Saturday, December 27, 2008

Writing Exercises

If you ever took any creative writing courses or were part of a writing group you might remember writing exercises -- something like "write a ten page story that includes Fig Newtons, a dyslexic wombat, is set in World War II, and the main character knows how to play a Xylophone."

I always thought those were rather artificial, of questionable educational value, and distracted you from the real task of getting your actual writing done.

The distributor is now requesting that we put together stories where the lead character is a 15-year-old boy, plus or minus a year (COP DOG's 12-year-old lead would be too young for next year's slate); with an animal ala COP DOG, but we're already using a dog in another movie and couldn't afford something like a bear and definitely not something aquatic! (did you know that chimpanzee actors are governed by roughly the same working condition rules as child actors?); it must of course be about 90 minutes long; limited locations and limited number of parts, including non-speaking parts because, at these budgets, extras are expensive too (unless your family members all have a lot of free time); should be humorous but maybe with a little heart (er, sentimentality -- but not during the first ten minutes! The first ten minutes should be fun); and there must be a family aspect, i.e. adult or other members of the family centrally involved (don't ask me, that requirement is pretty vague).

It'd also be good to include a holiday theme -- but Christmas is used in another project and we need holidays that also resonate in Europe -- so no Thanksgiving and Halloween isn't so great either.


Mike & Marg said...

I think these guidelines make it perfectly clear that your only choice is a Valentine's theme that involves a girl, a rat (or maybe a kangaroo) and her loving grandparents! See, teachers CAN help you develop necessary skills.

Jaime_sama said...

Hey Steve,

From the point of view of the filmmakers, the rules may be the same for chimpanzee actors as child actors, but there are few rules protecting great apes from their *trainers.*

I am a volunteer docent at a chimpanzee sanctuary a few days a month here in Ellensburg, and part of the lecture I give to the guests is about the treatment of chimpanzees in the TV and movie industry.

Most of the chimpanzees in TV and film roles are infants - under the age of 5, an age where free-living chimpanzees would still be with their mothers. Like human 5-year-olds, they are rambunctious, curious creatures that don't want to sit still or perform the same tricks over and over. They can really only be coerced into performing by fear, so their training can be quite brutal. The big toothy grin chimpanzee actors often have, that gets played for comedy, is a response to threat.

I'm lecturing you on your blog, which is rude, because I think I might be reaching some other screenwriters here besides you, and I would really like to spread the word about this. I think that if more people realized that the grinning ape they are laughing at on screen is actually a terrified baby, they wouldn't find it funny, and then maybe this would happen to fewer chimps.

I can send you some links if you would like some more information, or some evidence that I'm not just crazy. ;)

Steve Peterson said...

Fortunately for me, I'm not involved in the potential chimp movie (chimp plays soccer...). But the director is pretty conscious of eco and animal handling issues so if you email me those links I'll send them along.