A posting today on Facebook by Disney Pixar struck me as being very appropriate, and timely. It was a quote by Ralph Eggleston, an art director and animator at Pixar, who came on board during the development of Toy Story. I don’t know anything about him, but his quote sums it all up concisely:
“If you start from the character, everything else will follow.”
I am certainly no authority on character or story development, though I have done both with Olive the Woolly Bugger. In addition to the work I’ve done, I’ve also read articles about character development, and what constitutes a great character.
An excerpt from an interview with Michael Maurer, a screenwriter with an impressive resume for work he’s done on animated projects for film and television, says it well:
“Besides having a unique personality and some endearing character quirks, one of the most important things is that we (the audience) can relate to the character and his situation or his goals, and how he goes about dealing with the challenges that face him throughout the story or the series. Take Bugs Bunny – why is he such a likable character? In part, it’s because we can relate to him.”
Read the entire interview and article HERE.
A great character may be able to carry a sub-par story on their shoulders but I prefer to think that if you start with a great character, it will spawn (to cleverly use a fishing term) a great story.
When I created the character of Olive, I honestly didn’t sit down with a checklist of personality traits and construct her using that criteria. Who she was and would become happened organically, and by that I mean she grew on her own without me consciously trying to mold her.
Let’s look at some of the traits that make Olive a great character:
She’s likeable. Olive is sweet, a bit naive (at first, anyway), and endearing. She’s loyal to her friends and empathetic toward those whom she encounters.
She’s relatable. We’ve all faced some of the same situations that Olive faces. We can identify with her because she is us.
She works hard. Olive works through adversity as she pursues her goals (which are many and varied as the stories progress). Through determination she perseveres.
She’s humble. Even when she champions the day she is never a braggart. She knows from where she comes and appreciates any successes she has.
She’s perceptive. Olive may not have all the answers, but because she is willing to listen to others and the world around her, she finds answers to questions, even some questions she didn’t know she was asking.
She is unique. The above character traits are who she is, but what she is also makes Olive a great character: she is a woolly bugger. Those who know fly fishing know the virtues of the woolly bugger fly. Those who have no previous knowledge of what a woolly bugger is will like the name for what it is—something that sounds as if it were made up for a children’s story or animated film. And as a woolly bugger, she stands alone. Nobody has ever brought a fishing fly to life, at least not that I’m aware of.
When I fish a woolly bugger I have confidence that the fly is going to produce, not because I’m a great angler but because it’s a great pattern. Similarly I have confidence that Olive will land a Big Fish because she’s a great character.
So far the phone hasn’t rung, yet. I anticipate that any day it will. On the other end will be Pixar, Dreamworks or perhaps another up and coming animation studio, pleading with me to let them make a feature length movie starring my favorite woolly bugger, Olive. I wrote about my plans a while back, here.
Since then I’ve done a little research and have discovered a couple of things. First, Pixar doesn’t accept external submissions: all creative concepts come from within (I am confident they’ll make an exception for Olive). Secondly, I have learned that in order to pitch an idea to major movie studios, one must be represented by an agent. Unfortunately I don’t have an agent. Fortunately I have a friend who lives in LA and is a well-connected sort. As luck would have it, she did know someone in the agency world, and gave me the name of the company and agent. I fired off an introductory email, and waited.
After a week of deafening silence, I called the agency and introduced myself. I informed them that I had sent an inquiry email and was referred by my friend. Clearly the voice on the other end of the line had no idea who I was because my email had probably gone straight into a junk mail filter. That, and I’m a nobody so there is no reason why they would have had any idea who I am. They politely took my name and number and said they would pass it along to the agent. They did not say that I could expect to hear back. Well, I did. Unfortunately it was a voicemail on my phone- I’d missed the call. The message politely revealed to me that they weren’t accepting any new clients at this time. Apparently the talent agency profession wasn’t hit as hard by the recession as say, just about every other industry! They did give me a glimmer of hope, however, by suggesting that I call back in a couple of months. That was May 25th. I’ll wait until July 26th before I call–I don’t want to appear too eager.
In the meantime I’m building a strong pitch in hopes of convincing not only an agent to represent me and get Olive in front of studio execs, but a convincing case for the studio execs themselves. I had hoped to get 12 confirmed people from Olive’s Facebook page to commit to paying the price of admission if the movie were made. I did better than that and got 21 confirmation comments (and that doesn’t include the 18 “likes” my comment received)!
With that level of enthusiastic support, an animation studio would be remiss if they didn’t produce an animated Olive the woolly bugger movie. Mind you that is not simply 21 individuals that would pay to see the movie, but rather 21 people who would likely bring family members as well. The number could skyrocket! Not to mention dvd sales! Olive plush toys…
And so, while I wait for July 26th to arrive, I’m going to continue to let my plans marinate. Play it cool. Not appear too needy. Maybe an executive from Pixar or Dreamworks will find this blog and contact me and ask me what they can do to make it happen. That would save me the cost of a phone call to the agency.