Getting into Screenwriting | Family Entertainment

By Justine Owens.

Family entertainment has always held the promise of a noble enterprise, one that has cultural significance beyond the imaginative and often whimsical subjects of its stories.

Significantly, the family film allows older and younger generations to come together; to meet in a shared experience of values, attitudes, and self-reflection all whilst enjoying the rollicking ride of a family film.

The big-ticket family franchises may not be seeing a decline, but the weekly/monthly family trip to the multi-plex has certainly been hurting. Mid-budget family movies and animation are said by all to be going to streamers. This trend was occurring before the pandemic, but Covid has given it an extra push. This is perhaps even more true for live-action family movies.

The effect of streaming has been noted by some to lead to an increased conservatism when it comes to content. And perhaps, an over-reliance on previously successful concepts, characters, and stories. But the “viewing together” principle of family entertainment has also been seen in the new at-home audience, and this blending of content that appeals to both adults and kids is also opening up new opportunities for new stories and new storytelling innovations.

What’s more, easing travel restrictions and growing audience confidence could make this the year that the family movie bounces back; with many studios releasing movies that had been shelved during the height of the pandemic. Ice Age, Hotel Transylvania, Cheaper By the Dozen, Sonic the Hedgehog, Fantastic Beasts, and Minions are all slated to return this year.

Pixar’s recent release Turning Red is a great example of contemporary family entertainment that has punched through expectations, which tells a much-needed coming-of-age story, and has had heaps of praise from critics and audiences alike.

“If nothing else, narratively normalizing a bodily function that affects more than half the world’s population makes “Turning Red” a cinematic revolution.” LA Times.

Despite the makers’ disappointment that the movie went direct to Disney+, this film has got the industry talking about family entertainment once more, and that can only be a good thing.

So, what should you be doing if you want to make a career screenwriting family entertainment? We asked members of our impeccable Industry roster, our illustrious Alumni, and our amazing Judge’s panel to bring you some top tips.

Let’s take a look at what they said.

Irene Weibel – Producer

Irene Weibel is a producer with 20 plus years of experience in the industry and who is known for her work on Sony Pictures Hotel Transylvania: The Series, the BBC’s Moon and Me, and Nelvana’s Ranger Rob. Irene is currently a Judge for our TV Pilot contest and has this advice for aspiring family entertainment/animation screenwriters:

“As a writer, you should always be focusing on your skills of observation. As you enter the world of animation, use your skills of observation and listening. That skill set will serve you well as you write your stories and learn about the people you are working with. The world of animation is technical in many aspects, but it is always about people working with people.  Strong relationships with your working family will always be the key to getting the next job.”

Irene is Executive Producer of a new animated series in production entitled Summer Memories. This is a creator-driven buddy comedy based on a Nickelodeon short. You can read more about Irene’s new project in Animation Magazine.

It’s clear that whatever flights of fancy might be tantalizing in this field, it is the humanity and empathy of the characters that are equally, if not more important. So, sharpen up your observation skills and do not neglect to give your characters depth and realism, no matter how fantastic the setting.

Our contests have helped over 100 writers kickstart their screenwriting careers

See how our Feature, TV Pilot & Short Film Fund Contests can help you break through as a screenwriter

Corey Ralston – Producer

Corey Ralston has been involved with entertainment since the age of seven as a child actor in L.A. and is the founder of Child Actor 101; a resource community giving frank free advice to parents pursuing a career for their children. Corey has worked across multiple roles in over 30 years in the industry and currently represents children and young adults at Bohemia Group.

As a member of our Industry Roster, Corey receives the best scripts from our contests via our Writer Development program, and his production company, Ralston Entertainment, is currently developing family-friendly entertainment. Corey has this advice for writers seeking a way into the industry:

“Thinking about what is fundamentally funny without the influence of a modern, often crass humor is what family entertainment really needs to succeed.”

Unless you are lucky enough to have an actual funny bone, attempting to intellectually define what someone else will find funny is a tough challenge. This is where movie history and research can be your friend. Learn what has been making people laugh through the ages. There are lots of resources out there: blogs, advice, scripts, and more. And despite the warning not to drive to the bottom when it comes to the actual humor at play, it is important to recognize that almost all humor has its uncomfortable side. Invariably, someone is besting someone else, or something else, and part of what makes us laugh is seeing someone else go through the trials and doubts we all face.

Mary Bronaugh – Winning Screenwriter

Mary is a Shore Scripts Feature Screenplay Winner, with her Best Family Genre script Jade And The Legend Of The Lost Emperor, and is currently a Staff Writer on Disney Channel’s number one series Big City GreensMost recently, Mary wrote, directed, and produced an original short called Swearing as part of Film Independent’s Artist Development Program. The short is now an Official Selection at the Academy Award-qualifying Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Jade And The Legend Of The Lost Emperor represented a tour-de-force combination of action/adventure and a deeply personal story focusing on diversity and family. The depth Mary gave to her characters and the setting made for a mesmeric, immersive experience in a world of boundless possibilities. And the theme of family love was spot on for an animated family adventure. 

The number one tip to take away is that writers should look to their stories to resonate in the real world, just as much as they impeccably craft their story’s mythological one.

So, if you want to write superb family scripts, here are our 3 Top Tips!

  1. Make your characters real, and your relationships strong.
  2. Keep a sharp eye on tone, especially when it comes to humor and themes.
  3. Don’t dream small. Unlike other genres, family entertainment demands immersive experiences and a bit of the wow factor. This is a sector where the imaginative and the magical are welcomed and studios are still backing big projects so take advantage of this and dream big!

Keep Writing!

Justine Owens is the Director of Contests at Shore Scripts. For all the updates on our screenwriting contests, films, screenplay feedback, and writing programs follow Shore Scripts on TwitterFacebookand Instagram.

Don’t miss a deadline. Download our Contest Calendar!