Conversations Between Writers

David Anaxagoras

Humans and human analogs, Dave is a Good Human™ and he’s probably the most authentic human I’ve come to know in any form. I know that’s a really weird thing to say about someone, but you know how some people would still be basically themselves if they were in a life-like android? I just can’t see that working out for him. There’s a fundamental part of his self that’s wrapped up in the very act of being human, and that makes him a good writer and a very good person to know. David Anaxagoras is the Creator and Co-Executive Producer of the Amazon Studios kids TV series “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street“. You can learn more about him at http://davidanaxagoras.com/ and please follow him on Twitter.

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Minerva Zimmerman: How’s the weather down in California?

David Anaxaagoras: The weather has been very nice in my neighborhood. Not too hot, which is usually the case. It’s cooling off so much I might even light the pilot on the furnace.

MZ: That always freaked me out.

DA: I had to have the Gas company help with my water heater. I went a week with cold showers.

MZ: Oh man, that’s… I mean that’s practically camping in your own house

DA: Yes, that’s how I would describe most of my existence. I’ve been here 8 months and I’m still unpacking. Or not unpacking is more accurate.

MZ: I honestly have switched from not unpacking to “storing things in totes” and just claim it as storage. I’m finally getting through the totes slowly… 7 years later

DA: The thought had occurred to me… I have to get to my books, then maybe it will be time to surrender.

MZ: I am seeing Gortimer EVERYWHERE the past few days. It makes me grin

DA: I’m glad to hear it’s being seen all over. I mean, *I* see it, but I would expect to. I’ve been grinning for months.

MZ: The show really reminds me of those 1980s Wonderworks movies. I don’t know if you remember seeing them. I think it was maybe ABC that put them on Saturday afternoons?

DA: It’s ringing a bell, I’m trying to think of a specific one.

MZ: It’s how the BBC Narnia movies were shown on US TV for one. There was also one called Konrad about an instant boy (in a can) who was delivered to the wrong house

DA: Gortimer really was born from a desire to see a live-action kid adventure show. Mostly what we have now are sitcoms — so many sitcoms — and they are sort of ghettoized on kid TV channels. In my time, kid shows were family shows — they didn’t sent parents and older sibs running from the room. Everyone could enjoy them. Shows I remember were VOYAGERS and of course BATTLESTAR GALACTICA which to kid-me was just another adventure.

MZ: I love how it has a magic-realism thing going on

DA: I think it comes from my love of The Twilight Zone. In Gortimer, inner turmoil often shows up in the external world through a bit of magic.

MZ: Yeah. There are fantastical things that happen but they do reveal inner turmoil in a way that kids and adults alike can relate to

DA: I hadn’t planned on any fantasy element originally, but the pilot script took a left turn and I just followed. I’m glad I did. The other thing is, as you alluded to, in a kid’s world reality just seems a little more plastic. Try convincing a young kid they will never fit down the drain and they don’t have to worry about getting sucked down the bathtub drain — you can’t.

MZ: Hey, I’m still vaguely worried about that.

DA: Maybe you are just smart that way

MZ: Also my Dad told me that the drain worked because there was a little man under the hole with a bucket and that’s why sometimes the drain got slow

DA: Adults have no idea how terrifying their stories can be sometimes. I used to, when I was a preschool teacher, bake a gingerbread man with the kids and of course I would hide him before we went back to get him out of the oven. Invariable there is always one child scared to death at the thought of a gingerbread man running around the school. I think they’re the smart ones.

MZ: Man a horror story about a Gingerbread Man would be pretty scary. I mean, it could fit anywhere and all you would find was a little bit of crumbs where it had been, maybe a red hot

DA: I think kids live in that world, where it can be scary sometimes and we don’t understand it, forget what it’s like. It’s why I think it’s important to go ahead and acknowledge those emotions in kid stories, go ahead and have a story that scares them a little.

MZ: Being a kid IS scary!

DA: It helps to have friends.

MZ: Yes. And being alone and not knowing what is going on is the worst. That happens a lot as a kid, it feels a bit like being an alien.

DA: Or like you are Jack living in a land of giants. Nothing is your size. Nothing seems made for you. It’s someone else’s world. The scariest thing of all is that you are destined to turn into one of these creatures.

MZ: Yeah, that IS scary. I’m still scared of that too.

DA: Having a show like Gortimer is like having a second childhood. It’s given me so much to appreciate and treasure. It’s a ton of fun.

MZ: I think it is awesome that someone who has spent so much time with so many kids is writing a show like this too. I mean, I remember stories of things you were helping kids with and teaching them when you were still teaching. You know that they’re real people.

DA: When I first started I didn’t have any training, so I had to let the kids lead me into their world, so to speak. I had to meet them wherever they were. I think getting an education in early ed is a really good thing, but I’m glad I started out just being curious and open to their experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever made peace with growing up myself, anyway.

MZ: I am not sure I trust people who are happy about being an adult other than when it means you can have cake for breakfast whenever you want.

DA: Oh, shallots, I could have had cake this morning!

MZ: It’s true!

DA: Being an adult isn’t quite the fun I expected. There’s the freedoms, but you just don’t understand or expect all the stress involved.

MZ: Yeah, I think that’s why people who are comfortable with the level of responsibility that comes with adulthood worry me, like they can’t possibly be actually thinking about it.

Have you adopted Ranger’s food “swears” in your everyday life?

DA: I try to use food swears online because i have kids following me now. And I had to stop swearing all the time because I was on set. I don’t think kids are so fragile, but I think it’s disrespectful and also, it’s important to me that the set be a really positive happy place for the kids who spend so much time and work so hard there.

MZ: I think my favorite food swear is “SOUP!!!”

DA: I tried to use “Kale!” but it just sounded like a non-word when uttered with curse-energy. Like a sneeze.

MZ: and you might get mobbed in a Trader Joes yelling it.

DA: Might be a good diversionary tactic, though.

MZ: Sassafras would work well as a swear, there are just certain sounds that work. Kale sounds like you’re being stabbed with a spork

DA: I feel like that one must have been used. there was something about “pork and beans” that felt good. Explosive words or sounds…

MZ: fricatives

DA: That’s the word.

MZ: Hey, apparently I still remember something from Linguistics

DA: Hardest class I ever had.

MZ: omg yes I almost failed

DA: So much jargon. Really tough.

MZ: It’s more like math in how you think about it but you’re using all these language words and it’s just brain-breaking. It’s like that thing where you say what color the text of a color word is instead of what the word says.

DA: Ironic for a Linguistics class. Or perhaps appropriate. Our Prof promised a multiple choice final and then sprung an essay test on us. Multiple students fled the class in tears before the test was over.

MZ: …yeah I would have. Well, I couldn’t have. But I would have wanted to. Getting a 2.0 or higher was required for my major

DA: For undergrad?

MZ: Yeah, Anthropology

DA: Huh. Of all things.

MZ: It’s one of the 4 fields of Anthropology. You couldn’t show you had a grasp of the topic otherwise.

DA: Linguistics?

MZ: Yup. Studying humanity through how they communicate

DA: What are the other 3? Something biological, something science, something literary?

MZ: cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology and biological.

Biological anthropology was human bone lab. I am a horrible person to try and watch Bones with.

DA: When I was an undergrad I remember feeling like I wanted to have 20 lives so I could study EVERYTHING. Four years later that feeling was GONE.

MZ: Yeah, I wanted to do a double major and I got pretty close… but my husband moved to Oregon while I was one semester off of finishing my degree and I lost all wish to diversify my studies. Just wanted to get it done. Life, never works the way you think it will. That’s not a bad thing though.

DA: Tell me about it. It’s very unlikely I should be sitting here chatting with you right now.

MZ: Have you always been a screenwriter?

DA: I wrote my first screenplay in the third grade. It was a spy spoof. So, yes. There were times when I was focused on short fiction, but eventually came back to scripts.

MZ: I had a TA position for the drama teacher in HS, and there wasn’t really anything for me to do. So I started reading all the script files for every play the school had ever bought. There’s a certain rhythm to a good script. You can learn to see it on a page even. Once you’ve read a lot of examples you can see it in the text breaks

DA: It’s interesting the way writers often educate themselves. They haunt libraries or find themselves in a position where they have access to material. There’s a kind of almost unconscious attraction.

MZ: The words call.

DA: I loved books just as physical objects before I was really even a reader. Even the smell of them.

MZ: Apparently it is vanillin released as the cellulose breaks down, there is a scientific reason for book smell

DA: Well now you’ve taken all the magic out of it 😊

MZ: I dunno, I work with old stuff. I think that just lets you know how to cast the spell.

DA: Are you putting your degree to good use?

MZ: sort of accidentally?

DA: Good enough.

MZ: I didn’t mean to work at a museum, but I kind of fell into it and had more experience than I thought. Plus, all writing is part anthropology. Mostly I started on an Anthropology degree because I saw what the English degree homework was like, and I really REALLY hate diagraming sentences.

DA: There’s something nice about those happy accidents. I don’t believe in any sort of supernaturally guided destiny, but it was a revelation when I sold my pilot that when things work — they really work. All the pushing and strategizing and planning and sweating, and in the end, when it was time it just took off like magic.

MZ: I am really really happy for you. I think it is a wonderful show for real kids with just enough weirdness and magic.

DA: Thank you. I’m excited by all the great reviews, because they are positive yes, but also because people seem to really understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it. And it makes me really happy to see parents and kids tweeting about it and excited about discovering a new show they enjoy.

 

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