CSUN alumnus defies adversity in tough field

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Ten years ago, when CSUN alumnus Dan Danko decided to make a living writing and editing for television programs, he said that a few business contacts and a background editing and writing comic books weren’t his only industry assets.

Danko said self-motivation was his key to surviving in a town that constantly changes how it defines success and talent.

“It’s very easy to get discouraged in this job. You have to really hold on to why you’re doing this,” said 37-year-old Danko. “There’s no place where people want you to fail more than Hollywood.”

Today, after amassing writing credits that include comics and children’s books, live action television series, cartoons, and infomercials, Danko is half of MainBrain Productions, based in Malibu.

Along with Tom Mason, a former creative director at Malibu Comics where Danko interned during his college years, MainBrain Productions develops property to market in the entertainment industry.

Currently, both are co-head writers for “Pet Alien,” an animation comedy that chronicles the prepubescent adventures of a young boy and his houseguests from outer space.

Danko said they are writing scripts for the production companies that anticipate the 3-D computer-generated imaging cartoon will return for a second season on Cartoon Network in America and Europe.

Since being founded nearly 10 years ago, MainBrain Productions has repeatedly found work in book and television industries, where it is not uncommon for business negotiations to convince creative minds their property often lacks entertainment potential, Danko said.

Work on “Pet Alien” started nearly four years ago, when MainBrain and a group of local and international production companies developed several toys into a cartoon for young audiences, Danko said.

“Their writing sensibilities were perfect for ‘Pet Alien,'” said Jeff Muncy, of John Doze Studios, whose property “Pet Alien” is based upon. “When finding the right team to develop characters and their world, then (you) go to the experts. He brings a lot to the table and makes it all worth it.”

Prior to signing Danko as a writer to create that world, Muncy’s plush toys once sat motionless as a window display in the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, he said.

It was there that they caught the eye of a Disney representative, which led Muncy to market the concept around town to different production studios before signing with Mike Young Productions of Woodland Hills, he said.

In the entertainment industry, Muncy said passionate parties determine whether property realizes its full market potential, and a reason why he chooses developing property with Danko of MainBrain.

“I only work with top people in the industry. (Danko) is a very smart guy and experienced writer,” said Bill Schultz, an executive producer with Mike Young Productions, which is co-producing and distributing “Pet Alien” for Cartoon Network along with co-producers from India, Ireland, and France. “You don’t work with inexperienced writers when you’re working with that kind of money.”

As part of the Emmy Award-winning company that produced “He-Man” and the “Master of the Universe” series, Schultz recognizes in Danko the drive, experience and weirdness needed to make a lasting impression on cartoon aficionados, he said.

“‘Pet Alien’ will eventually become part of the vernacular that ‘Sponge Bob’ has,” Schultz said.

For Danko, the ability to appeal to wide audiences lies beyond advancements in computer animation, a Sunday morning timeslot, or having the characters fall down stairs, burp and fart, he said.

“Think of ‘The Simpsons,’ and the enormous amount of character depth. When creating characters, you think about people you know to help define and understand how they react and make more real,” he said. “It takes an effort to make someone laugh. It comes back to quality that people want to see, or a specific type of show that finds a long term niche to sustain without cannibalizing itself.”

Indeed, Danko said his success, as a writer whose work isn’t limited to one genre within the entertainment industry, is easy to explain.

“I’m a whore, what can I say,” Danko said. “Even if I was an insurance salesman I would still go home and write for myself, my wife and friends. I love to write.”

That dedication to writing, he said, developed while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in English at CSUN in the late 1980s.

“Oddly enough, it was a teacher at CSUN who told me I was wasting my time and would never amount to anything working in the comic book industry,” he said. “The more people who told me to quit, that I wasn’t up to par, the more desire I had to prove them wrong.”