Uncle Sam may be looking for a few good men, but The Humanitas Prize is looking for a few good writers. And you could be one of them!
Everyone has heard of the Emmys. But the Humanitas Prize, not so much. And it's a pity. Let me tell you why. But first a bit of background—
The Humanitas Prize was created in 1974 to celebrate television programs which affirm the human dignity, explore the meaning of life, enlighten the use of human freedom and reveal to each person our common humanity.
Humanitas exists to encourage writers who create contemporary media to use their immense power to:
• Encourage viewers to truly explore what it means to be a human being.
• Challenge viewers to take charge of their lives and use their freedom in a responsible way.
• Motivate viewers to reach out in respect and compassion to all their brothers and sisters in the human family.
I won the very first Humanitas Prize given for Animated Children’s Television for an episode of Jim Henson's Muppet Babies. You can read the script here. I received a nice trophy, $10,000 tax free, and something much more important. Honor. The honor of knowing that I’d written a script that was not only recognized by my peers, but that could create a positive impact on the millions of children who viewed it.
Emmys are great. They're shiny and pretty, and look terrific on your bookshelf. The Humanitas Prize isn't as glamorous, but it's far more important. It's not just given for a good piece of writing, but a piece of writing that actually means something. And I agree with The Humanitas Prize organization that this is vital in today's world.
I am a Children’s Trustee of The Humanitas Prize. One of my responsibilities is to read eligible scripts and vote for the winners. Over the years some excellent scripts have received Humanitas prizes for animation writing. But recently the trend seems to be away from enriching content and toward pure entertainment. Entertainment is wonderful stuff. I'm all for it. I try to be entertaining with everything I write. But I also try to say something positive. Something that impacts the viewer. Something a child can take away and use in life. I have been amazed over the years at the number of grown-up-kids who have told me how much my cartoons have impacted them. You cannot imagine how gratifying it is to hear someone tell you that your writing changed their life in a positive way.
Just last week Peter Sciretta, founder of Slash Film, wrote a blog post on The 20 Best Saturday Morning Cartoons of All Time. At the end of the article he notes his number one favorite cartoon, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies. And here is what he says about the show:
“Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies was probably more influential on my life than any other television series from my childhood. It taught me to dream and showed me the power of imagination and creation.”
I am speaking not just as a Humanitas trustee, but as a concerned citizen, when I say that we need to see a lot more Humanitas-quality children's animation scripts on TV.
Below are the verbatim judging criteria for the Humanitas Prize. But don't just look at this from the point of view of winning a trophy and cash. This is what all writers should strive to put into all writing.
In judging a script, you should base your decisions on two general criteria:
• Must be a superior example of the art of screenwriting
• Must explore the human condition with insight and depth
Art of Screenwriting
A superior script explores human experiences and delves deeply into its characters. You should empathize with the main characters and, at the time, learn something about yourself. A superior script reveals the characters’ needs, desires and aspirations in an honest and penetrating manner. In evaluating each script, you should ask yourself these questions:
• Are you involved in the characters’ struggles?
• Do you understand the dilemmas they face and the obstacles that impede them?
• Are you swept along as the story unfolds, saddened when the characters falter and delighted when they conquer their obstacles?
• Overall, are you moved by the story?
Exploring the Human Condition
A Humanitas script should be about significant and meaningful subjects that are explored in a compelling way. It must propel us along the road to human growth and fulfillment. Ask yourself these questions:
• How relevant is the story’s theme?
• Does it explore them in a deep and honest way?
• What is the story saying about the meaning of human life?
• Does it challenge its viewers to use their freedom to grow, develop and become more fully human?
• Does it affirm human dignity?
• Do we care about the characters?
• If there is violence, is it organic to the story? Do we see the adverse effects not only on its victim, but also on its perpetrators? Do we see alternatives to resolve conflict non‐violently?
• If sexuality is part of the story, is it treated as a beautiful and significant form of human communication? Is the sexuality depicted organic to the story or is it simply gratuitous.
So if you are a professional animation writer, or want to become one, I invite you to make an extra effort to put some enriching content in your writing and see if you’re creative enough to change the world. If you are, I guarantee you you will be rewarded for it. Certainly with honor. Maybe even with a Humanitas Prize.
P.S. Humanitas Prizes are also awarded to live-action film and television writers. For more information about the Humanitas Prize go to http://www.humanitasprize.org/
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