Every Tom, Dick and Mary in Hollywood has a screenplay. But very few writers can get one made, let alone be a critical and box office success. Even fewer writers can write two successful sequels and build a franchise. Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio are part of that elite group.
Writing team Paul and Daurio didn’t meet in film school or at a Starbucks. They met at church. Paul wrote a musical for his congregation and Daurio auditioned and got a lead role. Soon, they realized they had a similar sense of humor and began writing together. The rest is history.
Both writers have different backgrounds, Paul studied screenwriting at USC, while Daurio made music videos. “I made a hundred videos and a hundred dollars,” Daurio jokes. Luckily, tohere’s no lack of jobs or money now, considering they wrote all three of the Despicable Me scripts. If you add up the box office returns of the first two films, the total comes to nearly $600 million – and that’s just domestically.
But taking the same animated characters through three entire movies, giving them a new story and character arc each time can be daunting. Paul and Daurio admit they really struggled with the third one. They came up with lots of ideas, even watched other third movies in other franchises, but nothing excited then.
“We were thinking, who is this new villain going to be? And then we thought, what if he’s a disgruntled 80s child star? Because they all went bad,” says Cinco.
“Once we realized that’s what we were doing, then we wrote it for us. We got to put in all the 80s references we love – the songs and the toys,” says Daurio.
And that’s how Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), was born. Add that on top of a plotline stolen from The Family Trap (Gru discovers he has a long-lost twin brother), you have a recipe for success.
Adding a villain who was famous in the 1980s was a genius move. Not only is there plenty of Minion and Gru humor to engage the kids watching the movie, it’s a trip down memory lane for any mom or dad who remembers the 80s. Seeing Balthazar Bratt’s character with giant shoulder pads, playing the game Simon Says or Rubik’s Cube all to Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” makes it a fun experience for kids and parents.
Both writers say they didn’t strategically plan to hook the parents by bringing 1980s nostalgia into the script. Balthazar Bratt was a simply a character they found incredibly funny.
“That’s generally our strategy,” says Paul, “to write a movie to entertain us.”
We asked these seasoned vets if they had any advice for up and coming screenwriters. Paul says he recommends writers get an internship or go work at a production company for two reasons. “They’ll get exposed to a ton of scripts and, if they’re a good employee, their boss will want to help them out.”
He also says not to expect your first script to get made. “Never think this script is my ticket. Your goal should be to become a great writer. If you ask most screenwriters which is the best screenplay they ever wrote, it’s not one that got made. But it’s probably the script that got them the jobs. Write that script, realize you’re never going to sell it, and then write another one. Then write another one. It’s a process of becoming the best writer that you can be.”
Daurio adds his two cents, “After we got started, there were ups and downs before we got locked into the animation world. What I learned was you can’t try to do what you think people want you to do. You have to really be true to yourself and write what you’re good at writing. It’s easy to feel the pressure of, ‘Oh no! They’re looking for a family comedy with XY and Z – we have to figure out how to make one of those.’ But it will never work if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Chasing it has never worked for us.”
They were going out on a lot of pitches but weren’t getting hired.
“We needed a job. We were trying to say everything we thought they wanted to hear. It just wasn’t working. And then one day, we decided, ‘Hey, let’s just go in there and have fun – at least we can have fun and entertain each other,” added Daurio.
Their strategy worked.
“After that, literally everything changed for us. We went in and pitched what was funny to us. It’s almost like they can smell your desperation. But, if you come in and they think, ‘These guys don’t really need this job’ well, that’s how it all changed,” says Paul.
Despicable Me 3 is the best one in the series and opens June 30th.
5 Replies to "Despicable Me 3 Writers on Pitching: “They Can Smell Your Desperation”"
Seymour Lavine June 29, 2017 (2:43 am)
Good article, thanks.
One issue is that going to pitch at TV conferences is very expensive. It’s a privileged position to be in if you can afford to attend AND you don’t really need to work.
Kara Myers June 29, 2017 (10:54 am)
Thanks, enjoyed reading this and more confirmation on the advice Hal is always giving us and that is to become a really great writer.
Therese Harrold July 3, 2017 (6:43 am)
Thanks for sharing! You reminded me of a couple of job offers I received over the years, one in TV production and one in Education, that were, in great part,because I was “playful”, i.e. light , airy, relaxed, creative-fun, in my application process. I truly did think, especially relative to my response to the TV production ad, my innovative approach might back-fire on me, but it did not. In fact, the response was to the contrary. And, yes, your article
confirms Hal’s perennial advice — become a really great writer– it’s the ultimate quest! Congratulations to you both
MSC 9 writer.
Anton S.Jayaraj July 3, 2017 (7:52 am)
Dear Shanee Edwards, Thanks for a much useful article which is enlightening in many ways. I am living in India and at present, I have been writing ( and rewriting of course ) two screenplays in totally different genres. But, I am sorry that as I am living in India, I will be unable to attend any pitch meeting personally except through Skype. Furthermore, I will be unable to work in any Hollywood studio or any production company. Do you have any words of advice or suggestion for people like me living in this part of the world who long to succeed in Hollywood as writers at least in a small way?
Carmelo Spatazza July 8, 2017 (7:44 am)
This advice is sound, obviously, but HOW do we find legit producers to pitch to in the first place?