Kelci Parker, vice president of Animation at Hulu Originals, offered some great perspective to students at the SCAD Animation Fest on the art of storytelling: “We’re not curing cancer. But we may be bringing someone a laugh as they go through treatment.”
Parker, recipient of the 2022 SCAD Animation Fest Award of Excellence, spoke Thursday about her journey from writing her own screenplays to working at Comedy Central to helping shape Hulu hits like Only Murders in the Building, How I Met Your Father, and Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. and Hit-Monkey.
As an executive who has also been a creative, Parker is especially interested in providing good feedback. SCAD students, soon to enter the job market, asked many questions about how to take feedback from employers and turn them into solutions, without feeling injured. Parker shared a unique technique that values questions over criticism. The University of Michigan alum says it goes back to her college courses on screenwriting, in which students questioned each other in a roundtable format.
“The style in which I give notes, is oftentimes, instead of just critiquing, to ask questions, and figure out how to make it better through questions and challenging the story, and pushing the character development or the plot,” she said. “Knowing as a writer how to give and take constructive criticism is really important. … You can’t just crack on someone’s work, you have to be nice about it and figure out a way to get them to the best product possible. So we usually do that by asking questions.”
Kelci Parker elaborated on the approach in a follow-up interview with the MovieMaker podcast, in which we also talked about how her life experience affected her early scripts, good advice she received at Comedy Central, and whether Hulu might want to branch out into animated features for adults. You can listen on Apple or Spotify or here.
SCAD Animation Fest, now in its sixth year, is a sibling to SCAD’s larger SCAD Savannah Film Festival, held annually at the main campus in Savannah and marking its 25th anniversary next month. It’s a place for SCAD animation students to learn from the masters of the craft and chart out their own career paths.
It wasn’t just students who asked questions about feedback. Many other SCAD Animation panelists, including the Hit Monkey team, talked about the importance of staying patient and positive through the feedback process, because its common for animated characters to go through dozens of iterations on their way to the screen. One of the problems of feedback is subjectivity — should a creative trust someone else’s ideas? Recent shows – from Hacks to Curb Your Enthusiasm — have made the pitching process seem like a fake parade of air kisses and bottled water in which executives smile in creators’ faces, but turn on them mercilessly.
Parker’s question-based approach encourages creators to look within themselves for answers, instead of getting them from on high. She says that in reality, when you pitch a show or receive feedback, the executive across the table wants it to work as much as you do. But the executive also has bosses, and needs to be able to sell the show to them. So the feedback process is about hammering out any weaknesses to improve a project’s chances of getting a green light.
“It’s really our job to be advocates more than anything,” she says. “I always try to remind people we’re on the same team. We have the same end goal, and that’s to make the best content possible. … There’s no world in which there’s some evil corporate overlord who wants you to fail.”
Main image: Kelci Parker, Hulu Originals vice president of animation and recipient of the 2022 SCAD Animation Fest Award of Excellence, speaks with SCAD associate chair of film and television Quinn Orear. Photo courtesy of SCAD.