The primary story editor for Warner Animation, Alan Burnett has spent much of his career associated with DC Comics properties. He started at Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1981, working on Super Friends. A decade later, he contributed many of the best scripts for Batman: The Animated Series, on which he also became a producer. He went on to work as series producer on Superman and Batman Beyond, and supervising producer and story editor for The Batman. Burnett co-produced and co-wrote the animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, was supervising producer and writer for DTV movie Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, and produced the DTV movie Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker. He also served as movie story editor and one of the writers on the DCU animated original movie Batman: Gotham Knights. His work has earned him four Emmy Awards, three Annie Awards and two Humanitas Prizes. I spoke to Burnett at San Francisco's Moscone Center during Wondercon 2011.
Groucho: Hi. Maybe you could start by talking about your perception of how this project got rolling and how you came on board and your responsibility for the writing.
Alan Burnett: Well, I supervise all the DC scripts over at Warner Brothers, and we talked to Home Video people and our own group at DC to find out, you know, what we want to do next. And it was decided that we wanted to do something, which was like—they had success with Gotham Knights, and they thought maybe short stories, Emerald Knights would be something that the audience would be interested in. So that’s how that began. And then we also...I ended up with a fellow named Todd Casey, who was a staff writer at Warner Brothers, writing the wraparounds to these stories simply because I made the most sense to do that. Because I was coordinating them, and some of the writers were in New York, some were in L.A., and some were in London—one was in London—and so we’re just putting this together. I mean it was really pieces of a puzzle. And I hasten to add that Geoff Johns and I were discussing the bookends before we started. He came up with the idea for the Oa sun being ripped open and this villain from a long time ago coming out. And so, I mean, that’s how it evolved. And it gave me a chance to work with a lot of DC writers and a lot of people who were specifically noted for Green Lantern stories. The first story was by Guggenheim and Green, Mark Guggenheim and Michael Green. And let me consult my list. Then we had Peter Tomasi on the “Kilowog" story. And Eddie Berganza. Peter Tomasi, of course, writes a lot of comic book stories for Green Lantern. And Eddie Berganza is a story editor on a lot of Green Lantern—maybe all of the Green Lantern comic books. And he wrote “Laira.” And then Dave Gibbons wrote “Mogo,” and he was the one who actually drew Mogo. And then there was Geoff Johns, who has something to do with Green Lantern.
AB: So those are the writers. I don’t think I’m leaving anybody out—nope, I’m not. So and then Todd and I just did the connective tissue. The idea was to do war stories from the trenches. And that’s how it worked out...
G: Superhero movies are seemingly taking over Hollywood—
G: In terms of live-action big screen features. It seems like the DCU animated movies should be exploding as well, but sometimes the sales figures aren’t always there, so what’s the strategy to break through and reach that audience?
AB: Oh, you’re going to have to ask Home Video people. I’m not sure. I know there’s been a tough time with the recession and everything.
AB: And then, especially when it came to the Wonder Woman DTV we did. But we’re coming out of that and I think it's reflected in the sales. But I don’t know the—I don’t think about those things...
G: You were a film school grad, is that right?
AB: Yeah. I went to USC, and I have an MFA in Film Production. I like movies. When I was a—I’m one of those guys who, you know, would see six movies in a weekend, y'know? I studied movies and I like genres, all kinds of genres. And that background has helped me a great deal.
G: You were saying at your panel the other day that you brought a lot of your Hitchcock fandom to Batman: The Animated Series.
AB: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of—there’s even stolen jokes from Hitchcock films embedded in the series. I was a huge Hitchcock fan. I never met him. I saw him twice. He was at the first AFI screening, and they brought in—and we were all there—it was the Century City, and they were bringing in—[to the publicist] I’m talking about Hitchcock. We can’t talk about Green Lantern all the time… And they brought in this coffin; everybody thought Hitchcock was in the coffin, but it was cans of film—it was Family Plot. And then I saw the screening, and he did an introduction. And then I saw him years later at a big Hollywood benefit. Biggest benefit I ever was at, for, of all people, Henry Kissinger. And this was when I was a page at NBC, so it must have been ’76, something like that. And I’m protecting doors, you know, that’s my job. “Stay at this door. Don’t let anybody inside.” And I’m looking across this crowded room, and there’s, you know, Kirk Douglas and Johnny Carson and somebody else equally as big...And so the crowd sort of parts. And I’m looking, and there’s Alfred Hitchcock. He’s right across the lobby, this big lobby, and he was sitting down, and they—and people were going in. And I just wanted to leave that damn door, and go over there and talk to him. And to this day I think about it: “Why didn’t you leave that door and go over?” But I didn't. But he had—I guess he had arthritis. They were helping him in. And I got a chance to talk with his chauffeur, of all people. Who said that the last film, Family Plot, was largely directed from the limousine. So, yeah, so I’m a big Hitchcock fan. I’m a big Hitchcock—I’ve gone—I’ve seen his daughter at functions, Patricia Hitchcock, and other, y'know—and anytime—if there’s a Hitchcock something going on, a Hitchcock event, I—you’re likely to see me there.
G: And how did you get into the DCU both as a fan, and then as a professional?
AB: Well I was a big comic book reader between the time I was, like, ten and fourteen. I was, like, crazy for comic books. And then at fourteen, it started to not—it never died away, but I was on to James Bond, and other stuff. But all those years of reading those comics served me very well. Better than the degree at USC.