Today’s guest is a screenwriter, director, professor, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Writers Guild of America West Aaron Mendelsohn. He is best known for co-creating and co-writing the successful AIR BUD family film franchise, which sired eleven sequels and generated millions of dollars over the years. If you have kids, then you probably already have seen an Air Bud spin-off film.
Aaron has a number of projects in development, including the drama pilot BAD MEDICINE with ITV America and the action-comedy ARMOR HERO with Alpha Pictures. His romantic comedy, LIKE CATS & DOGS, aired recently on the Hallmark Channel. He recently wrote the animated feature PRINCES for Warner Bros, the drama pilot THE ASSOCIATE for Sony, and the animated pilot HOODS for Cartoon Network.
Other produced projects include the perennial ABC Family holiday movie THE 12 DATES OF CHRISTMAS, the Lifetime TV movie CHANGE OF HEART, the Fox TV series KINDRED: THE EMBRACED, the kid’s TV pilot THE ADVENTURES OF TAXI DOG, the Family feature THE THREE INVESTIGATORS: THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE, and the independent feature CHAPTER ZERO, which he also directed. Aaron has also written film and TV projects for Fox, New Line, Showtime, Paramount, the Spike Network, New Regency, Hasbro Studios, Bob Yari, Lightstorm, and Arnold Kopelson.
Twenty years into a successful screenwriting career and he still loses his way in the thickets of story-breaking and script-writing. Aaron assembled The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay to help guide his path, and they’ve been his road map ever since.
“This is a VERY smart way to deconstruct and demystify the job of screenwriting.”
– Billy Ray, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Captain Phillips”
Starting out as a personal story-breaking method and evolving into a masterclass that Aaron has taught around the world, THE 11 FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS is now an ebook (newly revised and expanded for Amazon/Kindle) that shares the secrets of his successful technique. Simple and intuitive, each question in the book is strategically designed to elicit key story points, challenge lazy writing, and stimulate ideas.
Wherever you are in the writing process, and whether you’re writing for film, television, new media, or books, asking yourself the 11 FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS is a great way to enhance your creative process and sell more projects.
This is a fun episode. Get ready to take some notes. Enjoy my conversation with Aaron Mendelsohn.
Alex Ferrari 2:02
I like to welcome the show Aaron Mendelsohn man, how you doing?
Aaron Mendelsohn 4:12
I'm good. How are you Alex?
Alex Ferrari 4:14
I'm good, man. I'm good. Just you know hanging in here in this this crazy, wacky world that we're living in?
Aaron Mendelsohn 4:20
Yeah, likewise, where are you? You're based
Alex Ferrari 4:23
I'm in L.A I'm in Burbank.
Aaron Mendelsohn 4:25
On Burbank. All right, so if I threw a rock really hard from city to city, I might, it might land in Toluca Lake,
Alex Ferrari 4:32
It might it might land in Toluca Lake and ripples might splash on to me. Yes. Exactly. Yeah, it is a crazy time. I can't even I've talked about it so much as far as the the the COVID thing, but you know, we're doing what we can and the industry is changing on a daily basis. Nobody knows where the hell anything is going.
Aaron Mendelsohn 4:53
Oh, whenever did by the way.
Alex Ferrari 4:55
This is obviously obviously, but now even more so like before, there was some sort Have some sort of guidance, like, you knew that on Friday there was going to be released a blockbuster movie in the summer, and it was going to generate X amount of dollars more unlikely we had that certainty. Yes, we don't have that now.
Aaron Mendelsohn 5:16
Now it's true. It is. But it makes it interesting. I think it it kind of it was good for the world and Hollywood to kind of have a reset have a little bit of a pause button. You know, it's interesting that the, the Black Lives Matter issue has really risen to the forefront during this time of reflection and reset, because, boy, I'm hearing a lot in the writers community. how, you know, we think we're this progressive, liberal, egalitarian community and new probably compared to a lot of others we are, but there's so much even systemic racism, and bias that happens in the writing community in the screenwriting community and television writing, that this has given us a opportunity to kind of reflect, yeah, reset and see how we can do things differently going forward. There's,
Alex Ferrari 6:11
there's, there's no question about it. Um, I mean, I mean, I growing up I remember watching, you know, I'm a Latino man, have been all my life. And, and I remember watching Looney Tunes, and watching Speedy Gonzales, and I'd be just like, and I never thinking twice about it, but like, as I got older, like, Whoa, that's pretty messed up. Yeah, it's fairly, like, Okay, all right. So look, it's it's, it's something that's in Britain, and I'm bred in this, but it's ingrained in the in the fabric and fortunately, and something hopefully, we'll be able to do. And we, as filmmakers, and writers have the power to really do some change because filmmaking, movies, television, storytelling is the most powerful medium to start that change, without questions. So we started off heavy, so we're gonna go a little lighter now. So how did you get started in the business?
Aaron Mendelsohn 7:16
I got started, I knew I was going to be a screenwriter since I was five years old living in Anchorage, Alaska. And I knew I was going to go to UCLA and I was going to be a screenwriter. Even when I was in kindergarten and Mr. And Mrs. McKinnon's class, obviously, I knew it. And I made it happen. I went to UCLA, I studied screenwriting at UCLA, and then emerging into Hollywood with a script under my arm that everyone passed on. Everyone's shot has died. It was it was a terrible script. So it's not surprising. And then I wrote another one and I wrote another one I got over this sort of illusion that you write one screenplay And the world's gonna be the path to your doorstep, it really was an iterative process. For me, and and my screenplays got better. But what was interesting is the thing that really broke through for me is that I wrote a script about my family. I wrote a script about how my dad came out of the closet, after 27 years of marriage, and how, you know, obviously, that threw something of a hand grenade into the family, I mean, ultimately a good one because he needed to be himself. But it was something of a disruptive event. So I wrote a movie about that in the early 90s. And everyone passed on, it
Alex Ferrari 8:35
wasn't the right time.
Aaron Mendelsohn 8:36
It was not the right time, they were just not doing it. And finally, lifetime, the lifetime network stepped up. And we made the movie with Jean smart playing my mom, and john Terry, who you may remember from last play, playing my dad. And it was something of a little groundbreaking film. And so that was sort of my, that was one of my first projects. And it really took kind of like stepping back and writing something that was kind of highly personal. That that broke me through.
Alex Ferrari 9:12
So it's the opposite of everything that everyone tells you. It's not to write something personal. Like don't get yet don't write a movie about your family that's never going to sell is basically the the advice I've heard 1000 times.
Aaron Mendelsohn 9:24
I know it depends on the family. True. Families are interesting. You know, I have my aunt Dina, let me tell you her stories. No. And Tina's not interesting. You know, your dad coming out of the closet and and marriage, you know, kind of breaking up because of it. That's a little more interesting, although even now, that's passe.
Alex Ferrari 9:47
Yeah, well, I mean, Grace and Frankie alone. I mean, they built the series based on that concept. That's right. And they took the whole thing and added a bunch of a bunch of spice to it. If you as they say, Yeah, but it and that's another thing really interesting to talk about is timing. Because sometimes they're the certain script or certain movies, certain filmmaker all everything has to come together kind of like in this vortex and hit all at the same time for certain projects to go. We're five years earlier 10 years earlier, it doesn't happen as like the script like you were walking around with a script that you remember. I remember what Unforgiven was bouncing around Hollywood for like, 2030 your bodyguard was bouncing around Hollywood for like, 30 years.
Aaron Mendelsohn 10:33
Yeah, well, they're gonna make westerns until finally, you know, Clint Eastwood stepped up and said, you know, hey, I'm the western guy. Let's let's make this Western bodyguard, you know, they had to get Whitney Houston, you know, a big kind of iconic celebrity to do it. So yeah, a lot of it's timing, luck. It's just courage. You know, someone, a producer, a studio has the balls to say, yeah, I'll take a chance with this. It's not it's not a superhero film. It's, you know, a strange social commentary with a black lead in a white liberal neighborhood. And it's a horror film. I'll take a chance on that. And, and then they're surprised when people are like, God, I've really wanted to see that. I've never seen that before. But there's just not a lot of courage in this town. To know that it's, you know, they wanted to have some precedent.
Alex Ferrari 11:28
But isn't, but I mean, even it's, I've said this before, in the show, man, this whole town is run on fear. I mean, the entire town is run on fear, and, and, and mitigating a loss, not gain, taking risks for gains, but mitigating loss. Because if you lose, you lose your job, you lose your reputation. And it's like one, it's like before, I remember back in the even in the 80s, in the 90s, where studios would take multiple swings at the Bat every year with their films, they do 3040 movies that take some risky stuff, they do some study stuff. But now it's like, every single one has to be a homerun or people get fired. Studios might even go down depending on the size of the budget.
Aaron Mendelsohn 12:09
Yeah, it's a shame. It's sort of a Reggie Jackson approach. You know, it's all homeruns are nothing like you said there has to be those. They were happy to have singles and doubles with these kind of lower budgeted dramas, the 70s were filled with film, you know that we're, you know, the conversation and you know, these great blow up and these great taxi driver, taxi driver. I mean, imagine it had you have to turn taxi driver into a superhero or supervillain movie, in order to get it made today and
Alex Ferrari 12:44
what they did they did the job.
Aaron Mendelsohn 12:47
That's the only way they'll do it. If we could put the Joker in it, then maybe we'll give you 20 million bucks to make this film.
Alex Ferrari 12:54
How much was the Joker make? It wasn't that
Aaron Mendelsohn 12:56
Joker was probably 80 or 90.
Alex Ferrari 12:58
Yeah, but that's and that's still pretty low in it. Cuz it's not a it's a character piece. It's not a special effects movie. This
Aaron Mendelsohn 13:04
is the King of Comedy, but with a guy with makeup on his face. And it's funny because Robert De Niro and Scorsese was attached as a producer at one point. So
Alex Ferrari 13:12
it's just it just comes full circle.
Aaron Mendelsohn 13:14
See, you could see what's his name Todd. Who did? He probably said, Okay, guys, I know it seems like an art film. But the reality is this film has been made before and it did well is can you comedy taxi drivers. So you know, and we add the superhero thing. So it's a hit.
Alex Ferrari 13:32
If I get some money, and they made a lot of money with that film.
Aaron Mendelsohn 13:36
A shift out of money was a trick question the other day that said the Joker was the largest the highest grossing R rated film in history worldwide.
Alex Ferrari 13:43
It did it finally did it break that? Indeed, yeah, that's and that says something to Hollywood that we want this kind of storytelling, we want this kind of story to our our are not pG 13 are tough, tough, tough themes. I mean, that's a disturbing Joker's a disturbing film.
Aaron Mendelsohn 14:05
Yeah, it is.
Alex Ferrari 14:05
I mean, it's a disturbing film, and his performance is so just really busy. And I knew this is going to happen here and I knew this was gonna happen. We're just gonna keep going. We digress. Um, so with all of this, we were talking about great Cinema of the past. You have to tell me a little bit about your time at the Criterion Collection sir.
Aaron Mendelsohn 14:25
Criterion Collection was a dream job. So when I was at UCLA, I saw I answered an ad to go work for a company called the voyage.
Alex Ferrari 14:34
composure forge a company major boy
Aaron Mendelsohn 14:38
wager company got I forgot. And they were doing the early days of the Criterion Collection in these movies on LaserDisc they had just come out with Citizen Kane and and did their first few films on LaserDisc and C A, B, or C lb. lb. C. So
Alex Ferrari 14:53
now you see you're talking a completely different language than most people listening. I understood everything you said. So I know What a CSV is, I know what a CSV is. And I also know what a LaserDisc is. So for the kids listening a LaserDisc is imagine a DVD, but the size of a record. And then you would have to flip it. You have to flip it
Aaron Mendelsohn 15:16
as a cat's ass
Alex Ferrari 15:18
is in the shot.
Aaron Mendelsohn 15:20
I'll just do this.
Alex Ferrari 15:24
I don't have the rights to his ass. So if we can move him along, that'd be great.
Aaron Mendelsohn 15:29
I think he popped by the way. He's a punk punk.
Alex Ferrari 15:33
So a laser This is imagine a DVD that's a much bigger, but then the quality is still standard definition. So it's very still, but better than VHS. Bye. Bye, bye miles. But you would have to midway through the movie, get up and flip it. Flip it like a pancake, and then put it back in and continue watching it. Now that on CLV. is now we're doing a LaserDisc tutorial. On CLV you would have lesser quality but more time on the side of the disc. I don't remember what the timing was. I know, on ca beats
Aaron Mendelsohn 16:09
Alex Ferrari 16:11
I thought I thought ca v was half hour per site. I think you might
Aaron Mendelsohn 16:13
have been an hour out CLB was one hour and ca B also gave you the opportunity to interact more you could you could do more interaction with the CA v LaserDisc. And so the Criterion Collection as you may remember, would always have special edition. You know, a supplemental material at the end of the LaserDisc. So you're not the Civ version of of a 2001 A Space Odyssey which I produced. We had a whole side filled with extra goodies straight from Stanley Kubrick's estate that we added on to the to the end of the film so you can take a real deep dive into the the library materials went into it. Did you speak to Mr. Cooper cuddle?
Alex Ferrari 16:59
Are you in touch contact with
Aaron Mendelsohn 17:01
our my boss did. He was you know he never left England, Brett sent to a new cut though he sent us like a two inch. He did a new transfer for the crew. He was a big fan of the Criterion Collection. So we did a new transfer of his film and fixed a couple of things. And so we got a really pristine, beautiful print on two inch to strike the sounds. I'm not sure that means but
Alex Ferrari 17:30
it was a two inch tape. It was like a mastering tape back in the day. It was in two inches, like you know, pro pro you're at
Aaron Mendelsohn 17:38
now it's probably like 80 inches. But now it's all digital but but the greatest pleasure I had was that I got to produce a special edition laser disruptive graduate which is my favorite film it's and so much fun. We got a second audio track from this UCLA Professor Howard I can't remember his name. But he did this amazing second I Oh, he new film like the back of his hand.
Alex Ferrari 18:04
I got it. I was telling you off off air that the graduate is one of my favorite LaserDisc because when I was in high school, when I saw it, I was collecting criterions back in the day. And it was the first kind of experience to like film theory like real, real film theory. And I mean, he analyzed every frickin frame of that it was just magical to listen. And for people listen, for people that are listening, you have to understand that they think criterion was the one that came up with the concept of director commentary. I don't think it was a director commentary prior to that.
Aaron Mendelsohn 18:43
There may have been one or two special editions here or there. But it really became our whole mudiay. And and the supplemental materials and it really became Criterion Collection became the, you know, kind of dependent while the senate fireplace kind of files. Exactly. And I think they still, you know, they have a criterion channel, they still come out DVDs. So it's but that was really you know, for someone who was in film school at UCLA at the time, it was a dream job. And it taught me a lot about storytelling.
Alex Ferrari 19:15
So yeah, and we could talk about criterion for about another hour, but we will we shall move on. And now I'm going to pitch you a movie. It's about a dog who plays basketball for a high school as I think high school team. Would that pitch work?
Aaron Mendelsohn 19:35
No. That's a terrible idea.
Alex Ferrari 19:40
It's a horrible, horrible, absurd
Aaron Mendelsohn 19:42
it's absurd, silly idea. And by the way, we did pitch it like that we we pitched Air Bud and everyone said That's ridiculous. So we ended up my old writing partner Paul Thomas. He and I SPECT the script for Air Bud and We didn't just, you know, think of this, that that ridiculous idea and then write it and then go find a dog. We met the dog first. Obviously, there, you know, there was a we were with the Broadway Danny Rose of agents. Back then he represented us he represented dogs he represented, you know, one legged bearded ladies got it fair enough.
Alex Ferrari 20:25
So hot, like the operacional got it,
Aaron Mendelsohn 20:27
upper echelon of agents. And so we came in the office one day and and there was buddy, sitting there, and our agents like guide guide, you gotta check out this dog. This dog's remarkable. He's obsessed with balls. We're like, Ah, that doesn't sound like no, no, you gotta. And he started throwing balls at this dog. And, you know, and the dog would, you know, bounce them back to us and catch baseballs and hockey pucks. And he's like, you got to write a movie for this dog. He's David Letterman's favorite, stupid pet trick. And we're like, okay, it's not exactly what we envisioned for ourselves. When we got out of film, school. Writing, we're gonna write taxi driver and stuff.
Alex Ferrari 21:09
And we all are
Aaron Mendelsohn 21:10
obviously, gay, my gay father story. By we saw that this was a pretty remarkable dog when we realized, okay, it's a pretty stupid pet trick really, that this dog can do. We'd be doing halftime shows and stuff like that. But we realized that really, at the core, if we wrote a movie, that's a really a love story between a boy and a dog. And that the reason that the dog plays basketball, is because he realizes the boy loves basketball. And the boy is lonely, he just moved to this new town. While he sees like playing basketball with this boy would actually, you know, awaken this boy and enliven him and and empower him. And then we knew we knew when we had that little post it note of, of kind of what I call the the central idea, which is everything that dog does, he does for the boy, once we knew we had that emotional through line. That Foundation, we knew that we could prop up this move we could build a movie on on this kind of silly gimmick. And, and the movie just kind of flowed from us at that point. And we we wrote it. And but then all the studios passed on the script. They're like, this is ridiculous. You know, dog doesn't play basketball. We're like, well, we have one that does. They cannot be bothered. Yeah, right. Really, you know, talking about courage. This little Canadian production company, Keystone productions had made one or two, like erotic thrillers at the time. skinemax gonna make style match films. They saw the they saw the promise in this film.
Alex Ferrari 22:55
This should be this should be a script on how
Aaron Mendelsohn 23:00
the making of the start off with softcore porn. Yeah, I wouldn't even tell you about the strip club. They took me to when they were shooting this film, because this is a family,
Alex Ferrari 23:11
obviously, obviously, obviously.
Aaron Mendelsohn 23:13
So I resisted existed, you know. So we wrote the Dave love the script. They optioned it. And then they brought on Charlie Martin Smith to direct Charlie Martin Smith, you may remember was an actor in American Graffiti and a lot of other films never cried wolf. He was kind of that Toad toady character.
Alex Ferrari 23:34
Yeah, I remember him.
Aaron Mendelsohn 23:36
So he worked with Carol Ballard. On never cry wolf. Carol Ballard did the Black Stallion. Yes, his most beautiful moving films ever, and a boy in a horse. And so Charlie brought that kind of ethos to the film, kind of a carol Ballard s gentle moving, not a ton of dialogue. I mean, he really kind of like, in our rewrite encouraged us to really kind of make it more moving and more emotional and quiet and more like Old Yeller, and all these films. And so I think that he did a beautiful job of conducting this film directing this film, and making something that you know, we thought was just as kind of little a little silly film, right? And it's kind of become, it's become a thing.
Alex Ferrari 24:25
Oh, no, it's, I mean, I remember when Air Bud came out, and I was like, like anybody else who saw the poster? It's this ridiculous, by the way. Yeah, they're right. Yeah, they're right there. They're behind you. It's really it's a dog play basketball, like double HUBZone play basketball, but also for everyone listening while Disney picked it up to distribute it
Aaron Mendelsohn 24:48
yourself from the grave came out said to them and but we actually we were at AFM in 97 or whatever. After we shot the film. The film was even finished. There was a, a promo reel at Keystone made. And there was a bidding war over the film just based on the promo reel, because they saw the dog was actually doing this and that ends a good film.
Alex Ferrari 25:13
And they bought it so and so Disney bought it at a like hit Disney heard about it at AFM and there's like, No, no, no, we need I mean, it is a Disney film, if you're gonna do it, that's that's a that's a good route to go back then even Disney would never release that a million years today. But again, it's about timing. Right? It's about that Disney plus would release it. But Disney's twice.
Aaron Mendelsohn 25:35
Yeah, it's too small. I mean, it's a $4 million film, it looks like a little tiny character. It sort of has a as a very low budget of vibe to it. But you but they recognize the sweetness of it. They also recognize there was a 10 film franchise in this thing. And they're like, a minute.
Alex Ferrari 25:55
Well, I mean, so you got Air Bud going. So now it gets released. And it does it does fairly well. Yeah, it does. How much it didn't Did you remember how much it made?
Aaron Mendelsohn 26:05
I think it you know, it made like 30 million at the box office, which is not a ton but for $4 million dollar film was great hearing. But on.
Alex Ferrari 26:14
But video It must have just sold
Aaron Mendelsohn 26:18
hundreds of like on DVD outs my house in Studio City I bought from the first residual check I got from the release of the bill.
Alex Ferrari 26:28
Oh, my God. Yeah. Yeah. And I can only imagine so. So how did the town treat you as a screenwriter? Because you're the Air Bud guy now like air bug guy can't he can't write taxi driver? That's just not it? Yeah, right. Taxi Driver. So how did the town treat you what doors opened up, because I always love when I have someone on the show who's had not only success, but phenomenal success in a in a small in a way in an area of our business. You know, I'm always fascinated to see how that took you to the next place or what opportunities presented itself or how the town treat you. Because a lot of times there's this, this kind of myth of like, Oh, they just must have just pulled up the truck and just dumped money on him. And he could do whatever he wants. I'm like, man, something.
Aaron Mendelsohn 27:15
It's an interesting line, you know, writing a film that was very specific like that, and very, very genre sub genre like that. It did open up some opportunities. My partner and I sold a couple of pitches. After that we were hired on a couple of things. They're always family films, you know, so we definitely got pigeon holed family comedy, that kind of thing. But we also, you know, because Air Bud was so so narrow that it wasn't like we were suddenly on the a list. It was very small bucket. However, what's happened since is that ever since is that whenever we would try to or I we broke up a couple years later, and I went off on my own. Whenever I tried to do something, which is really my forte, which is character driven drama. They're like they look at 13 films on my you know, I get credit on all the Air Bud movies, I only wrote the first two. But they see this huge IMDB page filled with Air Bud credits, and then a couple of other family films that I've done. And they don't believe that I can do drama. Right. So I've had to try to reinvent myself by specking Drama scripts drama pilots to really to show and prove that I'm more than just kind of a one. A one trick dog.
Alex Ferrari 28:36
As like you said that that franchise went on to spawn with 12 other movies don't sequels? I think, because my daughters have seen all of them. I'm sure. It's the space buddies, the spooky buddies, the treasure buddies, the and I can imagine, I can imagine they're just sitting around because I know you don't have anything to do with these. So but I'm sure there's some executive somewhere sitting around like Alright, what can we do? It's got a bunch of puppies and put them on a treasure hunt. Oh, then now they're in a haunted house. Oh, now
Aaron Mendelsohn 29:07
let's put them in space. Yeah, sure.
Alex Ferrari 29:09
Like a superhero. There was a superhero one too. I mean, they all got superpowers as dogs like it. And they talk now where Air Bud didn't talk. No other dogs.
Aaron Mendelsohn 29:20
It's become something of a twisted. There. There are a lot of negative words I can say. But at the same time. They you know, they would send us a check every year when they would make these things so I can't complain. You know, we originally envisioned maybe three buddy films because the original dog, the trilogy, basketball trilogy, he could play basketball, which was remarkable. He could play football, which became the second film because he could catch these huge spirals. He also could play soccer. So we envisioned three maybe four because of hockey and you know, volleyball. I
Alex Ferrari 29:55
mean, maybe Yeah,
Aaron Mendelsohn 29:56
well they did. I think they ended up doing volleyball. You know, I mean, we I envisioned at least it's sort of staying within sports and we wanted to stay real, where it really felt like this was a dog and a human world. And, you know, but then eventually, the sports movie started running out of steam and the Keystone people came up with the quite brilliant idea to base it on the puppies. And those puppy videos made a fortune. They made a fortune they just kept they make them for like, you know, three or $4 million every year. And they would sell like hotcakes. And because kids love they're talking puppies.
Alex Ferrari 30:32
I mean, it's it's talking puppies. I mean, it's not a it's it's not hard. Like, I always tell people like if you want to write you want to make a successful movie, have a dog save Christmas, like that's, yeah, you got a dog saving Christmas. You're good.
Aaron Mendelsohn 30:48
When you should say that.
Alex Ferrari 30:50
Because my next film, sir, is about talking puppies who save Christmas. And I think that's already been done.
Aaron Mendelsohn 30:55
They're fully grown dogs. But they do say Christmas. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 31:00
So what I'm hearing from you is that you're very upset that these This company has not taken the true essence of what you had in mind the seriousness of what art is the art of the basketball, playing dog in the original film and have bastardized it for money.
Aaron Mendelsohn 31:18
For money, of all things. I mean, we saw Hollywood by business, we went into the earbud business for the art of it for the artistry. And, you know, we wanted to make the Joker of of dog
Alex Ferrari 31:34
of basketball playing dog movies. Alright. And
Aaron Mendelsohn 31:36
he went off to make the Green Lantern. You know,
Alex Ferrari 31:39
I mean, the the horror, sir, the horror. And I'm assuming that you're so again, you're so upset about this, that every time they send you that residual check, you just rip it up.
Aaron Mendelsohn 31:49
I just give it to charity. Give it to dog rescue. Yes.
Alex Ferrari 31:54
Fair enough. Fair enough. So it's very interesting, very interesting. The whole Air Bud saga
Aaron Mendelsohn 32:01
in its you know, you mentioned the I I teach. I teach a couple of classes at Loyola Marymount, I've been teaching there for a few years and a big conversation we always have is do you brand yourself as a certain kind of writer? Or do you follow your Muse because you may want to write a whole bunch of different things. And it really is a dilemma. Because if you do brand yourself, you actually can be at the top of or you can be on the lists, as you know, like Zack Penn, very early on branded himself as a great action writer, action adventure kind of writer. And he's formulated a tremendous successful career out of this, you look at Jordan Peele and these other guys that are, you know, are kind of sticking in their lane in terms of the kind of things they write and they have a lot of success. But as writers, we often you know, we want to write different things. But then the problem is then the town doesn't know what kind of writer you are. So here I am the earbud guy, they're like, Oh, we bought a dog I get approached with every dog movie Lassie, you know, Rin Tin, tin, every dog movie, or TV show comes my way, which is great. However, I'm really interested in writing, you know, more like the taxi driver. I'm really interested in true stories. So it's, it is hard. It's a bit of a dilemma. I almost feel like, because I did fall on my muse into independent film. Shortly after I did Air Bud. I went off to Florida and shot of our rated independent character drama. And it did nothing for my career. It set me back. It's a matter of fact, right? Because I came back and they're like, wait, aren't you the Arab guy? What is this?
Alex Ferrari 33:48
Well, this is very interesting conversation because the town in general, they need to put you in a box that they can't comprehend someone who's multifaceted that could do multiple kinds of storytelling. I mean, we all don't have the privilege of of Tarantino's career, who jumps genre and does whatever the hell he wants. But that's a that's an anomaly. He's an anomaly in the writing space. Sorkin even Sorkin stays kind of in his lane?
Aaron Mendelsohn 34:14
Yeah. Well, even you know, Tarantino stylistically, the style of writing his films is kind of the same. You could say the same thing about Shane Black, Shane Black or a Wes Anderson. You know, a lot of these guys they do move around into different genres, but the style is the same. But this town does want to put you in a box, then that's so so the question is do you like like your students saying,
Alex Ferrari 34:42
Do you brand yourself because like, when you were saying you like I got niched, down to this little bucket. I but when you were saying that in my mind, I'm like, Yeah, but you were at the top of that bucket. Middle, middle button. No, but the point is like every dog movie in the dog, dog family little space, which is like a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche. You're the top dog, oh guy had to say it Oh, so bad. But you're but you, but you're, you know, you're getting those phone calls. So as a working writer, it is it is a good thing to kind of niche yourself down and create this kind of brand for yourself. But as a creator, you might want to go out somewhere and do other things. Has there ever been in in Hollywood? I know there has to have been, but there's been like a, you know, let's say you know that the Air Bud guy, which is you, decides to write taxi driver, but sends it out under a pseudonym. And then it gets a whole lot of heat. And then who is this? Who is this writer, and then your agents like nice. He's like very Charlie Kaufman style you He doesn't even want to talk to anybody. And they're like, and that just builds up the hype even more to the point where they're spending millions of dollars. But who's the guy? I'm like, I can't tell you. I can't tell you. He's my client. client privilege. I can't Can you imagine you should do that?
Aaron Mendelsohn 36:01
I'm saying that's a brilliant idea. I should have done that. I should have done that. Yeah, I still can. That's right.
Alex Ferrari 36:09
Absolutely could because by the time that they've already sent you the checkout Oh, here we're gonna give this guy $2 million. For this this script. We need to know who he is. And like after the check clears, we'll tell you who he
Aaron Mendelsohn 36:21
Alex Ferrari 36:22
will reveal. So imagine if they've got you've got Shawshank Redemption in their hands that they just bought. And they're like, well, who wrote is like what's the airbag guy? What? The reveal
Aaron Mendelsohn 36:34
blood draining from their faces. What have we done?
Alex Ferrari 36:39
It was like when Peter Jackson got Where? What's this guy that I use when I used to run on new new line. He hired Peter Jackson off the pitch for the Lord of the Rings films. And Peter had done The Frighteners and a couple other films. Suddenly Creek and heavenly which was a fantastic film Heavenly Creatures and and and Frighteners, which is also great. But look, he's not Cameron. I mean, he didn't have a snuff. Spielberg didn't have a history of like, massive films. And then they saw one of his first films, I forgot the name of it, but it's like this really bad. I think it's called Bad, something bad. It's literally called something bad, or like, the word and then Bad, bad, bad taste. I think it's called bad taste. And it's like this. corpsman style heads exploding horror, comedy ish thing, like really bad. And then they said, Oh my god, we've just given this guy $200 million dollars. Like, what are we doing?
Aaron Mendelsohn 37:44
Well, and that's a shame because that was early on in his career. Right. It was a certain type of film. Yeah, they, you know, he proven himself since and but yet,
Alex Ferrari 37:53
they they still scared. They were still scared. Fear here. Like you said, fear, fear, fear fear. So let's talk about your book. You have a book called the 11. fundament? Well, first of all, it's it's called the 11. fundamental
Aaron Mendelsohn 38:08
questions, questions, questions, a guide to a better screenplay. Right? So
Alex Ferrari 38:13
what, um, so let's talk about that. What are these questions, and you have to give you the whole kit and caboodle away now,
Aaron Mendelsohn 38:19
but you have to buy the book,
Alex Ferrari 38:21
obviously, but let's talk about a couple of questions.
Aaron Mendelsohn 38:24
Well, first, you know, the, the inspiration for the book, I've, I've had a story breaking technique for probably 15 years now. Where I would ask myself, a series of questions that were meant is kind of like a stress test, to test the story, the storytelling, and, and then I started teaching that technique in seminars. And then people started saying you should you should put it into a book. And so finally, I wrote a book, it was actually 10 questions, initially, and then Billy Ray, who, who I sat on the board of directors of the Writers Guild with for many years is a fellow Bruin, like me. He suggested in 11th question, which became question number three. And so I added that because you know, when Billy Ray suggests things, you just you
Alex Ferrari 39:21
I'm telling you 10 fundamental questions doesn't work as well as 11. There are actual there is science behind the number 11. The number seven and the number nine, on on the psychology of like, if you if you ever looking you'll never see a top four. List.
Aaron Mendelsohn 39:39
Alex Ferrari 39:40
You'll never see a top four, you'll see a top five, you'll see a top 10 and maybe a top three, maybe, but never like a top six or eight. But you will see a top but you will see a top seven every once in a while. Yeah, what are the seven best or something like that? So there's something to do. would not like if you said 12 fundamental questions, doesn't it doesn't ring. Oh, isn't
Aaron Mendelsohn 40:05
it? It's weird, right? It's weird. And 11 I get to say that my book goes to 11
Alex Ferrari 40:12
are all for all those Spinal Tap fans out there?
Aaron Mendelsohn 40:17
You know, it's funny as another digression speaking of those numbers, one of the things I did at the Writers Guild was start the 101 best screenplays greatest screenplays list. That was a project of mine. And we got the, you know, the membership of the Writers Guild west and east to vote on it. And we decided it should be 100. But really, no, it's still 100. Why? Because that's kind of interesting. It's like what just missed? Well, let's add that to the list. But what? So interestingly, when we did the 101 funniest screenplays list, and had it voted on, you know, we have had the votes come in from you know, our 10,000 members. I swear to god number 11. On the funniest screenplays list was no,
Alex Ferrari 41:01
Aaron Mendelsohn 41:03
we did not make it happened. It landed on number 11. It was so perfect. And everyone thought, Oh, this is rigged. You rigged it like no, it was number 11 I swear to God. And you know, the
Alex Ferrari 41:14
funny thing is with that movie, I saw the other day that I saw, it was flying by my feet or I saw Rob Reiner. Come on. He's like, Yeah, when the movie first came out, people were like, why did you make this movie about this horrible band? Like this is Cisco like, these guys are horrible. Like they truly thought it was a documentary. Like they had no understanding that it was a mockumentary. That's the success. You've like Blair Witch like it, you you hit it, you've hit you've hit exactly the the bullseye of that.
Aaron Mendelsohn 41:42
The dog show people are like, you know, I thought you were funny. You were doing a very straight documentary on dogs show people.
Alex Ferrari 41:51
Exactly. No. So. So let's take the top three, the top three questions you would like to discuss in out of your 11? What would be?
Aaron Mendelsohn 42:00
Well, the first question is seems like the easiest and most obvious, but it's actually really important. The first question is, what is my story about? And what's interesting about that one, is it it forces the writer to distill their story into I have it broken down into one sentence, and then a four sentence log line. And you'd be surprised at how hard it is for us. We writers we, for we us writers, to often distill our stories into a simple into like a simple one sentence log line that tells the story and that often tells us that our story is too complicated or it's unformed. So like I have an example here of what I think is a really good one sentence log line. You'll you'll figure out the movie here real quick. Hold on. Let me find it.
a good hearted but insecure king who suffers from a debilitating stutter? It's worse to work with an eccentric speech therapist to deliver the speech that will save his kingdom
Alex Ferrari 43:19
print. It's clear as day that's a wonderful logline for obviously, that's air but to actually think it was air but to the electric air but to the Electric Boogaloo.
Aaron Mendelsohn 43:30
What's good about that logline is not only describes the central character, his best his best attribute as well as his fatal flaw, which by the way is not his stutter, but is actually his insecurity. The his stutter is an antagonistic force, we get the context, he's a king, and is forced to work with an eccentric speech therapist that tells us really the whole spine of the film, the whole second act of the film is him having to work with an eccentric speech therapist, we know there's conflict there because he's eccentric. And this king is insecure to deliver the speech that will save his kingdom is the third act climax of the film. It's also the stakes of the film. So all of those really, key story elements are baked into that one sentence. And if you can't do that, with your film, you may have a film or a story that's overly complicated. So I always start there. I do a one sentence log line, and then I'll do a four sentence log line.
Alex Ferrari 44:31
Yeah, and that's one thing I found even when I did my writing, and I've in all the scripts of stuff of groups that I've read over the years is that sometimes writers, they the stories, they think they're so cool, and they're so complex, that it's not about being the most complex script. It's about being the simplest getting the message across because you have 90 minutes you have 90 pages to tell. You've got this much to do. That's right. And that's it. And
Aaron Mendelsohn 45:02
you can have a really complicated story. But there has to be going back to Billy Ray, he likes to say, what is the simple emotional journey? What is the simple, which is goes to your point? It can't be the basic story can be an emotional journey, what's the emotional element that's going to really hook your audience? You notice, even in some of the best action films, there's always this emotional undercurrent of family. It's about brothers. It's a mother, daughter of you know, or father daughter story of my cats knocking my computer on. There's always some kind of, you know, it's a family, like, you know, in the Fast and Furious movies, there's always an emotional story that winds through what could be the biggest twist is Mission Impossible movie ever. So what is the simple emotional journey is another good way of sort of summing up question number one, which is, what is your story about? So that's an important one, I would say. Question four, which is kind of two questions is very important. I'm just looking at it here to get it right. Who is the central character? And what is their conscious and unconscious desire? So obviously, who is the central character? It's good to really kind of hone in on is this a, you know, who's who's the one who is really the hero of the story that that has the biggest art? Or is it a two hander? Or is it not humble, but more importantly, what is their unconscious, their conscious and unconscious desire. And this is something after studying many, many films, that that really kind of formulated in my mind, invariably, your character, your heroes, sets out with a want a conscious desire, I want this, I need this money, because I'm broken, they're gonna break my legs, if I don't pay off the debt, or I'm in love with this girl, or, you know, they want something, their conscious desire, they go on a journey to get it, they have a flaw that's inhibiting them from a fatal flaw, which is another question that's inhibiting them from being able to get to it. You know, they're fearful, they're insecure, they're greedy, they're whatever they are, or they're even too Noble. However, during the course of the film, they often start to see that there's something else that they really want an unconscious desire. And so then you get that tension between what they thought they wanted, and what they discovered that they really want. So if like in the matrix, if Neo, where he really wants at the beginning of the film is just find out the truth about the matrix. Find out the truth about the matrix. But he never imagined in a million years that he would have anything to do with his unconscious desire, which is to be the one to acknowledge that he's the one. And you know, and bring down the matrix. He is so far from that at the beginning of the film. He just wants to know the truth. He's a cog. And his fatal flaw is his belief that all he is, is really a cog in the machine that he is too weak of a human to be the one. And so are you low point of the film, which is when he says to the, the Oracle, I am not the one because he's given into his fatal flaw.
Alex Ferrari 48:28
Right now. I want to I want to take a character and put this on to the test a character we all know. And I'd love you to analyze Rocky. So, okay, so Rocky, we all have seen Rocky, it's one of the most enduring characters of all time as the 150 movies. He's catching up to Air Bud in the amount of sequels. But Stallone is getting up there. So I don't know how many more of these we can.
Aaron Mendelsohn 48:56
Well, yeah, he's had puppies and Apollo Creed had puppies. Right? Exactly. Oh, it's kind of the same. They've stole our thunder.
Alex Ferrari 49:06
Oh, sure. That's exactly what's the load thought when he was making the next ones. Alright, so Rocky, so what is his his external goal? And what's his subconscious goal? Yeah. So
Aaron Mendelsohn 49:17
there are some movies where you have a noble character, a character who does have a noble conscious desire, but it's an impossible journey. So I always say either you have a character who is flawed and they have kind of this conscious desire, which is a selfish desire. But then along the way, they kind of fix themselves and find a selfless desire that that we as an audience want them to attain. However, there are movies like Rocky, where you have a character who does have a noble conscious desire, he wants to be taken seriously as a boxer. He wants to be taken seriously as a boxer. He really feels like that. He He's contender he's he should be taken seriously and no one's taking him seriously. That is a noble conscious desire. However, in his case, he has an impossible journey. He has an impossible journey where the entire world is basically against him achieving his conscious desire, which is to be taken seriously. In this case, the you know, inciting incident is that he gets plucked, he gets plucked by God to, to fight in this championship fight, but it's a gimmick. You know,
Alex Ferrari 50:33
right. And he and he turns and he completely turns it down. Yeah, he sees he knows he's like, No, no, no, this is I'm gonna get my ass killed. I'm not ready for you, champ.
Aaron Mendelsohn 50:43
Right. So that's a that's a case where he actually, you know, he's a reluctant hero. He saw something that an opportunity that was brought to him, but he knew at that place in the movie, in the first act of the film, he's in no place, no condition to be able to go after that particular golden ring. But then with the, you know, the encouragement of this, of his brother in law, and this girl, you know, when Mickey, his old trainer, you know, people who used to believe in Him or the girl down the block, who has Ryan, you, usually it's love, it's family that sort of encourages the hero to overcome their trepidation, and go on the journey. And so he does. And he's able to actually achieve even though he doesn't when he achieves his conscious desire, which is to be very much taken seriously, as a fighter. By the end of the film, he also achieved something of an emotional goal, which is he finds love, which is a nice again, whether Stallone knew about great storytelling, or he just kind of instinctually stumbled into it. He had this great plot, which is the boxing plot, and the training to become a fighter plot. But he also had this wonderful couple of emotional subplots, one involving Adrian, one involving Adrian's brother, another one involving Mickey, he was kind of the Father mentor figure. And it created this emotional journey that was under the boxing journey. And, you know, but that's, that's one where the conscious desire actually is the same as the unconscious desire, but the journey that is the impossible
Alex Ferrari 52:26
journey, and the vignettes. And I think that that little vein that he tapped into, with the emotion of Rocky, because prior to Rocky, there were some boxing movies. But nothing, nothing of that stat of that. Not winning the Oscar and all that kind of stuff. But to sustain that character, who is absolutely loved throughout the world and made but he made six rocky movies and to Apollo Creed movie a Korean movies. And yet, we're still on that journey. And we're actually going on that journey with him as he ages. And he's not hiding it anymore. He did I think in five I think he I think well, five. We just went from Florida to six. Let's just yeah, we'll
Aaron Mendelsohn 53:18
forget five we'll forget five thanks, man for Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 53:22
yeah, the quest for peace, obviously. But But there's something about that character. And I think you're right. It's not just the boxing, because if it's just about boxing, who cares? Like if it's just about a dude wanting it because you can only see that movie. So many times about him going to get the championship or losing the champion. Like there's only so many of those stories you can do. But it's that emotion. It's Adrian. It's it's Mickey like when Mickey was spoiler alert when Mickey got killed in Rocky three. Or when Apollo, you know that that emotion is what kept kept going. Because it's not about you know, it's not about boxing, kind of like Air Bud is not about a dog who plays basketball.
Aaron Mendelsohn 54:02
actly Exactly. And the word the films that fail are the ones that lean too heavily on their main plot, which is usually kind of an intellectual exercise, whether it's an action film or you know, that kind of three thing it's it's the films that really go back and forth between or really more more effectively unite the emotional plot with the main sort of intellectual plot and have them bump into each other and we see how you know Rocky's pursuit of the of the crown is filtering into his relationships with Adrian and Mickey and, and Bert. His name was not bird but bird, brother.
Alex Ferrari 54:45
Yeah, I know. Oh, my God. It's gonna drive me nuts. Now I can't believe I can't remember what his
Aaron Mendelsohn 54:51
was an Italian name. Was it like, Saul? No,
Alex Ferrari 54:55
no. Okay, hold on. Okay, keep while while you're while you're Discussing the next, the last question, we will go over in this episode
Aaron Mendelsohn 55:04
I will look at. Okay, so I'm gonna say that, although now you're distracted, so
Alex Ferrari 55:09
I'm not gonna know. But the audience is listening.
Aaron Mendelsohn 55:13
Oh, good. I think you'll ask questions that have nothing to do with the thing I'm saying. You will look it up the third. I'm gonna go back to question three and this is actually the
Alex Ferrari 55:24
poly poly poly, sir. Let's move on. Let's now we can move on properly, sir, it's polyphonic.
Aaron Mendelsohn 55:32
These are the important things. Yes, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 55:35
And third of the of the 11 questions you would like to discuss.
Aaron Mendelsohn 55:39
Okay, so the third of the 11 questions I'd like to discuss is actually question number three. A lot of my initial questions in the 11 questions are kind of foundational first act backstory kind of questions. And then you know, the later ones address low points and all that stuff. This question number three is the one that Billy Ray suggested to me, which is what is the central idea? So this is an important one because it's not to be confused with the logline is different from the logline. The central idea, as I say, in my book is the overarching notion or a theme that drives the story forward and is tested in every scene. It's it's like the thesis of your story. Okay. So, and the question that it poses is often finally addressed by the critical test at the end of the story. So an example might be well, When Harry Met Sally is interesting, because Nora Ephron I'm pretty convinced thought of this central idea. before she even came up or wrote the script, which is can men and women be friends without getting in the way, that thesis, so she's like, I want to test that thesis. And so she, you know, introduces this woman who's coming off to this relationship, and this man who just seems to be it's all about getting laid, and he throws them together, where they form, they start to form this friendship. That's this awkward friendship that starts to really grow over the course of the second act. But as it grows, there starts to become this sexual tension between them. And we, as an audience start to wonder and worry, are they we want them to hook up. And yet, we're worried that if they do, run it, it'll ruin it. And in fact, you get the low point of the film that wonderful shot after they've been in bed together. And you start on Sally, and she's smiling, you know, because she's happy. And she thinks that you know, and then you pull out you see Billy Crystal with this look of horror. So in that respect, is central the question posed by the central idea? Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? The answer is no.
Alex Ferrari 57:47
According to Nora, sir, according to Nora,
Aaron Mendelsohn 57:49
according to Nora, but however they work it out, because you know what they do by Act Three, they go back to the foundation of their friendship and realize that actually, what makes a relationship so successful is having a foundation of friendship. So in a way, they turned that fatal flaw, they turn that, that tension into actually something that made them grow as human beings, and able to come together and have a permanent relationship. So that's a key if you can turn the low point into what I call critical test, which is then drawing from your failure and realizing what you need to do to overcome your fatal flaw. And actually, you know, self actualized as a character, in that case, Harry and Sally needed to realize that, oh, we can actually combine the two are the friendship that we formulated over several months is actually the key to having a successful relationship. Once you're able to acknowledge that rather than run the other direction. That's when they were able to come together and have a you know, successful climax as it were.
Alex Ferrari 58:55
And anyone anyone listening to this as has not has thought of even thinking about writing a romantic comedy has not watched When Harry Met Sally, shame on you and stop listening to this right now and go watch it. I mean, Jesus,
Aaron Mendelsohn 59:07
When Harry Met Sally was I think, if not the highest one of the highest rated ranked films in the 101 funniest screenplays list exceptional script by Norris.
Alex Ferrari 59:18
And I mean, I'm assuming I think any Hall is any one. Yeah, that's it. It honestly should be I mean, it is a masterpiece.
Aaron Mendelsohn 59:31
Alex Ferrari 59:33
Aaron Mendelsohn 59:34
What one thinks of Woody Allen aside that at all is a is truly was a was a masterful film. And I guess that would be that would be considered romantic comedy, too. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 59:47
I mean, they are absolutely I mean, it's just with with his his wonderful writing. in it. I always I always put up certain films of a certain time period in my life, if they were really good. Good, because if I watched something from 1988 to 9394, which is my video store years, my high school years, where I thought john Claude Van Damme was the greatest actor of all time and Steven Seagal should have won an Oscar in that time period of my life. If I watched a movie like and I remember vividly watching Annie Hall like God, that was good. You know? And and watching Shawshank Jesus, that was good, you know, and it didn't have anyone you know, breaking a leg. It was amazing. That's just amazing story and When Harry Met Sally, obviously, and that's just amazing, really well crafted story. And like we were talking about King's speech earlier. You know, on paper. I don't want to watch a movie about a prince who's got a stutter. Yeah, he's gonna and he's gonna learn he's gonna have this guy teach him how to speak for a speech like that. That's That does not sound good. But you watch it did when the one best picture that year as Picture and Best Screenplay for David Seidler and that was a spec script that that no one would take a chance on.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:01:04
It he he likes literally stuck it in in either the actor's mailbox or the director's mailbox. Got it to you know, because no one had read it didn't have an agent. But he believed and it was because even though it seemed like a ridiculous idea, there was such a strong emotional story underneath it and so much at stake for delivering this speech. And you know, and it was a family his story of two guys that become sort of brothers and you know, a relationship story and his family and he was in the shadow of his of his brother who abdicated who was supposed to be the king. And he was never supposed to be the king. If you if you
Alex Ferrari 1:01:43
as a screenwriter can connect emotionally. Genre goes out the window. Like the main plot almost a lot of times but I'm like, if you can connect with the audience, on an emotional level, all the addressing of plot and structure and character. I mean, obviously all that's needed to connect emotionally without it you can't. But like, I mean, I've seen it look of sometimes I've watched a movie with my daughters and it's like something on Disney plus or something, you know, like it's something that I would have never in a million years watched by myself. And but they have this little nugget just to slip in. It's not it's not King speech. It's not going to be something that's long it's not a meal, it's a snack, but that little snack of emotion holds me just a little bit and it just goes you know that got me just and it might just be me because it was a daughter story or, or something that happened to me in my past that connected with me, but it connects when it connects even on these like like lifetime like look at lifetime I mean and Hallmark. I mean, they made a living at doing nugget, nugget, I'm coining a phrase nugget screenwriting sir nugget emotional nugget screenwriting but it's but it's true like if you can connect emotionally how many people watched earbud and cried, cried, cried balled because of the dog just because of the dog and the boy relationship which is completely fabricated because that's obviously a dog doesn't think this way. This is the suspense of disbelief here. But emotionally like I remember watching what's Marlene? Me? Oh, Jesus. Oh, two killer. Oh,
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:03:31
cried Marley and me and dad. The film in the with the dog waiting at the train station.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
Oh, oh, Hidalgo or something like that? height. Yeah, that one. Archie.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:03:50
Kids to this day make fun of me because I had to leave the room.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:55
Right now in the grand scope of things. Hitachi. I've seen that
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:04:00
film. And it's all different things. Archie,
Alex Ferrari 1:04:03
Hachi, Hachi. Hachi, Hachi. But I saw that film. And I had similar feelings towards that film, there might have been a tear to the busted through my eyeball at that time. But in the grand scheme of cinema, not something that's on the list. Or that story, not an important story, not something that's studied. But when you watch it if you've had a dog, connect, and that's what that's why that's why the dog that saves Christmas movie, or the dog that does anything kind of movie. If you can connect to the emotion of having a dog anybody who's ever had a dog will connect to emotionally
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:04:46
even if it's a project, so much purity to our dogs, so much purity, their motives, their loyalty, their love is so pure, that we project all these kind of human qualities on onto them. So when they're distressed or when they're going off after some, you know, impossible quest or whatever it is, we get pulled in emotionally. But it's the same with brothers, sisters, fathers, children, whales,
Alex Ferrari 1:05:14
Free Willy wait. Free Willies were there there was like five of those.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:05:22
I don't really well you know, but again it goes to the best friend the whale is the best friend that hits emotional. Og is the best friend. It's all about these emotional connections. And this is why when my students, they turn in their scripts, and they're really the, you know, complex action or horror or comedy silly comedies. You know, they're just so I'm like, I read three pages, and I'm zoning out because there's nothing pulling me in. And I just drill into them. Every day, every class, you've got to insert them even in the silliest comedy scariest horror film, you have to insert these emotional elements, family elements, friends, mentors, Dumb and Dumber
Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
got Dumb and Dumber, like the original Dumb and Dumber? absolutely absurd. Like it's absurd. absurd. The whole the humor is absurd. I love it. By the way, it's crazy. But there's so much emotion and purity to their not only their friendship, but their journey because he wants to, he saw this girl and like you're saying there's a chance and that that's what drives the story. But there's emotion.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:06:30
It's not just two dudes just walking around doing fart jokes all day. Right? And it'll go emotional and their relationship is emotional. Right? So it's, you know, so a lot of times, but going back to the question, what is the central idea? A lot of times, what I'll do is try to think about the arc of the character and the emotional journey of the character and bake it into the central idea. So for instance, the matrix, which is a very heady, but it really is about self discovery. And certainly ultimately Love is the thing that convinces him that he is the one, you know, because she's whispering in his ear. Right? I knew that up because I said, you know, the Oracle.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:13
That's not a very good impression of Carrie and masum. Just say,
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:07:18
I feel much better. Larry Fishburne the Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:23
Neo Neo, exactly.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:07:26
So the central idea for for the matrix is Neo can only get over his sense of being a cog in the wheel. And accepted he should be the one is when he accepts that he is the one when he believes that he's the one. So if you think of the shape of like the ark of Neo over that film, he wants to know what what the matrix is he wants to know the truth. After he learns the truth, he's kind of happy to be a foot soldier in, in morbius, his little army, but God forbid, he doesn't want the responsibility on his shoulders, he's resisting, he still believes he's a cog. Hmm. Like we all kind of do that we're powerless. It's only when he gets over his belief that he's a cog, and believes that he is the one when he is able to to be the one. And that is really the central idea of the film. And it really that notion is tested in almost every scene in the movie in one way or the other, that thesis neocon only one when he believes he's the one is tested in every scene in the movie in some form or another. So that's why it's really important to have a central idea, because what it does is create something of an emotional spine that ties your story together. Otherwise, you might have something that kind of meanders, or feels episodic, and and isn't cohesive.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:55
And that's why that film, and that franchise, specifically that film, though, has has aged so well. And people look at it as it's a masterpiece, it really is truly a masterpiece of its time. There's a lot of films that came out in that era that were visual effects, heavy an action and all that stuff. But we don't speak about that. But because they're not held at the same level as the matrix is why because of that emotion, that that because at a little philosophical here, we all have to once we believe we can do we do you know,
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:09:33
is it a movie about faith? It is not fake,
Alex Ferrari 1:09:37
right? And generally in our industry as a whole and I'm really going to go deep here. We won't achieve what we want to achieve until we believe we can achieve it. And if that's the starting point, like if you can't believe you're going to write a screenplay. You're not going to write a screenplay. As like as Henry Ford was at Henry Ford. I think he said like, if you believe that you can or you can't. You're right.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:09:59
Alex Ferrari 1:10:01
I mean, if that's your absolute if you really can't or you really can't, you're right. So it's up to you to believe to move forward. I do want to ask one more question. Before I ask you my series of questions asked all my guests, because we could talk for hours. I know. Can we put it? Can we put the test to the three questions we've just talked about? to one film that I'm I'm just beating it up in my head. And I haven't seen in a while and actually have to watch it again. Are you ready? You ready? See, we could test this one. All right. airplane. Airplane airplane. So yes, so
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:10:34
I remember it. You tell me what what is the emotion simple emotional journey of airplane?
Alex Ferrari 1:10:42
Well, obviously to survive the plane. It Well, I mean, there's that there's that the plot, the plot is the land. But if I remember, it happened again, I haven't seen it probably in like 10 years, other than like, in a sitting, I've seen clips of it over over the last 10 years. But if I remember correctly, the main character, who was the pilot, there was an emotional, there was some sort of emotional attachment to the stewardess. Stewardess, flight attendant, sorry, they call their students back then a flight attendant. And there was that kind of there was something drawing those two together. And there was a love story at the end of the day, if I'm not if I just remember all the funny parts. I don't.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:11:21
Because it's funny. If you remember the Robert, what's his name? Robert. Robert Hayes. Yeah. He was a broken broken guy with a drinking problem. You know? Yeah, he drink frozen his eye. He had a drinking problem because he led a mission. Yes, yes. George zipper or whatever. crash. Right. So it was funny, but at the same time, it's it's a true emotional thing. He led a failed journey as a pilot. He people died under his watch. It's led to him having a broken kind of life, where he could love or be loved. And he is stuck on this plane and he gets pulled reluctantly into the pilot's seat and he's able to do it by virtue of Julie Haggerty. She's kind of see love for him.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:12
Yeah. Oh, now I remember at night I thought y'all came coming back. But that's right. So you so that's the driving force of it. I mean, the movie is remembered because it's just so damn funny.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:12:25
It's still add an emotional story. But
Alex Ferrari 1:12:29
But without but listen again without that emotion. You don't the story can't move. The reason it's just a bunch of gangs. It just then it just gets comedy at that point. You know what sketch comedy get out after one sketch comedy kit and there's no emotional throughput or line or foundation. So I just wanted to bring our planet because it's a it's a unique because that's a slapstick comedy. And well, yeah, this
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:12:54
is why those those slapstick spoofs and you know, the scary movies and things they get God's word most of them get terrible reviews, a lot of them fail. They have to be under 90 minutes because they just cannot sustain airplane is kind of considered a classic because not only are they Is it funny as hell and the jokes really work and most of them some of them some of them wouldn't play so well today
Alex Ferrari 1:13:22
right well Blazing Saddles the same thing I mean Jesus I doubt right
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:13:27
but they had but even blazing trails to there's no strong optional there Oh, root interest in that we it's a friendship between a broken you know, shooter who was shot you know, Gene Wilder and cleavon little who's a a hero who happens to be black at a time where you cannot be a hero and a black and black right so and they formed this friendship this this was love story between these two guys suck you rooting for them? All right.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:57
I'm just I'm play as we're talking a playing back scenes in my head. I'm just laughing because I mean Blazing Saddles. Just Oh, my God is so good.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:14:06
It's, it's I'm not sure if Blazing Saddles would work today or not. But it's, you know, time racing racist film.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:14
No, Mel actually talked about that he did the Hitler like, was that Hitler movie?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:14:22
Alex Ferrari 1:14:23
not silent movie. But the. Yeah. History of the World. Part Two. Yeah. Then well, history the world Part Two had like, Hitler, one of the producers, the
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:14:36
producers, for God's sakes. It's a producer's one of the greatest
Alex Ferrari 1:14:39
I mean, it's a it's about a play. Yeah. So but I actually I actually just saw a recent interview with Mel. Mel Brooks, the writer of Blazing Saddles, who said that it is today It wouldn't get produced. There's no way a studio It would produce that from today. But if you look at it, it is an it's an anti racist. It's completely making fun of it. And you when you make fun of things like that those image, that imagery, that that kind of toxic stuff that they're talking about, it just brings them down, it takes them off their pedestal. And I can't learn like I you know, obviously like, you know, springtime for Hitler. I mean, he destroyed him. Chaplin did it. Chaplin did it as well in the in the dictator and the Great Dictator. So there is a there's a place for that. Now will offend people, obviously it's gonna offend somebody because that's the world we live in. But, again, Aaron, we could talk for at least another two hours about story and this is fantastic. I love this interview. I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:15:56
Whoo. Okay. I would say when it caught me off guard. I would say Shawshank Redemption.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:07
Yes. And after my own heart.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:16:09
I love that one. I would say I love network. I love the screenplay for network, a written by what's his name? You know,
Alex Ferrari 1:16:21
the guy with the dude in this stuff?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:16:23
Yeah, got that guy I'm doing I'm really bad at names. And it's bad. Because, you know, screenwriters are always forgotten. They've like who who wrote
Alex Ferrari 1:16:31
that? Yeah, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. who's who's the DP. Yeah.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:16:42
And so I would say network in terms of really great sort of, like societal, societal, kind of like being able to tell a story that really holds a mirror up to society's foibles, and, and all of that,
Alex Ferrari 1:16:57
and I think you could release it in theaters today, and it would probably get the same reaction. You know, it might even be more relevant.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:17:06
What else I actually really liked, I would say get out would be a good one to study. That's a really great script. Because it's, it's a great script, it works as a pure genre film, it works as a great character story, it kind of is it follows the formula of the eight sequences, which I teach in my three x eight sequences, you know, first act second act, midpoint, it has a low point. So it follows a lot of the sort of the formula of good writing, or typical writing, but it also then, also kind of like has this undercurrent of satire to it. That's very kind of put
Alex Ferrari 1:17:49
it in there in horror, and I mean, there is satire or like, Oh, God, George Romero did a night of living dead but Day of the Dead. Was it day to day was the one the
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:18:01
Dawn of the Dead? Yeah. In a mall.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:03
Yeah, the mall one that was completely satirical about everything he was trying to say there. Right, horror can do that. Yeah. Okay. So that's it. Those are very three good choices. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:18:19
Okay, so this kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier. I know that what people the inclination might be that I need to write my Avengers or I need to write something that is like, you know, a home run big box office film, but what people are really looking for are unique voices. And they're looking for disruptive stories. So and this today, better than any time in history is a great time to tell a story from a point of view that has not been told before. Whether it's LG LGBTQ stories, you know, of African American stories, Latino, Asian stories, it's time it's a good time now to, to tell stories that are not just white male heroes stories. You know, and you don't have to be. And that's the other thing is that I often my writers of color that are in my class, the women, you know, they feel this pressure to write stories about women and writers of color, and they really want to write something else and like do it write something else, there's no better time than right now, to write something write the story that you want to write even though it seems fringe or weird or, or plays with structure. agents, producers, they are looking for fresh voices, wild stories, you know, stories told from the fringes. But again, even in those kind of stories, as long as there's an undercurrent of human emotion that we all can relate to. This is Why parasite did so well, parasite is really a story of a family who is aspiring to be greater than they were. And they kind of went the wrong route to do it and slightly paid the price. But, you know, it's a family story, but it was twisted as hell. So I would say the advice is to write something disruptive write something that's going to surprise, not something that people are going to expect.
Alex Ferrari 1:20:29
Fair enough. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:20:35
You know, it really is about character. And this is such an I tell my students is to I used to come up with these really big gimmick, great high concept movies. And I would just sort of like, you know, pour everything into the concept and not think enough about the character. You know, this character, what is, what's their what's their central major flaw? What, what do they want? What do they think they want? Who are they? What are their? What's their personality? What's their backstory? Where do they come from? So now I really forced myself to think a lot about my character. How can I make my heroes different? Than you know, usually, you make the supporting characters really interesting, but the hero is really vanilla and generic. How can I make my you know, maybe instead of a, you know, white male lead in this horror film, I'll make it a diminutive, mute cleaning lady of a woman. And maybe my film will be more interesting. With a character like that, who I've really thought about her backstory that she's you and yet, she's also full of Spitfire and spunky. She loves watching, dancing. You know, she believes in you know that monsters are not necessarily monsters, she yearns for love, but also knows when to let it go. You know, think about all those character traits. Before I actually write sounds familiar.
Alex Ferrari 1:21:57
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:21:58
I don't. It should be a movie, I think
Alex Ferrari 1:22:00
I think it should write down to a movie. Absolutely. When you were saying that there was a character that I was remembering, that is such a wonderful character Leon from the from the professional or Leon, john Renault, he loved watching old, like, you know, he took care of a plant. Like that was a thing. You were used to me. I'm assuming you see that movie, right? Here's, yeah, he took care of the plan he used to watch. I think Charlie Chaplin or no dancing he Fred Astaire. So he, he was an innocent child, like that's so different of a hitman, than a hitman would have been, like, imagine if that would have been just a gruff Dude, that was a war that appreciate, right? But he's completely different, and that he has to take a girl and then he has to teach a girl How to be a hitman. That's, that's interesting,
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:22:50
Far more interesting, far, far more. And that's true. And if you take the time, and sometimes it takes half a day, you know, or a day to really think about your character without like, you know, getting into the script and the plot. Think about the character, and how to make your character actually my question to in my thing is, how are you honoring and disrupting your genre? You want to do the same thing with your central character? How is your central care? How are you honoring your genre with your central character? But how are you also disrupting the genre with your central character? You know, how can you make them different, something that makes them pop that makes him interesting? You know, Cameron Crowe is really good at creating characters like that, you know, as good as it gets, and no, that's James. James L. Brooks. Yeah. James Brooks and Cameron Crowe, they spent a lot of time thinking about their characters, gretta Gurwitch, before they actually even think about what the plot is.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:48
Now, what is what was the biggest fear you had to overcome to write your first screenplay?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:23:56
That I would be exposed as a fraud? Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:01
You know, I don't think we'll get that answer.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:24:03
Yeah, it's just, you know, my concern that I would write this thing, and it would suck and people would hate it. And you know, what, my first screenplay, probably half the people did hate it. And the other half of the people said, You got promised, but Call me later kid. And it was them. It was the positive constructive encouragement that I got from the handful of people that saw that in my first script, that I had some promise that I was I was going for something that encouraged me to write the second one and do it better. But boy, getting over the fear of failure and rejection. It's a big one.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:43
And then what is and what did you learn from your biggest failure?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:24:48
The character thing, okay. You know, one of the first films that my old partner and I wrote was some kind of jack in the beanstalk story, and it was just filled with joy. MX, and we just didn't spend any time really thinking about Jack's character. And it was this huge It was like it went out to the town it was going to be this auction, the agency was all thought this was gonna this was like, I think right after Air Bud was getting made, and we were, you know, kind of hot. And, or after Disney bought it, but it hadn't come come out or something. And it just everyone passed. And it's because they just emotional thing. They were pulled in emotionally with this character, his journey. And, and that's when I realized I have to spend more time thinking about character and emotion.
Alex Ferrari 1:25:38
Now, where can people find out about the book about your work and and find out more about you?
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:25:44
Well, you can go to my website, Aaron mendelsohn.com. And that's Mendelssohn Soh n.com. Or you can also find my book the 11 fundamental questions on Amazon. But on my website, there's a link to the Amazon page through through the website, you can also sign up, you know, to be on my mailing list and get updates and that kind of thing.
Alex Ferrari 1:26:07
Very cool. Aaron, thank you. It's like I said, Well, we can keep talking for at least another two or three hours. So I do appreciate you taking the time out to talk to the tribe and hopefully help them along their screenwriting path. So thank you so much, brother. I appreciate it.
Aaron Mendelsohn 1:26:20
It's been my pleasure. Thank you, Alex.
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- The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay
- Air Bud
- Aaron Mendelsohn – Official Site
- Aaron Mendelsohn – IMDB
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook