Thursday, February 25, 2010

Becoming a Disney Writer

A commenter asks:

I hope to become a screenwriter for Disney, any tips?

Becoming a screenwriter at Disney Animation is a bit more complicated than when I did it back at the time James Garfield was President.

In the mid seventies, TAG Veep Earl Kress and I applied for positions in Disney Feature story department. Amazingly enough, we both got the nod. The company was looking for fresh blood and they weren't concerned whether you had a lengthy professional resume or not. (I had an unpublished novel and a few published magazine articles in my back pack. Big whoop.)

But amazingly enough, Earl and I ended up being staff writers, and were there for some years. But I don't think the route we hiked -- coming in as novice screenwriters -- exists anymore.

In the 1970s, Disney was a small studio, a sleepy backwater that mainstream Hollywood ignored. And what Hollywood really had no interest in, back in the day, was ninety minutes of hand-drawn animation. Because of that, the studio hired employees for its little cartoon department (led by former animator and Army Air Force pilot Woolie Reitherman and the last of the Nine Old Men) without regard to how impressive their previous Hollywood work was, or if they had any work at all. Most everybody was a newbie. Almost nobody came with a list of screen credits.

Today, however, the animation biz is HUGE, and hugely important to the conglomerates' bottom lines. None of the studios -- not DreamWorks Animation, not Disney, not Pixar or Blue Sky Studios or Sony Pictures Animation -- leave animation scripting to twenty-somethings with zero big league credits. All of them now use high profile writers from the live-action realm. From the corporate perspective, the stakes are too high not to.

Sometimes this approach works out fine, and sometimes studios spend a lot of money for a hundred twenty pages of deathless prose that even a team of seasoned board artists are unable to salvage. The newer reality is, if you want to write for Walt Disney Animation Studios or any of the rest, you better have a couple of high-grossing films under your belt, or they won't give you the time of day.

So here's my tip: Charge out there and get some credits that say: "Screenplay By." Then go write some animated features.


Aurora Dawson said...

Thank you for replying, and apparently I have plenty a work ahead of me. So thanks for the advice I'll try and make name for myself before applying.


Again thank you.

Kawks! said...

Why not write for smaller studio? The way I see it, the author started writing for Disney when they were smaller. So write for a smaller studio yourself. Maybe you will get lucky.

Anonymous said...

Some advice, meant in the friendliest way:

There's probably no mark of am amateur or the sort of person people don't take seriously(I don't mean here or at school but professionally) than to say "I want to animate for PIXAR!: or "I want to write scripts for Spielberg!"- or Disney, etc. I understand that a person might truly, sincerely really have that wish(nothing wrong with that at all), BUT the fact is that what you really want-or should want, and strive for-is just to be a WRITER/ANIMATOR/you name it, not to ever qualify it with "for [blank]" as a stated goal. It seems tunnel-visioned and unrealistic.

If you are going to be a screenwriter-write. Places like Disney will be there with jobs if you have a) a good selection of work already done and b) CONNECTIONS. Both of those things. Not just one. Both.

The good news is those things aren't impossible at all, far from it. But you'd better be in L.A. for a start-taking classes, writing and meeting people.
And good luck!

Aurora Dawson said...


Yeah that's what I was planning to do with the statement, "...I'll try and make a name for myself before applying."

@poster above me.

Thank you for your advice. And of course it wasn't some life goal to work for Disney. I just thought it would be interesting to write for them, because I love Disney films and it would be a dream come true to write one of their films.

Actually I want to be a writer, I started writing in high school. I'm furthering my skills in art school in Chicago and hopefully move to L.A. after I get my degree. But I may stop by NBC in New York so I can write some episodes of Law & Order, lol. So I'll probably try and write for televisions shows before making full transition to film.

Again thanks for the advice.


yahweh said...

If you're serious about being a writer you should spend your on-line blog browsing time reading writer's blogs like:,,
and others

You will learn a lot more about what it takes to get into the biz from them then you will ever learn here

Anonymous said...

There are some very good screenwriting programs ... in particular the graduate screenwriting programs at USC and UCLA.

I hear that these screenwriting programs really help you hone your craft and offer numerous networking opportunities.

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