A Story Editor for Disney’s New TV Series Shares How She Broke into Animation
Working for Disney sounds like a dream come true. For some, like Kathryn Beaumont, who was the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Wendy in Peter Pan, Disney is part of her career legacy, while screenwriter Victoria Strouse never expected to pen Finding Dory for the animation studio but loved every minute. Story editor Rachel Vine details her own journey from film student to Disney TV writer as part of our Women in TV series — a collection of interviews with women producers, writers, and crew members who prove that being in the entertainment industry isn’t just for boys. Keep reading to learn how the working mom of two girls broke into animation (and got to reboot Rainbow Brite, her fave cartoon growing up).
Meet the Animation Writer Pro: Rachel Vine
Brit + Co: For people who don’t work in the entertainment industry, could you explain your title and responsibilities?
Rachel Vine: I am the story editor for The Owl House, a new series premiering [in 2019] on Disney Channel. In animation, the story editor is the head writer and runs the writers’ room, working closely with the executive producer to ensure all that’s written is consistent with the characters and the world established. I’m also the show encyclopedia. I’m tracking everything all the time. I’m a resource for my staff writers as they write their individual drafts. I deliver finalized scripts to the studio. I stand by for line changes at voice records [where the actors voice each character]. I attend board reviews and edits to make sure the visuals correspond with the story.
B+C: What does your typical workday look like?
RV: It varies day to day. If the writers and I are having a Room Day, we will meet in our room and spitball ideas, talk out sticking points/problems, break episodes, etc. Some days I’m reading scripts and giving notes; some days I’m writing. We usually do lunch together as a group, which is nice. Weekly, the show’s creator and executive producer Dana Terrace and I meet to check in on the overall story arc and how the content of what’s coming in from the writers flows with our overall story. If a character is changing or evolving in a way we didn’t expect but like, we’ll see what needs to be tweaked to nurture that growth. We are still early in the production phase, but soon I’ll be attending records and edits. I try to be as productive as I can be at the office, because when I get home I want to be present for my daughters, who are four and nearly two.
B+C: What is one of your favorite things about working on The Owl House?
RV: I am such a world-building nerd. I could sit and shape a place and the characters within it all day. I love exploring the psychological and getting messy with the emotional. I love identifying what makes a character tick and why. Humans are messy, and I think it’s crucial that creative work reflect that. The greatest heroes have flaws, and I love to get in there and sort it all out. Basically, build the world as if the show is one long therapy session with some action and laughs built in, haha.
B+C: How did you land your first TV gig?
RV: I never considered writing for animation. After film school, I wrote live-action features, pitched my own projects, and working as a hired gun on projects that needed rewriting. I write a lot of female-driven comedy, and in the feature world that was my specialty. Right before the birth of my first child, I decided I was going to focus on writing for live-action TV and write spec scripts during my “maternity leave.” (I pause here for a moment to point out how adorable I was in thinking that I would be able to do anything, much less write, during my first few weeks of having a newborn.)
A few days after coming home from the hospital, my husband and I got a call from someone we knew that Hallmark was looking to do a reboot of Rainbow Brite, which was my favorite show as a kid, and they wanted writers to pitch their takes. My husband was under contract at a studio, so he wasn’t available. I, on the other hand, had an abundance of free time (haha, so adorable) and my original Rainbow Brite dolls, as well as my Color Cottage, in my closet. I pitched my take on the reboot two weeks after my C-section and got it. I wrote three 11-minute episodes, and they aired on the streaming platform Feeln when my baby was about nine months old. It was a fast turnaround. I was thrilled: For years I had been killing myself to get something, anything, made. Seeing my work come to life was intoxicating, and when doors opened up in animation, I ran toward them. I started freelancing, and in the last four years, I’ve written for over a dozen shows. Being the story editor on The Owl House is my first full-time position, and it feels great to settle into a world and help to build it from the ground up.
B+C: What is something that people don’t know about your work that you wish that they did?
RV: How much work goes into one episode of anything animated. Hundreds of hours are spent writing, designing, boarding, tweaking, animating, and revising. The vast number of people who work on just one episode is mind-boggling. I think it’s so easy to relegate animation, particularly animation produced for kids, to gags and jokes and toy marketing, but it truly is art.
B+C: What do you love about working in TV?
RV: I love that there is so much room for the characters to grow, evolve, and change. A movie is tight, neat, and concise. Its exploration of character and the way that is presented is almost surgical in nature because it has to be. When a movie is over, it is over. TV feels more human because the shifts can be subtle and tracked over time.
B+C: How do you see women’s role in producing television evolving and changing?
RV: I could write pages and pages on this, because naturally, it’s the aspect of my industry I’m most passionate about: women as storytellers, women at the helm. I consider myself lucky to be writing at a time when there are so many platforms seeking content, and that so many of those platforms are looking for stories beyond the cis white hetero male point of view. But to truly revolutionize television, we need to create work environments that support parents, and mothers in particular. All industries, especially entertainment, especially animation, could benefit from more mothers at the helm. That’s changing, and I’m thrilled about it, but why did it take so long to get there? Mothers are awesome. I can do more in a half-hour than most out of sheer necessity, a skill acquired once I had a babe on my hip. I can delegate with ease. I can direct a conversation. I can navigate egos and emotions in a kind but firm way because I had two kids 26 months apart. I love that we are seeing more women than ever before creating and steering content, but I especially love seeing mothers thrive in environments that support them and their families.
Wanna work in the entertainment industry? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature an interview with a boss who has your dream gig!
(The Owl House photos via Disney Television Animation; Rachel Vine photos via Michael Scully and Rachel Vine)