Who are you and what do you write?
Despite the name Chris Nee, I am not an Asian man — although I did get a staff writer job on a show because the studio was looking for an Asian male perspective. When they met me, a chick and Irish, I’d already been hired and they couldn’t exactly say anything.
I’m currently the Executive Producer, showrunner and head writer of an animated series I created for Disney Junior. The show is called Doc McStuffins. We’re in post on 26 half hour episodes (52 11-minute stories) that will premier on Disney Junior in March of 2012.
I’ve had a pretty eclectic career. I started at Sesame International and spent time in Mexico, Finland, Israel and Jordan working on local versions of Sesame Street. Somewhere I have tapes of the Arabic Bert and Ernie taking long drags on their cigarettes after every take.
For many years I juggled writing for kids TV — both animated and live action, teens to tots — and producing documentary/reality TV series. I wrote the first Wonder Pets Christmas Special from a converted WWII barracks-turned-hotel on an island halfway between Alaska and Russia while producing season one of The Deadliest Catch.
I won an Emmy for writing Little Bill on Nick Jr. while I was Supervising Producer on Roseanne Barr’s first reality show. All in all, weird and wonderful.
Where and when do you write?
I write in one of three places. While we’re in the nine months of writing the series, I have an office/loft space, which I share with two staff writers and our writing coordinator. Or I’m in Ireland sharing an office with the director of our series; the show’s being produced in Dublin. Or I’m working in my home office. It’s a separate room in the front of the house. I watch everything that happens on our street. You can’t believe how often people drive the wrong way up a one-way street.
I have no explicit rule that my five year-old can’t come into my office, but he’s pretty good about it. Sometimes it’s a huge distraction, but mostly he’s dying to see what I’m working on, and that’s pretty validating. I think I once had a rule about my partner not coming into my office, but she pretty much just ignores that, so I gave up.
I can’t do music. Or talking. Other than that, I’m very good at blocking out the outside world. With next-door neighbors in their fourth year of construction, this is a good thing.
I do a round of emails right when I wake up, since I’m in LA while my production team is in Ireland. Conference calls are also early. I try to run four times a week. Then, I write from 10 to 6-ish. I’m almost always home for dinner.
If I’m up against a tight deadline, or at the height of the writing schedule, I sit back down for a few more hours after my son is in bed.
What hardware do you use?
I have a 27-inch iMac at home. The screen is ridiculously big, but I love seeing a complete top-to-bottom page on the screen. Even more, I love having an outline or notes open on the left of the screen, and a full page of a script on the right.
I’d worked exclusively on a laptop for years, but it was catching up with me. I don’t have carpel tunnel, but I get numbness in my fingertips from the track pad. So I knew it was time to set things up right in my home office. That meant a desktop computer. An Aeron chair. And a foot stool, as I’m short. Beth Schacter short.
I use the standard Mac wireless keyboard. I’m very sensitive to the weight of keys on different keyboards, and this one feels incredibly light and easy on my fingertips. When I go to a bigger keyboard that requires more punch to get the keys down, I tend to start having finger pain.
My current laptop is a 15-inch, almost 5-year-old MacBook Pro. I take it back and forth to my writing office, the voice records, the mixes and Ireland.
I usually update computers every three years. I figure I spend most of my life on my computer so I should let myself be on one I love, but I started feeling bad about the environmental impact, and am now trying to get an extra year or two out of my laptops. About two years ago I stripped my MacBook Pro, had the memory doubled, and started clean with the machine. It’s been great for this extra time, and I feel better traveling with an older computer, but I’m itching to upgrade and am sure I will when my series gets picked up for season two.
I review all 52 episodes of my show at all of the follow stages: EMR, rough animatic, animatic, rough animation, offline animation, score pass, revised score pass, pre-mix and final. Plus I get huge amounts of artwork, voice auditions and animation tests every week. All of which is to say, my computer is overwhelmed by huge files. I stopped keeping everything on my internal hard drives. I have a 500 GB LaCie external hard drive that lives on my desk for backup. And I carry a portable 500 GB LaCie drive with me everywhere I go. My show lives on that drive, and is backed up to the other one.
I use small-sized Moleskin notebooks to keep lists in. I write the lists, but can’t read my own handwriting and rarely look at them. Still, it’s good to know they’re there.
I have a wall with 3×5 cards of all of our episodes — 52 of them — color coded for the stage of production they’re in. I live for it. I stare at it. I need it. Almost weekly I panic on record days and ask my assistant to take a picture of the wall and send it to me so I can visually see where I am.
I have a white board for breaking stories with the staff writers or freelancers. We take a picture of the board when we’re done and erase it.
I have a separate white board by my desk. It has three lists:
- Everything that’s been assigned to writers.
- Everything I need to talk to Disney about. That way when my exec calls, I can tick through the things on my agenda without fumbling or having to call back.
- My to-do list. I love this list. I often finish something, turn to the board anticipating the satisfaction of the check mark, realize I never wrote it down in the first place, run over and write it down, wait a beat, then change to the correctly colored pen and check it. Still satisfying.
I have an HP 3-in-1 jet printer, and a laser printer. As someone who is a terrible speller and was always a bad proofreader, I’ve had to teach myself to hand in pages that are professional and error-free. I live by the printed proof pass. It’s been proven that you see more on the printed page than you do on a screen. If you’re not naturally good at proofing, always print. Put your finger on the page. Mouth the words. It is a skill you can learn and improve on. And yes, it matters. People do notice.
What software do you use?
I use Final Draft. In the world of TV animation, it’s the only format I’ve encountered. To change would be a royal pain in the ass. I try to ignore talk of greener grass.
I also use Microsoft Word. I use Skype quite a bit when communicating with the Europeans. I envy John August and his technical relevance.
What would you change about how you write?
I’d always write as if it were crunch time in production. When there’s more than is humanly possible to do, I’m a machine, and I do it. Well. And without angst. When my schedule lightens up, I can’t seem to get half the work done in twice the time.
For me, having a child was the greatest productivity booster of all time. A) I want him to be proud of me. B) I can’t fuck around anymore. I just sit down and get the shit done. When I think of all the times when I was single and not a parent that I said I didn’t have time to do/work on this, that or the other… I could just shoot myself. I had all the time in the world.