Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio are no strangers to kids’ movies. The screenwriters have collaborated on numerous whimsical films, such as 2002’s The Santa Clause 2 and the 2008 adaptation of Doctor Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. But the pair’s latest foray into children-oriented entertainment—the animated comedy Despicable Me—marks a first for this writing team in more than one way: Not only is Despicable Methe writers’ first 3-D film, but it’s also their first animated film based on original material. The protagonist of Despicable Me is a supervillain named Gru (voiced by funny-man Steve Carell) who plans to steal the moon—that is, until having to care for three orphaned girls makes him reconsider.
Paul and Daurio took some time out to discuss the nature of their writing process, 3-D technology and their future assignment: An adaptation of one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular books, The Lorax.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): With Despicable Me you turned the traditional “heroic protagonist” idea on its head. How did the idea to do that come about, and did you have any difficulties in making the “bad guy” out to be good after all?
Cinco Paul (CP): We immediately loved the idea of centering a movie on the villain, who’s usually the most interesting character in any movie. But it was definitely a challenge creating a character who was villainous, but still someone the audience could root for. We spent a lot of time creating “deliciously evil” moments—things that Gru does that we ordinary humans wish we could get away with. Like using a freeze ray on long lines at Starbucks.
MM: Was Despicable Me always going to be in 3-D? Does that change your writing process, compared to working on a non 3-D film?
Ken Daurio (KD): Yes, it was always conceived as a 3-D movie. It didn’t have much impact on the writing process initially; no matter what dimensions your film is in, it’s still all about characters and story. But eventually, we started finding ways to have fun with the 3-D—exploiting the fact that the characters can actually come out into the audience. All we can say is, ‘Watch out for the minions!’
MM: What did you have the most fun with while you were writing Despicable Me? Just from viewing the trailer, it looks like the minions will be really funny: Did you have a good time writing them?
CP: This was an incredibly fun movie to write. It was great fun getting to play with the darkness of Gru, then having him gradually soften. We both have daughters, so it was also fun drawing from real life in the scenes between Gru and Margo, Edith and Agnes. The video conference and bedtime story scenes came directly from our actual experiences as dads. And as for the minions, it was great fun abusing them!
MM: As a writing team, you’ve worked on Despicable Me, Horton Hears a Who!, The Santa Clause 2, and the upcoming The Lorax. How do you go about collaborating on scripts? Are you on the same wavelength most of the time, or do you have conflict about a particular scene or dialogue exchange?
KD: Strangely enough, we rarely fight about things. We’re almost always on the same wavelength. When we’re writing we generally outline a chunk of pages (30 or so), then discuss each scene, and then assign the scenes based on our individual writing strengths (I gets the action, Cinco gets the emotion, etc.). Then we’ll put them together and read them aloud. The goal is to make the other guy laugh. We’re very competitive that way, which is a good thing.
MM: The Lorax is one of the most beloved children’s books of all time; can you talk a bit about where you’re going with it? Do you feel any pressure to “get it right” that you didn’t feel when working with original material?
CP: There’s not much we’re allowed to say about The Lorax right now. It’s my favorite Seuss book and we definitely feel a lot of pressure to do it right, just as we did with Horton Hears a Who! (Ken’s favorite). You need to be true to Dr. Seuss, and we can promise you right now that Seuss fans are going to love this movie.