INTERVIEW: Alec Sokolow & Joel Cohen Creators of Toy Story & Writers of Garfield Part 2

Ahmer Allauddin is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, California.

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INTERVIEW: Alec Sokolow & Joel Cohen Creators of Toy Story & Writers of Garfield Part 2
Q: In your keynote speech at the IP Awards Gala, you mentioned the “11 writing tips” quoted from Billy Wilder. Could you please list those for our readers?

Alec: Here are Billy Wilder’s helpful hints for writers:

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab’em by the throat and never let go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are at hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you had a problem in the third act, your real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voiceovers, be careful not to describe what an audience already sees. Add to what they are seeing.
  9. The event that occurs in the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must BUILD, BUILD, and BUILD in tempo and action until the last event.
  11. That’s it! Don’t stick around.

Q: Was Garfield based upon a spec script or was it given as a job?

Joel Cohen quote

Alec: Garfield is based on a comic strip created by Jim Davis. It was something we were approached with, which is really nice. I think Garfield has been a best experience we have ever had in our collective careers.

Joel: Comically, our agents called us and said, “Garfield and don’t say no!” The rap on it was it was a little stale. The other thing is both Cheaper by the Dozen and Garfield were over at Fox, just coincidentally. We worked for other places but both of those were at Fox. In a way, it was kind of a perfect experience in that we turned in our first draft on a Thursday at 10 o’clock. On Monday morning, John Davis, who is the producer, called up and said they are making the movie, they are hiring a director. It’s gone forward like that since then, and it really is an
unusual situation.

Alec: We went and spent about a week with Jim Davis in Indiana. He is the greatest guy in the world. He is like a Buddha. He realizes at some level that he did something really right 25 years ago and has been having fun living in that space. He is extremely generous and his ideas are inspiring. The thing with Garfield’s comic voice is that it’s very clear, the comic strip takes it to a certain place and the movie has taken us to another place. Garfield is lazy, happy, overweight, and self-serving. The perfect American hero (laughs).

Q: What is the movie all about?Garfield The Movie

Alec: Garfield has his house and world wired. Odie comes into his world and puts everything off kilter. Ultimately Garfield finds a new heroism in accepting Odie into his world through various adventures, so it is really about siblings. It’s about the older sibling accepting the younger sibling. That’s how we kind of saw it.

Joel: It also plays into the thing we feel really confident doing. It’s a buddy comedy.

Alec: The only thing Jim Davis demanded was “Odie not be allowed to talk.” It is something that was really fun to play with. A buddy comedy where one character bullies the other into doing his bidding and the other one can’t talk.

Q: I saw the trailer and at the end it was very funny when Garfield said to Odie, “You little suck up.”

Alec: “You suck up,” that actually is the relationship between Garfield and Odie. The part of the trailer you’re talking about is the essence of Garfield. Lazy and opinionated.

Joel: One other thing we discovered in the writing process, whenever we kind of lost the feel of the voice of Garfield, we immediately knew that we made a mistake and had to turn around and go back. The voice kind of teaches you on character and on every part of the story.

Alec: And that’s a paradox. There is a sweetness to Garfield also that I think allows you to have emotional underpinning. In fact, when we both found out that they cast Bill Murray, we both said that’s brilliant because he has all of those things. His comic persona is obnoxious, opinionated, lazy and yet, bizarrely sweet.

Joel: We felt Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson were the only two people who could do that role.

Alec: When we started working together, Joel and I used to dream about doing Bill Murray and Steve Martin movies and we ended up having both come out in a same year. It’s kind of amazing.

Q: Were you involved in the film production?

Alec: In Garfield, we are the only writers from beginning to end. We worked in every aspect. Pre-production. On the set writing. Post-production fixes. ADR. Truly if you love Garfield, blame us. If you hate the movie, blame the director (both laugh).

Joel: The Writers Guild has all these issues about writers being included in the process beyond the writing and we are opposed to that. In the case of this movie, the studio executives (Tom Rofman, Hutch Parker, Vanessa Morrison and producer John Davis) have included us along the way at every turn.

Alec: Like I said earlier, Garfield has been the best experience professionally, and it was really fun. Hopefully the movie will find its audience and people will enjoy it and see this great comedy. Garfield appears in newspapers around the world and I do think it is one of the American comic ideas that does travel to other culture because the characteristics of Garfield I think every culture takes pride in. Not suffering fools. Being shrewd. Loving food and naps.

Jim Davis creator of Garfield

Jim Davis Creator & Producer of Garfield & Garfield The Movie

Also, I made my screen debut in Garfield, but I was cut out of the movie. I sit next to Jim Davis as an extra because I figured they would never cut Jim Davis out, but they did. We were collectively the Kevin Costner (in The Big Chill) of this movie (laughs).

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in adapting Garfield?

Alec: You have to realize that Jim Davis is guy who has built an industry on Garfield and you are going to take it and you hope that you are not going to ruin it. I think that was the big challenge.

Joel: But Jim was a pleasure. He could not have been more generous towards us. You always hear the other side of the story about a creator who is somebody that is not easy to please. Jim pleasures himself (laughter).

Q: How long did it take you to write the script? How much research you put in before actually started writing the script?

Joel: We were already familiar with Garfield from the comic strip. Our trip to Muncie, Indiana, was our research trip because we were able to ask Jim questions. He told us what the parameters were. He inspired us during our meetings with him. It was a perfect job for us and everything came together in a good way.

Alec: We sunk our teeth into the writing process… Really attacking the script, pushing forward every day, having goals every week about scenes we wanted to write and all the hard stuff. We wanted to get through it. I don’t think we have ever done good writing when we had treatments and outlines, so we didn’t really do that much of that. We just kind of knew where we wanted to get to, and it took us about seven or eight weeks to write the first draft. The writing process for Garfield was very seamless and it was really something that didn’t feel like work.

Q: Any other closing comments on Garfield?

Alec: The craft services were really good.

Read Part 1 of Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen Creators of Toy Story & Writers of Garfield Interview Part 1

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