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...