Meghan McCarthy has been working on Hasbro Studios’ My Little Pony Friendship is Magic since the show’s inception, when series creator Lauren Faust invited her to join the writing staff of the show in October 2010. Before then, Ms. McCarthy had earned writing credits on Class of 3000 and Fish Hooks, as well as working with Ms. Faust on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. By season 2, she was promoted to co-executive producer, and added story editor to her titles by season 3. In June 2015, Hasbro named Megan McCarthy the Head of Storytelling for the My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop brands. Her tenure has seen the continuing growth and popularity of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, as well as the Equestria Girls spinoff features and series.
Just before the release of My Little Pony: The Movie on DVD and Blu-ray, Toonzone News was able to talk with Meghan McCarthy via telephone about the experience of working on My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and the feature film.
TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve been working on My Little Pony Friendship is Magic for quite a while now. How would you say your perspective on it has changed from when you started vs. the most recent episodes and the movie?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: When I was brought on, it was at the very beginning. I had known Lauren Faust from working on other projects and loved her and thought she was really smart and creative, so it was just an opportunity to work with her and work on something that I thought had really great characters and a really fun, interesting world. The deeper I got into it the more I fell in love with it and the characters, and then obviously it exploded in a way that I don’t think any of us could have predicted. But it’s just been amazing. I love it even more today than ever, I think. it’s kind of like a child that I helped raise a little bit (laughs).
TOONZONE NEWS:: And that child has grown in ways you never would have expected, but which are pleasantly surprising.
MEGHAN McCARTHY: For sure.
TOONZONE NEWS: I made a comparison to blues music when I reviewed the series because there’s a quote by Albert Collins where he said, “Blues music is simple music, and simple music is the hardest music in the world to play.” There’s room for lots of variations within the strict rules of the musical form, and that’s a hard thing to pull off. Does that fit with how you view working on the show? That you’re creating these infinite variations within some really strict lines and boundaries and constraints?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Yeah, I think so. I think part of it is that we take it as seriously as something that might be considered much more complex or for a much older audience. Our writer’s room has debates as intense as they must have had in the Breaking Bad writer’s room or things like that. There might be a deeper complexity to those stories, but we have to boil down themes that can be somewhat complex into stories that can appeal to our younger core audience, but that still resonate with all audiences. Simple stories are the things that everybody relates to. I think we do have these great characters to work with and it’s about finding new ways to challenge them, and I think we’ve been successful in doing that.
TOONZONE NEWS: For the movie specifically, what were the kinds of challenges that you were looking to do to distinguish it from what you had done up until now?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Obviously, a big challenge is that we had done a hundred-plus episodes of the TV series, so we were finding something that was new and that something that we thought was worthy of the big screen. A challenge for these characters that they hadn’t ever faced before. I think that’s how we arrived at this idea that we would have them leave Equestria for the first time, because that was something we hadn’t ever explored before in the series. We thought we could throw things their way that they hadn’t seen before, but also be able to stay true to what we had been building prior with the show to make this a big-screen, fun spectacular, but to push our characters and sort of make them face a world that isn’t like the one that they’ve been used to. And still emerge having gone through something, but holding on to who they are.
TOONZONE NEWS: I read one earlier interview with you where you said that animating the movie was different from the show because most of the time, on the show you lock down the script and then you animate to that, and the pipeline for animating the movie was very different and more flexible. Is that an accurate assessment of one of the big differences between the movie and the show?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Yeah, for sure. So much of what you do for a series is that you have a script and your timeline, and the animatic stages and even beyond in the animation itself is such a tight schedule. Not that a movie schedule isn’t tight, because if anyone were to hear me say that, “Oh, we had all the time in the world!” they would murder me (laughs) because we did not! But we could make discoveries. Something that was on the page and then it goes into boards and you get it up on its feet, and something’s not quite working or you come up with something that might work better, or you see all the sequences together. At every stage there was a lot more playing around and learning new things and trying new things than we had had on the series. Even when we went to animate, that there were still so many more ways to plus. They certainly plus at every stage on the series as well, but there was just even more of that on the movie.
MEGHAN McCARTHY: We had a lot of different openings for the movie. I remember that. We had tried several different things before we landed where we landed. We would get a beautiful board, and then go, “Oh, you know what? That’s not really quite setting this up right. OK, we’re going have to go back to the drawing board on that.” So that was definitely a place. Then, I know that on the song that Kristen Chenoweth sings, we had to go through several variations of that before we landed where we landed in the final film.
TOONZONE NEWS: That’s interesting. I spoke with Michelle Creber about the movie and it sure sounded like modifications to a song is definitely something that does not happen on the TV show.
MEGHAN McCARTHY: No, or it’s just a matter of a song is written and that’s the song that will be in the show. Certainly, there will be some tweaks or changes, but this was where there would be whole-cloth rewrites of the song as we were mapping out the story.
TOONZONE NEWS: It almost sounds like you’d have a real chicken-and-egg problem of changing one thing and then all of a sudden something else happens…you pull the thread and all of a sudden lots of other things unravel. Did you confront that kind of problem, and how did you manage it if you did?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Not really. It was such a collaborative process. Dan Ingram, our songwriter, and Mike Vogel who did a lot of the lyrics and also co-wrote the film and myself…we were in constant contact with each other, and obviously Jayson Thiessen, the director. Because of that, we would always be aware of what was shifting where and what needed to move and how we were going to do it. We were just constantly in conversation about how to achieve what we were trying to achieve. It was certainly a challenge and there were certainly moments of, “Aaah! What are we going to do here?!?” And we would just talk it out and figure it out and adjust accordingly.
TOONZONE NEWS: How would you say that this production contrasted with the Equestria Girls movies? Are the Equestria Girls films the halfway point between the feature and the show, or did you end up producing those more like extended episodes of the show?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: For Equestria Girls, it’s closer to how we do the series, for sure. And obviously, it’s the feature film, so we wanted to really push ourselves and do all the things that you have to do to be competitive in that space. I think the Equestria Girls movies are great and that it helped us work out in terms of the longer form storytelling, but we had to really up in every department and change how we do things in just about every department when we go to make a big-scale movie like this.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can fans expect things from the movie to make their way into subsequent episodes of the show?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Ummmm….maybe? (Laughter) that’s the extent of the comment I can make there. They’ll have to wait and see.
TOONZONE NEWS: We’re animation geeks and voiceover geeks on our site and I know one thing that gets under our skin is how some animated films engage in celebrity stunt casting. Was the topic of recasting the Mane 6 with celebrity voice talent ever brought up? Or was it something that was just out of the question from the beginning?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: It was not. From the start, we knew we were going to cast the Mane 6 with the original actresses, because they had helped so much to create these roles that switching that would have felt inauthentic in this movie. It had been people who had been doing it for seasons and seasons and years and years. So no, we made that decision right from the start, but then had the great opportunity where we had all these guest roles. We tried to think of it less as stunt casting than as talent casting and really trying to seek out the people that we thought would bring what we needed to these roles, and shape these roles in a way that we had them in our head. So I think we were really lucky with the other cast that we were able to secure for those roles because I think they all did a really fantastic job. But the Mane 6 were always going to be the Mane 6.
MEGHAN McCARTHY: (laughs) She was great. Yeah, she really is that Princess Skystar character. She came in and we were like, “Yeah, we did good with this one.” She IS this character.
TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve gotten some pretty big name voice talent on the show because they were fans before they were on the show, but did that apply to any of the new talent for the movie? Were any of them fans of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic before they did it?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: I think that for the most part, they were familiar with it. Some of them have kids so I think some of that was a draw, but we were really lucky that the people we went after and that we wanted were all…we pitched them what the movie was going to be and who their characters were, and they were all just really excited to do it. Hopefully, the show and how well received the show has been was an impetus for them as well. But yeah, it wasn’t quite like the TV series where, you know, Lena Hall essentially gave us a shout-out on the Tonys one year (laughs) so we were eager to cast her. Patton Oswalt was another one where he was a big fan of the show and tweeted something about it, and we were like, “Hey, would you like to be on it?” But yeah, I think the cast that we got for the movie was really won over by the story that we were telling and thought it would be a good project.
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Yeah, for sure. Michael Peña came and we had stuff that was on the page and he would just go off and riff and do crazy things, so we certainly incorporated a lot of stuff that he came into the room with. I think everybody did that to some extent. They would find their own spin on things and we would be absolutely open to their interpretations and to what they wanted to bring, which was really great. Even with our Mane 6, they know these characters so well that you put a script in front of them and it’s written a certain way, they bring it to life and they make little tweaks and changes that only make it better. One of the really interesting ones to us, too, was Emily Blunt came in and said she was not going to use her natural British accent. She was going to use her American accent, she was really adamant that that was what felt right for the character, and I’m not going to argue with Emily Blunt (laughs). She’s a fantastic actress and she was absolutely right as I think her performance in the movie is just really stellar and a real breakout part.
TOONZONE NEWS: Let’s say you get the green light and the budget to make Friendship is Magic the Movie Part Deux. Is there anything you learned while making this movie that you’re going to want to either repeat or avoid in that production cycle?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: Gosh…I’d ask for a lot more time (laughs), but you know, I think it was just such a great learning experience for all of us. Just the level of collaboration and continuing that to bring in all the parties and get everyone to feel really invested. It’s how you get a great movie made. Everyone really believing in the story and believing in what you’re doing. I’d certainly want to repeat that experience.
TOONZONE NEWS: Judging by what you said earlier, I’m guessing you can’t talk about much about what’s coming next, but what is it about what are you doing that really excites you or really turns you on or really feels new or exiting or different to you?
MEGHAN McCARTHY: There is some pretty exciting stuff coming in the new season. There’s some big shifts that are going to happen that I think people are going to get really excited about. New characters. I think it’s bigger and better than ever, and I think the movie really set us up to go even bigger than we have before. It’s a bigger world now that they’ve left Equestria and they’re changed by that. And that’s exciting.
Toonzone News would like to thank Meghan McCarthy for taking the time to talk with us, as well as the PR teams at Lionsgate and Click Communications for making the interview possible. My Little Pony Friendship is Magic airs on Discovery Family Channel, and My Little Pony: The Movie is available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital on-demand services. You can also follow Meghan McCarthy on Twitter.