The heroes that make Spidey super
by Todd Felderstein
I entered the recording studio as Stan Lee was leaving. He and I shook hands in the hallway where he said to me, “cool,” before continuing out of the building. Stan Lee said cool? To me? How cool!
After what seemed a millennia of paying my dues in independent film producing, writing and directing, then spending another few years on the lots of Culver Studios and Sony Pictures working the desks of such famed executives as Ray Stark, Pat Sajak and much of the Columbia/TriStar television executive branch, opportunity knocked. It turned out that Spider-Man (television) was looking for a jack-of-all-trades to work directly with the showrunner as a staff writer. Faster than you could say web-slinger, I was shaking hands with Morgan Gendel, the executive producer and a writer whose work I had already admired. This quick hire led to my meeting with the studio executives and talented animation crew where I was assigned homework: learn the Spider-Man universe.
“We can create anything” was the occasional mantra the E.P. would share as he began guiding my brain around the show’s structure. I was given a bible of sorts that contained the history of Spider-Man’s genesis (a reference book my young nephew quickly devoured), beginning with his unfortunate run-in with the rogue radioactive arachnid to his bevy of villains that had no intention of sharing the limelight whatsoever. With Sony and MTV behind this series, the program was to be groundbreaking in its look and feel. The animation technology would be moodier than typical 2D; its characters shapelier with a swagger to appeal to the MTV crowd. Voicing Peter Parker and friends drew a cast of major stars: Neil Patrick Harris, Lisa Loeb, Ian Ziering, Jeremy Piven, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ed Asner, Gina Gershon and so many others; I was in heaven.
My education into the world of television writing began at a flurry with proofing, collaborating, writing and more proofing. Morgan and I were tasked with incorporating Kraven, one of Spidey’s archrivals, into the mix, yet this storyline proved challenging.
With a personal background in aikido and a fondness for the sword, I suggested a storyline about a samurai. Since anything is possible remained indelibly tattooed to my brain, this seemed as viable an option as any.
The direction was met with overwhelming approval and limited notes from Sony and MTV, a decision I soon learned was more than half the battle. However, MTV did suggest one adjustment: make the samurai a woman. Okay, time to think differently.
After Morgan and I hashed out the episode and received the green light from the studios, it was the director and animators whose turn it was to breathe life into this story. As a newbie, I was constantly in awe of these artists’ interpretations and overall creative process. Words aside, when the animators created subtle gestures, the characters and I became fast friends. Combine this with our cast’s wonderful voice performances, this episode, one that was created at the end of our slate, was bumped up to the beginning of the season’s lineup. Amazing.
So when Stan Lee applauded “The Sword of Shikata” as being hip, my fortune was being chosen the representative of a cast and crew that spanned from California to Canada. My contribution was a spark; however, when you combine that with those sparks from our bevy of talent, a roaring fire emerged. I never imagined that Spidey and I would become so well acquainted and look upon that season as a time that helped forge my spirit as a storyteller and collaborator. When the “father” of Spider-Man marveled at our “Shikata,” he was congratulating everyone on furthering his hero’s journey and embracing the great responsibility that continues to define “cool” all over the world.Tags: Animation, Hollywood, Morgan Gendel, MTV, Producer, Sony, Spider-Man, Stan Lee, Television, The Sword of Shikata, Todd Felderstein, Writer