At Moovix we love storytelling and understand its importance in every aspect of what we do and hence are always looking to expand our horizons in this realm. A good understanding of storytelling not only helps writers but animators and painters. All art is storytelling! That said a couple of us from Moovix went to the Toronto Screenwriting Conference (it was my first one) and it definitely did not disappoint. By the end of the weekend we knew the difference between a procedural show and a serial one, and what writing “on spec” meant. Here are some highlights:
Eric Gilliland gave a talk on how to pitch a series show. He was formerly a writer on The Roseanne Show and he recently pitched a pilot with Roseanne Arnold called Downwardly Mobile. It was unfortunately turned down by the networks but he also talked about the angst of having your pitch rejected. You could really see his passion and energy in his presentation which seems to be a must to have a successful pitch.
Ubisoft's Corey May and Darby Mcdevitt had a power point presentation on writing for video games but it felt like they went through it as quickly as they could. It was as if they believed the audience just wanted to hear about breaking in the industry but I was keenly interested in hearing about video games' approach to writing. Video games’ writers have a dry, conceptual way of talking about writing, similar to how programmers would describe coding. Their process always starts with research and actually travelling to locations that inspire the game. This is why Assassin’s Creed is gloriously filled with intricate and historical details.
The legendary screenwriting team and couple, David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples talked about their illustrious film career. They wrote the screenplays for Unforgiven, Twelve Monkeys and Blade Runner. It was not educational but no one cared. It felt like being a guest in their living room while they regaled us with Hollywood tales and it was absolutely spellbinding.
Leonard Dick was a writer on House, Lost and The Good Wife. He discussed his experience on one hour dramas but of course the only thing I was interested in hearing was about Lost (I was a fan of House too but c’mon it’s Lost!). Who can forget the speculation that went on after every Lost episode and here we were getting information straight from the horse’s mouth. On every episode one writer would write the backstory and another writer would work on the actual goings on at the island. They would then get together to make it all work together. One of the secrets of Lost’s success was they did not reveal too much about the characters, even in the backstories. Everything was shrouded in mystery whereas lesser shows explain every mystery, even within the same episode.
From a purely didactic angle, the highlight of the conference had to be Michael Arndt's two talks about Toy Story 3 and crafting "insanely great" endings. His Toy Story 3 talk was about Hollywood story structure through the “tentpole” moments. Yes, it was similar to the so called formulas you can read about in books but Arndt has his own personal method of analyzing how successful movies set up their payoffs and climax.
It dovetailed nicely with his second talk on Endings because the same values and stakes that are setup at the beginning are what will make the climax great. He analyzed the values and stakes involved in the endings in Star Wars: A New Hope and The Graduate. Despite already blowing everyone’s minds with his cogent Star Wars/ The Graduate analysis, he further blew our minds by demonstrating how he used these very same principles in the script he wrote for Little Miss Sunshine. People were actually cheering and gave him a standing ovation. Who knew? Writers are not all tight lipped and reserved.
For more information check out the TSC website at www.torontoscreenwritingconference.com and be sure to sign up for next year!