SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY is a new animated series, based on the bestselling books by Jaymin Eve. The series, produced by 41 Entertainment, is now streaming its first season of sixteen half-hour episodes on Peacock.
In SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY, twin sisters Jessa (voiced by Larissa Dias) and Mischa (voiced by Gigi Saul Guerrero) were separated shortly after their birth by their parents, Jonathon (voiced by Alessandro Juliani) and Lienda (voiced by Barbara Kottmeier) for reasons we learn during the show.
Now sixteen, Jessa is enrolled in the Supernatural Academy in Stratford, happy about her wolf shifter powers and good friends with many of her classmates, who include smitten dragon shifter Brax (voiced by Cardi Wong), his brother, vampire Max (voiced by Vincent Tong), magic user Terra (voiced by Bethany Brown), and faerie Jae (voiced by Ali Eisner).
Continually on the move with her mother, Mischa is wholly unaware of the supernatural world, until danger threatens. Lienda decides the safest place for her daughter and herself is back in the supernatural realm. Mischa discovers she has a father, a twin, and latent magic.
SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY divides its time between dealing with magical versions of common high school issues – sibling rivalry, romance, cliques – and a looming danger that may overwhelm both the supernatural and human worlds.
Gillian Horvath is the show runner and head writer on SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY. A native New Yorker, Horvath has long been associated with the fantasy/science-fiction genre, writing for both HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES and FOREVER KNIGHT. More recent credits include being an executive producer/show runner on PRIMEVAL: NEW WORLD, producer/show runner on DANTE’S COVE, show runner on IN THE CLOUD, executive producer on the 2015 feature THE HUNTED, and a producer/writer on The CW’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, SANCTUARY, and FLASH GORDON: A MODERN SPACE OPERA.
Speaking by phone in Los Angeles, Horvath talks about bringing life to complex storylines and characters in SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY come together as a television project?
GILLIAN HORVATH: 41 Entertainment has done quite a lot of kids’ animation, they have a very thriving kids’ animation arm. [Executive producer] Allen Bohbot really is the one who identified that there was an opening for animation aimed at older teens and acceptable to adults in that BUFFY/CW genre. Because there’s adult animation, things like BOJACK HORSEMAN, and there is kids’ animation, but especially when we were pitching this, in 2019, there really wasn’t anything out there [produced specifically for an American audience] that was aimed at an older audience in the fantasy space.
Now, there are other shows – there’s DRAGON PRINCE, there’s ARCANE, there are some excellent shows – but at the time we were out pitching it, one of the things we heard in meetings was, “We haven’t heard anything like this before,” which is a good thing to hear in a pitch meeting. That’s a sign that you are going to get interest in your project. And so, as an animation producer, Allen is the one who had the thought that there’s this rich, untapped area to work in.
Allen found the books, which are top sellers as e-books on Amazon. They have a huge following outside the mainstream. They have a huge independent publishing following, and a huge fan base. Allen thought they had promise, and then we have contacts in common. We hadn’t worked together before, but Kaaren Lee Brown is a writer who’s done a lot of work for him, and Kerry Glover has worked for 41, and so, they brought up my name, because he wanted to bring in a writer experienced in that side of it, in hourlong genre fantasy, not an animation writer, to shepherd the project.
So, I took a look at the books. At the time, there were seven books, now there are eleven, in the series set in this world, which includes [author Eve’s] SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY books, and her SUPERNATURAL PRISON books, and the five COMPASS books. So, I checked out the whole series of books, and I really liked the storyline, which is from the DRAGON MARKED [trilogy of] books.
The SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY books actually have different main characters [than the TV series does]. It’s a different storyline. [Eve’s] DRAGON MARKED books, which are part of the same series, are the ones featuring this pair of twin girls, Jessa and Mischa, one living in the supernatural world, one living in the human world, and then they’re brought together when Mischa is discovered, and they’re in danger.
That storyline really spoke to me, so that’s when [Horvath and Bohbot] collaborated and created the pitch, based on the Jessa and Mischa story. They’re older in the original books. The original books are a bit more adult. They have a higher sexual content. So, we aged them down, and brought down the adult content, and created the version of the story that we pitched as a TV series.
The main characters, Jessa and Mischa, Max and Brax, all come from DRAGON MARKED. I took a different version of the storyline, but springing from the DRAGON MARKED book. We had some very productive discussions with Jaymin when we were first starting out. She was very happy with the version of it that we did for the television show, even though it does vary from the books in some aspects, and she’s very happy with it now that it’s finished, so that’s a nice situation to be in.
AX: Can you talk about some of the changes you made?
HORVATH: The books take longer to tell the story of the battle with the Dragon King. DRAGON MARKED was the first of a trilogy, and so, we definitely created many of our own characters, and a different trail of events that lead to the final confrontation, compared to what is in the original books. Jaymin has a big fan following, and from what I’ve seen of her interactions with her fans, following the dropping of the show, the fans do seem to be happy with it. The large majority of people are saying, “Oh, it’s very different, but I really enjoyed it.” But it is very different.
We needed to transfer the storyline into a high school setting. That meant Elda [the headmaster’s daughter, voiced by Shannon Chan-Went] had a larger role, and her cadre of mean-girl friends became featured. Those are all things that we created, taking pieces from various places in her books to build a storyline. We liked that group of girls. Everyone’s the hero of their own story. You could probably tell a story from point of view of Zadi and Opal and Shan, the three mean-girl friends, in which they are the heroes. They’re kind of a cool group, but they also can be kind of snarky and mean.
The same is true of Jessa when the story starts out, and Jessa learns and grows and becomes more compassionate, but in the beginning, there isn’t that much to divide her from Elda in terms of being a bit privileged and a bit entitled. She’s just accustomed to a comfortable life, and she thinks everyone around her is comfortable, too.
She’s not consciously mean, she doesn’t get any pleasure from putting anyone down. She just takes for granted that life is great, and you get what you want, and things are easy, and you have friends, and family, and all the chocolate cake you want. She tells Mischa at one point, “We don’t need money here.” And it’s just such a different experience.
Those little moments between them – I love when they go to New York, and Jessa is now the one out of her element, and doesn’t really know how to negotiate it. And when they’ve had their magic drained, and she’s not being sensible about it, Mischa specifically says to her, “Look, magic is like money [at the supernatural academy] which means when you don’t have a lot, you have to budget it. People who have the most of it are the most powerful.”
Mischa knows how to budget, she’s budgeted her whole life, and Jessa never had to know how to do that. And to her credit, she does step up. She absolutely becomes a better person, she starts thinking about the needs of others ahead of her own needs, including Brax, who she’s always taken for granted, and including Terra, who she’s always taken for granted [laughs]. She’s still going to be, I think, a bit snarky and she’s still probably going to expect everyone to hand her cake when she wants cake [laughs], but when the chips are down, when something important is on the line, she doesn’t put herself first anymore.
We brought in a greater variety of characters. The original books, being a lot of paranormal romance genre, are heavily heterosexual. All the relationships in it are standard male/female relationships, and that felt a bit dated. Today’s teen audience has a much higher variety of experience, and we wanted the characters and the casting to reflect that. And honestly, those are some of my favorite characters in the show.
I love Hallie, Mischa’s friend in New York. I’m a New Yorker myself originally, and that storyline of Mischa in New York, as an outcast high school kid, who only has the one friend, and they’re working on their comic book together, I’m like, if anyone in the show is a self-insert, it’s probably Hallie the science-fiction fan in New York. And the character of Jae, our non-binary faerie character, is something that’s not in the book, and something that’s a really exciting part of the cast to us. And Ali Eisner, who plays Jae, is also non-binary.
AX: Apart from actually running the writing room, what is the difference in writing for a show that you developed yourself, because you wrote the opening and closing episodes, and writing for a show where somebody else is the show runner?
HORVATH: It really was a marvelous experience for me to be writing characters that were so close to the heart for me. I’ve been in the business for a long time, I’ve worked on a lot of shows, and I do hope that I’ve contributed positively to the shows that I’ve worked on. But this is the first time that something that I developed, and which a storyline was what I wanted it to be, it came from my heart, based on the characters that Jaymin created, was in fact picked up to be produced. This is my first time running the writing for a show where I got to make the choices about what story we’re telling.
And I had great support from 41 Entertainment. They really trusted me creatively, and I had great rapport with the people at Peacock that we worked with. And so, we were really able to do the story that I saw in my heart when I first read the books, and it’s an extraordinarily positive experience. I feel lucky to have gotten the chance to do that, because not everyone has that chance in their career, to tell a story that they really feel like, “This expresses me, and my vision of the world, and the kind of story that matters to me.” I’m really glad I got to do that. I hope we’ll get to do more of it.
AX: How did you decide on which other writers to hire for the SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY writers’ room?
HORVATH: When we put together the team, we definitely talked about how we wanted to make sure we had people who’d done animation, and people who’d done hourlong science fiction, and preferably individuals who each had done both, and we were able to find some who’d fit that bill.
[SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY writer] Kaaren Lee Brown is also a producer on the show, and she has a lot of experience doing shows with 41 Entertainment, [including] SUPER MONSTERS. So, she and I each wrote two of the eight hours. As a producer, she was on the show full-time along with me, and she was a great coach in terms of understanding the needs of animation. On the flip side, she has written tons of animation, but she hadn’t written hourlong science fiction before, so this was her chance to do that and learn from me, so that was a great give-and-take.
It was important to us all to make sure we had female writers heavily represented, because of the female leads in the show. The exception to this was Jon Cooksey, who I’ve worked with before on PRIMEVAL: NEW WORLD. He was my go-to guy there. I knew I could count on him, and he has a depth of experience, and he also has done animation in the past. So, he had both sides of that coin.
Aside from that, we really wanted the opportunity to give people that chance to step up, people who were ready to expand their careers in effect. Kerry Glover, who wrote an episode [“Sins of the Father”] and has written episodes of [hourlong live-action series including] LEVERAGE and ALMOST PARADISE. She also had written episodes of SUPER MONSTERS, so she also had that both sides of the coin experience.
Meghan Fitzmartin wrote on SUPERNATURAL [the episodes “Peace of Mind” and “Drag Me Away”], so she also had that hourlong experience. [Before that], she was writers’ assistant on SUPERNATURAL. I’m always open to promoting people, and I was a writers’ assistant and script coordinator myself, so when someone comes from that background, we tend to hit it off. We did joke about that she came from SUPERNATURAL to SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY – her next show needs to just be called ACADEMY [laughs].
Meghan also had written comic books. She’s kind of a girl geek like me, so I knew we would get along in the room, which is certainly one element that you look at when you’re choosing writers. It’s their experience, it’s their samples, and it’s that spark when you’re having the writers’ meetings, just that you’re bouncing ideas off each other right away, and you know that when you get in the room, it’s just going to be synergistic that way. And I got that feeling off of Meghan right away. And the other writer is Julia Yorks, who came primarily from the animation side of things, but is now a feature writer, so she’s a triple threat at this point.
AX: And Meghan Fitzmartin also had written the sibling dynamic from SUPERNATURAL, which you also have in SUPERNATURAL ACADEMY, where you have one sibling who’s very steeped in the supernatural, and the other sibling who has supernatural aspects, but doesn’t know it, and has to be introduced to this world, and is somewhat annoyed about being pulled out of their normal world …
HORVATH: That would be more first season than fifteenth season of SUPERNATURAL … [laughs] I think the sibling dynamic is a really interesting one that has come to the fore recently [in animated fantasy]. ENCANTO was a great example of it, and then FROZEN from a few years ago, bringing in these sister stories. I think it’s a nice twist. Animation used to be primarily love stories – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY, the handsome prince coming to the rescue. I like the fact that other relationships are being explored, and that true love can be between siblings, or other family groups, or found family, and not necessarily to be romantic pairings, especially in things that are for children.
Article Source: Assignment X
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