Interview with 'Arcane' Writer Amanda Overton
Amanda Overton is a television writer with credits on series like Marco Polo, Severance, and Edge of Normal. She worked on Riot Games' and Fortiche's recent hit League of Legends animated series Arcane, where she is credited as an executive story editor and wrote the fifth episode "Everybody Wants to Be My Enemy."
Overton has made a point to talk about the series and her work on it on Twitter and Reddit, telling fans how she and the other writers went about crafting the richly detailed world of Runeterra and set the story in motion. I recently did a public interview with Overton on Reddit about her work on the first season of Arcane, the series' production, and its LGBTQ+ representation. Here was our discussion:
You have spoken about there being nine people in the writers' room for season one of Arcane. Can you walk us through a little bit of how that environment looked? How much did you all collaborate vs. go off to work on different scenes and episodes separately?
As far as writers’ rooms goes, this one was pretty typical in that the whole group, all nine of us, worked together to shape the story. But it was atypical in that there was a mix writers with all different areas of experience. We had a few writers that had been working at Riot for ten years and really knew the lore and Champions, and had even helped to write or create them. We had a writer with an animation background and one with a feature writing background, and a few writers, like me, that had live action TV experience. It was a really great mix backgrounds and perspectives.
One thing we had in common was just how much we love video games, and how we all desperately wanted a video game adaption to tell a great, character driven story. To do this, the first thing we did was talk about who the characters are, what their wants and attitudes are, and create backstories for them that were both inline with their lore and filled in gaps that were missing, but were necessary to tell our story. For example, I was lucky enough to give Caitlyn her last name, she didn’t have one before, and with that we filled out a lot of details about her parents, family and upbringing.
The next thing we did is come up with the big picture story beats for each of the characters. Some of these big “tentpole” moments, as I call them, were already in place since the team had been developing and working on the show for 3 years before I was brought on. For example, Powder causing the death of Vander, Mylo and Claggor with the crystals she stole was already a part of the story, WHICH I LOVED, but some of the details about how we got there were not yet decided.
The next thing you do is dial down into individual episodes. The pilot was already produced when I started, but it was a little different. We changed a few things, including the beginning, to better set up the backstory between Vi and Powder that would carry us through the entire season. From there on out, we all work together to come up with each of the individual scenes in the next episode. And there are certainly disagreements! Once you reach a consensus about an episode, then the writer of that episode goes off and writes, first an outline, then a script. All the while getting feedback from the room about how to make it better. It’s a constant process of improvement and change to make sure it all works together seamlessly in the end
Correct me if I am wrong here, but I believe that previously, you have only worked on live action projects. Did you find any differences between an animated project like Arcane and other work you have done?
Yes, Arcane was the first animated show I worked on! The rest of my experience is all in live action. We were able to write Arcane like a live action show because of the level of detail and nuance Fortiche can achieve with the animation. The range of emotion conveyed in the expressions and movements of these characters is no different from an actual actor and so you can write scenes with as much subtext as you would a live action scene.
The tricky thing about animation, and something I did have to learn, was how much things cost, and whether what I wrote would be producible on the budget we had. For example, in live action a costume change costs practically nothing in the scope of the budget, but in animation a costume change means you have to redesign the character from the ground up and completely redo their “rig,” which is one of the most expensive parts of the process. Another difference is in crowd shots. In animation they can sometimes be done for less money with replication and algorithms to animate characters, but in live action crowds are tremendously expensive because you have to get real people in real costumes and pay everyone for all that work.
Being a TV writer isn’t just about writing the best story, but about writing the best story you can achieve within the scope of the budget, and a lot of times you have to find creative solutions to make that possible. One thing that is similar in both live action and TV is how many locations can you afford. How can you both be efficient and reuse sets, but also get the scope you want to make the world feel as big as the story demands?
You have Tweeted about some of your favorite cartoons and cartoon relationships, like Korra and She-Ra. Did these series, or any others, help inspire or influence your work on Arcane?
Everything I like inspires my work! Characters and stories I love both inspire me to build on the success they had, but also to find a new way into, or out of, the story that gives us something we haven’t seen yet. I love how the women in She-Ra and Korra got to be both strong and vulnerable, driven and flawed.
To me, a character has to have the potential to change for me to care about them, and they need to be their own worst enemy at times so it’s satisfying when they finally make a different choice.
How involved were you and the other writers involved with the different steps of making the show? Was it a matter of handing off the story and seeing what comes, or did you have the opportunity to continue to shape the series as season one progressed in production?
After the season one scripts were written most of the writers in the room finished their contracts and went on to do other shows, including myself. Christian Linke and Alex Yee stayed on and worked closely with the team at Fortiche to bring those episodes to life. It really was a massive collaboration and the story evolved during every step of the process as more talented, creative people were able to add their ideas to make the story better. (I call this leveling up!)
When we began writing season two, season one was still in production and during that time Christian and Alex included me more in the producing process. I got to learn quite a bit about the different phases of production and give some of my own feedback on how the story was shaping up.
The series does an excellent job moving Vi and Caitlyn's relationship from enemies with very different histories and personalities to allies and maybe something more. Episode 5 does a lot of the heavy lifting and set up for that, between their trip to Zaun and the ensuing chaos. How did you go about establishing a believable companionship between these two significantly different characters?
I, personally, just had to keep reminding myself how different Vi and Caitlyn both are. They come from opposite worlds, with the added trauma that Enforcers killed Vi’s parents. Their attitudes towards each other always had to reflect their “lived” truth, and any movement away from these poles needed to be hard-fought.
My guiding light from the very beginning to understand how they could ever hope to overcome these massive differences was this: Vi always felt she had no choice but to fight to get what she wanted, meanwhile Caitlyn was just handed everything Vi ever fought for, and she chose to fight.
You have spoken on Reddit and Twitter about the now-famous line, "You're hot, cupcake," and how there was debate about if it was true to the characters. What were those discussions like, and, ultimately, what led to you keeping it in the episode?
I always wanted "You're hot, Cupcake," to be in the episode. That line was in my very first draft! I received the note several times that the same sentiment could be said in body language or subtext, or that Vi wouldn’t be so direct with emotions. But it was something I didn’t want to leave open to interpretation.
Women who are attracted to women have experienced all too frequently what it’s like to have our feelings buried in subtext for all eternity, and Vi’s emotions here are actually very important to the story we were telling. Vi makes many decisions about Caitlyn later on that only make sense if her feelings for her are strong.
I do think we were able to execute the line in a way that fits Vi’s character, thanks to Hailee’s great performance, the direction of the scene, and the wonderful animation.
Speaking of representation, you have also posted about some of the discussions you all had about what LGBTQ+ people and life would be like in Runetera, such as how labels like "gay" might not be used in the fantasy world. What were some of the choices and discussions you had on how to handle such representation?
Mostly we just wanted to be true to the diversity that exists in Runeterra. It just didn’t make sense to us that there would be stigmatization against sexuality or gender expression in a world like that. And, it’s a fantasy world. Why should we carry the same systemic societal baggage from our world into a world that is completely different, with a completely different power structure and history?
Personally, and this is my opinion, I also see it as a way to challenge ourselves to come up with stories that are familiar, yes, but that we haven’t seen before. I don’t see why we would create an entirely new fantasy world just to tell the same stories about the same people with the same problems.
Did you ever feel there was a discussion or pressure to change how you handled certain relationships and representation in the show? Such as worries from the writers or on-high about upsetting certain audiences and territories, or concerns that fans would get frustrated if there was not enough representation?
Despite creating a fantasy world, we do still live in the real one, and we did have to discuss how these stories would be received or handled in different markets. But those discussions never drove our creative decisions, they were always in response to the story we had already crafted. We had full support to tell the story we wanted.
Season 2 is already in production, and from what I understand, written. Without spoilers, of course, what do you hope for the future of this incredible series?
I hope everyone working on the show continues to love the characters, and the stories we tell about them, as much in the future as we have from the very beginning!
You can follow Amanda Overton over on Twitter @leeloo104, where she talks about her work on Arcane and other series.
And stream the entire first season of Arcane on Netflix.
Help support LGBTQ+ news, reviews, and content by subscribing to the YuriMother Patreon. Subscribers get early access to news and reviews, exclusive articles, and more!
513 notes · View notes