Corpse Bride article in Script magazine

Corpse Bride />The new issue of </a><a href=Script magazine has a long-ish article about Corpse Bride, interviewing both Pamela Pettler and yours truly about the story and process. Pamela, Caroline Thompson and I share writing credit on the movie, but I was never really clear who wrote what and when. From the article, it appears that Caroline wrote a detailed outline, while Pamela wrote the first real script. I was the in-production guy, who did tweaks and fixes, smoothing out rough spots and writing lyrics for a few new songs.

Since it wasn’t a WGA-covered movie — animation often isn’t, much to the WGA’s chagrin — there wasn’t a normal arbitration process to figure out who got what writing credit for the movie. Fortunately, the final credits as determined by the studio seem right to me. Again, since it’s not WGA, none of us will get residuals. Which blows. But we knew that going in.

The movie, incidentally, is great.

One of the cool/weird things about working on an animated movie (this is my second, after Titan A.E.), is that you get to see the entire movie a lot while it’s in production. Every couple of weeks, I’d get a new tape via FedEx from London, showing the newly animated scenes and the pencil storyboards for what was about to shoot, with a mixture of real and temp voices for all the characters. In all, I’ve probably seen the entire film 20 times in various incarnations.

About a month ago, I finally got to see the finished product at a test screening in the Valley. The movie is flat-out gorgeous on the big screen, with the stop-motion animation having a realer-than-real quality. It’s so sharp that it looks 3D.

But what really surprised me is that all the story tweaking we did along the way feels so seamless. You wouldn’t know that characters got added and dropped along the way, or that significant points of backstory were still in discussion midway through shooting. Or that it wasn’t always so musical.

All films, including live-action, go through major changes during editing, but with this kind of animation, there really is no distinction between production and post-production. Once you shoot a frame, it’s finished, forever. So it’s heartening to see that the nail-biting decisions paid off. It feels like it was shot from a locked, finished script. It wasn’t.

The other great lesson you learn from writing animation is surrendering your monopolistic control over every little word, the cinematic “Not Invented Here” syndrome. Moving from the page to the (miniature) soundstage means going through the storyboard artists, who often find new ways of playing a beat that you never considered. During production, a lot of my job was tweaking dialogue to match new bits of business that the artists had invented. While actors in a live-action movie will improvise, that kind of multiple-voices collaboration doesn’t happen as often. In the case of Corpse Bride, it really helped.


Abolish the states, mate

Australian John AugustIn an article published today, one of the other John Augusts argues persuasively that the states should be abolished.

Before you take up arms against him, you should know that he’s Australian, and he’s talking about “states” like New South Wales and Queensland. Which sound like made-up Risk territories, if you ask me.

It’s important that you not be confused by the other side’s rhetoric. For instance, listening to them you might think all of the members of Beyond Federation

  • are cheering Howard;
  • hail from Whitlam;
  • claim a monopoly on wisdom;
  • only have advocates in New South Wales and Victoria;
  • ignore the need for independent regional initiative;
  • refuse to acknowledge population differences within Australia;
  • and are “centralists”.

I have no idea what this means.

Ever since I first fired up Netscape lo these many years ago, I’ve been following the career of this other John August like he’s my long-lost brother. (He’s not, incidently.) I’ve seen him posting in scientific Usenet groups. Once, he even acknowledged that there’s an American screenwriter with whom he shares a name.

But what to make of his desire to abolish the Australian states? Is he a Socialist, a conservative, a progressive, a forward-thinker, a wacko? I don’t know, because I have zero understanding of Australian politics.

From the picture, he looks like a friendly sort, capable of telling jokes that a specific subset of friends would find hilarious. (For instance, people who know Monty Python backwards-and-forwards.) Also worth noting: he seems to have more hair than he knows what to do with. I do not.

I guess I’m saying, I want him to be good. I don’t need an evil twin. That’s what my subconscious is for.

His name is my name, too


Which agent should I choose?

questionmarkI have the opportunity to sign with one of two agents: one deals strictly with screenplays and supposively has good connections and the other seems to be more geared towards novel and book authors but has several screenwriter clients.

The first one doesn’t seem all that interested and seems to just want to have me signed on should lightning strike but the second one seems very enthusiastic about working with me. Both have offered me contracts but the kicker is, neither is in L.A. or New York. Should I sign with either and if so, if you were in my shoes, which one would you prefer?

Thanks for the site and thanks for much inspiration.

– Brad R.
Orchard Park, NY

Tell each agent you’d like to speak with two of their clients. Just a phone call. If they’re real, above-board agents, they won’t have a problem with this. I’ve spoken with potential clients on behalf of my agent several times, and it’s no great hardship.

When you talk with these writers, here’s what you want to know:

  1. How quickly does the agent return phone calls?
  2. What meetings has the agent set up for you?
  3. Have you sold anything? Been hired on any projects?
  4. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with this agent?

I suspect Agent #2 will score better on these criteria. The fact that he/she doesn’t live in Los Angeles, and isn’t exclusively a screenwriting agent, are certainly big minuses. However, enthusiasm gets you a lot. If you think Agent #2 passionately believes in your talent, go for it.

And now for the standard disclaimer: You are still responsible for your career. Signing with an agent guarantees you nothing. You will need to hunt out work, develop pitches, and generally scramble until you get your first few jobs. Your agent can help point you to the lake; you have to catch the fish yourself.


A message to Dr. Phil

Dr. PhilI ventured over to the Paramount lot yesterday for a meeting. None of the studios have ample parking, but Paramount’s main parking lot is comically over-crowded. Their solution is a crew of pseudo-valets who don’t actually park your car, but rather jockey other cars around when you inevitably find yourself stuck behind three Land Rovers. It’s like a scaled-up version of those sliding-number puzzles, only with a higher probability of fender damage.

Yesterday, the parking was worse than usual, because the adjacent executive parking lot — in truth, a sunken area designed to be flooded when crews need to shoot outdoor water sequences — was being used for a taping of the Dr. Phil show.

Since a significant portion of readers live outside the U.S., I should briefly explain who Dr. Phil is. He’s a bald, oversized Texan who got his start on the Oprah Winfrey show dishing out common-sense advice to people in bad situations. He now has his own show, books, and media empire.

After parking the Prius, I noticed a sizable crowd of white women in their 30’s and 40’s waiting patiently for blazer-wearing interns to herd them along. At first, I assumed it was a tour group, but in fact it was the Dr. Phil audience, who’d just spent an hour or three in the hot sun for a taping of the show. They all had blue t-shirts (which is why I assumed they were a tour group). It wasn’t until I got closer that I could read what was printed on them.

Some said, “Thunder Thighs.” Others had similar anatomical features, such as “Big Butt” or “Flabby Arms.” These observations were, I’m sad to report, largely accurate. That doesn’t make them any less disturbing.

Apparently, the idea of the episode was that you got handed a t-shirt with a self-critical message printed on the back. I keep trying to imagine the exact thought process the women in the audience went through.

  1. Wow! I got a Dr. Phil t-shirt! The girls back at Winn-Dixie are gonna be jealous.
  2. Huh. It’s got “Thunder Thighs” printed on it.
  3. Maybe I can wear it under a baggy shirt, so you can see the Dr. Phil logo, but not what’s printed on the back.
  4. I’m glad I didn’t get the “Saggy Tits” shirt.

Dr. Phil apparently is a real doctor, with a degree in psychology, so I can only assume the t-shirts were part of a “break-em-down, build-em-up” program with clear goals and careful follow-up. Somehow compressed down to 40 minutes.

But I think it’s unfair that only these women got t-shirts. The only fair thing would be to force everyone on the Paramount lot to wear blue t-shirts publicly stating their insecurities. Some of the more common t-shirts would be:

  • “Hack”
  • “Borderline Psychotic”
  • “Five Years Older Than I Admit”
  • “$40,000 in Debt”
  • “Fender Denter”
  • “Fat Lucky Texan”

Mine would read “Pee Shy.” I’m going to publicly come out and say it takes me forever to start peeing in a crowded men’s room. I have to hum TLC’s “Waterfalls” to get the flow started. (If I get to Left Eye’s rap section, I just give up and hold it.)

Your turn. What would your t-shirt read? And you might as well be honest, since it’s anonymous and all.


Project update

After a month of baby duty, it’s back to work. This seems the perfect time to take stock of all the projects I have out there, and figure out exactly what their status is.

★ ACTIVE ★

Prince of Persia
Jordan Mechner, who created the videogame, wrote the movie adaptation, which he and I are executive producing with Jerry Bruckheimer Films at Disney. The script is great. Next step is to get a director. That discussion is just beginning.

I get more comments and suggestions about this project than any other. So let me clarify what I know, and what I don’t know. First, the movie is much more like The Sands of Time than Warrior Within. Second, we have no idea who will star in it, nor where we will shoot it. Third, that’s all I know. Or at least, all I can say.

Ops
This is the Fox TV show that Jordan and I set up last year about two guys who work as private military contractors. For various reasons, we didn’t end up shooting the pilot during the usual production schedule. Instead, Jordan and I ended up writing an almost entirely new pilot script which we (and Fox) are a lot happier with. Now there’s talk about shooting the pilot outside of the normal schedule, which would be fine with us. Or it could go away completely. That’s show business.

The Eye
I did a few weeks’ of work on this thriller at Paramount, an American remake of the Pang brothers movie. I’m happy with the work I did, but it’s not my movie in any creative-ownership sense.

Father Knows Less
I rewrote Father Knows Less1, set to star Dustin Hoffman as a second-time dad, for New Line. Director Shawn Levy left the project, so I suspect they’re looking for a replacement. (Actually, I know they are, because I’ve talked to two friends who were sent it.)

Untitled Broadway Musical
I’m writing the book for a Broadway musical currently in very, very early stages of development. It’s been interesting adapting to the challenges of storytelling on the stage. No, I can’t say what the project is, or whether it will ever happen. Based on the very busy schedules of everyone involved, it could take years.

How to Eat Fried Worms
This project, an adaptation of Thomas Rockwell’s book, was the very first script I was ever hired to write, way back in 1995. Originally, the project was set up at Imagine, then it migrated to Nickelodeon. I assumed the project was dead and gone, when suddenly I read that it was filming in Austin.

Bob Dolman, who was brought in to rewrite the script after me, is directing. Producer Mark Johnson called to tell me filming was going well. I haven’t read the shooting script — or any script at all — so I don’t know how much resemblance it bears to the movie I wrote so many years ago.

★ FINISHED ★

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The movie is now out in almost every market, and looks to be closing in on $200 million domestic box office. I’ve seen the special features for the DVD, which are quite cool, although I don’t know the exact release date for the disc. But something tells me it would be a great stocking stuffer. Hint.

When I did Q&A’s for the film, many people asked if we were going to make a sequel, such as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. As far as I know, no. That was never in the plans. Tim and I have never talked about it.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride
The film is now finished, and ready for its debut at the Toronto Film Festival. I’m really happy with how the film turned out. I didn’t originate the project — I came on board after they had started filming — but I enjoyed working with the team to figure out how to get it in its best shape. In addition to shared screenwriting credit (along with Caroline Thompson and Pamela Pettler), I share lyric credit on several of the songs.

Charlie’s Angels
I keep getting questions about whether there will be a third one. I doubt it. I love the characters, and I love the people involved, but we’re all off doing other things now. I don’t foresee getting back together to make another one.

★ LIMBO ★

Tarzan
My modern-day, pan-African adaptation of Tarzan is in a (permanent?) holding pattern at Warner Bros. Last year, we started to go out to directors, but now it’s not clear what the next step is. There’s disagreement about many things, including my basic take on the entire movie.

It’s frustrating, because Tarzan is one of the best things I’ve ever written. It’s certainly one of the most difficult. You have a hero who grows from an infant to a man, and doesn’t learn how to speak until page 40. A lot of it plays like a silent movie, yet it has big Joseph Campbell-y hero themes that I generally avoid, but which work great for a film like this.

I really wanted this to be a trilogy. Now, I’d settle for a mono-gy.

Untitled Zombie Western
Largely due to readers’ terrific suggestions for a new title, I’m seriously considering dusting off this long-buried spec. Not that I think anybody’s itching to make a zombie movie after the disappointing returns for Land of the Dead. But I’ll at least add it to the Library section once I get it cleaned up.

Fury
There’s been some discussion about turning this unsold spec — the most violent thing I’ve ever written — into a graphic novel or a videogame. Both ideas make sense; the story is sort of a cross between Grand Theft Auto and The Terminator. But there are other projects that require my immediate attention, so I may just let this back-burner for a while.

★ QUESTION MARKS ★

Alice
This adaptation((May 3, 2011 Update: IMDb listing now inactive)) of American McGee‘s videogame was looking pretty dead, when it suddenly sprang back to life with the announcement that Marcus Nispel would be directing, with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the title role. The Hollywood Reporter article lists Erich and Jon Hoeber as the screenwriters.

Back in 2000, the project was set up at Dimension, with Wes Craven attached to direct. I wrote a long treatment — not a full script, as the Hollywood Reporter article states — and left the project under less-than-felicitous circumstances. But I’ve kept up with American McGee, who’s a friggin’ rock star.

I have no idea whether the movie will incorporate any of the material from my treatment, or if the current incarnation even has the applicable rights. If you’re interested in tracking the progress on the project, American’s site is your best bet.

Barbarella
Oh, sweet Barbarella. This adaptation of the French comic book series about a sexually-liberated space explorer was set to star Drew Barrymore, but a tangle of rights issues got in the way. It was tremendous fun to write. Of all my unproduced projects, it’s probably my favorite.

There were rumors recently that Lindsay Lohan was going to play the part. I think that was just fanboy fantasy. Although, honestly, last-year’s Lindsay (the nice girl who was in Mean Girls) would have been great.

My agent got a call a few months ago from a producer who claimed to have the rights to Barbarella. I doubt he had all the right he thought he had, and he certainly didn’t have the right to my script, which is co-owned by Fox and Warner Bros. So I don’t see this getting made any time soon. (Although I would have said the same about How to Eat Fried Worms.)

★ PRESUMABLY DEAD ★

Thief of Always
An adaption of Clive Barker’s novel. The first project I was ever fired off of.

Untitled John August Thriller
This Sony project was intended to be a big summer event movie, but a competing project suddenly roared to life. I never ended up writing the script. In many ways, that’s good, because I don’t think our movie would have gotten made anyway.

Demonology
This Paramount thriller is about two prep school girls who have to save Manhattan from the Apocalypse. Sort of a cross between Clueless and Aliens, which is why it will never get made.

Fantasy Island
A big-budget feature adaptation of the classic TV show. My version was a lot like Lost, except that Lost is a lot better than my movie would have been.

Fenwick’s Suit
Based on the book by David Small, a family comedy about a guy whose suit develops a life of its own. The studio gave up on it, but I think it could have worked.

Bad Hospital
An HBO dramedy about a terrible hospital. Not haunted, not evil, just really crappy. It was created by Julie Siege; I was executive-producing. Ultimately, we never made it out of development, but Julie landed a spot on Invasion.

  1. May 3, 2011 Update: IMDb listing now inactive

New server on the way

newsGood news for those readers frustrated by the all-too-frequent outages at this site: we’re moving to a new server, which will hopefully not flake out as often. If it does, I’ll change service providers. Again. Sigh.

There may be a little turbulence this week as the new server settles in. Caveat browser.