Sunday, March 20, 2016

How Teen Titans Taught Me to Write Screenplays

I learned screenwriting to save a girl.

Unless your film is just a bunch of pretty nature shots and your friends standing around wearing profound expressions (so basically like every Terrence Malick Film—only without Hollywood stars) you will need a screenplay for you film. (Even Terrence Malick probably has a screenplay. Although it’s likely just a page long.)

I have no idea what's going on... but I'm sure it's profound.

There are two basic things you need to be able to do to write a screenplay: you need to be able to tell a good story, and you need to be able to write it in the correct format. Good storytelling is hard. It can't be taught; it has to be in your blood. But even if you love storytelling like I do. I was not disciplined enough to force myself to go through the hard processes of learning to do it in a way that someone else would accept my work.

This is the thing I will keep going back to in this blog. Filmmaking at every stage is hard. You need a motivation to push you to do the hard work at every step of the way and force you to do the crappy work. Sometimes it's an unexpected one.

I got mine when I got my heart broken by the show Teen Titans.

That's right. Not Titans Go. The good one. Back when it could be funny and dark and have something called character development. Back when we could have this:

Wow... did they just, I think they just... yeah, they just.
Rather than this:

Watching the show, I fell in love with all the characters. But mostly the relationship of two characters: Beast Boy and Terra.

Teen Titans was one of the few comic series’ I had not read. I had no idea how tragic their love story was going be. I just loved the sweet love story that they had at first. Then, they ripped my heart out and used it to play ping-pong.

Maybe it was because I was going through real heartbreak at the time. But this loss of a fictional character upset me a lot. So I dedicated myself to bringing her back. And not just in fanfiction. No, I was writing a full screenplay for a Teen Titans TV movie I would submit to Cartoon Network. Never mind that I had never written one before. Never mind that the show was canceled. Never mind that I had no connections to the industry or ways of getting them to look at my script.

And my friends call me a relentless optimist now.

I worked on it every day. I wrote it and rewrote it. I realized how bad my dialogue was and rewrote it. I researched proper script formatting. I re-researched it and realized my first research was wrong. I learned to type. I had not been able to type with all my fingers before, but writing this script forced me to learn.

I showed it to a producer friend of mine who then told me how to:

a) keep my dialogue from being too wordy.

b) make sure the action doesn’t stop for the dialogue.

I went back and rewrote again.

When I finally finished my producer friend had said she would show it to some people. But when I tried to contact her she dropped off the face of the earth. Seriously. She just never responded to e-mail or phone. I never heard from her again.

After that I just submitted the script to Cartoon Network and hoped for a miracle from God.
It never came.

But God—because I believe God was guiding things—used that to get me started on my filmmaking path. Because what did come was another TV spec script. Then another one. Each time I got a lot better at how to tell a great story with great characters and great dialogue in the right format.

Then came a little script called Kelly vs The Philosophers.

But that’s another blog post.

If you'll excuse me... I have to writing that Oscar worthy screenplay no one will ever see.


  1. Can I write a screenplay for a live action teen titans show, and it is still original

  2. Depends on how you define "can" and "original". Warner Bros. and DC own the copyright to the Teen Titans characters. So you can't get it produced anywhere in a for profit manner without their permission. If you can convince people to give you money for a kickstarter though you might be able to get it produced as a "fan film" online. But I'm not sure if that's what you're asking.