“Loud” Out Loud: An Interview with Animator Chris Savino
HA: Can you describe the premise of The Loud House and what went into fleshing out your initial concept of the show? What was your first germ of an idea, and where did it go from there?
CS: The Loud House is about an 11-year-old boy named Lincoln Loud, who has 10 sisters. Originally the idea was about a boy rabbit with 25 sisters and was more of a cartoony chaotic idea, but when it was suggested to make the characters human, the number of siblings was cut down to a biologically believable 10. Ten also worked so that Lincoln could be the middle child–five older sisters and five younger. Once the characters were human and the show developed into a more grounded, relatable idea, I started pulling from my own life experience growing up in a house with 10 kids. Early on, I thought the show would be Lincoln teaching us–the audience–how to survive in a big family, but I soon realized that not everyone has siblings, let alone multiple, so the decision was made to have Lincoln invite us in to his world and show us what it’s like to live in a house with 10 sisters. Lincoln breaks the fourth wall by talking to the audience, which I feel helps in bringing the viewer right into the chaos with him. From the beginning I made a list of character traits that each of the sisters could be choosing them by age as well as the best that would be in direct contrast to Lincoln. The show wasn’t going to be a boy versus girls, but rather many different personalities crammed into a small house having to deal with one another. As the series progressed, we were able to write stories that were from the other sibling’s point of view, allowing us to explore each of the sister’s personalities more deeply and also give them more facets than just their surface personalities from the original short.
HA: How did The Loud House come to exist in the first place?
CS: I joined Nickelodeon on an overall deal in the fall of 2012. Part of my deal was that I would create a short for Nick’s Animated Shorts Program, which would be going into its second season. I had to pitch three ideas, and the rabbit version of The Loud House was one of them–maybe someday the other two will see the light of day. The development team was keen to have a large family idea, so it seemed appropriate that they chose it. Next, I had to pitch what the short story was going to be. Early on it was about the boy rabbit trying to get out of his house without having to deal with his many sisters, who would undoubtedly want to interfere with the outfit that he had chosen for the day–an experience I often had growing up. But, through the development of the story, I realized that it wouldn’t be relatable for kids who didn’t have siblings so I chose to make the boy rabbit’s desire universal: having to go to the bathroom. It was at this time that the suggestion was made to make them human. And the final short came from that.
HA: Describe the writing process for an episode. How are script ideas developed? Is there a conventional writer’s room?
CS: The process for writing on The Loud House is a slight departure from previous shows I’ve worked on. I knew The Loud House had to be scripted so that we could keep track of and give equal screen time for all of the siblings. Originally I thought that because there were so many characters that it might be good to make The Loud House a 22-minute episode show rather than 11. During that time I did some research on 22-minute sitcom structure and played around with that mid-episode commercial break scene were a character got what he or she wanted and then for the second half had to deal with the consequences of getting it.
For The Loud House, this was perfect because when you live with so many people, there are always consequences to one’s actions or desires. Even though I ultimately decided to go with the 11-minute format, I was still intrigued by that commercial break “midpoint,” so all of our scripts have that midpoint. It’s always at the bottom of page eight of our 16-page scripts, and it kind of keeps the script in check. For example, if the midpoint is on the bottom of page nine and the script is 17 pages long, we know we need to cut page from the first half.
A typical story starts in our writer’s room. The room, which consists of our head writer/story editor Mike Rubiner and five staff writers, is run much more like a sitcom and less like a typical cartoon. Whichever writer is up next on the schedule will pitch out story ideas. We ask typical questions like “what does Lincoln want” and “what’s at stake,” etc. We really try to figure out what the emotional aspect of the story is going to be rather than why is it funny. The funny will always come, but emotional through-lines need to be hammered out first. We discovered early on that it’s not so much the answers we are looking for, but asking the right questions, and we ask a lot of questions. My constant question is: “Is it believable?” Once we have a rough idea of the premise, and it is approved by the executives in charge [EIC], we as a room break the story into an outline, which is about four pages long. Here, we try to answer more questions and nail down the entire story beats before the writer goes off on his or her own to write the actual outline.
Typically, we’ll do an internal read-through of the outline and make any tweaks before it goes back to the EICs for approval. Once approved, the writer writes a first draft of the script–usually 16 or 17 pages–and once that’ done; the entire room will go through and together do a rewrite before it’s sent off to the EICs once again. Finally, we’ll get notes and address them in a second draft, which is also done by the room. Along with addressing notes, we’ll punch up jokes and dialogue before a final polish draft is done after script approval from the EICs. I think having the whole room involved in every rewrite and punch pass keeps a consistency across all scripts. Once the script is final, it can be handed off to the storyboard artist who, through the process of boarding, has the freedom to add jokes or visuals. A final recording draft of this script, inclusive of additions, is made from this. We start this entire process once a week.
HA: Music and songs play an important part in so many contemporary cartoons, like Phineas and Ferb. I know you’re a fan of cartoon theme songs. What role will songs play in The Loud House?
CS: Music to me, especially the main theme, plays such an important role in cartoons. It helps carry us along as well as augment emotions or action in any given segment. Because The Loud House plays more like a sitcom, there are times where there is no music except for transitions, but when there are action sequences, or emotional scenes, it really helps bring them to life. We really lucked out on our main title music. I hear from many people that it is such an ear worm and that it gets stuck in their heads all day! Success!