by Theresa Miller and Abbey Hester
Screenwriter Christopher Reed seems to have his hand in everything: movies, shorts, music, plays, internet content. He even wrote the feature screenplay, “Jaguar,” a concept that would later become “The Lion King.”
He wrote the screenplay for the Touchstone feature film, “The Sixth Man,” wrote the original screenplay for the Turner Animation feature, “Cats Don’t Dance,” and has produced a number of short films, including the hugely popular “Pink Five” Star wars fan film series. Chris’ own plays have been produced in New York, Detroit, California, and Oregon.
Want to write a screenplay producers will eat up? With 5 original screenplays sold and 6 others written under contract to various studios, Chris Reed is the guy that can help. In Reed’s class, So You Want To Be A Screenwriter, you’ll learn the difference between plot and story, story structure, the intersection of character and conflict, and, most importantly, the big mistakes that could end your career. By the end of the class you’ll have learned the fundamentals of screenwriting and be ready to bang out a blockbuster!
Christopher took time out to talk to us about his work, career highlights, and his take on screenwriting.
1. You’ve written for so many different mediums; stage plays, TV scripts, short film, feature screenplays, internet, novels, almost can’t even count them all! Which genre is your favorite and why?
The mediums are so different. I enjoy certain things about them all. The novel and short story forms are by far the most freeing. You’re not subject to notes, you don’t pitch, and you don’t have to stage a dog and pony show for the studios. And, if your work is actually purchased, it will be seen, not buried in the Hollywood Memorial cemetery of un-produced scripts. Then again, I love thinking in visual images and seeing, in my minds eye, a movie come alive on the page. There’s nothing quite like it.
2. You wrote the screenplay for “Jaguar” that eventually became “The Lion King.” Can you tell us about that process? How did the script go from idea to finished product?
Well, I was the first to take a crack at the concept. I was under contract to Disney Feature Animation to write three movies. Charlie Fink, who was VP of Production and one of the smartest people on the planet, came up with the idea of writing “Bambi in the rainforest” and “Jaguar” was born. We developed the story of a Jaguar cub who’s parents are killed when their home is destroyed by loggers. He’s driven out, but then returns to claim his rightful place as king of the rainforest. The script was well received. But Disney made the decision to abandon non-musical animation. So, Charlie brilliantly re-conceived the idea as “Bambi in Africa” and “The Lion King” was born. Unfortunately, by then, I was on to another script.
3. You’ve had such a successful career so far in the film industry. What was your path like to where you are now?
It’s a roller coaster. You get to the top and the view is so cool, but then you plunge down again and it’s terrifying and you wonder if you’re gonna make it to the top again. Wheeeee. Better hold on tight.
4. On many of your projects, you’ve worked with your writing partner, Cynthia Carle. What prompted this decision to work as part of a team? How do you find this style of writing different from solitary writing?
Full disclosure, we’re married. But the fact is that Cynthia’s the single most talented person I’ve ever known. When we were first together I’d ask her for notes on my scripts. She always made my work so much better that the transition to work as a team was automatic. Not everyone can work in a partnership. It has it’s own, shall we say unique, challenges and, for a lot of people, two heads are not better than one. Unless you enjoy pounding it into a wall constantly. But our main genre has always been comedy and we have a very similar sense of humor, so we just feed off of each other.
5. What advice would you give to beginning screenwriters? Is there anything you wish someone would have told you when you were just starting out?
Well, that’s what the class is going to be about. There’s so much. The main thing I wish someone had told me was to be a doctor. I like watching surgery on TV. So cool. Actually, I wish someone had told that besides focusing on the writing at hand, keep your eye on the totality of the business. Lots more about that in class.
6. What is your writing process like?
It varies, depending on the project. If Cynthia and I are working on a film script we always always always start by developing a very detailed storyboard, then we each take different scenes to rough out. If I’m working solo, I often work linearly from a concept I’ve stored in my brain. Not a technique I would necessarily recommend to others, however.
7. What can students expect to learn from your class?
The most important things you need to focus on, right at the beginning, when you’ve got an idea that you want to turn into a screenplay. You’ll learn why the question “How late can you start?” is so important, how to avoid tedious exposition and some tricks that will make an A-list actor want to keep reading. You’ll learn that a compelling story and major turning points need to be connected directly to a character’s internal conflict. Beyond the script itself, You’ll learn a lot about the real world of screenwriting.
8.Story is hard. You have a unique perspective on the relationship between story, character, and conflict. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Hey, whoa, take the class. Okay, sorry. A screenplay, like life, is all about relationship and it’s very complicated. The trick is to simplify, understand the basics so you can see the big picture of how a great story is formed by developing internal and external relationships.
9.What is the biggest rookie mistake?
Not having the patience to really build a strong foundation for your idea. Everyone always has all these great concepts and ideas about cool scenes and fabulous actions sequences and, yeah, they are cool. But for them to be turned into a really great movie they have to have a really solid story underneath them.
Thank you so much, Chris. That was really helpful!
If you’re interested in learning Chris’s tips on crafting a great TV show or movie, check out his class, coming up April 2nd!