Sony has officially announced the signing on of Oscar-nominated writer-director Kelly Asbury to the Pooch Cafe movie. Kelly will be writing the next draft of the script. He most recently directed and co-wrote Gnomeo and Juliet and directed DreamWorks’ Shrek 2 and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
From Sony: ”Kelly’s wit and cinematic sensibility pairs wonderfully with the irreverent characters and wry comedy in the “Pooch Café” comic strip,” says Michelle Raimo-Kouyate, president of production for Sony Pictures Animations. “We’ve been looking for something to do with Kelly, and this was a perfect match.”
Very exciting step forward on the Pooch Café road to the big screen!
Some happy Pooch movie news today: after an extensive search for a screenwriter to do a rewrite of my first draft of the script, Sony has finally settled on someone: (ahem) it’s me! Lift your music-maker high, fair Droolia!
The general response (it is my understanding) of other screenwriters they approached was that they didn’t want to risk messing up the unique world that already existed on the pages. The producer, who is a big supporter of what I’ve written thus far, helped convince Sony that I was the right guy for the job. I gotta say, I’m bursting with delight, not only that I get to continue to help build the Pooch vision, but also that I am now officially a professional Hollywood screenwriter, which is a dream I’d nurtured back in the Die Hard, Ferris Bueller, Dirty Rotten Scoundrel days. I’ve been given some excellent notes from the studio, (not a big surprise, they do in fact make movies for a living). And so now, to work. Or to daydreaming. Which despite what my algebra teacher said, has turned out for the moment to be the same thing.
My apologies for the long gap in posts about the Pooch Café movie. Things have been moving slowly, but moving nicely. I was hard at work since last spring (!) on the treatment. The producer – an 800 pound Hollywood gorilla with an epic track record (“he’s so hot right now”) – was a tough taskmaster, but we formed a little mutual-admiration club of two, and produced a story that seems to hit all the right marks.
I then spent the last few months doing a first draft of the screenplay. To say it was a joy is an understatement. I plunged myself into it. Gone were the sensations of hunger, thirst, the need to pee; I think I kept inhaling and exhaling but who the hell knows. Big thanks to my girlfriend for handling the X-mas list. And feeding me.
By New Years I had a completed first draft. And I’m delighted to report that it was met with big enthusiasm from the Sony team.
Next up: another experienced writer is being brought in to work on it some more. They’ve got some good talent in mind, and Sony seems quite keen on keeping the Pooch vision we’re all enjoying, so I’m very much looking forward to more creative input and watching it continue to evolve. More to come.
Nothing major to report, just continuing to work on new versions of the treatment and getting feedback from the producer, and will be meeting with some of the Sony folks again while in L.A. for the Reubens. Above is a bit of art from the initial story proposal. Did everybody see Sony’s Surf’s Up, btw? I know it got burried in the Penguin avalanche when it came out (March of, Farce of, Happy Feet, Madagascar, etc), but if haven’t seen it check it out, it’s up there with Pixar’s best work.
Last week I flew to Hollywood for some meetings at Sony. I stayed in a hotel right next to the building Fox filmed Die Hard in (turns out they didn’t really blow it up). On the first day I got to meet some of the great people I’ve been speaking and working with on the treatment thus far. Then I was taken around the studio and got to peek at some of the animators at work. The latest Sony Animation release is called Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, and it looks sensational.
On the second day we discussed some more ideas for the Pooch storyline. After seeing some of the amazing character design of the animators at Sony I can’t help but dream of the magic they could breath into the PC regulars. But first, we’ve got to think up the story. (Takes conjuring baton in hand, leans back and cuts the air with three gentle, respectful arcs, lowers eyelids, dozes…)
A few months ago the latest treatment I handed in to Sony got a thorough going-over, and the responses were extremely favorable. One higher-level exec in particular “loves loves loves” Pooch, and has pronounced it his “favorite”. This is especially great to hear, since the studio guard changed since Pooch was first optioned, and projects brought into studios by other execs who are no longer there tend not to get made, as the new execs like to only make the projects that they themselves initiated. But it seems Pooch has tip-toed through the fire, and is now one of their “top priorities.”
A producer with a very impressive list of credentials has now been invited to join in. We have a phone conference scheduled for next week, and I will be flying to Hollywood in April to meet with him and the other Sony people involved so far.
The notes that were given on my story have made it necessary to tear it down and for the most part begin again, but the overall comments about the basic world and characters were so enthusiastic that it still felt very, very positive. They’ve assured me repeatedly that they’re dedicated to preserving my “unique voice” in the film, and the producer mentioned above is apparently a new fan of Pooch and is known for helping preserve source material when ushering it onto film.
More news from the Pooch Movie front. The treatment for the movie that I submitted last month was shown around the Sony offices to positive response. Then the moment of truth came and the project was kicked upstairs to the studio executives. This was an extra truthy moment of truth since – as I understand it – all the people who were involved when Pooch was first optioned are no longer with the company. This never bodes well, as folks entering new posts often like to “clean the house” of earlier debris.
Yesterday I had a conference call with some people at Sony (after accidentally making them wait an hour while I got some groceries … boy, am I a player now or what?), and the news couldn’t have been better. Apparently the studio execs, and one in particular who is a pretty “big monkey” (I think that’s the term they used, I’m not up on this Hollywood jargon) loved the treatment and really thought this could be a great movie. They also thought that depending on how the coming rounds of revisions go that they could be willing to let me take a crack at writing the screenplay. I’ve noticed many animated features have multiple writers, but if I can get myself at least partially involved in the writing I’ll be happy as a dog getting into a car.
Well the initial response from one of the higher levels of brass regarding the Pooch treatment has turned out to be less troubling than it initially seemed. The comment had not so much to do with the plot but the marketing catch. I’ve learned that animated movies are often given a “template”, which is a way for everyone involved to grasp the concept quickly and easily; for example, Chicken Run was “The Great Escape with chickens”. So far everyone seems to like the character-driven style of the Pooch world, which is great, but what they’d like to feel more comfortable with is a clearer marketing angle. As we all know a quality movie without a catchy promo can still wind up tanking at the box office (say, Iron Giant), and vice versa (say, Wild Wild West).
Over the last few weeks I’ve been pushing the story elements around, removing scenes that didn’t contribute to the thrust of the main story, however fun they might be; things like Poncho running away from home to join a wolf pack, Hudson (disguised as Dr. Waggles) secretly training Poncho to be more dog-like, and a scene with Poo Poo and Droollia trapped in a dumpster set to the song “No One Knows What Goes On Behind Closed Doors.”
The treatment I wrote first was “on spec” to sort of win the assignment of getting to do the treatment, so this is actually the first “official” treatment I’ll be delivering to Sony, which I should have ready early next week, and then the wait for feedback begins.
Well the initial response from one of the higher levels of brass regarding the Pooch treatment has turned out to be less troubling than it initially seemed. The comment had not so much to do with the plot but the marketing catch. I’ve learned that animated movies are often given a “template”, which is a way for everyone involved to grasp the concept quickly and easily; for example, Chicken Run was “The Great Escape with chickens”. So far everyone seems to like the character-driven style of the Pooch world, which is great, but what they need to feel more comfortable is a clearer marketing angle. As we all know a quality movie without a catchy promo can still wind up tanking at the box office (say, Iron Giant), and vice versa (say, Wild Wild West).
Just a little update on the movie treatment, and the update is: more delays. About 3 weeks ago I finally got feedback from the meetings Sony held to discuss my first treatment for the Pooch script. The main concern so far was that I had too much story for 90 minutes of film. Not an overly scary problem, cutting away extra fat is easier than trying to add padding to a story that’s too thin. They want to focus much more on Poncho’s journey and growth. While I do too, I do envision an ensemble quality with every dog having his part to play. They didn’t think this was necessarily the wrong way to go either, but they want to make sure everything that happens serves to propel Poncho’s story forward.
One suggestion I balked at and will hopefully be able to effectively dissuade is their idea that the giant cat-catapult be Poncho’s idea, since he’s the main character. I told them that any fans of the strip will know that the catapult is Boomer’s baby, and on top of that I think it’s a touch too maniacal for Poncho, especially if he’s going to be a sentimental character in a movie.
This brings up a question that will probably come up again: if it’s a decision between making a potentially better plot choice for the script vs. going against the continuity of the strip, which way do we go? I guess each choice will have to be weighed as they come up. I sure am glad I’m involved, though, I can’t imagine how quickly the Pooch characters and the Pooch world in general would veer off if it was being written by someone who wasn’t a well-versed fan of the strip (and this could very easily still happen).
Anyway, I was about to get started on the next version of the treatment, but some shuffling occurred in the upper brass, and the new woman in charge wanted to read the treatment and add her own notes. So now we wait some more. (Meanwhile Kung Fu Panda comes out and undermines one of my characters from a TV pitch. Nuts! I’ll post that pitch at some point just for kicks).
Here’s the latest “Movie News” update. Sony has now officially hired me to do the treatment for the movie (for those who don’t know what a treatment is, it’s explained in the previous post). I pitched my treatment/vision of the Pooch Café movie to Sony along with a number (not sure what the number was) of other experienced Hollywood screenwriters. Sony told me that after reading my pitch they were sitting around relaying to each their favorite parts and laughing, which they felt was a strong indication that I was on to something and at which point they decided I might be the best candidate for the job.
The contract I’ve signed is for a complete treatment, with two rounds of revisions. Sony has made me aware that despite the fact that I’ve already submitted a working treatment that this will be no walk in the park. Meetings are being held this and next week and I’m to prepare myself for a barrage of notes and comments.
They’ve also told me to prepare for two other possible scenarios:
1: Although Sony has not yet done a “B” category CGI feature film, they’re considering Pooch for this. From what I understand, the animation is pretty much as strong as it is in an “A” category feature, it’s more a matter of really close attention to detail — say, “Finding Nemo” — which Pooch might not require, and also a matter of advertising budget. The plus side of this is that if it’s not a full, big budget feature, there won’t be as much scrutiny over every detail and making sure every joke is “PC” and lowest common denominator, which would leave more room for creative freedom.
2: It’s possible the higher-ups aren’t going to be comfortable hiring an unproven screenwriter to write the finished script. Which means even though I might come up with the story another screenwriter might step in to write the final. Obviously I’d like to get a crack at this myself, so I’ll be working hard at convincing them to give me a shot. But of course ultimately getting the best finished product is what we’re all after, however we get there.
I spoke with the lawyer at Sony today about the next step in the movie process: the treatment. For those who don’t know, a treatment is the basic story for the movie outlined in paragraph form. I created a treatment and pitched it to Sony a few months back, and on the strength of that pitch they are now contracting me to revise and improve that treatment. I should probably keep the details of the story hush hush for now, but the pitch was about 20 pages long including some art I threw in to spice it up (which I don’t think is usual for pitches, but I thought in this case it might be appropriate), and does revolve in some part around plans for the giant cat-catapult. Tremble, felines of the world!
After 18 months (!) of negotiations the contract with Sony has been signed to potentially turn Pooch Café into a computer-animated feature film. Sony’s first two cgi films were Open Season and the awesome Surf’s Up, brilliant examples of the craft, so I’m extremely excited to be shacking up with them. Over the next 12-18 months some preliminary work will commence, things like story and character designs, before a decision is made about proceeding into full production. From what I’ve figured out so far this process can be quite glacial, but I’ll post regular updates as we go along so we can all experience the mechanics of developing a comic strip for the big screen (or however far we get). Sweet biscuits! This could be fun.