Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ideas - Arenas - The Modern Way To Write Stories

I had a pitch meeting at Dreamworks once -where the stories are so imaginative they could only happen in dreams. They actually called me and asked me to pitch so I got all excited and brought a couple very specific well developed character-based ideas I had that I thought I could develop into movie stories.
They weren't ready to let me open my portfolio to show them.

They said "We don't like to look at characters right away. We don't want to be swayed by interesting or funny characters. The way we create stories here is to think of an "arena" first."What's an 'arena'?" I asked ignorantly.

"We think of an environment or setting that we think would make a good story - like say, trees, or maybe underwater. Then we research it to see what kind of animals live in that environment and if they are funny. You know like, once we've decided water would be a funny place for a story, then we start thinking about what kind of characters would populate that "arena", like let's say "fish". Yes fish would fit nicely into the underwater arena. Or maybe crabs. If we are really feeling wild and wacky, we might put a crazy jellyfish or something in there. Or 2 to make it twice as funny." I asked what they needed me for if that was all it took to make a story.

They said "Well we know you are really good at creating characters with personality, and we'd like to see what you'd come up with doing things the Dreamworks way." (Actually this may be the way many studios do it, not just Dreamworks)

They suggested I go home and think of some arenas that might be fun to put characters in and then come back. I finished my free buffet lunch and shook hands all around and got ready to go work on some arenas, but then they stopped me to make another suggestion:

"Well, we'd really like to see what kind of arenas you could think of, like maybe you would think up for example "the desert arena".Another wise exec suggested "Yes! A desert arena! "

The other exec piped up with: "Then when you figure out out what sorts of animals could thrive in that arena, you think of what movie stars would fit those species. Some kind of animal that Robin Williams could play!" "Or Jim Carrey!" "Or Will Smith!" They had a litle trouble coming up with what kind of animals lived in deserts, but no trouble casting the actors.

"I bet you could come up with some hilarious characters for a desert! Like maybe....a CAMEL!" Then you'd think of like who could make a good camel in a cartoon? Maybe someone who is in every animated movie might work. Someone whose voice you would never recognize would be good."

They argued about which stars made the best camel: "Kevin Costner!" "No, Robin Williams!" "No, Elton John! Yes, someone who speaks to American family values!" This went on for awhile, then one of them stopped and turned to me, "Well of course John's the character guy. We don't wanna dictate to you what kind of character or which actor to use- you bring us your ideas! And feel free to use the desert arena! Only if you want! Maybe we could do Casablanca as a cartoon! - but don't let us influence you! We want to hear YOUR ideas!"

The other exec agreed wholeheartedly, but then assured me they probably wouldn't turn down a desert arena.

They patted me on the back vigorously and said they couldn't wait to hear my ideas.
As long as they took place in a desert and the story was borrowed from Casablanca.
This is a much more sophisticated way to come up with cartoon ideas than what I'm used to.

So I've learned that one type of "idea" is a place to live. If you can think of a place where things live, then you are an idea man.

Let's see...maybe a feature film could take place behind the fridge... on a lawn....or in a kitchen cabinet, or under a rock...


132 comments:

Pat Cashin said...

Yuck.

Just... yuck.

M. R Darbyshire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseff said...

Yeah, and the same "arena" method they used it to make Shark Tale, and look how THAT came out, and if you see all of Dreamworks movies are celebrity driven movies instead of the animation or art direction the movies have, for example Pixar.
Its a drag that people like that are making a hell of more money than me.

Shawn Dickinson said...

I have an idea!

Here's an "arena" you could try: How about George Liquor's house???

What kind of characters would live in a George Liquor house "arena"? ...Well, how about a George Liquor?! You could even throw in some extra characters...Like a nephew (or TWO nephews, if you're feeling WACKY). How about a cat? ...Or an idiot who thinks he's a chicken???

Let's see. What kind of famous star could you get to play the voice of a George Liquor? ...How about Mike Pataki???

Hmmm...that's a start. Can you borrow a Casablanca story for that?

MLP said...

So in your pitch, just specify that the camel (Rick Blaine) is played by Kevin Costner impersonating Robin Williams doing an impression of Elton John. They'll eat it up...

Torsten Adair said...

I just watched Casablanca on the big screen last night. It should be easy to adapt (if Warner's sells them the rights). Laslo and Elsa could be foxes (Elsa would be arctic, in white, Viktor in tan), the Nazis would be various large breeds of dogs, the German refugees smaller dog breeds...

Give Sam and the orchestra one comedy bit with song (to sell the soundtrack) and of course new animation for the DVD with a modern take on an old 1940s classic.

The ending would have to change... perhaps a chase through Casablanca? Add a musical montage of Elsa and Laslo escaping Paris and journeying to Casablanca at the beginning. Toss the Paris flashback... instead have Elsa and Rick sing a splitscreen love duet (for Oscar consideration) which explains their past.

Sign Casey Kasem as an advisor to avoid any Aladdin controversy.

See... it's quite easy! Of course, Dreamworks has adapted other stories (Bugs Life, for example) so they know what they're doing.

Mitch L said...

WTF!

Iron maiden said...

I find desert movies very boring and unapealing also how did the pitch go i want here more from it.

Potato. said...

I wonder if these corporate idiots have kids. Watch kids for a while. They respond to weirdness, and things that draw their attention from the mundane. Talking fish? Funny, because they're already in the ocean? The kids didn't care. Open Season? They didn't care. Schrek made the kids care, because he was weird and different. Start with something that's ALREADY funny and work around it. Classic entertainment was never decided by committee. It was, and always has been made by someone who tried something new and unique and the people loved it and it stayed in our collective consciousness because of that. The rest will be forgotten.

Jay Sabicer said...

Sounds to me that these folks are so concerned about having you give them an original idea, they insist on vagueness. This keeps them from having to drive down to WGAwest, look at finished scripts that may have a similar premise and actually have to PAY someone to use it. The 'arena' system deals with non-copyrightable ideas that in their pretzel logic will afford them some of the credit to Mssrs Spielberg and Katzenberg if they greenlight it. I know times are tough John, but I believe you've already come to the conclusion that you deserve much better than these idiots.

Pity you didn't have a hungry tiger at your side when having this meeting, which you would casually leave behind in the meeting room with these people while you freshened up.

Rick Roberts said...

So all they do at Dreamworks is take a random ecosystem, turn an animal that pertains to that enviroment into a celeberity charicature, and that is a creative original idea ?

I think Hollywood is the perfect place to start off with massive, unbiased, genocide.

nktoons said...

Very funny post, John. My trip to dreamworks, luckily was very different. I had the opportunity to visit the evening before thanksgiving. No turkey executives, the place was empty! I was shown around by one of there directors and had the chance to wander off and look at things for myself. The experience changed my life! I'm sooo glad nobody was there to ruin the fun!
As for there "arena" mentality that corporate speak is surprisingly third world.

ComiCrazys said...

NO F'IN' WAY!!! You're shittin' us, right? Is that for really real?!! That's so goddamn insane!

Hands down, you have got the BEST industry stories.

Ryan said...

This is our process. This is how things must be done. But we don't want to influence you.

It's so ridiculous, it sounds like you're making it up, but almost every story I've heard about Dreamwork's process makes it sound hilariously awkward. Like Dan Harmon's spiel about writing "what's in the bucket the panda is carrying."
http://www.channel101.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=117862#117862

Or Patton Oswalt talking about writing off-screen characters yelling jokes because everything on-screen has been animated already and needs to be made more funny:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bVJ5Z97aO0

T.R. said...

So they basically had a great idea for a mediocre movie so they called you in so you could pitch it for them.

J.R. Spumkin said...

Scary crap, John.

Scary, scary crap.

baldin said...

Wasn't that movie "Cars" set on a "desert arena"? No animals though, just cars! Now that's innovation right there, huh.

This post kinda creeped me out.

Rick Roberts said...

Ryan: Yeah I remember that Patton Oswalt bit but funniest, and extremely f***ed up part, is near the end. XD

Peter Bernard said...

I couldn't stop laughing at this. How about the "arena" is a television executive suite.

Luis said...

Narrow minds control world.

Shake the floor with a Space Arena and send some hipos to shift space-time with their 2 years old mind. RETARDED HIPOS ALWAYS WIN.


Dreamworks Executives need to let go the wihte powder.

Zorrilla said...

Surreal!!!!!

You could pitch the 'arena' arena... like in Gladiator.

Ryan said...

Okay, and this whole "decide what animals live in the arena" approach is completely backwards to the "3 Stooges" approach you often took with Ren and Stimpy. You've got Ren and Stimpy, and in one cartoon they're in space, but in another they're door-to-door salesmen, and then they're nature show hosts. You can use the same characters in more than one arena, that's amazing.

Javier said...

I agree with most commenters: it's a scary and sad thought to know the people in charge have such mentality. It is funny to come to know how such -in my opinion- horrid movies came into being, such as: Shark Tales and Antz, among others.
Now we see why the film industry mostly produces gold wrapped excrement.

Also wanted to mention something regarding nktoons comment: "As for there "arena" mentality that corporate speak is surprisingly third world."
You will have to pardon my ignorance or my lack of cultural background, but I do not find any relation with the executive's speach and third world countries. I find the aforementioned mentality a very Hollywood rype of thought. If someone would be so kind -especially nktoons- so as to further explain said relation, I'd be happy to read it.

Maximum Awesome said...

That story is so creepy and weird - I can't guess what their ulterior motive was, but there was obviously something going on beyond "let's get that Ren and Stimpy guy and make a good movie that people will like and buy tickets for."

And those Shark Tale images, posted without comment, are more effective dismissals of their whole bizarro process than any words could ever be.

Ed Zuk said...

Wow. I've never been moved to comment on your posts before, but . . . wow.

I'd love to know what you came up with for your pitch. I hope that you suggested that Rick be an alcoholic camel. That would be funny, a camel that drank a lot.

But seriously, what is it about Casablanca that would make anyone want to remake it for kids? Is it the love affair with an old flame who is now married? The bar setting? The chance to put Nazis in a family movie?

Keep fighting the good fight.

Ted said...

Isn't it ridiculously easy to game this system from your perspective? You have an idea, you define the arena based on your idea, and then engineer the conversation to take them where you want to go.

And Bud Abbot makes the best camel, because the camel's the straight man.

vhpayes said...

Sounds like they would hire Picasso to do a realistic portrait of them.

Jonathan Harris said...

Wow, it's little wonder recycled concepts have been so rife in CGI movies (A Bug's Life -> Antz -> Ant Bully, Finding Nemo -> Shark Tale, Madagascar -> The Wild).

I wonder if the process at other studios is the same.

Jayextee said...

I always wondered why Dreamwork's characters are in fact utterly devoid of character.

Now I know. I actually feel a little sick in the stomach now. :(

J C Roberts said...

Sigh.

None of them ever notice their formula is painfully obvious and repetitive, and their generic "characters" are only memorable for the known actor voicing them flatly. Actors that are also getting all the current onscreen roles and have nothing particularly special about their voice to begin with. Where's the next Mel Blanc or Daws Butler? Not getting work while Robin Williams does his schtick again.

I bet they were hoping you'd also think of a main character who's a misfit that has to save the day for a colorful cast of familiar types from a hardass villain with a funny sidekick.

And don't forget the 3D sequel (wait, they have to save that for the 3rd one so they can tack on the "3"D tag).

It's no wonder they thought of a desert. That's what most of them have in their heads.

JohnK said...

from Sean Craven:

This is what happens when business people try and treat creativity as a mechanistic process where the untrained, untalented, and basically uninterested can control artists and writers.

I was wondering what you meant when you referred to 'arenas' a few posts back. Dear lord, this makes that 'hero's journey' crap seem brilliant.

(Which it was, when Joseph Campbell wrote it -- it's brilliant folklore scholarship, not a freaking blueprint for stories.)

@#$% these so-called people and everything they stand for until they start giving me checks again.

Sherm said...

Holy crap...thanks for the warning! I'm more convinced than ever that if I'm gonna be a happy cartoonist, I gotta make my own cartoons on my own time and on my own dime.

Whit said...

DWA's logo is a kid fishing. How often do you think Spielberg, Katzenberg or Geffen ever drop a lure and haul in a carp? And Jay Sabicer's 'hungry tiger' theory has merit. Pixar would have been eaten long ago by Disney had Steve Jobs not been there to protect it till he sold out.

Crystal(RB) said...

*faints laughing*

This is the nicest warning I have ever gotten about anything...
Thank you!

K. Nacht said...

All you critters sound a bit naive to be shocked by such a tale.

Just do the gig, Johnny. Sell yer ass a little. Ask them not to credit you, make some cash and enable yourself to finish production on George Liquor.

Hell, you may get the taste for cash, negotiate a big share. Pay Eddie's medical bills and Jim's mortgage.

Rita said...

poor john k, sounds worse than a real nightmare! even a real nightmare sounds like paradise compared to this, it's equally scary but it needs imagination...

David Germain said...

Anyone who knows anything about writing stories will all say "character first" be it cartoons, novels, sit coms, etc.

The way Friz Freleng seemed to create his cartoons was "characters first, arenas second". He'd maybe say, "hmmmmm.... how about Sylvester & Tweety....... at a circus", or "Bugs & Yosemite Sam............ in ancient Rome". That seemed to work well for him. The least these half-wits at Dreamworks could do is use Friz' system. What they've got now is completely ass-backwards.

Rodrigo said...

Would you believe that lil' old me can sympathize, Mr. K?

I've tried pitching an idea here at DreamWorks already, and I don't think I'll try again any time soon.

Oliver_A said...

@John

This is so depressing...

I can feel the disappointment you must have had during that session, being a creative artist who puts his talent, sweat and heart into his creations, only to be confronted with the bleak ignorance and decadence of those in charge, who obviously did not know why they called you in the first place.

Is this the pitch you were talking about the last few months?

And yet, there was no announcement of the ultimate JohnK-Sellout-Movie. Could this be a story about a man who stays true, believing in his principles, treating himself and his audience with dignity and respect by not succumbing to degenerated idiots, sucking every meaning out of art and culture.

I don't know you personally, but if all you write here is only half true, then you have my deepest respect. And obviously not just me, just look at all the people you inspire with your humour, creativity and expertise.

In life, the right way is much often the hard way. Thanks for your thoughts.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Do the executives read this and understand how their point of view is sabotaging their own work? I know, actually they don't care because they worship money not quality. The way over-compensated are so detached from innovation and artful ideas, I found they need a mini vacation every two weeks and a major vacation every two months. Dreamworks and GM must be kissing cousins.

Mr. Semaj said...

There's a reason why I've stayed away from most of their films...

Because it's DREAMWORKS, the same company that steals other studios' ideas (Antz = Bug's Life), stages crazy grudges against former business partners (constant Disney beatings in the Shrek films), and just this past season rigged the Annie Awards (with Kung Fu Panda).

The same company that's run by crooks.

Rick Roberts said...

Carrotblanca, just like all the Looney Tunes shorts produced in the 90's, was just an execuse to sell over priced cells.

Nick said...

What a horror story - and how depressing it is that I was completely unsurprised. I found two or three of the Dreamworks titles entertaining enough, but for the most part their output wears the "arena" process on its sleeve.

Give these fellows a nine-figure budget and a closet of nice suits and suddenly they all think they're Schlesinger or Selznick or something. (Actually, scratch that: I'm sure most of them have never even heard of these guys.) For shame. It's no wonder the Hollywood's "producer-driven" side is a shambles.

Chris leonido said...

Now I know not to work for Dreamworks, Now I know why everyone thinks their stuff is nothing but bull.

Christopher Wade said...

Is that really how DreamWorks come up with ideas? Your arena is a mountain. BEARS live in mountains don't they? Let's have Jack Black play a bear... in the MOUNTAINS! It feels... shallow. Does Jack Black take a deuce in the woods... and if he does, does he make a sound?

The business side of cartoons seems to be getting worse and worse. Just look at Cartoon Network going "REAL". It doesn't even feel like it's about animation anymore.

Niki said...

I couldn't wait to find out, all day out at a moron's house and I missed being the first to tell you. That actually sounds like a good idea to a bit, but used in such a way that it feels really stupid. maybe if you already have a good personality and send em to a place it would seem so much more useful.

Ross Irving said...

I'm having a hard time believing this story. I didn't think someone like an executive could be so insecure in themselves as to disregard artists who know their own respective trades very well and then frantically ask the artist for reassurance later, as I've read here. At least I know what an "arena" is now so I can avoid that kind of thinking.

Niki said...

I need you opinion, really need your opinion. I just saw this and I think it's awesome! are there any other decent 80's shows you like? Besides the Jetsons cause I like that one already. can you do a short post for them?

k said...

gotta figure out a way to do it yourself. (or we'll never see it)

Corey said...

John K., please finish the story. What happened when you went back?

Brian O. said...

Bugs Bunny was created because someone suggested forests.

Road Runner was created because someone suggested deserts.

Mickey Mouse was created because someone suggested bovine feces.

Yep.

Lluis said...

WOW!
No wonder everything they do is shite!

Racattack Force said...

I'm all for studying the environment (or arena) you are planning for your cartoon to take place in, but seriously? Why does it all have to be funny talking animals with Dreamworks? What happened to coming up with wild, zany and actually CARTOONY ideas.

Chip Butty said...

I thought I knew what this kind of industry thinking sounded like, but hearing verbatim from firsthand account is truly chilling, holy crap!!

Paul ter Voorde said...

It could take place in the Dreamworks studio itself!!!
(i am a idea-man now)

Lamont Cranston said...

Well Jon K. you have certainly proved to me what a great animator you are by trashing a studio everyone knows produces sellable crap.

mr paal said...

hahahahahaha...ooooohhh ho hooohooohooo heee ahh...ah...ah... oh god...HAAAHAAAAAAHAHAHAHA!!!! LOL...that's the funniest thing i've read in ages... pure genius...could only happen in dreams... hahahahahaha! :) elton john...oh my.....wooooo hahaha!

Bill said...

This "arena" process explains why their characters usually do fit in well with their enviorments, but this is a cartoon! I draw a comic where talking animals live in St.Louis! Rock Roberts summed their process up well, why oh why to Dreamworks fascinate over mainstream celebrites? I guess its so they have star power as back-up if their film looks bland, as usual.

Geneva said...

You know, from watching their crap, my friends and I sort of deduced that they worked that way (only we had it part wrong-- we figured it was celebrity voices FIRST, then the "arena"). Feels good to be validated!... But it feels sad to be right when being so cynical.

J C Roberts said...

This kind of thing is one of the major reasons my bright career in the biz hasn't materialized. I've barely tried because I expect this sort of crap to happen. Even to someone who created one of those rare sparks of originality in the cultural landscape such as yourself, they go right back to their market-tested formulas.

I can't imagine Dreamworks was looking to do anything non-CGI these days, was that the type of project being discussed? And their CGI is the most mechanical and lifeless looking to begin with.

Mike Rauch said...

Hahahaha. This had me laughing all the way through. Great way to start a Monday! Truly hilarious. Thank you.

JPilot said...

Sounds like they were using their "powers of suggestion" on you, so they could use your name on their idea while trying to make you thing it was your creation.
How subliminal.

Chuck said...

John - It must have been like living in a Robert Altman movie. The mindset of these creative geniuses made me think immediately of poor Buck Henry pitching "The Graduate 2" in THE PLAYER. You, however, seem more like the William Holden character in NETWORK, or perhaps Oliver Wendall Douglas on GREEN ACRES - a little crazy yourself, but looking very sane compared to the loons that you have to deal with.

I second all of Oliver A's comments and can only say, "Keep fighting the good fight."

Aida SofĂ­a Barba Flores said...

wow.....I'm shocked... this is so.... depressing, i mean... where's the creative freedom?
i can imagine how do you felt in the meeting.

Kuzey said...

Yes...do tell, what happened next. Did go back for a second meeting?????

Andrej said...

I remember watching an I Am Weasel episode where the characters were microorganisms living inside a sponge.

Can a sponge be an arena as well?

Jennifer said...

Wow! And that is why many of us USE to work in production. That is so utterly disgusting but so true.

Don't rip me off bloggers, but I got a movie all about BEES living in a honeycomb. Here's the catch... somehow this honey comb was formed in a city rather than a suburb so the bees are all tough and talk with attitude. I know it's kinda crazy, but you see you could get Zac Efron to be a young bee in love with the Queen Bee's daughter. Then trouble will ensue. And we'll call "Funny Comb" get it!!

JohnK said...

Kuzey: I never went back. I couldn't think of a desert movie that was just like Casablanca, - except Casablanca.

Lamont: I wasn't trashing anyone. I just related a story that really happened. If you think it is a negative story, then you must not think it's a good way to create stories.
It certainly hasn't made money very often from what they tell me there.

Rick Roberts said...

Jennifer: Hysterical ! XD

Michael said...

The War of Art; Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield

This is a great book that I think will relieve much of the completely valid frustration expressed here. The ideas in the book can allow us creative sparks to keep on burning up the place.

Payo said...

"Regrettably, it's true, standards have fallen in [animated] entertainment. It's [CG], Dude. Now that we're competing with the amateurs, we can't afford to invest that little extra in story, production value, feeling."

(With apologies to Jackie Treehorn)

SoleilSmile said...

LOL! I wonder why they used the word, "arena", instead of the word, "setting". I thought execs went to film school too.

ther1 said...

Niki:

No. NO.

This is from the '80's and I'd kick my own mother for a DVD of it.

Sven Hoek said...

Yea, "IDEAS"! How about the arena is inside of a dead whales butt. Yea, and the characters could be rapping about how bad it smells but not too angry. And we will need an "URBAN" actor, you know, someone who could do that whole ebonics thing, but someone who is not too scary, think Will Smith, or Sinbad.

Their whole process makes me sick!
I see a lot of these awful animated dreck movies when they come to the dollar movie theatre. I just saw Mon$ter$ V$ Alien$, what a horrific piece of $hit.

The downward spiral that began when they ejected John K. from his own creation continues.

I would love to hear more of that story.

Torsten Adair said...

The all time greatest "arena" cartoon?

"Bully for Bugs", produced after producer Eddie Selzer proclaimed to Chuck Jones that bull fights were not funny.

Craig Harris said...

I think this is the funniest blog post I have ever read!!!

Wiley said...

The whole universe has been pissed on and degraded beyond redemption by marketing people and management hacks. It may be a cliche, but it's true.

RobochaoXX said...

This makes me so angry.

Dreamworks has been doing this forever, I just never knew what to call it! They do the place first. That's how they come up with everything.

Ideaman: Uhh how about a cg-i movie that takes place in the fictional world of Blogger.
Head: Greatest idea ever.
Ideaman: Let's take the artist, the rip-off artist, the emo whiner, the guy that blogs about games, and the 4channers and we got a good movie that the ages 12-16 demographic will love.
Head:Who's gonna play the Blogger artist?
Ideaman: How about John.K?
Head: Who?
Ideaman: Yeah let's just put Jason Alexander in his place.
Head: Make the guy look like Jason, okay?
Ideaman: Uhh sure..
(The movie sucks on ice.)

That's how it rolls at Dreamworks.

Mr. Snorkle said...

Wasn't that big hit Ishtar set in the desert?

Michael said...

If this thread can make it on Digg or some other mainstream place then maybe the internets can do its magic and expose and name the names of those who leave cartoony craps. Maybe it's up to the smaller shops to spread cartoony viruses. Kind of like Nina Paley

Archie said...

They must of had a whale (no pun intended. Really sorry) of a time making shark tale. They just went actor crazy. Instead of promoting any kind of character or story they tried to cram as many actor names onto the promotional poster as possible and therefore giving the film name less space. Almost to the point in which the title is shrunk to such a size its almost unrecognizeable. Regardless....film was still a pile.

http://www.motionpictureart.com/store/files/images/PostersLarge/SharkTaleMoviePosterDutch.jpg

sharprm said...

Thanks for sharing

thomas said...

Maybe along with arenas, Dreamworks should have a process called Pelican Mom; where they just gobble up a bunch of random ideas, and then regurgitate them into the mouths of hungry baby pelicans (read audience).

yeah.... they do this already.

Actually,it doesn't sound like a bad character idea.

Michael said...

Take heart my downtrodden creative bacterium. Pros like Bill Buxton are trying like hell to give the creative their proper place. He talked about his surgery at Princeton a few months ago. Buxton is doing it in the field of User Experience Design. He's attempting to cure lame Microsoft of it's executive leprosy. If he's successful ivy league MBA's will take their prescribed finger painting pills and all will be rainbow-like.

HemlockMan said...

That is one of the funniest pitches I've ever read. You are my comedy GOD, Mr. K!

Dingleberry said...

Okay, so this is gonna be masochistic, but that's an animation writer's life. Masochistic. I may have accidentally kinda partially started writing a spec script for Disney Animation at 2.30am last night (when I do my best and worst work, and it all goes downhill when I fall asleep and start drooling on my notebook), and I'm wondering who would be the best person to contact at Disney to pitch the idea to, before I get carried away and write the whole freaking thing.
From reading comments from other users, my idea is in sync with Disney's current animation objectives.
I tried to find some useful info. on the Disney site but that's as useful as chewing on needles. And yes, equally as painful.
Thought a Disney-ite could shine a light on who to get in touch with (and give me a tip on HOW I can get in touch with them?)
Cheers!
Oh, and my idea is set in a desert with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart as camels, voiced by Cameron Diaz and Chris Rock.... Not.

Dingleberry said...

Another option would be to think AWAY from the American and African style desert... Think of the Australian desert. Take animals like lizards and dingoes and snakes and marsupials, get American actors to do terrible Australian accents, make as many stereotypes as possible, and have High Jackman tour around and promote it. Nicole Kidman do play the carcass that the dingoes have half-eaten.
Or perhaps you could go back to the films of DOT (Dot and the Kangaroo, Dot and Kito... Classic!) and watch those instead.

And the other thing about the desert is because of the heat, the creatures tend to mostly live under the sand during daylight and come out at night. That wouldn't work to have a film constantly set at night.

You could suggest a film set in a rainforest, but that'd be Ferntree Gully. You could pitch a film set in a frozen desert, but then you have Happy Feet. There's always the idea of a film set in a backyard... But that's Honey I Shrunk the Kids or Bug's Life. Inside a house is Toy Story. The sea is Finding Nemo. The jungle is Madagascar (does anything actually HAPPEN in that film?!)
The 'arenas' have been done. The archetypal characters have been done. Time for some new ideas. Kids don't necessarily like all this stuff coming out--they take what they can get. I think most people don't like Two and a Half Men, but here it's the only thing on really at 7pm, so they like what they can get.
Give people alternative, better options, and see what they choose then. It wouldn't be the producer-concocted dross.

Nate said...

An old brown boot?

Niki said...

Sorry ther1 but I find most clay-mation unbelievably terrifying, it scares the hair off my neck except Wallace and Gromit.

Pilsner Panther said...

That fifth one down, whatever it is, looks like something designed by Albert Speer for Hitler's projected post-WWII "New Germania:"

http://www.dataphone.se/~ms/speer/welcom2.htm

NOTE: This page contains pro-Nazi opinions, which certainly aren't mine. Far from it, it scares the bejeezus out of me. Speer has a devoted fan, even now?

Only a reminder and a warning about where "delusions of grandeur" can lead. I think I'll avoid large arenas. ALL of them.

The ancient Roman historian-philosopher Seneca (b. approx. -4 B.C., d. 65 C.E.) didn't like arenas, either, and he wrote in great detail about why he didn't.

He was right.

Fealasy said...

Somewhat simular to the major game company I work at.
Except that the suits keep wanting a new "arena" every time they happen to watch a movie they like. So the final product is a mess of movie scenes and "arenas" stolen from Hollywood.

Level designs are to be based on "key words"

Such as "Fire and Forrest" or "Water and City" or my favorite "Clouds" No great concept or fun gameplay.

It's a curious thing; how they don't seem to grasp that the games that make it well, are the ones which have strong characters. But personality seems like a minor design issue around here.

"It's a living"...

I'm just happy that I'm doing concepts, not design.

Jizz Wad said...

Should we blame those seminars that teach people to how to write stories/be creative?

Because this sounds like those guys are just regurgitating a crappy structure.

Or is it just a 'make money at the box office' structure?

I always thought that it was a balance of making something good versus making sure it earns some money. But I think the logic has turned purely to 'if it makes money, it is a good product'.

Jizz Wad said...

Also remember Spielberg logic.

Orson Welles needed funding for a new production and approached Spielberg, who of course is a big fan.

Spielberg decides not to invest but at some point later pays an extortionate amount of money to buy the original 'Rosebud' sled from the 'Citizen Kane' movie.

So, new movie from genius hero, or his wooden prop from his first film?

Tim said...

Pixar movies are character driven, and the stories flow organically based on the interactions between the CHARACTERS. If you make something based on the environment, you end up with movies like Over The Hedge, where you have an environment, and the characters are flat and just there to take up space, like a bunch of cardboard cutouts.

Drobile said...

John, I can't even begin to inform you as to how much you are my hero.

Niki said...

Pilsner Panther, about the Albert Speer thing, I think they look funny actually. It's one where Hitler's looking over a table and it makes me think, "Do I smell brown sugar?"

scott said...

John, that was very very funny, more than you meant , I think.
Hmm, arenas, though,isn't that where they stage gladiatorial combat...it works on alot of levels.

Dude said...

well you can always use the mongolian death worm if its in the gobi desert. I haven't seen a movie with that as a character.

Mark said...

Tim-

over the hedge was based on a comic strip

i think pixar is guilty of the arena concept almost as much as dreamworks

Jason said...

This story is just sad. I sure hope this is a gag. Here's a recent find that fits in rather well with this story about Dreamworks.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3472/3398960470_05527c04b1_b.jpg

Darkhawk said...

O.o

Wow ... Just, wow.

So that's why animated movies these days are all utter crappola.

So Mr. K's point of his tale is - Characters first, then "arenas". Just because big wig Execs/Suits are stupid like this doesn't mean they know anything about cartoons. Of course the down side to that is it might be a hard pitch as the Suits want "Arenas" and Kevin Costner Camels. BUT - as a cartoonist/animator, still always strive to think about your characters first and then put them into their "arenas", no matter what the dumbass Suits say.

If your a savy enough salesman you can find a way to pitch it to the Suits in their buzz words and still get it thru ... or buy yourself an agent. They ain't too smart. =P Speak $$, "Arenas", movie stars, and nothing else. Then when your in - do your magic and turn their world upside down! Mhuahahahaha!

Darkhawk said...

Oh, at least He got a free lunch out of the deal. =P

Rick Roberts said...

"Pixar movies are character driven, and the stories flow organically based on the interactions between the CHARACTERS"

The characters in Pixar films are all one dimensonal. They are boring people, animals, etc., who have some sort of goal in mind. The stories are unique though which puts them ahead of other studios.

Eric C. said...

Good luck with the convention thing. I would really like to see more of George Liquor in this case the New Goddamn George Liquor Show LOL, it's defentatly going to be better than Adult Party Cartoon, hopefally.

thomas said...

I once heard a story from a guy who had just landed a screenwriting job, and had a meeting with an A list actor.
He pitched his idea to the A- lister, and he said yeah that's great. How about if we change this, add a little more of this. And so the screen writer said, ok, but lets do this, and this and this. And the A-lister said fine,How about if we change this, add a little more of this, and lets do this, and this and this.

It quickly became apparent that the A-lister was not looking for a script, but a word processor that could listen.

Rick Roberts said...

"It quickly became apparent that the A-lister was not looking for a script, but a word processor that could listen."

Well there always has to be some comprimising about the script. As a matter of fact I watching White Heat last night, terrific film btw, and the scene were Cagney freaked out about his Mom's death was mostly improv. The script as written was not working in this instance.

The only problem is if things change for the worse. To cite an example, I have the first draft of the James Bond film Goldeneye. Between this draft and the final shooting script, the dialogue became far more annoying and so did one of the major villians. Though I will admit many of the bloated actions sequences were trimmed down, I saw alot of pontentially great ideas wasted or thrown out.

Dingleberry said...

In my screenwriting course, there is a class on writing comedy. At first this idea excited me, until I realised that what I do naturally will stripped back into formulas and instructions and logic and arrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhh, kill me now.
What happened or organic creativity?
Anyway, back to the desert theme... You coulda pitched a film set in the Afghani desert (because they have cool-ass spiders there called camel spiers who live under the sand and have two sets of fangs). Then the execs would get all excited and start suggesting that half the characters have generic middle-eastern accents, and at least one character be a terrorist. If it's topical, maybe they'll win an Oscar?
Or we could pour hot acid into our eyeballs. Just throwing the ideas out there... (Gee golly gosh, isn't brainstorming fun?!)

Scrapstampnmama said...

I always knew Dreamworks was shit, I feel like the only person on the planet who didn't have an orgasm over Shrek. It's a stupid story ok, and so are the rest of their sub par animated films.

thomas said...

>It quickly became apparent that the A-lister was not looking for a script, but a word processor that could listen.<

What ever the screenwriter said, was met with a kind of agreeable oblivion, totally ignored, and then changed to something else. The process seemed akin to psychological de-programming., or re-programming.

Organic changes that happen to a script during the process are great. This was more like having lunch with Hannibal Lecter and watching him eat your brains.

Mr. Fun said...

One of the most interesting reads/trainwrecks I've enjoyed so far on your blog, John. Wow.

Call me crazy but for years I have always wondered: "Why are these movies featuring PREDICTABLE CHARACTER TYPES?" As in "hedgehog in the woods" or "penguin in the arctic?"

To me, a lot of humor happens when a charcter is taken out of their traditional element.

Am I crazy for thinking this?

Coffee is a Girl's Best Friend said...

Oh my god, you just put everything that I have been feeling about these studios into words. Correct me if I'm wrong but I feel like Pixar is pretty guilty of this too, at least in their more recent films. Not as bad as Dreamworks fortunately, but still. It seems like they're just coming up with stuff that will look really cool on a movie poster to draw people in. ZANY concepts! A house on balloons!! Monsters and aliens!! They gloss over their weak stories with high tech animation so the general public can't tell. They take their kids to these films and forget about them by the end of the day.

You wanna know my favorite movies? Movies about normal people sans superpowers or talking rodents or caraaazy arenas or whatever. High Fidelity. High Fidelity is a movie about a dude that works in a record store. That's it. It's also hilarious and honest and has a protagonist brimming with so much character that its hard to take your eyes off him. Jon, do you think anyone could ever make an animated movie like that? I mean it, because I would like to see one. When will people learn that its not about the wrapping, its the present.

I can garun-damn-tee you that if Casablanca hadn't been made and you tried to pitch the story to those Dreamworks execs now, you would have a hell of a time trying to sell it. Not enough farts, 3D or talking camels, you know.

Kyle said...

I don't see anything wrong with creating "arenas" first, but yeah they shouldn't force it to be the top priority, these things need to happen organically. If you already have character and/or plot ideas, the setting should come later.

Coffee is a Girl's Best Friend, you mentioned monsters VS aliens, that wasn't Pixar.

k said...

yeah, i have a friend who had a similar problem. he basically said that the suits think of artists as a dime a dozen. they can always find someone else to come up with something just as good. so all things being equal, what you end up really pitching is your own personality. they are trying to see if you are the kind of person who works good in a team setting, someone they like, someone they see themselves working with. if not, they just go on to the next artist. it is like a game when they hear so many pitches month in and month out. so the "arena" type thing could be sincere or more of a sham to 'have someone over'.

good luck though. i would love to see a b & k cartoon on tv someday.

Verm'n ONE said...

So is this why Dreamworks' movies are so boring and devoid of anything unique?

Jeremy said...

"They said "We don't like to look at characters right away. We don't want to be swayed by interesting or funny characters."
So... why did they ask you visit? This is for a reality show, right?

Fray Mollo said...

Walter Lantz, "How catoons are made"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcbpeVV9iSg

LOL at 2:17

"The set can be in almost anywhere..."

Guess which is the first place they mention (it begins with "d").

Jeff Read said...

I want to see Robin Williams play a talking frilled-neck ren!

Devin Shane Pinter said...

WUH-OW.

...wow.

john, how have you not just gone on a killing spree yet? really. I'm impressed.

geoffo11 said...

I find Pixar actually try to do better than their last film and overcome the same formula or template to create it.
Dreamworks DO use the same template/formula for each movie, and the "successor" sits at the same level as the last movie.
You can tell that both companies have completely different mindsets when creating films.
Also, hasn't Dreamworks personified every damn thing on this planet?
Pixar only essentially needed one movie for each object to personify being: toys, cars, fish, monsters and robots.
Dreamworks are really like "animal animal animal animal."

Here's something that hasn't been done enough: HUMANS!
Now give it a genre!

Alvaro said...

I would love to see a movie about the super pig.
Arenas...Scary.

Chris leonido said...

Hey John. Why don't you try pitching to Warner bros? I'm just making a suggestion.

Kyle said...

Oh wow, this meeting sounds like it would make a great cartoon in and of itself. The storytelling sounds just so self-parodying and silly I can only imagine this story as being a cartoon. I can't seriously imagine this as being a real meeting with actual people.

Cheezy WEAPON said...

Wow.

No wonder all we get are crappy talking animal movies.

baronash said...

Im moved by this comment John
,very moved.

After going though something like this at Dreamworks do you ever consider on returning whenever the call you again?

baronash said...

Most of what Dreamworks made were bland,unartistic,unimaginative,and unfunny.

John in whatever you have created
it was completely original,fresh,creative and free spirited,and most of all funny.

Please continue on making cartoons the same way like the ones you have made so far.

marine_explorer said...

Hmm...a desert, a metaphor for the creative landscape of Hollywood? Barren, juiceless...what would live there, execs perhaps? Damn, no wonder H'wood sucks so bad.

Ears Magoo said...

Hey Hey Hey How is everybody

Ears Magoo said...

Hey John K i was wondering how come you have never commented negatively on Bakshi for not using those taking advantage of animation medium things?

mansard peridot said...

ugh how depressing. hey John? how much would it cost for you to be able to do a whole animated John K undisturbed by any studio BS movie?

Tomcil said...

I could see Robin Williams as voice acting as a Lizard. I don't know if Jim Carrey as a spider would work, but maybe Will Smith as a cricket. Yeah, definitely Will Smith as a cricket.
What were we talking about again?

George White said...

It's a shite way of making movies.