The Good Dinosaur Rewrite

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Spoiler Courtesy

If you haven’t watched Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, and plan to, you may not want to read this.

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I have given this a lot of thought since I took my son to see The Good Dinosaur on Black Friday, and since it keeps swirling back to me the way a boomerang is supposed to I decided to share it.

First you must understand: I am a believer in the movie making magic that Pixar Entertainment wields. I pretty much go in to their movies with the expectation to be floored, wowed, torn into tiny pieces of human emotion. Over the years, I think I’ve developed an addiction to their specific brand of story. I gear up for the feels and I have rarely been let down.

I am also a writer that has endured — will always have to endure — high-level critique of my work. I know how hard it is to take that in, and even more, I understand how easy it is to get lost on the story’s journey, veering, spiraling, floundering until you no longer even recognize the work you’ve ended up with. I know how hard it is to fix it once you get to that soul-crushing crossroad.

That said, I have a pretty huge note at the story level of The Good Dinosaur, and rather than only tell you what I think isn’t working, I am going to offer what I would do to fix it.

Here is the movie description:

Luckily for young Arlo, his parents (Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand) and his two siblings, the mighty dinosaurs were not wiped out 65 million years ago. When a rainstorm washes poor Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) downriver, he ends up bruised, battered and miles away from home. Good fortune shines on the frightened dino when he meets Spot (Jack Bright), a Neanderthal boy who offers his help and friendship. Together, the unlikely duo embark on an epic adventure to reunite Arlo with his beloved family.

It would take too long to give you a play-by-play of the entire plot, so what I am going to do instead is focus on the key points I feel like needed to be revised.

Shall we?

Concept and Set-up:

What if dinosaurs didn’t die out but lived on? The movie offers a society (similar to the world in CARS) run by dinosaurs. They have evolved to the point of creating their own jobs for themselves, finding ways to sustain their food supply, forming family units. They are essentially humans in dinosaur clothes.

I do think this concept works for an animated feature. Children can get into it, like they did CARS, and adults can pick out the finer nuances of the idea. (An example: The T-Rex cattle wranglers, meat eaters, that look like they are riding horses because of their tiny little arms. Pretty fabulous!)

But that is not the only BIG IDEA at play in this story. We also have parallels drawn between the world of Good Dinosaur and the Range, like Home, Home on the, as well as the classic protagonist spirit journey arc.

THEN we have the protagonist’s inability to fit in with his family because he’s timid and fearful.

Thanks to the protagonist’s fear, his father ends up dead.

But it’s not until the little Caveboy comes back a second time, that the inciting incident happens. Arlo (the protagonist) finally shows some story gumption when he confronts the Caveboy and blames him for his father’s death, chasing the boy away from the safety of his home and getting swept off by the river.

It is, to me, a case of too much, too fast. It gets muddled on delivery.

My Revision:

The description of the movie leaves out a huge chunk of this information and instead focuses — as it should — on Arlo’s journey. The issue with the setup is figuring out a way to make Arlo’s stakes high enough so that he needs to take this spirit journey, and endearing enough that we need to follow him on it.

I am suggesting two major changes:

  • Eliminate his brother
  • Leave his father alive.

Begin with the world set up: Dinosaurs don’t die.

Go to the small picture: a single dinosaur family surviving.

Introduce Arlo — scrawny, fearful, not really built for field labor, and is subtly seen as a disappointment by his father. On farms, boys usually take over once their father’s can’t run it anymore, but that isn’t Arlo’s strong suit. To give it a feminist edge, hint that his sister is better suited for this work and also wants it more than he does. Build the relationship with his sister up, show that Arlo needs to face his fear of letting his father down, and show how that manifests in him being fearful in other situations.

Introduce the Critters eating their food supply, and Arlo’s inability to kill the Caveboy. Have a scene here where Arlo says something awful to his father about farm life. Have his father call him a coward. And then, to drive it home, have his father go searching for the Caveboy to finish Arlo’s job and get injured. Arlo blames himself, and when he sees the Caveboy again, he CHOOSES to catch him to prove he’s not a coward. This is of course the wrong motive, which is important to show his growth through the story.

He falls into the river, goes unconscious and finds himself far from home with no survival skills and no idea how to get home.

This gives Arlo’s character real tension and tightens the plot, we don’t waste all that time on the father’s death, and we don’t meander with the brother that adds nothing to the plot. Arlo needs to be active, and he needs to be searching for something more. He’s a kid, of course he wants to get back home, he’s worried he’ll be in trouble because they’ll think he ran away, and probably secretly worried they will be fine without him, but Arlo is on this journey because of fear, and I think, because he needs to find out who he is. This is a coming of age tale, after all.

Things this changes:

  1. Needing to get home to help with the harvest. In the movie as it is now, Arlo arrives home at the end when they have already finished bringing in the harvest, negating this motive. They are exhausted and for all they know he abandoned them. By eliminating the father’s death, and making the sister more active, this would no longer need to be a driving force for Arlo, leaving him to have deeper goals and motives.
  2. The conflict he has over his father’s death. This is not The Lion King, guys, and for me, the father’s death had little emotional resonance. He spends the whole time either watching his son fail, or telling him to face his fear. Telling is the key word. With all that telling, I lost interest. I also feel like this is something I have seen too many times, and in this case it didn’t add to the movie.
  3. The connection between Spot (Caveboy) and Arlo over the loss of a parent. I think this could still be established. Arlo is a lost child, and so is Spot. All they have now is each other.

Smaller Points:

Shaman Character-

There is a weird Styracosaurus introduced early in the second act that could have served as a Shaman or Spirit Guide. Later, the father is used as a sort of Spirit Guide. Streamline this, pick one Shaman character and have that character recur at least three times in the story. Again, this is about utilizing the concept and worldbuilding. When you are trying to create an imaginary world, some things need to be told and retold to make the world feel fully fleshed out.

More characters on the Range-

Another way to utilize your world building is by using common and recognizable archetypal characters to fill out the world and drive theme home. Arlo needed to experience more for this to be a true spirit journey. His experiences are not varied enough, and his encounters to not provide enough of an argument.

Final Thoughts

The script would have to be revised throughout based on these changes, with an emphasis on the spirit journey concept and worldbuilding. By cutting unnecessary plot points, and getting the tension off a death and onto the struggle of the main character, the story will already feel less passive and more focused.

Critique is a compliment, it means I cared about this story. It is easier to stand on the outside of something and see the problems and even the solutions, than it is to be inside trying to solve them in real time. This is one opinion of a way to improve a story, and I don’t claim to be an expert on any of this.

Also, Pixar, if you are interested in hiring me, my contact info is in my bio. I have a screenplay sample, and I’m available immediately.

HBO Access Writing Fellowship: Why it Wasn’t a Total Disaster

While working through the deluge of ideas floating around in my head this afternoon, and trying to ignore my overwhelming urge to eat a cookie, I did what any good writer would: I googled things to distract myself and came up with this article —

Diverse Writers Break the Internet: Ask HBO How Many

It’s short. Go ahead and read it if you want. I plan to quote from it if not.

So you understand more fully why an article about the HBO Access Diversity Writing Fellowship is of interest to me, some backstory. On March 4th — the day in question — I logged into Without A Box at 11am central time and then spent the next two hours fighting a crashing website for a sliver of a chance that I might qualify for this fellowship.

After a lot of prayers and bargains and refreshing the (multiple) windows I had open, I finally got a confirmation page that my application had gone through.

When I went to Twitter, riding the high of actually making it under the wire, and searched the hashtag #hboaccess, I noticed something pretty unsurprising, but a little disappointing. There were 1000 applicants accepted, and for every one of them there were ten people flipping off HBO and cursing the entire program because they didn’t make it.

There were a lot of questions about how this could have been avoided. Why this happened. What it meant. But there were also a lot of (understandably) angry writers who felt like they had lost out on a major opportunity.

I am not the most diverse woman. I am white. I am straight. I am middle class. Some might say I should have left this for the more diverse, and those people have a right to that opinion. But that opinion is based on prejudice. Because whether I should get to or not, I qualified.

And I would do it again in a heartbeat, because of statements like this one:

…the limited bandwidth of Without A Box serves as a metaphor for the career trajectory of many diverse writers in America: There is only so much room for people like you here. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say diverse writers are explicitly told this again and again. By fellowships like these, yes, but also by literary magazines and publishing houses and art galleries and academia and so on and so forth. It’s real.

Even white, straight woman like me are discriminated against in the film industry and publishing world. We are taken less seriously or made to feel shitty about our writing. And what’s worse, the window is narrowing, and soon, there may not be enough room for us to fight for the right to Write. The playing field is a swarm of talented people banging on the door until their knuckles are bloody. Banging, and being ignored.

Hollywood continues to finance reboots because they are a sure thing.

Publishers continue to buy shit because it sells.

Original content rarely makes it through the door.

Readers and viewers complain about the crap they are given. Readers and viewers, nevertheless, consume it.

I am diverse because I am still the minority in the Film Industry. I am deserving of a chance to place my name at the top of the stack. I’ve been working a long time to get published. I’ve been writing screenplays since I was a child. I am dedicated and I am sick of the bullshit.

More and more creatives are turning to self-publishing, to YouTube, to indie pub or indie films, to teaching, or to crying into a bowl of ice cream and lamenting the life and death of their dreams.

Fighting back starts with believing you deserve to win.

I believe it for myself, whether I am an abysmal failure or a soaring success. Maybe even more when I look around and realize none of these fuckers is buying what I’m selling. I don’t stop pushing it. I push harder.

What the HBO application process taught me was simple: I want it bad enough to act a fool to get it. I better keep acting a fool.  I better bloody up my knuckles pounding on that door, and then I better go back to the drawing board and up my game because if I don’t someone else will. And then who can I blame but myself?

What’s Up Wednesday

WUWAutumnWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Reading

I still have 100 pages on Allegiant. I know, I know, I’ve been reading it for a week now. But last week I used it as a writing incentive and it worked so well, that I have stretched it out much longer than anticipated. I am feeling many things about this book. I am not sure I am really ready to write about any of it yet.

What I’m Writing

Oh, yeah, so I’ve been writing a lot. Using Allegiant as incentive, plus getting to scenes I was eager to write, plus gearing up for NaNoWriMo resulted in me adding 5,635 words to my WiP.

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I’ve chosen this gif which best illustrates my feelings on that subject.

What Inspires Me

NaNoing. I am thrilled to be participating in NaNo this year. I am psyched. For those of you who don’t know me well, it is important to understand a very core principle about me in order fully grasp the depths at which this event can motivate me:

I am a pathologically competitive person.

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Don’t take that to mean I have to win everything. I do not. I have to win things I should win. Losing something I should win creates a black hole inside me that only cookies can fill. For example: Harry Potter Trivia game; lose that and I die inside. Fantasy Football; if you can get me to sit still and watch a football game any bet hedged will be based solely on costume color. (Right, I said costume.)

Ultimately, my favorite competitor is myself. I am the one I most want to challenge, to trash talk, to provoke. NaNo is a fabulous competition because it isn’t a competition at all —not with other writers anyway — but a competition against your own procrastination and laziness.

Which leads to the truly inspiring aspect of NaNo: the community of writers participating, or spurring NaNo’ers on. I wrote this blog post on Monday that touches more deeply on my feelings. Just know, if we are NaNo buddies, I will be there beside you and will not allow you to wuss out. See above reference to my pathological competitive spirit. In the game of NaNo, we are on a team. And I want to win, and that means I want you to win too.

What Else I’m Up To

This weekend was hectic and filming filled. We shot our biggest sequence of scenes, at our most challenging location, with our most extras (all of the canine variety) and it was overwhelmingly smooth. The final shot of the day saw most of the crew in tears. When you have had something in your head for a long time, it is very easy to build it up to impossible to reach standards, so that when you finally see it played out, the result is anticlimactic. The cast and crew somehow made it even better than it was in my head.

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This weekend is my birthday and our final day of shooting, and I am filled with nervous excitement.

Let’s Make a Movie!

In case you missed it on my Facebook and Twitter…I am now officially in pre-production for a short film that will begin shooting in October.

A bit about the film:

Cassie’s Cause tells the story of Cassie Duncan, a young, scrappy animal activist whose older brother Gregory has recently passed away. On the night of his burial, Cassie wishes he could return and things could go back to the way they were. Her wish is granted. But there’s a catch. Cassie is now the proud owner of a Zombie.

Together they embark on an unexpected adventure.

Cassie’s Cause examines the ways we cope with loss, the choices we make to do so, and the power we possess to overcome. Told in sweeping black and white, Cassie’s Cause utilizes the visual and emotional, rather than vocal expression of the actors to beautifully illustrate a young girl’s journey toward letting go.

Sound fun? It will be.

Saturday we submitted all our information to Kickstarter for review. I’m happy to report we received approval yesterday! Please follow the link below to view our Kickstarter video and consider making a pledge in support of the film.

We understand that asking for money in this current economic climate is bold, so please know that any contribution to this film will be used honestly and in earnest to make the best movie possible. We have some fun incentives, but those who support this film will get more than shout-outs and buttons and t-shirts. They get to be part of making a dream come true.

If you’re curious, or just want to show your support but can’t pledge:

Follow on Facebook

Follow on Twitter

Follow the blog

To view our masterfully shot and gorgeously rendered (or to see me dancing) Kickstarter click HERE!

If you have comments or concerns, questions or compliments, you can leave them at any one of those locations. I’ll do my utmost to answer! Have a terrific Tuesday.

 

What’s Up Wednesday

whats up wednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s.

I want to preface this by saying, it’s been a hell of a week.

What I’m Reading

I finished Throne of Glass. I would like a moment of silence to relive some of the spine-tingling feels this book delivers. (Closes eyes and thinks about Chaol, Celeana, and Dorian. Wanders into daydreaming where I am an assassin with killer hair and cat-like reflexes who captures the interest of two beautiful men.)

OK, I’m back. I then decided to read Austenland by Shannon Hale. I love Jane Austen, and Mr.Darcy is still possibly one of the most swoony literary men ever, so this book naturally appeals to me. In much the same way I adored and devoured Bridget Jones’s Diary, I fell headlong in love with Austenland. It’s a quick read at 208 pages. It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times, and it delivers the romantic goods. I haven’t read an “adult” book since The Rules of Civility last year, but this book was exactly what I needed in the midst of my crazy week. It was an escape, just as Pembrook Park is for the heroine Jane, and one I was grateful for. 

The film adaptation was recently released, and it looks like a blast!

What I’m Writing

Hmm, what am I not writing? Last week we wrapped the first installments on our web series, now officially titled SUPER TV SHOW. Riding the high of this, the crew and I decided to take a chance on producing our own short film. This film project is one I have had in the works, in varying and evolving forms, for almost seven years. It’s a project I very much believe in. Next week we will launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. I will share all that information as soon as I have the link for it. I am ridiculously excited. Along those lines I’ve been writing proposals, rewriting the script for filming, and sending emails to contacts in the locations we need permission to film in. For instance, we want to use a historical cemetery as one location. There is a Cemetery Board that must approve. It’s morbidly fabulous.

I also made some progress on my WiP, bringing in another 1500 words. I love this story, and now I am doing more in-depth research to flesh out the world-building. I also have some alpha readers who want to know where the hell my next pages are. Sorry!

What Inspires Me

We went to a small town to scout locations and shoot our Kickstarter video on Sunday. We ended up drinking wine in an eclectic antique store with the shop owner, a film buff who studied molecular science, and talking about Fellini. We also caught most of it on film.

The support of the writer community here and on Twitter. When I shared my experience with rejection last week, the response was overwhelmingly encouraging  and edifying. I am always impressed by you.

What Else I’m Up To

My son has been sick with swimmer’s ear and some kind of stomach bug. He also seems to be going through some sort of terrifyingly early pre-adolescent hormone surge. He screams, cries, and pits his will against mine at regular intervals throughout the day. His birthday was today — but his party is Saturday — and for the most part it was a lovely day. I made him a special breakfast, took him to a playground, and spent the afternoon watching Power Rangers Jungle Fury (only available through random vendors on Amazon, so it was a birthday present) with him at my mom’s house. I also had to threaten him repeatedly with time outs and loss of privileges if he didn’t put on his listening ears and get in the damn car. (I did not cuss at him, but in my head there was a string of expletives.) Children are a blessing. And so is alcohol.

I entered the “Agent Inbox” contest through author Krista Van Dolzer’s website. You should all visit the contest, which should be up some time today, and tell them how amazing Post #9 is. Plus, if you are at all curious to find out what my book is about, this is a good opportunity. I have never shared this much information about it on the internet. It’s feels scary.

Last night I went to the midnight release of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. First of all, wow, I am a major fangirl and really too old to be out so late. (Though, when I lived in NYC I spent quite a few wild nights out until 3am. But I was an idiot.) Second, the movie was a little disappointing, but Jace Lightwood in the flesh wasn’t.

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The most fabulous part of our late, late night was during the previews when this happened:

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I honestly can’t tell you anything about the teaser trailer that followed this shot. Pompeii comes out February 28, 2014, and I’ll be there. I have already exstensively searched the internet for the teaser trailer from last night with no luck. If you happen to stumble upon it before I do (and I promise, you will know when I do) please Tweet me or post in comments.

Happy Wednesday! Now, if only I could take a nap.