YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!

Emmy-winning writer Jeffrey Scott explains what’s really involved in writing an award-winning animated feature screenplay.

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©AMPAS

I’m going to use this post to vent a little—but also to make a point specifically for the benefit of all the producers around the world who want to make animated features.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been contacted by an international producer who asked me if I would write an animated feature for him.  Of course I would.  I’m a writer.  I get very excited when producers ask me to write screenplays.

But then they say something that just floors me.  It’s the same thing time after time.  They want a blockbuster script that will compete with Pixar and DreamWorks’ films.  It’s got to be so fantastic it will win an Academy Award.  Then they drop the bomb and tell me they only have $25,000 or $30,000 for the script.  And it needs to be completed in a few months—they’ve got a schedule to meet.

They want a Ferrari for the price of a Honda.  Ain't gonna happen.  But worst of all, asking for a blockbuster script puts a tremendous amount of undue pressure on a writer.  Blockbusters aren't written by a writer, they're made over the course of years by a very talented team.

Each time a producer requests this I have to explain that their desires simply do not match reality.  So hopefully some of you producers out there will read this post and choose your words more carefully before you attempt to hire your next writer.

The truth is, Pixar and DreamWorks spend millions of dollars for their stories and take a couple of years to complete them.  Oh, they don’t pay the writer millions.  But by the time they hire a director and a writer and a storyboard artist or two and a head of story and a creative producer and so on and so on, they will certainly have spent millions of dollars.  The writer may come up with a draft in 3 or 4 months, but that’s just the beginning of the writing process.

©Disney PIXAR

The reason Pixar and DreamWorks’ stories are so good is because they are “written” over the course of a few years, before and during the production, by lots of very creative people.  The director may develop a story and write it himself.  Or he may give it to a writer to draft.  Then it’s back to the director and producer for changes.  And another draft or six.  Then the distributor may read it and comment.  And more changes are made.  Then it goes into storyboard followed by still more changes and improvements. Then voices are cast.  And if they get some great talent those people may add their own funny or emotional stuff.  And the writer might go back to work and polish this up.  Then the story reel is developed and flaws are spotted in the structure or character arcs and more improvements are made.

Get the picture?  It’s a constant process, especially for the big studios who can afford to throw out millions of dollars of animation if they feel they can improve the story by taking it in another direction.  The original “Toy Story” plot was drastically changed a few years into production.

So if you’re a producer and want the next “Shrek” or “Toy Story”, but only have a few months and a small check, by all means go ahead and hire a writer.  And hope for the best.  But please don’t ask him to give you an Academy Award-winning blockbuster screenplay.  You'll just make it tougher on him...and yourself.

There’s simply no getting around reality.  You get what you pay for.

Jeff

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved

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