Episode 2 - Transcript - Turning Ideas Into Screenplays
Meg: Hey, welcome to The Screenwriting Life, I'm Meg LeFauve.
Lorien: And I'm Lorien McKenna. On today's show, we're going to talk about turning your idea and getting it to the page, and we'll be answering some fan questions. But first, we're going to talk about our weeks, which we're calling our Adventures In Screenwriting. Meg?
Meg: Alright, I'll go first. My week was I practiced the fine art of procrastination. In other words, fear. But just high level of procrastination. Because I look really busy, right? But busy as in like, somebody once said to me, there's a zen cone. That busyness is a high form of laziness. Kind of like, I look really busy when I'm procrastinating.
Lorien: Like, what does that look like, how does it manifest?
Meg: Well, I did have some work to do. I was writing back and forth with a director. She's in Europe and we were writing back and forth. But we're into the fine detail work like, what is this line? Let's do seven alts of this line. That's not my favorite part of writing. I mean, we all have parts that we love to do and parts that we're like, this is harder torture for my brain. So I procrastinated a little bit on that and then I did it eventually. I mean, I did do it. It helps that the directors in a different time zone so I can work til midnight, if I need to do. And I did something for work too, which is I had to, with my friend Jonathan Fernandez that I'm writing a pilot with, the pilot is fantasy, and I don't...it's not my genre. And I believe that genres often have a kind of math to them. You can break it, but you need to know you're breaking it. So I was like, hey, we need to watch a lot of pilots.
Lorien: Oh, I can't wait to hear what you watched.
Meg: So we watched a lot of pilots, some that I was like halfway through, "we don't need to watch this anymore. It's not the math I want". And some really good ones and really thinking about, OK, why does that work? And that one didn't. What are they doing that works for our show? Maybe it just wasn't show appropriate, like what we want to do. So that was fun, you know, I'll be productive eventually.
Lorien: What do you mean by the math in a genre?
Meg: Well, you know, like fantasy, a fantasy pilot, you have to establish the world and the rules that everybody in the show knows. But you have to fill the audience. And how do you do that in an entertaining, still attaching emotionally, but you have all this exposition to get out. That to me is like, almost like math. Like, how did they do it? How did certain people do it well? And ultimately, it has to be very personal to you and to your story, of course. But what I realized today on Friday is that I did all of that and I needed to do all of that and also how stuff and all the other stuff that gets involved right in procrastinating. But I think what I'm really realizing is I was afraid. I was procrastinating because what I really, true in my heart want to do, I'm afraid to do, which is this heart project I want to write that I keep not writing. Is this the book series? Yeah. So I mean, I've gone into it, but I keep stalling out, and I'm kind of like, why am I stalling out? What's going on? So I think what I need is a deadline. So right now on air, I'm going to do it. I'm going to give myself a deadline for next week, next Friday. Next Friday, I'm going to come in here and say I did a rough, really bad outline of the first episode. How about that? Who wants to join me? Who in our audience wants to join me? Email firstname.lastname@example.org? Tell me you're doing it something. You know, what are you doing? That project that you really want to do, but you're avoiding. Join me! Ok.
Lorien: Deadlines are important and deadline for next Friday. Ok, that's great. My week, I, after last week's episode when we were talking about getting notes and taking notes, I sort of went back to a couple of projects that I'd abandoned for various reasons, probably because I'd gotten really hard notes that I didn't know how to process. So I went back and I reread those and I remembered why I wanted to write them. And it's not quite there, which is probably why I got those notes. So I went back and I played around in one of them for a little while, which was fun. And I'm realizing when I'm in that script that it needs a lot of work, right? You know, it's an hour long sci-fi drama. And when I got to the very end, the last page is, "Oh, this is probably the beginning of an actual pilot". Right? But it took me writing that whole page years ago, that whole script years ago to be like, oh right. I had to get all that out. Like a lot of back story and churn...
Meg: And it's both, right? Like it needed to do that. It needed to fill you in on all that and your skill level rises every time you write something. So you're coming back with all these tools.
Lorien: Yeah, and that was actually really fun to is rereading it and like, oh, no, like, take like all this, you know, set up, physical locations. No, no. Get right into it. Like I cut 15 pages out of it, just like getting into the actions of scenes. So where I was a couple of years ago when I wrote that and where I am now, was encouraging, but also embarrassing because I'd sent that script to people at the time, right? So there's that inner judge. Anyway, so that was a part of my week. I had a couple of meetings that went pretty well this week, but one meeting I had on Wednesday was great. I left, I was feeling great. You know, like, you know, you have a good meeting, you have a good connection with somebody. And, you know, it's like walking tall and feeling great. And I walk out on the Sunset and my car is gone.
Meg: Oh no.
Lorien: And and I was like, Hmm. So, you know, did I park there? Where did I park? And I see a guy standing and I thought he was a cop at first, but he was a security guard. I was like, hey, man, any chance you know where my car went and a couple guys were like, "Oh yeah, we saw your car get towed about two hours ago". So why this relates to screenwriting? It's because I had to deal with getting my car out of the impound on Wednesday night. I didn't get to go to a WGA meeting that I wanted to go to, but also the whole experience was hilarious. Like, yes, now I'm very poor for having to pay all that money because you have to pay to get your car out of impound, but you also get a ticket. But the whole it was, it was just, you know, my phone went down to one percent. The Lyft driver wasn't going to take me where I wanted to go,
Meg: I'm into this show already.
Lorien: Well, what it did is I have these characters floating around in my head for this project I want to write, but I don't know how to get into it. And I realized, Aha! So for me, it was a good reminder that I need to leave my house sometimes...
Meg: Get into the world.
Lorien: To get into the world, have some life experience and that's where really amazing ideas can come from, like stumbling around and getting your car towed.
Meg: Well, that's my new favorite TV show, so I can't wait til the next episode.
Lorien: Okay our topic of the day is...
Meg: Idea to Page, right? So you've got a great idea. Now what? So that is what we're going to talk about today. Do you want to start?
Lorien: So I can talk about what that feels like. So I get an idea and I'm like, I am a genius. This is the best idea. And then I say it out loud to someone, and it sounds so stupid and I realize I'm terrible. And so then I do some crying and probably eat some chips. And then if I decide to stick with that idea, you know, I try to write it down a little bit more and then there's more crying. And then just sort of working through all that and pushing through all those barriers is so hard to get to the part where I'm sitting down and writing a story area or writing an outline. But just for me, it just feels like so hard. You know, it's so emotional to go...
Meg: It is, from that idea that seems so great and then once you actually start putting pieces down, you just see all the things that don't work. That's why connecting into what you love about it is so important as you go through the process, of course. Yeah, basically, yes, I concur.
Lorien: And sometimes the idea is like a character or a line of dialogue or getting towed or something. So it's not even like a fully formed premise.
Meg: Idea yet.
Lorien: Or, you know, something I can pitch.
Meg: And what's the goal? Is the goal that you're going to pitch it. Is the goal that you're going to write, you're going to spec it. I mean, I think at first you don't need to know that because you're dealing with such big basic story things, but eventually that is important. Like, how much more do you need to develop this? Because it's a great pitch and what a pitch needs and we can talk about that as a different topic, but you know, for me, if I get an idea like I do different things. So one of the things I do is I will just kind of spitball/blue sky, not worry about it, open a document and whatever idea comes into my head, by myself, just start writing down scenes or moments. Or sometimes I'll put it on cards, like different spitball ideas. Sometimes I need to like, let them actually go into a scene because I need the character to walk and talk and tell me who they are, because sometimes I'm not sure. You know, ultimately using my process as I'm moving towards what I call a puke draft, which is literally once I've got the basic, in my mind, I need kind of the basics: we're going to start here. Here's my main character. This is the world. This is the genre I think it is. Thematically this is emotionally what I'm trying to talk about. I kind of think they're going to end up here. As long as I have that, kind of the beginning engine pieces and where we're starting and where we're finishing, I then just write a puke draft, like whatever happens, I don't stop. I don't judge it. If I want to judge it, I might write on a different piece of paper, "Oh my god, this is so sappy. This is so horrible". Blah blah blah, right? That 'Miranda judge' comes in and gets me, but I just go back and just write and write and write. And you know, you can't critique a puke draft. You're not critiquing it as you go. You're not rewriting as you go. And you might be like, I have no idea what happens right here, but something super cool because I want to get to here is the next idea I have. Midpoint, something. I don't know. It's kind of like 'chunking' it out, right? And to me, that's not something I ever show anybody, but it's kind of like digging up clay. So that I can go sculpt with it later. I'm just pulling it up. And it's a draft though in my mind, because I do want the discipline of beginning, middle, end. This has to go somewhere, or it can just spin out and become four different movies. So I do keep it in a container.
Lorien: So when you do that, when you do a puke draft though, you're so experienced and you know structure so well, like in your bones and I've worked with you on a project, you're like, I'm just going to a puke draft version of this.
Meg: I drove her crazy is what she's saying.
Lorien: No, no, no. It felt like a thing, a real thing, even though it was a puke draft to you, because you're so good at craft, it's, as you approach it, you sort of know where the turns are. Others, say me sometimes, for example, I know what it's supposed to be, but when I'm writing the puke draft, I get lost. I'll get lost in the details or it'll take a weird turn. And I get really excited about the turn, but it's not structurally where it needs to be. So that can be very scary as well.
Meg: Well it's tricky, right? Because in the puke draft, that turn might be telling you that's the direction to go. What if you have the wrong main character because your brain was so afraid of what you really want to talk about that it brought up a different character that felt safer for you to write about. But as you write, this other character starts knocking on the door and you're like, wow, that is the character and that's a much scarier character for me to write. I guess if the turn feels like a relief and it's easier, it's probably avoidance. If it feels a little bit scary and like you're pushing into something emotional for you, there's probably some good juice in there. Do you know what I'm saying? And listen, we all need to avoid sometimes I just talked about procrastination, but and you never know, like when I work with a friend of mine, John Morgan, he was an actor and my development brain when we had this new idea and we were pitching out all the ideas it could be. And he would say, oh, she could do this and that. And I said, OK, John, that's a cul de sac. Let me explain to you because in our structure, blah blah blah. And he would just look at me and he came from acting, so he was like. Or we go down the cul de sac and we find something great and bring it back. So if those turns come up, there might be something in that turn you need. But I would always then go back and say, does this fit into the, you know, like I said, start with a beginning and an end. Does that fit in there? Does it fit into the genre I think this is? If it doesn't, is it big enough to blow it up and redo the whole thing based on that new turn, right? Like, that's the discipline. The discipline is OK. I took this turn. Let's look at that turn now. Let's say what is the value of that turn? Is it worth going back and relooking at the basic elements? And that's something else I wanted to talk about in terms of having an idea is really, do you know, even just in the broadest sense, the basic elements of the engine of your script? So thematically, like you might just know, it's something about revenge, it's something about redemption. I don't know what, any word will do. What's the world? Do you know the world? Again, not the details of the world. Just we're in the Upper Midwest, you know, in this time period, et cetera. Do you know the genre you're doing? You might not. You might think you're doing one genre, and as you start to pull up the clay, it becomes something else. But if you want to procrastinate, you can go look at all those genres. Research! But you should know the genre. I believe elements, you can break them, but break them knowingly. Not because you didn't know them, because eventually you're going to hand this to somebody who does know that genre because they make these movies so they will know that you're breaking them. So do you know the genre? Do you know who the main character is? Again, that might change as you go, but right now, who's the main character? What do they think they want? What do they emotionally really need, which is going to attach to your theme? And another really important one that I don't think a lot of people think about in these early stages, but I would highly recommend you think about is what is the relationship of the movie? What is the main, core relationship of the movie? Again, it can change, it will change. But right now, as you're starting, you know, people watch stories, I believe, because of relationships. Right, that's really what we're investing in. And it's interesting watching those pilots, a lot of the ones that I didn't respond to is because they weren't really setting up any relationships. So I don't know what I'm caring about in a weird way. And I'm waiting and waiting and waiting for the relationship to start and what's the problem in the relationship? And those didn't work for me because I'm like, OK, I'm just bored already. Like, what's going on? So really think about what is the relationship of the film that you're starting, this idea that's bubbling up, and that will help you a lot because you can track on the structure, you know, structure as character. You know, I like to start my character starts here and ends here, where's the main relationship start?
Lorien: So what if you have an idea about a character and you don't know the answer to that? Like, how do you dig into that? I mean, I've seen lots of lists of questions you can ask your characters and you know, what are their fears and their hopes?
Meg: That's why i do puke drafts or I start doing writing exercises because you're putting them in different situations or scenes that I see, well, who's there? My experience, and even working with young writers is, that relationship will arrive if it's given space in your writing time to just write. That person who wants to be in relationship to your main character will arrive. They will show up. You might have a different idea, but they might show up and be like, it's me, I'm sorry.
Lorien: So it's a very intellectual approach to it. Like, I'm going to do all these forms and checklists and research and do all this stuff, and that can be helpful to a certain point. And then it tips into avoidance. And then it really is about writing and whatever that looks like. Like stream of consciousness, monologues, scenes...
Meg: Different scenes, put them in different situations. Again, if you find that all the fun situations you're thinking of are really just kind of more external, like, let's say, an action sequence, which is great, but then you have to go back in and be like, why does my character need to go into this action sequence? Like, what's really happening here, emotionally, character wise? Or me, I'm doing a lot of character, emotional stuff, and some of those points have to be like, wait a minute. What is the fun trailer moment of this movie? Because this is a big movie. Ok, I have to pull back now 30,000 feet. What is the fun, you know, set pieces, right? Which is also fun. Give yourself that job. You have this crazy idea. You don't know much about it. What's the trailer? What are the set pieces? Just to start pulling it up. And then, of course, mostly when you have an idea to get it to the page, the solution is...write. A lot of people have ideas, like when I go to conferences and stuff, everybody tells me they have ideas. It's very rare that they're like, I have a script that I've rewritten, you know, eight times and I really think I've got it. And now I have another script and I've written that five times. Like, it's the writing that is...the writing. Like, it's not just thinking about it because it's always great in your head, but it's really, OK, being brave enough to jump over that chasm that you described of it's great in my head, but what if it sucks? And then somehow our brains are like, that means you suck.
Lorien: Like the the crying and the chip eating.
Meg: The critic comes up. The critic comes up and tells you, well, that's because you suck. And you know, that's not true, because every writer has to jump that chasm. I've seen people who have won multiple Academy Awards have to jump that chasm. We've seen it. So that is a chasm everybody has to jump when they start from great idea to, oh, it sucks because it's now on a piece of paper and I don't actually know what it is, but you have to trust that it did come to you. It is pushing to exist now in this plane, so sit down and get through that uncomfortable vulnerability, which is what I'm talking about for myself, right? I just gave myself a deadline because I'm in the chasm right now. So I'm like, OK, I need help in the chasm, Lorien. You guys. Be the person on the other side going, you've got to get it done.
Lorien: It's an outline, right, that you're doing? Rough.
Meg: Yes. Is that what I said?
Lorien: Of a pilot,
Meg: Which it might just end up being clay you guys, it might just be like big, mucky pieces that I'm going to be like, well, I have got the big mucky pieces, and as long as you can find one thing to get excited about in those mucky pieces, great. That's great. No mucky piece is ever wasted. They will come back. They're all just brining. I'm doing soup, I'm doing mud. I'm doing a lot of metaphors now.
Lorien: Sounds delicious but I like the chips part a lot better. Yeah, so much of it is the fear and the judgment and the unknowing, you know, just that terror. And then when you write it down, is it good or not? And then do you show it to somebody and like, what if you show it to them too soon, right? I've pitched ideas to people or sent them pages, and because it's not, there's no 'there there' enough, then the feedback I get is helpful, but not for my project.
Meg: And it can also be damaging, right? Because it's too soon. And I'm like, well, no, that sucks. That totally didn't work. I mean, I would only give those early, early baby drafts or baby ideas to people who are really good at asking questions, because that's really all you should be getting at this point is questions about "do you mean this or could it be this? And I really liked this", so it should be feeding into it, not detracting and chipping away at it. And you should find those people to do that for you because it is so much a process of fear to get it out that I just feel like you have to have the right people. I mean, if you're giving it to people that are going to chip away at it too early, then you have to ask why you self-sabotage? Which I think I said last week, but I'm going to say it again.
Lorien: Another piece of it is that process, right? Really, experienced writers have a process, but the process changes for every project a little bit. I think. I mean, it depends on what it is. Sometimes I feel like I have to sneak up on it, right? Like, you know, I'm working on this thing and I haven't been able to sort of get a way in and then I got towed and I was like, oh, I'm going to sneak up...I'll use this experience as the beginning of the script, just because it was so fun. And I want to write about that and I can put my characters in that situation and then I don't know what will happen.
Meg: But that's great. You got a trigger.
Lorien: But I'm going to sneak up on them in that way because it will be fun, right? So much of writing is so hard and vulnerable and and you feel like, I sometimes feel like I have to put myself in the chair. I have to do it. But I do want to have fun doing it too. Like, I want to have some joy in the storytelling. I don't want it to just be like "ugh writing", you know, I want it to be like, I get to go write this scene and and I'm excited to go do this now. So I feel like that gets overlooked a lot too in the work of it.
Meg: Absolutely, you got to have that. I totally agree.
Jeff: When you say sneaking up on it, Lorien, do you mean like finding a back door way to break your characters?
Lorien: Yes or just for me, psychologically, the the idea of tackling this huge subject matter is too big. So I need to find this very small little window to sort of climb in to sort of get access to it because like, I have a huge, a huge idea. It's personal to me. It's big theme and it just feels like a giant moon, you know, I don't know how to land on it. So just trying to find a fun way to sort of get access to it.
Meg: And then let that create the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. Yeah, I think that's super smart. And now, of course, there's other writers that I've met who are idea guys or idea gals, right? They just have this idea and that idea and this idea and I'm like, well, what have you written? Which one of those are scripts? None, but I have...Meaning you can also use an idea to avoid actually doing the work because you're halfway through realizing, oh my god, this idea I had doesn't work. It's not as good, but I have a new idea! And that's great. But that's the other end of the spectrum, right? Where my advice to those people is no, no, no, no. Go back and make that work. But it's not going to be good. Maybe or maybe it's going to be great, but you actually are way too early to do that. And even, let's say, worst case scenario, it's quote unquote not good, but you started it, so it needed it needs to teach you something. You're never going to learn it if you bounce out as soon as it gets hard. I'm talking to myself right now, remember, because I have this thing I'm not doing. So it's just about pushing back into it and just knowing the value is in doing it sometimes, especially for people who pop out and use ideas to avoid. So if you're one of these people who have tons and tons of ideas, then you know, I'm going to put a challenge out to you or homework. Let's do some homework, you know, go look at your ideas.
Lorien: Suddenly this podcast is a terrible idea. Now I have an assignment that I have to come up with and homework.
Meg: No, if you want to. Some people like homework, some people are type A and they actually like it and if you don't, don't do it.
Lorien: Well that's what's gonna happen is that I like homework so I'm going to do it.
Meg: Pick an idea and do one thing that we talked about today on that idea, you could do the spitball. You could look at the main engine elements and see if you can fill in the blank, right? And maybe we can put up somewhere what those elements are for people. I don't know, Jeff, if we can figure that out.
Jeff: We'll put in the description of this podcast is what we'll do.
Meg: And then just really, you know, just do this one thing and email us and let us know, OK, I did it. Because I do believe one thing feeds the next thing, feeds the next thing, feeds the next thing. And yes, you might hit the next chasm. Right? That's OK. Go back and be OK. I hit a chasm. I've got to go back to spitballing. And we did this at Pixar all the time. That after the screening, you might feel like we fell into a chasm. So what do we do? We go back in and just start spitballing and having fun like you said and just throwing out ideas to get sparked again on the idea. But it's still on the same idea. It's still maybe within that sandbox of we still think we want her to start here and end here, but there's a chasm in the middle. Oh my God. Right? So that's OK, right? Or maybe that's the moment you do have to go look at genres because you're realizing, oh, I'm actually doing a female version of the adolescent boy movies, which there's a ton of those. And I was working with a young writer and I was like, well, do you know what those are? Have you watched those movies? And she's like, oh, and I was like, yeah, you got to go watch them. That could be good if you're stuck in the chasm, but the trick is the discipline not to stay in the research, that you are writing down, like I said, the similarities of that genre and how those work and know that you're going to twist it and throw it out if you want to.
Lorien: And I do believe that work begets work. So when you know you get into something and you're really writing it and other ideas start to pop up and you put those away or you, in something you're working on now, you wind up solving a problem for something else. Like doing the work generates more, just, I don't know what it is. It trains your brain. You have more ideas. You feel better about yourself.
Meg: It's sort of like opening a tap. Like when I first started moving from a producer to a writer, I had all this fear and the chasm felt very big and a very wise person said to me, you have a dry riverbed, you have to get some water in it. Just a couple of drops of water because water begets water. Water will bring more water. You just have to start getting water in the dry riverbed. So if you're in a dry riverbed right now and you have some ideas, do the homework, just start. And it's that discipline. You're going to do the first exercise of spitballing. Tomorrow you're going to do more spitballing then you realize you're going to fill out your exercise on the engine pieces. And suddenly you realize, oh, I don't know if it's that genre. Then you do research for a limited time, and then come back and stick that research on. And you just start building, layering water, whatever metaphor works for you. I totally do. I actually think it's brain science, too. I do think that you open pathways in your brain, that creatively it starts going or we can be spiritual about it and say the muses come because you are disciplined and have committed to them that they will come.
Lorien: And something else you can do when writing all day seems too much. You can write for an hour a day, like even just an hour. That you're writing, not researching. Literally an hour
Meg: Even 20 minutes will do something. And for people who are very busy, like all of us, we're all busy. Like I said, I started the whole week with the art of procrastination. That is the trick. You have to write,
Lorien: So shall we move onto some fan questions? Our first question is "how do you stay true to your original vision of characters as the story around them changes and evolves? And when do you know it's time to rethink or imagine them?".
Meg: It's interesting because for features for me and everybody's different, character is plot, character is theme. I picked the genre because of the character, like, so for my brain, I don't even know how to do that in terms of, the character would always be evolving because if I change the plot, it is affecting the character. Now, if you were a genre writer and you cared mostly or where you started is the genre, I could see that you're starting with genre stuff you love and then backing into a character. There are writers that work that way. But still, at some point, I do think you have to say character is the center. It's what we are attaching to. We might be having fun in those genre moments, but why do we care? Is the character.
Lorien: It's the relationship. Like you were talking about and their journey.
Meg: So to me, it is a constantly evolving thing. You can evolve too far because you've gotten too many notes and you've pulled off of really what you loved about that character. And that character has evolved into some Frankenstein Band-Aid Monster of doing everything that everybody told you to do. And when that happens, you literally have to stop and say, why did I love this? What did I love about this character and go back to them and reboot back into that character. But that's going to reboot everything. That's going to be reboot the plot, that's going to reboot the main relationship. Go back into that piece.
Lorien: And I guess the the question feels like trusting yourself. How do you know, how do you know when you've lost the thread? And I don't know the answer to that one.
Meg: Well, I mean, that's writing, that's any art. Sometimes you don't know. It is that sitting in the chair and going back again and again. But I do think, again, it's got to get back to the touchstone of why do you care about it. Because the reason you care about it is why I will care about it and pushing into things that might be scaring you, like if you are like, I will absolutely not change my character, and it's really a big response. I'm like, wow.
Lorien: Maybe you should do exactly that.
Meg: I'm like, why? You should just as a writing exercise, literally change them 180 degrees because you're so adamant that you won't. Sometimes that's valid, and it's because it's pulling you off, and sometimes it's a defense mechanism because you're so afraid of what is that 180 degree turn. But, you know, it's a writing exercise. Everything will always be just a piece of paper. Nobody even has to read it, but it helps your brain see it in a completely different way, which is so hard to do and so great when it happens. So sometimes you can just, if your character you feel like needs to be rethunk or reimagined, do it. Just say today, for the next two hours, I'm going to just let, you know, let the chains off. I'm going to rethink and reimagine them. Because why not?
Lorien: See where in the cul de sac you go?
Meg: Yeah. And bring it back? Or guess what? A new character was born and she's better and she's greater than what you had. So it is a churning process. It is an iterative process, so I wouldn't be afraid to do that because you can always go back. You can always go back to what you had. You know, it's not 1930 and we have to type out 100 pages.
Lorien: Which is a lot of what we did at Pixar, too. We would look at something, try something, that didn't work, reset, try again, try again. It was definitely that iterative process. It wasn't like everything grew up. Something amazing grew out of that, it's just that that didn't work.
Meg: And they really wanted you to push to the edge. You know, I really took their motto "Fail Fast" to heart. They they want you pushing out to something that feels edge to you and vulnerability wise or story wise to see how you push it, it creates a new thing, right? So don't be afraid to do that. You have to do that. Now if it's due because you're actually being paid for it, that's a whole other topic, and we could talk about that. Ok, so the second question is, "Is theme important? And does finding it come first before you write the story or do you find it as you write?", which is from Brian in Los Angeles.
Lorien: Yes, theme is important.
Meg: Yes, that's the answer. Yes, theme is important. Listen, everybody finds it in a different place. I don't think you're going to find, I mean, you might find the, like I said, the category of it, like even knowing that could be so great. Redemption, revenge. Again, that's not a theme, but we're in a world now, right? And what's interesting is you usually figure out the intellectual themes first, right? 'Controlling' isn't a theme yet. And the way I recognize a great theme is if I feel something when you say it to me. If I intellectually am like, that's cool, we're not there yet. There is an emotional thing underneath that, that should make you, as a writer, feel wiggly because you're actually going to write about that. You know, it should feel a little scary, right? Like when we were doing Inside Out, for an 11 year old girl to say to her parents, "You want me to be happy, but I'm not" made me very wiggly. I was like, oh my God. Because that was me when I was 11 years old. But that's really hard to get to. I find drafts and drafts and drafts of really digging and really pushing yourself. So you might start with something that's just a personal experience and you don't even know consciously, but you can feel it, something in there. Or you might have an intellectual idea that is super cool, but it's not emotional yet. But then your work is to dig down into it. So, I mean, theme is such a huge topic that really I feel like we should make it next week's big topic.
Lorien: Like how do you get to that emotional description of it? How is it authentic to you and what's the truth of that story?
Meg: And what are some exercises to get to theme? We could talk to you guys about that. Some exercises I do, or I've done with my students to help them recognize some thematics inside of them that they love, so we'll make that a tease of our next big topic.
Jeff: Another great way I've heard theme described, too, is like, there's kind of like what your movie is like 'lowercase a' about and then like what your movie's like 'Capital A' about. So like your movie's about whatever the logline is. But then your movie is obviously about much more than just that. And that's kind of an interesting way to think about it. It's got to be about more than just what the story is. It's kind of reductive, but I think it was a that was a great way for me to kind of position what theme means.
Meg: Yeah, I have a lot to say on theme. Like, I could give a dissertation on theme, so buckle up for up for next week. It's super interesting to me. Theme is, to me, the bedrock of everything. And yet the hardest thing to get to and articulate. And I've been in professional situations where they are way late into the process and cannot articulate it yet. And as a producer, that happened to me as well. And that's super hard because now you're going out to sell a movie and guess who wants to know what the theme is? The people buying the movie because they have to make a poster and like they actually want to talk to the filmmaker about that.
Lorien: But we had an experience where we were working on a pilot together. We knew what the theme was and we were writing it. And then we realized at one point that we had undercut the theme, the very theme. And it was like, wait, what are we doing? Like in the big moment we'd sold our character out because we got too wiggly.
Meg: Because often the theme that you're working on, unconsciously, your brain is trying to learn, your brain is trying to shift, trying to change. So you have a bad habit of doing the opposite of your theme. I mean, I've seen that a million times people are not doing their theme, they're literally not doing it. And other problem with theme is, you know, you attract it in. Anyway we can talk about this next week.
Lorien: So we're living it.
Meg: Yes, you will end up living it. So please send us your questions. We'd love to get some more fan questions or writer questions.