As the annual ritual of year-end critic's movie awards kicks into full gear, and New Year's Eve approaches, a time when resolutions like "finally write that screenplay" are made, what better time to catch-up with Atlanta-based screenwriter Michael Lucker, whose latest initiative Screenwriter School launches on January 9.
Mr. Lucker brings a wealth of personal experience to the classroom, from his job as assistant to Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment to working in creative affairs at Hollywood Pictures, where he helped develop Crimson Tide, Terminal Velocity, Taking Care of Business, and Straight Talk. Michael's writing credits include A Vampire in Brooklyn, Home On the Range, and the Academy Award-winning animated feature Spirit. He also wrote the animated sequels to Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, The Emperor's New Groove and 101 Dalmatians.
Full disclosure: When I was Executive Dir. of the Atlanta Film Festival, I hired Michael to teach screenwriting workshops and he participated in the screenwriter's retreat we launched, and I've collaborated with Michael's company Lucky Dog Films to develop an unscripted project.
1. If screenwriting is all about telling stories, tell us the story of Screenwriter School.
Once upon a time a lonely and unshaven screenwriter who spent much of his day pent up at home typing by himself decided he wanted to meet people. So he started teaching.
Then two crazy things happened:
1. People thought he was good at it.
2. He found it incredibly rewarding.
So he did it more and more, for various groups and colleges and wanton writers on the side of the road. Until one day it hit him. Perhaps all these writers would like one fun place to come together, learn the craft of writing movies, and not be lonely too. Voilà: Screenwriter School was born.
What set us apart is this: the fact that I've been around the writer's block, ridden the development rollercoaster and been dragged behind the production bus, will enable others to avoid the wrong turns I've taken. They might even benefit from some of the right ones. What I share is not just based on theory. It's based on years of writing for produced projects at movie studios and television networks.
2. You've written both live action and animated feature films. What is the biggest difference? Have you ever imagined an idea for a screenplay only to realize that it is "un-filmable" or is anything truly possible now with CGI technology, etc.?
Forty pages, really. Live action features are 120. Animated features are 80.
Beyond that, you can pretty much do anything in either.
Just know that in creating any magical world, you must first establish the rules of your world. And then stick to them! Can monkeys fly? Can antelope speak? Can humans hear them?
It's all up in the air in animation.
Nothing is unfilmable anymore. The only limit to what you can put on screen in any medium is the imagination.
Except puppetry. It's tough to blow things up in puppetry.
3. What are some insights you can offer to the challenges (and advantages) of adapting someone else's material, or writing a sequel? Is it harder or easier than working from a "blank slate"?
It's such a luxury to have a starting point. Writing is akin to answering 1,000 questions a day. If you have a few of the answers starting off, it could keep you from tumbling ass over elbow down a rabbit hole.
However, if some of the answers you are given are wrong, you must first undo what's broken.
The trick is to know what to keep and what to kick to the curb.
4. Working for Steven Spielberg is the dream of just about anyone who aspires for a career in the movie business. What is the most important thing you learned from him?
Have answers to questions before they are asked.
5. What is the biggest mistake you see in novice writers? What do you know now that you would tell your 20-years-ago self? What is the most important thing you hope a student gains from the Screenwriter School?
The biggest mistake novice writers make is trying to fit too much into one story. I call it "Last Script Syndrome." Beginning writers think this is the only script they may ever write, so they try and fit every line, character, scene and kitchen sink into it. They get lost in the forest.
I'd tell myself at 20 to seize opportunities. They may not come by every day. Also, stay away from Goldschläger.
The most important thing a student can gain from Screenwriter School is a roadmap to writing, developing, and selling a screenplay.
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