The woman behind Netflix's newest show tells us how the #MeToo movement has changed the animation industry

2019-04-28 06:52
Lisa Hanawalt

Channel24 spoke to Lisa Hanawalt, the showrunner of Netflix's new adult animated show, Tuca and Bertie, and discovered what it's like to cast a robust set of lead actresses, how the Me-Too movement is changing animation and what it's like to call the shots on a big production. 

Lisa Hanawalt

Cape Town - Lisa's laidback voice came out my phone's speaker with a little crackle as she explained: "I just got back from Hong Kong a couple of days ago. I was talking with my partner about where we would like to visit next, and we were thinking it would be interesting to go to Africa and South Africa seems like a great entry point into the continent." 

She quickly added: "I'm not the most adventurous traveller, but I really, really enjoy travelling and seeing different parts of the world. So, I would love to make it over there."

Whatever the 35-year-old lacks in her sense of adventure she certainly makes up for with her long list of career achievements. Lisa has two Ignatz Awards – which recognise outstanding performances in comics and cartoons – as well as a prestigious James Beard Journalism Award for Humour among many others, including those for BoJack Horseman, on which she worked as a production designer and producer. 

Lisa Hanawalt

That show – which is also an adult-centric animated show on Netflix – and its creator were vital in setting the groundwork for Tuca and Bertie.

As Lisa explained: "When I was talking to Raphael - who is the creator of Bojack Horseman - about different show ideas that he wanted to develop into a show with me, those characters (Tuca and Bertie) felt the most natural fit to me."

The Palo Alto-born creative elaborated: "Tuca just seemed so absorbing from the start. She has such an opinionated point of view. She's just fun to write. And then Bertie just seemed like the natural counterpoint to Tuca. Both the characters are different aspects of my personality and based loosely on various people that I've known.

Setting out on your own project is easier when you've been around a great example, which is how Lisa describes working with Raphael Bob-Waksberg: "I don't think I could have done such a good job on Tuca if I hadn't had the experience of working on Bojack for five years. It really taught me like how to work with other people and how to communicate my ideas effectively. And just watching how Raphael runs the show really helped because he's such a good leader and he really has strong opinions, but whenever anyone has any pitches, he listens. Whether they're just an assistant or whether they're a co-writer, you know, he's very egalitarian in his leadership."

That prototype has been applied behind-the-scenes on Tuca and Bertie.

Lisa explained how their creative process on the new show, in its first season, works, saying: "The whole process was a very collaborative experience. We would write the scripts, and I would take ideas from the writers, and it kind of changed how I wanted some of the episodes, for the better. And then when the directors got the scripts, they really broke them apart and added stuff and took away stuff and added jokes in that I hadn't even written. And it was wonderful; it made the show better."

About calling the shots on a big production, she humbly added: "I'm not always the most important person in the room. I'm just the person giving the most opinion. So I'm like the leader of a three-ring circus, right? I'm just the one sort of directing traffic, kind of running from meeting to meeting and making sure that generally, things go well. I'm like the captain of a ship in some ways, I think we still romanticise (the position of showrunner) a lot. And I feel like that's sort of taking weight away from all the other people who work on these shows."

About casting the show with two strong leads - comedians Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish - the illustrator said: "We cast Tiffany first; we just sent her a script. I was a big fan of hers, and she responded right away and then for Bertie, we auditioned a bunch of people, trying to find someone who would really fit the description of the character, but also sound like she was actually friends with Tuca. And then Ali came in, and I love Ali's comedy so much, and I really wanted to work with her. I was worried, initially, that she would be too cool (to play the anxious character) because she's like so fearless in her comedy, but she's an outstanding actor. So, when she got in that booth, she immediately was able to find like this anxious little songbird, and it was just like the perfect fit. We got really lucky with casting."

Tuca and Bertie deals with topical issues like sexual harassment, equal pay and sexism head-on but as Lisa explained this frank discussion doesn't mean that the entertainment industry at large or the animation industry don't need more reform in these regards: "The Me Too movement has changed about the industry in that now more women feel safe speaking out publicly about this stuff. I will say though that for every story that comes out publicly, there's like 10 stories that don't. We all know people in the industry who have not been outed yet as abusers, and they just continue to keep working. It's tough. I mean, there are very few benefits to actually coming out publicly against someone. A lot of people will harass you and say that you're a liar, you know, so it's, it's still really, really difficult."

"But I'm glad that things are changing, not only in the animation industry but everywhere. I want it to spread through different intersections of society so that people of all backgrounds feel empowered to come out."

When asked what she wants viewers to take away from the show, Lisa said: "My main goal, of course, is to entertain, but other than that. I want it to be a little cathartic and comforting to people.  As well as people getting to see their own experience reflected. That being said, it's not going to be for everyone. Not everyone has had these experiences, even for every woman, you know. There were just some things I wanted to show on the small screen that I hadn't really seen in adult animation before."

Lisa Hanawalt

(Photos: Getty)

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