Dean Stefan: Master of the Masters of the
After going through all the pleasantries Dean actually
started interviewing me, which was very cool, but now he can
seize control of the site any time he wants. All apologies
to the editors, but if you suddenly find this site dedicated
to all things Eternian, I, um, had nothing to do with it.
When I finally remembered I was interviewing him I started
with first question, blatantly stolen from Derek's best interview
Samman: So what have you been working on the last couple
Stefan: I guess the most recent thing I did was Jackie
Chan Adventures. I was the Story Editor and Producer on that
last year, which was for Sony. Before that, I was the head
writer on CatDog at Nickelodeon.
a little unusual from animation writers because I can move
so easily from Comedy to Action Adventure. A lot of writers
tend to get pigeonholed, so I story-edited Dragon Tales, which
was a very young show, and Rainbow Fish, which was on HBO.
Dragon Tales was on PBS.
Fish I was able to actually co-write the theme song and we
actually wrote about 4 or 5 songs for the show and ended up
doing a CD for Sony, filling it out with another 5%, which
brings me to my original love, and what I was doing before
writing, which was music. I was a songwriter and had a band
and that kind of stuff.
You know, that was my main thing.
Any songs for He-Man coming up soon?
(laughs) I haven't approached that topic yet.
Not much you can say with a He-Man song
Right, things would have to be pretty graphic, and you know
they have a pretty good composer, I think he did Xena and
some of those shows
very impressive. Obviously, no songs
for either show
(laughs) But in CatDog I was able to
get a couple of songs into it. Music and songwriting is my
I can learn from then I would do it. It was actually through
my songwriter friend who became friends with a producer on
Divorce Court back in the, gosh, late 80s, which was a scripted
show. She liked my songwriting and thought I could do TV writing,
and I was sort of looking around for something that could
actually pay the bills, and I got into my first writing gig
on Divorce Court, and then to animation.
classes at UCLA, and met a guy who was a story editor at Hanna-Barbera,
who was also looking to get into screenwriting. After I didn't
go back to Divorce Court, I asked if I could take a shot at
animation, not expecting I would do it for about 6 months.
I guess I was good at it or I liked it so much
about 12 or 13 years later and here I am.
Do you remember your first animation?
DS: I freelanced two shows, Fantastic Max and Superted.
Ironically, they were English shows that were brought over
to the States to do an American version by this guy Mike Young,
an English guy who now runs Mike Young Studios He is handling
Talk about coincidence and that whole circle of life
Yeah, and I never met Mike back then. This was years ago,
and we finally met so it's kind of cool. He was very pleased
to see I had Fantastic Max on my resume.
Must have said, wait a minute that looks familiar
Exactly. So I did a couple of those, and a Smurfs. It was
the last season of the show -- a few Smurfs I guess
There is an international phenomenon right there.
Yeah, really, unbelievable. And I was thrilled, because
Smurfs you know, they are like an icon, I mean obviously it
was a silly show but it was iconic silly.
People may beg to differ
I think Smurfs would be huge if they brought it back, or did
a new version. Great design, and kids love it.
that I did half dozen scripts, then got a staff job at Disney
and stayed there for about five years working on all the Disney
afternoon shows: Darkwing Duck, Rescue Rangers, Goof Troop,
Bonkers, a whole bunch of them.
owned the afternoon slots, and every year they would rotate
a new 65 shows, with the 3 O'clock moving up to 3:30 and the
oldest show at 4:30 or so getting bumped out of the box. They
had a very good factory going and good rotation over the years
until you know, this was before Nickelodeon was starting,
and all those other ones.
that in '94 I left Disney and since then became a freelance
story editor/writer except about a year or so at Nickelodeon
where I did CatDog, but otherwise I work out of my home office
so I don't go anywhere.
Your home office
...is in my garage (laughs) in the L.A. area. It's
quite near Mike Young Studios, and it's actually the first
time I've lived near a studio, because not many of them are
out this way. Most studios are separated over great distances,
and I like being in the loop on some things, but the writing
is mainly done very separately from the story boarding and
design and stuff.
How did you get involved in the He-Man project?
They actually brought me in to write the pilot, which was
the end of last year. From what I understood it was just going
to be a pilot, and they were going to show it somewhere, and
if it did well, they would make it a series. But in the interim
while the pilot was getting done, and they wanted to do a
third episode. I found out it was going to be on Cartoon Network
and it was a "Go," which I didn't know going into
it. I wrote a 2 part episode that turned into a 3 parter and
it got longer and longer.
Unfortunately I haven't seen the whole pilot.
Well, it was really amazing how the artists did a good job
in filling a lot of the time, because like I said I wrote
it to be a two part 1 hour Pilot, and they wanted it to be
a 3 parter, so trying not to add too much into the story they
did a great job playing out the action.
Jackie Chan, maybe because it's the nature of the show, it
relies on his kind of action. I can tell how long it is written
in the page how long the action will be. Very flat and sticky
and choreographed. If Jackie is pulling a gag, like he pulls
out this ladder and starts spinning it around, you could time
it in your mind. But in He-Man it is a very stylized type
of action and it's been a real learning curve for me to figure
it out with the relative page count to how much things will
What I noticed was a lot of Kung Fu style action, like Anime
style fighting, etc. Who decided that method you or the art
It was a collaboration. Once the decision was made to use
that style I certainly do what I can on the page to support
that. You can never anticipate how its going to be drawn as
a writer; you just know who is going to fight who. He-Man
leaps on a boulder and gives Merman a spinning kick, hits
him in the chest and falls back
point is the same, and the artist does his thing to make it
look good. What people don't realize in animation writing
is how much you do on a page as a writer, how much you actually
spell out. It's the very things you're not supposed to do
in screenwriting, because you're basically directing on the
them things to draw on the page, and they can make it better.
If I have to give it to someone who doesn't have an idea,
then it should spell it out well enough that they have something
Are you pulling anything out of the old stories that I feel
I should know from the past? I mean how are you going about
the new Masters of the Universe?
I think we have a cast of characters, an embarrassment of
riches from the old series. We are not making up or inventing
any new heroes or villains. They are drawn from the old series;
they have been toys, so they look familiar.
said that, I guess we are re-imagining the characters in that
we don't necessarily give them the same personalities that
they had in the original series or the same origins. The old
series created this great mythology and great cast of characters.
Like any series, they went along and had to backtrack, because
the groundwork hadn't been laid for certain things.
have the luxury of looking back and having this great hero
and villain then trying to imagine it so it builds and it's
organic; we do reference a lot of things from the old series
but we don't use them in the same way.
they (Skeletor and his minions in Episode 1) broke
down the Mystic Wall using the Clorodite Crystal, which was
in the old series but not in that way. A lot of it is a link
to the old fans, and we incorporate some of these old words
or references if you pay attention to it, to serve the purpose
of the new series. Trying to recycle things that are interesting
and useful, and not be hindered by committing to old stuff
in any specific way.
If it isn't broken don't fix it
I don't think we are going to necessarily radically change
the mythology. I think really the reason the series is being
done today is largely because there were so many fans that
have kept it alive for 20 years, like Transformers
think they have done so many versions (of Transformers)
over the years
Talk about yet another big '80s comeback
Oh yeah. I guess a He-Man series tried to make a comeback
in the '90s, but the new adventures weren't very well received.
And the feature in the late '80s wasn't well received. I think
we are just going back to the origin.
How about a She-Ra comeback?
Oh yeah, Prince Adam's twin sister or He-Man's, that in the
original series was born and then kidnapped, and certain memories
of her were erased because it was too painful to remember,
and for the parents to know they had a daughter. I can't really
comment on that because nothing is being ruled out at this
All options are open?
this point, I would say there is very little chance she will
make an appearance in the first 26 episodes, but a lot of
old characters will make an appearance, or be referenced to
be bigger players later on.
Understandable keeping all this hush-hush, but is Cringer
ever going to talk?
I'd love to
hee hee, but no.
I don't foresee him talking. We want to keep him alive by
keeping him an ally to Adam, and able to communicate through
his actions instead of talking. Another thing that won't happen
is Queen Marlena, in the original series she is from Earth.
That is not going to happen.
So it's just Eternia.
Well, Eternia and everything. That means other dimensions,
and things like that. Truthfully, and this is just me, his
mother being from Earth kind of took me out of the fantasy.
Gives it too much of a reality?
In the universe we are talking about, I don't think Earth
is on the radar. Kind of like Star Wars, and someone comes
in from Earth.
setting up this fantasy, and bringing Earth to it takes you
out of that fantasy world. It's not very helpful.
to me is very mythic, not as old as maybe Star Wars, or King
Arthur, but it deals with the typical archetypes of the reluctant
hero. And these are great stories for kids that we can do
in a fantasy setting without bringing reality into it. Like
maybe doing a story on addiction, we could do it in this fantasy
world metaphorically instead of showing a kid in a third grade
class dealing with it.
So you think this is your dream job, or do you have something
else in mind?
Dream Job? I wouldn't mind playing rhythm guitar for The Rolling
have to say I worked on a lot of stuff, and this is as close
as it gets to a dream job as I can imagine. The scope of the
storytelling, and we're doing it in a big story arc, and how
we are doing this in episode 20, and let's bring it back in
Corodite Crystal is a good example. Most people would do that
and move onto the next story, but we try to do something like
"Hey, we got this corodite crystal, and let's suppose
it still exists. Why don't we use it?" So we try not
to leave anything hanging.
every story is set alone there are some things that are referenced
in previous or forthcoming episodes. Take Skeletor. He starts
out wanting the power of the elders, and he doesn't yet know
that it exists in Greyskull, one of the many things he will
learn throughout the story as we go along.
I didn't quite get that in the pilot.
It doesn't happen in the pilot. He just gets out from behind
the mystic wall after 20 years, and looks for the elders,
and finds out something is in Greyskull but doesn't know what
Doesn't he just want the other half of the sword?
Yup, he gets very focused. He-Man and Skeletor are very focused
on the two sides of good and evil, and how things change as
things get told.
a kid in a candy store, definitely a dream job. I try to do
the best I can to tell a good story. Because the canvas is
so large, you have so much to choose from to tell, and the
huge fans that may find the references to the old stuff that
would make this series fun, and hope not to let them down.
So you've seen all the old episodes?
No. I admit that, but the ones I didn't see I read the synopsis.
It's like music. You learn a couple of things and then you
try to create something from the basic idea. You don't really
want to get tied to it at the same time. There is a good amount
of freedom in doing this project, and I love it.