Let’s get those brains stimulated, people!

You mean movies can be smart AND good?
You mean movies can be smart AND good?

One of my favorite things to do as a parent is go to the movies with my daughter. It’s a nice feeling knowing I’ve instilled in her the appreciation of the whole moviegoing experience. It also helps that there’s a fantastic two-screen (one of a handful of similar small neighborhood theatres in San Francisco) a few blocks from us.

And as she’s getting older, our choices are growing in number. Strictly kid-based animation has given way to PG-13 fare, so we try to see what we can when possible.

Earlier this summer, we caught JURASSIC WORLD and INSIDE OUT within a week’s time. She really enjoyed the dinosaur flick. I thought it was fun, but felt it relied more on the nostalgia factor rather than smart storytelling (“Remember when we helped Grandpa fix that old car?”). I found the latest offering from Pixar to be pure genius, while she found it to be simply “okay”. I asked why she liked the first movie more than the second.

“I think I like movies where you don’t have to think too much.”


I won’t go so far as to say it was a dagger in my heart, but you can probably understand my being taken somewhat aback.

I could easily chalk it up to that she’s still relatively young and hasn’t latched on to my love of the movies to the extent that I have. Like I said, the list of what she’s seen is somewhat limited. I’ve done what I can, and hopefully can continue to contribute to it.

But as a writer, what’s my biggest takeaway from this?

Obviously I want to write scripts for films that will be embraced by the general public, which means they’d have to be simple enough that anybody could follow along, but also written in a way that the reader/audience doesn’t feel insulted or talked down to.

All this talk about needing to appeal to the lowest common denominator has always bothered me. It makes it sound like there’s no point in trying to write something smart.

I beg to differ.

Getting the reader/audience to really think about the story gets them more involved. You hooked with them with the beginning, kept them intrigued throughout the middle, and now they’re compelled to find out how it all ends. Isn’t that what it all comes down to?

I love it when I read a script where it’s obvious a writer knows what they’re doing when it comes to telling a story. Setups and payoffs. Multi-dimensional characters. Plotlines where I know what the endpoint is, have no idea how we’re going to get there, and am getting a real kick out of taking the journey.

This is the kind of writing we should all strive to create.

It’s easy to write something that doesn’t try to challenge the reader/audience, and the reaction will probably be similar. “Boring.” “Unoriginal.” “Meh.”

Push yourself to write something that offers up something new, or at least a new twist on an old standard. Give us something we haven’t seen before, or totally weren’t expecting. Not just one part. THE WHOLE THING. There’s something exhilarating about venturing into new territory. Take us there.

We’re writers. It’s what we do.

Casting a wider net

Always trying to catch a little more
Always trying to catch a little more

As you work your way through the various stages of assembling your story, how much do you take the audience’s needs and wants into account?

You’re obviously writing something you would want to see, but do you ever consider the viewing tastes of someone who’s not like you whatsoever?

While I may write high-concept tales of adventure that would definitely appeal to 12-year-old me, it’s also my objective to try to craft those stories in such a way so they could entertain anybody of any age.

(Strong examples of this kind of storytelling? Most of the Pixar catalog.)

Here are just a few things to take into consideration:

-Are you treating the reader/audience the way they should be treated? Which means with intelligence. I’ve always hated when a story feels dumbed down, and suspect most other moviegoers do as well.

-That being said, is your story simple enough to the point that anybody could understand what’s going on, or at least have a general understanding of it?

-Regardless of what genre your story falls into, how much are you taking advantage of the elements of that genre? Since you’re most likely already a fan and probably have a good idea of what’s expected, this is your golden opportunity to show the rest of us what’s so appealing about it. Play on those strengths.

-With modern audiences more knowledgeable and movie-savvy than most writers realize, it’s more important than ever to come up with material that’s really new and original. What is it about your story that really sets it apart? What can you offer that we haven’t seen before?

As we start with an idea, develop it into a story that will eventually end up as a script, a lot of us daydream about the resulting movie, and how totally awesome it would be for it to be a big hit.

We can just picture the tremendous box office, rave reviews, non-stop awards, a king’s ransom of a paycheck, being begged to pick from a smorgasbord of new projects, all stemming from this story we cranked out with our own little hands, now practically guaranteed a place in the pantheon of pop culture.

“Everybody’s going to love it!” you imagine.

The reality is – they’re not, and a lot of that stuff won’t happen. But don’t let that stop you from trying.

The best we can do is write a solid, entertaining story populated with interesting characters who find themselves in unique situations, and hope people like it.

Destination: uncharted territory

And my journey continues…

First and foremost, thanks to everybody for the hearty congrats. Words of encouragement from one’s peers are always nice, doubly so when it’s from people you know are good writers.

I’ll also admit to sending updates of my recent accomplishments to my old writing group, more with the intent of “Hey kids, ain’t this swell?” rather than “Suck on it, losers!”

And a big mazel tov to the 24 other semifinalists, 10 finalists and the top 3 winners of the Tracking Board Launchpad contest. Best of luck to all of you on your future endeavors! Celebrate in your desired appropriate style. I find pie to always be a solid viable option.

Speaking of which (the writing stuff, not the pie), these are exciting times. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to something potentially happening with one of my scripts before – he said with fingers firmly crossed.

There isn’t a writer out there, including yours truly, who doesn’t daydream about achieving some kind of success while they hammer away at their latest project.

But things are different for me now, and a new learning curve is underway.  I’m a bit nervous, but still quite psyched about it.

This is exactly what I’ve been working towards, and feel very fortunate to have even made it this far. I hope everybody can experience this kind of sensation at least once.

So all I can do now is keep writing and maintain a positive attitude while staying reasonably sane and level-headed.

I’m a huge fan of tales from the trenches, so any anecdotes of early-in-my-career experiences and such are more than welcome in the comments below.

-Movie of the Moment: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013). I didn’t think there was really a demand for this; the first one seemed more than enough. Despite it’s box office success, I wouldn’t call this another home run for Pixar. A triple, maybe. And kudos to them for making the college experience as G-rated/Disney-safe as possible.

V was interested in seeing it, but she didn’t laugh that much. There were chuckles from both of us, but not as many as you would expect.

Still, glad we saw it, especially in 2-D, and at one of SF’s remaining single-screen theatres. We’re always happy to send them business.

-It’s heartbreaking on several levels to read how much THE LONE RANGER is sounding more and more like a train wreck (no pun intended). Hopefully this won’t be yet another death knell for westerns in 21st century, such as the one I’m working on.  I’m discouraged, but not defeated.

Mistake. Not learning. Doomed. (repeat)

You’d think I’d get it by now

Sometimes I do things that are counterproductive. Almost even stupid in their execution.  Practically on a level of “what the hell was I thinking?” And apparently I’ve done it again.

I went to the internet seeking somebody’s opinion on my work. Yeah, I know.

I posted my logline on a few message boards, curious to know if it works. Some comments have been positive, while others…  Let’s not call them negative, but there does seem to be a strong critical-without-guidance vibe. Do some of them realize they’re coming across as snobbish?

It’s also important to remember that these are public forums, which means the public is responding, which means there are varying degrees of experience out there.  Probably some with even less than me, of which I suspect there are more than a few. Curious to know if any of them are actual working screenwriters.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate every single comment (albeit to a certain degree), but don’t like feeling like I have to keep changing my stuff to make them happy.  I also have to remind myself it’s my script, and it ultimately comes down to what I think works best.

And at this point, it’s probably time to stop using the message boards as much and start seeking professional feedback. Guidance from somebody with actual industry experience seems like it would be a little more reliable.

*side note – it’s fascinating to see how people interpret what they read. Some of the revamped loglines focus on key words and take a sharp turn from there.

-Movie of the Moment: It’s been a while, but I’ve seen three new releases in the past week.

BRAVE – beautiful to look at, but haven’t we heard this story before? I was really expecting something a little more different from the folks across the Bay in Emeryville, although the bear subplot was unexpected.

MADAGASCAR 3 – surprisingly funnier than I thought it would be.  Especially nice how they wove subplot threads throughout and wrapped them all up in the end.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN –  okay, but not as fun as THE AVENGERS, but I did like the Spidey POV shots while he’s swinging around New York. Also impressed with how they made the Lizard an actual formidable bad guy, but really felt they could have done more with it. No great desire to see it again or own it. Hope they use Raimi’s Spidey #2 as a guide in terms of fun and quality for the sequel, but please: stop taking off the mask, and NO VENOM.

Regarding THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: the trailers are doing a phenomenal job in increasing my desire to see this. I may even be so bold as to consider seeing it in IMAX.

Time to put on my editing hat

Nice progress today on the outline.  I’m getting close to the midpoint, with only a handful of scenes left to fill in.  But it also looks like I’m going to need more scenes than I expected to get there.

I’m a bit concerned I may try to jam too much into that handful.  The first quarter of Act Two is approximately 16-17 pages, and I’m nearing the end of that second quarter.  I know what I would like to happen in those pages, but worry it may run around 20 pages, or even more.

I’m trying to keep things nice and tight, but don’t want to skimp on moving the story forward.

I may go the “get it all on the page” route, and then edit the hell out of it.  I could also probably shrink down that first quarter-section by at least 1-2 pages.  I suppose the important part is it’s getting done, period.

I’m also a little surprised about how productive I’ve been over the past few weeks.  When I first started this a few months ago, I had a very basic idea of what I wanted.  But the more I worked at it, the harder it seemed to keep things moving.  The self-doubt started to creep in, but I had a good feeling about this and was determined to keep going.

I noticed that when I would read what I had written, some of it would come across in a different way than I originally intended, which really triggered the creative process.  A lot of “What ifs?” and “How abouts?” just bubbled to the surface, paying off immeasurably more than I could have expected.  So far, that feeling returns just about every time I sit down to work.

No doubt about it.  I am a creative dynamo when things are clicking.

What’s also really cool about working on LUCY is I’m really enjoying it.  I worked on BABY LIKES JAZZ for two years, and was never satisfied with it.  As much as I enjoy comedy, it just ain’t my thing.  In contrast, the spirit of adventure that runs through LUCY is quite liberating, and dare I say it?  Energizing.

Hopefully people (and Hollywood) will feel the same way when it’s done and ready for public consumption.

Movie of the Moment: RATATOUILLE. V and I watched the first half the other day. This is one of Pixar’s underappreciated gems, and I’m not just saying that because I love Paris.  And food.

It’s a clever, original story, told with the usual Pixar flair.  My one complaint is the number of chefs in the kitchen.  It was hard to keep track of who was who, and it’s Linguini’s story anyway, so when they all left, things were much easier to follow.