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Screenplays

Through a Looking Glass, Darkly

We Need Our Stories Back

Revenge for Oz

Revenge for Oz

By Dan Oles

The screenplay format suits my style because I prefer writing dialog to descriptions. Click here to see how I animated my first scripts, which are re-imaginings of episodes of the video game American McGee’s Alice. The response on YouTube has been fantastic.

Alice is in an insane asylum, plagued by random dreams. She’s not really crazy, but she believes she is because everyone tells her so. In my screenplay, Alice’s quest is to understand the evil without succumbing to it.

As I worked on trailers—using clips available on the Internet—I realized I was going off in new directions, that I was free to invent. Click here to watch my short films and trailers on GameTrailers.com.

Early Influences

Alice and her Homies

Alice and her Homies, by Dan Oles

My interest in movies dates back to childhood, when Aladdin made a major impression. Then I saw Star Wars, and I thought, this is even better! Most of the other movies I saw as a child were disappointing. Where were the brilliant set pieces, imaginative universes, and interesting characters that made Aladdin and Star Wars so special?

I was spoiled by the Disney films, especially those by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth (The Land Before Time, Secret of the NIMH). Bluth’s films had fantastical elements like talking dinosaurs and rats, but also mature themes such as death, separation, loss, and betrayal that other films wouldn’t touch. Bluth’s movies didn’t talk down to children; they challenged them to think.

The Dark Knight

For me the film that represents the pinnacle of contemporary filmmaking is The Dark Knight. Unlike the other Batman movies, it transcends the superhero genre. It’s an investigation of evil itself, free of any particular ideology. The Joker, the best villain ever presented on film, encompasses evil. His blind desire is to annihilate for reasons that even he doesn’t understand. One of my favorite lines in the movie is, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Joker isn’t evil because he’s a greedy capitalist, jingoistic, or prejudiced. He’s evil because that’s what he does. The movie suggests that there’s potential in all of us for irrational evil. Inside us all is also the Batman—the one who decides to do the right thing, to be the outsider even though popular opinion is against him.

The Dark Knight is not just a remake, it’s a reinvention: completely watchable, even if you’ve never seen a Batman movie. The fantasy elements are either gone or at least explained realistically. For instance, the Joker’s scars are no longer caused by chemicals; they are self-inflicted.

Video Games vs. Movies

Off with his Head, by Dan Oles

Off with his Head! by Dan Oles

The best stories, along with the truly sympathetic, heroic characters that face interesting dilemmas, are presented in video games. That’s their selling point. You can forgive a bad video game if the graphics are weak. It doesn’t have the avant-garde luxury of a film, which is the big-budget gourmet meal. However, if the stories and characterizations in video games disappoint, people will simply stop playing, and there are a huge number of games competing for their attention. Game inventors must be innovative and tell a story that people actually want to be involved in. The inventors who aim to make their games like movies usually fail by second-guessing what young people want to see, wrongly assuming that what most appeals to them about the games is nihilism and violence.

The video game Haze had unsympathetic characters and a bland, dark, annoying story, so nobody played it. If it were released in theaters, a lot of people might see it on the basis of the violence and special effects, which would mean the numbers would be there. A video game has to please a different class of people: those who wanted to have fun, enjoy a good story, and play the hero. This audience would also attend films that could fulfill those needs.

The Future of Fantasy Films

Respite in Springtime, by Dan Oles

Respite in Springtime, by Dan Oles

A lot of modern fantasy tends to get lost in the imagined world without bothering with internal logic. Innovative concepts are not enough; you need to put a structure in place, give your characters back stories. Internal logic is essential, and it doesn’t take that long to put into place.

One trend that bothers me is writers relating dreams simply because they are weird and colorful, without bothering to integrate them into the story. Show me why your dreams matter and how they move the plot forward or reveal character. A dream is not inherently interesting.

Horror Films

Because a lot of horror movies are created outside the mainstream, they dare to investigate more interesting ideas, at least in the original films, before producers try to turn them into a franchise. The best screenwriters that specialize in these films use horror as a means of telling stories. In Nightmare on Elm Street, the bigger issue was: what does it take to defeat fear? Slasher movies aren’t necessarily bad; Hitchcock’s Psycho is the first slasher movie. The genre doesn’t determine whether it’s a good film. It’s the passion and ideas of the people involved. A film in any genre can succeed if it is born out of passion, not cynicism.

Anime

A lot of anime is beautiful and skillfully done, but the stories tend to be confusing and treated as unimportant. Looks are everything. The usual problem is an absence of characters to care about.

Characters that Matter

The best characters have the capacity for both good and evil. They have a history. They interact with others. I prefer characters that at least try to do what they see as right. In a lot of movies nowadays, the characters don’t care about others. If they get pulled into the adventure, it’s against their will.

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