Writing family movies

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  • Writing family movies

    Was wondering what advice Mazin and co. have for folks writing family specs.

    I heard a solid piece of advice that's stuck with me, basically write a movie that stars a kid and someone like Ben Stiller in duel roles...

    EJ
    Last edited by EJ Pennypacker; 03-07-2011, 04:25 PM.

  • #2
    Unfair

    Ben Stiller should not be having a duel with any kid.
    JEKYLL & CANADA (free .mp4 download @ Vimeo.com)

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    • #3
      Re: Writing family movies

      i think it depends on the market, EJ. tweens don't need adults in their stories. (Diary of a Wimpy Kid)
      kids that are too young to get around the neighborhood on their own need an adult. (Big Daddy)

      but ultimately it boils down to having a story fit for the market. adults won't go see the first one but kids will see it 2 or 3 times sparking the need for a sequel. the protagonist is the kid.
      adults will go see the second one for the adult. the protagonist is the adult.


      hope that helps... although i'm not a pro

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      • #4
        Re: Writing family movies

        In my experience (sold a family fantasy spec and worked a few assignments with kid protagonists), this issue has come up every time. If your story plays out on a big canvas, and it isn't based on a bestseller, studios seem to get antsy about putting it all on a kid's shoulders. If you can tell your story on the cheap, you might not need Stiller, or Jackman, or The Rock, but even the example above - Diary of a Wimpy Kid - was based on a popular book series.

        The best example I can think of is Jeff's Hotel for Dogs. I'm not sure if it was a spec or an assignment, but it was definitely kid-centric. It also didn't cost a hundred million to make, which I assume helped.

        If it doesn't break your story, or ideally, if it helps it, an adult co-lead can be worth considering. But if you have a truly kick-ass script that stars kids, you can still get attention with it. You can even get traction, but be prepared. You might be addressing this issue in the rewrite.

        ETA: Oops, Hotel for Dogs was based on a book too...
        Last edited by dmizzo; 03-06-2011, 08:48 AM.

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        • #5
          Re: Writing family movies

          This is an interesting subject for the pros to weigh in on. I don't write family movies but they're very popular & writers can get some assignments doing this type of work.

          Yeah, HOTEL FOR DOGS was based on a book, and FAMILY BOND, a spec, was also family oriented.

          "Trust your stuff." -- Dave Righetti, Pitching Coach

          ( Formerly "stvnlra" )

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          • #6
            Re: Writing family movies

            dmizzo,

            Thanks for responding to this subject. Something I run into is just what, dialogue-wise, can you get away with on a kids movie.

            I recently watched ET and GOONIES, and a few other beloved childhood movies (ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING), and was quite shocked that it featured some swear words. ET features the word SH!T at some point. Goonies has the great early scene where Mouth translates to the Mexican Lady about the house she's working in, and he mentions how drugs are separated in their draws, and up in the attic is the family sex toys, and if she fails in her job, she'll be locked away for 2wks with no food or water in a closet, etc.

            I just don't think you see this now in family movies. It seems back in the day they were more edgier, now they've all been cleaned up (thanks Pixar!).

            So what guidelines do studios give for projects for families these days?

            Also, are their any guidelines for violence? Can you see a gun be fired? Someone be punched? Blood? Pixar took a brave step and showed blood in UP. But how much is too much?

            EJ
            Last edited by EJ Pennypacker; 03-06-2011, 05:34 PM.

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            • #7
              Re: Writing family movies

              Yeah, you're not alone. Family movies used to be a lot more lenient with language and violence. I've gotten notes that kids shouldn't touch guns, or say "****," or a dozen other silly things. The rules vary studio to studio.

              But I think this is a good time to remember Koppelman's advice: calculate less.

              If you love those Amblin style movies, if you love the way those kids sounded and acted like real kids, don't worry about rules or ratings. Write that. Write the best possible version of that. If a studio tells you to pull back somewhere down the line, fine. But write the most kick-ass version, the version you love, and you'll have a much better shot of getting to that point.

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              • #8
                Re: Writing family movies

                Thanks for the very practical advice. I think it's smart just to write the version you want, rather than second guess what guidelines are out there, which frankly change between one studio to another I'm sure.

                Calculate less indeed...

                EJ

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                • #9
                  Re: Writing family movies

                  Originally posted by EJ Pennypacker View Post
                  dmizzo,

                  Thanks for responding to this subject. Something I run into is just what, dialogue-wise, can you get away with on a kids movie.

                  I recently watched ET and GOONIES, and a few other beloved childhood movies (ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING), and was quite shocked that it featured some swear words. ET features the word SH!T at some point. Goonies has the great early scene where Mouth translates to the Mexican Lady about the house she's working in, and he mentions how drugs are separated in their draws, and up in the attic is the family sex toys, and if she fails in her job, she'll be locked away for 2wks with no food or water in a closet, etc.

                  I just don't think you see this now in family movies. It seems back in the day they were more edgier, now they've all been cleaned up (thanks Pixar!).

                  So what guidelines do studios give for projects for families these days?

                  Also, are their any guidelines for violence? Can you see a gun be fired? Someone be punched? Blood? Pixar took a brave step and showed blood in UP. But how much is too much?

                  EJ

                  I don't think you could blame Pixar. You should blame clueless parents for yelling bloody murder and spotlight-loving politicos for listening.

                  I've yet to scribe a family spec, but there's an idea (the appearance of my nephew is the guiding factor) and I hope I don't write anything pandering. The only live-action family films I've watched of late are "My Dog Skip", "Nancy Drew" and the Karate Kid remake, and I found them good balances of kid hijinks and adult pathos.

                  Good luck, EJ.
                  "A screenwriter is much like being a fire hydrant with a bunch of dogs lined up around it.- -Frank Miller

                  "A real writer doesn't just want to write; a real writer has to write." -Alan Moore

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                  • #10
                    Re: Writing family movies (Mazin, Jeff, etc)

                    Originally posted by EJ Pennypacker View Post
                    Was wondering what advice Mazin and co. have for folks writing family specs.

                    I heard a solid piece of advice that's stuck with me, basically write a movie that stars a kid and someone like Ben Stiller in duel roles...

                    EJ
                    It's just marketing. If you can make a movie that kids and adults enjoy seeing, then there is more in ticket sales and profit at the popcorn/soda stand (which means the movie theater is more likely to play the film / for longer). More gross revenue and higher on the $ ratings lists and more funding for the next movie.

                    No parent wants their kids exposed to swearing / violence / sex so keep that out.

                    Also, think of the money in the toy business - so include characters that can be sold as toys etc.

                    Most of these stories are about growing up and the challenges involved (which is something the target audience - kids - can relate to). So you have an underlying journey overlaid with some sort of maturation / loss of innocence etc scenario.

                    You keep the archetypes straightforward but at the same time use techniques to make them and the story multi-dimensional.

                    You're not thinkng about what you want but what the audience wants / or will not accept (what parents don't want their kids to see).

                    One technique (a young adult and a kid) targets the two relevant demographics and the family. It also fills certain archetypal functions.

                    If done right, everyone will enjoy it and benefit.

                    See the Star Wars / Toy Story / Night at the Museum / Spiderman etc business model. From the business point of view (not the kids point of view) look at Mad Men, which was pitched and commissioned with advertisers in mind.
                    Story Structure 1
                    Story Structure 2
                    Story Structure 3

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                    • #11
                      Re: Writing family movies

                      This is an interesting thread. I'm writing a spec right now that I was intending to be a Christmas/Family film, but as I'm progressing through it, it's becoming more of a broad (but slightly dark) Christmas comedy.

                      Sometimes, you don't know exactly what genre the story falls in, until you're done writing it. From there, based on feedback about marketability, etc., you can adjust the script, but it's important to just tell your story first.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Unfair

                        Originally posted by EJ Pennypacker View Post
                        Was wondering what advice Mazin and co. have for folks writing family specs.

                        I heard a solid piece of advice that's stuck with me, basically write a movie that stars a kid and someone like Ben Stiller in duel roles...
                        Originally posted by Fortean View Post
                        Ben Stiller should not be having a duel with any kid.
                        Well, I liked it. +1

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