Interview: Tyler Burton Smith
– Tyler Burton Smith, writer of Henchman (2011 Script Pipeline Contest Winner). In addition to working as a writer for video game content, Tyler is in development on multiple feature film projects. He’s repped by Chris Goble at Grandview.
Henchman is an animated comedy. Given the fact Pixar and . . . well, Pixar has such a stronghold on the mainstream, studio world of animation, did you see this script as more of a writing sample, or something that had a legit shot at the big-budget animated market?
I definitely saw Henchman as more of a sample when I was writing it. I knew there were a lot fewer opportunities for optioning an animated script, but it was a story I really wanted to tell. Sometimes, I just have to go with my gut and write the stories I’m excited about, because those are the ones that come out the best, whether or not they sell.
The script was considered one of the best we’ve ever received in the contest, mainly due to your ability to craft such an engaging cast of characters. What films did you draw from to create this humorous, colorful world?
I studied all of the Pixar movies extensively. They’re incredibly well-structured and have such vibrant characters and powerful dramatic moments, so I drew a lot of my inspiration from there when I was figuring out how to frame the story. Also, strangely enough, Glengarry Glen Ross. I wanted to create a world where super heroes and evil villains were all part of organized corporations. The heroes were more like greedy salesmen, fighting with each other for leads to the big crimes, more concerned with spinning a story to look good rather than actually doing good. Movies like Glengarry are great inspiration for that.
Had you been a screenwriter a long time prior to entering the competition?
I’ve been screenwriting for just under two years, so I suppose I’m still pretty new to this whole business.
What are your plans as a writer? Stick to features, branch off into TV, or do a little of both, ideally?
Right now I’m working in TV, on the show The Listener in Toronto. Ideally, I’d love to do both. I think my heart is more in features, but I’ve really enjoyed writing for television, and working in a writing room is an incredibly inspirational experience.
Tell us about how quickly you landed a manager and an agent. What was the experience like?
I had been talking with my manager for a while and we signed shortly after the contest ended. I just recently signed with WME. We had met with a few different agencies in L.A. and really took some time to figure out which one would be best suited for me. So far, it has been great, it’s incredibly helpful to have those resources to send out your scripts and let you know what’s going on in the industry.
What advice would you give the writer who wants to do something both creative and original, yet marketable?
I may be naively optimistic, but I think you should always write the movies that you personally would want to see. I think the creativity and originality come from your unique voice, so if you try to focus too much on writing something marketable but your heart isn’t in it, then it’s going to show. I forget the source of the quote, but somebody once said, “Every story has been told before, but not from your voice.” I think that’s true. There’s definitely value in keeping up on what’s in production, or being optioned, but you can easily waste a lot of time trying to follow trends of what’s hot. Life’s too short to write stories you don’t want to tell. If you hate vampires, then why are you wasting six months writing a vampire movie? Somebody who loves vampires will inevitably do it better. I think the best way to approach a new script is to sit and think to yourself, “What would I really like to see that I’ve never seen before?” And then write that and hope other people agree.