The Guys Behind the Trolls: Q&A with Screenwriters Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel

Claudia Sanchez

Deputy Scene Editor

“Trolls” is more of a traditional musical compared to your other movies (“Shrek the Third,” the “Kung Fu Panda” series, “Monsters vs. Aliens”) how did that change the screenwriting aspect?

Glenn Berger: Well this is our first musical which is really really fun, in the past, say in the “Kung Fu Panda” movies, we come to a big giant action fight scene and sometimes we have specific ideas for what the fight should be, but oftentimes we say here’s what has to happen that moves the plot forward from the beginning of the scene to the end of the scene.  So we’re taking the same approach when it comes to musical number. If it’s a song either, there will already be a song in mind that we’ll say, “this conveys perfectly the emotion that we want,” or in the case of some of the songs that Justin [Timberlake] wrote for the movie, we’d say, “here’s what needs to happen for the plot to go from here to here, and the emotions have to go from here to here, and this is really what we need to convey.”

Jonathan Aibel: We kind of give a descriptive paragraph and then say, “go write a hit song, that conveys that,” we got very lucky that he managed to do that. It was really gratifying because writing hip-hop songs, is not what we do, but to be able to have someone do that really well in a way that serves the story that we’re trying to tell, because that is what we do, it felt like we were just suddenly given a new color in our palette that just makes our movie so much cooler than I think we could have just done on our own, it’s a really interesting collaboration.

Why did you guys agree to write the script?

JA: We worked with Mike, for a dozen years, and with Walt for the last five or six years on different projects. When they came to us and asked if we’d work on this with him, we knew we wanted to work with them. We love working with them, but we were hesitant because we didn’t know what this would be, like a movie based on a doll, what is it?  And they were very persuasive in saying, “that’s the fun of this, is that we don’t have to stick to any story about the origin story of of the dolls, we can create this whole world,” and then we saw that they had conceived something far beyond what we ever thought it would be. The colors and the joy of the world. They said, “let’s make a movie that’s really about optimism and happiness,” and it was a topic we really hadn’t explored beforehand in any of our movies, and a musical, so it seemed like it was a great creative challenge, and it probably turned out to be the most fun we’ve ever had writing a movie.

What advice do you have for people hoping to become screenwriters?

JA: I’d say be lucky. You have to write and write and keep writing, and luck is a big part of it, but when you have something lucky come your way, you have to back it up with good material, and I think people who are good writers and have written good material will get it into the right hands.

GB: Never stop writing. Aspiring writers will send out scripts, and the surest way to not make it as a writer is to send a professional writer a script and ask for notes, and not really mean that, and really just want them to say, “this is the best thing I’ve ever read. I’m giving to my agent tomorrow!” The truth is, we’re working writers for over 20 years and we always get notes, and when we give notes to an aspiring writer, and that writer tries to argue us out of those notes, we mentally say this person can’t make it because the job itself is all about getting notes from people. It’s going to sound mean, people who know a lot less about writing than I do, are eventually going to give you notes-

JA: And you can say that even us, we’ve been doing this for a long time, when we turn in the script, you always get notes. The mark of a professional writer is what do you do [after receiving notes,] can you find a way to address these notes and improve your work, even though you were sure it was perfect five minutes before?

GB: I think a relentlessness, talent is absolutely crucial, but cross the threshold of talent, and talent gets replaced by work ethic, I think in my opinion.   

Photo Credit: Trolls

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