Annette and Gina Cascone, sisters from NJ, have had their 1990's children book series Deadtime Stories revived on Nickelodeon. Visit the websites http://www.deadtimestories.com and http://www.agcascone.com for more information. Twitter: @DeadtimeStoriesTV and @AnnetteCascone. Pic: Annette Cascone on set with a big scary spider!
Annette and Gina Cascone have gone from successful book writers to adept screen writers in what seems like a hot moment. But in fact, it was years in the making.
The Cascone sister's book series, Deadtime Stories, was pitched to producers David and Scott Hillenbrand, who immediately took a liking to the idea.
Read the interview below to see how history made itself! Be sure to check out the Interviews with David and Scott Hillenbrand, Part I and Part II, for more inside details of Nickelodeon's Deadtime Stories.
Why do you each have different agents?
Gina's agent also happens to be her husband, so in an effort to avoid any personal complications, we thought it would be best to have an "outside" voice weighing in. It's also nice to have two different perspectives.
How did you portray your vision to David & Scott Hillenbrand and the Casting Director?
Since the first season of Deadtime Stories is based on the book series; and David and Scott read the books before reaching out to us, it was clear from the get go that we were all in sync with what we envisioned for Deadtime Stories. We had the opportunity to talk about the story lines and the characters and what was feasible and not feasible with regard to filming before we even started writing the first couple of scripts, which also made the process easier. Once the scripts were written, any differences of opinion usually came down to knit picky stuff which was easily resolved -- usually by majority vote or begging and pleading.
With regard to casting, the process was pretty much the same. The final decision, however, always went to the director of the episode (either David or Scott.)
Once you finish writing the script, what are the next steps? Are there changes as you're filming the episode?
Once the script is written, and everyone in house is happy with it, it goes to the executives in charge of the show at Nickelodeon. They read next and call with any notes/suggestions they might have. Once the executives are happy with the script, they pass it along to Standards and Practices which read through again to make sure that we're not doing or saying anything that they consider to be inappropriate. To be honest, getting past S&P is the scary part. We tend to hold our breaths. The whole process usually takes about two weeks.
And yes, we would occasionally make changes during filming to accommodate the location; or the weather; or a struggling actor; or sometimes just because something better occurred to us on the spot.
You originally wrote the books in the 90s. Tell us the timeline of how the 90s books became a film and then turned into a Nickelodeon series. Who reviews your contracts?
In 2010, David and Scott Hillenbrand were talking to Roger Williams, Gina's husband and agent, about another project they were working on and mentioned that they were looking for material to film that would appeal to kids. Roger forwarded them the original Deadtime Stories series, and they were immediately interested. It was probably only a few weeks after receiving the books that David and Scott reached out to us contractually.
With regard to contract review, everyone takes a stab at it -- us, the agents, and then the lawyers if need be. It's our least favorite part of the process, and usually the most time consuming. Everyone moved pretty quickly with this, however, because we were all on the same page, so it only took a few weeks to negotiate the first contract and start writing the first screenplay, which was "Grave Secrets".
What's it like altering a book into script format? How'd you learn to write a script? How do you figure out what to cut out and keep in?
Adapting the books into screenplays is usually easier than starting from scratch. The plots are already mapped out and the characters are well defined. The tricky part in adapting the books into script format was trying to tell the entire story in 35 pages or less to bring each episode in at 22 minutes. There were also some story lines that would have required feature film budgets to pull off, so occasionally we would have to alter the plot lines as well. For instance, in the book version of Revenge of the Goblins, a large part of the action takes place in Goblinicus -the underground goblin world. In the TV episode, there was no way for us to create Goblinicus without a Spielberg-like budget, so we decided to keep the story above ground.
Writing for TV -- or rather, trying to write for TV -- is actually how we started writing together, so we are thrilled to end up here. While most of our careers have been devoted to writing books, especially for children and young adults, we have written in other mediums along the way, including film.
In all honesty, we taught ourselves formatting. We spent countless hours peering over how-to books on writing manuscripts; outlines; treatments; and screenplays.
How hands on are you with the production?
Annette has been in LA working with David and Scott throughout most of the process and was on set every day of filming. Since the inception of this project, we've all worked well together; and value one another's opinions/input. This has really been a team effort in every sense of the word.
How have your lives changed since the revival of Deadtime Stories? Do people recognize you on the streets? Do you do appearances at book stores or schools? Have you purchased anything as a special gift to yourself on your recent success?
Ok. Now that we've stopped laughing, we can answer this. No. No one recognizes us on the streets; and our lives are pretty much the same. For Annette, commuting back and forth to LA has been the biggest change in lifestyle.
Yes. We do do book store, school, and library appearances. Engaging kids is the most rewarding part of the job; and what we love best! From the inception of this project, the four of us realized that we had the unique opportunity to combine the literary aspect of the project with the visual aspect of the project in an effort to encourage kids to pick up a book and read. By opening each episode of the TV show with Jennifer Stone as "the babysitter" reading to her charges, we are suggesting to kids that reading is a cool thing to do; that if you open a book -- any book -- you get to go on an adventure. When we do appearances, we try to bring kids the same message; and like the show, we combine the written word with the visual to encourage kids to use their own imaginations.
And no, we haven't purchased anything special yet. We're hoping to save up for a chef and a masseuse.
What other things do you enjoy besides writing?
Reading other people's work; spending time with friends and family; eating; sleeping; and laughing. As far as hobbies go, there's not a lot of time lately, but Gina loves gardening and crossword puzzles; and Annette loves working with dogs.
Do you have any obsessions?
When we first started writing together, we used to be obsessed with playing video games - like Mario Bros. We would literally work until one or two am and then reward ourselves with the games. Needless to say, we understand how hard it is to get kids to want to do anything else but play video games.
These days, Candy Crush is a real problem.
Anything else you'd like to say! Advice for people wanting to get into the book or script writing field?
It's funny, but the first response that comes to mind when anyone asks about getting into writing is, "DON'T!" It's just so hard to get into; and even harder to make a living at. But the truth is, if that little voice inside you tells you that that's what you should do -- then that's what you should do. And don't let anyone -- including us -- tell you not to.
Throughout our careers, opportunity has always come from places we would have never expected. So it's all about doing the work and putting it out there to anyone and everyone who will take a look at it; being resilient; and not letting all the "nos" stop you. There's no such thing as an "overnight success." It takes plenty of overnights to make any headway. So just hang in there.