The Story Behind Spirits of the Western Wild by David Schaub and Roger Vizard

The Writing process:

SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN WILD evolved over time as a labor-of-love for myself and my story partner Roger Vizard.  Both of us have been working in animation for years, first connecting on the production of “Stuart Little 2” back in 2001.  It was during the production of “Surf’s Up” that Roger pitched me the idea for a buddy film with a young cowboy and a crotchety old ghost who refused to believe he was dead.   It was really just a character premise with some great drawings and situational gags that I loved.  We started kicking around ideas between ourselves about where the story could go, and ultimately decided to join forces to see if we could shape it into a fully executed screenplay that would sustain itself as an animated feature.  It was the characters that inspired us, and that’s what drove everything down the story path.

With that in mind, it was a very inefficient way to derive a story.  Starting with characters without any concept for a beginning, middle, or end from a story perspective is not an advisable starting-point for a tightly woven screenplay!  But once we understood our characters and their motivations, we found that the characters just kind of just spoke to us.  Then our job was to chase them on this adventure, getting them into deeper-and-deeper trouble as they went.

Ultimately, of course, we had to reel in that adventure and focus on structure, theme, and all that… but that came much later.  And the STORY COMPASS ® structuring tool was indispensible in that backwards process – for the rewrite(s), that is:

Finding the story with only characters as a premise was a grueling, soul-searching challenge.  But the upside is that it resulted in a script that we would never have conceived of had we gone the traditional outlining route.

I lost count of the rewrites. But those rewrites were absolutely necessary for us to find the story that was buried down much deeper.  Over time, the story revealed itself to us. Through the entire process, I felt something intriguing was roiling around under the surface, yearning to burst through at any moment.  So we continued stoking the fire to see what might emerge.

Then it finally came — a series of epiphanies that tied everything together and gave this story the purpose and substance it needed — a reason for being.

In a final intensive push, all the loose ends were tied up, and we’re happy to finally put it out there.

The Audio Production:

Once the screenplay was complete, we found ourselves sitting on a precious pound-of-paper (1.25 lbs to be exact).  Having drudged through hundreds of screenplays myself over the years, I fully acknowledge what a chore it can be for anyone to commit to actually READING these things (without it becoming a huge favor by the designated reader to do so…).

When Roger moved onto another animation gig, I decided to keep chipping away at the next steps toward production.  I had the crazy idea of producing it as an audiobook to make it super-easy for studio execs to absorb on their commute.  No reading required — just straight-up entertainment for the listener.

Self-funding the film wasn’t an option, but since I was looking for something to direct, I figured I could certainly produce an audio drama!  It was also a great opportunity to demonstrate my directing chops with actors, bringing it to life in a way that the written page alone could never achieve.

The music tracks are licensed for the project, but still required retiming, retuning and recomposing instrumentation tracks to fit (back to my musical roots). And where the perfect track could not be found (or derived), I would whip out the slide guitar to execute those bottleneck transitions myself. The task was more than I bargained for, but I’m happy to say the movie is all there… minus the visuals ;-)

As a result, the film should play out clearly and precisely between your ears — as intended — from our brains to yours. And hopefully the audio is a much tastier alternative to digesting a pound of paper!

Publishing the eBook (Kindle):

The eBook was kind of an afterthought, since this project was written as a screenplay, and there was never really an intention to release a print version.  I was in the process of getting the final audio prepped for Audible, when I was informed by Amazon that a print (or Kindle) version had to be released before the audio version could be approved.  So that put me into another tailspin…

Unfortunately, Kindle doesn’t offer a solution to display screenplays in their native format, which is a strict standard by industry definition.  But I managed to come up with a formatting solution works pretty well.

Dialogue blocks are INDENTED for readability on Kindle, but not CENTERED as screenwriters are accustomed to.  There are other formatting oddities, but it’s all in the interest of rendering a look that’s easy to read on Kindle and other eReaders.

Actually, now that it’s out there, I’m happy that it is.  Not only can you follow along with the audio version, but you also get a first-hand account of how the audio adaptation evolved from the written screenplay.  It’s also a convenient way to share some of the artwork that Roger and I have collaborated on along the way.  There are lots of illustrations in there.

The Future:

With both Audible and Kindle editions out there now, we are back to task of kicking this project further down the road in pursuit of making the film.  That was our original goal, with the diversion of getting some awareness out there through the Audible and Kindle releases.  The hope is to create a groundswell of our own before circling back through the studio circuit.

It has been an exciting ride so far, and the adventure continues…

I started an Instagram feed to document the journey ahead, with some great inspirational quotes and insights into this process:

I’m sure there will be lots of discoveries, revelations, and takeaways on the goose-chase ahead.   Please follow – and enjoy the ride with us!

Have a great new year!

– David Schaub

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About the Authors

David Schaub is a writer and Academy Award ® nominated Animation Supervisor working in the film industry for more than 25 years. In 2019 he produced and directed the audio adaptation of SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN WILD.  He also developed STORY COMPASS® smartphone app for screenwriters ( in 2017.

Schaub received Oscar nomination for animation in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Disney), along with nominations for BAFTA Award, Saturn Award and Critic’s Choice Award, and won the Golden Satellite Award for Best Visual Effects for his team’s work on the film.

HEAD ANIMATION on Sony Picture’s SURFS UP – recognized with two Annie Awards among its ten nominations including Academy Award nomination and four Visual Effects Society (VES) award nominations.


ANIMATION DIRECTOR – Universal’s award-winning JURASSIC WORLD EXPEDITION (2019) VR EXPERIENCE. Exploring cinematic potential of virtual reality.

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Roger Vizard is a writer and self-taught artist. He was accepted into the animation program at Sheridan College in1987, then worked at Sullivan Bluth Studios in Ireland, then as an animation apprentice on “WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT” at Richard Williams’ studio in London.  He later became Williams’ assistant animator on “THIEF AND THE COBBLER.”

After several years working in Europe at studios like Gerhard Hahn in Germany and A-films in Denmark, he moved to Los Angeles in 1993 to work as a story board artist on the first season of Sonic the Hedgehog, then rolled back into animation again after that.  He successfully made the transition to from 2D to CGI on “STUART LITTLE 2” in 2001, and since that time have worked non-stop at animation/VFX studios in Los Angeles.

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One thought on “The Story Behind Spirits of the Western Wild by David Schaub and Roger Vizard

  1. Thanks for featuring our audio drama here!
    Reviews are coming in, and we’d love to keep them coming.
    ** With that in mind ** we still have promo codes available (US & UK) for anyone interested in a free copy in exchange for an honest review on ;-)
    Feel free to to request a review copy by email here:
    Thanks for the interest!

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