whole life beyond.

And if you’re a super fan, and there are tons of super fans, they follow that stuff. Same thing with the video games. They’re hinted at, they’re things that are hinted at, and only really you experience them when you play the video game. Or there’s a bunch of, there’s a couple of video games. The key thing is…you create this whole story. There’s like all these different pieces of a story, but one’s gonna go here, one’s gonna go there, one’s gonna go there. So you don’t have to tell every single thing in the TV show.

And these days, even TV shows aren’t the launching part. Could be social media or something, or something else, or a live experience. And then you’ve created this whole story that all these pieces are gonna work with the story, but they’re gonna be in different media. And part of that was…I was just watching my own kids, when they’re watching TV, they’re on the phone, they’re playing a game, they might have the TV and a YouTube channel.

So the way people are consuming media now is in so many different ways that rather than just replicating the same thing in each media, you have something that’s related to the core story, but is different. So what that does is if you see it here on your game, you’ll wanna go see the show. Or if you see the show, you’ll wanna read the book. So you’ll wanna read the Roblox thing or whatever we’re doing. So that’s basically a Super Narrative. But the difference between transmedia is, transmedia does something similar, but the difference in Super Narratives, you think right from the start to do this.

Creatively, it’s not hard to do. It’s very hard to convince the people with the money that finance these things to actually do them. LEGO, they’re rich and they’re creative and they’re collaborative. They’re…You know, think of Vikings rowing across the Atlantic in unison to get to the Americas a thousand years ago. They, there’s obviously something in their DNA that is very collaborative if they can do that. So when you, they’re able to go to their departments and say, we’re gonna do this, you know, and we’re gonna do six things, a book, a game, a live event, a toy, a show. One or two or three of them is not gonna make money, but it’s all, when you add it all together, it’s gonna be a huge success.

In an American company, that’s almost impossible to do because every division within a company is competing against the other company. So I can’t go into Disney and say, it’s going to be a show, but we want to support it with this game, but the game may not make money. The show is going to make a billion dollars, but the game may not. That won’t happen because the division head will say, when it comes time for me to get my promotion, they’re going to say you lost a bunch of money. So they don’t think holistically in the US.

I mean, I’m doing some work with a brand called Pudgy Penguins now that does kind of think that way. They are doing things like that, but that’s, you know, they’re young. They haven’t been beaten down by the entertainment industry and this corporate structure that pits everyone against each other.

Danielle (20:45.899)

Yeah. And when you do have the most amount of freedom or say, to be able to intervene in these kinds of processes, where do you like to start and why? Like if you have your ideal landscape as a creator.

John Derevlany (21:00.882)

Usually I write a treatment. My bibles, I have story bibles like the Chima Bible was probably at the end of the day over 400 pages because there’s multiple characters. It’s a toy property with a collectible element so you have a lot of characters and all those characters have stories and some of them have mythologies. I mean, much as the Chima is basically Game of Thrones with animals. So it’s a bunch of these sort of competing tribes of animals and each animal tribe has their own religion or mythology that, you know, in their own sort of culture, the story Bible goes into that and you’ll see little bits of it in the show.

But then in certain of the, you know, the Super Narrative elements, you’ll see more. So I usually just start with a big broad story and then, you know, figure out where, what makes sense to go where. You know, what is this a live event? Is this a toy? And when I say toys, I mean, yes, we’re selling things, but the toy itself is a part of the story. The toy, it tells a story. The cover of the box tells a story.

And then in my perfect world, the end consumer of the kids, they take my story and then make up their own stuff. Once I see fan fiction based on my characters, I initially, you know, you’re always a little shocked to see that, because like, what are they doing? But then like…We won, you know, they love a character so much, they’re gonna spend time making up their own stories. And I mean, that’s what kids do when they play, they make up their own stories.

And when they get older, they actually write it on fan sites. Of course, a lot of them are, you know, a lot of the fan fiction is about characters having sex, that shouldn’t be having sex, but you know, you take your wins where you can get them. So.

Danielle (22:38.851)

Hmm. Yeah. That does seem to be an obsession of our age, doesn’t it? In terms of who gets shipped with who and yeah, that’s very fun.

John Derevlany (22:49.07)

Some of the fans are you know they’re middle-aged people I think.

Danielle (22:55.467)

Yeah, no, totally. I mean, of our age as in like, as we’re all living, not necessarily our age group, yeah, absolutely.

And what do you think are some of the things, some of the mistakes that can be prevented if a writer or creator like yourself is brought in who understands this? Like when it’s really, when you sit from the outside and it’s not working well, what do you think people have not understood, say in terms of character or world or tone? How do you think about it?

John Derevlany (23:24.07)

Just be aware people lie. It’s the entertainment industry. And what I mean by that is, I’ll go in and everyone will be like, everyone I pitch something like this to thinks it’s the best idea ever and that’s all they want to do. But at the end of the day, no, it doesn’t end up happening. I mean, I’ve tried a dozen times and the LEGO thing and Pudgy Penguins might be the only two that are coming close. And even that has a life of its own. You know, they’re doing other things outside of my story.

So, yeah, just be aware that everyone’s gonna love something like this, or they’re gonna love that you’re thinking like this, because they know, I mean, in the US now, the American, the broadcast networks, if you had a show that got less than, when I started 20 years ago, if you had a show that was less than 5 million viewers, or 4 million viewers, you got cancelled. Now, those same networks are only getting like 100,000 viewers.

So…They have to think outside of the box and not just count on this model. But Hollywood is the most, they’re so stuck in the 20th century. And you know, there’s things that work for them and they don’t want to innovate. So be aware. People will love your ideas, but they won’t actually do them because they want to do the same old thing that they can count on.

Other things, you know, trying to keep track of it…you have to…I create the master plan, the master blueprint with one of these multi-hundred page bibles, but you have to still pivot. You know, things are gonna work or not work. And now we have a lot of, especially now we’re doing a lot of social media content, we have all these analytics where we can tell exactly when people are shutting our stuff off. We could, I can look at a YouTube analytics and tell like when my joke bombed. And it’s not just bombing in a room, it’s bombing in front of 100,000 people or more.

So you use the analytics and you change. You come up with the best plan, best story ever, but if the audience doesn’t like it, you have to move. And sometimes the audience, they want the same old stuff. That’s always, as a creator, you’re like, I wanna create the most original thing and then my most original things flop. So.

Danielle (25:41.126)

And how do you think about bringing in things like jokes or a humorous tone when the audience is potentially so vast? Like, do you picture your own kids? Archetypes? How do you even calibrate that?

John Derevlany (25:45.622)

Please the audience, basically. It’s very challenging because I do a lot of international work because I mean, the American kids broadcast industry is in rapid decline or it’s circling the drain. But there’s still things happening in Europe because they get subsidies from the government. So they’re still able to put together their financing for productions. And so I end up doing a lot of European broadcasts. And we have to be really careful with that too, because things in America don’t necessarily translate. Language references don’t translate. You know, Britain, they call lots of things different words. I never understand. You know, there’s the exact same thing as a slightly different word.

So yeah, I mean, it has to be really broad. You have to sort of take into account language. The less language you can put in, the better. The less current you can be, the less news reflecting you can be, the better. I mean, unless you’re doing a new show, if you’re doing like a TV Nation, but for the most part, you have to keep it broad if you want a big audience or you don’t get a big audience or you’re just focused on your thousand viewers or your 10,000 viewers. That’s fine too. And you can make money that way.

So, I mean, I think there’s no overall answer, but to reach millions, it has to be pretty broad, nonverbal and timeless, you know, nothing that references anything too specific. And we hope…We have huge problems in all my productions with technology. We don’t know. You put a cell phone in there and they may be different three years from now and the production is complete. So there are plenty of shows I made by the time the show came out, that thing didn’t exist anymore, whatever it was.

Danielle (27:49.127)

Yeah, it’s moving so fast. And when you do think about, like you’ve talked about these kind of bibles that you’re building and you described some of the things that might go into the world, when you’re thinking about the characters, again, how are you thinking about that in terms of a system that can then be expanded? Like, do you just really get to be creative and think, oh gosh, this would be fun? Or are you working off systems and thinking, right, we need these kind of archetypes. I can think of so many ways that it could happen. I’d love to know how you actually do think about it.

John Derevlany (28:27.622)

I try to think of it as the most original thing possible and based on people I know or parts of myself that I would like to imagine. I’d like to imagine myself as a hero or a race car driver or whatever. But at the same time, I know the audience. They’re going to want the archetypes. They’re going to want the dumb guy. They’re going to want the smart guy, smart girl. It’s usually the smart girl these days. They’re going to want the gadget person. They’re going to want the muscle, the strong person. And then in terms of like…how it’s going to work beyond the core story. Yeah, I mean, if you want to create something toyetic or something with merchandise, put the car in there, put the vehicle, put all sorts of things, but have them make sense. Don’t just give Spider-Man a car that he doesn’t need. Create worlds and characters that require things.

And then also just keep everything simple at its core. So it’s always a simple story with all these layers, and the layers play out in the main format as well as all the other platforms. So like Chima, I said it was a Game of Thrones, but it was really two best friends that had a falling out. That’s the entire, that’s the core of the story. There’s a hundred characters, but it’s really about these two, these two, a lion, Laval the lion and Cragger the crocodile that have a falling out.

Danielle (29:55.051)

And are there really 100 characters?

John Derevlany (29:58.426)

More. I think there’s more of them. I think they’re… I mean, that’s common with toys, you know. Especially something that has a collectible element. And every time you buy a LEGO set, it comes with a different character. That’s part of their business models. Like they make… that’s how they get you to get the other sets.

Danielle (30:25.995)

Right, gosh.

John Derevlany (30:27.678)

Yeah, and I had to name them all. Not only name them, but create names, because it’s a merchandise, names that can be trademarked in multiple countries. So I lean towards made-up words like Cragger, which is jagger and dagger and crocodile, he’s a crocodile, so Cragger. And Laval, I partially grew up in Quebec City and there was a university there called Laval University. So that’s what it’s based on. But then that had a problem, because there was some, I don’t know, Nazi sympathizer in World War II in France that was named Laval. So he almost didn’t, who knew? There’s a problem with every single name you come up with.

So, I mean, now I use AI for name generation, that’s one of the best uses of AI, I find. So give me a list of 50 names of a character like this, and you get, you know, out of 50, you might get to, a handful that are good, and that might clear or you combine them. I mean, that’s really one of the best things of AI. I’ve tried a lot of AI stuff too. It’s helpful. Nothing is submission ready, except the names. And sometimes jokes, actually. It comes up with some jokes.

Danielle (31:33.12)

Okay. And how do you think about prompting it for jokes? Do you tell it the kind of general thing that you want the joke to be about?

John Derevlany (31:42.654)

Yes, the more specific information you can give it, the better. I mean, I’ve even done things like those bibles I told you about, put the whole bible into ChatGPT and say, you know, give me, tell me some stories based on this or, or come up with some characters. And it’s a lot of garbage, but you know, the more you can give it, the more of a better response you can get. And I know AI is sort of, it’s sort of heresy to praise it at the moment, but it’s really good for all the stuff I do.

Danielle (32:13.631)

Yeah. And also, I mean because I have friends and know people who work in children’s TV and my husband worked in children’s TV for a long time. And so just hearing a lot of conversations that… you were talking about the U S companies, but just how fast the pipeline is moving now. So just in terms of how creators are able to actually, produce things at the, the rate that’s required. I’m also talking to writers who just for really practical reasons are having to kind of use it as a tool to kind of co do things to keep up with the speed at which they’re being required to produce.

John Derevlany (32:46.891)

Yes.Well, you’re required to produce a lot more for less money. I mean, the fees, you know, certain people at the top of Netflix are making a bundle, but the rest of us doing these everyday shows, I’m probably getting paid half of what I was getting paid 20 years ago in general, you know. But on the plus side, there’s AI. So I can, for idea generation, it’s fantastic. For final output, it’s terrible. But if you need to just like, I need…You know, there’s five kids on a treasure hunt, give me 10 things that might happen to them. And nine of them are stupid and one’s like, oh, you know. And it’s a starting point. I think it’s years away from being an ending point. And at this point you could tell when something is AI. I mean, I can tell, because I do enough of it. It’s kind of the bland….

And here’s the weird thing, people have been using it for the past five years because I started using it before ChatGPT. If anytime you go on the internet and look up something, it’s like 10 best electric vehicles. That’s probably written by, it’s a blog that someone wrote with AI, but probably like three years ago or something. So we’ve been reading it on the internet for the past five years, which is weird. Because now the large language models are learning from the internet, which is based on, you know, AI. So it’s AI, it’s this recursive thing that may be the end of the world eventually, but for now it’s pretty good.

Danielle (34:22.779)

Yeah, yeah. And so many things I wouldn’t have thought of that you’ve mentioned with regards to Super Narrative. And I think it’s really useful as a creator to at least have it in mind as a way of thinking about, like you said, watching how people are consuming things and where attention’s going and like you say your children are having the phone and the this and that. If we’re really purist we may just become completely irrelevant. So.

John Derevlany (34:49.152)

Yeah.

Danielle (34:49.503)

Really great to be thinking in these terms. Is there anything that you think that we’ve missed in terms of a first dose for people thinking about Super Narrative on different platforms?

John Derevlany (35:00.006)

You know, think big and keep track of the new technology and try new things. I mean, try a lot of things, fail fast. I mean, someone smarter than that probably said that, but I mean, that’s kind of what we do. I mean, we don’t know if it’s going to work? Here’s my overall thing I learned. Two things I learned in Hollywood. Say yes. Pick up the phone when someone calls and say yes. It doesn’t matter what it is. The other thing is nobody knows anything.

Even after 25 years, I still don’t know. I could take better guesses than some other people, but I don’t know. There’s things I’ve done, I thought this will be a monster hit and it flops. And then there’s things I thought were the worst projects ever. And they’re the ones that live on and on and on. So no one knows. So if you don’t know anything, you’re on the same level. You’re already there. So don’t worry about it. And almost not knowing is better because you’ll try weird things that I wouldn’t try because…and it’ll work. So celebrate your ignorance of the entertainment industry. It’ll help you out in the end.

Danielle (36:05.595)

Oh, I love that. And clearly you have tried so many things and, your site is a delight. Like I had, a go on, there’s a bit where we can follow through your CV as a game, like with the prompts and you can put it in. I was like, that’s just the most fun way ever of looking at someone’s work. And I love that you’ve described how you did the little LEGO thing for a job too. So really inspiring to just bring creativity to all, all aspects, not just our like absolute chosen, purest, most wonderful field of writing, but all of it. I love it.

John Derevlany (36:39.53)

I’m so glad you mentioned that because I thought it was a really clever way of explaining my credits. It’s a little word, you know, a little text adventure that… I actually used AI to write the code. I mean, I still had to fix it up. But it’s a text adventure and no one ever says anything about it. I thought it was really, it’s like ridiculous. So look for new ways to communicate. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know if that works. A week from now I’ll have another idea.

Danielle (37:07.195)

Well, I thought it was really fun. So listeners, I’m gonna put in the show notes, John’s website and we’ll put some other links in as well, but you can get to go and see it and it’ll prompt. And it’s like, do you want…the bit when the music came on, and I could hear your voice coming through, it’s really great. So I’m not gonna describe it anymore so you can go and look for yourself. Again, I love the playfulness. I loved on your site as well, seeing the game that you designed that was like across the road that was linked to cars.

John Derevlany (37:35.11)

Oh yes. I was a street artist for a little bit. Yeah, it was 2009, 2010. In other words, no work. So I’m like, all right, well, what do I do now? I got a grant to do a sidewalk game. And you basically, you move across these squares, they’re coloured squares, according to what colour car passes. And it was featured in something called Indiecade, which is a festival of games. But they also got the city to pay for it. So I’m technically a street artist and a game designer, but you know, then I started getting work again and I left that behind. So just keep trying new things.

Danielle (38:16.039)

Well, exactly. You’re a living, breathing example of that. I love it. So one last question before we wrap up is just what are you currently enjoying watching or reading or listening in the comedy or entertainment field? Oh, it doesn’t have to be current. It can be the last few years.

John Derevlany (38:32.414)

It’s funny because I usually think about the things I don’t like. Oh, no, I was just complaining today that I thought Oppenheimer was okay. Watching the new Curb Your Enthusiasm, of course, is really funny. The Larry David show. Really just, I basically get a streaming service for a month and then cancel it. So whatever, so we happen to have HBO Max this month.

Oh, one of my shows actually, Squish, is now available in the UK on a POP channel. Is there a channel called POP or something, an internet channel? So Squish is basically an amoeba in middle school, and he’s got a friend who’s a paramecium, and it’s all these microscopic organisms in middle school, kind of like a Charlie Brown sort of character, but everyone’s a single-celled organism.

All right, I’ll be quick about this. It came out in February 2020 on a French channel, and what happened in February, we had a character called Vinny the virus, who, so Vinny the virus is this little ball with spikes, which looked exactly like a coronavirus. So it came out on February 2020, and it was immediately pulled off like on March 2020.

No one would touch it because, you know, and there are characters that are bacteria and germs. It has nothing to do with coronavirus. It was written years before. But there’s an example of a really good show that got, you know, destroyed by circumstances, but is now coming back. It’s on POP Channel. I think it might be on Gulli in France and a couple of other European networks. They’ve got them over their fear of my coronavirus-shaped bully. So watch that if you can. That would be fun.

Danielle (40:26.132)

Yeah, that’s a great example of things failing or dying, and death beyond your control, but resurrection from the virus death. So that’s good. Oh, John, my goodness, so many things I could ask about. What a joy getting to hear about some of your wonderful creative projects today. And thank you for introducing us to Super Narrative. Where should people go to find out more about you and your work? And I’ll put these links in the show notes.

John Derevlany (40:56.406)

Just go to my web page. If you can actually spell my name, it’s johnderevlany.com and I do sometimes respond to people. So if you have questions, you can ask me, but don’t ask me about the Angry Beavers. Too many people ask me about Angry Beavers, a show I worked on 30 years ago, and I probably won’t answer questions about Angry Beavers, but any other question.

Danielle (41:21.267)

Yeah, I’m not sure now whether listeners are going to take the, like throw down the gauntlet, even get even more….

John Derevlany (41:26.958)

They’re all gonna ask me about Angry Beavers. It was a popular show in the late 90s, early 2000s on Nickelodeon, but I just get too many, I get too many weird questions. The fans of that show are different than all the other fans of my shows. Yeah, they’re a little obsessive and you know, and I get some of them do catfishing things where they’re like….they’ll send an email under one name and then they’ll send an email under another name saying, hey, why didn’t you respond to my friend over here? Yeah, it’s strange things. Any other question in the world, I will answer about anything.

Danielle (42:02.951)

Okay, that’s fair. That’s fair. Awesome, I’ll put those in the show notes. So fun chatting with you today, John. Thank you.

John Derevlany (42:09.642)

You too. Thank you so much. Bye.