Wednesday, 8 July 2020

How To Write The MEGA Family Film Blockbuster: An Interview with Screenwriter Brent Simmons





This week at Into The Script we are welcoming Brent Simmons, screenwriter of Dreamworks major family film blockbusters such as Megamind and Penguins of Madagascar.

Brett spoke with my amazing assistant Scott, where he shared his top tips on creating stories that resonate with all ages, how his acting background has enhanced his pitching skills and giving us a deep look into how Megamind came to be!

Hi Brent! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us at Into the Script. Can you talk us through your journey from being an actor to a screenwriter? 




I was in a comedy troupe at Emerson College called The Swolen (sic) Monkey Showcase.


After graduating, I formed a group with some fellow Emersonians called TROOP! I enjoyed performing (and still do), but I’ve always gravitated to the writing aspect more.


In fact, I often liked writing stuff for the other members more than myself. 


Do you think having an acting background helps when it comes to storytelling? Do you find character development comes natural to you for example? 



I find it most helpful in pitching. Like a lot of writers, I’m an introvert.


My partner and I had a hell of a time when we started out learning to pitch. But once it sunk in that you’re “performing the story” by which I mean displaying the knowledge, confidence, and enthusiasm you have for the story, something just clicked. It’s a lot like Stand-up (which I also had some experience with).


The difference being hopefully people aren’t drinking and talking over you. NOTE: If they are, it’s going poorly. 


Megamind is a very compelling premise, which centres around character. It tells the story about a supervillain, who after defeating his arch nemesis, creates a superhero of his own to tackle boredom and has to become the "good guy." Can you walk us through how you got attached to writing the film? 




MEGAMIND was originally a spec my partner (Alan Schoolcraft) and I wrote called MASTERMIND.


We were going through an old idea notebook of ours and came across the words we scribbled some time before “What if Lex Luthor killed Superman in the first scene.” 


We actually wrote it in 2003. It got us our agents and work, which is usually the most you can ask for a spec. It came close to being made several times, but we kind of gave up on it.


Then I’m having dinner with my wife for our 5th anniversary and I got a call that Ben Stiller had brought it to Dreamworks Animation, and they wanted to make it.


Alan and I were positive it was a prank by one of our mean friends. 


What is it like to write for animation? Is it very much like a "blueprint" for the animators? Or can you be as creative as you see fit? 



Megamind was a very different case.


It was actually the first spec Dreamworks Animation ever purchased (they usually developed ideas in-house). There was still a development process, but the initial structure of the story was always the same.

In fact, that opening scene was pretty much unchanged from our original spec. 


But once it’s in production, then it becomes the director’s vision.


The artists are bringing in amazing ideas.


You’re giving each other ideas. You’re seeing animatics of the stuff you wrote. You’re rewriting and refining dialogue and writing hundreds of versions of every joke as the actors come in.


It can be hectic and stressful, but it’s also a blast.

 

Megamind had a terrific director in Tom McGrath and he gave everyone room to try stuff out, but was also careful to keep things on the character’s journey. 


Can you share your top 3 tips in creating an original concept for animation? 


  1. FIRST, JUST WRITE A FILM YOU WANT TO SEE




No matter what kind of film you’re writing. We didn’t write Megamind as an animated feature. In fact, the rule back then was to not write an animated feature as a spec. We just had a story we believed in.


  1. KNOW WHY YOUR STORY NEED TO BE ANIMATED




What’s it going to bring to the story?


Why is this the only form your story can take?


Animation is about world building. For SECRET LIFE OF PETS, it’s the hidden world of our pets when we leave the house. 


  1. KNOW YOUR UNIVERSAL MESSAGE




Animated movies are very expensive to make.


They need a very big audience.


What’s the central theme to your story that’s going to be relatable to a 5 year-old and a 95 year-old? For the TOY STORY films, it’s using the toys we all grew up with as metaphors for the trials and tribulations of friendship and growing up. 



BIOScott Baker is a screenwriter and producer with a passion for the horror genre. Starting with short films, Scott is currently writing two feature lengths with the goal to produce them independently and start up a Blumhouse like model here in the UK. 


Aside from writing, Scott works with the London Screenwriters’ Festival who will be celebrating their 10 year anniversary in 2020 and is a content writer for Shore Scripts. Scott has also worked with theGreat American PitchFest and promoted “Once Upon A Nightmare” an Edinburgh FringeFestival production written by the Clarkson Twins and Gemma Hurley.

You can find Scott on Instagram and on his Twitter
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