SPEAKING WITH… BUZZ DIXON

Deadlines and laziness both crept in this week so instead of the regularly scheduled column, I’m putting in my already completed interview with writer, editor, friend, Buzz Dixon. I first met Buzz up at the old Sunbow production facilities. Sunbow was the force behind the original animated G.I.Joe, Transformers, Jem, etc. Buzz was a writer and story-editor for them. In his own words: Following an extensive career in films (writing such movies as G.I. Joe: The Motion Picture and Dark Planet among others), television (over a hundred and thirty credits ranging from L.A. Heat, Batman, Superman, and Transformers to Tiny Toons and the four animated Precious Moments holiday specials), interactive games (including co-writing The Terminator game), and the internet (Vice President of Creative Affairs for Stan Lee Media), Buzz Dixon is currently devoting all his energies to Realbuzz Comics. Other notable accomplishments include writing, editing, producing, directing, and development chores for such companies as Disney, Marvel, TSR, Hanna-Barbera, Sunbow, Amblin’, Warner Bros., Hasbro, National Lampoon, all three major TV networks, and other companies both in the U.S. and overseas. He is married, has two daughters, and currently lives in Los Angeles.Take it away, Buzz:

MARV WOLFMAN: HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS?

BUZZ DIXON: I was a sci-fi fanzine letter hack when I was a teenager (i.e., back in the old, old days when mimeograph machines ruled the roost, not the Internet), eventually writing a few articles and reviews for GORE CREATURES, LOCUS, etc. Drafted in 1972, I became a newspaper editor for the U.S. Army. Spent the next six years doing mostly news writing for Uncle Sugar, though I did write some spec screenplays and short stories which I was never able to sell. Got accepted into USC’s film school in 1978, looked for a summer job as an intern or a driver at a studio, walked through the front door of Filmation Studios five minutes after Lou Scheimer told Arthur Nadel, "We gotta find another writer --- fast!" Sold my first TV script to Filmation and never looked back.
MW: WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL WORKS, AND WHY?

BD: Financially the most successful was "Hell On Wheels," a short story I sold to AUTOBUFF magazine, which was either a skin mag that thought it was a car mag or a car mag that thought it was a skin mag; I made more on that short story sale than on all my other short stories combined.
In terms of time spent writing them to actual sales, I find comic book scripts pay better than animation scripts. Once got paid $1,000 for 45 minutes work at Ruby-Spears. Aesthetically the most successful was "The Traitor" two-parter for G.I. JOE.

MW: KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW, WHICH OF YOUR MORE FAMOUS WORKS WOULD YOU REDO IF YOU COULD. WHY AND HOW?

BD: In retrospect, I would have definitely worked Stephen King’s Pennywise into my script for THE LITTLE CLOWNS OF HAPPY TOWN if I’d fully grasped just how abominable the show would have been.

MW: DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE WHEN YOU CREATE A STORY?

BD: Mostly I try to tell a story that I find interesting. I have a variety of different approaches. Once I used to plot everything out quite meticulously, but now I’m more organic, jotting down scenes that seem to fit together until I find some cohesive whole to link them.MW: HOW DO YOU RECOGNIZE WHEN A STORY ISN’T WORKING AND WHAT DO YOU DO TO FIX THE PROBLEMS?

BD: If you have to ask you’ll never know. Usually to fix a problem I try to imagine what it would be like if I did exactly the opposite of what I was intending.

MW: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FIRST DRAFT AND FUTURE DRAFTS?

BD: I think of a first draft as being 90-95% "there" or else it’s really a rough draft. I know first drafts rarely survive intact, but their basic story, structure, and characters had better be pretty well thought out.

MW: HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CREATING A CHARACTER?

BD: Samuel R. Delaney relayed this easy formula for creating a character:
Name + gender + age + occupation + physical modifier + emotional modifier = character
Libby is an elderly lesbian librarian with a warm smile and a gentle heart.
Ted is a 30-year old farmer who looks like a scarecrow and broods over his fate. Toni is an impatient teenager who fits awkwardly in her dresses.

MW: WHAT MAKES A STORY?

BD: On the project I’m currently working on, I frequently find myself writing down little scenes and character bits that gradually find their way into a cohesive whole. Of course, since it’s semi-soap operatic in plot, sooner or later I’ll find a place for all my ideas.
Sometimes I start with a conflict and some characters and a vague idea of where I want to end up, but sooner or later the story finds its own heart and then it really starts to write itself.

MW: HOW DO YOU PITCH AN IDEA TO AN EDITOR/STORY-EDITOR/PRODUCER?

BD: I’ve found, "See this gun?" to be an effective attention grabber.

MW: HOW DO NEW WRITERS GET THE ATTENTION OF STORY EDITORS, PRODUCERS, ETC?

BD: Hang out with other writers, producers, and story editors. The quality of your work will make your career, but to get it started you need to go to where the decision makers congregate. This means sci-fi and comic book conventions, support groups, the WGA, whatever to get tapped into the loop and know who is looking for what.MW: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS AND WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO WHEN WRITING IN OTHER PEOPLE’S UNIVERSES?

#1 – Get paid.
#2 – Try to do something totally unexpected with the material yet still in character.

MW: WHEN YOU ARE IN CHARGE AND OTHER WRITERS EVER WRITE YOUR CHARACTERS (NOVELIZATIONS, TV SHOWS, COMICS, ETC.) WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR AS THE EDITOR AS WELL AS THE CREATOR?

BD: Two brain cells rubbing together. I can teach any educable person the basics of writing a story, but I can’t work with people so out of step they aren’t even in the parade.

MW: HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR RELATIONSHIP UP FRONT WITH YOUR EDITOR/STORY-EDITOR/PRODUCER/THE WRITERS WHO WORK UNDER YOU?

BD: I think the best working relationships are the ones where each side communicates with and respects the other.

MW: WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL ADVICE TO WRITERS AND WOULD-BE WRITERS?

BD: Write, write, write, write, write, write, write. Then write some more.

I’d like to thank Buzz for taking the time to answer my ever-annoying questions.
Don’t forget to go onto the “What The Hey!” message boards and mostly, don’t forget to send me questions to answer. Send them to marv@silverbulletcomicbooks.com.

See you in seven
-Marv

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