|Michael Chase Walker is author of “Power Screenwriting: The 12 Stages of Story Development.” He is a screenwriter with numerous credits to his name, including “Cupid” for Steven Spielberg, “Catch a Fire,” “The Bob Marley Story” and “The Poet and the Tsar: The Life and Times of Alexander Pushkin.” He just completed “Circus Galacticus: Circus of the Beyond” for John H. Williams (“Shrek”) and Vanguard Animation.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Manhattan, NYC. As for growing up, I still haven’t. I’m not just being cute about this. It’s a relevant notion for all storytellers, screenwriters and artists. The great Dr. Freud once opined about Da Vinci, “Indeed, the great Leonardo remained like a child for the whole of his life in more than one way; it is said that all great men are bound to retain some infantile part. Even as an adult he continued to play, and this was another reason why he often appeared uncanny and incomprehensible to his contemporaries.”
It is the idea of play that remains at the very core of human psychology, storytelling and evolution. The brilliant Austrian animal psychologist Konrad Lorenz emphasized this in his observations on human nature: “Every study undertaken by Man was the genuine outcome of curiosity, a kind of game. All the data of natural science, which are responsible for Man’s domination of the world, originated in activities that were indulged in exclusively for the sake of amusement.”
The Bard, too, emulated this idea by suggesting “The play is the thing!” and it’s true not just literally, but figuratively. It is our sense of play that accelerates and stimulates our synaptic responses. There are regions in Japan where this ludic notion spills over into their language as both formal and informal tenses. The system is known as asobase-kotoba and requires one to phrase one’s questions indirectly, such as, one would never ask you directly if your grandfather is dead, they would rather inquire, “I hear your grandfather is playing at being dead.”
I think this has far more implications than we realize, and not just socially but physiologically. For instance, I’ve always found an uncanny connection between the natural structure of the triumvirate brain and classic three-act structure of the myth. Is there a correlation between our storytelling and our physical evolution? Yes, I think so.
When did you first become drawn to filmmaking? Writing?
It came very naturally for me. I was a child actor, storyteller, fabulist and raconteur. My mother was a famous model and actress in the early years of television and I grew up watching her, and sometimes, acting with her on television (“Naked City,” Vicks VapoRub commercials, etc.). It was quite easy for someone with my hyperintuitive nervous system to confuse “reality” with the world of movies and television, because that’s where my mother lived during the day—between intermissions of “Mighty Joe Young,” “Gunga Din” and Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” on the “Early Show.”
She looked a lot like Doris Day, so it was also easy to create a kind of simulacrum between my actual life and the Manhattan-based screwball comedies of the period, such as “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” “Pillow Talk,” “Lover Come Back,” and “The Thrill of it All.” I was accustomed to seeing Robert Duvall, Moses Gunn, Leo Penn, Joe Maross, Alfred Ryder, Mitch Miller, Johnny Mathis, Leslie Uggams, Terry Carter and many other stars at my parents’ cocktail parties.
My father was a celebrated clothier from a prominent family of Jewish haberdashers. Movie stars patronized our family clothing business, along with baseball stars, fashion icons, and Runyonesque characters from the criminal underworld. So, I was exposed to a very glamorous and larger-than-life Manhattan lifestyle at an extremely impressionable age. It was only natural that I would one day migrate into the entertainment business.
How did you learn your craft?
I’ve spent the better part of my life studying, writing, reading and lecturing on a wide range of mythological disciplines. I’ve come to appreciate screenwriting and storytelling as a profound melding of both science and art. Never let anyone tell you storytelling is not a science. It’s related to neuro-biology, behavioral science and psychology. In the future it will be taught as a science, and it is for that reason why psychiatrists such as Freud, Jung, Reich and Bettelheim drifted into mythology at the apogee of their distinguished careers.
I’ve spent the better part of 14 hours a day for the last 30 years directly involved with my craft. Forget Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours (“Outliers”). I must have logged in 50,000, but then again I wasn’t just interested in screenwriting per se, I was obsessed with the idea of man achieving his enormous potential through his imagination. I took it upon myself to study every cosmological tale from every culture since the earliest of man’s ontological musings.
What was your first big break as a screenwriter?
It was thrown at me and I really took it for granted. I wasn’t a real writer then, but rather a gregarious raconteur with an embarrassment of rich ideas and a flamboyant compulsion to see them on screen. It naturally followed after I pitched my ideas, producers would invariably hire me to write them. But I was such an insufferable extrovert it was excruciatingly painful to have to sit down and actually do the work. After a while, you realize you’re the only one who can tell your stories. At that point, I began to take myself more seriously.
I was sharing offices with Sydney Pollack on a major development deal at Tri-Star Pictures when he took me aside one day and said bluntly, “Producers don’t get movies made, Michael, actors, writers and directors do.” After tapping out my first couple of screenplays, John H. Williams of Vanguard Films sent me to Jamaica for a year to adapt “Catch a Fire: The Life and Music of Bob Marley.”
What was going to Jamaica like? What was involved in the entire process?
I arrived Thanksgiving Day. The Reggae/Rasta revolution had begun twenty years earlier, but it felt like it had just happened. The studio leased this 90-year-old “Busha's house” on fifteen lush acres overlooking the Caribbean, and it very quickly became a Mecca for every dreadlocked Rasta on the island who wanted to “come reason wid da man who scribe da Bob Marley flim (sic).” Talk about pressure. Bob had touched so many people, not a single one could imagine a film in which they did not play a major role. Every Rasta had his own movie version of "Bob and Me" in his head and insisted on running it by me frame by frame. It was hysterically funny, but also deeply touching. Bob brought such life and hope to the disenfranchised of Jamaica, it couldn't help but spread to the entire world.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better producer than John Williams; he spared no expense in setting me up in the West Indies for a year. He let me alone to soak up the atmosphere with only an occasional trip to the island. Sadly, I was a novice screenwriter and bled through my eyeballs most of the year.
I was going through a divorce at the time, so I was really blessed to have my eight-year-old son with me, too. The entire island of Jamaica welcomed me. I had met Bob Marley in 1975 when my brother Jeffrey Walker ran Island Records Public Relations. He was singlehandedly responsible for creating Bob’s personae and popularity in the U.S. He was much beloved by Bob and many of the Rastas around Bob, so it was only natural they afforded me every interview I requested. All, that is, but Bunny Wailer (Livingston). He wanted no part of the film. I met with Joe Griggs, Mortimo Plano, Alan “Skill” Cole (Bob’s closest friend gave me a personal tour through Trenchtown). I got to meet Georgi who “made the fire light,” Cindy Breakspeare, Bob’s great love, and many, many more influential characters in his life.
And what was your first break as a producer?
I was an animation producer with my own boutique advertising agency in Peoria, Illinois. I bought the rights to Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” outright and promptly found myself with a development deal at Warner Bros. within a month of moving to Los Angeles.
My office was a pay phone near the legendary Schwab’s pharmacy on the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset. I literally went from living in a lean to in my brother’s back yard to a gorgeous house in the hills in less than a month’s time. It wasn’t quite Lana Turner, but it was close.
Warners was very excited about the prospects of Ralph Bakshi’s animated “Lord of the Rings” opening in December, so they basically paid me a fortune just to hold the rights until it opened. If it went through the roof, they would have gone ahead, but since it was only moderately received, they cut me loose after six months.
You owned and ran an animation company, But Will It Play in Peoria, at one point. Can you tell us more about the company and the films you produced? And what about animation in general has drawn you to working in this medium so much?
I have always had an avid if not preternatural attraction to religion, mysticism and world mythology. It’s as though I understood from a very young age these were the building blocks of human consciousness. I progressed from writing and publishing children’s books to what I thought was a logical extension to animated commercials, television and motion pictures. For me, animation was a direct conduit to the world of the imagination—much more so than live action. I wanted to tell stories that not only stretch the boundaries of what is possible, but tantalize and inspire audiences with the sheer exhilaration of light, color, images, sound and story.
But, Will It Play in Peoria was a small-town Andy Hardy type effort in the “let’s put on a musical” tradition. Within a year, we swept the regional advertising awards ceremonies, and that gave me the money to acquire the motion picture rights to Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn.”
You moved to Los Angeles to produce “The Last Unicorn” (1982), which Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin co-directed and which featured the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow and Christopher Lee. What was that experience like? What did you learn from it? How was it working with Beagle, who adapted from his own novel?
My strategy from the beginning was starting from the top, and this had its advantages as well as its drawbacks. Everything happened so fast for me I never really appreciated what it was like to have to start at the bottom. I was an avid practitioner of Eastern philosophy too, so I tried not to be too “attached” to the fruits of my efforts. This created a peculiar type of dissociation from my efforts, and subsequently I became a little too cavalier with both my talent and my opportunities. Ah, youth!
Peter Beagle and I became very close friends and eventually fell out. Christopher Lee became my son Joshua’s godfather. “The Last Unicorn” was both a huge disappointment and an exhilarating achievement. It was a real eye opener as to the general deficiencies around animated film production and distribution at that time.
There wasn’t a great appetite for animation. I gained immediate entree to all the studios by just calling up whoever was in the trades that day. No agent, I just simply phoned the president of the studio, left word with the secretary or assistant explaining I owned the rights to “The Last Unicorn,” and within a few days I was in the executive suites pitching my heart out. It didn’t hurt that the legendary story analyst Joe Richardson’s studio coverage of “The Last Unicorn” novel was off the hook. And I quote: compared to “Tolkien’s overrated ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘The Last Unicorn’ is a true masterpiece!” His coverage made me look like a genius!
The legendary Frank Paris of Disney offered me the moon. Sidney Beckerman advised me on my first deal over breakfast at Nate and Al’s. Daniel H. Blatt partnered with me on a few projects, and Martin Starger impressed me as one of the great studio heads of his time. Sadly, my efforts were vastly ahead of the curve. It wouldn’t be until Peter Schneider, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken took over Disney that animation would start to tap into its enormous potential by doing exactly what I had hoped to do—fantastical fairytale love stories with great soundtracks. Unfortunately, they had The Nine Old Men and I had a $3,000,000 budget.
I wound up writing four or five screenplays with Peter, but he did all the heavy lifting on his adaptation of “The Last Unicorn.” Of course, he wrote the novel and approached the script with as much loving detail as one would one’s own creation. It was a great, great script and you can tell that even today. Even with the stilted, crappy animation, the literary quality of the dialogue and character development is both timeless and exquisite.
You next became head of creative affairs for Rankin-Bass Productions and oversaw such projects as “J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King,” “The Wind and the Willows” and “The Flight of Dragons.” What was involved for you in overseeing these projects?
I had to move back to New York at a pivotal time in my career, which in hindsight was a big mistake—if there is such a thing. I was an up-and-coming wunderkind on the West Coast once my story hit the trades, but I let Jules Bass talk me into moving back to New York City. I really admired the two of them. Similar to my own journey they migrated out of advertising, saw a niche in animation and filled it. I was most impressed by how rich they became from producing television shows. To me, television was an orphan to the real thing of motion pictures. Profitwise, though, nothing was further from the truth.
Jules Bass wanted to teach me to become a nuts-and-bolts line producer, but I didn’t really have the patience for it. I loved books, writers, artists, story development, agency meetings, buying rights and finding great screenplays at a pace that only L.A. really supported. I bristled at any vocation that tied me down to a quotidian routine. Which, of course, is what writing is all about. I was fighting my destiny at the time.
Once I got back to the city there was a lot of wind blowing through the canyons. Rankin-Bass lured me there with the assurance of building a presence out on the West Coast, but that was just smoke. Arthur Rankin lived in the Bahamas, and Jules resided in Cannes for half the year. Besides, New York wasn’t really in the film business—not like L.A.—and I missed it.
The best thing about my time with Rankin-Bass was what I learned about copyrights, dealing with literary estates, rights acquisitions and intellectual property law. Years later, I applied to law school and was admitted I’m sure because of the treatise I wrote on Saul Zaentz and the Tolkien estate v. ABC and Rankin-Bass.
What did you learn about dealing with estates? Acquisitions? What should writers be aware of, especially the ones who want to option material themselves?
Truthfully, I recommend studying copyright and intellectual property law, as it is one of the most fascinating aspects of our business. There is nothing more rewarding than finding, negotiating, acquiring, developing and ultimately selling a literary package. As autonomous as one can be in this business the better. If you can do it yourself with competence, you’re much better off than having to depend on a gaggle of lawyers every time you want to acquire a property.
Every writer should have a well-versed background in copyright and intellectual property law. As far as what to be aware of, I guess the most important thing to know is YOU CAN’T COPYRIGHT AN IDEA, PERIOD. If you fully understand the implications of this, you can soar!
I do recommend writers option properties, but only after they fully comprehend the intricacies of copyright law. You should never option on an impulse, and you must be certain that the unique elements of the original property actually warrant an option. I hear a lot about amateurs optioning properties when there really was no need. So, the two operating maxims for all writers and adaptations are: you can’t copyright an idea, and the old T.S. Eliot credo, Immature poets borrow, mature poets steal. That might sound scandalously larcenous, but it’s really not. The more you mature as a writer, the more you’re able to connect all the literary dots. For instance, Apuleius’s “The Golden Ass” was written in 125 AD and yet it is the source of the original story of Cupid and Psyche. If you read the original story of Cupid and Psyche you can excavate the origins of everything from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Much Ado About Nothing” to “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty” and countless variations thereof.
From there, you moved on to work as a staff writer and story developer for the syndicated series “He-Man and She-Ra Hour of Power.” Describe working on the show. What was your week like? What challenges did you face that you wouldn’t come across on a live action project? How were episodes assigned? What was the writers’ table like?
Well, the really great thing about it was working with tried and true writers like Joe Straczynski and Larry DiTillio. They were the real deal and I got to learn a great deal from watching and reading their scripts.
Of course, Lou Scheimer of Filmation was a legend of television and I really enjoyed working for him. Art Nadel was our story editor and I learned a lot from him. He was very patient and avuncular in bringing me along. I was adapting esoteric Sufi tales from Gurdjieff and inserting them into He-Man and She-Ra’s adventures. Art got the biggest kick out that. Of course, Lou never caught on. I’m not sure Larry or Joe did either, but then again they were leagues ahead of me. I wasn’t so much a writer as I was a story enthusiast and developing producer.
I arrived in my cubbyhole office at 7:00 a.m. every morning, and this went a long way in impressing Art. He was terrific. He had such a competent staff of accomplished writers, the only one he had to spoon feed was me. As usual, I had all the ideas but very little skill. Art taught me a great deal about how clear you had to be, and this was a both painful and exacting process. Art just redlined everything and had a brilliant eye for laziness. When he saw it, he would call you out on it—with a large, red DO BETTER!
Next you joined the writing staff of World Event Productions to write the animated television series “Voltron: Defender of the Universe.” How did this job come about? Did the dynamics of the writing staff differ greatly from “He-Man and She-Ra”?
Unlike Filmation, a bunch of us worked freelance. I had my own suite of offices at Tri-Star pictures in Century City. I would lock myself up and watch Japanese versions of Voltron and not emerge until I had a script in hand. It was painful. Writing for me was the most painful experience of my life. I hated it. I resented the alone time, but I somehow soldiered through it for the sake of my son.
CBS Television hired you as director of children’s programming. You supervised various shows ranging from “Pee-wee's Playhouse” to “Galaxy High School” and “Teen Wolf.” What were your responsibilities each week for these programs? How was being in charge of these projects for CBS different from being a producer? What challenges did you face? Did you find your background in writing helped?
It was the best job I ever had—even to this day. It was much better than producing films. The problem was with the people in animation at that time. For some reason it attracted the dregs of the film and television industry on both the network and production side. I had a passion for the potential of animated storytelling, but most of the executives and producers were frustrated hacks and ruthless secretaries who inherited their jobs by default because no one else wanted them, and they cleaved to their piddling little power bases with all the desperation they could muster—all the while choking the very life blood of a brilliant art form.
I brought in world-caliber feature film writers, artists and musicians like Chris Columbus, Jimmy Webb, Peter S. Beagle, Jeph Loeb, Flint Dille, Linda Woolverton, Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman and many more. I modeled a Saturday morning schedule after the old Saturday movie matinees of the fifties—science fiction, cartoons, comedies and horror—and paved the way for CBS as a real player. I was even meeting with the AMC movie chain about running ads for my Saturday morning schedule, which at that time was unheard of.
Now, of course, it’s commonplace to see television programs advertised in movie theaters. Eventually, my own renegade style played a little too fast and furious with the rigid corporate atmosphere of CBS, and I moved on.
In 2002, Lone Eagle published your book “Power Screenwriting: The 12 Stages of Story Development.” What inspired you to write this book? Can you briefly tell us about the various stages and what key points you cover?
I taught Screenwriting 1, 2 and 3, Story Development and the History of Animation at the College of Santa Fe Moving Images Division for five years, but there were virtually no books on the subject from my perspective—the perspective of archetypal story structure. There was Linda Seger and Syd Field and the “Hooray for Hollywood” approach. But as a teacher, I was more aligned with Plato, when he wrote, “Well, my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs, but differs, in that I attend writers, not women, and I look after their souls when they are in labor, and not after their bodies, and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought in the mind which the young writer brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth.”
Through “Power Screenwriting,” I tried to develop a plug-and-play model for the novice screenwriter as to how to best germinate a basic idea into a full-fledged screenplay. So in effect, it was much more concerned with the writer’s process than the actual minutia of screenwriting. Of course, I wrote the manual for my students and the College of Santa Fe Film School, but it offered stages such as theme, premise, structure, character development, and so forth.
The basic premise of the book is to inspire young writers to know archetypal story structure as a key to writing great movies. If you can see the underlying premise of an ancient Persian cosmology story in “Cider House Rules” or detect the remnant strains of Sumerian mythology in “The Wizard of Oz,” you’re not only on your way to becoming a great screenwriter but a protean example of human evolution, as well. Not a bad goal.
Your graphic novel “Circus Galacticus” was picked up by Vanguard Films in August of this year. How and when did you find yourself writing a graphic novel? Can you tell us about the genesis of the idea? How was writing this different from writing a screenplay?
I’ve always been writing graphic novels as screenplays and vice versa. The stories I’ve always written or produced, dating back to “The Last Unicorn” and so forth, have always been in the tradition of graphic novels, even when graphic novels were not the phenomenon they are today.
I realized it twenty years ago. John Williams and Rob Moreland and Vanguard have been at it for as long as anyone. I was developing a series of French graphic novels with Peter S. Beagle called “The Mask of the Red Paw” as early as 1990. Typically, it’s taken the industry to catch up to us rather than the opposite.
The whole idea of “Circus Galacticus” came from an image I had of Arnold Schwarzenegger wrestling with a seven-headed hydra à la (Ray) Harryhausen’s “Sinbad” series (my absolute favorite childhood movies). I originally sold it to Vanguard in 2000, but the rights reverted to me. After eight years of CGI breakthroughs, I retooled the pitch with images from Frank Frazetta, John Perry Barlow and Dougal Dixon’s “After Man”—a book John Williams and I bought and developed back in 1997.
You’ve actually written a few projects for Vanguard Films, including “Catch a Fire: The Life and Music of Bob Marley” and “The Poet and the Tsar: The Life and Times of Alexander Pushkin.” How did these scripts come about? Can you give us more details on the research and writing you put into them? Also, what’s currently taking place with them?
John H. Williams and I go back a long way, and we have developed a shorthand for working together all these years. I was busy writing and teaching and not particularly interested in living in L.A. while I was perfecting my craft. It was easier for me to pick up the phone and sell project after project to John with little more than a phone call.
Together we bought and sold a number of stellar literary properties, “After Man,” “Galaxy High School,” “The Court Jester,” “Wee Geordie,” “Siddhartha,” “The Twits,” and many more. John was instrumental in encouraging me to write screenplays at considerable sacrifice and expense. I’ve always wanted to repay his faith in me by hitting a couple of films out of the ballpark for him.
Actually all these stories are still in active development at DreamWorks, Working Title, MGM and other studios. In 1998, I sold my day-to-day participation in these pictures to John.
And along with your writing, of course, you’ve set up a few projects with Vanguard as a producer. Can you briefly tell us what they are? How did you come to be involved with the material? Any stories about the development process?
I have an uncanny talent for finding and developing projects, and up until now I’ve been woefully cavalier about putting my personal imprint on them. No longer. I have the ability to identify, develop and discover properties right out from under the noses of the very top studios and producers. John H. Williams and Rob Moreland have recognized it while others are just now catching on. As to what we are developing and producing, they will be announced in the ensuing months. I must say working with Rob Moreland on “Circus Galacticus” has been an enormously rewarding experience. Vanguard’s instincts have been spot on throughout the entire acquisition and development process.
What did the acquisition and development process involve, literally? What were the various stages? What should an up-and-coming writer know?
Well, now you have to go back to the early sources of inspiration, or what Frobenius describes as an “eruption of emotion.” It could be anything. The best example in film is Alan Ball talking about that black plastic Glad bag in “American Beauty.” He speaks about how from just watching it tussle and turn came the whole idea for “American Beauty.” That’s the first thing you have to look for—the momentary eruption of emotion triggered by a painting, a word, an incident, a book, a composition or even a mathematical equation. When that force hits you between the eyes you have to follow it—the real artist does, the non-artist doesn’t. It’s kind of like that scene in “Pulp Fiction” when Jules sees the bullet holes on the wall as a sign to get the hell out of the hit man game, and Vince doesn’t. One lives and the other winds up dead on a toilet seat.
The thing you have to watch out for is not to confuse your own inspiration with the object that inspired you. Did Alan Ball immediately run out and try to option the plastic bag? Of course not. So once you have a seasoned eye about what to look for and how to develop it, the development world is pretty much your oyster.
You’re currently repped by Kathy Muraviov of The Muraviov Company. How did you happen to become represented by her? What’s your relationship like? Do you talk often?
Every day. I’ve not had tremendous luck with agents even while I hold the vocation in great esteem. To my own discredit, I have been far too casual about my career and talents and because of that probably not the best candidate for larger agency representation.
My association with Kathy has been the best experience of my career. We have the same shorthand about projects, but unlike so many other agents she has the true editorial skills of the great ones like Harold Ober or Leland Hayward. She rides herd over me like none have ever been able to do. She is a formidable taskmaster whom I respect immensely. It’s funny how you can look your whole life for that kind of collaboration, but it only comes when it comes, and there’s little you can do to rush it.
What about feedback on your writing? How do you handle that? And who do you rely on most for feedback?
To a certain extent, you have to not rely on feedback while you’re developing your own voice, and that can take years and years to do.
So, for the first 10,000 hours you just need to write and write and write and not pay any attention to what people are saying. Otherwise the voice you develop will not be your own, or it will be too timid or tentative, or even controlled—and let’s face it, developing your own voice is much harder and much more crucial than selling your work.
I think Quentin Tarantino is the perfect example of both the best and worst of writing fates. The best because his early efforts realized such cinematic perfection as “Reservoir Dogs,” “True Romance,” “Natural Born Killers” and the great apogee of screenwriting with Roger Avary, “Pulp Fiction.” The worst in that it is probably true he will never achieve that kind of perfection again.
Roger Avary, on the other hand, while not as celebrated, is a much preferred career tack. He not only has “Pulp Fiction” to his credit but he most recently added “Beowulf” to it, which I regard as both a literary and cinematic masterpiece.
This last analogy served me correctly for years and I wholeheartedly believed it to be true until last Saturday night when I broke down and saw “Inglourious Basterds.” Well, Tarantino could not have been more brilliant. Everything I loved about his early films was back with a vengeance—all the Grand Guignol, the total flouting of history in favor of thematic/cinematic truth—I loved it! Even the long, self-indulgent monologues that were so tiresome in “Deathtrap” achieved perfection when distributed between English, French and German. Wow! I loved it and have never been so happy to be proven wrong!
What’s a typical writing day like for you?
Write, write, write and write. When I get tired of writing a screenplay, I’ll write a blog, a Facebook entry, a treatment, synopsis or an outline. If not writing I’ll trawl for projects, books, news articles or undeveloped ideas.
Do you outline all your stories first? Write treatments? How do you prepare before you begin a script?
The best thing is to let a story cook, but that’s usually too loosely structured. Of late, I’ve really enjoyed writing the concept, selling the concept to a studio or a producer, and then developing the outline, treatment and storyline with the studio and the producer before going to script.
How do you approach rewrites? Any method or path that you typically follow?
I guess all the years I’ve wasted stubbornly persisting on making my own mistakes have led me to become a great story doctor, because there is no mistake I haven’t made or can’t correct. All those years of developing in isolation have made me appreciate the collaborative process that is screenwriting today, and I am more enthusiastic about it than ever before. The only problem is finding an agent, producer and studio executive who know what the fuck they’re talking about. When that happens it’s heaven on earth.
The best insight I can offer about rewriting is to do it constantly, do it every day, do it while you’re plugging through the first draft. The top criteria of a great script are clarity, speed, fluidity and seamlessness. A great script, as David Howard opines, should be like reading a “seamless dream.” That is my goal for every screenplay.
What realities do you feel more writers should know about the industry? Also, what should a person interested in writing for animation be aware of when trying to break in?
It used to be the line between animation and live action was distinct and severe, but no longer. Today the line is blurred.
“Beowulf” will most likely be the wave of the future because of both its storytelling and its technological perfection. While it has a few kinks to work out, I’m sure we are looking to the day when this type of film will surpass the best CGI efforts from both Pixar and DreamWorks combined.
Of course, success will come to all those who perfect their storytelling proficiencies along with the scope of their tales and the quality of their acting, imagery and special effects. This is the Holy Grail for the screenwriters of tomorrow.
Robert McKee used to lament that the art of acting had long surpassed the art of writing. Today, technology has surpassed the median skill of today’s storytellers with the exception of writers like Orci, Kurtzman, Avary and Gaiman.
If you want to write for films of the future, you must become proficient in the storytelling demands of future filmmaking, and that is unfolding rapidly before our very eyes.
What are you working on next?
I have five live action and animated movies I am developing with Vanguard and other studios, which I will be announcing in the next few months.